As your career progresses within a partnership, your stress levels and the amount of pressure you will need to handle will increase. The successful accountants, lawyers, and consultants who make it to partner have learned coping strategies and mechanisms to be able to cope with ever high levels of stress, without becoming overwhelmed. 

In this article, based on an extract from Poised for partnership we look at what those coping strategies and mechanisms may be.

Increase your general level of activity

The human body was designed for physical activity – often walking 10km in a day to forage for food and get water. How many professionals would now be able to walk that distance every day?

Physical activity, as well as being a great stress reduction tool, is vital for our mental wellbeing and stamina. For example, just thirty minutes of brisk activity five days a week could significantly reduce your chances of having a heart attack. Let’s now look in more detail how just a small shift in your level of activity helps your all-round general wellbeing and consequently enables you to maintain more periods of peak performance, regardless of the amount of pressure you are under at the time.

When you exercise, your body starts to produce serotonin. Serotonin enhances your mind and helps you clarify your thinking. This is why it often gets easier to take a decision, work out what’s going on, or cope with an event if you go for a walk or run. However, serotonin has even more benefits to our health. It is the precursor to melatonin, which is the chemical our body produces to help reach deep sleep. When you sleep deeply you wake up in the morning fully refreshed and ready to tackle the day. In turn, you’ve more energy left to do more exercise and therefore produce more serotonin, which makes you a happier and more effective person because you can think more clearly … and so on, in a virtuous circle.

Exercise after work

Our bodies come hard-wired with the fight or flight response, which was meant to only be triggered once or twice a week. For example, when hunting for food or being under attack from a predator. In the fight or flight response, a series of complex hormonal changes occurs, which prepares our body to take emergency action. Adrenaline is produced – the equivalent of giving our body a shot of rocket fuel. The only way we can dissipate this rocket fuel is to either do some activity or proactively relax. Unreleased, adrenaline will accumulate in the body. Exercising after work becomes a great way of reducing the adrenaline in your body and it will help you to switch off your mind when it is time for sleep.

Take regular holidays

Taking a break from work can give your body much needed time to rest and recuperate. If you have got into a vicious cycle where you need to keep hitting the adrenaline button just to keep going, then taking annual leave may be the only way to break the cycle. You don’t actually have to go away on holiday, just ensure that you are not working and focus on spending time recharging your mental and physical batteries.

Have a life outside of work

The book How to make partner and still have a life talks about the importance of feeding your soul. This is the concept where you spend time outside work doing stuff you genuinely enjoy and socialise with people who make you feel good about yourself. Having a meaningful and enjoyable existence outside of work will increase your resilience to cope with the extreme pressure you will be under on Partner Track.

Eat healthily and avoid food containing high levels of processed sugar

Stress and nutrition have always been linked. Foods with high nutritional value can actively help you to reduce your stress levels. The opposite is also true: there are some foods and drinks that can increase your stress levels.

Food and drinks that have been proven to trigger and aggravate stress include:

  • Foods containing caffeine, e.g. coffee, chocolate, tea and energy drinks
  • Fast foods and takeaways
  • Alcohol
  • Fizzy and sugary soft drinks.

You may find you need your regular dose of caffeine to get through the day at work. However, it is worth noting that caffeine is a neuro-stimulator that heightens stress. Too much stress makes you anxious. Stimulation from caffeine can increase this anxiety and reduce the quality of your sleep.

After a long hard day at work many people find it so easy to pick up a curry on the way home from work. Takeaways and junk food normally contain high levels of protein, fats and carbohydrates and low levels of vital minerals and vitamins. This combination can induce stress.

Stress causes an increase in your blood sugar levels. Eating food with high levels of processed sugar can then significantly increase these levels. Prolonged periods of time with high blood sugar levels can be a contributory factor in the development of diabetes.

Lean on your support team

In Poised for Partnership we talk about the importance of your support team. Your support team is there to help you during the good times and the bad times. A conversation with your Sponsoring Partner, Mentor or External Coach may be just what you need to lower your stress levels.

In summary

Stress at work is something which will never go away, and only increase as you get more senior in a professional services firm. How you plan to build your resilience and capacity to handle stress will be a key driver in your ability to drive your career forward.