A CEO’s guide from distress to de-stress

Has the start of 2015 been demanding, with hectic deadlines, chaotic time plans and pressured workloads? Often the unspoken terror of stress leads to burnouts and poor performance, but what the mind, body and soul really needs is an urgent break, complete with relaxation and wellness. With the help of our eight stress experts, we look at what stress is and how taking time out will help you to recharge your batteries. 

Chris Johnson is the CEO and Founder of On Target Living.

Neil Shah is the Chief De-stressing Officer at The Stress Management Society.

Tiffany Cruikshank is a health and wellness expert, author of Optimal Health for a Vibrant Life, and founder of Yoga Medicine.

Rasheed Ogunlaru is life and business coach, author of Soul Trader.

Jonathan Alpert is a New York psychotherapist, executive coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

Cat Williams is the author of Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You, and founder of Stay Calm and Content.

Joan Frances Moran is a creative thought leader and motivational expert.

Bryan Richards is a health and safety consultant at Arinite.

Are you stressed?

Being aware of stress and the affect it has on work and relationships may not be as obvious as it seems. So with the help of our experts, we have looked at a range of signs which may indicate that you are stressed.

Cat Williams says: Stress, put simply, is a feeling of ‘I don't think I can cope with this’. When we are overwhelmed it is a threat to our well-being, so our fight or flight response kicks in. You might notice that you are sweating more, breathing quicker and shallower as well as snapping at other people, being argumentative and impatient.

Rasheed Ogunlaru says: Being stressed can burn bridges in personal and business relationships. By not addressing the problems you’re facing, health issues can develop and infringe on your creative thinking. Workaholics may put themselves under high pressure to exceed more than the typical working hours, falling into the potentially dangerous trap of comparing themselves to others.

Joan Moran says: There are times when the office can be difficult and challenging with constant changes and distractions that lead to stress, irritation and even a sense of disengagement. Stress results from a build-up of anxiety and uncertainty throughout the day, week, month or year, it’s cumulative.

Chris Johnson says: Stress is necessary to create optimal performance but if it’s too much, your body will talk back to you. You can monitor stress by checking your resting heart rate or blood pressure and notice signs such as having problems falling asleep or staying asleep.

Neil Shah says: Our performance zone is optimal to drive mental, physical and emotional performance. Above this zone is edging towards burnout where our problem solving, lateral thinking and creative thinking skills will diminish. Below the performance zone we may find ourselves unmotivated, energy and enthusiasm will be low and we will be bored sluggish and lethargic.


How may stress be affecting you?

Stress at its best can give you that useful adrenaline rush to help you think faster and more efficiently, however, there is a turning point when it becomes detrimental to yourself as well as your work. Being under stress, Rasheed Ogunlaru explains that you’re only working to forty to sixty percent of your capacity and can negatively impact your employees as the stress is accumulatively passed onto them.

When that pressure is excessive or continuous, Bryan Richards points out that CEO’s suffer most from a lack of concentration and poor decision making, whilst Neil Shah warns of a burnout and further serious health conditions.

He said: “Take Barclays’ head of compliance and Lloyds Banking Group CEO – both have had to take time away from work due to stress and exhaustion.”

What are the misconceptions of relaxing?

People often believe that there needs to be a perfect moment in time where things calm down to allow them to relax, yet the reality is that life never slows down and as a CEO or manager, there's never the perfect time to relax.

Tiffany Cruikshank says: “Another misconception is that if you don't feel stressed then you don't have a problem. High stress levels on a daily basis leads to the body to bypass those sensations or reminders of stress.”

Others may have a completely different perception of relaxation: “You do not have to sit on your desk cross-legged, meditating and humming to be able to relax at work,” says Neil Shah, “the key is to incorporate relaxation into your day like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or taking your lunch away from your desk or even better - outdoors.”

Expert solutions to help you relax

There are a variety of methods to help you relax and relieve tension, regardless of whether you are in the office, at home or out and about in stressful situations.

Take a deep breath

Deep breathing helps to bring cortisol levels down and to bring the nervous system into relaxation mode. Tiffany Cruikshank suggests setting an alarm on your phone a couple of times a day to remind you to do the following breathing exercise:

1. Sit up in your chair and close your eyes to begin.
2. As you close your eyes, start to notice the natural pace of your breath. Sometimes you might notice the breath is choppy or short, sometimes it might feel more relaxed and longer paced. The quality is not important but just start to become an observer to the process of the breath, the natural movement of the breath.
3. Then start to count your inhale and exhale and see if you can make your exhale a little longer than the inhale. For example if you inhale for a count of four try to exhale for a count of five or six.
4. Continue this for one or two minutes.

The exhalation helps to tap into the parasympathetic mode where you can be most efficient in your work and reduce the effects of stress on your body.

Manage your time

“A CEO needs to work shrewdly and only work until the work gets done”, says Rasheed Ogunlaru, who recommends setting alarms as a reminder of when to leave the office. “Book in important dates first such as time for family, vacation, fun and relaxation; remember there are only limited hours.” Neil Shah advises that good time management is essential when handling a heavy workload without excessive stress, prioritising the workload in order of urgency and importance will help. For example:

1. Do now: these are both urgent and important
2. Plan to do: these are important but not urgent
3. Reject diplomatically: these might be urgent but are not important
4. Resist and cease: these are both non-urgent and non-important

CEOs should also use the skills of the managers to do work. Bryan Richards says: “Delegation is sometimes difficult, but it is good management and reduces your personal workload. Being able to effectively delegate enables you to take more time out from work and relax.”

Achieve mindfulness

Reaching mindfulness will help you see the possibilities and opportunities so you can prioritise with purpose. Joan Moran adds, “A CEO can do this by setting aside 10 minutes each day to quiet the mind and practise observing thoughts and anxieties without passing judgment - simply experiencing them.” When you are overwhelmed, simply slow your mind and observe the thoughts, don't label them as bad or good. CEOs need to practise focusing on the present moment and nothing else, as it will tell you everything you need to know about where you want to go next.

Make time to socialise

Do not define yourself by work alone; know that you're much more than an executive, Jonathan Alpert says. “Those who define themselves by their careers are more prone to being impacted negatively by work stress, whereas those who make it a point to wear other hats can thus enjoy varied aspects of life”. “It’s all about planning,” says Bryan Richards, “a CEO plans for their busy working day, so plan to ‘switch off’ and include social times into the day too.”

Take a break

Prioritising time for pleasurable activities is what Cat Williams advises to reduce stress. Ask yourself ‘with whom do I feel at my best?’ and ‘what activities make me feel at my best?’ and prioritise those. Neil Shah also encourages senior leaders to incorporate personal priorities, adding that starting a culture of wellbeing begins at the top. “The CEO has a responsibility to lead by example, so if you are emailing your team at 10pm, you are promoting bad habits.”

During the working day, CEOs need to take advantage of their breaks and use them as such. Step out of the office, go for a walk and get sunlight. For an instant release of tension, rub gently or press the acupuncture points which you can find at the sides of the bridge of your nose, around your eyes, soles of your feet and fists.

Switch off

Chris Johnson recommends a bathtub once a week for 15 minutes using Epsom salts. “These salts will seep into your body and the body’s magnesium levels will increase helping you to relax.” Technology is also a worldwide problem and Chris urges to keep mobile phones 10 feet away from the head during the sleep as a result of the impact of the waves. “Also texting and checking emails at 3am is not necessary. Once a month, people should have a 24 hour technology break.”

Revitalise yourself- take a break

Take yourself away from the everyday norm to properly unwind and escape from the hectic office schedule and daily routine. Finalise your journey from distress to de-stress at some of the most relaxing destinations:

The spa vacation

Perfectly tranquil, is India’s Vana Malsi Estate, which has a philosophy that will help anyone find their inner peace and wellbeing. The retreat offers Ayurvedic therapies and yoga exercises to revitalise spirits with detox programmes and restaurants that serve healthy, organic foods.


The beach vacation

Surrounded by tropical turquoise waters and pristine beaches in the Indian Ocean is Denis Island (Seychelles). With limited Wi-Fi and a sustainable farm, this island allows vacation goers to be at one with nature.

Beach Villa Exterior. Plunge Pool

The rainforest vacation

Lapa Rios is a remote and pristine rainforest setting in Costa Rica, abundant with wildlife and natural ecology. The phone-free paradise gives visitors the chance to go horse riding, kayaking, waterfall rappelling or tour the national parks.


Whilst we all address stress differently, it’s crucial that you prioritise your health, wellbeing and relationships. Being in control of these will allow you to do your best, without the fear of burning out. Make the most of leisure time and strive to meet your personal goals, not just business goals. Doing so will help you to achieve a balanced work-life ideal, and find your inner peace.