Firaz was recently appointed CEO of a $1 billion company where he had held various roles over the past nine years. He had coveted this position for two years, but, now that he had it, Firaz was far from happy.
Work was stressful in a number of ways. He felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of managing the executive leadership team, particularly because they were his peers not that long ago. Another stressor came from managing a board that, while united in its support of him as CEO, was divisively fractured about the company’s strategy. Feelings of fear and inadequacy related to taking the company forward in the midst of new government regulations and stiff competition also added to the stress.
In addition, Firaz wasn’t feeling successful at home either. Before accepting the CEO role, he had promised his wife and children he’d be home for dinner each night. And, although he was physically present at the dinner table, his mental attention was captured by a new text pinging every few minutes. He became irritated over small things. He often fell asleep when he should have been awake (like while reading to his kids) and was awake when he should have been asleep (at 3 am).
Firaz’s work pressure was seeping into his home life and cutting him off from one of the most important resources for easing his stress — his family. You don’t need to be a CEO to feel like this. Stress is a part of most jobs. Here are five ways to recharge at home without adding stress to the lives of the very people who most want to support you.
Communicate — appropriately. When you’re not fully present at home because you’re distracted by work, your family might interpret your lack of attention to mean that you don’t value them or that they did something wrong. Instead, be transparent about what’s going on. Firaz learned to say, “I’m learning my new role, and it’s a big step up. I’m feeling overwhelmed and you might see me taking work calls more often than I’d like to for the next three months.” By disclosing what was on his mind, Firaz didn’t have to keep his stress bottled up, which often lead to an outburst at home or work.
At the same time, be sure to put your troubles into perspective for your family. When Firaz shared that he was worried about work, his 7-year-old daughter gave him her allowance for the week in the hope that it would help. Realizing how he may have worried her more than he intended, Firaz explained to her, “Although I’m stressed about work, this is the job I wanted and I’m excited to be doing it. The things I’m worried about will be sorted out as I learn my new role and hire more people.”
Transition before you get home. As you travel from work to home, take the time to build in a mini-transition. Firaz began stopping by a lake on his way home. He’d get out of his car and sit on a bench to look at the view for two minutes before completing his commute. This daily ritual was a cue to shut down work issues (at least until after dinner) and get ready for a different set of interactions at home. You can come up with other rituals to intentionally make the transition from one mode to another. If you commute on a train, you might look at a family photo before you leave the station as a way to redirect your focus to your family.
Share the wealth. Your family provides you with support and is sensitive to your stressors and moods. Although it’s helpful to communicate with them about what’s on your mind, be sure not to unload all your pent-up emotions on them. Find a trusted friend, colleague, or coach — or maybe someone from your personal board of directors— who can support you during times of high stress. You can leverage them as a place to vent, as a sounding board, or for providing advice. During one of our coaching conversations, Firaz was distracted and said he was dreading an upcoming conversation with his CFO. We spent a full hour exploring the sources of his concern — recognizing the common pattern that Firaz displayed whenever he faced confrontations with others — and arrived at a strategy for the upcoming conversation. Consequently, Firaz was able to discharge his worries and go home much more relaxed.
Set a day aside. Let your family know when you’ll be home and fully present and agree on a day when you might come home later than usual. On this day, you might not be able to make it home for dinner, reserving it for evening work engagements or to whittle down your to-do list. Choosing which day to make your “late day” is a personal choice but it does help to make it consistent so that you and your family can plan for it ahead of time.
Count your blessings. Research shows that gratitude has many benefits, including reduced stress. Before you get home, review your workday to identify one thing — no matter how small — for which you’re grateful. On particularly tough days, Firaz could at least express thanks for the Starbucks on the first floor.
By intentionally managing his work stress away from the office, Firaz opened up space to focus on his wife and kids when he was at home, which helped him gain perspective, rest, and cope better with his worries. He was able to sleep at the right time and in the right place. Firaz also discovered that moving from high-strung to relaxed made him a role model for his kids. His 16-year-old son followed some of the steps to manage his anxieties about a friendship that wasn’t working out.
By proactively managing your stress, you loosen the grip stress has on you and regain control of job and life.
Sabina Nawaz is a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer working in over 26 countries. She advises C-level executives in Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and academic organizations.