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Stress Management: The Ultimate Guide

There are plenty of stressful jobs out there -- but if you’re in sales and believe your profession is uniquely stress-inducing, there’s data to back that up.

According to a 2011 PayScale survey, salespeople report the second-highest levels of stress in the country.

Why? Dealing with a monthly or quarterly quota adds a lot of pressure; plus, there are many factors in sales that may feel out of your control (it doesn’t matter how well you’ve prepared for a meeting if the prospect no-shows.)

Your go-to strategy for dealing with stress might be ignoring it. Health and happiness issues aside, stress is bad for your productivity. The Health and Safety Executive reported 9.9 million working days each year are lost thanks to stress, depression, or anxiety.

Fortunately, having a high-stress job doesn’t mean you’re doomed to feel anxious or on edge all the time. In this guide to stress management, you'll learn the symptoms of stress and how to cope with it.

The Signs of Stress

Stress has many physical effects -- none of them good. Here are some common ones:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Chest pains
  • Stomaches
  • Hair loss
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Acne
  • Back pain
  • Rashes
  • Frequent colds and/or infections
  • High blood pressure

These are mostly short-term symptoms, but beware, sustained stress can change your biological systems and result in stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

The takeaway: If you’re experiencing multiple symptoms on this list, it’s very possible your anxiety is impacting your body. Don’t let this go unchecked. The following suggestions and strategies will help you cope with stress.

How to Manage Stress at Work

These actionable tips reduce stress whether you’re sitting at your desk, in a meeting, or on the phone with a prospect. After all, most reps can’t drop everything to go take a calming yoga class in the middle of the day

(Although you can at HubSpot -- so if that sounds good, apply for one of our open sales roles.)

Take a deep breath

This suggestion is a classic for a reason. When your anxiety spikes, mitigate it by breathing in for five seconds, holding it for five more, and then exhaling for a final five. Slow, deep breathes activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you down.

Don’t think

Worrying about what might happen isn’t helpful. Sure, you should prepare for likely eventualities -- but that doesn’t mean dwelling on scary thoughts without any productive decisions.

HubSpot services manager Blake Toder recommends giving yourself five minutes to think about the problem.

“After five minutes, decide what your next steps will be,” he says. “Then take action and move on.”

This strategy helps Toder stay productive and avoid dwelling on negative thoughts. Try it next time you’re consumed with worry.

Give yourself a break

Do you try to force yourself to feel better? According to a new study from University of California, Berkeley, pushing away your feelings might not help.

“We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health,” said Iris Mauss, an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

After testing more than 1,300 adults, the study authors found that people who let sadness, disappointment, resentment, and other bleak emotions “run their course” are less stressed -- both in the present and six months down the line.

Exercise

I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before. Yet it bears repeating simply because it’s so effective.

“On exercise days, people’s mood significantly improved after exercising,” says Jo Coulson, who helped conduct a University of Bristol study on exercise’s effect on workers. “Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.”

Not only were the study participants less stressed, they were also better at managing their time, more focused, energetic, and motivated.

Separate research suggests many of the benefits of exercise come in the first 20 minutes. Set aside one-fifth of an hour to bike, swim, jog, or lift weights. That’s feasible for even the busiest salespeople.

Reach out

In-person interactions cause your body to produce a bunch of hormones that counteract the “flight or flight” response. Not only will your stress levels decrease, but you’ll be happier and more centered.

Here are some suggestions for getting support from your network:

  • Get lunch with a coworker
  • Grab coffee with your mentor
  • Join a pick-up sports game
  • Go to the gym with a friend
  • Call a relative

Maintain a balanced lifestyle

All the little choices you make every day can make you more resistant to stress -- or unable to stop it. With that in mind, do your best to stay balanced.

“Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit,” explains Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.

That means eating healthy food 80% of the time and treating yourself 20%, reducing your caffeine and sugar intake (both of which lead to mood and energy crashes), getting enough sleep, and not using substances to cope.

Meditate

Meditation sounds like a big commitment. But it doesn’t have to be a long activity or something you learn from an expert.

This infographic from CashNetUSA has some great suggestions for incorporating mindfulness into your day-to-day routine at work (without losing precious time!) Try drinking water mindfully, keeping track of the things that make you happy, and doing a "body scan" (i.e. mentally scanning down your body, focusing on the sensations in each part).

Take notes

Chances are, your stressors don’t vary too much. Maybe you’re worried about meeting quota, so you become stressed every time a “sure thing” deal falls through. Or you’re unsure about your career path, so you feel anxious when friends, family members, or coworkers ask you what you’ll do next.

Notice what tends to stress you out so you can better control your reaction. For a week or two, keep a running list of the times you were stressed and what caused them. Then review it, looking for common themes.

If there’s something you can avoid completely, do so. For everything else, take proactive measures to lower your stress.

Set the right expectations

You’ll never be free of stress. As I discussed, selling is inherently stressful. Yet even if you were in a low-pressure job, you’d still be facing stress about finances, relationships, current events, and major life changes -- not to mention all the stress from little issues, like rushing to catch your plane in time or forgetting to do something for a friend.

That’s why it’s important to treat stress like an inevitable part of your life: One that can be influenced and mitigated, but one that’s never going away completely. Use these techniques with the right expectations. You’re not trying to erase stress, you’re simply trying to cope with it.

These techniques aren’t luxuries. If you want to be happy, healthy, and productive, they’re essential parts of your routine. Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself -- to survive in sales and be a top performer, you need to manage your stress.

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