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5 self-care strategies for leaders during stressful times


If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, the flight safety briefing explains how in the event of an emergency, you must put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. 

Yet, leaders often overlook their own well-being during times of high stress. You can’t expect to help others if you haven’t first helped yourself.

To be a great leader of others means to first take care of yourself. Your entire team looks to you to set the tone and show how to manage an entire organization.

What employees often don’t see is how self-care starts from within. 

As a leader, especially in enduring crises, you can model the importance of maintaining mental and physical health by committing to self-care strategies for leaders.

Here are five ways you can help yourself and, thus, offer your self-care practices as a model for managers and employees.

1. Practice self-awareness

What sets great leaders apart is their dedication to learning more about themselves and others. People with high self-awareness tend to have more direction, purpose, influence and success in their professional and personal lives.

How can leaders practice self-awareness? You can:

  • Become aware of feelings and what they’re teaching you.
  • Gather feedback to look at yourself through others’ eyes.
  • Learn your strengths and weaknesses to identify what you’re doing well and what could be improved.
  • Be mindful of how you present yourself to others.
  • Welcome alternate viewpoints by being open to new ideas.
  • Keep a journal so you can track your progress over time.
  • Be sure to follow your values in not only what you say but what you do.

Self-coaching starts with setting your vision, the first important step to assessing where you are and where you would like to be. With practice, self-awareness can become a lifelong habit that becomes the foundation for high performance, productivity and overall satisfaction.

2. Set boundaries

Boundaries can be defined as the limits we set with other people in what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior toward us.

Setting boundaries is a form of self-care. It’s an important process in which leaders recognize what they need and ask for it. 

Here are four ways to set boundaries for yourself as part of your self-care strategies.

  • Know your limits so you can set your boundaries at work.
  • Be direct in stating your boundaries to avoid confusion.
  • Seek support through workplace mental health resources or tap into private resources to help you set boundaries at work.
  • Create a schedule that suits your preferences to keep things normal as much as possible, even when operating under crisis conditions.

Defining your limits can help you manage stress, take care of your physical well-being and create healthier relationships in both your professional and personal life.

3. Take care of your physical and mental health

Leaders with healthy routines and habits often model desired leadership behaviors with self-control, especially their ability to handle their temper.

Adopting the good habits of successful leaders can help reduce stress and replenish the energy needed for peak performance. Ways to take care of your physical and mental health include:

  • Plan your day the night before to reduce stress at the start of your day.
  • Take breaks from work to walk around, stretch your legs and clear your head. A little exercise – even just a lap around your building – can go a long way.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep and eat a diet of healthy food.
  • Automate as many decisions as possible to reduce “decision fatigue.”
  • Disconnect from work by picking up a hobby, connect with friends and family or spend time in nature.
  • Practice relaxation or meditative techniques to rest your mind.

4. Give yourself grace

When you’re in a position of leadership, you might feel like you have to solve everything immediately. In the process, you might create unrealistic expectations or timelines for yourself.

Give yourself grace by taking more control over your schedule can be an essential strategy for managing your stress. It allows for time to reflect on how leadership is much more than taking on 100% of the burden.

Leaders help organizations when they’re present and available for their employees, empowering them to devise solutions and execute them in the process.

Giving yourself grace means not putting so much pressure on yourself to be all things to all people. Instead, focus on being flexible in the face of ever-shifting situations.

Find the time to give yourself grace. Make it a priority to carve out places in your busy schedule and find a quiet space where you can feel at peace and reflect.

5. Extend grace to others

Be sure to check in with your team to see how they’re doing during any crisis. The call doesn’t need to be business-focused conversation.

Ask your employees how they are faring and how their family is dealing with the current situation. Your interest in your employees can mean the world to them.

Checking in with your team members also gives you the insights on which employees need grace the most in the workplace. For example, if an employee is suddenly homeless, make sure they are connected to work and community-based resources to help deal with the aftermath of a crisis.

Don’t forget to support employee wellness programs as another way to extend grace to your team. As wellness programs expand into more businesses, leaders are recognizing the benefits of such programs – including increased productivity and engagement and reduced absenteeism and turnover.

When leaders feel run down, exhausted or emotionally drained, they’re vulnerable to more than the health risks associated with stress. A chronically stressed leader could unwittingly trigger the spread of dysfunctional workplace dynamics across an entire organization that can limit employees’ ability to think creatively and develop innovative solutions.

For more ways to build a better workplace – like these self-care strategies for leaders – download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to being a best place to work.