SEVEN BEST PRACTICES TO PREVENT STRESS
Thompson has developed seven best practices, called the ARSENAL system, that leaders can use to prevent stress. The best practices include: Awareness, Rest, Support, Exercise, Nutrition, Attitude, and Learning.
1. Awareness – an unaware brain is a surprised brain. Awareness is the foundation for the six other best practices. Through awareness, leaders collect feedback on their environment and their responses to it. By increasing awareness, leaders can improve their decision making skills. There are four mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Devote time each day to observing one’s own actions.
- Obtain feedback from multiple sources each day.
- Monitor information from the cognitive and emotional functioning dashboards.
- Take time to understand one’s feelings and why they have arisen.
2. Rest – a tired brain is a grumpy brain. Rest enables the brain to rejuvenate itself and store information in long term memory. Adequate amounts of sleep are necessary for cognitive and emotional effectiveness. Sleep is the most important type of rest, but napping can also be used to reduce sleep debt. There are five mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Take frequent breaks.
- Incorporate personal time into each day.
- Plan vacations and other long rest breaks.
- Learn to say no.
- Identify several different types of mental and physical breaks.
3. Support – an unsupported brain is a sad brain. Support comes from the psychological, emotional, and physical help that an individual receives from others. Research has shown that high quality relationships are correlated with longer lifespans. There are five mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Identify people who provide support.
- Offer support to others, which has a reinforcing effect.
- Spend more time around people whose presence is uplifting.
- Practice a faith, attend religious services, and engage in charitable activities that involve the greater good.
- Use your safety net, if necessary.
4. Exercise – an unfit brain is a slow brain. While exercise benefits the cardiovascular and muscle systems, it also keeps the brain functioning well. Leaders who are physically fit resist stress and recover from stress more rapidly than those who are inactive. Research has shown that physical fitness is directly related to one’s ability to resist cognitive and emotional problems during stressful periods. There are six mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Get a complete physical before starting any exercise program.
- Start moving.
- Establish baseline measures for factors like heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
- Determine a preference for working out alone or in a group.
- Do not miss an exercise session for the first sixty days – this will help transform new behaviors into a habit.
- Set reasonable goals.
5. Nutrition – a hungry brain is a distracted brain. To stay mentally and physically sharp at all times, leaders must eat a healthy diet. There are nine mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Make healthy food choices and consult with a doctor about whether to lose weight.
- Keep a written log of food consumed.
- Monitor weight daily and keep a record.
- Make small, gradual dietary adjustments.
- Stay away from fad diets.
- Minimize exposure to and consumption of junk food.
- Drink lots of water.
- Reduce consumption of sodas.
- Reduce portion sizes.
6. Attitude – a negative brain is an angry brain. Attitude is a reflection of one’s mindset and contentment with the environment and people. A leader’s attitude can provide insight into their motivation, commitment, character, and self-esteem. People with positive attitudes tend to have high energy levels and good health, as well as good memory, cognitive, and emotional performance. There are six mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Engage in activities that generate self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Have a positive outlook and see the glass as half full.
- Seek feedback from trusted individuals.
- When unhappy with others, talk directly with them to address the problem.
- Become a team player.
7. Learning – an unused brain is a forgetful brain. As people age, their brains also change. However, this should not prevent individuals from learning new skills on a continuing basis. Thompson compares the brain to a muscle that requires regular exercise to maintain strength. There are five mandatory elements to this best practice:
- Set daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual learning goals.
- Spend time with people who like to learn.
- Spend time with intelligent people.
- Get out of the comfort zone.
- Choose a variety of learning goals to exercise all parts of the brain.
Leaders can measure how well they are doing with the seven best practices by using the ARSENAL Assessment Graph. This is a radar chart or spider chart that plots a person’s performance for each of the best practices and quickly illustrates which areas need work. Leaders should strive to expand their ARSENAL ability levels as much as possible. The good news is that the best practices work as a system. A change in one tends to move the other in the same direction.