Imagine peacefully walking a small path on a quiet spring morning. The birds sing and the clouds break just enough for the sunlight to pour through the morning glow and light the wildflowers under your feet. But just as you take a deep breath and smile, a fierce tiger ready to pounce slinks out from behind a tree. What do you do?
These are moments we are biologically engineered for. Danger triggers the human fight or flight response, which enables people to function in stressful situations. However, our modern world places many of us in a fight or flight mode that never ends. Making cold calls, being rejected, and staying up all night to create high-pressure presentations all have a similar physiological effect as taking on a dangerous animal. And, if you don’t learn how to step back and give your body and mind a break from sales stress, it can have negative consequences.
How Does Stress Work?
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has two complementary parts, the sympathetic ANS and the parasympathetic ANS.
The sympathetic ANS is responsible for turning on the fight or flight response; the parasympathetic ANS turns the body down for digestion. The sympathetic ANS is what makes you alert and prepared for action when confronted with stress. It can cause you to tremble, sweat, and get that “butterflies in your stomach” feeling. This system is fueled by increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels, and a cocktail of brain chemistry.
The parasympathic ANS turns our fight or flight response back off, allowing us to relax again. Sometimes called the “feed and breed” system, this collection of nerves and hormones regulate digestion, lowering heart rate and blood pressure. In order for it to work effectively, it is critical to get away from our sources of stress.
The problem with sales professions is that stress tends to be a large part of daily operation. Whether you’re making cold calls or prepping for an important presentation, many sales professionals necessarily enter a state of non-stop stress that can have negative long-term effects on health. The reality is that the human body is a complex machine that requires oscillations in stress to operate at its best. Imagine a car that could only run at 90 mph: not only would it run out of gas more quickly, but it would also require more pit stops to fix internal problems.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, some side-effects of stress include:
- Fear and anxiety about the future
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty making decisions
- Headaches, back pain, and upset stomach
Stress is a common factor for anyone in a high-tension environment, and everyone copes and deals with it differently and has different limits. But especially in the sales world (one driven by creating relationships and sales quotas), it’s important to recognize where the greatest stressors are in a pipeline and to learn how to cope with them, which sometimes might mean avoiding them entirely. Each time that you think or talk about a problem related to your selling, it’s a source of stress. It could be difficult clients or a particularly low sales week; these things spark adrenaline and force your body out of homeostasis.
6 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress in the Workplace
Take time to congratulate yourself and others.
According to research by Doctor Barbara Frederickson, having positive communication at work can lead to lower stress and better sales. Her study states that high-performing teams have positive interaction and communication three times more often than average performing teams.
When you start to feel that old stress demon jumping on your metaphysical back, there is no quicker way to shake it off than with deep breathing. In fact, it can actually increase your performance and overall health. Deep breathing has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (the “fight-or-flight” hormone) as well as your blood pressure. (Gail Innis, “Understanding Cortisol; The Stress Hormone,” Michigan State University Extension)
Crank up the tunes and sing along.
When you’re on the way to a particularly stressful appointment, research shows that listening and singing to music can lower your blood pressure and increase your levels of oxytocin. This chemical actually makes you more social and inclined to connect with other people. Singing has also been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, which is akin to about a half shot of whiskey before your big meeting. (Mona L. Chandin and Daniel J. Levitin, “The Neurochemistry of Music,” Trends in Cognitive Science)
Have an imagination vacation.
One of the best ways to relax and distress is through autogenic relaxation. In this method, you combine mental relaxation techniques (like imagining you’re on a beautiful beach) with physical awareness. Lie down on the floor or put your head on your desk. Then, mentally start at your feet and tell yourself the words “relax” or “melt away.” Move up through your major body areas until you have mentally relaxed your entire body. You will have relaxed your breathing and your body, while taking a much-needed mental vacation.
Bring your pet to work (if you can).
It sounds crazy, but having a pet at work can actually lower your stress throughout the day. Granted, not every boss will allow you to bring your herd of kittens to work, but it could pay off in the long run. Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that petting dogs for 15 minutes actually raises the levels of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin for both pets and owners significantly. This can slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and create a sense of comfort and focus. (Sy Montgomery, “Psychological Effects of Pets are Profound,” Boston Globe)
Promote a culture of compassion.
Especially in sales, it can be easy to fall into the “dog-eat-dog” mindset. Managers often don’t want to appear to be too compassionate, fearing their sales staff might not respect them as much. Recent research from New York University showed that just the opposite is true. Business leaders who are perceived as fair and self-sacrificing had more loyal, more ethical, and friendlier employees and sales staff. This led to happier employees, better sales performance, and more positive customer experiences.
What do you think?
By making a few minor changes to the way you approach your day, you can manage your stress and sell happy. Try a few new techniques to rejuvenate your mind and body and you’ll be more prepared to face the stressors that are an inherent part of the sales life. These new tools will help you keep your fight or flight response in check, and your body more prepared to fight your sales tigers.