Coping Mechanisms for Stress

“Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.”

— Mark Black

The price of being a successful CEO

It’s human nature to look at a highly successful individual and possibly envy their good fortune without taking into consideration the considerable sacrifices they’ve had to make along the way. The reality is that all achievement usually necessitates sacrificing something of personal value. The more noteworthy the accomplishment, the greater the loss in some other area of life. Thus, the saying: “For everything gained something is lost.” From risking one’s net worth to launch a startup company, to a scarcity of time to spend with loved ones, or being smeared by rivals and competitors, such things can (and likely will happen). However, perhaps the greatest toll on a driven CEO, entrepreneur or executive may well be a significant decline in mental and emotional health. Even the most health conscious of highly successful individuals runs a high risk of succumbing to chronic stress and sometimes complete burnout.

At Addcounsel, we work with ultra-high-net-worth individuals and have seen the personal cost of noteworthy success since we opened our first luxury clinic. Let’s explore some of the covert issues around being a highly successful individual without a sufficient support structure in place:

  • Difficulty sustaining mental and emotional wellbeing
  • Deep feelings of loneliness
  • Succumbing to physical illnesses related to untreated chronic stress such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity,hypertension
  • Digestive disorders such as vomiting, constipation, gallstones, abdominal pain, and bloating
  • Suicidal ideation and bouts of deep depression
  • Compromised marriages and relationships
  • In many cases, little time to spend with a young family
  • Severe anxiety about being ousted by shareholders/board of directors, and being continuously monitored by regulatory bodies and the press (in some cases being spied on by intelligence agencies)
  • Developing self-destructive coping mechanisms such as compulsive gambling, misusing alcohol and/or drugs, over or under-eating, and sex and love addiction

Forbes Magazine reports that in the US: “In 2023, a record number of CEOs left their positions, with a sobering statistic revealing that 19 CEOs tragically passed away while in office. The relentless demands of the C-suite are breeding exhaustion and stress, with 75% of C-suite executives seriously considering quitting their jobs for better well-being support, according to a Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence survey. CEOs work an average of 62.5 hours a week (not including requests outside office hours), and this isn’t going to lessen anytime soon.”

People Management UK recently published a report on CEO burnout/stress and a spike in resignations among them in 2023: “For many organisations, it feels like the Great Resignation may finally be coming to an end. Recent research has shown that the number of employees quitting has fallen to pre-pandemic norms. However, the same can’t be said for leaders, where CEO departures have hit record highs according to a new report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.”

The article continues: “These leaders felt more satisfied and motivated than the overall survey sample (86 per cent versus 66 per cent), more appreciated (84 per cent versus 65 per cent) and more supported (83 per cent versus 63 per cent). Leaders also reported higher autonomy – three quarters felt fairly or largely autonomous, compared to 57 per cent of the overall sample. The majority of leaders (83 per cent) agreed they were fairly paid, in contrast with 61 per cent of all respondents.”

People Management UK concludes that although CEOs have more autonomy and impact, especially because they can see the direct efforts of their decisions, they burnout: “These results aren’t surprising – leaders are likely to feel more empowered than other employees, they see the direct results of their efforts and tend to be higher paid. However, our research also revealed a concerning contradiction. Leaders also felt more burnt out, overworked, and disengaged. More than half (56 per cent) felt fairly or largely burnt out compared to 39 per cent of all respondents, and the same percentage felt fairly or largely disengaged versus 31 per cent of the overall sample. When asked about feeling overworked, there were more than 20 percentage points between leaders and the whole sample.”

Let’s look at some of the mental and emotional issues a CEO on the brink of burning out will likely be facing:

Loneliness and the fear of vulnerability

Leading and implementing a vision for a company is relentlessly hard work. Most employees (those who want to be led while desiring to excel in their role) need to feel confident in the direction of the company, the effectiveness of the management team and the soundness/integrity of the CEO. Many CEOs report feeling extremely isolated in their position because they feel they can’t show any sign of vulnerability and therefore need to consistently mask. The CEO believes that to show any sign of hidden emotion or stress concerning the future of the company might engender fear or panic among employees, some of whom may jump ship. The fear of being too vulnerable or passing on concerns to a spouse or loved ones about just how bad things have got often deter an executive from getting honest and seeking help. While the upside of leading a company is self-evident, it can be a very lonely place if external supportive structures aren’t integrated into the CEO’s life.

Fear of failure or being publicly humiliated

Many highly successful CEOs will have started their business career from scratch, having been born into or raised in low-income families where resources were scarce. Many grew up in what would now be considered highly dysfunctional environments, often with a history of generational addiction and mental illness. While starting out in life with this kind of uncertainty has its advantages, such as fuelling a compelling drive to succeed and serve the greater good, the fear of failure and/or public shame often haunts such individuals. This can be the case even long after they’ve secured enough resources for their family to live abundantly for the foreseeable future. A scarcity mindset can be extremely difficult to shake off regardless of net worth and is often linked to a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The history books are filled with some of the most brilliant achievers who were plagued by feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and impostor syndrome well into old age. 

What is chronic stress?

Chronic stress is described as a prolonged and overwhelming feeling of stress, whereas acute stress is short-term and temporary. A mature CEO with decades in business is a high-risk candidate for chronic stress, especially if living in a complex family system. Although signs of chronic stress differ from one individual to another, at Addcounsel we’ve identified universal symptoms as follows:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Confusion and indecisiveness
  • Poor decision making
  • Extreme irritability and mood swings
  • Sleep issues
  • Fatigue
  • Migraine and headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Gastric and digestive issues
  • Depression/low mood
  • Feeling trapped
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Physical illnesses
  • Exhaustion
  • Libido issues

Coping mechanisms for stress before it comes chronic

Chronic stress is often life-style related. A leader might feel they’re not in a position to walk away from their current situation, however, there are simple ways to alleviate intense stress before it becomes chronic and leads to burnout. It’ll require a resolute approach to adopting adjustments in behaviours, and most definitely a support system to sustain such adjustments. Let’s explore:

Regular leave/time out

There’s a reason why US Presidents take time out to decompress with family or on the golf course. A CEO in their prime will typically work 65 to 100 hours a week; that’s unsustainable for most humans, and so there is a compelling case for taking regular prolonged breaks throughout the year to reset and recharge. The key is to prioritise long-term health and therefore longevity.

Diet and nutrition

There is increasing and compelling evidence that diet and nutrition have the potential to significantly enhance mental and emotional wellness, as well as physical health. Finding and sustaining the right balance for one’s unique body and dietary requirements will pay huge dividends in the long run for both mental and physical health.

Minimising alcohol consumption/unhealthy coping strategies

The less alcohol one drinks the better for overall health and long-term stamina. Some will not be able to drink safely if there’s a history of addiction; however, even for individuals where this is not an issue, significantly reducing alcohol consumption will without a doubt greatly improve physical energy and wellbeing. Similarly, quitting smoking and/or other unhealthy coping strategies is highly recommended for obvious reasons.

Regular exercise 

It’s well documented that regular, effective exercise will enhance mental, emotional, and physical health. An excellent fitness coach will incorporate a realistic exercise plan into the schedule of a time-poor leader.

Build a strong support system to avoid burnout

This could look like engaging with a nutritionist, fitness trainer, a therapist or psychologist, and attending the occasional private mutual aid group to support one’s efforts.

Contact us today

Our experts will assess any factors that may have caused your work-related stress to become burdensomeby leveraging the world’s most extensive menu of burnout treatment services to help you get back to your old self, and create a robust aftercare programme to support re-integration into your family and lifestyle. Recovery treatment takes place in a luxury intimate, one-to-one setting in London—no groups, no other patients. Your comfort, safety and privacy are our priority.

Contact us today to start your recovery journey from the comfort and anonymity of our discreet, luxury rehabilitation accommodations in Mayfair, Chelsea, Knightsbridge or Notting Hill, London.

When you check in to our private and discreet clinics, you’ll be embarking upon a personalised burnout treatment programme tailored to your individual needs. We offer luxury private accommodation for the duration of your stay, with 24/7 access to a team of world-class experts headed by one of the UK’s leading psychiatrists.

Our integrative team is made up of a group of dedicated psychologists, physiatrists, therapists, and nutritionists who are all here to help you on your journey to burnout recovery. We combine our team’s expertise to provide a multidisciplinary treatment approach, fusing therapy, medication, and alternative treatment to improve both your physical and mental health. Contact us today to start your recovery journey.


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