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How to manage stress when you’re the boss

Managers deal with stress and anxiety daily, but many C-suite executives have personality traits that further complicate things.

4 min read


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Managers are like avocados in the grocery store: Someone is always squeezing them to see whether they’re any good, but they lose appeal if they’re crushed.

Upper management wants results, while subordinates crave leadership and support. Managers must get their employees to perform by walking a tightrope between pushing too little and too much, providing workers with the resources they need to flourish.

Managers deal with stress and anxiety daily, but many C-suite executives have personality traits that further complicate things. Efforts to prioritize self-care and build healthy relationships at work can go a long way.

Are leaders psychopaths?

Part of the problem could stem from the abnormally high number of psychopaths in leadership roles. A recent study found more than one in five CEOs are psychopaths: detached, aggressive, antisocial, and manipulative individuals. Interestingly, the same portion of prisoners are considered psychopaths. For reference, only about 1% of the general population displays psychopathic tendencies.

Considering how many Type A personalities we see in high-stress positions, the psychopath incursion probably isn’t a huge surprise. It creates a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, though. Do these people inadvertently seek stressful jobs because of their personality traits, or do their stressful jobs cause them to become more anxious? It’s a bit of both.

This isn’t all bad news. A study of US presidents found possession of one psychopathic trait — fearless dominance — to be a predictor of success. The same holds true for managers. Psychopathy is associated with greater stress immunity, boldness and other dominant behaviors that make great leaders. While these characteristics are sometimes helpful, too many psychopaths can quickly turn even the best organizations into an asylum.

Keeping your head in check

Regardless of your traits, it’s important to keep personality quirks in check at the office. Here are a few ways to curb unhealthy behaviors and reduce stress:

  1. Take care of yourself.
    I’m not referring to curling up with a bottle of wine at the end of the day. Mindfulness meditation techniques and exercise have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. Exercise stimulates endorphin production and reduces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Shifting to a healthier diet, consistently getting plenty of sleep, and spending time with friends and family can also help.
  2. Get professional help.
    You don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis mode to seek a mental health tune-up. Leaders deal with the same life issues as everyone else, but their roles tend to pile on stress. Find a reputable mental health professional to help you address any issues.
  3. Consider taking medication.
    There is no cure-all for anxiety and depression, but many people report positive changes through medication. A recent study found antidepressants were in some cases twice as effective as placebos. Talk with your doctor about potential side effects so you know the pros and cons.
  4. Build healthy relationships at work.
    Managers experience significantly less stress when they have good relationships with employees. A few quick tips: Don’t be condescending; spend time with employees to get to know them; support subordinates in good times and bad; and provide clear job expectations and accountability.

If you’re feeling crushed between executives and employees, you’re not alone. But high levels of workplace stress can be detrimental to your organization. Focus on fostering a supportive environment and taking care of yourself as well as your employees, and you’ll inevitably shed some of the stress inherent to management.


Bill Topaz, a publishing and content expert, is the president of, which offers quality health care information contributed by top researchers and experts. His career has focused on consumer, educational, and scientific/medical publishing in media corporations such as Tribune Co. and Disney.

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