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4 Ways I Keep Sales Stress from Taking Over My Life

Salespeople know stress. You get home from work and you’re trying to unwind, but your brain is still in that meeting where a prospect berated you. Or maybe your head’s spinning because you know you’re going to miss your quota and you just don’t know how it happened.

Suddenly, you’re wondering if this company, job, or even a career in sales is right for you. But the question shouldn’t be, “Am I good enough?” It should be, “What are some positive ways to deal with stress?

Stress Can’t Affect Your “I”

Sales is a game played between the ears, so it’s important to drop negative thinking and anxious thoughts and get back to battle. In the book, “You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar,” David Sandler introduces the concept of “I” and “R.” I is the internal you. It’s who you are, and it can’t be diminished or changed by external sources like the R, which represents your role or title.

Sandler explains the I is your castle. Your deepest self is well-protected and impenetrable, and even when you cross the moat the R cannot pierce the armor of your internal self.

It’s too easy to think our day-to-day in sales makes us who we are. It doesn’t. You’re a killer, and you will get back to greatness. Just remember: No matter what happens in your role, it does not affect your I.

This is easier said than done, and just like anything in sales, it takes consistent effort and practice. The first step is acknowledging there’s no quick fix.

You need a long-term strategy for improving the way you process and move forward from difficult circumstances. That was a hard lesson for me to learn, so I’m sharing four ways I deal with stress — what I call “head trash” — at work.

How to Deal with Sales-Related Stress

1) Meditation

I’ve been hearing “You think too much” for as long as I can remember. The idea of “thinking less” has always confused me. How do you stop thinking? Just the idea of it makes me think more. Thinking too much is what makes me a great sales professional. It’s also why I can easily get hung up on negative experiences.

I’m lucky to have had a manager who suggested I download the meditation app Headspace and expense a membership.

It took me two months to start seeing the benefits, but when I did, I quickly noticed how much better I handled stressful situations at work. I’ve been practicing for six months, and I’ve realized meditation isn’t about thinking less — it’s about understanding you can’t control thoughts, and that’s OK. With meditation, you don’t have to control them.

Understand they’re just thoughts, and ignore the emotional response they create. Instead of wondering if I’m a good salesperson, meditation has trained me to identify those thoughts as negative and move on. Think of it like putting headphones on in a noisy room. The noise is still there, but the headphones muffle it so you can get back to the task at hand.

Before meditation, I handled high-stress situations by leaving the office. If I had a rough day, I would leave early and come back the next day with a fresh mind. It was the only solution at the time, and I was lucky to have managers who understood and accommodated me.

Now, I can book a meeting room for 15 minutes, plug into a 10-minute meditation, and walk out calm, collected, and ready to make more calls. Here are two more useful tactics I’ve learned through meditation:

  1. Noting: Noting is the practice of quickly identifying when your brain is thinking about things that jeopardize your mental or physical well-being. It teaches you to identify counterproductive thoughts and transition focus to positive thoughts — like how badass you are (and believe me, if you’re reading about becoming better at sales, you’re an awesome sales professional).
  2. Visualization: When you’re in a bad place it’s best to take yourself out of that place. Visualization is the practice of mentally removing yourself from high-stress situations and visualizing yourself in a better place. This has been game-changing for me. If something bad happens, instead of leaving the office, I “note” I’m overthinking the situation and refocus my attention on how great I already am, or I visualize myself in a better place — maybe on the beach with a drink in hand. Now, it takes me 15 minutes to get back to work instead of 24 hours.

2) Hobbies

Participating in fun activities during your time off is associated with lower blood pressure, cortisol levels, and body mass index. Activities like reading, hiking, or video games have also been correlated with higher positive psychosocial states and lower levels of depression.

Tasks requiring motor skills and thought force you to focus on what’s at hand instead of what’s at the office. Make sure your activity requires real focus. If going for a walk only changes the location of your worrying, rethink your activity.

Choose something that requires you to be mindful and present, like going for a run, golf, woodworking, or knitting. My hobby is video games. If I’m upset, it feels really good to blast zombies for an hour. I’d rather think about avoiding a zombie plague than the CEO was a jerk to me this morning for no reason.

3) Breathing

The American Institute of Stress says 20-30 minutes of deep breathing every day decreases metabolism, causes muscles to relax, and lowers blood pressure.

Before practicing meditation, I never gave much thought to my breathing. But it’s a fast and effective way of calming the body’s fight-or-flight response in stressful situations. Have you ever done yoga and felt really calm after class? Breathing is a big piece of that.

When we’re in distress, our brains send out fight-or-flight signals and our bodies shut down non-essential functions. When we were cavepeople, this response kept us from becoming something’s dinner. It’s less helpful when we need to give calm, collected demos. Breathing deeply calms the brain and gets the mind and body back into a state of relaxation and productivity.

What I love about this method is no one knows when you’re doing it. If I’m at dinner with friends and my heart rate rises because I can’t stop thinking about a difficult client call, I take deep breathes and within a minute or two I feel my pulse and mind slow down — all without causing a scene.

4) Exercise

When I first started in sales, I worked out to look good. Now, I work out to stay sane. Yoga was the first type of exercise I tried for stress relief. Today I pair it with meditation to let my body and mind relax and strengthen.

It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you like — stick to a regular cadence and show up even when you’ve had a rough day. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says people who engage in regular, vigorous exercise are 25% less likely to experience anxiety or depression the following five years. Sales is a tough job. If regular exercise keeps my mind and body healthier, I’m going to do it.

Don’t have time to work out several hours a week? ADAA psychologists say a 10-minute walk can relieve anxiety and depression just as well as a 45-minute visit to the gym.

I once had an especially difficult confrontation with a prospect I couldn’t get out of my head. I had nightmares about this prospect. I even thought about him on vacation in Portugal. Using the methods above, I realized this person’s business was in trouble. He was fighting to save it but it wasn’t working. By calming my mind, I could see the reality of the situation: It wasn’t my stress, it was his.

Try one or two of these methods for dealing with stress. I promise, you’ll enjoy a happier life in and outside the office.

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