Ashish Awasthi couldn’t take the pressure anymore.
So, one Sunday, the married father of two motorcycled out to a railroad track in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. There, the 27-year-old salesman threw himself in front of a train, and was killed.
Written in Hindi and English, a note in Awasthi’s pocket explained the reason he took his own life. Per The New York Times, the note read: “I’m going to commit suicide because I can’t meet my company’s sales targets and my company is pressuring me.”
Abbott Laboratories, the American-headquartered health-care company Awasthi worked for, has faced allegations of forcing its salespeople in India to use unethical, hyper-aggressive and possibly illegal practices to push its products. If there is truth in the accusations, then Awasthi – one of Abbott’s top performers in India – may well have been laboring in a boiling pot of toxic pressure.
Even so, his tragic story cannot be dismissed as an isolated incident that occurred under possibly egregious conditions. Rather, there is something universal in Awasthi’s angst to which salespeople can relate. There exists the powerful pressure to perform, the anxiety about failing to meet numbers, the worry about being unable to provide for family, the fatigue that comes when grinding through a barren sales stretch – the “sell or you don’t eat” commission-centered world of constant competition.
Many salespeople have felt some or all of these stressors at some point. And, in a disrupted marketplace revolutionized by technology that has introduced new challenges and rivals, the pangs appear to be intensifying, putting salespeople under greater pressure.
The promotional products industry has not bucked the trend.
Findings of a new Advantages survey show that three-quarters (74%) of industry sales professionals think the selling profession has become more difficult in the last three years. Similarly, more than two-thirds (67%) agree they’re under more pressure to sell now than three years back, while more than one-third admit they’ve considered a career change within the last 12 months.
The survey also hinted at some of the factors increasing the strain on industry pros. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say that e-commerce companies have made selling harder. A price-is-all-that-matters mentality among some buyers could also be an aggravating factor: More than 4 in 10 promo sales pros believe clients would leave them if a competitor offered a slightly cheaper price. To be sure, there were positive findings, too. Seventy-six percent of sellers believe they have a good work/life balance and 92% are optimistic that they’ll meet their sales goals going forward. Nonetheless, 42% still report that on-the-job stress affects their personal lives to varying degrees. Only 3 in 10 strongly agree that they excel at managing job stress, while about 20% of respondents feel that they fail to handle their work stress adequately.
With pressure growing and the selling environment becoming more difficult, there exists the potential for stress levels to rocket upward. Not only could elevated stress detract from work performance, compounding frustration, it could also cause serious impacts on health. Fortunately, there are ways to keep stress in check.
Here, we present 16 tips for dealing with everyday anxieties so you can stay balanced and perform your best.
Start the Day With Meditation
Based in the innovation hotbed of Silicon Valley, psychotherapist Shirani Pathak often counsels top-end sales pros, engineers and executives who need to handle high-pressure environments. Daily morning meditation, Pathak says, is the most effective tool her clients use to alleviate stress, establish calm and focus better.
“This doesn’t have to look like 60 minutes of sitting cross-legged on the floor with New Age music playing in the background,” says Pathak, founder of the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley. “What this does need to look like is starting the day with a few minutes of mindfulness and presence. This means before grabbing your cellphone, laptop or TV remote, you need to take a few minutes to get centered and grounded.”
Start by taking three deep, focused breaths. Spend anywhere from five to 20 minutes sitting still and paying attention to your breath, always gently redirecting your attention to breathing if your mind wanders. “You will find,” Pathak says, “that you have a more productive day and that things which would have derailed you in the past no longer have the power to. You will be centered in a peaceful and mindful state.”
Focus on What You Can Control
Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson has said: “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome.”
For salespeople, there is a world of wisdom in those words.
There are many things beyond your control – a client’s tight deadline, decoration and fulfillment challenges, a prospect’s ultimate decision to go with you or not. Focusing on such uncontrollables just breeds anxiety. Instead, you should step back and understand what you can control. Then, based on that, make an action plan that maximizes the chances for desirable outcomes.
“Once you’re working in terms of controllables, you can create a path toward what you want to accomplish,” says Tyler Spraul, a men’s college soccer coach and head trainer at Exercise.com, who teaches this strategy to athletes and clients.
For salespeople, controllables might include determining to reach out to a certain number of prospects in a given timeframe, always taking a consultative approach to client interactions, and viewing sales opportunities – regardless of outcome – as chances to learn and grow. Once you understand the controllables, you can develop a process for consistently taking actions that enhance the likelihood of success. And, once you have a process, says Spraul, your goal changes from “make the sale” to “follow the process,” which you have the power to do every time – a reality that helps erase stress. “You’ll be able to make adjustments along the way so that your process gets better and better,” Spraul says.
Analyze the Anxiety
Sometimes, stress can leave you so twisted you’re unaware of what’s causing it. Rather than trying to ignore feelings of worry – which rarely works – commit to honest self-reflection and identify the root causes of your anxiousness.
It’s a brave, take-charge initiative that will leave you feeling empowered. Don’t stop at identification, though. Remember the advice about focusing on what you can control and formulate a plan with steps you can take to eradicate or lessen the causes of your stress. Then, execute the plan.
Choose a Positive Perspective
Allen Klein, a humorist, keynote speaker and author of You Can’t Ruin My Day, likes to share a story about a couple of shoe salesmen from competing companies.
The companies send the sellers to a remote part of the world to tap a new market. The salesmen soon find that the local population doesn’t wear shoes. One salesman messages his firm saying, “Don’t send any more shoes. No one here wears any.” The other, however, tells his superiors, “Send all the shoes you can. No one here has any.”
The point is this: You have the power to react to the same set of facts in a multitude of ways, so why not select an optimistic view? For instance, instead of fretting over what will happen if you fail to reach a sales quota, think about all the great things you’ll be able to do when you attain the goal – how good you’ll feel having reached it. Use that as motivation to execute your plan for creating the best possible conditions for success.
Affirmative visualization – which should be reinforced with positive self-talk – can be applied to many aspects of a salesperson’s experience, including meetings, presentations and other interactions that get nerves jangling. Rather than imagining horror scenarios about your upcoming presentation, picture your dream delivery – see everything going exactly as you want it to. Dig into the details, visualizing everything from what you’ll have for breakfast on the day of the presentation to what you’ll wear to the particulars of the pitch itself. “Completely and concretely visualize down to the smallest details what the perfect day will look like,” says Chesie Roberts, owner of The CLR Group, a therapy practice in Mountain Brook, AL. “It works like a charm every time.”
Organize & Simplify
Disorganization breeds distress.
Indeed, anxiety and frustration are magnified by uncertainty, missed opportunity and forgotten essentials, all of which are repercussions of being disorganized. Of course, such consequences can be kept to a minimum by being as organized as possible in how you manage your day.
A great way to create order is by keeping a daily to-do list. Each night, make a list that prioritizes the next day’s tasks from most important to least important. Put together a reasonable plan for checking items off the list. Give yourself little deadlines to hit throughout the day; the timeframes help sharpen focus. Next, keep orderly digital files that make it easy to find what you’re looking for. Regularly review and update your calendar, and use mobile apps that improve efficiency. “The more organized you are at work,” says Jackie Ruka, author of Get Happy and Create A Kick-Butt Life, “the more you will have time for doing what you love outside of work.”
If, however, you remain stretched beyond your limit even after focusing your schedule, then try simplifying your day. “Reduce the number of commitments and focus on just the essential ones,” says John Sovec, a Pasadena, CA-based therapist and business coach. “Learn to say no to the rest. Leave room for downtime and fun.”
Be Forgiving & Understanding
Let’s be real: Some clients are just mean. Colleagues can irk us. Managers can condescend and belittle. These aggravators can turn our insides into a bubbling cauldron of resentment, which is dangerous. Harboring resentment poisons thinking and escalates stress, hurting your chances for success while making you miserable.
So don’t stew – forgive, says Bradley Nelson, a holistic physician and author of The Emotion Code. “Strive for a state of acceptance and understanding of others,” Nelson says. “None of us are perfect and we all have reasons for acting the way we do. Learn to let things go and be generous and kind.”
When you adopt this approach, your burdens will feel lighter, you’ll be clear-minded and more at peace. Also, be sure to include yourself in the people you forgive and view with understanding, Nelson says. Beating yourself up for missteps only compounds aggravation. “Most mistakes we make won’t affect us in the long run,” says Nelson. “By recognizing the value in our folly, we can learn some of life’s most valuable lessons.”
The sales profession necessitates striving. Good salespeople embrace that challenge and thrive on it. Still, perpetual plowing forward, without pause, can leave you weary and blind to the blessings in your life. In that harried state of mind, you’re ill-suited to perform your best.
So take a few moments each day to reflect on what you’re grateful for. Spraul recommends writing a list of 10 things you appreciate each morning in a journal. “Keeping a grateful journal will help you keep the day-to-day problems in the right perspective,” he says. You’ll feel renewed and bolstered – buoyed by happy reflections. That’s a healthy mindset to approach the day with – a mindset that makes it easier to think creatively and generate solutions.
Eight More Ways to Beat Stress
1. Laugh It Up
Health experts say laughter reduces tension, evokes endorphin release, decreases blood pressure and increases oxygenation of blood. That’s why more folks are trying “laughter therapy” or “laughter yoga” – a practice in which people, often with a partner or in groups, engage in voluntary laughter exercises. Get the chuckles going by learning more at www.laughteryoga.org.
2. Start Coloring
Adult coloring books are trending for a reason: They provide stressed out grownups the chance to engage in a simple, mind-filling creative activity that naturally helps calm them down. Get out your crayons and have some fun.
3. Act Unselfishly
Look beyond yourself and identify opportunities where you can serve others. The altruism removes focus from your worries, gives you a fresh perspective and makes you feel good that you’ve helped someone. Similar thinking can be applied to client interactions. Rather than worrying about making the sale, pour your attention into understanding how you can best help your client succeed. Accomplish that, and sales could take care of themselves.
4. Soothe With Sacred Bathing
This activity involves relaxing and meditating in a clean bathtub with the help of essential oils, a lit candle and quartz crystals. “The basic concept of sacred bathing is that it is a special time for quiet self-care,” says psychologist Paulette Kouffman Sherman. “It’s a time to let all negative thoughts, emotions, limiting beliefs and distractions go down the drain so that you can imagine bathing in love and peace.” To learn more, check out Kouffman Sherman’s The Book of Sacred Baths at www.sacredbathing.com.
5. Schedule Tech Blackouts
Set aside times during the day when you’ll momentarily put away your phone, won’t check email, quit working on the laptop and even avoid surfing the web. Shuttering the digital screens helps you disconnect from life’s stressors and revive yourself. It’s especially smart to de-tech at least a half-hour before bed. Why? Studies show you’ll sleep better.
6. Tend to the Physical
Speaking of sleep, is your shut-eye schedule consistent or haphazard? Experts say you’ll perform better at work if you go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Regular exercise is a great benefit to your body, as well. Finally, drop the junk food and “miracle diets” and stick to a nutritious, balanced meal plan. The resulting physical wellness will help improve your mental and emotional health.
7. Create a Chillin’ Playlist
Make sure your mobile device features a list of songs you can play to help alleviate stress, anger and related negative emotions. It’s a subjective list, so select tunes that work best for you.
8. Just Breathe
“When you are in a stressful situation, there is less oxygen flowing to your brain,” says Chelsea Xeron, a peak performance consultant and yoga teacher who works with NFL players and Olympic athletes. “By taking several deep breaths in, you are not only oxygenating your body, you are also calming yourself down. You have to gain control over yourself before you can gain control over a situation.”
For more than 30 years, psychotherapist Roberta Temes has been helping salespeople, managers and performers reduce stress and build confidence. In her experience, the best technique for achieving outstanding results is tapping – a form of acupressure you can do yourself at any time. “There are certain spots on your body that when you gently tap them, while at the same time verbally expressing a fearful thought, you get immediate relief from that thought,” says Temes, author of The Tapping Cure.
As Temes explains, tapping helps people calm anger, relieve guilt, overcome phobias and alleviate stress in social and business situations. Requiring no medicine, tapping’s efficacy starts with determining where on the body to tap and what to say while tapping. For instance, maybe you’re angry because your next-door neighbor has accused you of something you didn’t do. The solution, Temes says, would be to tap on the bone under your eye and say: “Even though I’ve been unjustly accused, I’m OK.” Do this three times and “then tap on your collar bone and then again say that sentence three times while tapping,” says Temes. “Stress would diminish and probably totally disappear.”
21st Century Stress Relief
In the not too distant future, it might become commonplace for stressed out salespeople to find relaxation through the help of a virtual reality device.
Consider that VR is already being used to conduct exposure therapy, an immersive experience in which patients are put into virtual simulations to confront a fear or stressful event. “This helps people understand how to cope with the situation in the future, and therefore not get anywhere near as stressed when in the actual situation,” says Daniel Colaianni, co-founder of VR Bound.
Recently, a University of Oxford study showed that VR exposure therapy can help people suffering from severe paranoia. Colaianni says the therapy is gaining adoption at hospitals, military bases and universities. Looking forward, it’s easy to imagine sales pros using VR headsets to simulate presentation scenarios that make them nervous – and that’s just one potential application. It’s also not a stretch to envision VR devices transporting tense professionals into soothing natural settings that provide relief. “In this past year alone, we are seeing it become more commercial, starting with VR apps that place people in relaxing environments,” says Colaianni.
Christopher Ruvo is a senior writer for Advantages. Tweet: @ChrisR_ASI. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org