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Three ways business leaders can balance their emotions for long-term success

The ability to regulate emotions is a trait of top performers. It isn’t having the right setting that counts, but rather the right tools to improve emotional balance.

One of the most successful businessmen and investors of all time, billionaire Warren Buffet, said, “If you can’t control your emotions, you can’t control your money.”

For many executives, it’s common to hide emotional reactions in the hope of appearing professional. However, even if you’re skilled at keeping a poker face, your emotions can have a significant impact on your performance and outcomes.

According to a study by TalentSmart, emotional intelligence plays the biggest role in performance. It found that 90 percent of top performers are high in emotional intelligence.

If emotional intelligence is a game-changer for success, how can we regulate our own emotions and understand those of others?

Worry, fear, doubt, frustration and catastrophizing create a whirlwind of stress hormones in the body and brain, such as cortisol, which creates feelings of tension and anxiety.

This is the worst time to make cognitive decisions because cortisol changes the way we see the world. We become reactive, hyper-vigilant and myopic in our thoughts, and our judgment is impaired as a result.

Our brain is hijacked. We have diminished access to the prefrontal cortex – our brain’s CEO/executive function – and we move into the amygdala, home of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Our mind and body are in survival mode, so we’re not thriving. Our digestion slows down, our immune system decreases and hormone production is impacted such as testosterone, thyroid hormones, estrogen and progesterone in women.

By reducing our emotional reactions and their effect on our biochemistry, we can supercharge our performance and sustain success without suffering the ill effects of burnout. Here are three tools to create emotional balance, so you can reach new levels of performance in your work and sustain long-term success without burning out.

Nutritional psychology

Emotions at work

When times are tough, it’s common to think stress and emotions are beyond our control, but research begs to differ.

While our circumstances are undeniable, we have a lot of influence over both our psychological and physical resilience.

Your brain is built on the same nutritional building blocks that build the rest of your body. We get these nutrients through our diet, and they play a significant role in our mood, mental wellbeing and our ability to stay calm and emotionally balanced. This has been termed nutritional psychology.

Mental wellbeing is on a continuum with peak performance at one end and severe anxiety or depression at the other.

Here are some simple dietary changes that can improve emotional and mental wellbeing.

The dehydrated brain

Water makes up 75 percent of our brain tissue. A dehydrated brain is a brain that is compromised and it has a significant impact on our mood.

Being just half-a-liter dehydrated can increase the stress hormone cortisol and impact serotonin, which controls our mood and is responsible for happiness.

Studies have shown that people who drink five cups or more of water per day were at a lower risk of depression and anxiety.

Blood sugar rollercoaster

Ever noticed an energy crash after eating a rich carbohydrate meal, such as a pasta dish? If so, then you have felt the effects of disrupted glucose levels.

Glucose is a form of sugar that our brain needs for fuel. When glucose levels become disrupted, it closely mirrors anxiety, worry and irritability.

In fact, low glucose levels play a huge role in mental health and emotional balance, where studies have found that hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) increases aggression, criminality and impulsive and addictive behaviors.

When glucose levels become disrupted, it closely mirrors anxiety, worry and irritability.

It also affect our decisions. One study looked at judges handing down decisions for parole in relation to meal time. It found that, after a meal, 65 percent of judges had ruled favorably whereas, before a meal (on an empty stomach), almost none were given parole.

Our brain needs balanced blood glucose levels for optimal function, decision-making and creativity. It’s best to have regular meals throughout the day that combine complex carbohydrates and protein, while avoiding refined sugar as much as possible.

This can look like a smoothie with protein added for breakfast, or eggs on toast. Lunch and dinner should combine protein (poultry, meat, fish, seafood or legumes) with vegetables and brown rice, then a mid-afternoon snack, such as nuts, yogurt or fruit.

Steer clear of the sugary foods such as junk foods, sodas and sweet drinks because too much sugar creates a rollercoaster of energy and emotions.

Smart proteins

Your brain needs protein to create the chemical messengers that control your mood. These are called neurotransmitters and include tyrosine, tryptophan and serotonin. These impact how we respond to challenges and keep us calm and happy.

We need these from our diet. If we don’t get enough protein, we don’t have the building blocks for these mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.

Minimum protein requirements are 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you weigh 70 kilograms, you need 70 grams of protein daily.

Bear in mind that the weight of food is not the same as its protein content, for example, 100 grams of chicken provides 20 grams of protein and one cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein.

Brain fats

Our brain is made up of fat, and it’s very important for brain function. The western diet is primarily deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids, the kind you get from salmon and sardines or flaxseeds, chia and walnuts.

Omega 3 is the most researched nutrient to elevate our mood and mental health.

It’s just as important to minimize unhealthy fats, such as trans fats like fried food, biscuits, frozen meals and takeout, because it impacts how your brain cells communicate.


The gut-brain connection shows that, just as emotions send messages to your gut (butterflies or a nervous stomach), food sends messages to your brain.

Just as emotions send messages to your gut, food sends messages to your brain.

Our gut bacteria, the microbiome, has been shown to impact our mood, mental health and anxiety. Research is ongoing on how it can influence our thoughts.

The best food for the gut microbiome is so simple that it’s almost overlooked – a variety of colorful vegetables. The fiber found in vegetables, as well as fruits, legumes and seeds, is a key food source for the microbiota. Western diets don’t include enough vegetables, around 25 grams is recommended daily.

Emotions at work

Mental reframe

In business and leadership, there are real challenges to overcome and, when we’re in the right headspace, problem-solving becomes infinitely easier.

It’s not uncommon for leaders and executives to respond to challenges by catastrophizing. They zone in on the problem and allow it to repeat in their minds, or they create an unrealistic scenario.

For example, a month of cash-flow issues and, all of a sudden, you’re worried that the business will tank and go broke. Although your rational brain knows it’s highly unlikely, when you’re stuck in this mental loop, even the most outrageous scenarios seem believable. This kind of thinking undermines performance.

Overthinking our problems rarely provides solutions, it only overwhelms and blocks creativity.

A client of mine had this scenario in her business. Her overthinking created stress, worry and anxiety making it difficult to think creatively to find a solution. When she remembered all the times in her business that she overcame cash-flow issues over the years, it eased her mind and she felt confident that she could overcome this challenge again.

Remind yourself how many challenges you’ve already overcome in business or life and look for examples that are similar to your current situation. This will help settle your irrational mind.

Overthinking our problems rarely provides solutions, it only overwhelms and blocks creativity. Every time you allow this type of thinking and emotional reaction to pass, it becomes weaker and weaker. If we don’t build on it, don’t make anything out of it and just let it be, we are more amenable to solutions.


Sleep recharges the body and resets the mind. While we’re sleeping, our brain detoxifies to clear waste and it processes our emotions from the day.

When we wake in the morning from a good night’s sleep, we often see our challenges in a whole new light and often don’t feel the same emotional reaction as the day before.

How much sleep we get is just as important as when we go to sleep. The power of eight before 10 means getting eight hours of sleep and being in bed before 10pm, to ensure we have enough deep sleep and REM sleep.

How much sleep we get is just as important as when we go to sleep.

The byproduct of all our thinking is cleared only by deep sleep. REM sleep consolidates our emotional data from the day, is a defragmentation for the brain, and it removes all the memories we don’t need from the day before. Getting to bed by 10pm is best because it aligns with our circadian rhythm. It’s not the same as getting eight hours from midnight to 8am.

Be wary of using electronic devices before bed because they can prevent a proper restorative sleep since they reduce our sleep hormone, melatonin, by 25 percent. Instead, wind down 30 minutes before bed without your smartphone, computer or TV. People who are at the top of peak performance master sleep.

Vesna Hrsto has been voted one of the top 10 naturopaths in Australia and New Zealand. For the past two decades, Hrsto has made a name for herself as an Executive Wellbeing Coach and Mind-Body Peak Performance Specialist. She has worked with thousands of high-achieving women around the country to help them experience elevated energy, mental clarity and peak physical wellness so they can reach their highest potential.

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