Monthly Archives: May 2018

Stress: How High Is Stress Level in Our Lives?

If you are having any type of stress, please don’t panic! Welcome to the global club of stress. Stress is a worldwide phenomenon, in rich and poor countries, in the developed and underdeveloped world, among men and women, even among the rich & famous persons.

Many books and articles talk about stress: stress management, success under stress, stress therapy, stress relief, job stress, stress medication, stress seminars… etc.

Stress is almost inevitable in our lives today. It seems there is no way to avoid it. According to American Psychological Association 75% of adults reported having moderate to high stress level in the past year. Even U.S. teens between 9th & 12th grade are experiencing higher stress level to the extent it is becoming a top health concern for them. In Australia, according to Lifeline Australia, 91% of adults suffer from stress in at least one important area of their lives. Working conditions are creating more stress all over the world. According to the Regus Group, 6 in 10 workers in major global economies are experiencing higher stress related to their work, and China being the highest (86%) in workplace stress.

Stress seems to be everywhere and most of the time. According to Stress in America Survey 2011, by the American Psychological Association, stress is caused mainly by work, money and the economy. The survey shows that Americans believe stress level has increased in the last 5 years. Other studies about causes of stress include factors such as noise, isolation, relationship problems, danger, loneliness and even high technology like video games or mobile phones. There are other causes for stress, but no matter what the cause maybe, it is a fact that stress is increasing worldwide. If you do a Google search as of today, 12, December 2013, you would get 169 million results. This shows how stress is becoming a major topic.

Are we dealing with stress properly?

A Strange Phenomena:

Most people deal with stress in a wrong way. Most people, once they are subject to stress, they act and behave in a way that makes this stress, not weaker but stronger. People react to stress as if to reinforce it rather than weaken it. Both men and women are the same in this respect. They only differ in the way they reinforce it. Men: once a man is under a stressful cause or event, the first thing he usually does is to deny its effect on him. Men reinforce stress by the denial behavior. A man, especially a macho type, would consider this stress as something too weak to affect him. He views himself as a man, as a person who is supposed to be solid inside, not bothered by what he may consider the little things. This is one of the reasons why men reject the natural tendency to cry. Crying, although it releases part of stress, is considered as something exclusive for women, or at least that is their main view. Denial of a problem or any stressful situation means that the cause of that stress is not being tackled nor confronted. This may create the continuation of that stress until it becomes larger than necessary.

Women: Like men, they also reinforce stress but not by denying it. They engage in negative behaviors that also reinforce the stress. For example, most women once they end up in a broken relationship with a husband or a boyfriend, they start negative behavior. This negative behavior is usually one of the two: overeating (similar to but not same as Bulimia), or self-isolation, or a combination of the two. Of course, there are cases where women start self-starvation, and this is called Anorexia. By overeating, women become fat. Let us stop here for a moment and notice this behavior because it has many meanings, all are at the unconscious level. Men by their nature, usually are attracted to slim rather than fat women. Again, there are exceptions here. Women by their nature, on the other hand, tend to be much more conscious about their physical appearance, especially, about their weight. The question here is: what makes a woman behave in a way that is contrary to her natural tendency? Many studies and research show very clearly that women’s appearance is directly linked to their higher happiness level. Yes, a woman feels good of herself when she looks good, and this is not necessarily because of her interest in men. She feels good even if her female friends tell her that she looks good. But as she has a stressful situation, she begins to reinforce that stress by doing what she usually does not want to do. Is it a subtle way to sabotage her interest in men? Or is it a form of self-destruction? Or is it a way to hurt the male, whoever that might be?

Both men and women engage in a behavior that is not helpful to their stress. Actually there are many cases where this behavior grow until it becomes more like what I call a personal-suicide. Yes, if you don’t confront your stress in a positive way, it will grow in you until it is stored in your body. Once stored in your muscles, then it creates a self-destruct mechanism regardless of the existence of any cause. If another stressful cause is added to this already high -level stress, then you would not be able to function at the personal level. Everything seems to be in a disarray. Your life would look miserable to you even if you are possessing high standard of living or good relationship.

Fortunately, we have the tools and ways to deal with different types of stress. We have many useful resources. The good news is that we can confront it and release it. Many persons who had high stress level were able to lower it significantly.

The Benefits Of Stress Management

As I have said in many previous articles, stress can be one of the most debilitating emotions we can have. This is not only mental stress but also in many circumstances can lead to physical health problems – both short term and more long term in nature. The sad thing about stress is often not so much the stress itself, though this is very unpleasant for the person who is stressed, but rather the fear of other people’s reactions if the person wishes to confide in a friend, family or work colleague – even stress management specialists. Another sad fact about stress management, and being a stress and anger management professional myself I know this all too well, is the widespread opinion that stress management does not matter; that it is a ‘fluffy’ concept that is not needed, or is only for weak minded people. From many years of experience now, I can tell you wholeheartedly that this could not be further from the truth.

We all know the effects that stress can bring about and if you are reading this in search of a cure, or at least some relief, from personal stress or that of a loved one, the effects of stress need no further explanation. What I will do in this article is to suggest the main reasons why from my personal professional experience, ‘stress management’ can be a helpful course of action.

STRESS MANAGEMENT CAN STOP THE STRESS GETTING WORSE – An old saying comes to mind here that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. From experience one of the main factors why stress is stressful, is that it starts off as something quite minor. This problem whatever it may be is often ‘swept under the carpet’ hoping that it will solve itself which is seldom the case. As such it is then left and turns into a much larger problem. By addressing the stress head-on can immediately stop this stress getting any worse – before stress reduction can begin. Which course of action to take and rates of improvement depend on many factors ranging in time, nature of stress and of course for each and every one of us as we are all different. However, a reputable professional will tailor their approach to best meet the needs of their client.

STRESS MANAGEMENT CAN GET TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE STRESS – This is often not as easy as it sounds. Quite often the cause the stress is not actually what the person thinks. Stress from the journey to work every morning for example may not actually be the root cause of our stress. This could be caused by a colleague at work or even something in our home life, but we have tricked ourselves into believing that this is the root cause of the stress because it is the simplest solution. Left to our own devices, the probability is that we would not even begin to solve this stress and probably leave it as an underlying problem. Speaking to a stress management professional can actually allow us to get to the root cause of stress – helped by speaking to somebody with wide experience of these matters, but also somebody outside friends or family – something I will discuss shortly.

STRESS MANAGEMENT CAN PROVIDE COPING TECHNIQUES FOR THE FUTURE – Getting to the bottom of the stress is one part of stress management but the other and equally important part of the process is gaining techniques for managing future stress. It is often the case that speaking to a stress management professional, while being a great help and initially relieving the present stress; is of little use if the person is going to get stressed again in the near future. Stress management therefore provides a means of providing each and every person the skills to relieve stress that may arise in the future – with the skills being tailored for every person. Therefore this stress management is not only for the here-and-now but also can greatly improve future well-being.

ENABLES US TO TALK TO AN EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL WHO IS COMPLETELY NEUTRAL – It can be difficult discussing anything with family and close friends, especially stress. We may fear that family members will simply tell us they love us and that it does not matter, friends may be very biased, especially if it a family member or another close friend who is causing the stress and we may not want to tell work colleagues for fear of being seen as weak or unreliable. Also with the current employment market we may simply not want to run the risk of losing our job if talk of this stress goes around the workplace. Speaking to a qualified stress management professional confidentially has a number of benefits here – (a) all information is kept in complete confidentiality so that we can be as open as we like and discuss everything, (B) most importantly, the professional while experienced, will also be completely neutral. Therefore there should be no fear of saying anything that will upset another family member or the professional taking the side of one person over another. They will simply sit back listen and judge the situation on its individual merits and provide the best advice possible having the whole situation discussed with them.

These are the four main reasons why, in my professional opinion, I think that stress management is a positive action to take if suffering from stress. As I have stated above, not only can stress management help with the current stress, but it can also help to pinpoint and solve other underlying concerns -many that may not have even been realised and indeed can also help provide techniques to hep to stop future stress from building.

Stress: Recognize It – Manage It

Decision making is something we do every day – left/right, up/down, fast/slow, now/later, buy/sell, and numerous other daily choices. Stress is also a normal part of everyday life, and especially so in business, and is present in all professions and industries. Its effect on decision making depends on our ability to recognize it and then having a predesigned plan for handling that stress. This article discusses how to recognize stress and its effect on every day decision-making from the perspective of an ordinary business executive, and offers some solutions for handling that stress.

Although useful, this brief article only touches on the subject of stress. We invite you to investigate the plethora of resources available for a more lengthy discussion of the topic, including licensed professionals.

What is Stress?

Stress is an inevitable and necessary part of life; just the right amount of stress adds motivation and heightens our individual response to meet any challenge. But this is not the stress we want to discuss in this article. We want to discuss the stress that is generated when we exceed our ability to cope with the situation at hand, generally resulting in a substandard level of performance.

What are Stressors?

First, let’s talk about what causes stress; we call these stressors. Stressors fall into three general categories — physical stress, physiological stress, and psychological stress.

Physical stress can be generated when conditions associated with the environment, such as temperature and humidity extremes, noise, vibration, and lack of oxygen are not what we expect or are outside our previous experience. But in most cases the mere presence of these conditions generates stress.

Physiological stress is generated when physical conditions, such as fatigue, lack of physical fitness, sleep loss, missed meals (leading to low blood sugar levels), and illness affect our ability to cope. Note that these physical conditions are all within our ability to control.

Psychological stress concerns social or emotional factors, such as a death in the family, a marriage or divorce, a sick child, a car accident, an argument with a spouse, or a change at work. This type of stress may also be related to mental workload, such as analyzing a complex problem or making decisions sooner than we would like.

It is not how much stress we face, but rather how we handle stress that determines its effect on us. However, too much stress or stress over a long time results in our inability to cope effectively, leading to diminished capability. This continuing stress can have residual health issues, which then generates additional stress in our lives. It can be a never-ending cycle, unless we come to grips with it.

It is also important to recognize that individuals respond differently to these stressors. We also note that some individuals have become very adept at hiding the effect that stress is having on them. A cheerful countenance does not necessarily mean that stress is absent.

Effects of Stress

The effects of stress can be subtle or obvious; in either case, it’s important we understand the effect on us. Stress affects us in four major areas — physical, mental, behavioral, and professional. If we are aware of these effects and recognize their onset, we can take action to offset the impact they have on decision-making.

The physical effects of stress can result in headaches or heartburn or upset stomach which are otherwise unexplained or new, muscle aches or tight muscles, slurred or slow speech, increased blood pressure or heart rate, shallow or difficult breathing, chills or dry mouth or sweating, and numbness or tingling or coldness in the extremities.

The mental effects of stress can result in difficulty thinking, defensiveness, forgetfulness, fatigue or exhaustion, poor task performance, anxiety, or a state where small things now become big things.

The behavioral effects of stress can result in loss of appetite, attempts to place blame on others, becoming accident-prone, impulsive or aggressive outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, withdrawal and isolation, sleep problems, or deviation from standard operating procedures.

The professional effects of stress result in job burnout, absenteeism, poor working relationships, low morale, high turnover rate, lawsuits, and accidents and incidents.

Solutions to Stress

Before we can develop a plan to manage stress, we must recognize stress and its effect on us, as discussed above. We generally recognize stress by its effect on us or by recognizing that we are entering upon an activity that generates stress. In addition, sometimes the way we think determines how we react to stress; are we a glass half-full or a glass half-empty person? Generally, positive thinking people handle stress better.

It is of utmost importance that we modify any negative, self-critical, or self-defeating mental patterns. In their place, we must create supportive work and personal relationships. Here are some tips for coping with stress that can be accomplished at home.

• Exercise regularly by walking 30 minutes a day; this is in addition to the walking you may do at work.

• Get adequate sleep; at least 7 ½ to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep for most adults.

• Practice good nutrition; be aware of the effect of certain foods.

• Avoid alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; these items do not reduce stress, they merely hide it.

• Practice relaxation techniques; for example, take a deep breath and hold it, let out half and hold it again, and then exhale completely. Most TV is not relaxing!

• Find some self-renewal activities, such as continuing education, hobbies, sports, meditation, family activities, volunteer activities, etc.

We can practice stress reducers at work as well; here are some suggestions.

• Plan, anticipate, and schedule; getting caught off guard generates significant stress, so be sure to plan ahead! Also, when you expect (and plan for) the unexpected, it is not unexpected!

• Communicate often and well, in the office and in other professional meetings. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns on issues that affect you or the business. Remember, though, be positive; no one likes to be around a “doom and gloom” type person.

• Take short walks and find other opportunities to stretch your legs; this also helps you take deep breaths which can be relaxing and invigorating. While sitting at your desk, stretch out your legs and point your toes away from you and then toward you several times.

• Pace routine and “boring” tasks; perhaps set aside a time in the morning or afternoon to accomplish these mundane tasks, while also setting aside prime time to be creative. Let others know your schedule so they don’t interrupt unnecessarily.

• Maintain a positive mental attitude; have a vision for the future. Those without vision will soon perish.

• Know and respect your personal limits; don’t be unduly pushed to perform.

• Maintain proficiency not only in your professional skills, but also in basic office skills such as using a word processor, using a spreadsheet, and knowing how to conduct effective meetings.

Modes of Thinking

You’ve probably heard that some people think differently than others do. You may have heard that one person is left brained or right brained or whole brained. You may even have heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, whatever that means! The thing to remember is that we are not all the same. Don’t expect different people to react the same way to the same situation.

However, a good leader will take time to understand the people he works with so he can understand how each thinks. In other words, when a leader understands people, he or she will make affective assignments, thereby helping decrease the stress he creates in their professional lives.

Here are some very general thoughts about how left brained, right brained, and whole brained individuals approach situations.

A left brained individual does things from a logical perspective, is highly organized, is good at keeping track of time, and easily handles spelling and mathematical patterns and formulas. He or she rarely uses gestures when talking and likes to make lists and detailed plans; they like to observe and are rational, objective, and analytical.

On the other hand, a right brained individual does things from feelings, and appears to act randomly and have a general lack of organization. They often have no sense of time and are not great at spelling or mathematics. They generally do use their hands when talking; they take life as it comes and like to touch things. They are intuitive and subjective.

A whole brained individual is hard to categorize. One moment they are left brained and the next they appear to be right brained and sometimes it appears they are thinking from both sides of the brain. If that seems awkward to you, think how it must be for them!

So, how does this affect your stress levels? If you are right brained, and are put into a left brain situation, you will feel stress. Likewise, if you are left brained, and are put into a right brain situation, you will also feel stress. A good leader will recognize these differences and will not make inappropriate assignments. More importantly, if you understand yourself, you will not take on projects that require skills you don’t have.

Recognize your mode of thinking and accept the differences that occur in the opposite situation and don’t try to push a square peg into a round hole! This is where teamwork is most effective. In fact, assigning a combination of right brained, left brained, and whole brained individuals to a problem can result in a faster, and many times, a better solution.

Other Techniques to Manage Stress

It may look like some people have intuitive decision-making skills unaffected by stress; and some do. Bless them! But for the rest of us, the majority, we need to develop techniques to manage stress.

When we understand people, including ourselves, we are better able to manage stress. When we successfully manage stress, we make better decisions. One way to do this is to add a few modern books on decision-making to our reading list. We can also study risk management principles. When we are informed, we are seldom caught off guard.

Although some people are born with good judgment, the rest of us can learn how to make good decisions. One way to do this is by developing a standard operating practice, a checklist if you will, for different situations. When we follow standard procedures we keep stress at a manageable level.

Just like air traffic controllers, we should always have a plan B already developed in case plan A doesn’t work out. Again, being prepared reduces stress.

Conclusion

When we consciously make an effort to recognize stress, we are already managing that stress. By practicing stress reducing activities, we maintain our ability to cope with the stress that comes into our lives. When we have a predesigned plan for handling stress, we will discover that our level of performance improves.

Go back, now, and re-read this article, paying special attention to those things you can do to recognize stressors. Then take steps at home and at work to manage the stress that has a negative impact on your performance; even the seemingly little suggestions will help. Not only will your performance improve, but you will feel like a new person!

10 Tips To Overcome Stress

Stress is something that seems to easily rear its head in the modern working world.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to deal with stress more effectively?

Here we give you 10 simple tips to dealing with, and overcoming, stress in the workplace.

We tend to think of stress as a phenomenon of the modern working environment, but it might surprise you to know that people have been studying stress for nearly a century. It was Walter Cannon way back in 1932 who introduced the “Fight or Flight” theory

The strange thing about stress is that we all experience it at different times but we find it very hard to articulate exactly what it is.

The most commonly accepted definition of stress comes from the late Richard S Lazarus, an eminent psychologist. In his book “Psychological stress and the coping process” published in 1966 he states that “stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”

In other words, we feel stressed when we are not in control of events.

I want to introduce you to Albrecht’s Four Types of Stress. Dr Karl Albrecht introduced this model in “Stress & the Manager – making it work for you” in 1979. Albrecht wrote that “most of the chronic stress experienced by twentieth century Americans comes from anxiety”.

Albrecht identified four types of stress:

1) Time Stress

2) Anticipatory Stress

3) Situational Stress

4) Encounter Stress

I wonder how many of these you have experienced?

Time Stress

This is the anxiety caused by believing that you will run out of time. No doubt you will have been in situations where a deadline is looming. The very fact that time is running out raises your levels of anxiety (or stress).

This area of stress can be overcome by effective time management.

Simple “to do” lists are a good way to start. Far too often we try to store all our tasks in our heads. They get jumbled up and our brains almost feel like they will explode! Moreover, when everything is in our head it is hard to determine what is important or what sequence things should be completed in. So, whilst a “to do” list is very simple it is also a fantastic way of getting everything out of our heads and onto paper where we can see them.

Steven Covey’s “Urgent / Important” matrix is an easy to use tool to help you prioritise your work. It allows you to “dig where the diamonds are” but it also enables you to jettison some of the stuff that really is not important in your job or life.

Time stress is also forced upon us as we have more and more tasks dropped on us by others. This “monkey on the shoulder” syndrome can best be countered by increasing your assertiveness.

Anticipatory Stress

This is an anxiety about forthcoming events.

Many of us will have experienced the situation where we worry that “something” will go wrong before a task or event or that a person won’t like us or that there are bound to be better candidates for a job.

For the last 12 years, I have been helping people improve their confidence in Public Speaking.

Time and time again, I have worked with people who have a long list of scenarios that they fear might happen. The reality is that most of these fears never come to pass. Although, some fears, if dwelt upon enough do come about. If you are constantly thinking that you will drop your notes during your presentation you will. This is “The Law of Attraction” which is featured in the book “The Secret”. What you dwell upon is attracted into your life.

So why not attract success into your life instead? In the “The Secret”, Dr. Denis Waitley described the following powerful study of visualisation:

“I took the visualization process from the Apollo program, and instituted it during the 1980’s and ’90’s into the Olympic programme. It was called Visual Motor Rehearsal.

When you visualize then you materialize.

Here’s an interesting thing about the mind: we took Olympic athletes and had them run their event only in their mind, and then hooked them up to sophisticated biofeedback equipment. Incredibly, the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they were running the race in their mind as when they were running it on the track. How could this be? Because the mind cannot distinguish whether you’ve really doing it or whether it is just practise. If you’ve been there in the mind you’ll go there in the body.”

So try to visualise success rather than dwell upon the negatives..

There are some other tips to overcoming anticipatory stress:

Contingency planning is a way of looking at the potential problems and developing a “plan B”. Just by having that contingency plan allows you to overcome stress by knowing that even if a problem occurs (and, let’s face it, they do) you have an action plan which means that you retain control of the situation.

Meditation is a wonderful way to restore a level of calm to your mind and body. Sandra and I are currently following a daily meditation programme from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey which has had an enormous impact on the way we are dealing with the challenges and stresses in our busy lives.

Finally, sometimes we just need to learn to cope with failure.

I saw a statistic that showed that the best strikers in the premiership score less than a third of the shots they take on goal. By any statistical measure they are failures but we don’t think they are. They accept that they cannot score every time.

In 2012, Katherine Grainger won an Olympic gold at rowing. Yet this success came after failures to secure gold at the three previous Olympic Games. She just accepted that failing happens sometimes on the road to success.

Vincent Lombardi summed it up perfectly:”It’s not whether you get knocked down but whether you get up.”

Situational Stress

This type of stress, according to Albrecht, is when we actually have lost control of a situation. Redundancy, grief and personal conflicts all tend to fall into this type of stress.

Just like King Canute trying in vain to stop the sea coming in, we cannot always prevent a situation from happening. But what we can control is the way that we respond to the situation.

If you recall Richard Lazarus’ definition of stress, it is when we are not in control of a situation.

By increasing our self awareness helps us to understand our weaknesses and to be aware of the triggers that stress us out and how we can turn the situation from a position of weakness to a position of strength.

We can also, on a practical level, learn how to manage conflict in the workplace (or maybe it is outside the workplace too).

Often we feel that a situation is out of control when a colleague (or probably a boss) acts in an aggressive manner. This aggression, verging on bullying, is definitely a reason that some people feel stressed at work. Rather like in Time Stress, learning to become more assertive and less passive will help regain control of a situation and this particular form of stress.

Encounter Stress

The fourth type of stress identified by Dr Karl Albrecht is called “Encounter stress”.

As the name implies, this stress revolves around people.

Sometimes our interaction with a particular person or group of people is stressful in itself.

This may be because we don’t like them – we often hear people saying that someone always “puts them on edge”. Alternatively, stress levels can be raised because the person that you are dealing with is unpredictable. A third reason for people increasing your stress is that the person is in distress themselves. Think of people in the health professions. They are dealing with people in pain or maybe they have to give them bad news. Either way the person being dealt with will be in some form of distress. If you go to a completely different arena, say call centres, you will also find customers calling in some form of distress (normally a complaint, but not always).

The final reason that people can raise stress levels is simply because you can get to a point of “contact overload”. Those of you who are aware of Myers Briggs personality types might recall that some people are “I’s”. They prefer to reflect on information before making decisions. If a person with this personality type is in an environment with loads of extroverts it can, after a while, feel quite overwhelming.

The tips for overcoming this type of stress are similar to “Situational Stress”. Developing your emotional intelligence and self awareness will be a key tactic.

Extending that self-awareness to understanding how other people “tick” then becomes a powerful tool. This could be by simply understanding Myers-Briggs personality types or getting a team to have an MBTI assessment. Learning about the 5 stages of grief is also a useful tool. Whilst this model was originally designed to help people understand bereavement it is now widely used to understand how people deal with trauma’s in their lives.

Conclusion

Stress is a huge issue in the workplace. It costs lost days and hits the bottom line. Whilst it is important for employers to try to reduce the levels of stress in the work place, as Richard Lazarus argues, stress is about when we feel that events are out of our control. Based upon this it is hard to see how employers can reduce stress by themselves.

And anyway, how long are we willing to wait for our organisation to change.

What we can do, however, is take actions ourselves. By taking action, developing our skills, gaining greater degrees of self awareness we can begin to take control of the events in our lives for ourselves.

Our 10 tips to overcoming stress are:

1) Start “to do” lists

2) Prioritise your work

3) Increase your assertiveness skills

4) Develop visualisation techniques

5) Work up contingency plans

6) Practise meditation

7) Learn to cope with failure.

8) Develop your ability to manage conflict

9) Use Myers Briggs (MBTI) to build better inter-personal relationships

10) Increase yourself awareness and Emotional Intelligence.