Saturday, March 23, 2013
Stress - The Devil Within
by Martin Avis
Stress takes many forms in our business lives. Exactly
what it is very hard to define, but two statements seem
to me to sum up the main cause and effect:
o The fear that more is expected of you than you can
o A feeling - real or imagined - that you are out of
control and cannot regain the right track.
Who gets it? Everyone is susceptible, no-one is immune.
However, some people deal with it more effectively.
Over the years I have studied many people who seem to
be able to thrive on stress - or have mastered the
knack of shucking off the effects - and have formulated
a ten-part plan to help others cope.
Why stress is so damaging?
o Health: long term stress can severely affect a
persons health. The immune system is damaged, the
nervous system is impaired and susceptibility to minor
(and sometimes major) illnesses increases.
o Emotions: when under relentless and unmanageable
stress, a persons self-worth is impaired. Relationships
suffer and positive planning becomes very difficult.
o Performance: of course, when under long-term stress
at work, the ability to function at peak levels
diminishes. How can we be expected to give 110% if our
minds and bodies are slowly shutting down through
endless misuse? Typically, a highly stressed person,
who is not managing it well, will subconsciously
develop behaviors that attempt to minimize exposure to
o A fear to act - procrastination
o Fear of failure
o Avoidance of the issues
o Withdrawal from 'the cutting edge'
The result? You get sidelined and passed over for the
next person who deals with the pressures better.
Not all stress is bad. Some can be beneficial, but only
when kept in the right proportion.
Most people getting up to give a public presentation
feel a high degree of stress. Those who are not
paralyzes with fear often say that the pressure gave
their talk an edge. That the adrenaline pumping made
How many business people do you know who write
documents and presentations weeks in advance? Hardly
any, I bet. Most prefer to leave things until the last
minute to 'be at their sharpest.' And it is true that
when under the right amount of pressure, the mind tends
to clear and we see to the very heart of the problem.
People who manage stress best seem to be able to manage
the causes of stress, ensuring that too many situations
do not develop at once. Because however positive some
stresses may be, pile a whole lot of them up at the
same time and you still are heading for a nervous
Can it be beaten? Yes and no. Some stresses are in
built - nothing can remove them. They are a part of
each person's individual psyche. Some are a vital part
of life - try crossing a busy road without a care in
the world. Some things that wind us up like a spring
are not stressful to others - public speaking is a good
But... many stresses can be managed and others can be
minimized or removed.
One key factor in dealing with your own stresses is
effective self-management. Deal with your internal
issues before you look to change the world outside
Here, then is my ten-part plan. Some of the elements
may seem trite - and on their own they may be - but
they all combine to give you a powerful, workable
strategy to begin to take back control of your life.
1. Get organized
However busy you may think you are, it is a sure bet
that there is a half hour or so every day that is being
wasted. Check out goal-setting techniques and time
management strategies. They really help - and will show
you how to get far more done in the same time than you
ever imagined possible.
Get in to work ten minutes earlier than usual to write
yourself a list for the day. Consider what you need to
achieve and point your day towards that end. As Seneca
said in the 3rd century BC, "Luck is what happens when
preparation meets opportunity."
Few people know how to breathe. They suck in, and blow
out air periodically, but without conscious thought.
Every couple of hours, become aware of your breathing.
Take a deep breath, deep into your stomach, filling the
very bottom of your lungs, then slowly let it out.
Repeat five times. This basal breathing is very
relaxing and the few minutes it takes is highly
beneficial in easing stress.
What happens when all that excess adrenaline has
nowhere to go? It builds stress even further. A little
exercise is the best way of all of burning it all off.
There is no need to join a gym or run a marathon - just
walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, do a
set of sit-ups before bedtime or take two minutes to
perform an easy stretching routine before lunch. The
more exercise you can build into your daily life the
better you will be at dealing with each day.
5. Reduce stimulants
Coffee might keep you alert in the short term, but it
plays havoc with your ability to function in the longer
run. Alcohol is a great relaxant in moderation, but
more than a couple of glasses have the opposite effect.
Tobacco puts many added stresses on your body. Drugs
are simply crazy.
All these stimulants just add to the problem: if you
are already stressed, they will not help you get over
it - they will make the situation worse.
6. Recognize stress-point and adjust accordingly
Possibly easier said than done, but knowing your enemy
is 50% of the way to beating it. Take the time to work
out what your stress triggers are and then try to
devise strategies to minimize each one. Taking problems
one at a time is a far more positive approach than
panicking about them all at once.
7. Make time to relax
No matter how hard you work, or how many demands are
put on you, remember - it's your life. You deserve at
least some time every day just to be with you. Maybe it
is just 5 minutes in the morning, but treasure it, make
it yours and don't allow outside pressures in to your
time. Believe me, enjoying your own time every day will
make you far more effective on everybody else's time.
8. Drink herbal tea
Not as silly as it sounds. Many herbal teas contain
substances with naturally calminative properties.
Chamomile tea is very relaxing, Raspberry and Echinacea
tea soothes the mind and helps strengthen the immune
system, Peppermint tea aids in digestion. And they are
refreshing and taste good too.
9. Don't be afraid to ask for help
One of the most often heard complaints I hear from
highly stressed people is that they have too much work
and too little time. Yet they are often the worst
delegators. If you have a downline, delegate. (But mind
you don't pile too much on your subordinates that they
crack under the strain). If you have an upline, see if
any of your workload can be passed that way. That is
more difficult, but often a task that is way too much
for you is easy to someone with a few more years of
experience. And bosses often like to show that they
'still have it.'
The last on the list, but probably number one in
importance. Smile on the telephone, smile in stores,
smile to your colleagues. Your subconscious mind is
just waiting to run whatever program you plug into it.
Stress is a kind of program with an endless negative
loop. Smiling is like pressing the 'break' key. Smile
enough and that becomes a new program in its own right.
You will feel happier and everyone around you will
Martin Avis publishes a free weekly newsletter:
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