I Stress, Eustress, We All Stress

stress-cartoonSome time ago I came to realize an important fact about myself. I work better under pressure. I can have a list of tasks pages long, and perhaps weeks to do them, however, I will still be the most effective and productive at these tasks just before they need to be completed. The reason for this unfortunately is largely chemical. When we are under pressure or stress, our body releases a cascade of hormones that have the effect of heightening our awareness, getting glucose to the areas of the body that need it most and creating that ability to focus and excel at the task at hand.

When we operate at our best under this sort of pressure, we experience a different type of stress. One of a more positive nature. This is typically called Eustress. Eustress is the happier cousin of distress, however the factors that determine which one you experience as a result of a particular circumstance, is dependent entirely on your outlook of the experience you are going through. If you feel you have the resources to cope with the apparent issue, both internally and externally then the situation will result in this positive type of stress. Note that I used the word “feel”. The reason for this, is your reaction is not based on the reality of the situation, but more so on your belief in your ability to handle the task at hand. Yes, it is easier said than done, and the belief really has to be internalized in order for the situation to be viewed positively.

If you have been reading the above and saying “yes, this is me exactly!”, then allow me to provide a word of caution. Eustress can turn into distress at the flip of a switch. It is worthwhile examining what those situations are so you can monitor yourself and not be caught unaware.

Too much Eustress causes Distress

When you are used to eustress being your friend, the tendency is to take on more and more work as it always seems to work out. However, be warned that each of us has a critical point where the whole picture flips. It may be one additional task, it may be something unforeseen like an illness, however it usually is something small that makes the picture change. The result is Distress. So monitor your amount of tasks.  Do not allow too many items to build up as you may land up being ineffectual with the entire lot.

Don’t forget to De-stress

Each one of us has a stress capacity. Our daily actions and activities either decrease or increase our stress capacity. Activities like exercise, meditating, family time etc. build up our stress resistance and deposit stress capacity into the “bank account”. What usually happens though, is these activities provide us with the capacity to taken on more stress. As a consequence, we land up having less time to focus on these stress reducing activities. The result? We start running low on our stress resistance reserves. When we reach the bottom of the barrel, eustress can easily turn into distress.

As we start a new year, I hope you are feeling that your stress resistance tank is full. Be mindful and ensure that each day you do some activity that puts back what you have taken out. If you have to go a few days without refilling, don’t get into the bad habit of not maintaining some balance. Try to have an awareness for the perfect amount of work that will stimulate you and keep you “in the zone” without overloading you and tipping the scales. Lastly, remember that stress is relative, and sometimes you just need to view it from a different angle. After all, it’s something we all have to live with. Yes, I stress, eustress, hell, we all stress.

So go ahead, create your life.

Are You a Depreciating Asset?

Depreciation, a term commonly used in 42-15529695business when referring to fixed assets, is defined as “a drop in value”. When we own something like a vehicle or a piece of machinery, as it gets older so the value of the asset goes down. I would like to suggest that each one of us has the same ability to become a depreciating asset. Not only to the company or organizations we work for, but also to ourselves. The good news is, we have a choice and the control to ensure that we don’t “depreciate” in our value but actually “appreciate”. Like a fine wine we can get better and better with age.

So what are the aspects to look after to ensure that we take care of our most precious possession, that being, ourselves?  There are three main areas of our lives that were we are in danger of depreciating. These are:

  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Spiritual/Emotional

Intellectual

This aspect relates to the work that we do. Ask yourself the question. What is the value that you bring to your workplace? When last did you do something to improve your knowledge in the work that you do? If we are not constantly increasing our knowledge around our work, not only will we will not maintain the status quo but rather our knowledge will decline as the world around us moves on. Before you know it you will find yourself being replaced by someone who has better knowledge and continues to learn. It is therefore in our own interest to ensure that we set targets for learning and increasing our intellectual capacity.  I would suggest that a goal is set for each quarter of the year.  Certain areas of the brain have the ability to improve as we get older, so take advantage of this and continue to learn. This learning need not be limited to our jobs but can also include things like, learning a new language or skill.

Physical

We all lead busy lives. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough the first thing we tend to neglect is our physical form, our bodies. Stress, fast food diets, lack of exercise, these factors all take their toll, and we risk falling prey to the lifestyle diseases e.g. diabetes, heart disease etc.

It is critical that part of our “appreciation plan”, is to look after our bodies. Make exercise a regular part of your week. The recommended guidelines are 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. This can even be broken down into 3 x 10min sessions if you do not have the time to do 30min in one go.

The benefits are too many to list but include stress resilience, reduction in disease risk factors, natural anti-depressant effect, and even brain improvement and growth. Exercise should be top of your list for your “me” maintenance plan.

Spiritual/Emotional

The spiritual aspect of our lives is an extremely personal component. It is here that we find, not only the strength to persevere through tough times, but also our compassion and ability to support others.  To be in touch with the spiritual and emotional side of our lives can provide many gifts. Some people find this aspect through religious observance, other through meditation or even music. What ever your choice is, it is important to find that activity or inactivity (in the case of meditation) that provides you with the energy of regeneration and balance.

Many of us give more attention and care to our motor vehicles than ourselves. We would not think of letting our vehicle go 1000km past the service date. We do this to ensure that the value of the asset is maintained. We should do the same with ourselves, and I suggest this “service plan” is conducted using the 3 checks mentioned above: Intellectual, Physical, and Spiritual/Emotional. By doing this and putting a plan in place we will ensure that our most precious asset not only is maintained, but actually appreciates and grows in value to ourselves and those around us. So be proactive and Create Your life!

The Secret Reason Why We Always Click on Articles That Share Secrets

Go on, admit it! afb6_book_of_secretsThe moment you see a tweet or search results come up saying “10 Secrets of ………” or “5 Secret foods that will …….”, we cant help but click away. We want to know these secrets. We don’t want to be the one who misses out. If there are secrets going around then I damn well want to be in on them.

All to often we click on the mysterious link and when we read what the fantastic secrets are, we are left with the thought that it was not such a great secret after all. We can’t help feeling that we have been manipulated into reading these articles. Even if we have had this experience ten times though, we still can’t resist. Just incase there are some real secrets we can’t risk not finding out, and we click away, wasting hours of our time.

The reason why people use these tactics to get you to read their articles , buy their products or go to their website to learn their secrets, are far more basic than we ever imagined.  It’s not because we really believe that there is some amazing piece of information available. It’s not because we think that the answer to all our problems lie in the secret information you are about to receive. Nope, the reason is far more basic than any of those, and it stems from our childhood.

Do you remember the first time someone told you something and asked you to keep it a secret. As a child it burned inside you. You felt you had to let it out and tell someone. It was also a terrible punishment if you knew that anyone of your friends had a secret and would not tell you. It’s our first experience of being excluded in society.

Often, the more the information is withheld the greater the value we place on the information. A great example of this is the book going by that awesome title  “The Secret”. The Secret holds information from over 100 years of thought leadership. Hundreds of thousands of people have purchased this book just so they will not be the ones not knowing this vital information. Yes, unfortunately there is no real mystery or magic, secrets sell.

So, you might be asking, how does this little sales secret work? My theory is that it works by tapping into two basic human insecurities. The first being, not knowing something that everyone else does, or to put it simply being left out. A fear taught to us at a very young age in primary or even nursery school. And the second insecurity, a desire to have power, or to have information that no one else does. This plays on the issue of self worth. The next time you feel compelled to click on that “secret” link, pause and think about how you are feeling at that time. What emotional triggers are being pressed and can you avoid the manipulation.

Being aware of how and why we fall for this “secret” sales ploy can now assist us in not clicking on that link. I recommend asking yourself the questions, “If this was such a secret, would it be on Twitter?” and “If there was really 10 steps to untold riches, would it only sell for $19.95?” Yes a bit of common sense can save you lots of time.

Remember, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. Lastly, if you are looking for the best secrets online, check out………shhhhh.

Don’t Let Burnout Stop Your Blaze

As it gets towards the end of the year, many corporates move into high gear.Unfortunately it tends to be at about burnout2the sametime that most employees are feeling exhausted and burnt out, and just feel like shifting into low gear.

The symptoms of stress burnout are both physical and Psychological. Below is a list of both of these characteristics with an indication of how common the particular symptom is. The trouble with burnout is you never know you are in it until it’s too late. Your performance at work starts to decrease. You start having petty arguments with your colleagues over things that would never have bothered you before. At home, you don’t feel like talking with your significant other, never mind getting into bed with them at the end of the day. And the next day, it all starts again.

Over 50% of workers say that they feel overwhelming stress during their job (CareerBuilder.com). This overwhelming feeling of stress is a typical sign of burnout and a good indicator that it’s time to examine what is happening in your life and your reaction to situations.  When the thought of going into the office fills you with dread, you are experiencing burnout and need to get yourself on a rejuvenation mission to get the real you back in your life and your work. This article provides some tips to identify when you need the break to get your energy back and rejuvenate your mind.

The problem stems from our perception. We don’t realize we are in a burnout situation until it’s too late. Stress is a “chicken and the egg” scenario. We think we are stressed at work because we are tired and run down. When the reality could be that we are run down and tired because of the stress at work. One needs to know what the warning signs are so you can stop the downward spiral before it stops you.

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • fatigue (51%);
  • headache (44%);
  • upset stomach (34%);
  • muscle tension (30%);
  • change in appetite (23%);
  • teeth grinding (17%);
  • change in sex drive (15%);
  • feeling dizzy (13%).

Source: American Psychological Association study, 2007.

Psychological effects of stress include:

  • experiencing irritability or anger (50%);
  • feeling nervous (45%);
  • lack of energy (45%);
  • feeling as though you could cry (35%).

About half of Americans (48%) report lying awake at night due to stress.

Source: American Psychological Association study, 2007.

Now, if you are anything like me, you have been going through the list ticking off which ones you feel are appropriate. You might even have so many ticked off that you are on the verge of deciding you need to check you your self in for some Psychological R&R. Hold the phone there, as many of the above symptoms are also part of normal stress. You need to take into account the prevalence and severity of your own symptoms.

If you have gone through this list and can identify with many of them, I suggest you do the following. Keep a diary of your stress responses, as listed above, for the next two weeks. Each day jot down how many of the symptoms you have and also make a note of what caused the particular feeling e.g. Irritability during staff meeting.

Once you have your two weeks worth of data you will be able to get a clearer view on your situation.

If you are scoring many of the symptoms on most of your days, I suggest it’s time to take some time out. Plan a week away. If you can’t manage to get the time off for a full week, take two days and have a long weekend. It is important to really switch off during this time to get the full benefit.

When you get back to work after the break, do the diary exercise again and see if there is any change. If your scores are still high, there might be something else going on. It could be time to speak to a counselor or psychologist about your feelings at work and what you can do about them. It could also be that you are not happy in your current role and the feelings are an indication that it’s time for a change.

Whatever it is, you need to give it some thought and be kind to your self. Take a break and get your energy back before you make any rash decisions. The rejuvenation might be all you needed to put the spark back into your work…and other things. Create your life.

Job dissatisfaction? Here is one way to find out if its real.

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So you think you are in the wrong job. You awake each morning with a feeling of dread. You would rather stay in bed, and your get up and go has got up and went. The thought of going to the dentist fills you with more joy than heading off to the office.

Well, these might be good indicators that it is time for a change of job. However, it also might be indicating something else e.g. depression or simply a lack of meaning. So if you are pretty sure that you are not suffering from depression or some other life-altering situation, here is one way to find out if it is perhaps that job after all.

Our moods fluctuate on a daily basis. Some people even hourly or at different times of the day. So the first step in deciding if there is an issue with your current occupation or job is to get a baseline reading of your daily happiness index.

A happiness index is a score that you give to yourself on the level of happiness that you are feeling at that point in time. It is on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being not happy at all and 10 being extremely happy. A 5 would indicate a feeling of indifference.

So what you need to do is, twice a day at roughly the same time take a self assessment of your level of happiness. I would recommend that you do this at around 10am and 3pm so it is not influenced by just arriving at work or getting ready to leave. Do this for a period of two weeks and include the weekends for comparison. At the end of the two-week period graph the daily results using a program like Excel. Take an average score of the weekdays. To do this, add up all your morning scores and divide by 10, and do the same for the afternoon scores.

Your graph might look something like this:

happiness graph

The first bit of information you will be able to glean from this is: are you a morning or afternoon person? If your morning scores are lower give some thought to the following:

• Are your morning activities different from your afternoon activities?

• If there is a differential between the two scores that is greater than 3, why is this. Are you perhaps doing admin work in the morning, but in interactive meetings in the afternoon or visa versa. If this is the case you can identify the activities you dislike and move them to a more suitable time. i.e. Monday morning might not be the best time to do tasks you do not like (unless you have a strong desire to get them out of the way).

• If your scores differ between afternoon and morning it could also be an indication that it is more of a task issue than the actual job itself.

Now add your morning and afternoon averages together and divide by 2 to see what your average job happiness is. If your score is way below 5 (indifference), then it’s time to start doing some thinking. Here are 5 points to ponder if you have a below 5 score.

• What is it about your current job that you do not like?

• Can you associate the feeling with any particular event or person at work? • If you could change anything in your daily job, what would it be?

• If you made this change, would you role be more fulfilling and increase your level of happiness?

• When last did you take a holiday? Could you be suffering from burnout?

For interest compare your weekend scores with your weekday averages. If there is a large difference here, you are wasting a lot of your waking hours being in an unhappy position.

The aim of the happiness index is to get you thinking about what is making you happy or unhappy at work. The goal is to move you from a subconscious feeling of discontentment to a conscious awareness of when and why you are not satisfied or unhappy with your job. In doing so you will empower yourself with the ability to make a choice and change the elements that are causing unhappiness. Take back control of your situation. Create your life.