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!

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.

Managing for Emotional Profit

It’s Monday morning. You woke up 30 minutes late because you forgot to reset the alarm after the weekend sleep-in. You rush to get ready, skipping breakfast to make up for lost time. Traffic wise, all is looking good, when you turn the cornemotions01er and you see an accident in front of you. Tick, tick ,tick, you are never going to make you 8am meeting. You call ahead from your cell phone to alert them you will be late and your blood pressure goes up just a touch more. By the time you get to the office, the rest you gained from the weekend has been replaced with a stress-o-meter score of 10+.

After the meeting you notice two of your staff members waiting at your desk. “What do you want??….. I mean what can I do for you?” you bark. You have not given a seconds thought to how you are feeling and how this might influence your reaction to your staff. In those two minutes of unconscious interaction you have set back the teams morale and motivation for the day. Word gets out that you are in a bad mood and down goes the teams motivational bank balance.

So what you say? These are your staff members, and you are the boss. It’s your job to ensure that they turn up to work each day. To make sure they deliver on their job specs, sell more, do more, and achieve more for you and for the company. You have to manage your up-lines expectations and your down-lines demands. If you have stress, they damn well better just handle it. Well, if the outcome you are driving for is company profit and low staff turnover, best you start paying attention to your own emotions, and change that attitude

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be aware of, understand, and manage the emotions in yourself and others. There are four main branches involved in emotional intelligence. These are:

• Self –Awareness
• Self-Management
• Social Awareness
• Relationship Management

(Daniel Goleman, 2002)

Research has shown that the best leaders are people with high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ)(Golman, 1996). Studies have also shown that people with high levels of EQ create higher performing teams and generate greater profits (Golman, 1996).

Although there are four branches of EQ, (shown above), in this article I am only going to focus on one aspect of the Self-Awareness trait, and that is Emotional Self Awareness.

Emotional Self Awareness is the ability to understand your own emotional reactions. It is the voice of reason inside your head that can observe your reactions and realize that the emotional state you are in e.g. anger or frustration may not be the best for the particular situation. Developing your own awareness is the first step to gaining control over your emotional states.

Try this exercise as a suggestion to see how aware you are of your emotional states. Set an hourly alarm on your phone or watch to remind you to think about your emotional state during the day. On the hour, stop for a moment and note down your emotion that you are feeling. I would even encourage you to make a note of these emotions in your diary. This activity will bring your awareness inward and allow you to actively think about how you are feeling. Try and describe the emotions in as much detail as possible. For example, instead of just saying “anger”, give some thought to the question of are you feeling slightly ticked off, or are you livid? The varying degrees of emotional states are important to comprehend as they affect our ability to deal with situations.

Once you have been able to recognize these emotions in yourself, the next step is to understand which of them assist you in doing your job and drive towards the best outcome, and which are a hindrance to you. A slight degree of frustration may focus you towards a specific task, while intense anger will just blind you from seeing potential solutions.

Employees are usually very in tune to their manager’s moods. Knowing very well when to stay out of his/her way and when would be a good time to discuss that raise. If you want to ensure that you get the best out of your employees, the first step is knowing how to get the best out of yourself. Understanding your own emotions is key to starting this journey.

So the next time you feel your blood pressure rising and need to engage with members of your staff, take a quick time out. Breathe deeply and think about how you are feeling and if your emotions are going to help the situation. Then either modify your reaction, or suggest that you meet with the person a little later.

I find keeping the concept of having an emotional bank balance with your staff in the back of your mind, a great help. When things are good, and you can motivate and inspire them, you make great deposits into the account. However, one instance of losing your cool can deplete the entire account, making it hard work to get your balance back.

So why not start giving a bit more thought to your own emotions and how you are affecting your own work environment and those around you. I am prepared to bet that the results will speak for themselves. A more in control you and a more profitable and happy team. Create your life.

If you would like to hear more about the benefits of Emotional Intelligence, why not book Kevin for his talk on “The Emotional Advantage – The business benefits of EQ”. More details on www.kevinderman.com

It’s easy to be a good manager….crap!

fight-or-flight-two-businessmen-arguingIt’s easy to be a good manager. It’s easy to be the boss that everyone likes. It’s even easy to create a winning team. When the economy is good and business is booming, all of this stuff is easy. However, when the economy turns, sales drop off. Decreased sales mean greater competition for the small amount of business that is out there. This all leads to pressure in the system. Unlike good coffee percolators, pressure has a nasty way in companies of flowing down. Most managers, “manage” pressure in the system by distributing it amongst their staff. This is where good managers have a chance to shine. This is where good managers can become great managers.

So, as with everything in life, difficulties come to test us and give us an opportunity to show what we are made of. Corporate life, unfortunately can dehumanise the process. All too often we turn to managing by the way we are managed. If we are screamed at, we scream at our staff. If we are belittled in the board meeting, we turn to belittling our staff in our team meetings. We try and fit into what seems to be the corporate culture of the day. And here lies the opportunity to go from good to great.

In order to turn this around, you as the manager need to be aware. This awareness needs to be in two areas, an external awareness and an internal awareness.

Firstly, externally, be aware of the stress and pressure that your up-line manager (your boss) is under. Understanding his/her emotions in light of this awareness sheds some light on the situation. Empathy makes a world of difference, and an understanding from your side will shift the dynamic. Next, shift inward, you need to understand your own emotions. How do you feel when pressure is placed on you? Do you feel your blood pressure rising? Do you start raising your voice? Can you see things spiraling out of control as tensions increase. Alternatively, do you perhaps shut down? Take it all and show no reaction, saying it does not affect you, and then take it out on your staff, spouse, and the dog when you get home.

The second area of internal awareness is an understanding of what this time of increased stress is doing to you. How do you feel about going into your meetings? Can you feel your agitation? More importantly, how are you managing the stress that is being placed on you? When we realise that we can’t control others emotions, but more importantly we realise we have control over our own emotions, stress has a way of dissipating. We also can control our activities and focus on beneficial stress reducing activities e.g. exercise, deep breathing techniques, and  meditation. These activities raise our resilience to stressful situations.

Lastly, move back to an external focus and give some thought to your staff’s and colleagues emotions. Always work toward the outcome you want to achieve. If you want motivated staff, then you need to keep them motivated and focused. Instead of threats, manage with shared goals and celebrate small achievements. Offer encouragement and explain the pressure in the system and how they can help to alleviate it. Nothing motivates more than seeing the goal and knowing where they are on the road towards it. So find a visual way of depicting this and keep everyone informed. Keep in mind that you need to manage in the way that is effective regardless of how you are managed.

So buck the trend, don’t fall in line and perpetuate the style of the day. If it is not working to motivate you, you can be damn sure it’s not working to motivate your staff either. So take charge of the situation. Create your life.

These internal and external aspects of awareness are the major branches of emotional intelligence. If you would like more information why not book my talk “The Emotional Advantage” for your management team and give your company the competitive edge.