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October 29, 2015

Thinking The Third Way – Manage Your Stress Before It Manages You

Mental stressors are maybe less obvious but just as profound. We all know we like to be recognised and valued for who we are and the work we do. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen in daily life.

  • Have you ever prepared for an important discussion, but forgot everything you wanted to say or worse, said things you really shouldn’t have said?
  • Do you ever wonder why you are so tired? Do you feel like a failure, as everybody else seems to be able to cope with the situation you’re in, except for you?
  • Do you feel like your body is complaining and you have visited every possible expert but the symptoms don't seem to go away?
  • Have you ever felt like the amount of responsibility you’re facing at work is literally choking you?
  • Do you ever feel like your ‘to do’ list only gets longer and you are overwhelmed by everything you still need to do?
  • Have you ever felt like juggling work and kids is a full-time job you can’t seem to get right?
  • Have you ever frozen or choked when asked to speak in public?

Of course you have. We all have. These are all signs of stress which are becoming increasingly common. You just have to deal with it and keep going, right?

The truth is, this is not normal or healthy and we don’t have to live feeling exhausted constantly. The issue is, we don’t know how stress works. We don’t know how the brain works or how it influences the body.

Let’s start with what causes stress. Obviously this is different for every person but in general it is safe to say there are a few stressors that have a negative impact on our bodies and minds.

Working long hours, not getting enough sleep or exercise and not eating enough or healthily, all have a negative physical impact. Also living in a loud city, not getting enough fresh air or the inability to walk around in nature can cause stress.

Mental stressors are maybe less obvious but just as profound. We all know we like to be recognised and valued for who we are and the work we do. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen in daily life. Instead, we strive even more to be perfect and worry about the past and the future. The difference between us humans and any other species on this planet is that our thoughts alone can cause stress! Thinking about stressful events, what we still have to do, the fight with our neighbour or a sick child causes stress. It causes us to feel bad, but why?

The answer is that it is simply how we have been built thousands and thousands of years ago. When we experience something that could harm us in any way our body switches to “survival mode” also called, the fight or flight mode. This activates certain hormones in the body like adrenaline and cortisol, the latter also known as the “stress hormone”. This also happens to animals, for example, because of the fight or flight mode the impala will run as fast as it can to escape the lion. However, ten minutes later, it will be grazing again. As it is grazing it relaxes its muscles and in this way sends out a signal to the brain to unblock the fight or flight mode. The difference with us humans is, by just thinking about something stressful we already trigger the fight or flight mode! So by worrying about our kids or our future we can already experience stress and invite the stress hormones to enter our body. The whole set of events that follow without us consciously realising it, causes us to feel down, depressed or even to get ill.

Therefore, it is very important that we become aware of our thoughts, aware of how we feel and how we react to things. In that way we can start making a conscious decision to choose different thoughts, paradigms and actions.

A shift is occurring. A paradigm shift if you like. A shift from the old hierarchical, top-down management system, from using and abusing employees to treating employees and co-workers with respect. This includes investing in employees and making sure they are happy and healthy because, in the end, they are a company’s most valuable asset. They are what make a company move forwards or go backwards, they are the heart of a company and if they find it, sometimes literally, difficult to breathe, this will inevitably affect the company.

It is still considered to be ‘normal’ for people to work unhumanly hours, give up every aspect of their personal life, get burned out, or worse, become seriously ill in order to ‘stay in the game’ or simply not get fired. But as Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post writes in her latest book “Thrive”, this is not normal, and slowly more and more people, employees and employers are starting to realise this.

Therefore if we want to thrive, not just survive, we need to redefine success, Arianna Huffington says. We need to rethink what is really important to us. The best way to do this, strangely enough, is to imagine we have arrived at the end of our lives and look back reflecting on everything we have done and experienced. Then we will realise it was not the money, or the power we gained that made us happy or that was most important. It was the year off we took to travel, it was the career switch we made, that important decision based on our gut feeling or the laughs we shared with our spouse. This is, as Arianna calls it, The Third Metric. The third “leg of the chair which provides better balance and stability” and which is more important than money and power, but reflects real and sustainable happiness.

The good news is, when we strive for happiness and a balanced lifestyle we not only improve our own lives, we often improve the lives of the ones around us too, and that includes the companies we work for. As we invest in our health and wellbeing we become more productive, sick less often, and we make better decisions. More and more research shows that increased stress has cost companies money and weighs on the health care system, which we ultimately support financially, indirectly. In the UK, stress has emerged as the top cause of illness across the nation [1]. Luckily, more and more companies are starting to understand this and are investing in their employees by providing yoga and fitness classes, stress management trainings, encouraging people to take proper holidays and not to work after certain hours. This has led to significant improvement in productivity and a decrease in sick days and people leaving.

It is not just the employees that are benefitting from these changes. Well known CEOs themselves are starting to reap the benefits from meditation, for example, and have incorporated the technique into their daily routines. Including Ford chairman Bill Ford, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Twitter cofounder Evan Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Arianna Huffington herself amongst many others [2]. Practices like meditation, mindfulness and yoga have a huge impact on our ability to stay focused and concentrated on the task at hand. In a society where we get bombed with information and distractions constantly, it is becoming crucial for productivity and gaining new insights.

More and more people as well as companies are joining this movement every day. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, the moment we shift towards a more “third metric” way of thinking, we will reap the benefits together with everyone around us.

[1] “Thrive”, by Arianna Huffington.

[2] “Thrive”, by Arianna Huffington.


With over 10 years of experience, Annette Paterakis provides with great passion various trainings and seminars about stress management, energy management and mental training. Customers include Olympic athletes, the Dutch police and entrepreneurs and executives in London. To get in contact with her and find out more, complete the form below, or view her profile here.

 

 

 


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