Stress and Anxiety Under the Volcano

The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland, threatened the prospect of a larger stress management agenda than anything I had ever known.

My colleague Alex, a young English nutritionist, was in a particular hotel, on the Palm Jumeirah, when the astonishing news came in  –  ‘no flights to Northern Europe until further notice.’

That was the blanket ruling that was suddenly applied when the volcanic ash-clouds appeared to present a hazard to any jet aircraft in flight. 

In Alex’s case, it set off two sharply contrasting feelings. One was the sheer wonder of being trapped in this holiday Paradise, with every luxury on hand and a water-park and interactive dolphin-bay for her children to play in.

The other, of course, was profound stress and anxiety about the likelihood of a prolonged crisis  –  who would pay for all the extra hotel accommodation and food, plus the serious issue of interrupted schooling.

At least they were not suffering the additional stress effects of having to sleep in an airport lounge for an indefinite period. Also the initial response from those able to help, was most generous. In the event, Alex’s airline guaranteed them a flight home and the hotel extended an immediate line of credit. It transpired, apparently, one of the hotel’s Managers came from the very town in China that had just been wrecked in an earthquake, which rather put her own problems in perspective. Both he, and all the other staff, went out of their way to give reassurance and moral support. And before they eventually flew home, they had received three offers of somewhere to stay on, if necessary, in Dubai  –  a city where they knew nobody, so these were just friends-of-friends, basically strangers, doing their best to help in a crisis.

Change Management challenge

Now that the crisis is over, it is of course heartwarming to reflect on these gestures of human kindness and corporate support to customers.

But while the crisis continued, with no indication as to when it would end, as a stress management specialist, I was suddenly having to merge two of my familiar specialities of Change Management and Crisis Management into a temporary, single agenda.

Many of my clients suddenly found themselves with senior staff unable to return to work; scheduled meetings postponed, overseas trips having to be cancelled and, in the case of at least two of my corporate clients – urgent material supply deliveries that were normally airfreighted in from Europe, having been cancelled.  Consequently, various contracts had to be delayed and penalty clauses for non-delivery examined carefully.

Suddenly all the issues of corporate change and work related stress were in the front of managers’ mindsets, everywhere. My theories of change have usually been explained in terms of fairly slow evolutions, over months or years  –  perhaps a national telephone network switching over from analogue to digital, or a traditionally male-dominated boardroom acclimatising to women directors. But now we looked like having to handle nothing less than an overnight recession.

However, many employers appeared to be responding to this challenge in a sensitive way. A poll of 600 of the UK’s leading employers shows that 51% were paying employees, in full, for the lost days, 23% were paying half, and 27% were counting them as paid holiday.

This small sample of what could have been a much bigger emergency seems to confirm that when some people are plunged into a serious crisis, others who are able to help tend to observe that ethic that says “If you can, you should.”

Do you have strong views on this aspect of work related stress?

Then give us the benefit of your experience of stress and anxiety.

Key points about the travel shutdown

  • The airline shutdown gave a glimpse of a possible world crisis
  • The situation could have sparked massive need for corporate change
  • The emergency showed signs of bringing out a co-operative spirit

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Book Motivational Speaker, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.  See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX

Or check-out our latest professional stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L and stress management services aimed to reduce stress and delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, Dubai, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

Contact Carole  for a FREE stress management strategies consultation – Tel:  +44 (0) 20 8954 1593  or email info@carolespiersgroup.co.uk.    She is dedicated to supporting your long-term growth through talent retention rooted in effective stress management.

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Stress Management Strategies: Time to smell the roses

It is not only because of the recession that resiliency is a theme that has figured large in my empowerment agenda, and not many seminars or conference speeches come to an end without some reference to this quality so essential to overcoming human adversity.

Someone who specialises in this topic is liable to become somewhat blasé about the often inspiring stories of resiliency that come to public notice. So I was surprised to find myself so deeply moved by the extraordinary case of the world’s shortest man, who died recently in the middle of a promotional tour.

The 21-year old Chinese, by the name He Pingping, suffered from a bone deformity that inhibited normal growth, and at 73cm (2ft 5in), he qualified officially in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest adult male able to walk.

But he was able to do a lot more than walk. He had travelled the world and captured the imagination of huge audiences with his cheek and charm. I saw a clip of a recent TV interview with him and was forcibly struck by his positive outlook. While lamenting the tragic brevity of his life, I was able to see that he had risen above the limitations of his daily existence  –  not only by commercialising his unusual status (or exploiting his limits, as I urge others to do), but by wholeheartedly relishing what time-span he did have left. The twinkle in the eye said it all. This tiny man was absolutely not going to be defeated by the deal he had been given in life.

At that moment, a familiar phrase occurred to me. Unlike so many stressed-out, management executives whom I have counselled, the diminutive He Pingping had found time to ‘smell the roses’.

Optimist

’Smelling the roses’ is phrase we use in England (a country much identified with that flower) to indicate a simple pleasure that costs nothing, but which many people deny themselves by ensuring they are busy 24/7, but for no good reason. It is a phrase I often use in my various courses on Time Management.

Recently in Oman, I used that phrase during a presentation to the top team of a family business, before I realised that it might not mean much in the Gulf region. But they responded to it keenly, understood exactly what I meant by it, and some of them actually wrote to me afterwards to say they were determined to make time to ‘smell the roses’!

Another confirmed optimist who had learned to exploit his limits was my American friend, W Mitchell, who had suffered 65% burns in a plane crash and was sentenced to life in a wheelchair from that time onwards.

Instead of feeling bitter, he learned to be a motivational speaker  –  often from the same platform as myself, from where I have observed the mesmeric effect he has on audiences, worldwide. “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do about it.” he tells his audiences. “Unexpected changes can become exciting new starting points.” Simple words, but the philosophy is quite unarguable, and it has sustained him for many years.

It is ironic that we should have to seek these nuggets of wisdom from people who have experienced great tragedy. But if we learn to keep their optimistic philosophies in mind, we can attain the same positive mindset, while still living healthy and happy lives.

Key points about overcoming adversity

  • We should note the resiliency of the dwarf who knew both he and his life, were short
  • Finding time to ‘smell the roses’ is a vital part of Time Management
  • Ironically, we can learn optimism from those who have known tragedy

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Got an opinion? Let’s have it!

Everybody enjoys Blog Comments. So add yours at the foot of the column now.

Book Motivational Speaker, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.  See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX

Contact Carole  for a FREE stress management strategies consultation – Tel:                 +44 (0) 20 8954 1593  or email info@carolespiersgroup.co.uk.    She is dedicated to supporting your long-term growth through talent retention rooted in effective stress management.

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Stress Reduction: Chill out to remember more!

There is no doubting the value of a sharp memory, and there have been endless books claiming to improve your memorising techniques, ever since long before my time. Yet the actual science of data storage and retrieval in the human brain has remained as obscure as the origin of a great invention or a catchy tune.

But now a fascinating new insight into the dynamics of memory has been achieved by tests on patients undergoing an electroencephalogram (EEG), where electrodes are placed directly on the brain’s surface to monitor its oscillatory rhythms.

When data-input is synchronised with a particular rhythmic pattern (theta wave), it registers more deeply and retrieval is more efficient, according to a recent experiment conducted by specialists from Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre and California Institute of Technology. As theta waves are closely identified with relaxation, it seems that you memorise better when you’re relaxed.

This may sound unlikely at first, but personally I know it touches hands with my own strong belief about the other half of the memorising process  –  the retrieval of data from the memory i.e. the power of recall.

One fine summer evening, I remember feeling a vivid sense of well-being, arriving home with my young family after a wonderful day out at a big safari park, as we casually switched on the TV to see what was showing. It was a quiz contest, and with my background in stress counselling, I could immediately see that the young woman in the chair was suffering badly from stress. Her chosen subject was Gothic architecture  –  not something I know much about. But three times, I was able to supply an answer to a question that she failed. Obviously the stress had affected her ability of memory recall, whilst my relaxed mood, sitting at home, had improved mine.

Psychological nosedive

Efficient memorising is also one part of the ability to speak in public – a skill in which I have been coaching executives over many years.

Just telling them to relax is, of course, a little too easy. There are important drills that do have to be rehearsed, no differently from a stage-actor with a script. But unlike a stage-actor, you do not have to keep to the script, word-for-word. This releases you from the terrible fear of forgetting the next word, which then causes your memory to go entirely blank (‘drying-up.) I compare this to an aircraft pilot when his plane goes into a stall, he loses height and drifts helplessly into a nosedive without any ability to recover.

On that point, my clients seem to find it reassuring when I mention one oddity about stage-actors memorising their lines. In the middle of a long run, after repeating the same script night after night for many months, they’re liable to ‘dry-up’ quite suddenly and unexpectedly. It seems that the memory can actually suffer from too much repetition. So that dreaded moment can happen even to the most accomplished actors.

With speaking in public, the technique is to prepare your fallback position. Keep some good, unused anecdotes up your sleeve, to help you over until the original script comes back into your mind. If you’ve established rapport with your audience (and do not display stress or fear), it is truly amazing how uncritical your audience will be. Nobody will spot the inconsistencies or dream that you came so close to that fatal nosedive.

Key points about relaxing and remembering

  • The science of memorising has been obscure until now
  • New research shows that you memorise best when relaxed
  • Public speaking skills are rooted in a relaxed confident attitude

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Got an opinion? Let’s have it!

Everybody enjoys Blog Comments. So add yours at the foot of the column now.

Book Motivational Speaker, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.  See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX

Contact Carole  for a FREE stress management strategies consultation – Tel:   +44 (0) 20 8954 1593   or email info@carolespiersgroup.co.uk.    She is dedicated to supporting your long-term growth through talent retention rooted in effective stress management.

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Stress Reduction: The Value of Enforced Leisure

The unstoppable spread of the 24/7 work-attendance ethic has been explored  –  and deplored  –  in endless reports that agree on the harmful stress that is the result of working long hours, with too little time away from the office desk and the company, in order to spend time with the family and on essential leisure.

A typical reaction to try to alleviate the adverse effects of long-hours working and developing stress management strategies is to try various diets and gym workouts to achieve improved sleep and more energy, in addition to better email management. I know of one organisation that has even set aside an office for Buddhist chanting, as a way of diffusing stress.

Clearly all these commentators still regard 24/7 as a necessary evil that needs to be worked around. This is a glaring case of tunnel vision i.e. maintaining the myth that any team that is not open for business 24/7 will automatically lose market-share to a next-door team that does.

Well, one highly prestigious team has formally questioned this logic, and delivered some startling results that may radically change our view of Time Management.

Harvard Business School conducted a ground-breaking experiment in which a consulting group’s team was literally forbidden to work, take calls or check its email for certain specific periods. This was not flexible hours working, this was a programme of enforced leisure called ‘Predictable Time Off’.

It was quite a gamble. But the Harvard researchers could demonstrate that 94% of top professionals said they put in 50 or more hours a week, not counting another 20 or more hours monitoring their Blackberry, and that they answered virtually every call within the hour. Some experiment was clearly called-for.

Fortunately, in the first stage of the operation, the consulting group’s client had already asked the consultants to think outside the box  –  to think the unthinkable, if necessary. So client and consultant were in compatible mode at the crucial launch phase.

‘Bad intensity’

Yet it was actually the consultants, not the client, who initially resisted the extraordinary conditions of the test. The experiment entailed taking one day off in mid-week, thereby reducing work attendance to 80% of the norm.  The effect of this was to upset the ‘current rhythm’  –  in other words the deeply unnatural 24/7.

It was on this primary issue that the exercise cast the most revealing light. For it showed the disastrous long-term effect of 24/7 working on actual performance. While appearing to sharpen the concentration and induce deeper engagement and involvement, 24/7 actually sets up an attitude of mechanical responsiveness and failure to question assumptions. They called this ‘bad intensity’.

Connected with this was the erosion of private dignity and control over one’s life. Without realizing it, the consultants found they had forgotten what it felt like to be ‘off the air’, and free to forget the client’s problems for a few blessed hours. With heartfelt relish, they re-discovered the satisfactions of family life and leisure, away from the shadow of 24/7.  The beneficial effects this would have on work-life balance and general physical and mental well-being suddenly became very obvious.

Another benefit was the effect on teamwork. During the mandatory day off, responsibilities would have to be formally handed over to someone else. This meant sharing information and insights and thereby encouraging a better overview of challenges and projects as a whole.

And although impossible to quantify, this radical questioning of the 24/7 treadmill led to a more questioning attitude about Time Management altogether  –  a new keenness to discuss ways to work smarter instead of just working longer.

 Key points about enforced leisure

  • The 24/7 work-attendance habit is viewed as unavoidable
  • 24/7 induces a harmful degree of focus called ‘bad intensity’
  • Enforcing leisure encourages healthy, questioning attitudes

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

Got an opinion? Let’s have it!

Everybody enjoys Blog Comments. So add yours at the foot of the column now.

Book Motivational Speaker, BBC guest-broadcaster and best-selling Author, Carole Spiers in person for your next conference for charismatic, high-impact stress management presentations and organisational change strategies.  See Carole live http://bit.ly/TUWbX

Contact Carole  for a FREE stress management strategies consultation – Tel:   +44 (0) 20 8954 1593  or email info@carolespiersgroup.co.uk.    She is dedicated to supporting your long-term growth through talent retention rooted in effective stress management.

Or check-out our latest professional stress reduction products http://bit.ly/FjL5L and stress management services delivered to blue-chip clients from IBM to Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in UK, UAE and worldwide at www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk

Listen