Why am I stressed out?

“Happy is he who learns to bear what he cannot change!”

 – J.C.F. von Schiller

Finding any one definition for a complex condition is a hard task by anybodies standards. Any attempt we make to so do will ultimately fall short. Several definitions have been offered which tend to emphasise either the feeling of stress or the physical mechanics of stress. The most commonly accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S Lazarus) is that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.

My definition comes in two parts as follows:

  1. Stress is the feeling that you are losing or have lost control of a situation and that you cannot cope or have become overwhelmed.  
  1. Stress is the body in survival mode.  

Together this means that stress is a physical condition induced by your perception of a situation. When human beings perceive a threat of any sort, the brain orders the release of adrenaline into the blood stream. This is an instant boost of energy that enables you to fight harder or to run faster.   It is the fight or flight survival instinct that has kept us alive as a species.  

A perceived threat does not have to be physical to prompt this response. It could be the fear of failure, embarrassment, humiliation or rejection that flips the body and mind into survival mode. When this occurs, the heart beats faster and the blood pressure is raised. The result being more oxygen and blood sugars to empower important muscles. At that point sweat is released to cool those muscles down. Blood is diverted away from the skin to the core so as to minimise the impact of a cut and the mind focuses exclusively on the threat.

In this state people become irritable, anxious, jumpy and defensive. They lose sleep thinking about the problem or working hard to resolve it. Getting along with others becomes difficult; judgement is clouded as is their mental focus and little things cause huge outbursts. Many in this state resort to chemical releases of tension such as alcohol and tobacco.

It is easy to see how this state would have an impact on your performance at work, but what is not so easy to see is how this state, over a prolonged period affects the bodies immune system and makes you more susceptible to high blood pressure, colds, influenza, ulcers, heart disease, strokes and cancer. All of these conditions can be induced by chronic stress.  

In this respect prolonged stress has the same affect on the body as does failing to heed the warning lights on your dash board. It all leads to a break down. What we call burnout is really the end result of exhaustion. At this stage, the body and mind have been in red-alert survival mode for too long and can no longer fight or flee. The individual then simply quits and withdraws, not just from the situation but from society and from reality. Not only does the victim lose the energy to deal with the situation at hand but they also lose the energy to deal with every day chores.   Getting up and having a shower may seem difficult. Going to work is off the menu and socialising with anyone may be out of the question. Instead, these normal activities may be replaced by unusual or addictive ones. Mental illnesses may arrive in the form of chronic anxiety, paranoia, depression and even schizophrenia.  

The psychotic, physical and behavioural symptoms of burn out then create another set of problems on top of the ones that caused the stress in the first place.   The spiral leads downwards and can end up with a host of self-destructive behaviours including drug overdose, alcoholism or outright suicide. Every suicide victim leaves a note; the note says, ‘I couldn’t cope and can’t take this any longer! I’ve run out of ideas, solutions, options and energy. Now death seems better than living!’ The distortions that lead to this way of thinking are developed throughout prolonged periods of unresolved conflict.  

With this definition in mind it seems difficult to see how stress can become our ally. When you understand that stress is the natural response to your perception of a situation, then you can appreciate the fact that nature probably knows best and has enabled the fight/flight rapid response mechanism for very good reasons.  

Relationships – The key to Success!

A lot of work has gone into the subject of success and thousands of volumes have been written by researchers and experts in this field. I have personality devoted many years to understanding why it is that some people succeed in life whilst others fail even though they have the same sorts of intelligences and opportunities. My conclusions can be summarised in one single sentence: Success is the result of quality relationships first with yourself, secondly with your team and thirdly with your customers. 

I discovered that the first key to success is to have a quality (good) relationship with yourself. This involves several critical components including self-esteem, self-belief, self-reliance and self-determination. It also includes making time for yourself, rewarding yourself and taking overall physical, spiritual and mental care for yourself. 

Your second key is to develop an excellent relationship with your personal and professional team. Your personal team includes your family and friends. Your family will either be a source of fulfilment or frustration for you. For most people it is bit of both. The good news is that you can experience more fulfilment and less frustration from your family by becoming an excellent communicator. Almost all marital breakdowns are really communication breakdowns. The inability to communicate is the source of 90% of domestic frustration. Through years of counselling, I have discovered that couples who communicate well can survive any financial or emotional difficulties and seasons whereas couples who do not communicate well tend to split up over minor issues that could have easily been resolved. 

It has been well said, show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are! It could also be said, show me your friends and I’ll tell you where you are going! Although you are an individual, research shows that your friends form a circle of influence around you that both directly and indirectly shape your values, beliefs, goals and personal standards of behaviour and performance. Whether you are aware of it or not, your friends are influencing you and therefore the outcomes of your life. 

Your professional team includes your colleagues, suppliers, professional alliances and staff. Cairo and Diltch offer an excellent definition of leadership in their book ‘why CEO’s fall.’ They say, ‘leadership describes the capacity to build and maintain high performing teams.’ I like this definition because it puts the emphasis where it belongs, namely, with the performance of a team. This means that as a leader, you can perform no better than your team and that your team’s performance is your performance. I am sure that this idea is frustrating to many of you who are leaders. However the good news is that you can improve the performance of your team by becoming a brilliant communicator. Most team failure is really a communications failure. Teams fail for lack of clarity about key results, roles and responsibilities. They fail for lack of rapport, harmony and team spirit. They fail for lack of resource and resourcefulness. They fail for lack of recognition, reward and rest. All of these causes of team failure can be resolved through effective communication techniques. 

The third key to success is to develop a great relationship with your customers. This may sound irrelevant to those of you who are neither self-employed or a business owner. However the truth is that you cannot succeed in life without taking ownership of it. This means becoming the CEO of Me Inc; the managing director of your own life and the president of your own personal services enterprise. In this respect your boss is your customer or client. Your customers give you money in exchange for valuable goods and services. But because we live in the age of consumer choice where the competition is often fierce, customers are increasingly buying relationships and not simply goods and services. They are more concerned with the way you sell than they are with what you sell. The customer wants to be prioritised above the sale itself. They want to be treated with the dignity and respect of a king or queen. They want you to value them and not simply their money. The great news is that by improving your communication skills you can ensure that your customers feel supported, valued and even cherished as they participate in the process of making you rich! 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is now the popular phrase used to describe the art of handling emotionally charged situations. Your ability to stay focused under pressure, deal with conflict, handle criticism, diffuse anger, and manage other forms of confrontation can make or break you in business and in life. Climbing the corporate ladder can no longer be attributed to pure business genius, because today it requires a combination of business and emotional intelligences to make it to the top. 

As organisations continue to innovate and re-invent themselves they are increasingly employing flatter management styles which emphasising teamwork and group coaching. Instead of a manager simply giving orders to subordinates and expecting them to follow through, managers are now required to create and sustain high performing teams. This means keeping morale and team spirit high. It means motivating and empowering a team of people from diverse backgrounds with unique personalities, preferences and personal challenges to produce the best results in the fastest possible time. For this reason, mangers and bosses cannot get by on knowledge of the business alone; they must also know themselves and know their people in order to sustain the morale of a high performing team. 

This is not only true in the corporate world but it is also true of any organisation including the home. When two people, from different backgrounds, with differing values, beliefs, personal goals, drivers (motives) and rules (personal standards) work together within an enclosed space for the purpose of achieving a specific goal, there will exist the potential for clashes, confrontations, conflict and emotional outbursts. If you add to the mix a deadline and demands, then you are really creating a high pressure, high stress and potentially explosive environment. The potential for frustration, anger, jealousy, resentment, competition, greed, spite, gossip and conspiracy are always present within an organisation.

How well you manage your own emotions and the emotions of others in your team is called your level of emotional intelligence. It could otherwise be called your emotional quotient or EQ. Years ago your success in life was linked to your IQ, however time has proven that your IQ does not determine your success or failure in life. Folks with low IQ’s have often turned out to be geniuses and likewise folks with high IQ’s have often ended up on the scrap heap of wasted potential. IQ is no longer a valid indicator for predicting your future. On the other hand there is no doubt that in today’s world, your EQ (level of emotional intelligence) will secure or sabotage your own success in life. You will never master the complexities of your outer world if you cannot master the complexities of your own inner world. Self-mastery then, is the key to life mastery and managing yourself is the key to managing your environment.

The beautiful thing about EQ is that it can be developed and raised.