Tag Archives | reducing stress


The phrase work/life balance has been around for a long time now, yet we still don’t really pay it enough attention. For many people nowadays, it means trying to take their holiday entitlement and occasionally getting home at a reasonable hour. Yet it means so much more than this.

Yes, it does mean that working all the hours God sends is not good for your health and well-being – or your productivity! It is important to get away from work and take a break. Yet often we only use this time to do more ‘work’ – the household chores, ferrying children to and from activities, making sure we visit family. That is not balance, that is doing two or more jobs!

We find balance when our life outside work takes us out of work mode, so that we satisfy other aspects of who we are. If we do physical work at work, maybe we need something mentally stimulating in our life outside work. If work is very analytical or logical, maybe we need to do something with the creative part of our mind outside work. If work is stressful, we need things that relax us – the list goes on!

Many of us have an over-emphasis on one aspect of who we are through our work, and leave other aspects untapped and unused. Yet all of us are a mixture of characteristics, which need to be used for us to feel whole and satisfied. Research clearly shows that those who use a mixture of their characteristics are far more likely to stay physically and mentally healthy than those who are over-using one part of themselves.

And remember that being creative doesn’t have to be ‘artistic’: it could be cooking a different meal, or re-arranging a room in your house. Similarly, doing something physical doesn’t have to be exercise in the gym: it could be gardening or going for a walk in the park.

What does matter is that we engage in activities that use a different part of our mind and give us a different sense of satisfaction.

This isn’t about having to do yet more in your busy life, it’s about feeding your soul, growing into who you really are. However much we love our work, we all need to expand into a life beyond work, rather than just do what needs to be done and then get back to work.

So go on, bake that cake, arrange the lunch with friends, go for that walk, increase that balance in your life!

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Last month I looked at ways of helping yourself to work more in the flow of how you work best. This month I want to look at some of those things that stop us from applying those principles.

Let’s start with the problems we cause ourselves! We often don’t allow ourselves a realistic amount of time to be able to think about what we’re doing.

Weekly Planning

Taking a bit of time to plan your week can pay off enormously. I don’t mean that long list of things to do; I mean getting clear in your own mind where the different things to do fit in to your week. There are a couple of things to bear in mind when doing this:

  1. Where possible, put different things in slots that match with the type of thing it is, and the best times (see last month)
  2. Keep it realistic. Are you really going to feel like writing that report after 4 back-to-back meetings? Can you really do those 6 things in the hour you allotted to them?

Making an overall plan for the week helps you to build in some of those things that do matter, but often drop off the list: starting something before the deadline looms; preparing properly for an important meeting; spending a bit of time with a colleague that isn’t driven by an urgent request. It also helps your mind-set for the week, by giving you a clear intention rather than ‘just getting it all done’.

Daily Planning

Applying the same principle on a daily basis also helps. Just take 5 minutes at the end of the day to check out where you are up to. Don’t forget to be pleased with yourself for what you have achieved or made progress on – that gives you a bit of a boost!

Then assess what didn’t get done, and whether it is possible to fit it in to the next day, or if you need to reassign the tasks for that day. By taking a moment to do this, you set yourself up to be ready to go the next day.


During the day, we often spend the majority of our time sitting – and even worse, in front of a computer! I talked last time about knowing when to stop because you’re no longer being effective. We are not designed to just sit all day, so when you ‘run out’, move. There is a lot of research that suggests that most of us don’t move enough, and that it adversely affects our health, and it is a good way to help yourself to recover your flow. When the body moves, the mind tends to ‘unstick’ itself as well. If you feel you need a reason to get up from your desk, go for a pee or to rinse your face, make a cuppa, pick up some papers and walk briskly through the office – it all helps!


Those are all the things we can do something about, but what about those interruptions that disrupt our train of thought or our concentration?

  1. If you operate an ‘open door’ policy, remember that it doesn’t have to be ‘open all hours’! You can allocate times when it’s OK to interrupt in a day, and make that clear to others.
  2. You can move away from your usual space to do work that requires concentration for an hour or two to the café, a meeting room, or work from home.
  3. You can ask the person if their query could wait for 30 minutes, so you can pay them proper attention.
  4. And turn the ‘ping’ off that signals emails or texts arriving!

Applying the principles of working smarter

It can be hard to be the one who isn’t rushing, busy, stressed, if that’s the general environment you’re in. You feel guilty for being less ‘busy’ than the others. So experiment with introducing just a few more of these ideas into your day; change it a bit at a time. And notice the positive effect on you, and on others. I guarantee you will feel better, and others will benefit from you being more present when you’re with them.

Go on, work a bit smarter – you deserve it!

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Happy New Year! So, after a break over Christmas, have you come back to work or normal life and just resumed your usual patterns, or are you going to work smarter this year?

By working smarter, I mean working with your own nature, rather than forcing yourself on, and wearing yourself out – it seems like a good idea to me!

Knowing your own way of working

We have all developed habits of working harder not smarter: we infect each other with busyness, and become used to being stressed and pushing ourselves beyond our natural limits. Yet this set of patterns is unhealthy longer-term, for us as individuals and for the organisations we work for. We are setting ourselves up for chronic exhaustion and stress-related illness, and the organisation doesn’t get us at our most productive.

We can do something about it, if we choose to, by recognising ways in which we can help ourselves to be less stressed and more effective. We may not be able to control how our time is used fully – we have meetings that others arrange, tasks we have to get done urgently, etc. – but we all have some level of control. By stopping to think about how you would prefer to work, you can begin to slightly re-arrange the way you tackle what you have to do, so as to make it a bit easier on yourself.

Here are a few areas to look at, to start you off.

Knowing your ‘peak time’

All of us have a ‘best’ time of day, or probably several! For example, I find I write most easily in the morning before I do anything else; I am at my most creative before I clutter my mind with the routines of the day and the demands of others on my time. Yet I am more social and good at interaction in the afternoon, once I have cleared my own thoughts and important tasks. Routines and tedious tasks fit well towards the end of the day for me – I get stuff done without needing to use my mind much.

So what’s your preferred pattern? When are you most focussed, most creative, most sociable? We’re all different, and we can work smarter by organising our days to fit our preferences whenever possible. If you have a list of things to do, you can identify which of these require you to be at your most productive, your most creative, and arrange them to suit. And if you have to attend an important meeting at a time when you’d prefer to be getting on with clearing some stuff, then at least allow yourself ten minutes of ‘prep’ time beforehand – have a cup of tea, get yourself in the right frame of mind.

One thing at a time or several?

No, I don’t mean multi-tasking – no-one does this very well: just watch the car in front of you when the person driving is also on the phone! I mean do you prefer to take one task to completion at a time, or to do a chunk of one thing and then a chunk of another, so they all gradually get done. Again, if you can match your own preferences, you will reduce the level of stress you feel.

Knowing when to stop

How long can you be effective for? Research suggests that all of us have a natural ebb and flow and no-one stays effective for more than an hour and a half at a time. If we take a short break, we can often extend that effective time, although we will still begin to fade out more quickly.

You know when you’ve pushed yourself too far: you lose concentration, get fidgety, or just don’t take in what you’re hearing or reading. It isn’t productive to push yourself on- everything is more difficult and takes longer when we are in this state.

So stop, take 5 minutes, make a cuppa, go and talk to someone, go and splash your face with water, breathe, turn your chair away from the computer – anything to allow yourself to regain your flow.


Next month we will look at a few more ways you can help yourself to work smarter. In the meantime, experiment with discovering your peak time, with working out whether you prefer to be single-focussed or a ‘butterfly’, and with stopping for a short break – and make your life a little easier!

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It’s December, almost Christmas – do you remember how exciting that was when you were a child? And now how do we react to it? For most of us it means extra stress in our busy lives: shopping, planning, preparing, visiting or arranging for others to visit – it’s exhausting!

And we’re doing all this when the days are shorter, the weather is often unpleasant, on top of our normal busyness. It’s no wonder that we creak under the strain!

So we have a recommendation for you: plan in one day of your time off as a real day off. Decide now that one of those days is for you to do just what you feel like doing, and choose a day which could work, like the day after Boxing Day or the day after New Year’s Day – days that are often quiet anyway.

You have worked hard all year and you deserve something to really look forward to. You could have a duvet day, read a good book, watch a whole box set, go for a pleasant walk, indulge yourself in a relaxing way for the day.

If your reaction to this is: ‘ I can’t. There’s the family, my partner etc. to consider’, then you definitely need to do it! By deciding now, you can plan to swap kids with friends for a day, so you both get a break, and suggest to your partner that they plan a day off as well.

We all need to have a bit of time to ourselves before we launch back in to our normal busy lives, and it is important for our health and balance. Give yourself a lovely Christmas present this year – take a break!!

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Emails seem to have become one of our major methods of communicating – what a shame! They may seem convenient and fast, but they are not really communication. The written word is only 7% of our total communication, which means that the receiver has to interpret the remaining 93% of the communication. The room for misinterpretation here is enormous!

Now I’m not saying that emails aren’t useful: they serve well as a quick way of conveying simple information, such as time and place for meetings, or as confirmation that you’ve received something, or to remind someone of something you’ve agreed verbally.

However, we all send them for many other purposes, and this is where they aren’t so useful. How many emails do you receive that you consider a waste of time, or that put your back up?

  • There are those where someone is covering their back: they send them to say, ‘I’ve told you about it, so you can’t complain you didn’t know’.
  • There are those that are passing the buck: ‘ I’ve put the action in your court now’.
  • There are those which seem almost rude in their terseness – no ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘would you mind..’ – just ‘do this’.
  • There are those which seem to imply that the other person is upset: ‘why haven’t you..’ or ‘I’m not going to..’

When you stop and look at the emails you receive, there are very few of them that reflect how that person would actually talk to you. Even if you only receive one email that puts your back up, it can colour the way you read the others you receive and put you in the mood to interpret more negatively. And this is before we even look at the two other negative aspects of email communication: speed of response expected, and sheer volume received.

Because emails are instant, there is often a pressure to respond pretty much immediately. I have certainly received phone calls asking why I hadn’t responded to an email sent two hours previously, and had a shocked reaction when I’ve said that I haven’t seen it yet. We have a ping on our computers and phones to tell us something has arrived in the in-box, and many of us have learnt to respond like Pavlov’s dog to its call. This is a constant distraction from whatever we are doing at the time, dividing your attention and making it hard to focus on anything. Stopping to answer immediately means that we are responding from a distracted state of mind.

And then there’s the number of emails most people receive – it’s a deluge in most organisations. That in itself is daunting, before we even get to trying to interpret their tone or respond immediately!

So what’s the solution?

Begin by looking at your own part in creating this over-use of emails. Before you send anything, ask yourself if this would be more appropriately dealt with face-to face, or at least over the phone. If there is a danger of misinterpretation, or you are likely to set off a ping-pong game of mails – you know, when they keep going back and forth between you! – maybe you would save time, energy and relationship by just talking to each other.

If you are copying it to other than the main recipient(s), check that’s really necessary. Those copied in emails are often just deleted and rarely elicit a positive response in the recipients.

And if you are just giving simple information, and do think it’s a useful email, consider putting in that extra sentence that gives it the personal touch, or a suggestion of helpfulness or courtesy, to give it a positive tone.

Once you have reduced your own role in making emails an irritating and negative part of our work lives, you can begin to manage those that are sent to you.

  • Turn your ping off. If you do receive some emails that are genuinely requiring instant answers, check every 30 minutes, and set up an automatic folder for them, so that is all you check.
  • Have times at regular intervals in the day when you check emails, maybe every couple of hours – and allow time for it in your diary.
  • When you think someone is being terse in an email, phone them or go and see them, to find out what’s going on, and to actively turn the tone around. Assume it’s your misinterpretation, give them the benefit of the doubt – they may just be overwhelmed with emails!
  • When you think this is likely to be a to-and-fro exchange of emails, arrange to meet or talk on the phone instead.
  • If you are going to just delete the email, perhaps you could unsubscribe, or courteously suggest that you don’t need to be on this mailing list.

Emails were a great invention. They allow us to exchange simple information quickly and easily. They were designed to be a useful servant, not a daunting master. Get them back into perspective and they become positive again.

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THERE IS AN ‘I’ IN TEAM – ‘looking after you’ for the benefit of all

Whilst doing a recent excellent team workshop with a large charity I was made aware by the head of the leadership team we were working with that actually there is an ‘I’ in team! – When you write the word TEAM in block capitals you’ll notice that within the A there is actually a capital I!

It was a bit of a revelation to me to find that I in ‘TEAM’ because at Meta we’ve always stressed how important it is to start with yourself when it comes to team working. Right now many of you will be working longer hours than you ever have and work no longer has the boundaries that it traditionally used to have – (Mainly that once you were out of the office the work stopped!)

It is vital therefore that you look after yourselves, and as any of you who have worked with us will know we put it at the forefront of the work we do, not just because its really important but because it leads to a greater capacity to work and enables you to be more effective and efficient.

With the advent of mobile technologies – the smart phone, the blackberry, the laptop – now office time has become extended to wherever you take your phone or laptop with you. That means that whereas before you did all your work at the office now many of you will work at home or on the way home. This extension of the office by mobile technology means the insatiable beast of our workloads now seeps into our home lives. The boundaries have become blurred between home life and work life and indeed for many of you this will mean working on the way home on the train, or finishing a report on the table in kitchen at home before dinner, or clearing your emails on a Sunday evening so that you have a clearer inbox before you start your working week in the office on a Monday morning.

Not enough of us are challenging this invasion into our home lives made by the never-ending demands of our workplaces. It leads to many of us having less time with our families and I hear all too often the complaint that children’s bedtimes are missed and weekend time with the family impinged upon.

It’s so important to start putting in firm boundaries to stop the flow of the unceasing tide of work into our personal and family time. First of all, make a record of how much time you spend working in an average week. What work is done in the office (and what times do you arrive/leave) and what work is done at home? – Be honest with yourself and after you’ve recorded it, review it and decide what you find acceptable and what is not acceptable to you.

The things that you decide are not acceptable are what I call the outer boundaries. They are the sea wall, put there to stop the excessive tides of work from overwhelming and flooding into your personal life to damaging effect. To the sports fans reading this, its like the outer boards on a cricket pitch, they don’t mark the boundary they are an outer (unmovable) boundary to protect the spectators. Then to continue with the cricketing metaphor there is the rope boundary (which is the actual scoring boundary), this is moved in and out dependent on where the cricket pitch is actually situated in the ground. Once you have established the outer boundaries – these are what I call your ‘non-negotiables’ for example – I will be home every evening in time to put my son/daughter to bed, I won’t do work on the weekends unless its an emergency, I won’t answer emails at home after a certain agreed time – then you can begin to work on the inner flexible boundaries.

What’s interesting is that when these outer boundaries are in place, you’ll soon see that actually no one is forcing you to do the work at those hours and if they are? Well that’s a conversation to be had with those that are asking these unreasonable things of you!

Then you can start to experiment with that inner rope boundary. Remember this is more flexible but no less important to creating that sense of balance in your work/life – perhaps coming home a little earlier (try 15 minutes earlier than normal at a time, not too drastic) or going in a little later. Perhaps banning work from home, or at least stopping doing any work at home? The fear is that if you’re not getting enough work done now, that you’ll get even less done if you do less hours, however the opposite is true IF it is done in the right way (See note below on state and energy) – don’t take my word for it though, do you own empirical research and see!

Now it’s all fine and dandy to establish these boundaries, but it’s important to not only establish them but also to start to look after you as well. Your state is the most influential factor when it comes to how you experience life. If you are tired and stressed its amazing how difficult and hard life can be, and isn’t it amazing when you’re having ‘one of those days’ how many irritating and obnoxious people there are in the world??

I’m trying here to lighten the mood.. Because for many of us work and life has just become heavy and hard work. This leads to us being grumpy not just in work but outside of work too, when we let the tide of work come in and never push back, then it has a serious effect on our relationships at home too.

Clearly it’s time to have a re-think. Because right now what most of us are doing isn’t working for us, our family or ironically for employers either!

Think of your mind and body as a light bulb. In order to work, it requires energy (in this case electricity) and if it does not have enough energy it does not light up. Far too many of you are running the light bulb that is you on the lowest setting on the dimmer switch! There’s not much energy in you, so you barely light up or function.

You are a being of light! – No, I’ve not just gone all airy-fairy and spiritual on you, at the smallest sub-atomic levels you ARE pure energy. So if you are energy, surely its important to keep your energy topped up?

The first and quickest way to do this is to sleep well! Research that we revealed in an update from last year says that we need a minimum of 7 hours sleep to be effective, and ideally 8 to ensure we are functioning at our best. How many hours did you get last night?

Secondly it’s important to take your breaks when you are at work, AWAY from your desk! Back to back meetings are not conducive to working at your best, regular breaks are regularly highlighted in research as being needed to ensure consistently high levels of performance at work.

Thirdly top up your fuel tanks on a regular basis – at work, on your way to and fro from work, and at home. Make a list of 20 things that give you that energy boost that can help you top up your internal fuel tank and make sure you have the list with you at all times. When you wake up in the morning ask yourself the question – “where is MY fuel tank today?” – if its low then make sure you have plenty of things to top it up before you get to work!

When you look after yourself and fill your fuel tank on a daily basis, as well as putting in firm boundaries when it comes to your work patterns, you’ll notice that work and life just gets easier. Its not rocket science, and yet most of us have let these things slip in the last few years.

So make a stand for you, and actually it won’t just be your family that thanks you, it’ll be your employer too. Why? Because working in a more natural, energy efficient way like this ensures that you’ll get MORE not less work done at a higher, more consistent quality.

Wishing you a great month,

Jo xxx

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These days technology is everywhere, its unavoidable and many of us live our lives through technology. You’ve only got to step on a train or a bus or the tube and what you’ll find is a carriage full of people locked into the small world of technology held within their hands. The tablet, the kindle, the i-phone they are the new newspapers, the new books and the new cinemas. It’s where we find everything we need and we have become very dependent upon them. Could you imagine a day without your phone, your email, and your computer? The answer is probably no.

There was an attendee on our Journey to Mastery programme this year, who came in distraught one session because they had lost her i-phone. A whole week with no access to that virtual world that these technologies allow us into and they were at a loss as to what to do. It started me thinking, what would we do if we gave up technology for just one day? Have we become so dependent on it that we can’t?

It’s an interesting thought.

Now I go on Facebook quite regularly and recently I’d noticed that it had crept into my life more than I’d like it to have. I found myself checking it in between my work tasks, and whereas before maybe I went online once a day I would find myself checking numerous times in one day. So I’ve decided to give myself a break from it for a while, and what I’ve noticed is that I have a lot more time to get things done! I am also having better conversations with my friends and family than I have before. It’s only been a week but I’ve really noticed the difference.

Let us look at technology in the workplace. Now we are inundated with emails in our inbox everyday I don’t know many people who get less than 50 emails a day in their inboxes at work. There is an overload of information, but not much real communication going on. When you look at the research into communication the majority of communication (65%+) is got through physical signals, and just 7% of communication comes through the written word alone. So that is a 93% chance of a miscommunication by just using the written word alone, and yet, most of us now rely on that written communication as our primary way of contacting others whether it be by text or by email.

There’s another side to technology, the fact that it drains our energy. I don’t know many people who are energised by being at their computer terminal all day. I don’t know many people who after a 30minute foray on Facebook feel ‘raring to go’. So when we are all feeling under pressure and are tired and stressed, perhaps a day without technology might just allow us to recharge and regain our energy?

My belief is that the world around us IS a place of abundance. It is designed so that it can feed us energetically. When you look at small children they know absolutely how to interact with the world so that it feeds them. They use all their senses so that the world becomes a place of adventure, fun and fulfilment. So why don’t we see if we too can tap into the wonder of the world without technological interference?

As most of you will know at Meta we talk about ‘filling your fuel tank’. We talk about the fact that most of us right now are running our own internal energy fuel tanks on empty and we need to top them up. My suggestion is that by just taking one day a week away from technology, you can top up your fuel tank more fully.

Now technology is all around us, its impossible to have a technology free day at work these days, but we could control our home environment. If you didn’t have your phone, your computer, your tablet, your kindle, your TV for one Saturday or Sunday, what would life be like? What would you do? Think about it for a moment.

If the world is a place of abundance, if it is set up to feed you and energise you, what could you do in that day to refill your fuel tank and get yourself ready for the week of work that is ahead? Remember when Sundays were a day of rest? Maybe that was for a reason! So how about we go back to a time when we got out into nature, talked more, interacted with the world more, became more involved IN the world rather than escaping the world.

The world is a big place. Vast in fact, why not tap into the potential and energy that it provides? Why not have one day a week having adventures and having fun? A day free from technology – a day of love, laughter and joy. A day reconnecting with the world, and reconnecting with those we love.

The festive period is all about reconnecting and remembering. So take just one day to refill your fuel tanks, to get them full to the brim, to get excited about life again, to just go and have FUN. We think you deserve that.

Have a wonderful festive period all of you,

With love,

Jo and Di xxx



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What sort of a day have you chosen to have today?

Most of us would respond to this question by starting with: ‘I was OK until such-and such happened,’ or ‘Well, I had to do such-and such, so I was affected by that’, or just with irritation: ‘If only I could choose!’

I’m here to remind you that those are all choices too – that’s the bad news! And the good news is that once we really grasp that it’s always a choice, we can choose differently and feel better for it.

So what do I mean when I say that we always choose? When I first came across this concept, I couldn’t make sense of it. I thought that there were too many outside influences on my life – my work, my relationships, the weather, the state of my finances, the traffic – the list goes on and on! So I rarely felt as if I could choose what my day was like; it depended on what was happening around me. I was a fairly typical victim of circumstance.

Then gradually I began to realise that maybe it was a choice of sorts, to be a victim of circumstance, and that just made me feel worse! When you get this, you just feel cowardly or stupid: why don’t I just walk away from this job, this relationship, that makes me feel like a victim of circumstance?

Eventually I began to grasp that it isn’t necessarily about running away from things that adversely affect you; in fact, that’s not possible. If we are used to being a victim of circumstance, then we will take that attitude into any situation. It is about becoming conscious of what choices we do have in any situation.

The essential distinction is between passive and active choices. A passive choice is where ‘they’ or ‘it’ have made us feel or react this way. We allow the circumstance to be in control of our destiny, our mood, our attitude, and we passively accept its influence. We say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it.’

Yet this is not how we are naturally wired. For evidence, look at how we handle things as children, before we learn to be passive. Children don’t think, ‘Dad’s in a bad mood today, so I will have to keep quiet and not be a nuisance.’ They think, ‘Dad is in a bad mood today, so I will see if I can make him laugh, or I may go and play with my favourite toys and leave him to it – he’ll get over it.’ Children find a way of making it work for them, by choosing how they react.

We are intended to be in control of our own destiny and we have the ability to do it, by consciously choosing how we react to circumstances. It is up to me to decide how I will react to bad news, someone being unpleasant, a traffic jam, and this is what gives me control. It becomes an active choice.

We are capable of doing this – we all do it sometimes. For example, ‘I’m tired and I had a bad day, but I want to go and see my friends and have fun, so I’ll have a good shower out on my favourite perfume/after shave and put on my glad rags, and then I’ll be up for it.’  So let’s just choose to do this more often!!

  • We can choose to make bad news a reason to allow ourselves an indulgence to make us feel better, or a prompt to make a change in our lives
  • We can choose to let someone being unpleasant keep their attitude to themselves and let it go past us – walk away and leave them to it
  • We can choose to use a traffic jam to listen to our favourite music or an audio-book

By making a conscious, active choice, we take back control of our own mood, our own attitude, our own state of mind. This helps us to make our lives work, no matter what, and keeps us in a place where we feel we can always make a positive difference, should we choose to.

Life is too short to be influenced by the negativity or adversity around us so let’s choose to enjoy our time here and make it work!!

in peace and love Di and Jo xxx

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Yes, we are talking to you!

Even if your don’t think you’re stressed, we know that you probably are. When we talk about being stressed, we are so far out of balance that it’s hard to come back to normal. So we want to encourage you to tackle the imbalance early, and make it easier for yourself to stay healthy and happy.

What we’re designed for

You see, biologically, we are still functioning as if we were hunter-gatherers. When we find something stressful, we release a mass of adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. These hormones direct all the energy in our bodies into our arms and legs – for fight or flight – and to the instinctual part of our brains – for survival. Now this is really useful if you are facing a life or death situation – think of the stories of someone lifting a car off their child who’s been run over – but for most of us, the stresses are not about survival, they are more emotional and mental. So we have an excess of preparation for fight or flight that is not dissipated by using it for that purpose.

Causes of stress

And what causes that stress that we do have? Well, as I said, we are designed to be hunter-gatherers. That means we would have highly physical times, and then some downtime to recover. We would also live to the seasons, in touch with nature, awake in daylight hours, sleeping when it’s dark. We would eat natural unprocessed food, with a high proportion of fruit vegetables and grain. Instead we have become far more sedentary, we completely ignore seasonal changes, and we eat processed food a lot of the time. On top of that, we have a 24/7 culture, shopping after dark, online till the wee hours, responding instantly to communications. None of this is what we are biologically designed for, so puts stress on our system, before we even start to call things stressful.

Symptoms of stress

If you don’t think this applies to you, just consider whether you have any of these symptoms of stress in your system:

Do you know of someone who is suffering from difficulty in getting to sleep? Waking up in the middle of the night? Waking up with butterflies in their stomach? Suffering from low-level anxiety as they wake up or drive to work, for no obvious reason? Making snap/bad decisions? Not able to get over a cold? Getting ill easily and then being ill for a long time before recovering? Not being able to stop themselves saying something before they’ve said it? Feeling out of control? Wired? Uptight? Bad neck/back/shoulders? Stomach issues? Gut/digestion problems? Struggling to eat? Eating comfort food? Smoking/drinking too much? Jiggling their legs or fingers? Dropping things? These all can be signs of stress.

Effect of stress

Now you might say, ‘Oh well, that’s just the way it is’, but the effect on your physical and mental health of constantly having stress hormones in your body is significant. Those hormones take all the energy away from maintaining and repairing your vital organs, from using the evolved parts of your brain where you think things through, are creative and maintain perspective, and from your immune system which keeps you healthy. The other scary piece is that when stress hormones are in your body your cells do not regenerate. They just die off one by one and are not replaced.

The good news is, we can do something about it, by finding ways to re-balance our system, when we notice the signs of stress. As hunter-gatherers, we would have dissipated those stress hormones by our physical activity, and a successful hunt would lead us to release the health-giving hormones – dopamine and serotonin – which biologically re-balance the system, and re-direct our energy back to maintenance and repair of our bodies, and the more generally useful parts of our brain.

It’s important to emphasise here that actually stress is not our natural state, happiness, joy and fun is. You don’t see 3-4 year old kids stressed! You won’t find a 4-year-old sitting all depressed and moaning about everything, suffering from lack of sleep and suffering from anxiety! The vast majority of young children know how to look after themselves and actually our brains are wired not to make us feel bad, but to make us feel good. We are wired for happiness but we learn how to look for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. So it’s important to have our own strategies for getting ourselves de-stressed and back to our factory default setting of happiness!

Relieving stress/getting back to normal

Sometimes it’s not easy to just go back to default setting so it’s useful to have a number of strategies for de-stressing and getting back to normal.

We need to find our equivalents and consciously do something to correct the balance and help our bodies find their preferred state.

Anything physical helps, because it dissipates the effect of these stress hormones: have a run around the block to get rid of the excess adrenaline coursing through your body. Maybe you need to do some yoga to release the energy. Gardening helps, or just a walk in the park. Swimming, or the gym if that’s your thing. Even some energetic housework, if that doesn’t add to your stress! Just get your body moving.

It also works if we do anything which has a calming effect on us – it allows our body to find its natural balance: it may be a case of just sitting down for 5 minutes. Or take a break and have a cup of coffee. Maybe you could listen to a calming piece of music or phone a friend. Or just sit and relax and just breathe deeply to relieve the symptoms of stress.

Finally we can pro-actively use ways to release the dopamine and serotonin in our bodies, which counteract the negative effects of stress and quickly rebalance us. So do anything which makes you feel good, such as a favourite piece of music, reading a chapter of a good book, watching something that makes you laugh, or eating something that tastes good and is a natural food – anything which helps to shift your mood.

Whatever things work for you, it’s important to have a number of different ways to relieve stress for you, before it gets too unbalanced to deal with easily. This is not an indulgence, it is a necessary and vital rebalancing, if we want to function effectively and stay healthy. For the sake of our long-term heath, do pay attention to those symptoms of stress, and relieve them as quickly as possible. Your body, mind and spirit will all be grateful!!

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THE BLURRING OF BOUNDARIES – getting work and life back into balance

There has been talk of work/life balance in organisations for decades now.

When it first started, it was because people had begun to feel a pressure to stay late at work, to try and finish off their tasks, with the consequence that they had less time and energy for their home life.

Alas, instead of being an improved story now, the story has got a lot worse. With the advent of mobile phones as a necessary piece of kit for everybody, the real intrusion into home life began. No longer was the workday over when you set off for home. People began using their travelling time to make calls, instead of using it to wind down from the day. And having the work mobile switched on till mid-evening became the norm, in case someone needed to contact you.

Even that was not deemed to be enough of an intrusion. When laptops became widely available, and smartphones, communication by email also became the norm – we call it communication, although we all know that it is generally poor as a means of conveying messages and resolving issues.

Now the intrusion into home life was even more pervasive – we saw the ‘important’ message from the boss on our smartphone halfway through our dinner, and felt obliged to sort it out, or at least email a response, or a message to others who needed to be involved. What’s more, we were tempted into spending an hour or two trying to clear that damn in-box during the evening or at weekends, because we knew we wouldn’t have time at work.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? No, not if we did have work/life balance. Ricardo Semler wrote a book called ‘The Seven Day Weekend’ suggesting that, if we answer emails at the weekend, we should also be able to go to the movies on a Monday afternoon. In other words, if we are genuinely going to work flexibly, then that needs to be a two-way agreement with our workplace: rather then stretching our hours, it should mean that we manage our work/life balance in a more creative and flexible way for ourselves as well.

Sadly, very few people have felt able to adopt this way of seeing it. Instead, we are resigned to less time for home life, and have learnt to respond, like Pavlov’s dogs, to the ping of yet another email or voice message.

This means that even when they are at home people have their attention and thinking drawn towards work. And even if responding doesn’t take them long, it pulls them out of relaxing into their home life and allowing themselves to re-energise properly.

The blurring of the boundaries between work and home life has crept up on us: the intrusion has gradually increased, so that we have come to accept each stage as normal. But it’s not!! It’s not normal, and it’s not healthy for you or your organisation.

The insistence on work/life balance was not for altruistic reasons. It was because people need to have a proper break from work, and a rounded perspective on life, to be able to perform at their best at work. We are not machines that you can switch on whenever you want and get the same performance.

The effects of the blurring of these boundaries are: the cumulative exhaustion of people; the decline of happy home relationships; and poor reaction and decision-making at work, due to tiredness and resentment.

Isn’t it time you took back control of your world, and re-established some boundaries for yourself? After all, most of us are not working in places where taking time out away from work things will result in a disaster!

So, just stop and consider the following:

  1. Your journey to work: can you use it to get yourself in a positive mood for your workday?
  2. Your journey home: can you use it to wind down, re-energise yourself, and get ready to really be at home with your loved ones?
  3. Your laptop: can you leave it at work, or at the least allocate only a set period of time that you use it at home?
  4. Your smartphone: can you switch it off by 7 pm at the latest, and leave it switched off and have a whole weekend free sometimes?
  5. And if you can’t do any of these things, can you therefore go to the movies on a Monday afternoon?!!

Think for a moment about what is going to happen if you don’t do this to take back some control of your world: the intrusion will continue to grow – and may even be on your watch or TV screen, or even under your skin in a few years’ time! You will make those poor reactions/decisions that lead to more problems, because you are tired. Your family will give up on trying to involve you in their lives. And your inbox still won’t be empty!

Now compare this with what will happen if you do take back some control: some people may object to your lack of 24/7 availability, but they do get over it, particularly if you are clear about when you are available, and you work effectively in that time. Your family will love the ceasing of the constant interruption to life with them. And you will actually have some time to relax for a change!

Which would you prefer?!!!

We hope that you use this update to just take a little time to notice how blurred your boundaries between work and home have become and take back a little time for you, and your family.

Why? Because YOU deserve it!!

All our Love

Jo and Di xxx

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