Tag Archives | working smarter

STRESS – THE SILENT KILLER – isn’t it time to admit we have a problem?

There is no doubt we are living in a speeded up world. We are working far harder and for longer hours, than we ever have. The increased demands of the workplace are causing many of us to become far too tolerant of stress. Right now all of us will know of someone (possibly even us if we’re honest?) who is suffering from stress.

Stress related illness is the number one cause of visits to UK GP’s so what are you doing to monitor your own stress levels? ~Do you know your own physical and mental signs that you’re under too much stress? Do you suffer from difficulty in sleeping? Waking up in the middle of the night? Waking up with butterflies in your stomach? Suffering from low-level anxiety? Making snap or 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 yourself saying something before you’ve said it? Feeling out of control? Wired? Short tempered? Being snappy? Uptight? Being grumpy for no particular reason? Not being able to motivate yourself? Bad neck or back or shoulders? Stomach issues? Gut or digestion problems? Struggling to eat? Smoking or drinking too much? All of these symptoms can be signs of stress.

At Meta we have looked at the science behind stress. We look at how the stress hormones affect the body and mind and look at practical ways to recognise the signs of stress and combat stress in the workplace. With some simple tools you really can change your relationship to stress.

We believe its time to highlight this silent killer. Too many of our friends in senior leadership positions have suffered from the long-term effects of stress. We’ve seen what ignoring stress does. It’s not pretty and it’s not clever. We have to admit that as a working culture we have a problem. We have a problem that we are not paying enough attention to. With increased workloads comes increased pressure, with increased pressure comes increased stress levels, with increased stress levels comes mistakes, inefficiency, inability to problem solve, the death of creativity and innovation and more importantly – serious illness. This is something that businesses and leaders need to address. Not just for the health and well being of their staff but for the health and well being of their organisations!

We can’t change how much you have to do on your to-do list but we can help you to truly change the way you work so that you don’t suffer quite so much from stress. Its time to stop ignoring what is right in front of our faces. It’s time to do something about stress.

We have a 1-day workshop on precisely this topic, so why not use your next team away day to do something really useful for you and your team? And help reduce stress in your workplace?

I hope that at the very least this update will make you think about your own relationship to stress. Are you in denial? Are you more stressed than you think? If you tick more than one of the possible symptoms highlighted in your article, you might want to think about it some!

At Meta we believe that everyone should have access to what we’ve learned, so if you’d like to find out more about the ‘science behind stress’ and ways to tackle it, from the extensive research we’ve done, we’d love to help. So get in touch and we’ll see what we can do to help you and your team tackle this silent killer before it’s too late!

Have a great week everyone,

Jo xxx

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What are you good at? Most of us have some aspects of our work that we find easy and satisfying, that we do with some enthusiasm. Imagine if, most of the time, that is what was asked of you. If we really worked collaboratively, that is how it would look.

The word collaboration means working together to achieve an end goal. The implication of this is that we each bring our particular strengths to the task, so that we can achieve it more easily and effectively. We use this principle when we have different teams to design something, to implement the design, to test that it works properly, etc., but we often forget a vital element of collaboration: that they work together on it. If the end product is to be as intended, then all of them need to be involved in every stage of the process.

I’m sure you can think of your own examples of where this clearly hasn’t happened: the user guide written in language that the layman doesn’t understand; the chair that looks beautiful but is uncomfortable to sit on; the monitoring process that takes longer than the task it is monitoring.

How do we enhance collaboration?

Collaboration is a mind-set. It is about clarifying what we really want to achieve right at the start of something, and then identifying what each of us can contribute to make that happen. It requires that we let go of the drive to prove ourselves to be ‘the one’, and instead use what we’re good at to make something happen well. What we bring may be a technical skill or it may be a personal quality: how would we manage without the one who lightens the mood, the one who encourages everyone else, the quiet one who spots the way through the discussion to useful action!

Collaboration begins with seeing everyone else involved as a potential ally in achieving an effective outcome. For this to happen, we need two main areas to be built on:

  1. Building relationships in the team as a whole
  2. The ways we communicate with one another

If we don’t really know the other people in the team, then we won’t know what they can contribute, other than their technical skills, and we won’t build the trust that underlies collaboration, and enables us to know who to call on for help, or what they can bring.

And we need to communicate effectively with others, to build and reinforce relationships, and to maintain the feeling of working together. Emails being sent across the office simply don’t cut it!

It is natural to us to collaborate. We are a living model of how to do that well: our bodies are a brilliant example of collaboration, each part contributing to the whole by working together and communicating with each other to maintain the balance required for our health. We could learn from ourselves, and achieve miracles if we chose to!

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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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Last month I suggested that we ensure that our interaction with people is not transactional, and that we remember to engage with our hearts and not just our heads. This month I’m going to take that a stage further and suggest that we give more value to our interactions by engaging in real conversations with others.

The original meaning of the word conversation is that we turn together, and it always makes me think of dancing, where we take it in turns to lead, and enjoy being together and seeing where the dance takes us. Conversation has a flow to it, and a rhythm is created which has a special value.

In conversation, we learn about and from each other, and thereby enrich both our awareness and our relationship without effort. It doesn’t matter what the topic is to start with – it can be the weather, a TV programme you watched, or how you spent your evening. What matters is that you have the intention to engage with the other person, and share something of your self – then the magic happens.

I have stood at the bus stop, and begun with complaining about the poor service and ended up finding out what it was like to be a prisoner of war in Germany in World War Two. I have begun a conversation about having to do a lot of driving with a taxi driver, and ended up discussing our similar philosophies of life. Of course, not all conversations take us to such fascinating places, but they do always enable us to understand more of other people’s worlds and to be more sympathetic, at a minimum, and they can be a simple means of enhancing our lives and relationships.

So don’t ignore the opportunities to have a conversation every day. Stop for a moment and talk to the shop assistant, the work colleague, the person behind you in the queue. We seem to have got out of the habit in our culture – too busy, too rushed, too immersed in our phones – and we are losing out by not taking those 5 or 10 minutes. They are not a waste of time; they are a way of building relationship and awareness that comes naturally to us. Be interested in others and their lives and ideas – they’re fascinating!

Take a moment to think of a couple of real conversations you’ve had recently. Feel again the glow of being in that flow with someone else, the energy of it, the fun of it. And remember the after-effect on both of you: the warmer greeting next time you meet, the smile of recognition. Don’t deprive yourself – get out there and have a conversation with someone!

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All of us would prefer to be considered trustworthy, wouldn’t we? It is one of the fundamental principles for being able to work together, that we feel we can trust each other. Yet we rarely stop and consider how we create trust between us. It certainly requires some building – it is rare that we will feel an immediate trust of someone we’ve just met. And that is even more true in the workplace, because the people concerned have not generally chosen to work together: we’ve been given those work relationships as part of the deal of having the job.
When we feel that we do trust someone we work with, or we are trusted by them, we do not usually analyse what happened to create that trust. We just assume that there are some people who are trustworthy and some who aren’t. If that were true, our level of trust would never change, yet it clearly does, so what happens? By looking at how we can actively encourage others to trust us, we can also identify what helps us to trust others – the same things apply. And one of the features of building trust is that if we behave in ways that help others to trust us, we also will tend to enhance our own trust of them – it’s a two-way thing.
Ways of creating trust
1. Getting to know people as individuals, rather than roles.
This is central to creating trust. When we feel that someone understands us and our world, we are more likely to trust them. Think about it: we automatically relate more easily to people who have something obvious in common with us – a similar sense of humour; a shared background; a similar attitude to their work. This is because we assume they will understand us better, although that is not necessarily true.
By getting to know the others you work with as individuals, you discover some of the things you have in common that aren’t as obvious, and find some common reference points. At Meta we encourage people to ‘chat’ – talk about themselves, their interests, their lives, their views, and they often say that this is one of the most useful things they do on the programmes, because it makes them feel more comfortable with work colleagues they didn’t previously know very well.
2. Do what you say you will do.
We all need evidence that someone is reliable and consistent, if we are to trust them. So turn up on time for meetings, do the actions you’ve promised, and if you slip occasionally, don’t make excuses – apologise and do it now. We all accept that sometimes that happens, so long as the person is honest about it.
3. Don’t gossip or whinge about people.
If you are doing that about someone behind their back, you might do it about me with someone else, and I will be wary about telling you things.
4. Be genuine.
We all spot it when someone is pretending, and it affects how much we trust them. So don’t give effusive praise when a genuine thank you is appropriate, don’t pretend to be in a good mood – just admit that you’re not, so they don’t think it’s their fault.
These simple everyday behaviours build the foundations of trust between people, and they’re not difficult. We do them automatically with some people – why not apply it more generally? The pay-off for consciously working on building trust is that you establish a firm basis for a good working relationship, and once there is trust, you have taken away one of the main obstacles to effective cooperation.

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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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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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