Working Smarter

The Hidden Heart of Wellness: Leisure Activities

Posted by Joe Robinson

Hikers

What goes through your head when you have an unoccupied moment outside the office? Most likely it goes something like this: Get busy! I really should be doing something!

The reaction isn’t just based on habit, but something that is drummed into our heads that couldn’t be more hare-brained: Leisure is a lesser realm that has no value. In fact, quality and frequent leisure time is vital to health and life. It IS our life, the thing we’re working for. We don’t get that message, though, and as result, many of us feel squirmy about stepping back, as if only a slacker would partake.

This is what the psychological world calls a “false belief,” an uninformed notion held dear that holds back health, happiness, and the truth.  If you look at the science, getting a regular dose of leisure is as important to your health as eating the right foods or getting exercise. Recreational activities are the missing piece of wellness, the overlooked antidote to entrenched stress and pessimism.

BEYOND BOREDOM

A new study from Matthew Zawadski, a psychology professor at the University of California, Merced, found that people who took part in leisure activities reported they were 34% less stressed and 18% less sad. “When people engage in leisure activity, they have lower stress levels,” he reports on the UC Merced website, “better mood, a lower heart rate and more psychological engagement—that means less boredom, which can help avoid unhealthy behaviors. But it’s important to immerse in the activity and protect leisure time from external stressors.”

"Best Business Case for Stress Management"

In other words, to get those benefits, you have to be engaged in the activity. That doesn’t mean it has to be aerobic or muscle-flexing, though those work great too. Quieter pursuits, such as listening to music, doing puzzles, or sewing can also shift minds out of tension and into the positive space where recovery and flourishing begin.

It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? When you’re having fun and fully immersed, it crowds out stress and negative mood. Why is this so hard to get? One of the reasons is that we have been taught to feel guilty unless we are on task and that productivity is a function of endurance and stamina, a triathlon in pants. All the research tells us this is bogus.

FATIGUED BRAINS LOOK SOUND ASLEEP

Brains that are fatigued look like ones that are sound asleep, MRI scans show. The true source of productivity in the knowledge economy is recharging and refueling and brains that are fresh. Leisure activities have an amazing ability to provide that refreshment, not just because play and doing things we like energize us, but also because these activities satisfy core psychological needs, such as autonomy and competence. That makes us happy. Princeton’s Alan Krueger led a study that found that people are at their happiest when they are involved in engaging leisure activities.

The tonic of engaged leisure acts as a rumination-buster. Rumination—thinking over and over again about our problems—is a core driver of stress. Stress constricts the brain to perceived emergencies that lock us in to loops of doom and gloom, or “awfulizing,” as it’s known in the psychological trade. Leisure activities preoccupy the brain with challenge, learning, and fun, which push out worries and allow a reset.

The University of North Carolina’s Barbara Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions can reverse even the physical effects of stress. They can “undo” a high heart rate and disrupted digestion. They also build resources, in this case of positive emotions that have been shown to buffer stress and help us withstand setbacks.

BUILDING POSITIVE MOOD

If you don’t break up the self-propelling loop of tension and danger in your head, the stress can develop into chronic stress, which can set off a host of medical conditions, and ultimately, morph into burnout, the last stage of chronic stress. That means a mode of continuous fight-or-flight, which suppresses the immune system, and increases the bad cholesterol and decreases the good kind.

We can escape this rut through psychological detachment from the day’s events in the form of that thing right next to us we think is only permissable for kids and retirees: leisure. Making a psychological break from the strains and pressures of the day is an essential stress management tool. It unleashes the positive emotions that turn off the danger signals and bring us back to our core selves and the things and people we enjoy. 

Without a diversion from the day’s preoccupations, we’re left in a morass of negative thoughts and tension. Researchers have shown that leisure activities after work counter the stress loop and negative affect (grouchy, angry, tense, irritable, a non-pleasure to be around) that comes with it. Studies show that people who engage in leisure activities, whether it’s chess, dancing, reading, and especially any activity that involves a mastery experience, wake up the next morning with positive affect and more energy.

PUT PLAY ON THE CALENDAR

Stress is a huge energy-drainer. It forces your organs to work overtime under duress, and that is the opposite of employee engagement, whose main domains include vigor and dedication. Recreational activities refuel that energy, which is why they are a significant piece of wellness and enagement programs.

One of the challenges to unlocking this amazing resource is that stress and the belief it sets off in your ancient brain that you are about to die suppresses the play equipment in the brain. Who wants to have fun when you’re about to kick the bucket? The way around this vise-grip is to plan activities, put them on the calendar, and commit to doing them no matter what negative frame of mind you’re in. Moods are transient, so the false emergency of stress will disappear within a few minutes of doing something fun.

Another way to trick the brain so it doesn’t freeze fun out of your life is to take up a hobby or leisure pursuit. This insures that you engage in the experience on a regular basis and allows for a steady dose of psychological detachment and increasing opportunities to build competence and social connection, core needs. Studies show that a passion can add eight hours of joy to your week. I’m betting that’s something you would consider valuable—even if it comes from that slackery world of leisure.

If you would like to improve wellness and engagement on your team or in your company, click the button below for more information on our wellness programs.

Click for a Price Quote

Tags: wellness, awfulizing, catastrophic thoughts, leisure and stress, life balance, stress, positive thinking and stress, work life balance programs, work life balance, stress management, stress at work, burnout, stress management programs, wellness programs,

John Lennon's Path to Stress Management: Reach Out

Posted by Joe Robinson

John Lennon reached out in "Help"

The Beatles made reaching out respectable as far back as 1965 with the iconic strains of “Help.” John Lennon said he wrote the song as a cry for help to escape a depressive period in his life.

Nearly 50 years later, it’s still not easy in a culture of rugged individualism to ask for a hand. That’s especially true when it comes to work-related issues. We’re supposed to suck it up in silence, and keep on going till the paramedics arrive. Unfortunately, they are arriving, so we need a smarter approach.

I met one manager at an aerospace firm who was back at work after a heart attack. He was already worried he was going to have a recurrence. A scientist in Tennessee told me how he was hauled out of his office on a stretcher after his myocardial infarction and remembers his panic as the siren wailed in the ambulance on the way to the hosptial.

A social worker told me about her nervous breakdown, set off by an overwhelming caseload.  She didn’t even tell her husband how serious her stress had been until she was in an ER bed. At one training I did for a large consulting firm, staff members reflected on the heart attack death on a hotel bathroom floor of one of their hardest road-warrior workers, someone who was only in his 40s.

FEAR AND EGO

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem, and we have to face up to it as organizations and professionals. All the tragic events above could have been avoided if people had just asked for help—if individuals had reached out when things got beyond their capacity, if managers had reached out to staff or to leadership for training in stress management or time management.

It’s hard to be productive when you’re in an ER or six feet under. So why is it so hard to ask for help? Fear and ego override common sense and even self-preservation. We don’t want to let managers or peers think we can’t handle our responsibilities, fearing we’ll be thought of as lightweights or that we will jeopardize career or promotions. Egos tell us that admitting we need help would be a failure. Like all fear, these are projections that something will happen that almost never does. Irrational self-talk locks in false beliefs that put your health and even maybe your life in jeopardy.

Get Coaching Pricing, Details

Denial fuels more stress, because it keeps the false belief driving the stress entrenched through rumination. The more we think about the false belief the more it feels true. Health consequences from your work are flares from your physiology to examine what’s not working and what you can do about it.

STRENGTH OR WEAKNESS?

Part of the problem of reaching out is that we are led to believe that it’s a sign of weakness. It’s not. It’s an indication that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. One Harvard report about speaking up in the workplace called the word “No,” the voice-oriented improvement system. We move forward when we find out what's not working and remain counterproductive as long as we don’t say anything. Think about dialogue, not as a sign of failure, but of progress—problem-solving ineffective behavior, such as stress and burnout, that can cost you dearly and the company five to seven times more than the average workplace malady.

Fear and ego blind us to the irony that, to appear strong and play the bravado game, we consign bodies and minds to physical weakness. Are CEO’s weak who bring in consultants to chart a new path? No, it’s considered smart to bring in expertise to solve problems.

That’s all we are doing when we speak up and let someone know there’s too much on our plate or a department is too overwhelmed to avoid making serious mistakes. We are solving problems.

Asking for help isn’t a character flaw, it’s a sign of character, of knowing when to  say when, determining when we have diminishing returns, identifying when we have more than we can do well. It’s a sign of strength.

GETTING UNSTUCK

Ignoring health problems is a big lose-lose for employees and companies. Let’s set a new standard to change this. If the way you are working is affecting your health, it’s time to reach out. If the people on your team or department are racking up doctor appointments or citing burnout, it’s time to reach out. If stress and crisis mentality is rampant, it’s time to reach out.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Most of my coaching clients contact me when they are on absolute fumes, when a small spark could cause a conflagration. It’s no different than going to a personal trainer or music teacher. You move forward through new knowledge, through strategies that take an outside ear and expertise. Our brains generate ideas through associations, putting this idea with that random one. It’s inefficient, time-consuming, and it often leads to an association dead-end. We get stuck in association cul-de-sacs and can’t get out on our own.

The same is true for organizations. If your department is reeling, don’t wait for the entire company to do something, reach out and explore a stress management, work-life balance, or productivity training for your team. Get solutions to overwhelm and burnout that everyone knows are undermining productive efforts, rapport, and future success.

“Help me get my feet back on the ground,” sang John Lennon. Ask, and chances are you shall receive.

If you would like to explore individual coaching or a training program for your team, click on the button below and turn challenges into strengths.

Event, Meeting Planners: Click for Price, Program Details

Tags: feeling overwhelmed, work-life balance coach, work stress and health, asking for help, work life balance programs, job stress, stress at work, burnout, stress management programs

Top 4 Bottom-Line Reasons for Stress Management

Posted by Joe Robinson

describe the image

Call it tension, pressure, or overwhelm. Whatever your term for stress, the fact is that just about every office has no shortage of it, and that’s bad news for productivity and profits. Stress costs American business a staggering $407 billion a year, reports U. C. Irvine researcher Peter Schnall. Unmanaged stress is the biggest source of long-term absence at any company.

Studies show that stress undermines intellect, decision-making, planning, motivation, retention, revenue, and just about anything an organization is trying to accomplish. This should make stress management an essential tool at any company. Ignoring stress is far more costly than a stress management program and is compounded daily by the toll of mistakes, medical bills, conflict, absenteeism, and crisis mentality spread by stress.

Few of organizations ever get the hard facts on stress's impact on business. I find that management takes steps to rein in stress and burnout once they have the research data in hand. So let’s do that now with a look at the top four bottom-line reasons why stress management is one of the most cost-effective strategies to improve productivity, engagement, and profits.

1. Stress management programs increase productivity. Chronic stress is antithetical to getting things done. It keeps brains constricted to perceived crises, drives panic mode, and fuels emotional decisions. Stress is a major factor in presenteeism, the phenomenon of being physically at the office but mentally checked out from cognitive exhaustion or anxiety. Presenteeism means lost productive time, from a reduced quantity of work, to time not on task, and conflicts with others. Stress also undercuts innovation and creativity by fixating brain neurons on problems, instead of solutions. Studies show that stress management programs can increase productivity—6% in a study by Kathryn Rost—by restoring mental functioning and cutting absences. Another stress management program increased sales revenue by 23% and reduced absenteeism by 24% (Munz, Kohler, Greenberg, 2001).

2. Stress management provides huge savings by cutting the costs of stress-related illnesses and absences. Injuries tend to be what most people focus on with disability claims, but what’s not generally known is that 90% of workplace disabilities are illnesses (Jauregui, Schnall, 2009). The major driver of chronic illnesses and conditions is chronic stress, which suppresses the immune system, increases the bad cholesterol and decreases the good kind. Stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death, from heart disease to diabetes. More than two dozen studies show the connection between job stress and heart disease, which is very costly for any organization. Costs for stressed workers are five times higher than they are for the average employee (Goetzel). Sick employees produce much less than healthy employees and are often absent. The tab from absenteeism at large companies is $3.6 million per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

3. Job stress causes good employees to leave. Stress management makes them want to stay. Forty percent of those who leave their jobs each year do so because of stress (Hoel, Sparks, Cooper, 2001). As I’m sure you know, this is very expensive. Turnover costs average 120-200% of the salary of the employee. The list of retention costs is long—separation pay, the cost of temporary workers, hiring costs, the time spent recruiting and interviewing a replacement, testing costs, training costs, lost productivity during the transition, and impacts on coworkers who may have to do more to pick up the slack. A study by Nextera Enterprises found that industries with high turnover have 38% lower earnings. Manufacturing companies that have less than 3% turnover have been found to be almost 170% more productive than firms with turnover more than 20% (Jusko, Industry Week, 2000).

4. Stress and the last stage of chronic stress, burnout, kill engagement. Stress management builds the vitality and resilience that fuel engagement. Employees with job stress have higher levels of anxiety (Bourbonnais, Brisson, Moisan, 1999), more depression (Mausner-Dorsch, Eaton, 2000) and hostility (Bosma, Stansfield, 1998). Stress, burnout, depression, and hostility are the opposite of engagement’s qualities of vigor and dedication. They drive disengagement, people too distracted, mad, or ill to put the needed effort into their work. Since stress is highly contagious, the crisis mentality and cynicism spread to infect your whole team or organization, dragging down engagement with them. There is a direct line from healthy employees to engagement and healthy bottom lines.

The reflex with stress is to look away or deny it. The evidence says that doesn’t work. Not dealing with stress actually enables it, since stress is fueled by uncontested rumination, something that happens when stress is not taken on and resolved, but, instead replayed over and over.

Stress management programs root out the patterns and thinking that drive stress by reframing stress reactions, building resilience and coping skills, and creating healthy renewal strategies that buffer the pressures that sap emotional resources. At a time when everyone has to do more with less, stress management is as essential to an organization’s earnings outlook as any new product launch. 

If you would like to free up the engaged energy of your staff, increase productivity, and cut health costs, click the button below for details on our stress management program and visit our Stress Management page. Get proven tools to work smarter and more effectively.

Get Prices, Details for Employee Training

 

Tags: stress and productivity, stress management training, workplace stress, stress management, job stress, stress at work, stress management programs

The Off-Switch for Job Stress

Posted by Joe Robinson

A red panda's stress-reduction technique

When a horse, badger, or red panda like the one in the photo above faces a stressful situation, they go into a mode we’re all too familiar with, fight-or-flight. The survival instinct is a powerful force across species. Yet when the danger passes, these animals don’t obsess or replay the event over and over like a broken record. They do something very different from humans—they just drop the whole darn thing like it never happened. 

As we know all too well, we hold on to the stress, and, of course, the stress response and its destructive effects on health—reduced immune system, increased levels of the bad cholesterol, and a host of negative effects, because we insist on clinging to the event after it’s gone. The stress response was designed to be momentary, not chronic, because it weakens health the longer it goes on.

If we could be as smart as a red panda, and drop the stress after the adverse event, it could save a lot of trips to the pharmacy and ER. That's the idea behind my stress management classes, training, and coaching. Reframing stress and disputing it is key to catch ourselves in the act of reacting before we think. We can have a differnet response in a stressful moment, one that our body is already prepared to help us with.

It turns out that our bodies have stress deactivation built into the system. It’s called the parasympathetic nervous system, and its purpose is to bring the body back to equilibrium through rest and maintenance.

THE BUILT-IN STRESS COUNTER

There’s no reason to feel guilty in a moment of stepping back. It’s what we’re designed to do! Parasympathetic activity slows the heart rate and blood pressure from the fight-or-flight state, promotes digestion, and puts the mind in a calmer state where it can see the bigger picture, including the fact that we are not about to die and that the stress response is almost always a false emergency. Our brains don't know how to compute the social stressors of the modern world.

 Click for "The 7 Signs of Burnout"

Countering the activation of the automatic stress response with its opposite number, rest and maintenance, is crucial for stress management and any semblance of work-life balance. Since stress activation is so automatic, we have to be able to consciously flip the switch. The goal is psychological detachment from the source of the stress and recovery from a state of activation that makes our system work overtime.

Relaxation is a learned skill. We have to practice shutting off the false alarms and get our bodies and minds used to a state other than hyper-arousal. Tape a photo of a light switch onto your computer or refrigerator and use it to mentally turn your workday off when you leave the office.

MAKING THE BREAK

After the work day is over, try setting aside 30 minutes for an activity that will allow you to shift gears and pressure. It could be yoga, listening to music, the gym, a walk, anything that can put your mind in a relaxing trajectory.

Finding a regular recreational activity to practice is a great switch-flipper. Identify three hobbies or pursuits you would like to try out. It could be anything from dancing to pottery or cooking lessons. Activities like these break the psychological vise grip that work issues can have on our brains. They shift focus to the rules of the game, so there is no room for stressful thoughts. Studies show that active recreation builds positive mood, camaraderie, and self-worth, all of which help counter negative loops.

DETACHING FROM TENSION

Researcher Sabine Sonnentag and others have demonstrated that a break from the work state of mind allows recovery from strain and ends the pattern of negative affect that drives pessimism and chronic stress. Studies show that people who are able to detach from the day's work tensions are more likely to report positive mood in the morning and a reduction in stress. 

Besides activity and exercise, it's also important to make sure to set aside a few minutes here and there to just relax, like the red panda, a pro in this department. When you are relaxing, you are not doing nothing, if I may use that double-negative, as we are led to believe. You are flipping the switch on stress and providing the rest and recuperative services so normal for skillful functioning that they’re built into our physiology.

If you would like to learn more about how to manage stress and end burnout, check out our online stress mangement classes, held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. or click the button below for a free cocahing consultation. What's your biggest challenge?

Get Free Consultation

 

Tags: stress coaching, work life balance programs, stress management, job stress, stress at work, stress management programs

Job Stress Doubles Heart Attack Risk in Women

Posted by Joe Robinson

Job stress impacts women's hearts

Most of the research on job stress has looked at men, but a new study of women finds the stress process very democratic in its toll on the old ticker and its supporting systems. The study, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, found that women who report high job demands and stress levels are 67% more likely to have a heart attack and 38% more likely to have a heart problem—stroke, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease—than women with low stress.

It’s another sign that work stress is not a trifling case of nerves, but a health hazard, one that requires stress management skills few of us are taught. The belief is that we can live with stress, that it’s just part of the professional territory—and that we can’t discuss it or try to resolve it or we'll be a wimp.

We do live with a lot of stress. Life is chock full of it, but not all of it is a threat. When demands are low, or high but you have some measure of control over them, events can be perceived as challenging or exciting. But when demands are high and you don’t have control over them, it’s another story—which is why more than two dozen studies show the connection between work stress and heart problems. That’s the kind of stress that is risky to live with.

Chronic high strain triggers the stress response. It creates a sense of not being able to cope, which is misinterpreted by the ancient hub of our emotions, the amygdala, to be a life-and-death threat. Off goes the stress response and a flood of hormones that suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, and can lead to cardiovascular problems and a host of medical issues, from insomnia to irritable bowel disease.

Click me

The study followed 22,000 women in the healthcare field for 10 years and found the high-strain group (including managers, who were high risk) with an elevated risk for heart problems. Lifestyle issues—smoking, weight, etc.—accounted for only one-quarter of the increased risk. The research supports data found in a Finnish study of 48,000 women, which found that job stress can double the risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you or your organization fall into the chronic, elevated strain category, stress management strategies are crucial to prevent the toll on health, decision-making, productivity, and pocketbooks. Since the stress beast runs on knee-jerk reactions and “explanatory style”—what we tell ourselves about stressful events—changing the response to stress can change everything and lead to vastly improved work-life balance.

The stress process is so ingrained it takes a concerted effort to retrain the brain to react differently than autopilot fight-or-flight. Our stress management programs reframe stress so it can be cut off before it spins out of control into chronic activation that takes bodies and businesses down with it.

A two-pronged approach is needed, tools that we can use to put out the fires as stress pops up—both mental and physical techniques—and then stress management strategies outside the job to counter amygdala activation and release the tension. It's part of the body's natural work-life balance system, the parasympathetic system of recovery restoring the body to rest and maintenance.

Study co-author Michelle Albert singled out the importance of having ways to unwind after work. Regular recreational and exercise outlets are essential to relieve work stress, or it continues to fuel anxiety, muscle tension, and cortisol release. That requires planning, a different skill-set than the work mindset, and the right motivational strategy—all of which are part of our training program.

One of the hallmarks of stress is obsessive thinking about the perceived crisis of the moment. Pastimes and aerobic exercise buffer stress as well as increase positive mood and confidence, which helps switch off the false emergency signals in the brain and create the vitality to perform better on the job.

It's all about coping with demands. If they push us beyond our ability to cope and nothing is done to increase coping resources, non-android bodies and performance pay the price. The good news is that coping strategies can become the best parts of the day, from relaxation techniques to recreation after work—if we can override the "I'm too busy" mental block fueled by stress to take care of ourselves, that is.  

Tags: women and stress, work life balance programs, stress management, job stress, stress at work, stress and heart attacks, stress management programs, work stress, chronic stress, managing stress

How to Stop the "Awfulizing" of Job Stress

Posted by Joe Robinson

Screaming woman time urgency

We burn up a lot of time and nerves worrying about what’s going to happen next. The fears almost always turn out to be just that, wild projections. You’re going to get fired because the boss is in a bad mood. You’ll never make the deadline. You'll never have another good idea.

You would think we would know the routine by now, but, no. Our brains love to stew, since they are tuned to a survival instinct that sees things through the prism of imminent disaster whenever possible.

That’s particularly true when stress is at the helm. The stress response turns on the ultimate alarmist, the amygdala, the brain’s primitive emotional hub and fear central, which floods the mind with one overriding theme: catastrophe.

A brain built to keep us alive in 100,000 B. C. hasn’t made the transition to the modern world. We may be carrying 21st century technological devices and wearing duds from Macy’s, but inside our heads, there’s a caveman/woman waiting to freak out at the slightest threat.

Keeping down the panic reflex is the challenge of our lives, and, increasingly our work too. Job stress can do what sabre-toothed tigers never could, keep us in a state of chronic stress, which can have a major impact on health, performance, and bottom lines. More than two dozen studies show the connection between job stress and heart disease.

Click me

When work stress activates the amygdala, the trigger sets off a pattern many of us are too familiar with, known as awfulizing. Since the amygdala believes your life to be in imminent danger, it blows things well out of proportion. The unreturned phone call, the meeting you weren’t invited to, the disapproving tone of someone’s voice, signals impending doom.

Awfulizing is the byproduct of irrational self-talk set off by an activated amygdala. It turns everything into a worse-case scenario, which fuels the stress response and more calamitous thoughts. A few minutes of overreacting can trigger fight-or-flight. The awfulizing default exaggerates mistakes, slights, flaws, and behaviors into apocalyptic scenarios.

It’s pure fantasy, and unless we challenge them, they become the reality, not a pleasant one for any department or company where awfulizers are running wild. It leads to a perpetual state of crisis mentality in any organization.

One of the triggers of awfulizing is the tendency to take things personally. The reality is that things happen in the world, and we can choose to see them in a neutral way or take them personally. That’s not an easy choice, I admit, given the fact we have this thing called an ego, which always wants to have its way and believes it is at the center of the universe. Once the ego is into it, off goes more raw emotion that feeds more irrational thoughts. Irrational self-beliefs also enable catastrophic thoughts, as events seem to validate pet fears—I must never make a mistake; my worth depends on how much I achieve or produce, etc.

We have better things to do than run a fantasy factory all day. The best stress management programs and work-life balance trainings (see ours here) build skills to control the self-talk and the exaggerations that come with it. People learn how to recognize the patterns and shift to realistic self-talk that keeps the horrors confined to the Sci-Fi channel.

The next time your brain starts spinning out catastrophic scenarios, catch the awfulizing and remember the caveman inside your head, a character long past the expiration date.

 

Tags: awfulizing, irrational self-talk, catastrophic thoughts, job stress, stress at work, stress management programs, work stress

Contest the Stress for Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

describe the image

Stress, we’re led to believe, is something we just have to take. It’s merely a nuisance. The reality is that our bodies are no match for chronic stress.

Nor are our minds. Anxiety subverts the intellect, and, as a result, performance too. By constricting the brain to perceived emergencies (that are false alarms almost all the time), stress reduces complex decision-making and puts emotions on a hair-trigger. That’s not a good basis for informed decisions or rapport with colleagues or clients.

Denial is the usual way we treat stress, but that is precisely what fuels it. When we don't deal with stressors, we think about them. Ruminating on the exaggerated beliefs set off by stress drives the process. The stress response is fed by distorted thoughts that spiral into false beliefs if left uncontested.

Instead of allowing stress to spiral and fester by ignoring it, it's critical to contest the irrational thoughts it kicks up and resolve them. Or your health and performance pay the price.

The smarter policy for every organization is to slash stress, since it undercuts the work of everyone affected by it, is highly contagious, and increases presenteeism, retention problems (40% of employees who leave companies cite stress as the cause), and medical costs.

“Stress isn’t just a nuisance. It’s as much of a risk factor for heart attacks, stroke, and cancer as any of the other known carcinogens,” says Dr. Steven Lamm, of New York University Mount Sinai Medical School.

Few of us are trained to understand the stress-burnout cycle, which is a byproduct of something we can all change, how we frame the stress. Stress management programs have been shown to dramatically cut stress and the problems that come with its irrational thinking.

A stress prevention program in a study by St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance reduced medication errors at one hospital by 50%, and in a separate study cut malpractice claims by 70%.

Think of it this way. Those in chronic stress mode are in a fight-or-flight state. They’re ready to fight or run. Neither lends itself to gold-medal performance on the job or off.

Arm yourself with the tools to defeat stress with a "Managing Crazy Busy Work" productivity training or a Stress Management workshop. Get started with our report on the best case for stress management for your team or organization. 

"Best Business Case for Stress Management"

Tags: work-life balance program, effect of stress on productivity, productivity, work life balance, stress management, job stress, stress at work, chronic stress

Boost Work-Life Balance with the Strategic Pause

Posted by Joe Robinson

Stressed woman needs work-life balance

Growing advances in brain research are giving us a much better picture, literally, of when our command center works and when it doesn’t. Those who peer into the brain through magnetic resonance images say MRI scans of fatigued brains look exactly like ones that are sound asleep.

I’m sure you know that feeling around 4 p.m., when you have to expend double the effort to get something accomplished that you need when you’re fresh. There’s a limited amount of time that the brain can stay focused without fatiguing, spacing, or going into brownout mode.

The traditional approach to fighting mental fatigue has been to press harder and pop those blood vessels to the finish line. Like many of you, I was raised to keep on going till I needed an ambulance. But the evidence shows that brains, and bodies, don’t respond well to the battering-ram approach. Like iPods and cell phones, minds need recharging. And we can get that with a bit more attention to the refueling principle of work-life balance.

Download "Email & Attention Deficit"

One study (Boksem, 2005) found that mental fatigue took hold after three hours of continuous attention. Mistakes and false alarms increased with time on task, and goal-oriented planning decreased. Other studies show that too much time on task reduces the ability to prepare future actions.

As logic would have it, the way around the fatigue factor is to step back and recharge the spent mind, which is the chief productivity tool after all. A survey by the McKinsey Group offers a hint at why refueling works. The company wanted to find out where managers got their best ideas. It turned out the best brainstorms happened, not straining at the desk, but, instead, when people were out running, playing tennis, times when their minds were at rest.

There’s a good reason for this. Most of the time the right side of the brain, which is associated with creative thought, is drowned out by the logical, rational left side. But when we are physically in motion, the left side of the brain has to stay preoccupied with controlling our movement, leaving the right side free to wander into the theta state, where ideas are born.

Give the brain regular breaks throughout the day to reset, process, and get refueled on a strategic pause. Take at least one 10-15-minute strategic pause in the morning and one in the afternoon on which you step away from the desk and the to-do list. Listen to some music you like, take a stroll, look out at the horizon and take a few deep breaths, plan your weekend. Do not be alarmed. It’s only a pause. You will be returning to action shortly, only with an engaged brain. 

Tags: work-life balance program, work life balance, stress management, stress at work

Subscribe via E-mail

Latest Posts

Posts by category

Follow Me