February 27, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “8 Tips for Tackling Political Stress Now”

Feeling stressed out by politics? According to a new survey by the American Psychological Association, 57% of their respondents said the current political climate is a very significant source of stress. Studies also show that nearly a third of people say they have been less productive at work since the election.

Dr. Andrea Bonior, a Georgetown University Professor, believes there is a need for a healthy balance. Her recent Psychology Today article, “8 Tips for Tackling Political Stress Now,” highlights practical tips on how to cope during this stressful time.

Let me know your thoughts.

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February 5, 2017 / Stress / Work-Life Integration / Wise Talk

WiseTalk Summary on the Upside of Stress

On January 26, 2017, Sue Bethanis hosted clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson. Dr. Robertson is an expert at applying the latest psychological and neuroscience research to contemporary political, health, social, economic and business affairs in a very accessible manner. Professor Robertson discussed his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, a revelatory study of how and why we react to pressure in the way we do, with real practical benefits to how we live.

Favorite Quote:

“In order to control your anxiety you have to believe that you can.”

Robertson says in order to gain control of your emotional state, thinking patterns and behavior there is a fundamental prerequisite that must exist before you can exercise that control – you need to believe that it is possible.

Insights:

Stress plays a huge part in leaders’ lives and can be both a hindrance and motivator. When your perception of a demanding situation exceeds your ability to cope with that demand – you feel anxious. Anxiety is the activation of the autonomic nervous system which prepares us for fight or flight. This is meant to prepare us to deal with short term danger or opportunity and also gives us the ability to focus.

Too much stress can be debilitating. A moderate amount is extremely good for the mind. Robertson explains that stress causes the brain to secrete a chemical called noradrenaline. “The brain doesn’t perform at its best with too little or too much of this chemical. There’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner.”

Anxious responses are habits that we learn. To overcome a habit you need to engage in repetition in order to reshape and gradually replace your old habit with a new habit. Most of us are impatient and easily get demoralized or discouraged. Often, taking a medication reduces your belief in your own ability to control these habits and sabotage the hard work you need to do in order to change an emotional habit. People have a desire for a fast fix.

Robertson says that here is evidence that young adults that have little to no adversity in their lives end up becoming more emotionally vulnerable than those with moderate levels of adversity. “Paradoxically, there is a sweet spot of stress that people need to experience in their lives for them to achieve emotional resilience when they are adults. The overprotection of young people and having a slightly coddle existence means that they are going to be more emotionally vulnerable in the real world of work and all the stresses that go with it.” They experience symptoms of arousal because they have never really experience failure or threat.

Unlike animals that live in the moment, humans can torture themselves with past memories and anticipation of future ones. We can expand this indefinitely and make ourselves anxious long beyond the period of acute stress and make it become chronic.

According to Robertson, there are distinct techniques we can learn in order to reframe our approach to stress. “We can change the chemistry of the brain just as much as any antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug can, but we have to learn the habits to do that,” he says. Genes cannot be changed by environment or experience but the functioning of genes can. “We have the ability to shape our mental destiny.”

  • Breathe. Take five long, low breaths in and out. Temporarily apply a routine that you have practiced and anticipated in advance can change the chemistry of your brain and help you build confidence.
  • Set goals. Setting goals for ourselves also helps to change the chemistry of our brain. He says, “It could be as seemingly small as getting out of the house and walking 200 yards down the street — something that challenges you to a degree and gives you a feeling of accomplishment to have completed.” The good feeling you get when you achieve a goal increases the dopamine in our brain and part of the reward network. Increased dopamine is a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. This is where behavior is very important. If you are feeling anxious setting small goals for yourself can stretch you. Achieving these goals will allow your brain to create this natural anti-anxiety compound.
  • Squeeze your hand. According to Robertson, “One way to give the left frontal part of your brain a boost is to squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds, release it for 15.”
  • Visualize it.  Say the words “I feel excited.” Our mind only knows what emotion we are having by context. So, we can trick our mind to be excited instead of anger or upset. “Practice an imagined situation so when you actually come to that, you won’t have to try to remember how to handle it”, says Robertson. It will become a habit.
  • Posture. You can also change your posture out of the defensive, aggressive, or defeated posture into a calm and erect posture. Robertson believes that people who adopt a power pose actually feel more in charge or confident. Posture affects our psychological state and the functioning of our brain.

What we found most interesting:

“One of the greatest motivations that humans have is to feel in control,” says Robertson. Feeling out of control is hugely anxiety provoking and particularly so for some people more than others. If we can predict what is going to happen even if what is going to happen is no good you can engage in this amazing capacity of the human brain to plan and prepare. “Most people can adjust to most situations. The change is not comfortable, but you can get there.” The trouble with uncertainty is you can’t engage in mental preparation and planning. This creates a sense of being out of control. Being out of control is an extreme example of helplessness where you don’t believe there is anything you can do to change the outcome, and that leads to passivity. According to Dr. Robertson, “If I can predict something that is going to happen in my mind I can enact certain scenarios and anticipate certain outcomes (hopefully success). Once you stop taking positive actions it pushes your brain into a flight response. Once it is in that mode it is difficult for it to activate the reward and anticipation mode.”

To learn more about Dr. Robertson and his thoughts on shaping your brain’s response to pressure, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

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January 30, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress”

We often find ourselves in situations that can be quite stressful and as a result, we develop a range of coping techniques to deal with these situations. But it’s important to remember that why we stress is not the problem; it’s our response to stimuli in the environment that matters.

In a recent study with Plasticity Labs, Michelle Gielan, a UPenn positive psychology researcher, concludes that 91% of us can deal with stress better. Her recent HBR article, “You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress,” highlights three dimensions that can train your brain to positively respond to stress.

Let me know your thoughts.

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August 26, 2014 / Blog / Coaching Skills / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Five Tips for Setting Boundaries in the Always-on Workplace

I recently attended a panel event on the topic “Lines in the Sand: Setting Boundaries in Today’s Global, Always-On Workplace.” It seems pretty obvious that being “on” and accessible at all hours of the day, on weekends and even during vacations is not a recipe for success – individually or for organizations. People need time to disconnect and recharge in order to be at their most creative and productive when they are working. (Not to mention in order to be a pleasant parent, partner, friend, etc.) But sadly, many organizations constantly push boundaries. It is up to individuals and leaders to keep defining, communicating and demonstrating effective boundary-setting to ensure healthy, productive, engaging work environments.

Here are several great tips from the event:

Establish agreements
Openly establish agreements and boundaries with co-workers. Figure out what works for you and the team and stick with it unless there are extreme circumstances. For example, set a regular start and end time to your day in the office and a time that you might usually scan email later in the evening or first thing in the morning. Or perhaps you will take calls while commuting. Have a clear understanding about how and when you will cover for each other when someone needs to be out of the office during the day, for vacations, etc. Discuss boundaries around weekends. Define “emergencies.”  Teamwork and transparent communication are key.

Boundaries outside of work are important too. Agreements around device-free time, children’s bedtimes, gym time, sleep-in days, etc., can go a long way to enabling regular downtime.

Get clear on what’s important
Get clear on what is important to you outside of work; otherwise it is easy to let work creep into too much of your personal time – robbing you of your work effectiveness and of having a joyful life! For example, many people say that family is important – but get really clear and specific about what is important. Is it important to have dinner together every night? To read bedtime stories? To attend events together? To have family-focused weekends? Clarity and inspiration will make it easier to set and keep boundaries.

Also get clear on what is important at work. Many times boundaries are crossed due to false crises. Don’t create them and don’t overreact when others create them. Often good listening, a few calm questions and quick brainstorming of options can reduce anxiety and panic and allow for a more reasonable approach to an issue that doesn’t have to include it being taken care of tonight. Granted, there are times when crises are real and extra time is needed, but those don’t have to be the norm.

Use technology to your advantage
Leverage technology – especially your calendar. Indicate working hours and/or block out times when you are not available for meetings, including appropriate morning and evening hours. Use auto-reply if you will be unavailable to respond for a longer-than-usual amount of time, e.g. – you are in an all-day meeting. Our love/hate relationship with our addictive mobile devices requires some care too. These things which keep us “on” are also very capable of helping us be “off” by auto-replying to texts if we are driving, in a meeting, sleeping, etc., or by alerting us when a specific person contacts us. (Many apps available.) You can also establish no-device zones or times, e.g. at the dinner table, in the bedroom, on Saturdays.

Be brave – yes is not the only answer
Saying no to a direct request of your time is not easy, especially when the request comes from your boss or an important client. But oftentimes an over-eagerness-to-please can cause you to say yes when you are making an unneeded sacrifice. Always giving an unequivocal yes and/or being overly flexible can set up bad behaviors and expectations from that boss or client. Take a pause and a breath before immediately answering yes. Ask questions to clarify needs and timing – it’s okay to offer alternatives while making sure needs are met.

Remember you have a choice
It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the “always-on” nature of the workplace today and to slip into a victim mentality about it.  But you always have a choice. Focus on what you can control and do your best to maintain healthy boundaries. If your boss or organization has a very different philosophy or culture about boundaries, then it may be time for a new role or organization. You deserve to be thriving, not just surviving.

Let us know your best tips for thriving in today’s always-on workplace. What works for you?

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March 21, 2014 / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Habits of the Mind

We all know there are simple things we can do to have a more healthy body, like eat well, rest and exercise.  But it only dawned on me recently that there is an equivalent sort of hygiene for the mind.  Here are three powerful “habits of the mind” that I believe contribute powerfully to long-term mental and emotional strength.  They take effort, but the payoff is huge:

  • Optimism
  • Positive self-talk and self-regard
  • Forgiveness

Click here to read more!

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February 8, 2014 / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Strength During Stress

Most executives have some periods of intense, unrelenting stress.  This can happen for example during a time the team is rapidly growing in numbers; during a mission-critical project where the stakes are very high; or during a time of crisis such as a major HR or legal issue.

At such times it’s a good idea to get back to basics, and remember that your body and brain are the only real tools you have for success.  These simple rules will help you to function at your best when times get tough:

  1. Exercise, even if it’s just “walking meetings.”
  2. Eat healthy, even if someone else has to get your food.
  3. Buy a water bottle you really like.
  4. Improve your sleep and break-taking hygiene.

For more on these 4 simple rules, read the full blog post here.

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September 10, 2013 / Stress / Work-Life Integration

How to Keep Up

Sandra asks: I’ve been in my new role for about six months and have been working at a frenetic pace. I have global conference calls late at night and early morning with my team and am working long hours so I don’t miss aggressive deadlines.  I’m not eating the way I used to, and not sleeping well either.  By the time the weekend comes, I’m so tired, I barely see my kids.  How can I better manage my time and still keep up?

Tawny Lees, COO, responds:

The demands of a fast-paced environment can be stressful enough without considering you’re also in a new role.  Working long hours to meet these demands ends up taking a toll, as you’re already experiencing.  Our advice is to focus on managing your energy.  Why?  Because energy is renewable, but time is not. Engaging in practices which recharge your energy will help you meet the demands of work more effectively. We love Tony Schwartz’s advice in this arena.

Everyone has four energy centers.  Here are some tips you can engage in to renew each energy center:

  1. Body/Physical Energy:  SLEEP is most important. Working while continuously sleep deprived is like driving drunk. Seriously. Make 7-8 hours a night a priority. Try to engage in some kind of regular exercise routine – short bursts of intense is best, doesn’t have be long.  Eat high-protein nutrient-dense foods on a regular cycle, not letting your blood sugar and energy crash.
  2. Emotions/Quality of Energy: Try deep breathing exercises, 5-6 second exhale in the abdominal area.  Express appreciation often.
  3. Mind/Focus of Energy:  Carve out time to get your work done without distractions – shut off/down email and phone, for example. Focus in increments, take breaks.
  4. Human Spirit/Energy of Meaning & Purpose:  Determine what you do best and enjoy most at work and figure out how to do it more often.  Create rituals that allow you to allocate time and energy to an area of your life that’s important to you, such as your kids.

Read more about this in Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time, by Tony Schwartz (2007), Harvard Business Review.

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July 9, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa – 6 Keys to Effective Delegation

James asks:  I am working long hours and am starting to feel burnt out. My manager says I am a high performing manager but I should be delegating more. So, I did.  Things are not getting done right or in a timely fashion.  I’m worried this will affect my own performance. What’s the secret to delegating effectively so as not to diminish results?

Barbara Baill, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

Effective delegation is a challenge for many high performers who are responsible for managing others.  Delegation is not a simple of task of tossing an assignment to one of your people on the way to a meeting and waiting for the final product. It does take time and attention initially, but, over time, you will find your employees growing in their capabilities and feeling more challenged and empowered. Eventually, the investment will pay off for all.  Here are some key elements of effective delegation:

  1.  Choose the right person who has the skill sets for the task. Discuss with the person why s/he has been selected for the assignment.
  2. Articulate the assignment carefully any specific timelines, requirements, performance standards, checkpoints and other expectations. If you have any sample outcomes (reports, slideset, etc) from previous projects, share them. Point the delegatee to other resources that can be helpful.
  3. Solicit questions, comments and suggestions from the delegatee. Gain commitment to take on the challenge.  Ask what support he/she will need from you and others.
  4. Empower the individual by informing others that the delegatee is leading the effort.
  5. Establish and conduct regular check-ins and monitor project progress. Ensure the individual knows how much communication you need to keep you well informed and in what particular circumstance immediate contact is required. Be encouraging and offer feedback and support but don’t take back the project.
  6. Ensure the person is recognized for successful completion of the work. (Don’t inadvertently take the credit – common mistake.)

These steps can help you become a master at delegating which will help you and your people continue to grow and will magnify the output of your entire team.

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July 3, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa: One Powerful Way to Reduce Stress at Work

Stuart asks: I am feeling increasingly unhappy at my job. My stress level is so high that it is affecting me physically and mentally. How do I manage my stress without burning out?

Anne Loehr, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

“Bad stress” is an ever increasing problem at work and it is essential to find ways to reduce it. “Bad stress” causes us to worry, experience fear and feel anxious. Any form of stress that makes us perform below our potential is considered bad stress. Bad stress increases the cortisol levels in our blood, which can lead to many problems such as high blood pressure, early onset diabetes, heart problems and central obesity (bulging belly).

There are many ways to reduce bad stress at work. I’m going to discuss one way now, so I don’t stress you out with too much info! 🙂

More and more people are using email, text and instant messaging as their chief communication tools for daily work life. It’s instant, it’s easy, AND it creates lots of stress! Researchers have identified three major problems:

  1. This form of communication lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode the meaning. It is the poorest form of communication because it only uses words.
  2. The prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures online communicators to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness.
  3. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over online communications makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict. Online communication is great for confirming meetings, getting an address or sharing a short piece of data. Unfortunately it is used for a lot of other communications which should be done in person.

Here are some tips:

Never argue by email. Save discussions, especially on controversial topics, for when more direct forms of communication are possible. Pick up the phone and/or set a time to discuss issues.

Keep it short. We’re talking less than 50 words. We have about 15 seconds of attention span to offer any incoming email. If you can’t get the message across in that time, either attach a separate document with all the details, or pick up the phone for the discussion. Or use the email to set the time for the discussion.

If you want to lower your stress levels, limit your email communications and switch to phone and face to face conversations for better results. It is more meaningful, more effective, and can generate new relationships in an already tense world.

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November 27, 2012 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa: The Impact of Social Networking and Web 2.0

Saul asked:

Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 has made on your organization or you personally?

Eric Nitzberg, Senior Leadership Consultant responded:

Social media is a new reality where people live and work. It’s as if someone discovered a new continent, and everyone is buying a home and opening up a branch office there. This new world will never replace face-to-face interactions for human relationship building, but it’s here to stay. For Mariposa, it means we have to be active in this space to stay relevant and connected with our community (our clients). For me personally, it means letting go of biases I’ve had against digitally-based ways of building relationships.

Share your thoughts on this response in the comments section below, and ask us anything here: http://blog.mariposaleadership.com/ask-mariposa/

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