Finding the right balance between stress and serenity


Severe stress can be a career killer. I know because I’ve seen enough colleagues crumble under pressure. Some even ended up in clinics being treated for manic depression or worse, a full on nervous breakdown. It’s an awful process to watch.

As it seeps into the system, sunny characters slowly turn into agitated, hunched figures who eventually cannot cope with the simplest tasks. If it’s a member of your team, you can do your best to manage their stress: give them time off, reduce their workload or move them onto another project. But if it’s the boss, that’s another problem altogether. Often sufferers refuse to recognise they are in trouble. To others around them, the signs are obvious – despair, exhaustion and exasperation.

Their productivity drops and the quality of their work diminishes. I recall one boss’s demise whose behaviour became increasingly manic over a period of months. From shaking with rage one minute to weeping in the toilet the next and then requiring hugs and reassurance from the same colleagues he’d ranted at minutes earlier, he was a nightmare to work with.
He needed help but with his own managers unable to spot the problem, it became us who  carried him through the day. Before one important meeting, the stressed executive was crying under his desk while his team were busily preparing the deal sealing document his superiors were expecting him to deliver.

Eventually we coaxed him out of his hiding place, slipped his suit jacket on and pushed him – document in hand – into the meeting room. He got through it but he was on a slippery slope and eventually needed six months of treatment at a famous London clinic.

That early lesson in stress management helped me no end. I promised myself I would never let things get that far. I have the fantastic ability to switch off and shed my work persona the second I walk out the door. I also make constant tweaks to my lifestyle. My latest craze is to go for a brisk 30-minute walk at 7am. I’ve discovered a whole new world of dog walkers, duck feeders and jogging mums in the process.

But while managing anxiety is a good thing, eradicating it altogether is not. Because at times we need a bit of stress to motivate us. Set a deadline a week away and no one will do anything until the day before because they are waiting for the sense of urgency to dawn. Then, as the adrenaline kicks in, a work frenzy begins. Without that stress-induced energy you risk being too calm and ultimately complacent. In my mind, showing no emotion at all can damage your career as much as showing too much.
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