You hear on the grapevine that a friend or business associate has just had a nervous breakdown, or "a bit of a turn".How do you react?Most of usmake a few sympathetic noises....then get straight back to our own busy lives.But what happens if it's your turn next?
As business becomes more hectic and competitive, keeping us all busier than ever before, so also Stress (the silent killer) is padding quietly through the boardrooms of Ireland.And not just the boardrooms!Stress is wrecking people's lives at all levels in our society.The symptoms are everywhere, from teen-age suicides through to middle aged executives with ulcers and heart attacks.
Fight or flight
Most of us have heard about the "Fight-or-Flight" syndrome.It is probably the best-known definition of the way the stress effect kicks in for all of us.Way back in the "Hunter -Gatherer" era (say 50,000 years ago) our ancestors roamed the African savannah.We had neither cars nor laptops back then.But we had exactly the same bodies and brains as we have now.In Darwinian terms we evolved to thrive in small nomadic tribal groups on the plains of Africa.But here we are now, 50,000 years later in a radically different environment..which we created ourselves of course!But Evolution itself moves much more slowly.The trouble is that Evolution hasn't had time to catch up - to enable usto adapt mentally and physically to our high-speed world with its traffic jams, computers and business plans.
Back then on the plains of Africa, imagine you are walking along through the scrubland, gripping your primitive spear.Suddenly a wild animal springs at you from behind a bush!As soon as this happens, your Unconscious Mind instantly switches on a cocktail of chemicals known as the Panic-Response or the Stress-Response.This chemical cocktail creates an instant surge of energy in your system, which enables you to either attack and kill the offending beast….or get away as fast as your primeval legs can carry you!
Nowadays of course, you don't meet too many wild animals.Or do you?The trouble is that your Unconscious reacts to the everyday worries, hassle and threats you encounter...as if they were life - threatening!Ironically, even though your conscious mind knows your life is not in danger, your Unconscious mind thinks otherwise!Thanks to hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary programming...it switches on the same chemical cocktail every time...enabling you to physically attack and kill...or run away screaming with terror !One way or another this chemical cocktail is designed to be flushed out of your system, through vigorous physical activity...such as Fight or Flight.
But you, dear Reader, don't normally physically attack and kill your colleagues, bosses or subordinates!You might like to at times, but then there are other considerations.A jail sentence is probably not a part of your life plan right now!
You bottle it up.
So you restrain yourself.You bottle it up.The trouble is though, that those pernicious chemicals are still swirling around inside you.In fact they are still at it for up to four hours after the original incident that triggered the stress-response in you.So later that evening, your spouse asks "What's up with you this evening ?" and you reply "Nothing !".But deep inside, you are still looking for a fight!This is the sort of everyday occurrence which (if repeated often enough) can lead to a whole range of stress-related malfunctions and illnesses...and ultimately to the "final solution"!
So how does your Unconscious deal with all of this?Think of your Unconscious as if it were a vast and powerful computer.It is programmed to take care of you.It does not really care about, your net financial worth, or your car or that board meeting this afternoon.It only cares about you!
Despite its vast complexity, at one level it is very simple.It wants what is good for you, and does not want what is bad.So how does it knowwhat's good and what's bad?Like I say, simple.If you feel good, it's good.If you feel bad, it's bad.Your own feelings operate like an internal quality-control system - a kind of ISO 9000.So if you are suffering from stress, it knows you are feeling bad.And it wants to stop that.So what it does is set up a progressive "Warning System".Here's how it goes......
Your "Warning System".
You know the way sometimes at work, things start getting too much for you ?Maybe you develop a pounding headache, or a stomach cramp, or you just start feeling extremely irritated.That is what I call your Early Warning Signal.It's just your unconscious mind telling you to stop..."Get out of here! - Take a walk!"Remember, your Unconscious only cares about you, and your personal welfare.It does not care about that report you should have finished by now...or that fellow executive who has been quietly sabotaging your strategic plan.
Early Warnings operate in different ways for each of us.But do you know when you are getting your own Early Warning?Do you know when you are reaching your own breaking point ?Because each of us has one.And you ignore it at your peril!
But let us imagine that you are in the middle of a real business crisis.There is so much that needs doing...and so little time...and only you can really sort this one out...and your head is splitting...you’re starting to twitch.You cannot afford to stop.So much depends on you.So somehow you try to ignore the warning signal, and you carry on....
If this pattern repeats itself often enough, after a while, your Unconscious begins to notice.It's almost as if it begins to say to itself, "This guy is not really paying attention...he’s ignoring my Early Warning Signal...maybe I need to increase the signal, to make him stop!"And that is when it turns on the 2nd Level Warning.
The 2nd Level Warning usually takes the form of a malfunction or illness, which is specifically selected by the Unconscious, to slow you down.Your Unconscious is extremely versatile.It looks for the most effective way to slow you down, very often going for the weakest link in the system.Usually it is the sort of disability that you can just about live with.You can still function in your work...just about.You are still clocking in the hours.But you are also taking the tablets!And life is no longer enjoyable...in fact, it is pretty miserable.Typical 2nd Level ailments are Insomnia, IBS, Depression, Fibromyalgia, Ulcers, High Blood Pressure, Tinnitus, M.E., Skin Rashes, Auto-Immune Disease, Chronic Headaches, Sexual Impotence, Colitis, Chronic Back Pain and Panic Attacks.But as far as the Unconscious is concerned, anything goes...as long as it works!Frequently these psycho-somatic conditions affect areas such as the brain, the skin, the back, the immune system, the digestion system, the inner ear or the neural system.
But then you are a highly-motivated achiever!You're sick, you're feeling really bad...but you carry on anyway.After all you are indispensable.They couldn't manage without you.Wanna bet?
Eventually your Unconscious gets the picture.It realises that you have been ignoring these warnings also.And now you are sick.You're in pain.In fact...life is not worth living.And of course it still wants to help.So it does the obvious thing.It turns on the FinalWarning.Usually what it does is simply increase the intensity of the 2nd Level Warning.Thus, depression becomes suicide, blood pressure becomes the heart attack, the ulcer becomes cancer.The main thing though, is that the Final Warning is terminal!It's a bit like industrial relations discipline procedures in a way...only far more serious.
So - take action now!
As a decision-maker you pay a lot of attention to the functioning of your organisation.You look out for the warning signals - the key ratios and controls that tell you when things are starting to go off course.And you take immediate remedial action.Is it really too much to ask that you take as much care of yourself as you do of your business?And yes, you can take remedial action at any stage.There is no reason why you cannot continue to run your business or department successfully...and enjoy your work and your life to the full, at the same time!
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