In our everyday lives, we find ourselves subject to a number of pressures. Some are real, some imagined, and some are self-inflicted or, at the very least, avoidable. Problems with punctuality are self-inflicted. Some people make a habit of being late; they never allow themselves enough time to get to appointments or they manage their available time poorly. As a result, they always feel under pressure; pressure from the clock, pressure from the boss and their colleagues, pressure from the family.
These are symptoms of poor time management. When people use the excuse ‘Oh, I haven’t got time’, what they really mean is that they are too lazy to sort themselves out. One of the first lessons taught by the military is good time management. Military operations rely on precise time-keeping. Squadrons are expected to move to anywhere in the world with just a few hours’ notice. Patrols are expected to keep to their operational schedules; their work is dangerous but the risks can be reduced by precise timing. An operational rendezvous may remain ‘open’ for only five minutes each side of the allotted time. Here is my prescription for good time-keeping:
Rise when the alarm clock rings. Resist the temptation to stay in bed. Remember the six ‘P’s: Prior Planning Prevents a Piss-Poor Performance.
Plan Your Day
Your plan should contain generous allowances for heavy traffic or difficulties in finding a parking place.
Careful preparation is another hallmark of operations. Like the military soldier, prepare for tomorrow today. Make sure the car has a full tank of petrol. It is easy to forget where we have left things when we are in a hurry. Have a place for everything and stick to it. Hang up your keys where they cannot be misplaced.
If you are arranging to meet somebody in a crowded place, choose a clearly identifiable meeting point. If you are meeting a stranger, make sure that you can identify each other. Check that you have all of your paper-work and mentally run through tomorrow’s events. Make sure that you have everything you will need such as money, contact telephone numbers, tickets and spare change for parking meters.
People are not always punctual and can fail to turn up on time for meetings for a whole range of reasons. Make sure that they know how to contact you if they are unexpectedly delayed.
Allow yourself a minimum of 15 minutes to find a place to park the car, make sure that you are in the right building, use the toilet and run a comb through your hair.
Before Taking the Job
Choose your place of work carefully. Both before and after your interview, look very carefully at the firm and its work place. Talk to some of the staff and try to ascertain whether the firm are good employers and whether there are any local problems. Is there a high annual staff turnover? This may indicate that staff are expected to attain impossible targets. Ask the existing staff how often they are expected to take work home or work weekends. Some highly paid sales and managerial firms have staff turnover rates as high as 25 per cent per annum.
A firm which loses one person in four every year, is likely to be in many ways a ‘hostile environment’. If you are nevertheless tempted to take the job, ask yourself the question: Am I prepared to die for this firm? Stress directly contributes to a range of fatal diseases. In addition, one in four people will experience some sort of psychiatric complaint during the course of their lives. Many psychiatric illnesses are either caused or precipitated by high levels of stress.
Devotion Beyond the Call of Duty?
If you find yourself working most evenings and weekends, you are implicitly sacrificing family members, friends and what could have been a fascinating and fulfilling life. You should also ask yourself if you are really suited for the job for which you are applying. Can you ride out the stress of coping with an unfamiliar work place and rise to the challenge? The first three to six months in a job are usually the most stressful. Do not forget that tasks that at first seem very complex, after practice and repetition, can almost appear to be child’s play.
Assessing Your Future Colleagues and Work Enviroment
Are your colleagues the sort of people with whom you can rub along and have some laughs? After all, you are intending to spend a large proportion of your life with these people. What is the firm’s policy on smoking? Staff should not be expected to inhale other people’s cigarette smoke. Stress is an inherent part of all jobs but, for the most part, it should be that enjoyable form of pressure which comes from solving problems and meeting your work targets. Today, most managers accept that a healthy work environment and good managerial practices make for a contented work force, higher productivity and a low absentee rate. Other firms behave as though they were still living in the nineteenth century. Some treat their employees like children. Others treat their staff as though they were disposable. You can play an important role in minimising stress by choosing your job carefully.
Controlling the Stress in Your Life
Stress is a part of everyday life. Too little stress can be as bad as too much. As anyone who has experienced a long period of unemployment knows, work and its associated stresses gives our lives a structure and a sense of fulfilment. The trick is to control the stress. The day’s stress can start with the rush hour and heavy traffic. You can, of course, leave that little bit earlier to avoid the worst of the traffic. Be courteous. Smile at other road users. Make a point of stopping to allow traffic to leave side roads. Give pedestrians priority, particularly at crossings. What goes around comes around.
We all have the opportunity to help shape the sort of world in which we would like to live. If you are faced with a long drive, put some relaxing music on the tape deck. Take a colleague to work and take turns at driving. Investigate alternative routes along minor roads. The drive may be longer but a lot more pleasant. Public transport can be more stressful than busy roads. Crowded buses and trains hardly lead to relaxation. If you are faced with standing, make a space for yourself.
Stand with your arms bent and elbows out to the side. Try to stay in the centre of crowds getting on and off trains and buses. As far as possible maintain your own space. Wear stout, comfortable shoes. Make sure that your chair at the office is comfortable.
Redundancy is an ever-present danger in modern life. You can do little about hostile take-overs and financial collapse but you can try to ensure that you are not the first to be sacked. Be a diligent worker. Strive to meet your deadlines, sales figures or delivery dates. Individual competition within an office can be self-defeating for everyone. Try to persuade your fellow workers to co-operate and work together. Always be prepared to lend somebody else a hand. Show leadership to the younger and newer members of the team. Working within friendly groups helps buffer individuals from stress.
At some point in our lives, most of us will exhibit some symptoms of stress. It is important to recognise these little distress signals and either work to reduce the stress in our lives or seek medical advice. The symptoms of stress can include:
Loss of appetite
Teeth grinding, nail biting and playing with hair
Falling asleep in front of the television or in meetings
An inability to drop off to sleep or waking too early
Feelings of tiredness and a lack of interest in life
Sweating and swimming head
Loss of confidence in yourself
Difficulty in making decisions
Exaggerated response to sudden loud noise
Diarrhoea and nausea
A marked increase in alcohol or tobacco consumption
The following symptoms of anxiety and panic require prompt medical attention and intervention.
Emotional Vulnerability: The person feels like crying and when they cry, they cannot seem to stop.
Panic Attacks: Shallow, rapid breathing; inability to think, rapid pulse rate, sweating and feelings of impending disaster. The ‘fight or flight’ response has switched over entirely to4 flight’.
Unreasonable Fear: The person is in a constant state of fear. Agoraphobia: This can take the form of a fear of open spaces but often presents as a fear of crowds, shopping or even leaving the house. This is simply a defence reaction to overwhelming stress in which the person attempts to avoid all the normal forms of stress.
Obsessions: Obsessions often occur as distinct illnesses, but a person under stress can also develop obsessions. The stressed housewife feels an overwhelming desire to return home to check that, for example, she has turned off the cooker. The stressed executive constantly checks to ensure that his or her papers are in his or her briefcase. Unfortunately, as stress will often induce forgetfulness, a vicious circle develops.
Dealing with Stress
The first problem is recognising that you are stressed. Hard-working, ambitious people who take on great responsibilities accept a lot of stress in their lives. Much of this is enjoyable but circumstances can change and they can find themselves ‘burdened’ with additional stress. They are often the last people to admit that something is wrong. It often falls to their partner to ‘send up the distress flares’. Once a person has recognised that he or she is under pressure, steps must be taken to reduce stress.
A lot of additional stressful work can be delegated to employees and other family members.
Talk about your problems to your partner and close friends. Psychiatrists and psychologists often just fill the role of ‘professional listeners’. The stressed individual is often overjoyed to discover a close friend who has had to cope with many of the same problems.
Accept that you are just as human and vulnerable as anyone else in the world. Stress is common. People experiencing the symptoms of stress and anxiety often fearfully confess to their doctor that they are ‘going mad’. They are not going mad and they are not alone. Stress-related illness is extremely common.
Take a holiday or some time off. Make sure that your weekends are spent with the family or doing what you want to do. Move at a slower pace; everyday life was not meant to be a competitive sport. Take time to stop and talk to friends and acquaintances. Do not superimpose a schedule on your leisure time. Do not try to achieve the impossible in a day.
Avoid the ‘quick fixes’. Do not try to mask your feelings with alcohol.
The problems will still be there tomorrow, only now you will have to cope with the hangover as well. Tranquillisers and sleeping pills are very good at providing the user with a ‘chemical holiday’, but they should only be used for short periods. Addiction not only compounds our problems, it makes it harder to find solutions.
Make space for yourself. Learn to say ‘no’. Demand some private space and leisure time. This may mean buying an answer-machine or turning off the telephone at weekends. It may mean resisting the temptation to crowd your diary with appointments. Place another person between yourself and the incessant clamour for your attention. t Forget the macho nonsense. A person crumpling under stress is often afflicted with feelings of shame and inadequacy. There is no shame in suffering from stress. Every single living soul has their breaking point and in every case it will be different. The symptoms of stress are Nature’s distress signal. Read the signal correctly; start to identify and either change or eliminate the stressful areas of your life.
Take a hard look at your life. There is much in our lives that we can change. The problem is that we naturally fear change. Take a pen and paper and on one side of the paper list all the problems in your life which are stressing you. On the other side of the paper force yourself to list possible solutions. Some problems appear at first insurmountable and their solutions may require great courage.
Exercises can help you relax and find an inner peace. We were taught this one in the Regiment and it never fails to work: 1Stand erect, feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your arms out, palms upward and elbows tucked into the body. 2Close your eyes and breathe in through your mouth. Hold your breath for the count of five and tense your body. Lock your legs. Strain your hands to make fists and draw your arms back to your waist. 3Release your breath as you push your arms forward and allow your whole body to relax. 4As you repeat this exercise, imagine yourself in a room filled with white light. As you breathe in, you will inhale this beautiful light. As you exhale, all the anger and frustrations leave your body like a black cloud. Continue with the exercise until you can imagine your body filled with the light. Concentrate on a word such as ‘Peace’, ‘Serenity’ or ‘Tranquillity’.