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Hardiness Training

Workplace stress can destroy your productivity and ruin your health. Here’s one way to deal with it.

By Michael H. Kahn, Ph.D.

Insurance and financial advisors have much greater demands on their mental, emotional and physical strength than do world-class athletes. Athletes typically expend a huge amount of energy for a short time, like the length of a game. Then they have time off until the next game. The time off allows them to recover and regain their energy.

Like most successful advisors, you are probably on a career path that demands performing at peak physical, emotional and mental levels for 10 to 14 hours a day, five or six days a week, for months at a time. Your life is filled with stress. And you know this long-term stress is going to remain a part of your life until you reach your goals.

A coach can help you develop a strategy to not only endure long-term stress, but to perform better in the face of it as well. But you need to call upon your strength, talent and skill to make yourself hardy.

Hardiness
Being hardy means being a willow tree rather than an oak—strong, yet able to withstand storms with flexibility and resilience. Not only can you learn to handle stress, you can even thrive in spite of it. But you need to cultivate an inner strength that you can reliably call upon in a difficult situation. Your will is your ally. When your motivation is weak, you should be able to count on your will to mobilize your resources and meet the challenge.

Regulating your energy
A core component of hardiness is being able to regulate your energy and pace yourself to sustain the strength you need to deal with stress.

Psychologists say the human body has natural rhythms that allow us to perform at peak levels for up to 90 minutes. Then we require a rest period to recover energy. We can override these take-a-break signals by force of will or by drinking coffee, but doing this continuously leads to a decrease in quality of work and eventual breakdown.

To regulate your energy, you need to find time for the necessary mental, physical, emotional and spiritual recovery you need. The impact of sustained high stress on your body depends on how well you balance performance pressure with meeting your recovery needs through relaxation, fun and play.

Being hardy means being a willow tree rather than an oak—strong, yet able to withstand storms with flexibility and resilience.

Harnessing energy
For an example, let’s look at one of my clients: Alex had just started a new job as partner in a fast-paced financial services firm. He believed that this job would be the foundation of his professional life for the next decade. His goal was to reduce his work hours while maintaining a stable income. Alex was aware of the challenges he faced attempting this transition after 20 years in financial services. He also saw that the pressures of his new position would be immense, especially during his first year.

Alex was committed to sustaining a consistently high level of performance at work and preserving the high level of involvement with his wife and two children. He also knew that multiple work pressures could exacerbate his stomach ulcers. Clearly, he needed a coping strategy.

I recommended he start by training for maximum physical and mental recovery. This would provide a foundation for optimizing his energy output regardless of the nature of the stress, while helping him sustain satisfying family relations and good health. Alex needed to schedule breaks in his workday and learn relaxation techniques.

We scheduled strategic recovery periods into each workday that would become part of Alex’s routine. The schedule included one five-minute break every 90 minutes. During the break, Alex would stretch, take a walk, have a small, nutritious snack, drink water or perform a relaxation exercise. At the end of the workday, he took a 10-minute break during which he imagined how he wanted to greet his family upon returning home that night.

Additionally, Alex designated 25 minutes each day for an extended recovery period. At first, he balked at this since his days were already packed, but he agreed to try it for a week, taking a shorter lunch break and taking a longer break at mid-afternoon. He tried it and said the extra break time improved his work performance and reduced tension.

A hardy start
At the beginning of each workday, take five minutes to do the following:

  • Find a space to be quiet and alone.
  • Meditate on your career and personal goals.
  • Schedule five-minute recovery breaks every 90 minutes to stretch, take a walk, do a relaxation exercise, drink water or have a snack.
  • Schedule one 25-minute recovery break in the middle of the day. Find a space where you can be quiet and alone, and perform a relaxation technique, meditate or listen to calming music.

Michael H. Kahn, Ph.D., a personal coach and psychologist, is founder of Hardiness for Hard Times, in Severna Park, Md., a service that provides stress-management training for professionals. Contact him at mhk@hardiness.com.

 


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