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We must all tackle stress – the enemy in modern life

PUBLISHED: 10:52 02 March 2019

Dealing with stress is a vital part of modern life. Photo: Getty Images

Dealing with stress is a vital part of modern life. Photo: Getty Images

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Stress and mental health is the number one issue facing anyone in a performance or leadership role today. Because of the digital age, stress levels are likely to increase in the coming years. In all walks of life, in business, in schools, in hospitals and in the military, many of us are operating at all-time-high levels of stress.

Action Stations by Nigel CushionAction Stations by Nigel Cushion

According to the government, it’s costing the nation £2bn per week. It’s not only affecting our performance in business, it’s also affecting our families and our communities.

So what can be done? Over the last year, I have been researching how hundreds of contemporary and historical leaders, and high performers, deal with stress. On March 21 I will be launching my first book in Jarrolds entitled: Action Stations! A field manual on stress for high performers and leaders.

Here is what I found: If we don’t deal with stress, and it is sustained or severe, our wellbeing is likely to be affected. If the stress is sustained and severe, our mental health is likely to be affected. And if we don’t deal with this, in the longer term – we could have major health problems. So what is normal?

1 It is normal... to be under stress.

2 It is normal... to be under a lot of (severe) stress.

3 It is normal... to be under a severe stress for a sustained period of time.

4 It is normal... to be able to manage high levels of stress and keep performance high for a sustained period. Your body has amazing mechanisms to cope with this, and these mechanisms are chemical as well as behavioural. (This is the good news).

5 But it’s also normal to be close to the edge and not realise it. Your natural stress management mechanisms can get exhausted and wear out. If we miss this, we might slip into a fast decline, and then face a hard climb back to recovery. The earlier we catch it, the better. The key to all this is working with our normal natural chemical responses, and working on our behaviour and relationship with others.

I also found that most of what we believe about stress is not necessarily true.

Here is what we have been told (and what I found):

1 “A little stress is good for you, in fact you need it” (not necessarily true).

2 “A lot of stress is bad for you” (not necessarily true).

3 “Stress and performance follow the normal distribution curve” (rising to a peak and then falling (complete rubbish). The real curve for most of us is an ‘n’ shape with a flat top – most leaders are good at dealing with significant stress for long periods, but when we crash, it’s a cliff edge. Generally, in the short run, it is our health that suffers, not our performance.

In total there are 13 myths of mental health. Each of these is not necessarily true or is completely false. I then went on to develop 100 things you can actually do to deal with stress, all things that I have done or I have seen used in practice by successful leaders. Some are related to diet, some exercise, some mindset, some time management techniques. Some are research-based, others are just good old common sense.

One of the central concepts of the book, acting as a rallying call is the phrase action stations. This comes from the Royal Navy. It is a place, both physical and mental, you go to when you are under attack – a state of readiness, and a sequence of expected actions in response to an incoming situation.

The military will tell you that if you do not respond or respond with insufficient force, the enemy will do you damage. Today, stress is the enemy. We need to respond – whether it is in the military, in sport, or in business – it requires recognition, energy, focus and discipline, and practising the techniques that will help you.

We all need to get to action stations!

Action Stations! will be launched in Jarrolds on Thursday, March 21, at 6pm. It is free to attend but you will need to register via the Jarrold website. Nigel Cushion is a leadership mentor, chairman, speaker, and founder of mentoring business Nelsonspirit

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