Category Archives: Behavior

An Uncomfortable Conversation About Stress

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

WARNING: This content may be uncomfortable.

Just like balance, stress means different things to different people and stress impacts each person differently. What is stressful to you might not be stressful to your manager, coworkers, friends, or spouse. It is important to remember that when it comes to defining stress, everybody has their own idea of what is acceptable, tolerable, and comfortable. Before we talk about resolving stress when we experience it, it’s important to understand WHY we experience stress.

At its most basic, the answer is survival. Fight or flight. We want the ability to experience stress — it is what has kept us alive as a species. When we face danger, such as being chased by a wild animal, the body secretes into the bloodstream stress hormones (called adrenaline and made up of cortisol and a few other hormones), this initiates the body’s “fight or flight” response. This hormone cocktail causes a quick gust of energy, a burst of increased immunity, tunnel vision and tunnel hearing to help you move away from danger, and lower sensitivity to pain as not to distract you if you get hurt as you flee from the source of danger. After experiencing this flood of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, it’s important that the body and brain move to a relaxation response after the perceived threat has gone away so hormone levels can return to baseline. Research says it takes 40 to 60 minutes for this to happen.

If the body and brain don’t have the chance to relax then the body stays in a stress state because it perceives that danger is still near. When we were cave people, it was much easier to tell if a threat had moved away — the tiger was gone. In our modern world, many times the threat or cause of stress does not move away as quickly or in some cases at all, and our bodies and brains stay in a state of mild, persistent stress.

When the body doesn’t reach a rest state after a prolonged period of time, the result is a chronic stress state. Chronic stress can disrupt the immune system, sleep patterns, digestion, growth, and even reproduction. When the body feels perceived danger, it will prioritize its survival systems. Things like digesting lunch go to the bottom of the to-do list when the body thinks a tiger is going to attack.

As you are well aware, lots of things can cause modern day stress. The most common big stress triggers in life include moving, switching jobs, divorce, and death. Common situations that can lead to chronic stress states include unhealthy relationships, over-committing oneself, dysfunctional work teams, and unrealistic expectations of self and others.

Just as many people don’t know what balance means to them, the same is true for stress — many people are not clear on what causes them to feel stress in their daily lives. In my research, I’ve come to believe that most modern-day stress is linked to communication, or rather lack of it. And the topics we avoid talking about most often relate to our values. A lot of stress comes from the conversations we don’t have about our values with others as well as the conversations we avoid having with our selves. A great way to better understand what is driving your stress is to consider what conversations you are not having right now.

What stresses you out? Remember most modern day stress is linked to communication, specifically when we are hedging, when we’re not aware of how our complaints and criticisms are intermingled, and when we might be withholding to avoid feeling discomfort.

How do these situations make your body and mind feel? What symptoms let you know you are heading into the stress zone? For example, do you get stomach aches, skin rashes or headaches? Do you crave certain foods? We all have a stress “tell” — something our body does that sends a message to us to slow down and pay better attention.

What do you do to take care of yourself when you are feeling stressed? This is a big one as many people I work with haven’t considered how to intentionally care for themselves when they experience stress. We will all experience stress throughout our lives. But how do we want to manage it? Being active, time with friends and family, meditation, engaging in a hobby, being in nature — there is no wrong way to move yourself out of a stress state. Just know what ways feel right to you. The most important thing is to KNOW what is causing your stress, or what is likely to cause stress in the future so you can then nourish yourself when you encounter it. Know your answers and follow through.

As you reflect on your answers, begin to become aware of where your behaviors are supporting you and where they are sabotaging you. Notice the choices you make, notice when you feel in balance, notice when you feel out of balance. Then make the necessary shift.

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thrive Global]

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Four Types of Complaining

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thrive Global]

011117_ComplainingHumans love to complain. We keep ourselves off balance through the way we complain, or in some cases the way we withhold our complaints. The funny thing about complaining is, many people are not clear on what it is they are complaining about, and many people confuse complaining with criticizing. A little secret here, 99 percent of the time you’re complaining about something because you are feeling that a value of yours has been threatened or compromised in some way. (It always goes back to values.

Before we can talk about a new way to complain, we first must establish the difference between a complaint and a criticism. In general, a complaint is an expression of a feeling of displeasure. A criticism is rooted in judgment of the actions, values, or work of others. It is possible that sometimes you’re feeling of displeasure comes out as criticism, meaning that it’s easy to make the displeasure you are feeling someone else’s fault — for example, blaming your boss for you having to stay late or your partner for you not having the time to go to the gym. It is through taking accountability of your displeasure (your complaining) that you can create action. That said not all complaints create action as there are four different types of complaining.

Frivolous or Recreational Complaints
These types of complaints validate a person’s view of the world or can make fun of or belittle something. Many times you don’t even need someone to hear these types of complaints. For example, “I have to work late Friday night”, you could be alone at your desk when saying this.

Empathy Seeking Complaints
These types of complaints are expressed by people who just want to be heard. You only want someone to care, you don’t need the other person to fix it, just listen and care. (Or even pretending to listen works here too.) We might say, “I have to work late a second Friday night in a row”, so we can hear someone else say to us “that’s a bummer.”

(Psychology tells us these first two types of complaints are good for us — they are also called venting — and can be a helpful way to process our displeasure.)

Withholding Complaints
This is the most toxic way to complain. It’s when people say nothing at all and begin to harbor resentment and internalize anger. They might start to exhibit passive aggressive behavior — or even just plain aggressive behavior. For example, “I have to work late a third Friday night in a row — no problem at all — happy to be here.” When in fact the tone of voice and e-mails reveals something different.

Action Complaints
These types of complaints are expressed by people who want action or change to occur and are committed to not repeating the past. For example, “I have to work late a fourth Friday night in a row — what can we do different so we are not here next week?” The displeasure is expressed with a request to discuss a path for change or action.

It is easy to see the difference; the challenging part is being aware of who you are sharing what type of complaint with. For example, your manager probably doesn’t want to hear your recreational complaints, but he or she might be more interested in your action complaints. If you want to complain to be heard — just say so, “Can you listen to me right now? I don’t need you to solve this — just hear me out.” Or if you need help you can say, “I’m stuck and could use some feedback what do you think if we tried a different approach?”

If you happen to be on the receiving end of a complaint and are not sure what type of complaining it is, just ask, “Do you need me to do anything?” Many times that is enough for the person complaining to create a bit of awareness around what they need from you in the conversation.

The best practice is before you share your displeasure with others through complaining, understand what it is you are seeking in doing so. Now go forth and own your complaints!

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Stayin’ Alive

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in the Oct. 2016 issue of Mindful Magazine]

In 2007 I collapsed from exhaustion at an event that I was producing. It was the culmination of far too many hours working, the lifestyle choices I was making (and not making), and the always-present stress of trying to be “perfect” at my job.

My doctor said my body was in adrenal fatigue and that my career was killing me. His advice? Get a new job. I knew that wasn’t the “right” conversation – yet I didn’t know what was. I chose to stay on, but went deeper into my own mindfulness practice to try to understand what had happened. Over the next year, I discovered that the right conversation sits in the knowledge there is a choice regarding the type of relationship you want to create with your work.

For those of you flirting with burnout, you are not alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of people feel stress at work. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 75% of all doctors’ visits are stress-related. There is hope, however. And it comes down to being present to what’s happening in your life, and acting with mindful intention to make some changes.

Burnout is not so much about the specifics of your job. It’s mostly about the choices you make (and don’t make) about how you want to live. Being aware of these choices, and approaching the inherent stressors in any job with mindfulness and clear purpose can transform our relationship with stress – and put work in its place. To start, here are some actions you can take in the moment to redefine your relationship with work.

Define the core issues

Can you pinpoint what causes the overwhelm? Is it a capacity issue? Do you have more work than hours to complete? Is it a skill issue? Is there a gap in the skills you have versus what is required? Is it a communication issue? Are you able to share what’s causing stress? This is your first step: Collect all the relevant data so you know where to focus solutions.

Befriend your body

How do you hold stress? Maybe you grind your teeth at night, experience a knot of tension in your neck, or have trouble staying asleep. Now think about what helps you to unwind. Taking a lunch-time walk outside, going for a post-work run, or getting a weekly massage, as examples. Regularly tune into your body so that you can recognize the earliest signs that stress is present, and take the preventive actions you’ve identified to work through it before it overwhelms.

One step at a time

You didn’t arrive at burnout overnight, and the process to undo some of the habits you created will take time. Pick one behavior right now that you can consciously begin to shift. For example, create clear start and end times for work each day. The flexibility that technology and remote working offer can be overwhelming and contribute to burnout if boundaries between work and non-work time are not well-established.

Share what you need

Professional stress can be extremely isolating; we often withdraw in order to “deal with” work issues on our own. But letting the people in your life know what you need to feel supported is essential for putting things in perspective and managing stress. None of us can do it all alone. Your colleagues and loved ones won’t know how to help if you don’t tell them

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The Energy Spectrum Of Work-Life Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

Energy ca1007_energyn be described as a feeling you have, a charged or emotional thought you have, the way your body feels, or even the way the room feels in a meeting. You have energy. Your team has energy. The company, your family, and the world have energy. Each person’s and each team’s energy mingles and mixes together and has a resulting impact — sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes neutral.

If you are a manager, is it very important to have awareness around your own energy, to be willing to see the flow of energy of your team and, when needed, have a conversation with your team about the impact of their energy on team and individual balance.

This is where awareness as a business skill becomes important for leaders and managers. When you have awareness around your behaviors and some of the behaviors of your team, then you can see the impact these behaviors have in terms of the energy or lack of energy people might have, which directly impacts both the quality and quantity of work produced.

As a leader of people, you are in a unique position to be able to see the behavior of your team, which also means you have a choice to see where and when the energy clogs or gushes. You also have a choice to have an intentional conversation about what is happening for the benefit of both the individual and the team.

There are many signs of energy imbalance, some are easier to see and address than others. Most times at work, these imbalances show up as stress behaviors. Managers might notice lack of engagement, defensive behavior, poor collaboration, and ongoing health issues. Interestingly, both too much or too little energy can have a negative impact on teams and outcomes.

Too little energy leads to behavior in which people are either unable to engage or choose to be under-engaged, too much energy creates behaviors in which people are either over-engaged or choose to be enraged. The ideal energy state is that of sustainable energy, a scenario when individuals are able to sustain or balance times of scarce or abundant energy circumstances, resulting in a healthfully engaged state of being.

There are certain markers to each energy state that through developing the skill of awareness leaders can learn to recognize and address before individuals experience burnout or fully disengage from their current role and consider moving on.

UNABLE TO ENGAGE
This type of energy can take the appearance of “burnout” and is usually driven by inability or fatigue from managing too much change and stress. Many times this person may be struggling with multiple and/or major health issues, which results in them missing work or being distracted while at work.

UNDERENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of a “victim” and is usually driven by lack of clarity in roles/commitments or low self-confidence. Many times this person is totally lost and overwhelmed with the work and unable to ask for support or assistance.

OVERENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of a “martyr” and is usually driven by fear of not being “good enough”. Many times this is the person who takes it all on and is unable to do it all (or do any of it well).

ENRAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of “passive aggressive” and is usually driven by lack of communication skills and/or an inability to express one’s thoughts and feelings. Many times this person is unsettled or angry about changes at work, volume of work, or type of assignments, and is lacking context between action and big-picture vision.

HEALTHFULLY ENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of easy joy and light heartedness, with a positive “We’re in this together” attitude. Healthfully engaged people are able to clearly prioritize commitments, have open conversations about demands, and can identify stress triggers. They might have peaks of imbalance, but are able to understand the end point and are clear about what they need to do to sustain energy and engagement in those times.

There is no right or wrong way to begin talking to your team about energy states of imbalance. If you recognize any of the markers, have a conversation — an authentic conversation about what you have noticed. Try using opened ended questions to invite conversation and use phrases like: I’ve noticed (fill in the blank), tell me what is going on and is there is anything you need?

Regardless of the actual energy state many times people just need to talk it out and feel supported by leadership.

 

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Serving tea with a smile — or not

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

Well, it was well intended, if not perfectly received.

I’m talking about the email that Howard Schultz sent on Monday to every Starbucks employee, calling out the recent volatility on Wall Street and “great political uncertainty both at home and abroad…” While emphasizing confidence in Starbucks’ present and future, Schultz also urged employees to show empathy for customers who may be feeling anxious in today’s uncertain economic and political environments.

“Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations,” Schultz wrote.

Perhaps she didn’t get the mail, but shiver, that was a cold glare from the barista who served my afternoon tea that same day!

But never mind my barista’s mood. And never mind that since Monday, the turmoil on Wall Street has largely subsided. I still love that Schultz considered the potential impact on Starbucks’ customers and sent an appeal to his employees to be aware — and just be kind.

Even in the middle of the turmoil on Monday I didn’t feel particularly anxious about either the stock market or the political environment. And considering I’ve heard more talk about soccer and back-to-school over the past week, nor do my friends and colleagues seem urgently worried.

But whether we’re closely watching our portfolios or hanging on every political soundbite is really beside the point. And Schultz gets this. He used a current situation to say what every good leader needs to say clearly and often: Your behavior has an impact. Be aware and make it a positive impact.

Whether we’re serving tea to a customer or discussing strategy with a colleague, it’s no stretch to recognize that doing so with a warm smile or an active, collaborative approach has far more positive impact – and likely greater success. It’s a message worth calling out, no matter the swings on Wall Street.

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