Report on the business matters lunchtime CPD talk “Success under Stress” given by Steven Turnbull.
Eric Smith welcomed those attending, thanked CMS Cameron McKenna LLP for hosting the event and introduced Steven Turnbull. A recording of the talk and the slides that Steven used can be accessed using the links at the foot of this page.
Steven introduced himself and his talk. He mentioned the charity “Thinking Better” which he is associated with and gave some details of this. The website is www.thinkingbetter.org.uk
He started by indicating that it is very difficult to define stress and referred back to the original definition in the literature from 1936: “The non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Any professional working with the phenomenon of stress would acknowledge that stress is not necessarily bad and Steven briefly talked about the graphical representation of stress which shows “good stress”, for example motivation by deadline, exercising and running a race, even sharing a kiss!
Once we push past the comfort zone, however, we go on a negative trajectory, slowing down in our cognitive function and in the energy available to address the task in hand. We will find that we see negative health effects which can sometimes culminate in exhaustion. So prolonged exposure to stress moves us from “good stress” to “distress”.
Steven highlighted the part stress plays in many illnesses with estimates that it is a factor in between 75 and 90% of modern health problems.
He displayed a long list of symptoms which can result from stress – ranging from psychological factors such as mental fatigue, decreased mood, disappearing sense of humour through to physical fatigue and, a problem which is being increasingly found to occur, issues with the digestive system. The link between mental health issues and digestive issues is being demonstrated more and more strongly in the literature.
Moving on to another long list of things which can cause workplace stress, Steven asked if those present could identify with some of these and there was a general murmur of assent.
Now Steven moved to the core of his talk – looking at the solutions to these problems.
Firstly, we need to unpack the factors that contribute to the stress – from every aspect of our life: work, family, leisure, diet, exercise, sleep. Then we need to place these factors on one of three rings in a target: things we cannot control in any way, things that we can influence, things that we can control 100% and focus solely on the last of these. This will allow us to make inroads in eliminating stress that arises from these.
Steven then outlined seven techniques to use once we have identified the areas of our life that we can control. He asked us to remember that even the smallest changes in these areas can have a huge effect of our physical and mental wellbeing.
Taking care of your body:
- Hydration – be 100% hydrated. 5% dehydration can result in up to 25% loss of physical and mental energy.
- Eat well and eat regularly – appetite suppression is common under stress and people will often miss meals – this is a self-sustaining vicious cycle. Importantly – have your breakfast. Look for pre-biotic and pro-biotic foods. Pre-biotic foods feed the good bacteria in our gut and include such things as apples, bananas, leeks, onions, garlic and asparagus. Pro-biotic foods already have these good bacteria in them and include such things as yogurts, cheeses, any fermented foods. Steven listed various essential nutrients which are found in veg, fruit, lean meat, pulses, nuts. On the other hand, be wary of gluten and high sugar-containing foods.
- Sleep hygiene is incredibly important and Steven outlined things to do and things to avoid doing in our attempts to get a good night’s sleep. Avoid stimulation by noise and visual sources – don’t go for the late-night TV fix. Make sleep a priority so that your brain can heal itself and recover. We need 5 sleep cycles over the course of 7-9 hours if we are to be optimally rested.
- Exercise regularly – even 3 x 40-minute walks over the course of a week has demonstrable positive effects.
Looking after your mental health:
- Deliberately think positively – find three positives within your work day – even on the bad days. Steven challenged us to do this. Use positive language, especially when you are talking to people in the workplace – listen to yourself.
- Change your mood deliberately – dealing with the worry thoughts and anxious thoughts. These are dominant invasive thoughts which are the product of the basal ganglia in the brain and most psychologists will say that the solution is to think of something else – not very easily done in most cases! Steven outlined a technique that he has found to work. 5-4-3-2-1. Firstly, spread your fingers far apart very quickly – this will hurt but it interrupts the brain’s focus on the worry thoughts. Then think of 5 important things that you can see which are positive to you. Then move on to 4 things that you can touch that you like. Then 3 things that you can hear – even silence at times, or your favourite music (music can have very powerful mood-changing effects). Then 2 things that you can smell (coffee perhaps). Finally, 1 thing that you can taste.
- Keep connected – to your family, your friends – this is one of the main human needs in motivation theory from Maslow forwards. There are positive biochemical benefits from this, releasing cortisol and reducing your stress levels.
There were a number of questions at the end of Steven’s talk and people stayed behind, indicating that this had been a beneficial time for many.