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I was asked for some expert comment on the radio about second hand stress.  A recent study claims that stress is as contagious as the common cold and that you can actually ‘catch’ other people’s anxieties. Passive or second hand stress can become endemic in organisations where it is assumed that this is just normal modern life.  Whole departments seethe with stress which is less to do with the nature of the work itself but more to do with the leadership, team building and motivation being fostered. There are also those creatures I call ‘stress carriers’. These are the people (often known as the boss) who cause stress all around them, induce panic and anxiety and then go off home feeling better for having let off steam,  leaving everyone traumatised in their wake. Those who have greater emotional awareness tend to be most at risk of picking up on the stress of others. Being more empathic, they notice and identify with what stressed colleagues are going through. They adopt the other’s mannerisms- talk faster, over breath, become tense and start thinking negatively. Now let’s get one thing straight- pressure can be good for us. It’s what gets things done. No pressure- you’d be bored. More pressure than you can cope with, then you may experience stress. A fairly forceful client of mine is prone to  saying,’You’re not being shot at in Afghanistan, what can you possibly be stressed about?’ Which can of course cause its own stress. . . . I am going to throw down my own gauntlet, say ‘I don’t do stress’ and give you a bit of tough love. If you can demonstrate to me that it will be useful and lead to successful outcomes then I’ll get stressed too. Until that day I will make the choice to remain stress free. Which means I will face the following assumptions/challenges: Stress is natural – well, yes if facing a sabre toothed tiger then the narrowing down of focus caused by fight or flight may well  get you out of trouble. The rest of the time, those reactions will not help one whit and will lead to a very poor performance at work for you and your team. So take control and choose your reaction. What – are you a bit thick? Don’t you get it? – while I do understand that the economy is in crisis, that heating bills are going to be high, that it can be hard to run a business, etc, etc I still don’t get how running around like a panicking headless chicken is going to help anyone. Again, if you can tell me how it would help, I’ll work myself into a frenzy now to be of assistance! You have no imagination Actually, I have just as much ability as the next person to visualise all the most awful scenarios and end of days outcomes. I choose not to think, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ but rather ‘What can I do to get through this/make it right/succeed? It’s a much better use of my time and energy. Visualise the best outcome and then put your energy into achieving it. You have to be really anxious or your performance is no good. Really? And your evidence is? When I got back from The US after giving a speech, a Chief Executive said, ‘ You must have been terrified’ When I said,’err, no’ , he said ‘Well you must have been rubbish then!’ ( remember the stress carrier concept above. . .we’re working on the impact of his communication style. I happen to know that in his own way, he meant well) I filled him in about the science he had missed and explained how I see these public speaking as a brilliant way to communicate what I am passionate about not an automatic stressor. Being stressed does not make you perform better in any aspect of your personal or professional life. Stop it! Even though everyone has a similar amount of the cold or flu virus in their system, not everyone develops the symptoms. So, the next time someone tells you how stressed they are – don’t catch their disease. Smile back and tell them how fortunate you feel you are to be alive now, to have lots of challenges in your life and that you are just quietly intent on dealing with them. If, however, you feel your quality of life is really suffering from stress, find a good Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. They are brilliant at curing the condition. Don’t waste any more time. If you are stressing about your work, coaching based on cognitive behavioural principles can make that a thing of the past. Again – get on with it. To hear Averil talk on BBC Radio Scotland about Second Hand Stress click here.

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