How to Solve the Stress Epidemic | Dr Angela Armstrong | TEDxLeamingtonSpa

December 21, 2019

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Mile Živković Seven years ago,
I thought I was going to die. I didn’t! (Laughter) Back then, I worked
in a global consulting firm, leading change programs. Now, I’m an independent
leadership development consultant. Seven years ago, I learned the hard way that my body is not designed
to absorb the level of stress I was subjecting it to, and I learned some lessons about
thriving and surviving in corporate life, lessons I believe
can literally save lives. I’m normally a very private person. Being vulnerable on a public stage
is a massive stretch for me, but the potential to save lives
is a compelling reason to be here. My hope for today is that, by sharing my story
and a simple three-part model, you will realize that the key
to the stress epidemic is in your daily habits and you will commit
to making small daily changes that will improve quality of life for you,
for business, and for society. You may think that solution
sounds too simple. It is simple, and simple works. Workplace stress has reached
epidemic proportions. Imagine the sound and energy of a full-capacity crowd
at Wembley Stadium cheering, and now imagine that same crowd
observing a minute’s silence on Remembrance Sunday. At any one point in the UK, 40,000 voices are not heard
in the workplace because they are
on long-term stress leave, due to workplace stress. The total number of working days
lost due to stress in the UK last year is the equivalent of 50,000 people
taking one year off work. It is costing UK businesses billions. The solution, I believe, is to act on three parts
of the stress ecosystem: banter, beliefs, and body. Banter is the everyday conversations
you hear in the workplace. You’ve probably heard the expression
“work hard, play hard.” At the consulting firm, my peers were well-educated and ambitious,
and we thrived on meeting deadlines. A 60-hour workweek was normal, and at weekends,
I had a packed social calendar. After the global financial crisis,
the banter changed: to “work harder and stay later.” That’s when I became
a member of stress club, and it seems the first rule of stress club
is you must talk about stress club. You know how it goes: everyone wearing stress,
like a badge of honor, competing for who has the most stress. “Oh, well, I worked 80 hours last week.” “You think that’s bad? I’ve got to give a presentation
to the board this afternoon, and I only just found out.” “It’s OK for you! I’m trying
to raise a family as well.” And so, it goes on. Have you got your badge? Banter is important because
your conversations are contagious, and so are the moods associated with them. When you talk about being
overworked, stressed, and tired, you create an atmosphere of stress. You’re literally causing more stress
just by talking about it! And pretty soon, the banter
that you hear every day in the office becomes the voice in your head. And if you’re thinking,
“Voice? What voice?,” that’s the voice! (Chuckling) Maybe you’ve had thoughts like I did, “As long as I hold it
all together, I will be fine.” “I can’t stop. People are relying on me,
at home and in the office.” “I don’t have time to rest and recover.” And your beliefs are important because your brain
is nature’s great pharmacy. Whenever you believe you’re stressed, you trigger a biological
survival response, and you dump stress hormones
into your body. Primed with cortisol and adrenaline, you are ready to fight a predator
or run to safety, and as soon as the threat has passed, your body initiates
the rest and digest cycle it eliminates the stress hormones, and reactivates your digestive system,
your immune system, your sex drive. The trouble is, for every hour that we put
stress hormones into our body, it takes several hours to eliminate them, and a lot of people are running a backlog. The long-term consequences of that buildup
of stress can be really significant. My friend, Sam, a fit and healthy male, in his 30s, had a cardiac arrest from stress. He died at his desk! And still, I thought, “It can’t happen to me.” Seven years ago, at 5 o’clock, one cold Monday morning, I was gripping the bathroom sink as excruciating pain
ripped through my chest. And I remember thinking, “No!
I’m only 38! I can’t die yet!” And that’s all I remember of that day. I ended up taking three months off work. I had burned out. I suffered a physical and mental collapse
due to workplace stress. I didn’t recognize myself. Overnight, I had gone
from being a top performer to being afraid to walk
to the corner shop. Hero to zero. Although I had friends who came and walked me most days, those months were the loneliest
I’ve ever known. So, what are the solutions? You decide to leave behind
the banter and the beliefs of stress club, and you drag your weary body
across the road to join resilience club. Resilience is the ability
to take the changes and challenges of life in your stride
and keep walking forward. And the benefits reach
far beyond the workplace, into your personal relationships,
and your parenting. Now, that is a ripple effect
worth striving for. During my time coming back from burnout, I couldn’t hold a conversation, and it took me two months
to be able to drive a car. I had to build my daily habits
from the ground up. Imagine having to follow a checklist to make sure that you got
showered, you got dressed, and you remember to eat something. We all have a basic understanding
of how our bodies generate energy: nutrition, exercise, hydration, and rest, but it’s not enough to know what to do. We must also do what we know. The key to resilience
is in your daily habits. I certainly learned that burnout
could happen to me. I also found out who my true friends were. And the most important lesson I learned: stress is a choice. “Stress is your choice.” The first time I heard that, I thought, “Are kidding me?
It’s all their fault!” But a deeper part of me realized that that new belief was the only way I was going to survive
re-entry to the workplace. You can choose to blame and complain, or you can decide to take action. Taking action is a choice. Taking action is your choice. On my road back from burnout, I had to face the very
uncomfortable truth that I had become a stress junkie. It was not enough
to focus on my own stress. No, I wanted a piece
of everyone else’s too. Do you worry about things
that are outside your control? I had to learn to get very clear
about exactly what was within my control and deliver that with passion. I had to physically and mentally
let go of everything else. Maybe you need people’s approval. I had to learn to set boundaries,
and say no occasionally, because I know that,
when I take care of my resilience, I have more to offer others. Despite all that I had learned
and all that I had been through, when I returned to the workplace, within one week,
I had gone back to my old habits. Fortunately, I paid attention, I looked out for my early warning signs, and I recommitted to my new habits. At first, it took discipline to take 20-minute
lunch breaks in the fresh air when everyone else
was eating at their desk, but I knew that I concentrated
better in the afternoon when I did. And so, I stuck with it, and pretty soon, I had company, because the first rule of resilience club
is you must talk about resilience club! How would it be if,
instead of “work hard, play hard,” you chose “work hard,
play hard, and rest hard”? How would it be if you shared
that your concentration was really sharp because you had a good night’s sleep, or that the stress of yesterday
was left in the gym? We can all change the conversation, one conversation at a time. As for my story, I trained as a coach and remained
in corporate for further three years before starting my own business. As a coach, it is my job to encourage people
into their stretch zone, so that they can achieve
their full potential. I consider it a duty of care, therefore, to make sure that they also have
the resilience habits to support that ambition. For the last four years,
I’ve been going into companies, training them to be more resilient, and I’ll continue to do that
as long as there’s a need, but what compels me
to be on a public stage today is that we are about to have
a paradigm shift in the way that we work, and if stress club goes underground, the threat of a burnout
epidemic is very real. The millennial generation
are now in management positions. They grew up in a digital world. They expect to be able to contribute
their talents from anywhere. Within the next three years, over half of the UK full-time population
will be working remotely, at least half of the time. It is easy to hide how stressed you are
in a virtual environment, and you won’t find it so easy
to look out for each other. The key to resilience
is in your daily habits. You can change the banter,
one conversation at a time. You can choose to believe
that stress is a choice, and focus only on what matters most. You can pay attention
to what your body is telling you, and decide to take actions to thrive. What small daily habits will you take to make sure that your banter, beliefs,
and body are on the road to resilience? Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)

No Comments

Leave a Reply