Feeling stress? Ski jump to success

By Val Leveson

If your job is under threat, you can be left feeling constantly stressed.

If you are worried about work become a warrior, not a worrier.
If you are worried about work become a warrior, not a worrier.

Stress is something we all have and at some level it's a good thing - it gets us out of bed in the morning and helps us keep motivated and focused.

But it becomes a problem when it is sustained over a long time - and if cortisol levels in your body stay consistently high it can lead to serious physical and psychological ailments such as: depression, anxiety, heart problems, obesity, memory problems and burnout.

The "normal" advice for people dealing with too much stress is to ensure they take time to relax, take breaks, exercise, eat well, look after themselves with "self care" things such as massages, dancing, enjoying nature or simply being with friends and family and perhaps learning some useful mindfulness techniques so they can learn to relax in the "now".

As claimed by the Mayo Clinic on their website, the body's stress-response system is usually self-regulating. "It decreases hormone levels and enables your body to return to normal once a perceived threat has passed. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities."

But what happens when your stress levels are high because you constantly fear than you may lose your job due to no fault of your own? Every day we hear about mass redundancies in organisations ranging from Telecom to the Department of Conservation. If you are feeling that your livelihood is under threat, you can be left feeling constantly stressed, nervous and/or on edge. That means, according to the Mayo Clinic, that the fight-or-flight reactions are turned on and remain turned on.

Auckland's Dr Stress, John McEwan, argues that in situations where companies are continually downsizing, the normal stress advice of taking breaks and relaxing doesn't always apply. "If your company is threatening to downsize, you need to crank up, not wind down. You just can't dawdle - your choice is to be either a warrior or a worrier."

Being a warrior, McEwan says, is about having determination and taking a fight attitude.

"Some of these big organisations have been committing suicide for years in the way that they deal with staff. If the executives in a company are obviously stressed, there is no ability for any original thinking. Without original thinking, there is stagnation.

"If people are worried about their survival there is no real capacity to actually do the work."

His advice is if a company is putting more and more stress on to employees who are fearing for their survival in the workplace, it's time for those employees to take action and find ways to get out.

McEwan suggests: "Crank up your physical training which will help you get into warrior mode.

"It's about fight rather than flight - do yoga, pilates whatever helps you be fighting fit and mentally sharp. Position yourself for new opportunities, don't go down with the company - you have to be prepared and ready to head elsewhere to more fertile ground."

He suggests finding work in a company that's looking to expand and is interested in developing their staff's skills. "Start-ups can be great environments to be in - many know how to truly value their employees. If you feel your work is valued, you feel more connected to your work and less stressed."

This, says McEwan, is the time to be flexible. "It's about positioning yourself to ski-jump out of the organisation that's downsizing rather than crawl. If the organisation is obviously going backwards, rather than forwards and has lost its best people, the writing's on the wall."

McEwan says it's all about looking at the way the organisation is being managed: "These big organisations have got great infrastructure - so why not grow? Don't be a victim of this level of stupidity. It beggars belief.

"The more stupid the managers are, the more threatened they become by competence - do you really want to stick around and suffer this?"

He explains that sometimes doing the ski-jump can mean making big changes.

"It could mean physically moving to another location where your work will be valued more - that could be Australia, or it could be Asia - it's about thinking broadly. It's about taking action rather than feeling that you're a victim of incompetent management. It's about taking control of your own destiny."

* Next month, Herald Jobs in conjunction with The Career Specialists are starting a career advice column. Send through your career related questions to careers@nzherald.co.nz

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