On Stress – and Tony Blair…

Well, it’s taken 186 blogs and 120,900 words but this week I finally turn to Tony Blair for business advice. ‘Never say never’ as the old adage goes…

The advice – I’ll come to the exact words later – was from his counselling of Rebekah Brooks during the phone-hacking trial. Irrespective of whether we think Rebekah Brooks is guilty or innocent there’s one thing we can agree on – she’s under a tremendous amount of stress.

You don’t need me to tell you that too much stress, especially when it’s prolonged, can play havoc with your physical and mental health. The trouble is that stress is inevitable – especially if you’re running a business.

And that’s fine: moderate amounts of stress are good for us. Studies show that intermittent stress keeps the brain alert and makes us perform better. I’d go so far as to say that there are plenty of TAB members who need some stress in their lives. “If there isn’t any stress I realise that I go out of my way to create it,” is a not-untypical quote.

After all, it’s not so long ago that TAB members would have spent their days in caves picking nits off each other – before they went out to hunt something that was horned and dangerous. We’re genetically programmed to need some stress – just not too much.

But supposing you can’t do anything about it – that whether it’s business or personal, your stress levels are in the red zone? You still have to run your business – so how do you cope? In JFK’s words, how do you maintain “grace under pressure?”

I’ve been reading an article in Forbes magazine by Travis Bradberry, one of their regular contributors. How Successful People Stay Calm is the title and you can read it here.

Bradberry outlines a number of ‘coping’ mechanisms and strategies, among them:

  • Successful people appreciate what they have
  • They avoid asking ‘what if?’
  • They stay positive
  • They disconnect
  • They sleep
  • And they use their support system

Let me pick up on just three of those. People who cope well with stress avoid asking ‘what if?’ Dead right. Deal with what you can deal with. Deal with the situation as it is now. Don’t drive yourself mad imagining a catastrophe: in my experience it invariably doesn’t happen.

They disconnect. It’s difficult to do but it’s invaluable. Whatever the crisis raging at work, you almost certainly can’t do anything about it at 8pm on Sunday. So don’t try. Read to your children instead. Drink a bottle of wine with your wife. Do something that’s really important.

And at last we come to Tony Blair. One of the best ways of coping with prolonged stress is to make sure you sleep properly. In the now-infamous e-mail Blair told Brooks, ‘keep strong and definitely (take) sleeping pills.’

How you get to sleep is up to you, but our former leader was right – if you’re under extreme pressure, you need to sleep properly. A crisis at work – like most things – will ultimately pass: the key thing is to make sure that you’re still standing when it has passed.

I said I’d only pick up on three of those points: that’s because I hope I can take the last point as read. Of course you should use your support network – and hopefully you’ll know that you have the ideal support network round the TAB boardroom table. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ as my Grandma used to say. A problem shared with eight of your peers is one that’s well on its way to not being a problem for much longer.

And with that it’s time to leave my cave and take this week’s stress out on a squash ball. Enjoy your weekend – and make sure it’s stress-free…

One comment

  1. Gill · March 14, 2014

    Brilliant, as usual…I’m off to get some sleep as everything is much clearer and calmer after a good night’s sleep!

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