Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress, makes the point that how we deal with stress will affect our long-term health. Many studies now indicate it is not the quantity of stress a person has to deal with that makes the biggest impact, but rather how we deal with the stress.
The relationship between stress, pressure and performance is a complex one and will vary from one person to the next. We need a certain amount of challenge to be motivated and energised for optimal performance (this could be described as pressure). Too much comfort can lead to boredom and a lack of motivation – can you imagine a life without change?
Now looking at stress, how to manage stress and when it might become a problem. The body has an immune response to help repair itself when faced with short-term stress such as illness or working towards a tight deadline. Longer term, if this immune response is constantly triggered to prepare the body to fight or repair from illness or injury – it can cause chronic inflammation and begin to undermine our health and performance. We experience heightened arousal as though the body is fighting, or preparing to fight, an infection or repair an injury – it is really important to acknowledge and accept this if you want to get better at pro-actively managing your Resilience.
As warmer weather arrives it can mean we begin to get outside and enjoy nature again. All of this can lift our mood and begin to restore energy levels, leading us to re-commit to those all important wellbeing goals that help us manage the complex relationship between pressure, stress and performance. Physical activity can really help the immune system by reducing the power stress hormones can over our physical responses to the stressors in our lives. So with the London Marathon this month I would like to look at the important role of physical Resilience through this insprireing interview below.
Interview with Paul, Director Financial Services
You’ve been working in Financial Services for more than twenty years. Do you still find your job a challenge, in a positive way?
Paul: Yes, during this time there have been plenty of changes – regulatory, technological, volatility in the markets, as well as a shifting competitor landscape. All of which have required adaptability and flexibility.
In addition, managing a team across three continents (including Asia since last year) has been a challenge that I have enjoyed. It has given me the opportunity to meet diverse and interesting people, visit some beautiful countries and learn more about different cultures. This has made it especially interesting.
What are the day-to-day pressures in your work environment?
Paul: For starters, working with three time zones – Asia and EMEA in the morning, then US in my afternoon – can be a stretch at times. For example, a few weeks back, I joined a call at 5am London time, my New York based colleague at 12 midnight and Tokyo based colleague in the early afternoon.
Email overload, client calls and questions, urgent presentations. The pace of life in general is quickening and with-it expectations for instant responses.
You made the decision ten years ago to move to East Sussex, giving you a long commute up to Canary Wharf. How do you cope and what are the benefits of the lifestyle?
Paul: A lengthy commute demands better time management and discipline. One last drink resulting in a dash to London Bridge only to see the train pulling away with the next one due to leave in an hour’s time focuses the mind on timekeeping!
I find that my train journey is useful time for planning and responding to emails.
I have prioritised getting home to put the kids to bed and so see more of the family since moving out of London. My waistline has benefited from less after work “socialising.” I have a work office at home so can complete any tasks once they are asleep.
In terms of coping, I strongly feel that exercise is the perfect stress buster. It has helped me tremendously in combating day-to-day pressures.
All in all, my employer does an excellent job of promoting and facilitating work-life balance, allowing me to work from home when I need to.
In recent years, you’ve lost weight and become much fitter. What inspired you to change to a healthier lifestyle?
Paul: I was feeling overweight and zapped of energy. My main drivers are, and continue to be, to keep up with my kids, see them grow up and be a role model!
Another important by-product of exercise is how it keeps my stress in check, recharges my batteries and keeps me in a positive frame of mind. Without exercise (according to my wife), I am “like a caged lion”.
How difficult was it to establish a fitness routine around your long working hours?
Paul: Not always easy. Fortunately, I am an early bird and have become accustomed to getting up at 5 for the early train, which means that I often exercise first thing. Circuit training, spinning or an early morning run often feature during a typical week.
You took part in a Paris to London bike ride. Could you tell us more about that?
Paul: A group of like-minded participants (nicknamed the Dons) teamed up on weekend training rides, which took us all over the Home Counties. Preparation was a key part of our success as it allowed us to get fit, build endurance, motivate each other and share experience.
Increased distances on each subsequent ride helped us to build stamina but also importantly gave us the confidence to face the unknown as a team. We forged friendships along the way and felt a sense of accomplishment at finishing each ride, from our initial 40 miler (where one of the Dons suggested that we bring travel cards just in case) to an 85 miler, where we were running on empty by the end but encouraged each other to keep going. By training as a team, we committed to each other. One of us would have given up at some point especially when the weather conspired against us!
Paris to London was awesome (an overused phrase, I know, but relevant here). Whether riding pass Paris’ historic landmarks (perilously circling the Arc de Triumph) or riding through the scenic countryside. By the time we arrived in London we were exhausted but elated and so happy to see friends and family. And in the process, we raised close to £70,000 for charity.
I have made some very good friends during the Paris to London charity cycle ride, which clients also attended.
You also have two young children. How do you manage to keep on top of long working hours and a family and still set yourself physical challenges?
Paul: With difficulty at times. I try to incorporate exercise into my day by arriving early to either get my training out of the way or get ahead of my workload, which frees up time to do a lunchtime class.
At times, I see clients at the gym or out for a run. We often discuss work related issues whilst pounding the streets of the Wharf!
By setting physical challenges for my children too, they see sport in a positive way. Having signed up my daughter to a local badminton club at the age of 8, two years later she made the Sussex Under 13 Badminton squad. And my six-year-old son attained blue stripe in taekwondo, has joined the local football club and is keen to explore gymnastics. Even my wife is getting in on the act and has started running!
What’s your next challenge going to be? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do and would still like to achieve?
Paul: I am enjoying Tough Mudders this year, and am contemplating a Zombie Evacuation in the autumn, and will enter the London Marathon next year.
One day, I would like to attempt a half Ironman or maybe even full Ironman. Having already completed a marathon, this would be the ultimate challenge.
The only way that I could contemplate this is to figure out how to fit in the training without impacting too much on our family life.
My wife, Maria, has been very supportive and puts up admirably with my MLC (mid life crisis).
And finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to achieve a positive change in their life?
Paul: Make it happen, don’t make excuses; anyone can achieve a positive change. Set goals in your personal life and commit to achieving them. Entering a sporting event is a good way to start. It doesn’t have to be a marathon – start with a realistic target like a fun run and see where it takes you.
At 17 stone, I decided to take part in a sponsored weight loss challenge. Five years later and 4 stone lighter, I’ve not looked back! Don’t give up! Even though there may be set backs along the way. “No going back” is my mantra. For example, I refuse to keep old suits from my heavier days.
Find something that you enjoy (try new things). It is surprising how these will lead to other interests and friendships. In my case, sports have sparked an interest in nutrition.
Aspire, Perspire, Inspire.
The enjoyment of the challenge can become unhealthy stress very quickly. Challenge can improve performance but only for so long – before we need to replenish. Physical exercise is a great way to replenish. As Paul has shown from his own experience, greater physical Resilience allows us to be a force for good, a force of nature, and shine bright enough that those around you can also feel the benefits from a commitment to physical health, wellbeing and Resilience. I advocate for age and health appropriate approach to physical Resilience. My own relationship with this is a complex one, due to illness that I in the main have under control, I have to manage my physical health on a day to day basis – certain activity I used to love causes injury and pain for me now – however I don’t use that as an excuse not to exercise at all. I regularly walk and have a self practice routine of QiGong and Yoga because I know if we wait until we are already stressed to take action – then it is much harder to motivate ourselves towards taking action.