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How to cope with a stress attack

Angry man cartoonHave you had a stress attack recently? It’s when you are swept up with anger or fear, your heart pounds, you sweat, shape or tremble and may have difficulty breathing.

When you experience a stress attack like this, you will almost always react to it. Some people direct their stress reaction outwards towards others. I’m sure you’ve seen it when they raise their voice, interrupt and make demands or threats. Of course the people around them don’t appreciate this outer-directed stress reaction, which feels like being bullied.

There is also another type of stress reaction which s very different and is inter-directed. This happens when the person has difficulty expressing their intense emotion; they bottle it up and often feel its best to withdraw. They may even weep with frustration, which incidentally shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness. This inner-directed stress reaction also has negative consequences, as it may result in eroding the person’s self-esteem if they feel unable to stand up for themselves.

Common to both outer- and inner-directed stress reactions, is that they inevitably don’t have good outcomes either for the individual or the people around them.

If you recognise yourself in either of these unhelpful stress reactions, there are several actions you can take to cope better: Continue reading

The Building Resilience Handbook is going free!

The Building Resilience Book

The Building Resilience Book

The Building Resilience Handbook is normally available as an e-book for Kindle at $13.65. To thank you for reading my newsletters about resilience, I am making it freely available to you for a limited period.

Have a look at some of the reviews of the book:

  • “Inspiring and applicable throughout one’s lifetime” Fred Irumba, science teacher, Jakindaba Senior Secondary School.
  • “Easy to implement at work and home. The results are remarkable!” Brent Beilinsohn, Manager, Old Mutual Investment Group South Africa.
  • “Mind blowing! Implementing these practical exercises has made me a better person” Fanuel Kakuiya, Senior Superintendent, South African Police Services.

Imagine having abundant inner strength and resourcefulness to withstand and recover quickly from whatever difficulties life may throw at you. With The Building Resilience Handbook you can. Continue reading

Are you over-stressed and over-worked?

drowningDo you feel really stressed and overworked?

Dinah did. Her work days were filled with back-to-back meetings which meant she frequently only got to her accumulated e-mails and voice-messages after supper. Tension caused pain in her shoulders, neck and stomach. She was not the senior manager, mother or partner she wanted to be.

She described herself as a fly trapped on sticky flypaper. No matter how much she tried, she could not break free. She felt dispirited and hopeless.

Our coaching focused on regaining her self-confidence and zest for life. We started with an exercise to help her reconnect with the important things in her life. It’s called the Best Possible Self exercise and has been proven to boost positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism and hope . Continue reading

Help! I am feeling overwhelmed!

Lost and Confused SignpostToo many people making demands on you, too much to do and too little time to do it do it in? Too many e-mails and too many meetings? Everyone wants a piece of you?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. People working in organisations today seem to be increasingly stressed, having to achieve more with fewer resources.  In a recent Knowledge Resources survey, 80% of the respondents said their workload had increased substantially and most felt overwhelmed. This is in line what I have also found (more here).

You know feeling constantly overwhelmed is an indication of a dangerously high level of stress. You also know that high levels of stress will have severe negative impacts on you, affecting your productivity, your colleagues and your loved ones.

But if you’re like so many others, understanding the negative consequences of feeling consistently overwhelmed doesn’t automatically translate into knowing what to do to change.

Fortunately there are things you can do to help. Here are seven things that have helped leaders and managers I coach and may help you too: Continue reading

Develop mental strength with five powerful exercises


Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed? If so, you are not alone. I am often asked how to cope when you are feeling really vulnerable, but you have to be strong.

The answer, according to the highly regarded scientist Angela Duckworth, is to develop mental strength, which she calls “grit”. She has found that mental strength is what differentiates people who persist and achieve long-term excellence, as opposed to those who start off well, but lose enthusiasm and give up.

Also, she has found that mental strength is the best predictor of success in school, the military and corporate sales, rather than intelligence or even luck (more here).

Would you like to develop your mental strength? If so, there are five powerful exercises, based on Angela Duckworth’s research, which I have found to be very helpful. These exercises will help you persevere and keep motivated when dealing with big issues like unwelcome change and stress at work or home, or even sticking to a diet, a financial budget or a study plan (more here). Continue reading

Positive thinking can be dangerous!

Silotte couple  phanlop88

We have all heard stories of how visualising a positive outcome helps create it. Oprah Winfrey, for example, believes “if you can dream it, you can do it”. The wildly popular book “The Secret”, based on The Law of Attraction, asserts “like attracts like” and by thinking positive or negative thoughts, one brings about positive or negative results.

If you want to lose weight, get rich, find romance or get promoted, all you need to do is really focus on and visualise your wishes coming true and that’ll make your dreams come true.

Simply put, health, wealth, love and business success are all the rewards of positive visualisation and positive thinking. If you fail, its because you have not thought sufficiently positively about what you want.

But does this make sense?

Continue reading

I’ve been robbed! I’ve been retrenched! I’m dropping out!

Last week started with a frantic call from a friend: “The security company called to say that my house has been broken into. The front door is broken and standing wide open. Please will you go and help?”

She was holidaying in Knysna, about six hours away. We rushed over to her house, to find drawers strewn about, and her flat screen TVs and jewelry missing.

Midweek I spent some time with two senior managers who had been retrenched. My brief was to assist them to find replacement income streams.

At the end of the week, I addressed a workshop on how the alarmingly high drop-out rate of first year university students can be reduced. Continue reading

Five ways of letting go of the past

My last Building Resilience Update described three powerful questions that shift one’s focus from being stuck in the past, to creating a more engaging and optimistic future (click here).

I received many comments from readers, one of whom said that for her, being stuck in the past, and angrily going over and over what happened, was like drinking poison each day and hoping the other person will die!

It prompted me to now write specifically about how to let go and move on.

Here are five things to do to right now: Continue reading

Don’t tell me I am fantastic!

I recently addressed 70 organisational and industrial psychologists at a conference on the role of resilience in preventing burnout. I had prepared well, and judging by their participation in some exercises we did, the audience enjoyed it. At the conclusion the organiser formally thanked me, saying nice things, and I felt very good about myself.

I bumped into the conference organiser later on a couple of occasions during the conference:

“You were fantastic”, he said the first time.

“Your session was wonderful”, he said a few hours later.

“Magnificent session”, he commented that evening.

By now, something odd happened. You know that little voice at the back of your mind, the one that’s usually negative? Well, my little voice said that the organiser probably tells the same thing to all the presenters. Continue reading

The awesome choices we have every day

I recently spent two nights at a Johannesburg hotel, and had an amazing experience at the exit-gate of the hotel’s parking garage.

Concerned about Monday morning traffic, I was up early and was keen to start driving to the Building Resilience workshop (click here) I was due to facilitate. Payment for parking my hired car was to a teller in a booth at the exit-gate. You know how it works: you pay her, she deposits the cash into her teller’s machine, which in turn triggers the exit-boom to rise.

As I drove up to the payment booth however, I saw there was a problem. The teller was struggling to load a roll of paper for receipts into her cash machine.  As she battled, cars began to queue up behind me. After a few minutes, a driver leaned out of his window and shouted: “Come on! I am gonna be late!” Continue reading

Taming your emotional monsters

When I was a little boy, I shared a room with my brother. At one stage, we argued a lot and so I persuaded my parents to let me sleep in the outside shed. The shed was just big enough to fit my bed once they helped me move the gardening tools, wood-working machinery and planks to one side.

A curious thing happened on the first night. When I switched off the light, moonlight streamed in through the window creating deep shadows. The jumble of tools and equipment changed into scary shapes. I was sure there were monsters hiding in the darkness and even under my bed. The harder I looked, the clearer they became!

Even as an adult, monsters still sometimes terrify me.  These are the monsters of powerful negative emotions such as Fear, Envy, Anger and Grief.

Let me give you an example. A “hot button” for me is feeling bullied, which happens when I’m told I can’t be paid this month because the system is down, or if I have to take accountability for things that are not within my control. Then the monster of Anger morphs into a vampire that sucks happiness out of my life!

So how do you tame emotional monsters? Continue reading

Praising young children can be harmful!

I have four grandchildren, all under the age of three, and I am utterly convinced that they are the cleverest and dearest little children in the world. (It has been somewhat of a surprise to find that most other grandparents feel the same about their grandchildren!)

I have praised little Liam: “you are so clever to speak Thai as well as you do English”. And praised little Jake: “you are so clever to build that complicated Lego castle”

Praise like this is good, right? After all, it will make both little boys realise they are really clever and increase their self-esteem, so it must be good for them, right?

Well, not only is that wrong, but too much of that type of praise is actually dangerous for the developing boys, according to the highly respected scientist Carol Dweck. She found that too much praise boosting self-esteem actually results in class grades sinking rather than increasing! Continue reading

How to get out of a situation when you feel stuck

“I would really like to do it, but I’m afraid …..” She was attending one of my workshops on resilience, and related with tears in her eyes how horribly stuck she felt, but feared making the big change she desperately wanted to do. The harder she tried to live with the situation, not to complain and just get through each day, the worse her predicament seemed to get. Although she was desperate, she felt unable to make the change that she longed to make.

Most people feel stuck at times. This can be when you feel unable to change something. Sometimes it feels that the harder you try, the worse the situation gets. Deep down you feel helpless, a victim of circumstances over which you have no control. It’s a really nasty feeling.

So what can you do you do when you get stuck? Continue reading

5 simple steps to stop a bad day in its tracks

Some days start off bad. Then everything that can go wrong does. People go out of their way to be difficult.  Small bumps in the road become hills and potholes. Your irritability rises as your patience decreases. You feel you will burst!

What causes bad days like this? Continue reading

Be careful of who you compare yourself to

When I was young, my Mom insisted I shouldn’t compare myself to other people. She said that it’s not a good idea because it always causes envy and unhappiness. I bet your Mom said the same thing to you, right?

Yet when you look at advertisements in the media, they are all about comparisons. For example, when you compare your body shape to this gorgeous model, you’re not so attractive, so you should take these diet pills. Or when you compare your car to this latest model, your car is old, so you should buy the new one.

Adverts ask you compare yourself unfavourably and imagine how much better you would be with their product. The adverts work because they tap into a deeply rooted human activity of comparing oneself to others.

No matter how slim, attractive, clever, healthy and wealthy you are, there will always be people who are better off than you.  Upward comparison to others, who have more than you, is absolutely guaranteed to make you feel despondent and unhappy with your lot in life. So my Mom was right with her advice to not compare myself to others.

It turn out however that she was only half right. Continue reading

7 things to do to start your day right

Do some of your days start off badly? It may be because you slept badly and feel tired and irritable. Or that you woke up worried about all your problems and difficulties. On other days you may feel, for no particular reason, out of sorts and even in a bad mood.

When I researched resilience, many people told me they started their day off on the wrong foot. Once that happens they told me, things often go from bad to worse.

So how can you ensure that you start your day right, or break out of a bad mood? Here are some activities which are guaranteed to help:  Continue reading

How to be happier and more resilient at work – Part 2

The last newsletter contained five ideas about how to happier at work. This newsletter continues with five more ideas on how to be happy at work.

Firstly, a word about happiness. Happiness does not come to you, you have to make it happen. It’s the result of the ongoing choices that you make, and is available to us all and not just some fortunate people.

It may seem obvious, but happiness is really useful when facing tough times. More than just lifting your mood, positive emotions enable you to deal with the dangerous effects of physical arousal caused by an excess of adrenaline and cortisol, and provide the mechanism to “bounce back” from adversity.

Here are five more ideas on how to create happiness and ultimately resilience in your life, particularly at work: Continue reading