Is it Really the Season to be Jolly?

The cool crisp air, the morning frost, and the early afternoon darkness does not elicit feelings of “nesting” for everyone.  In fact, it can be a time of year when the shorter days and lack of light can contribute to depression.  Per a recent article in WebMD, winter depression is still a mystery to scientists who study it.  Many things, including brain chemicals, ions in the air, and genetics seem to be involved.  Researchers agree that people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are particularly sensitive to light, or the lack of it.

SAD usually starts in the teen years or early adulthood, and is more common in females than in males.  Because of the shorter daylight, the body produces less serotonin, which can lead to feelings of depression.  As one would expect, this disorder is seldom found in countries close to the equator, where there is plenty of sunshine year-round.  Studies in the United States have shown Florida has the fewest number of SAD sufferers, while New Hampshire has the most. (Source: Dr. Cullen Schwemer)

Clinical depression affects 20% of the population at one time and can be a serious condition.  If you’re feeling depressed, take a one minute test and/or call your EAP today.

Keeping Your Team Focused After Tragedy

The tragedy of what happened in Newtown last week has shocked and devastated many Americans.  People across the country spent the weekend absorbing the horror of what happened, holding their loved ones tightly, and reflecting on what it all means.  Now, we are all back at work, trying hard to put the events out of our minds and concentrate on the job in front of us.  As a manager, how can you help your work group during such turbulent times?

First, focus on your own resiliency and how the recent events have impacted you.  Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after a crisis and keep a positive attitude.  In the past, how have you been able to recapture positive energy after it was zapped by a negative event?  What works for you when are you struggling?

Second, once you have a handle on your own coping mechanisms, think about your work group and how people in the group generally handle stress.  Who are the employees who will be most touched by Newtown?  Who has too much on their plates already?

Third, take time over the next few days to be more visible than usual.  Observe and take time to listen.  Reach out to each person and see how they are doing.  This can be a good practice anytime, but particularly during the holidays and especially in the wake of this tragedy.

As a manager, it’s important not to overlook anyone who is struggling or behaving oddly.  You can make a difference, maybe even save a life, by paying attention and extending a helping hand.  The EAP is standing by to help anyone who is affected by the recent events, including you.

How are you doing today?

Don’t Add to Holiday Stress

Watching signs of holiday stress in your work group is well-advised during this time.  You and your employees are facing one of the busiest times of the year, and one of the most emotional as well.  Think about the extra stress that comes with frequent parties, family gatherings and shopping.  Think about how quickly the stress can build up when there’s a financial strain, too much alcohol, or family relationship issues.

Everyone experiences stress differently and for varied reasons.  To help you be at your best as both a manager and a holiday participant, identify your own holiday stress (expenses, family dynamics, time management, for example).  Then think about how you deal with stress generally, and focus on your positive coping strategies such as turning to your supports for comfort, taking breaks, counting to 10 before responding, setting priorities, and knowing you’re doing the best you can.  At the same time, minimize negative stress relievers like the overuse of alcohol, burning the candle at both ends, trying to please everyone and forgetting to take of yourself.

What can you do to help your work group?

– Remind your group about holiday stress and make your EAP number visible.

– Have non-alcoholic drinks available at work gatherings, knowing that one in ten people can’t drink safely.

– Try to avoid adding extra work pressure at the end of the year, if it can possibly be put off until next year.

– Encourage people to take their vacation time to refresh.  Nothing much happens during the last 10 days of the year anyway.

Do you need to talk about your holiday stress?


What Happened to Charlie?

In my last post, I talked about panic attacks and how Charlie Beljan suffered.  Charlie made national news when he had a panic attack as he was qualifying for the PGA Tour.  Hearing about it made me think about one of the first self-assessments for stress that appeared on the scene.

In 1967, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe studied 5,000 medical patients to determine whether an accumulation of stressful life events, positive or negative, could cause illness.  Their work changed how people viewed the impact of stress forever.

Holmes and Rahe were able to assign a score to major life events and determined that the higher the score in a one-year period, the higher the risk factor for illness.  One item missing from the list was professional golf.  How many points do you get when at 28 years old, you are playing to keep your card for the PGA Tour?

Even without his career stress, Charlie Beljan’s recent marriage (50 points) and birth of a child (39 points) combine to add risk.  If we look at his golf challenge, it could be some combination of business readjustment (39 points), change in financial state (38 points), or change in responsibilities at work (29).  Without knowing what else might have been going on in his life, it is safe to say that Charlie’s risk factors were elevated.

Fortunately for Charlie, there was a happy ending.  It was a panic attack  – a reminder that he needs to better manage the stress in his life.

How’s your year been?

Life Change Test:




Panicked Over Golf

For many sports fans just watching a game or match from your couch can cause stress, and it is hard to imagine the incredible pressure that the athletes are under.  Last week, when Charlie Beljan experienced a panic attack while trying to qualify for the PGA tour, the impact of the stress became clear for all to see.   For 5 hours, his heart raced and he wondered if he was going to make it at all.  He shot a spectacular 64, but was carted away in an ambulance at the end of the match.

Fortunately for Charlie Beljan, 28, he wasn’t seriously ill, he had experienced the most painful of all stress symptoms- PANIC ATTACK.

Panic attacks can affect people in all walks of life.  They may surface before a presentation, on a business trip, or may make it difficult to go to work in the morning.  In Charlie’s case, panic had already crippled him earlier in the year when he had to request an emergency landing on a plane.

What Charlie did for all of us is to help remind us that panic attacks can happen at any time, and can be very scary and confusing for those witnessing it, as well as the person suffering.

Here are 5 things we know about panic attacks:

1. A panic attacks is just a stress symptom, albeit painful and impossible to ignore.

2. Stress symptoms can develop because of major life changes.

3. Most people ignore earlier warning signals of stress overload until a more serious symptom develops.

4. Deep breathing may be the best way to stop a panic attack in its tracks, but ruling out a serious medical issue with a physician is critical.

5. Try to see stress symptoms as a gift.  They can be gentle or harsh reminders to take care of ourselves when we are facing pressure or change.

Are you tracking your stress symptoms?

Is Your Energy Being Zapped?

Managers face multiple demands on their time everyday.  For many of us, no two days are ever the same, so we must be able to switch gears and focus quickly.  So, why is it that some days leave us feeling depleted, while after others we feel invigorated?

For each manager, there are certain issues that “push your buttons” more than others. At any given time, it is helpful to assess your key “energy zappers” and keep them in your awareness.  That way, when they occur, you may be able to notice them, take a deep breath, and let some of the tension go.

What are your top energy zappers?

___ Too much time at the computer with out stretch breaks

___ People interrupting with quick questions

___ Visitors dropping by

___ Wasted meeting time

___ Office politics

___ Avoiding a difficult conversation

___ Crises that occur because of poor planning

___ Other______________________________

If you can’t prevent energy zappers from occurring, at least recognize how they impact you and try to implement some stress management techniques.  Sometimes a few deep breaths will give you enough relief to get prepared for the next one.

What’s your top energy zapper?


Are You Ready to Move Up?

How do you prepare for taking the next step up the corporate ladder?

One of the most difficult challenges that a manager faces is being promoted into a more senior role. People are watching you and trying to determine if you are up to the challenge. They are comparing you to past leaders and wondering if you have what it takes to be successful. Do you have the tools to face this new position? Can you broaden your focus and your scope?

To be successful, you need to be vigilant on many levels:

– Pay attention to the big picture, especially the culture.

– Thoroughly understand the and goals and objectives of the business.

– Observe your manager’s skills and work on acquiring the positive ones.

– Practice good communication skills. Start listening better and asking follow-up questions.  Don’t take up all the air time.

– Keep your team engaged and reinforce positive contributions.

– Run interference for your team when possible.

– Be disciplined and focused with your time and your team’s time.

– Model behavior that you would like others to replicate.

– Be mindful of your work life balance.

– Seek guidance from trusted advisors outside the organization.

Some of the behaviors needed for developing a broader focus and scope may be a stretch for you at first. If you are interested in expanding your role, practice one at a time and start today.

Another Difficult Conversation

Do upcoming difficult conversations with employees gnaw at you and make you uncomfortable?  Although most managers dislike confronting employees about performance, it does come with the territory.  Without confrontation, many situations worsen over time.

Here are a few things to remember:

• Think about what is at stake and what an ideal outcome might look like.

• Recognize that your view of the situation may be one-sided and be prepared to hear a different point of view.

• Practice stress-reduction techniques such as breathing exercises that you can use before, during, and after the conversation.

• Be prepared with concrete examples.

• Practice your opening remarks in front of a mirror.

• Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, empathizing with his or her feelings.

• Take responsibility for how you may have contributed to the situation.

• Summarize the conversation with a proposed solution to see if there is some agreement.

• Follow up with an email that will serve as documentation of the conversation and proposed actions.

Helping to turn around a declining work situation may be one of the most rewarding experiences in a manager or supervisor’s life.

Is this a good time to talk?



More Email Management Tips

Email has become an indispensable tool in the workplace.  It is hard to remember how we got by without it.  However, sometimes it seems like  it makes more work for us all.  How do we best manage the email madness?

Email is best used for documenting or delivering information.  It is most effective when each email deals with one subject at a time.  If you address multiple subjects in the same email, at least three things can go wrong:

  • If the reader is in a rush, he or she may only read the beginning and miss the end the end of the email completely.
  • If there are other people copied on the email, a “reply-all” email chain may begin and items may be lost in the shuffle.  Or, readers can be lost in a sea of needless reply emails.
  • When the email is filed, it may be filed under one subject alone.  This will make it difficult to retrieve when you look to refer to the email later.

Try addressing one issue per email today.  You may have to write a few more emails, but you’ll be surprised how much it will help you stay focused and organized.


Conflict Management in Email

Have you ever have an argument escalate into a shouting match?  Past issues come up and suddenly everything under the kitchen sink is in the mix.  It becomes hard to stay focused and get anything accomplished once this has occurred.  Emails can have the same outcome.

When we have conflicts, especially at work, we should not try to resolve them over email or texting.  It is too easy for emails to be misinterpreted, come across as too harsh, or to say the wrong thing.  Relationships with your employees are very important and are best built through personal conversation – preferably face to face.

Email is a wonderful tool, and can help to make our work lives much easier.  However, some issues are best handled in a more personal manner.  If a sensitive issue is raised in an email – either directly to you, or between people on your staff – respond that you would like to take the discussion out of email and set up a meeting time or a phone call with the appropriate parties.  It may not be the fastest method, but it will be most effective in the long run.

Is there a conversation you should be having in person today?