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Improve your Performance by Breaking the Stress Cycle


How many times have we seen people pushing too hard, worried about deadlines or problems, and eventually becoming sick.  Thankfully, most often this sickness is just a call from our weakest link (eg a cold, ulcers, sore throat, stomach upsets) telling us to slow down.  Our weak link acts as our canary in mines.  This, at least gives us defined boundaries, which say now is the time to change what we are doing to reduce the stress on our body.


Also, many times we see people that have battled to make deadlines, become sick immediately after the deadline passes.  It is almost as if the body has said, “You promised me some time out when we reached Friday.  Now I am going to make sure we take it.  I’ll make you have a cold or ulcers, etc, just to make sure we rest.” How well do you recognise the role of stress in disease.


The working life of business owners and managers is often littered with stress mines.  Too many deadlines to meet or not enough resources.  If these stress mines explode, the effectiveness of the person and so their value to the organisation can rapidly decline. A guide to defusing these stress mines was provide by Hans Selye, who in 1978 coined the term GAS. (General Adaptive Syndrome) to describe the process by which we “attempt to cope with 'nonspecific' stress – as opposed to short duration stresses such as injury, the flu, momentary fear”.


According to Alman & Lambrou (Self-Hypnosis) GAS has 3 stages:

  • Alarm reaction

  • Period of resistance

  • Exhaustion

The body’s immune system is subject to break down during stages 2 & 3.  The first warning signal is likely to come from the body’s weak link.  A holistic program is required to support and strengthen the immune system and reduce the impact of things that attack the immune system. The holistic approach would pay attention to issues such as diet, exercise and rest, as well as the provision of powerful mental tools utilizing altered states of consciousness and post hypnotic suggestion.  According to Korn and Johnson (p34, Visualization:  The Uses of Imagery in the Health Professions) high on the agenda of mental tools would be the Relaxation Response.  The Relaxation Response effectively provides an exit loop for the fight or flight response.


Korn & Johnson go on to point out that 10 to 20 minutes (p35) of experience with relaxation response once a day is an appropriate stress release.  “Most of us, exposed to numerous stresses over a long period of time, experience a gradual elevation in the stress threshold, or basal level, until we reach a point at which the body can no longer adapt.  At that point we experience illness”  (p 36).  However, when we experience the relaxation response, we release currently accumulated stressors.


In part, this is the result of human evolution.  In more primitive times, stressful events and their boundaries were more easily defined and recognised. When a stressful event was completed, (eg being chased by an animal), we could then commence the recovery process.  However, boundaries on many stressful events are more obscure (eg guilt, shame, remorse) and we can be thrust into a continual process of coping. Many of us have not yet developed exit points and escape routes (eg meditation).  This can lead to a downward spiral of exhaustion of resources.


This occurs because the diencephalic portion of the brain reacts to threats (or perceived threats) by activating basic instincts.  The cortical portions of the brain then interprets these instincts as behaving abnormally and provide this information as feedback to the diencephalic portion of the brain.  The diencephalic portion of the brain interprets this as a threat and so the process continues.  Our tension moves to hypertension and many of our internal resources are depleted.


The result is a vulnerable state and a fertile environment for under performance or at worst the development of disease. Appreciate that the message received from our weak link (a headache, sore back, ulcers, flu, etc) is not a problem but a friend that should act as a cue to STOP (Start To Observe Purposely) and thus kick into gear with a program to lead us away from stress and towards increased wellness, energy, vitality and happiness.  


Wellness is the result of how we construct our lifestyle.  It involves the interaction of mind body and spirit.  Key ingredients of wellness are:  exercise, diet, avoidance of toxins and mental disposition.


The road to wellness is shortened when the process is actively addressed on the conscious as well as the unconscious level.


Factors in the wellness action plan would include:

  • Healthy eating

  •      Avoidance of toxins – especially those we have control over – alcohol, tobacco, large quantities of refined sugar, caffeine and drugs.

  •      Overcoming fatigue – contributed to by obesity, lack of exercise and unhappiness

  •      Regular exercise – including both aerobic and flexibility activities that ensure that all joints are put through the full range of motions on a daily basis.

  •      Utilising the power of mind – “the most powerful tool we have at our disposal is the mind”, (Korn & Johnson p128).  Some of the uses of this powerful tool include:

  • o       End result imagery

  • o       Relaxation response

  • o       Meditation

  • o       Other altered states

We can use the mind to create our end result, to help us be more relaxed and to let go of tensions, to help us recover more quickly from ill health, to break cycles of tension. 


A valuable starting point for enhancing our mind power is through self hypnosis and related areas.


See section on self hypnosis techniques to read about ways of developing the relaxation response.

Self Hypnosis Techniques 


A Practical example of the GAS Recovery process


The following practical example displays the recovery process from GAS.




Imagine a middle aged male who just had one week off on sick leave and this is the first sick leave he has ever had.


Prior to his week off he had not been performing at his best – he had several colds, an upset stomach, was ineffective at work, missing deadlines, becoming angry and feeling generally stressed.  This man was GASing himself.


Steps to recovery


Step 1 STOP


STOP stands for Start To Observe Purposefully – to determine the current situation, the desired outcome and the action to be taken to achieve this outcome. STOP from not only the business perspective but also the personal perspective.


Current situation:

·        Food (and to a lesser extent alcohol) was being used as a mechanism to cope with stress – as a result the wrong types of foods were being eaten and a little too much alcohol was been consumed.

·        Drinking too much caffeine

·        There was a lack of exercise

·        He was irritable at home

·        He was putting on weight

·        He was experiencing lack of sleep

·        When he parked his car in the parking lot he began to feel more tense and this tension increased as he got closer to his office

·        His tension increased further when he was reminded how much he had to do by the mess on his desk


Desired outcome?

1.      More relaxed

2.      Feel motivated and positive when sits at desk

3.      Not to get tense when he parked in the parking lot

4.      Exercise at least four times per week for 35 minutes in target heart range

5.      Sensible diet

6.      Moderation with alcohol

7.      Free of caffeine

8.      Sleep well

9.      Loose 5 kgs


Strategies to achieve outcomes

Learn how to set appropriate BRATES and Goals


For more information about setting brates and goals in addressed in more detail in "Seven Action Steps to Increase Returns".

Seven Action Steps to Increasing Returns

Feel more relaxed


·        Learn progressive relaxation and at least one other self hypnosis technique

·        Do this first thing upon waking and upon getting home for the day (or what is appropriate)


Feel motivated and positive when sits at desk


·        Clear the desk, organise all the projects that were previously scattered on desk.  Only one project to be bought to desk at each time.  This has the added advantage that it is a very tangible sign of a positive step forward

·        Consider use of post hypnotic suggestions in relaxation process, dealing with the:

  • Sense of satisfaction received when a project (or stage) is completed

  • The interest and opportunities created when a new project is bought onto the clear desk

To feel relaxed and motivated when we park in the parking lot


·    A number of minor changes would assist here:

  • Use the last 30 minutes of each working day to plan the activities of the next day and start each working day with an interesting, enjoyable project

  • Park the car in a different parking lot, maybe one that involves more walking

  • Post hypnotic suggestion regarding how enjoyable, satisfying the days' works will be, especially the first project, with the trigger getting out of car in new parking lot and sense of anticipation increasing with each step towards work

Exercise at least four times per week 
  • This may take some time to build too but needs to be built into the diary – timetabled so that it can be a productive time for work – used for creative thinking time

  • Post hypnotic suggestions regarding:

    • How enjoyable the exercise will be

    • How the exercise will reduce stress and contribute to relaxed and focussed feeling at work

Sensible diet and moderation with alcohol


Given that much of this was associated with attempts to cope with stress immediately upon arriving home from work, the self relaxation exercises (Strategy 1) may well be sufficient.  We could support this by post hypnotic suggestion, the use of self suggestions in the relaxation exercises and, of course, ensuring that adequate healthy food was available. Visit Healthy Eating to find out more. 

Free of Caffeine


This was an idea that seemed like a good idea at the time but may not be necessary.  In the short run, determine what the trigger for having caffeine products and use post hypnotic suggestions to have this trigger a substitute activity for caffeine consumption.


Sleep well


The proceeding will all make a significant contribution to sleeping habits. 


Lose 5kg


The other activities listed previously will result in the appropriate weight loss.  This goal is more a measure of the effectiveness of other objectives than an end in itself.Channel

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