Monday, 14 November 2011
Washing your hands isn't going to deal with this sort of contagion, but recognising those personality types you work with that cause you stress may help.
"We call it 'people poisoning' and we describe the culprits as stress carriers," says Dr Chandra Patel, stress expert and author of The Complete Guide to Stress Management (Vermilion). "They induce stress in others without suffering it themselves."
Behavioural scientist Dr Robert Bramson has identified seven key personality types who cause difficulties and stress for those around them. Work out which category your tormentor fits into, the theory goes, and you can find coping strategies to reduce the stress they cause you.
1. Know-it-all experts ~ these can be divided into two types: those who might know what they are talking about and those who 'become' experts on the basis of very little information but present it with such authority that it's difficult not to feel overwhelmed by them.
2. Super-agreeables ~ they come across as good humoured and willing, but never deliver. They are exasperating because they agree everything in an effort to be liked, but constantly let you down.
3. Indecisive stallers ~ one of the most stress-inducing types, especially if you are dependent on their decision making to get your job done.
4. Pessimists ~ no matter what you say or how you present it, they always respond negatively and often respond with such conviction that it's difficult not to get hooked into their negative agenda.
5. Silent unresponsives ~ this type purposefully use silence to negatively control situations, undermining others, and it can be a form of passive aggression or a spiteful refusal to co-operate.
6. Hostile aggressives ~ basically these are the office bullies, who aim to get their own way by being hostile, using ridicule or sarcasm. Criticism tends to be personal and stress is induced by confusing, frustrating or even frightening you.
7. Complainers ~ constant whining while refusing to take steps to change those things they complain about is super stressful because they suck you in while ignoring helpful suggestions and wasting your time.
Whether it's your boss or a co-worker or someone who reports to you, identifying what it is about them that triggers a stressful response can help you see how to deal or avoid it.
It's also helpful to review your own behaviour, too and see what your default position is and how this might cause stress to those around you. None of us is infallible, all of us are human, but given how much time we spend at work - in the UK an average of 48 hours a week, way over the European standard - we owe it to each other to facilitate each other's and our own best use of time. Actively trying to reduce second-hand stress in the workplace helps us all concentrate and work better, more effectively and in less time.
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Way back in 2005, a 19 year old from Paisley was treated for his addiction to electronic communication, which had cost him £4,500 in a year of sending around 100 texts a day, his job when he was sending up to 500 emails a day, and his relationship when his girlfriend could no longer cope with the barrage of messages.
And also in 2005, a study from Hewlett Packard expressed alarm that 62% of British adults appeared addicted to their email - even checking messages during meetings, after working hours and on holiday - behaviour we now mostly consider as normal!
Tom Stafford, lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield and co-author of Mind Hacks, identified what it is that makes this so addictive. "Both slot machines and email follow something called a 'variable interval reinforcement schedule' which has been established as the way to train in the strongest habits," he says. "This means that rather than reward an action every time it is performed, we reward it sometimes, but not in a predictable way. So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there's something wonderful - an invite out or maybe some juicy gossip - and I get a reward."
Now you understand the psychology and how you've been snookered into this addictive behaviour, it might make it easier to resist. Not least because if you are trying to get something done - a book read, a movie watched, an essay written, homework done - these constant interruptions seriously restrict your ability to concentrate and, in the long term, add to your personal stress.
I have worked with teenagers who tell me that they just can't turn off their phones, day or night, for fear of missing out. And when I see someone texting during a movie I just think - why can't you allow yourself some time out, some uninterrupted "me" time, for just 90 minutes? Or couples in restaurants not talking to each other but checking their messages or Twitter alerts, unable to drag themselves away from the demands of this insatiable device, and I wonder how it was that the idle thoughts of someone you don't actually know became more important than those of the person you're with?
In 2008 it was reported that Madonna and her then husband Guy Ritchie slept with their Blackberrys under their pillows. She apparently said, "It's not unromantic - it's practical." Six months later the marriage was over.
There's no doubt that it's brilliant to be able to have such immediate communication when we need it, but sometimes it's important to literally switch off from the virtual world and re-engage with the real world, before we lose sight of what really matters.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
But if your idea of breakfast is a black coffee and a cigarette or a latte and muffin, en route to work, you could be doing your body and your brain a serious disservice.
"The body's natural reaction to low blood sugar is to compensate by increasing adrenalin output," says psychologist and director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (INPP) Sally Goddard Blythe. "Such a biochemical combination can affect attention, concentration and impulse control. In the long term, sharp swings in blood sugar levels increase irritability, fatigue and bouts of hyperactivity."
Do you really need more stress in your life, detrimental to your body, your brain and - somewhat inevitably - relationships with those around you, from your family to your work colleagues?
Slow release carbohydrates, combined with some protein to further reduce insulin surges, provide the fuel you need to start the day. Not only that, you are less likely to get a desperate urge for a sugar hit mid morning, when grabbing a full fat latte and muffin 'snack' could earn you a quarter of your daily calorific intake.
So what to choose to break your overnight fast and get your day off to a good start? A boiled egg and wholegrain toast is an excellent choice. But porridge oats, with skimmed milk and fruit is another choice. Oatcakes and cheese, perhaps? A bagel and avocado? Skimmed, live yoghurt with apricots? My personal choice is a helping of rolled oats, sunflower seeds (high in zinc), a handful of nuts (walnuts for omega-3, brazil nuts for selenium, almonds for magnesium) for protein and blueberries (lots of vitamin C and antioxidant anthocyanin) with some skimmed milk.
And if breakfast is important for grown-ups, imagine how much more important it is for children whose smaller, growing bodies and higher energy needs demand regular, nutritious meals.
So if all else fails, as you rush for the door thinking breakfast is a luxury you don't have time for, at least grab yourself that ultimate in fast food - a banana. Your body and brain will thank you for it.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
The same goes for concentration. Can you improve concentration by trying harder, or is trying differently what you need to do?
Often what we have to do doesn't really interest us; we find it boring and when we're bored our minds wander and we lack concentration. So on those occasions, what can we do differently? The answer lies in finding a way to create interest by sticking with it long enough to create context and points of reference that relates to something that will tweak our imagination and stimulate us to take the next step.
What we also know is that trying differently can create a change in the way the brain functions, and this could actually make it easier to concentrate. Even allowing for all the variables - personality, temperament, intelligence, age, etc. - you can change your brain's function by the way you behave, and your behaviour by the way your brain functions. "That's what learning is," says Professor Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Anything that changes behaviour changes the brain."
The suggestion here is that if you want to improve your concentration, try differently: change what you do and how you do it. Think about taking a different approach, one that allows your brain to engage, respond and make connections in a different way - the difference could just be turning off external distractions, focusing for five minutes longer than you usually give yourself, or not multi-tasking - but whatever the difference, see what a difference it could make to your ability to concentrate.
So don't try harder, try differently.
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
The link between stress and concentration is an interesting one, and it’s worth taking a moment or two to understand what happens in your body and brain to prevent concentration when you’re stressed.
Confronted by circumstances we see as threatening in some way, our brain short-circuits conscious thought to 'red alert' mode. This automatic response is created by the amygdala, an almond shaped gland located deep within the mid-brain – and is a great response when faced with a sabre-toothed tiger, but not so useful when you discover your tax return has exceeded its return-by date.
We talk about something being gut-wrenching for a reason. The gut is also affected by the 'fight or flight' hormones generated in response to the amygdala’s red alert because, God knows, you’re not going to have time to eat when running for your life. Besides, you are going to need the blood supply concentrated in your legs rather than your stomach in order to get away fast, and your heart will need to pound to get it there. Plus which, your breathing rate rises to get that additional oxygen you’re going to need into your lungs. All of which is happening rather unnecessarily while you are sitting at your desk with those stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol flooding your body and compounding your panic further. Know the feeling?
Not only that, but when we get into long-term patterns of stress, it somehow re-sets our stress thermostat and it takes less to set off our red alert reaction. And, because we also have amazing powers of adaptation, we adapt to these constant, over-elevated levels of stress hormones as far as we can. It begins to feel 'normal' to be functioning in a constant state of stress. In fact, we can become almost addicted to it and seek to recreate the apparent comfort this known state creates, by which time we fit the label: stress junkie.
And while functioning in this way, sleep becomes difficult because those same stress hormones that can power your legs are also designed to keep you wide awake and running away from danger, not chilling out and drifting off happily into the land of Nod. Lack of sleep is itself very stressful. Result: more stress.
Now imagine functioning at full stressed throttle like this for days, weeks, months on end and its effect on your body and mind becomes clear. If you did the same to a high performance car, the phrase 'burn out' might come to mind. Long term stress just isn't sustainable without detriment to health. Great for acute situations where you may need to concentrate your physical and mental prowess to react to danger, stress is hopeless for sustained concentration or for enabling you to focus without the internal distraction of red alert warning signals going off.
Now it becomes clear why concentration, which is aided by a calm, collected mind, becomes tricky when we are stressed. So if you want to concentrate better and benefit from that, look at how to reduce the stress in your life.
Having identified the situation, what can you do? If you’ve been functioning in stress mode for a period of time, it’s hard initially to switch it off. Your body has got used to the feeling, so you may have to be quite deliberate in creating time to readjust, and consciously build in down time, either through non-competitive exercise, meditation or some other physical therapy that helps release you from the physical sensations of stress.
Once you begin to release the body from its grip, it becomes easier to release the mind from stress, improving its ability to concentrate. It may take time, but consciously doing so will pay dividends in terms of physical and mental wellbeing - and concentration.
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Monday, 28 March 2011
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Monday, 28 February 2011
A quick reminder of what you can do to improve your concentration ... achieve more ... and reduce stress ...
1. Turn off all the external distractions you can – music, mobile phone, email alerts – and close the door to your work room, giving off a signal that interruptions are currently unwelcome.
2. Don’t multi-task. Except for very mundane tasks, when you try to do too much at once your concentration and hence your brain’s ability to transfer information from working memory to stored memory, which you can retrieve later, is impaired. Learning French verbs while chatting on MSN might appear to get the job done, but you’ll remember little tomorrow.
3. Eat breakfast – the brain needs fuel, especially after a night’s sleep. For best results choose porridge for its slow-release energy, or combine protein with carbohydrate to stabilise blood sugar levels.
4. Drink more water. Your brain is 80% water and relies on good hydration for its neurological transmissions.
5. Learning new activities that link and challenge your mental ability is particularly effective in generating new brain cells – what the scientists call neurogenesis – and helping concentration. And these new cells will also help energise old brain cells, by firing them up and making new connections, so it’s doubly effective.
6. Get enough sleep. When we are tired we rely on stress hormones to keep us going – great in the short term, but detrimental to concentration in the long term.
7. Listen more actively – we hear with our ears, but listen with our brains –listening more purposefully helps concentration.
8. Omega-3 EPA is good for brain function, so supplement if necessary because it’s hard to get enough from modern diets even if you eat oily fish regularly.
9. If you’re finding it hard to concentrate on something – whether it’s the book you’re reading or the flat-pack you’re trying to assemble – allow yourself enough time to engage with what you’re doing in order to aid your concentration.
10. Physical exercise is good for the brain for two reasons – one, it helps us relax and a relaxed brain concentrates better and two, physical exercise itself produces a hormone that actively supports brain cell activity.
Monday, 21 February 2011
Friday, 18 February 2011
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
Thursday, 10 February 2011
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Saturday, 22 January 2011
Monday, 17 January 2011
What your posture has to do with your ability to concentrate may not be immediately obvious, but if you have a sedentary job, you may want to consider how you sit when you work.
You may also want to think about sitting on an exercise ball, or add a wobble cushion to your chair, while you work. Experts think that the micro-movements your body needs to make to adjust will do more than just improve your core muscles and posture, it can also make you concentrate better.
When you sit on an exercise ball, you are constantly making tiny, subconscious physical movements to maintain your balance. “Movement awakens and activates many of our mental capacities,” says neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford, who has studied the relationship between movement and learning. “Movement integrates and anchors new information and experience into our neural networks.”
It’s this subconscious mental activity that lies at the core of the science behind the benefit of the exercise balls, which has seen some schools in America replace their hard chairs with them. “The tiny movements kids make while balancing stimulates their brains and helps them focus,” says Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard University professor and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Apparently some children with attention disorders have a ‘sleepy cortex’, and exercise combats that mental disengagement. “Just by using their core muscles more, they’re flipping (their cortex) on,” says Ratey. “This causes the prefrontal cortex to get turned on, which does a lot of things, including inhibiting impulses.”
So if you thought that sitting in front of a desk for any length of time just caused poor breathing patterns, restricted circulation, muscular strain and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) – think again. Swapping your chair for a posture ball, or sitting on a wobble cushion, could make all the difference to your concentration levels as well as your aching back.