Business Continuity, Safety, Security, Risk, Operations… sometimes it gets stressful. Especially during a real disruption. We handle serious situations. Our employees and management count on us to get it right. This can lead to stress. Below are some ideas that have helped me manage stress. I am sharing them but I am not a doctor. If you are experiencing extreme stress it is best to get guidance from a medical professional.
I admit it, early in my career I was bad at handling stress. I let little things get to me. The danger in this situation was that I did not realize how bad it was getting.
The Internet Revolution was just getting started and, as usual, I found opportunity. I was working my full-time day job in technology and coding websites for clients every night and weekends. In those days, there were not too many hosting solutions and I wound up hosting my clients sites with this cowboy in the Midwest. He really was a cowboy, which was kind of cool. His name was Bill and he asked that I call him Buffalo Bill, which was also cool.
A lot of the Internet technology, hardware, software, network infrastructure, was new and not fully understood. Unfortunately, Buffalo Bill’s server went down regularly. I came to believe that his data center was in the barn. Possibly the server was being trampled by his buffalo or horse. Regardless, I was getting complaints practically every night from clients all over the world. I would keep my laptop next to my bed hitting the refresh key over-and-over at 3 am to make sure client sites were working. Looking back, the extended hours were good training for my future BC/DR career, but at the time I was not handling it very well.
- I was losing a lot of sleep but I did not think much of it
- I stopped exercising
- I had a bad diet
- I was putting on too much weight
- My blood pressure was rising into the danger zone
Still, I marched on stressing about keeping the sites online and meeting unrealistic deadlines. I was trying to make everyone happy.
One day it all came to a head. I was strolling in a shopping mall on a Saturday morning with my young son. We were on our way to see a new Pokémon movie. It should have been the most relaxing of times. I remember holding his hand and out of the blue he says, ‘dad why is your arm shaking?’ I did not know. I did not even realize it was shaking. But it was definitely shaking. I consciously tried to stop it. My arm momentarily stopped shaking and then a minute later it started again and again and again. My body was in a high state of anxiety, even on a Saturday morning when I should have been enjoying precious time with my son. I knew it was time for some drastic change…and change I did!
I went for a medical examination and found my blood pressure was very high. I also purchased a book that a friend had recommended, ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways To Keep The Little Things From Taking Over Your Life‘, by Richard Carlson.
The book made so much sense to me. I made the decision to stop ‘sweating the small stuff’. My resilience kicked in. ‘I had bent but I had not broken’. I realized nothing I was doing was as important as staying healthy to be there for the people that loved and needed me. I stopped trying to make everyone happy. I ate better. I took my newly prescribed blood pressure medication and eventually my pressure went back to normal. I played basketball regularly for decades after that. I lost weight. I became much better at my job as I was more relaxed and I began enjoying life again. I came back stronger than I was before… and yes, thankfully my arm stopped shaking!
Fast forward 20 years and I still work a lot. Day, night and weekends on many occasions. However, I love it. I understand I am still something of a perfectionist but I have a much better mindset. I am still an A type personality, but it works for me. Life is good and I would not change a thing!
How walking helped me:
I believe Steve Jobs had it right. When he wanted to have a conversation with someone he would often get up and say, ‘walk with me ‘.
The Business Continuity component of resilience will always have a stressful component. We are on call 24x7x365. We are often dealing with disruptive events, both large and small. I have responded to disruptions from a Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of a raging snowstorm, at the movies during a rare ‘date night out’ with my wife and in Atlantic City on an even rarer mini-vacation.
Often, we are required to sit for long periods of time doing BIA’s, Risk Assessment’s and writing plans. We also have a great deal of meetings during developing and maintaining our programs. Sometimes too many meetings, right? It goes with the territory. It is what we do and I embrace it all!
Walking helps me clear my mind, relax and re-charge. It helps keep me healthy and happy. It makes me a better Business Continuity Professional. I brainstorm many of my most creative business continuity and personal project ideas during short walks and my 6-12-mile trail walks. Many of the ideas on Ultimate Business Continuity originated in the midst of those walks. Some of the posts I ‘wrote in my mind’ while practicing racewalking and running.
According to my trusty Fitbit, as of this writing I have logged 35,489,521 steps (16,503 miles) during the past few of years. I know, it is a bit over the top, but you know me by now and I enjoyed every step.
Many studies have indicated that sitting too long is bad for us. I find walking helps relieve stress. The secret is to do it regularly. Carve out time on a regular basis to get up from your desk and walk. I have integrated walking into my regular routine at work and at home. It has become a big part of my life. I have even incorporated walking into my daily commute, racewalking 1.5 miles each way to and from work.
If you do decide to walk, be careful about multi-tasking. I have eliminated texting and emailing while walking after a few serious close calls – one bordering on fatal. For example, a few years ago in Baltimore while I was walking and texting, I came within a few feet of falling into Baltimore Harbor. But that did not stop me. Last year I was walking and texting and I took a bad fall. I went flying and luckily broke my fall with my right palm on jagged concrete. I tore up my hand (pretty nasty picture) but I could have easily hit my head, which would have been disastrous. But that did not stop me either. More recently, I was walking and texting and I almost walked off a three-story structure to a concrete floor 30 feet below. That one stopped me! Yes, it did the trick! No more walking and texting. It made me real careful going forward. I still get chills every time I pass the spot of that near tragedy.
If you are interested, here is a feature article from Newsday in NY that describes how my lifelong belief in perseverance and resilience enabled me to quickly bounce back from a serious basketball accident and find salvation in racewalking. For me it was my ‘When One Door Closes, Another Opens’ moment!
I read that singing out loud for 10 minutes every day is a good stress reliever. Unfortunately, I am such a horrendous singer that if I did it my wife’s stress level would go way up. So, that will not work for me, although I do admit to singing quietly in the shower on occasion.
Having an outlet for stress change your life, as it did mine. It can be fun, help you solve problems and positively impact your health.
Caution – always check with your doctor before starting any type of strenuous physical activity.