Here is the full transcript of leadership coach Dr Angela Armstrong’s TEDx Talk: How to Solve the Stress Epidemic at TEDxLeamingtonSpa conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to Solve the Stress Epidemic by Dr Angela Armstrong at TEDxLeamingtonSpa
Dr Angela Armstrong – Leadership coach
Seven years ago, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t!
Back then, I worked in a global consulting firm, leading change programs. Now, I’m an independent leadership development consultant.
Seven years ago, I learned the hard way that my body is not designed to absorb the level of stress I was subjecting it to. And I learned some lessons about thriving and surviving in corporate life, lessons I believe can literally save lives.
I’m normally a very private person. Being vulnerable on a public stage is a massive stretch for me, but the potential to save lives is a compelling reason to be here.
My hope for today is that, by sharing my story and a simple three-part model, you will realize that the key to the stress epidemic is in your daily habits. And you will commit to making small daily changes that will improve the quality of life for you, for business, and for society.
You may think that solution sounds too simple. It is simple, and simple works.
Workplace stress has reached epidemic proportions. Imagine the sound and energy of a full-capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium cheering, and now imagine that same crowd observing a minute’s silence on Remembrance Sunday. At any one point in the UK, 40,000 voices are not heard in the workplace because they are on long-term stress leave, due to workplace stress.
The total number of working days lost due to stress in the UK last year is the equivalent of 50,000 people taking one year off work. It is costing UK businesses billions. The solution, I believe, is to act on three parts of the stress ecosystem: banter, beliefs, and body.
Banter is the everyday conversations you hear in the workplace. You’ve probably heard the expression “work hard, play hard.” At the consulting firm, my peers were well-educated and ambitious, and we thrived on meeting deadlines. A 60-hour workweek was normal, and at weekends, I had a packed social calendar.
After the global financial crisis, the banter changed to “work harder and stay later.” That’s when I became a member of stress club, and it seems the first rule of stress club is you must talk about stress club. You know how it goes: everyone wearing stress, like a badge of honor, competing for who has the most stress. “Oh, well, I worked 80 hours last week.” “You think that’s bad? I’ve got to give a presentation to the board this afternoon, and I only just found out.” “It’s OK for you! I’m trying to raise a family as well.” And so, it goes on.
Have you got your badge? Banter is important because your conversations are contagious, and so are the moods associated with them. When you talk about being overworked, stressed, and tired, you create an atmosphere of stress. You’re literally causing more stress just by talking about it. And pretty soon, the banter that you hear every day in the office becomes the voice in your head.
And if you’re thinking, “Voice? What voice?,” That’s the voice.
Maybe you’ve had thoughts like I did: “As long as I hold it all together, I will be fine.” “I can’t stop. People are relying on me, at home and in the office.” “I don’t have time to rest and recover.” And your beliefs are important because your brain is nature’s great pharmacy.
Whenever you believe you’re stressed, you trigger a biological survival response, and you dump stress hormones into your body. Primed with cortisol and adrenaline, you are ready to fight a predator or run to safety, and as soon as the threat has passed, your body initiates the rest and digest cycle, it eliminates the stress hormones, and reactivates your digestive system, your immune system, your sex drive.
The trouble is, for every hour that we put stress hormones into our body, it takes several hours to eliminate them, and a lot of people are running a backlog. The long-term consequences of that buildup of stress can be really significant.
My friend, Sam, a fit and healthy male in his 30s, had a cardiac arrest from the stress. He died at his desk. And still, I thought: “It can’t happen to me.”
Seven years ago, at 5 o’clock, one cold Monday morning, I was gripping the bathroom sink as excruciating pain ripped through my chest. And I remember thinking: “No! I’m only 38. I can’t die yet!” And that’s all I remember of that day.
I ended up taking three months off work. I had burned out. I suffered a physical and mental collapse due to workplace stress. I didn’t recognize myself. Overnight, I had gone from being a top performer to being afraid to walk to the corner shop. Hero to zero. Although I had friends who came and walked me most days, those months were the loneliest I’ve ever known.