Professionally Speaking

Reflect and Rejuvenate

As 2002 comes to a close, our columnists offer advice on how to succeed, personally as well as professionally, in the coming year.

Well, here we are in December, one of the most stressful months of the year (at least for me). There’s the end-of-the-year business crush, trying to make up in one month for all the misses of the past 11. On top of that, you might have use-or-lose vacation or personal leave time to fit in and, oh yeah, the holidays—cards, gifts, trying to make everything perfect. All this can add up to a tremendous amount of stress.

Not to say that your everyday life isn’t stressful enough—irate customers, budget constraints, the constant pressure of keeping up with new technology, the challenge of a server that’s down and you with no clue why. Is your stomach starting to knot? Got that tension headache running down your neck? For an afternoon snack, are you drinking that pink stuff?

I’m not saying that all stress is bad. Heck, without stress we wouldn’t feel challenged, and much of the stress-causing situations are beyond our control. But what you can control is your reaction to stress, how you deal with it in the short term, as well as the long haul.

As you already know, stress can cause physiological changes. During acutely stressful situations, your body reacts with the “fight-or-flight” response: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, faster breathing and the rush of adrenaline and strength. But when the immediate circumstance changes, those symptoms go away. Much more threatening are the effects of long-term stress: high blood pressure and high cholesterol (risk factors for heart disease). In addition, some studies have shown that chronic stress can cause fat to be stored around the middle of the abdomen, which, besides being unattractive, can contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This is in addition to the other patterns that stress can accentuate: smoking, excessive drinking, aggression, violence and withdrawal.

So, how do you manage stress? Well, one clinically accepted way is to exercise regularly. I run. Not long and not far, but I run three to five times a week. I find it helps me in a number of ways: It helps burn off the beer calories but, more important, it’s an aerobic exercise that can counteract the heart-harmful effects of stress. In addition, I use the time running to work out my schedule and other problems in my head. Any type of regular exercise is a good antidote to stress, the other health benefits are just gravy. I imagine that pounding a racquetball against the wall could be quite therapeutic, as well.

At the opposite end of the stress-management spectrum, at least as far as exertion is concerned, are relaxation techniques. These can range from breathing exercises (designed to calm the body) to meditation. Many people think of meditation as a religious thing (and for many people it is), but it need not be. It’s merely a way of clearing your mind and getting rid of the pressures that are causing stress, at least for a little while. When you’re stressed, do you ever get the feeling that you’re thinking too much? That you can’t turn your brain off? Meditation techniques give you a way to shut it down for a while.

One of my students just gave me another way to think about our work in technology and the kind of stress we’re under. She’s currently an emergency room nurse looking to move into IT. Right now, when her customers’ systems crash, it has an entirely different meaning. Something like that helps me put the daily level of stress that I encounter into perspective.

Note: Some of the information presented here came from WebMD.com, a site I encourage you to visit.

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Dec 26, 2002 Mike NY

Very good, needed to be said! However, the part about getting your hands and mind around stuff like SANs, wireless, web services...how in the world R U supposed to gain knowledge in those areas if your current gig does not/will not use those technologies? Besides diving into the poor selection of books out there, what is one to do but beg a friend to spend a weekend in their data center instead of watching football, assuming one has such a friend. I've done the near impossible, certify first, experience later. It almost seems like experience is much tougher to come by these days.

Wed, Dec 18, 2002 dave missouri

Good stuff, I just purchased Get the Edge at gettheedge.com, the new Anthony Robbins feed your mind stuff. Some excellent ideas. Thanks for the ideas.

Wed, Dec 18, 2002 dave missouri

Good stuff, I just purchased Get the Edge at gettheedge.com, the new Anthony Robbins feed your mind stuff. Some excellent ideas. Thanks for the ideas.

Wed, Dec 18, 2002 Dave Missouri

I wanted to offer my email addriess to anyone wanting information about our study method. It is mcsetrainer2000@aol.com.

Wed, Dec 18, 2002 Dave Missouri

Your thoughts were refreshing. I am a MCSE/MCT and your thoughts on momentum is very important to those pursuing certification. I am a private MCSE trainer who teaches people how to study and pass the exams easily. You are so right when you said to make some progress. This is the key to passing these hard exams. I tell people to bite this big elephant one bite at a time. No pun intended but this industry holds so much future for us all. Thanks for your heartfelt comments.

Tue, Dec 17, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Anyone who has ever been in a long-term stress situation will know what Steve is talking about, and know that he speaks the truth. One thing he neglects to mention, though, is that if your job is doing this to you, you should leave. It's not worth it to ruin a few years of your life in the name of career progress, money, or whatever. There are more important things to do. The best advice I ever received from a manager was advice to quit.

Tue, Dec 17, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I wish I had a job. Out of work since March.

Tue, Dec 17, 2002 David Atlanta

A part of the computer environment is the IT professional. If you do not deal with the short and long terms effects of stress on the individual in a positive manner then there will be a lack of efficiency in the short term and guaranteed long term health problems. To miss this point is incredibly short sighted.

Tue, Dec 17, 2002 naveed pakistan

Its good and enough

Tue, Dec 17, 2002 Naveed Babar Pakistan

Its a really good and I'm feeling light now Thank Mr Greg Neilson For the good Tips.

Wed, Dec 11, 2002 Andrew Manitoba

It was an excellent article. Stress management skill is just as important as any other IT skills.

Mon, Dec 9, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I agree, it was a good article. It's important to step back and reflect on our lives from time to time. Life is about so much more than IT and our little computer jobs. I feel sorry for people who are so caught up in their work that they don't realize this. Good work Steve!

Mon, Dec 9, 2002 shadiq.m Chennai

It is really good and subject to think on.

Fri, Dec 6, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

geez people are rude. this article was good, perhaps a bit off topic but hey, I'm stressed. Nice to know I'm not the only one.

Tue, Nov 26, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

this sucks

Mon, Nov 18, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Makes a point.

Thu, Nov 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I agree. Has this guy ever written anything worth reading? This isn't even substantial enough to qualify as "tripe".

Thu, Nov 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

what a waste of time and space...

Wed, Nov 13, 2002 Charles Anonymous

Very insightful,

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