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George Beshara   
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
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> Spinning head is robbing me of sleep
> Nightmare boss makes work impossible
> Getting rid of the ostrich

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Author and life coach George Beshara answers a selection of Harmonious Living readers’ questions on stress management. This week, he helps out people who can’t sleep because they’re worrying, who have nightmare bosses and who stick their head in the sand when they’re under pressure.

Spinning head is robbing me of sleep

Q: I’m finding it difficult to sleep at night lately as my head’s spinning with worries and problems. I wish I could concentrate less on these and more on the sleeping part as I’m feeling more and more tired in the day. What can I do to help with this?

A: If you are having insomnia problems, you are not the only one. Because of the extent of change and the corresponding level of stress and worry that we are experiencing, insomnia has become a chronic problem in our society. But stress and worry are not the only reasons why we can experience insomnia problems. A respiratory condition - or simply a headache or pain, could also be the culprit. This is why it is advisable to consult a physician.

In the meantime here are a number of things you can do to deal with the problem in a natural way.

1. I strongly suggest that you go to bed every night at the same time. Try to do this for at least 30 days in a row in order to develop the habit. This signals to your body that this is your regular time for sleep.

2. Do not eat or drink anything other than a small amount of water at least two hours before going to bed. Poor digestion can affect sleep. Too much water can mean several bathroom visits during the night.

3. Avoid thinking or doing work at least two hours before going to sleep. Prepare your to-do list for the next day and then make an effort to spend the last two hours of your wake-up time, doing things that help you relax - activities that absorb your total attention.

4. Listen to classical music or other types of music that relax you.

5. Consider taking a hot bath every night before going to bed.

6. Keep a notebook and a pen next to your bed. If you find yourself thinking about a problem, or worrying about forgetting something that must be done in the morning, use that notebook to jot down a reminder.

7. Keep a dictionary or a book that is very boring next to your bed. If you wake up and cannot sleep, try reading that book for a few minutes.

If all this does not help, be sure to see your doctor who can either prescribe a light anti-depressant, or sleeping pills for a limited period of time. Your doctor or your pharmacist may also suggest to you an over-the counter sleeping pill that you may want to use - again for a limited period of time. Of course, if your doctor feels that the problem is serious, you may be referred to a sleeping clinic where you will be tested in depth for sleep-apnea or for other sleeping disorders.

You may also want to see a homeopath, a naturopath or an acupuncturist. These healthcare professionals can also provide excellent solutions to your problem - even though, clinical studies may not support the specific solutions they recommend. Magnetic sleeping pads have also helped some people improve the quality of their sleep. It's important to remember, however, that magnet therapy should not be used with pacemakers or implanted defibrillators.

The important thing to remember is that sleep is very important to your overall wellbeing, and not everything will work for everyone. So you need to find the right solution for you not only by trying a few things but by also seeking professional help.

Nightmare boss makes work impossible

Q: This question isn't about me, it's about my boss. She gets incredibly stressed, like we all do, when deadline approaches and things are going wrong on our projects. But when she's stressed, there's no talking to her - she throws things around, doesn't greet anyone and it's like a black cloud is hanging over her. She's in such a bad mood that we're afraid to come to her for guidance, which means even more things go wrong.
I have tried talking to her when she's not in one of her moods, but she refuses to see it as a problem, forcing me to mention specific examples, and then explaining what had happened that time that put her in such a bad mood, as if that justifies it. She's creating a terrible working environment for everyone who works with her, and without her guidance, all our work is suffering.

What can we do?

A: I am afraid you are facing a very difficult situation, especially since your boss is defensive and does not recognise the problem she is causing by poorly managing her anger and frustration.

There are several options which are available to you.

One option is to quit your job. The problem with this is that you may have already invested several years in that organisation, and you may love your work or the group of people you work with (other than your boss). In addition, finding a new job is not that easy and you may well end up working for another person who may also be a difficult person to work for. Finally, you may not be able to financially afford a period of unemployment in between jobs.

Another option, if you work in a large organisation, is to ask for or to look for an opportunity to transfer to another department. It may take a few months, but eventually you could find another position that may interest you. If you also work for a large organisation, you will have the opportunity to discuss the situation with a representative from human resources. This can be helpful especially if there have been several complaints against your boss from other employees. It confirms that you are not the one with a problem.

A third option is to let things be. In other words, you accept your boss the way she is and try to not let her behavior overly affect you. This is easily said but not easily done. It requires you to distance yourself emotionally from the situation, when it happens. In other words, when you see your boss “expressing her anger”, you recognise that the problem is with her, that she does not want to change, and you simply take her behavior in stride. This can work as long as your boss thinks that you are taking her anger seriously and as long as you learn to laugh inwardly about it.

Another option is to ask to meet your boss again as soon as you and your team are assigned a new project. During that meeting, emphasise the fact that you all also want the project to go smoothly and be completed on time. Also let her know that if you become aware of any problems, or delays, you would like to be able to calmly discuss these with her so that you can benefit from her experience in resolving these problems. Assert yourself by letting her clearly know that you really respect her but that you also expect her to respect you by showing patience when problems occur and by seeking to resolve problems through communication. Remind her how you feel when she loses control of her emotions.

You can of course practice role-playing this meeting with a professional coach or with a trusted friend.

This strategy should work, but there is no guarantee. The fact is that, you cannot really change the behavior of another person unless that person is willing to make the change.  

There are lots of information and resources on anger management that you can research on the Internet which you can refer your boss to, if she becomes at one point receptive. Do a Google and Yahoo search.

Getting rid of the ostrich

Q: I've developed a rather bad strategy when it comes to stress - whenever I feel overwhelmed by everything that I need to do, I somehow manage to ignore it all and forget that there's anything to do at all. Of course there is that nagging feeling and under current of gnawing stress which I know is compounding my problem and making this strategy even harder to break… Just like the boy who's cleaned his room by hiding everything under his bed and in his cupboard, I know that it won't be long before I'm in for a hiding.

This is a strategy that I developed at the end of my school days when assignments and exam stress became too many and too much and unfortunately, when things become too much, is still a strategy that I automatically tend to adopt.

I know all too well that this approach is in no way helpful to me but for some reason I'm finding this self-destructive cycle is really hard to break. Homework has now been replaced by an increasingly unmanageable inbox and I tend to sit down at my computer everyday and feel overwhelmed at how many replies I need to write and how many decisions I need to make.

Can you help me? How can I break the ostrich mentality when it comes to handling my stress?

A: First of all let me tell you that addictions are not restricted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders, caffeine, work, sex, computer games and shopping.

Emotional addictions are also numerous and have in fact led to the development of a support group network under the umbrella name of Emotional Anonymous (EA) , with more than 1 000 chapters in 35 countries world wide. Emotional issues as described by EA include: depression, anger, broken or strained relationships, grief, anxiety, low self-esteem, panic, abnormal fears, resentment, jealousy, guilt, despair, fatigue, tension, boredom, loneliness, withdrawal, obsessive and negative thinking, excessive worry, and compulsive behavior. EA uses the 12 step program to help members deal with their emotions and improve the quality of their lives.

When looking at your question, there are two aspects to consider. The first aspect involves dealing with a possible emotional addiction. The second aspect is simply a question of effective time management.

Let’s look first at the emotional addiction. Too much to think and worry about, too many questions, too many decisions to make, too much to do, so at some point, we feel overwhelmed and anxious. We don’t know where to begin, so we don’t do anything, we procrastinate, we get distracted, we waste time, and then we feel guilty and anxious.

Because of the extent of change and demands made on us today, I believe that this type of emotional addiction is very common, and like any other addiction is very difficult to overcome by oneself.

There are several elements which are absolutely necessary to overcome any addiction.

First, there must be a genuine desire to make the change. This is absolutely essential – the will must be there.

Secondly, there must be a readiness to re-program our thoughts and self-talk. The idea is to become aware of the type of thoughts we have which in this case trigger the feelings of helplessness and anxiety, and then to immediately replace these thoughts, as we realise we have them, with other ones – affirmations - which are more positive and productive. This step requires self-discipline especially at the beginning – until the new thought reactions that we want to re-program our mind with, become spontaneous.

Thirdly, we really do need some help, support and encouragement throughout the process. That’s where a professional coach, a counselor, or even a good and trusted friend can be very helpful. Regular telephone or in-person meetings can make a huge difference in overcoming this type of behavior. Also creating for oneself a daily routine, which we follow as closely as possible is important to help us stay disciplined and create new habits.

Let’s now look at the issue of time management. Because of e-mail technology, communications have become spontaneous and it has also become very easy to communicate with many people at the same time. So nowadays, in the name of effective communication, we send each other an enormous number of e-mails and in the name of information sharing and teamwork (and to protect ourselves), we distribute the information to as many people as possible. The result is that we all receive a very large number of e-mails that we are asked to read, acknowledge and respond to.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when it comes to handling your e-mails:

How well do you manage your e-mails? Do you view them as they come - leading to time wastage because of interruptions - or do you view them at specific time two or three times a day? Can you quickly identify the ones that you personally need to handle? Can queries be forwarded to someone else to handle? Whenever possible, do you respond to the e-mails as you read them, or do you accumulate them, read them a second time, and then respond. When possible, responding to e-mails as you read them will ultimately save you time. Do you find you receive e-mails from others at work that you should not be receiving? And if so, are you doing anything about it?  

The other thing that you may need to learn to do when it comes to time management, if you feel that too many demands are made on you, is to learn to say no – nicely but firmly. Learning to say “no” is an essential aspect of balancing one’s personal and professional life.

George Beshara is the founder of Managing My Life Publishing and Training Inc. and the author or co-author of nine Managing My Life programs. For more information visit
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