By Guest Contributor, Paula Robinson, LCSW
One of my patients, "Ashley", is a 35-year-old real estate agent, single parent, and self-styled “soccer mom.” Ashley recently decided to take a week off to go to the beach to hang out, read books, eat seafood and just relax. But that didn’t happen.
“After two days, I was jumping out of my skin,” Ashley told me. “I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t focus on the novel I was reading and I just wanted to get up and do something.”
Sound familiar? Like many people, Ashley was chronically stressed out and experiencing “adrenaline withdrawal.” She was so addicted to the constant rush of adrenaline her body generated to help her cope with the stress in her life that she didn’t know what to do when it stopped. In fact, she was so addicted that she was willing to do anything, even abandoning her vacation, to return to the stressful life that was the source of all her anxiety.
Making matters worse, most of us are consumed with anxiety, constantly worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, things that might happen someday, and even things that might not ever happen at all. How many times have you laid awake in bed at night worrying about paying the bills? Finding a job? Fretting over your children or spouse?Ashley’s problem is not unique – few of us exist in the modern world without coping with constant pressure to balance our jobs, home, kids, health, finances…the list goes on. And every day our personal time gets put aside and being connected 24-hours to our cell phones makes it even harder to find time to decompress from work and family responsibilities. The bottom line is that we barely catch our breath, and it’s taking a huge toll on our health.
As Mark Twain once said, “I have lived a long life and had many troubles . . . most of which never happened.”
The American Psychological Association estimates that 75% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems, and surveys reveal that 75% of us report feeling “great stress” at least once a week. A study by the American Psychological Association found that more than one-third of Americans suffer extreme stress on a daily basis.
Left unresolved stress can lead to a downward spiral of depression and anxiety, causing a number of physical problems ranging from headaches and heart disease to weight gains, gastrointestinal problems, and worse.
Ashley was the first to acknowledge her problem. “I know I’m stressed, and I know my headaches are related, but I just don’t know how to break this vicious cycle,” she told me. I could see she was already paying the price of her stress with weight gain, frequent colds and chronic tiredness.
As I told Ashley, stress isn’t always bad. Stress can be a motivator. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and sends you to the office or to your semiannual dental checkup. But when stress takes over your life – and when you’re unable to release it – it can turn into a toxic cycle that makes you sick.
The real issue is not stress – its a part of our lives whether we like it or not. The real problem is how do you deal with stress? Without a way to resolve and release stress, you’re setting yourself up for a vicious cycle that can damage your health in the long run.
When Stress Becomes Toxic
The human response to stress is ancient and instinctive. When we think we’re in danger, our adrenal glands release the fight or flight hormone, adrenaline. Adrenaline in turn increases breathing and heart rate, sending extra blood sugar to muscles to prepare us to either flee from danger or fight for our lives.
This “fight-or-flight” response worked just fine when predators such as saber-toothed tigers threatened our ancestors. Unfortunately this mechanism doesn’t serve us well today when the threats we face are more often mental and emotional. After all, you can’t run away from your desk, your ringing telephone, your sick child or your boss’ insistence that you work overtime. You may grumble, growl or grit your teeth, but the stress response is still going to kick in, triggering the adrenals to release cortisol, the hormone of chronic stress, in an attempt to shore you up.
Unresolved stress, also referred to as chronic or toxic stress, can override your body’s natural ability to adapt and get on with your life. As stresses pile up, stress hormones become chronically elevated, suppressing your immune system and leaving you vulnerable to colds, flu, and all kinds of illnesses.
Over time toxic stress can diminish your body’s ability to produce cortisol and another adrenal hormone, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), leading you to become even less capable of responding to respond to common stressors in an appropriate way.
Here are some of the common, short-term effects of toxic stress:Suppression of immune system, increasing risk of infections
Getting Stress Under Control
As I explained to Ashley, the key to managing stress is 1) learning to recognize stress when you experience it, and 2) taking action to break the cycle to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
Unfortunately stress is such a pervasive part of modern life that most of us think of it as normal. So how do you recognize stress? Here is a list of the most immediate signs:
• Muscle tension
• Irregular breathing
• Pounding heart
• Butterflies in stomach
• Sudden flushing
Dealing with Stress
All of us need safe and effective tools to cope with stress so that we can relax, decompress and recover. For many people the tools of choice include drinks, downers, or dope, along with their well-known, destructive side effects. And while these substances can temporarily promote the release of feel-good neurotransmitters (dopamine) and endorphins, they also lead to unbalanced neurotransmitter and blood sugar levels, resulting in emotional and mental imbalances caused by addiction and withdrawal.
And while the majority of visits to doctors’ offices are due to stress-related illness, conventional medicine has nothing to offer besides symptomatic care once you’ve developed a “real” illness, such as high blood pressure, ulcers, migraine headaches, back pain, or diabetes.
Clearly the best approach to preventing stress-related illnesses is to recognize stress when it affects you, learn to manage your stress before it becomes toxic, and take steps to break free of repeating chronic stress cycles. Happily, there are a number of natural options for helping you manage stress, safely and without side effect.
Lastly, reach out to a licensed mental health professional, or speak with your Primary Care Provider for access to mental health providers.
It seems consumers are growing more and more weary of the increase in telemarketing calls these days. If I hear one more call from any hotel or cruise company saying that I've won anything that I didn't enter in, I think I might scream. Apple has recently remedied this with a block from unknown callers or solicitors. It helps, I must say, but there are limitations. The company call you answered 6 months ago from someone asking if you'd like to buy insurance is now stored as a number you likely know, and those calls can come through. But for many of us entrepreneurs, we need to be able to take calls from anyone - our next project or sale could come from a number we've never spoken to. Catch 22 situation, eh?
This January, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect. This law gives California consumers the power to choose how companies use their data. They can now demand that companies disclose the information they've collected from them and request a copy of it. Companies must delete a consumer's data and may not sell that information, providing the customer selects the "do not sell" link on the company's site. Further, those companies cannot treat a consumer differently because they request the data. Admittedly, I search a few big sites and did not see the "do not sell" button or anything like it available. No surprise here as companies have been struggling to comply with the law and meet the deadline of July 1, 2020 (date of enforcement).
So what companies are subject to this new law? It won't be any of us small business owners! It only affects businesses with an annual gross revenue of $25m, get 50% or more of their annual revenue from selling consumers' personal information, or buy, sell, receive or share personal information for more than 50,000 consumers, households or devices for commercial purposes. That basically means companies like Amazon, Walmart (currently struggling with the legal loop holes of this law), Verizon and even Facebook will have to comply. I'm sure these companies have their lawyers working overtime to get within compliance, with as little cost as possible.
What does this mean for the small business owner? As a California business owner, you have rights to ensure your company's data isn't misused or sold to other companies. Business owners in other states should not worry, there are already other states drafting their versions of the CCPA right now. As our data is one of our most prized possessions today, its important that companies and our government act on protecting consumers from phishing calls, emails and piracy. Its also the job of the small business owner to ensure that our clients' information is secure and we foster a relationship of trust with those that chose to work with our companies. Those clients not only make up our company contact lists, they are our fellow citizens, as well.
Ultimately, the consumer wins. But, we are all consumers of some of the largest companies on the planet. We use Microsoft products, AWS, Instagram, and so many other companies to further the small business mission. So, we win! Let's help our customers win by putting stricter practices in place to protect their credit card information, email, address and sales history. Consider a CRM system that is password protected and has strict permissions for your team members. The PaxRat Concierge has developed our own and we do sell it to clients and other businesses. Its our way to keep up with projects, quotes, track our progress, have smart reporting and protect all involved in our sales process. That way, we all win!
We talked about how quickly things change in technology. I think its important to note how quickly things change in professional disciplines. Most corporations are constantly rolling out new trainings and procedures out to employees to ensure their staff is up to industry, company and departmental standards for their job. Even professionals like doctors, nurses, project managers and many other high skill professions are required to continue learning new practices, laws and techniques to sharpen their skill set. Agencies offering those certifications usually require that employees have CECs (Continuing Education Credits) in order to maintain active status. Those credits can usually be obtained by attending onsite training and more recently offering hybrid course online and in person. And there are SO many certifications out there to grab. The costs to continue learning can be expense, especially for the small business.
Continuing to evolve means continuing to learn. But how do you do that when you're short on time and money. Here's my attempt to help you navigate programs, companies and costs associated with furthering education to sharpen your skill set. When considering your field, whatever that may be, look for the following things:
There are so many options available with the gift that is the internet. Make the investment to perfect your craft at every stage of your career. Your clients will appreciate it and your rates may increase because of it!
Admittedly, I am a person that struggles with change. Sounds crazy, right? My problem isn't with the growth or change, its with getting used to the change. Humans are creatures of habit and as a concierge, a lot of what I do is managed by lists, staying organized and creating processes. Once a process has been created, if there are updates, it can be hard to get into the mode of adjusting to the change.
In the small business, its even harder to stay abreast of new systems and software because of non existent or understaffed IT departments. And in the world of the iPhone X, iPhone XS and iPhone WD40 (I know the WD40 doesn't exist. But it seems like we've had 4 new models in the last year), there's always something new and its hard to keep up.
A part of our services at The PaxRat Concierge is to consult and advise our clients on what systems are best for them, keeping them up to date on updates and expanding their current systems. We've even developed a CRM system customizable to a client's specific needs for reporting, tasks management and prospect management. Its our job to advise our clients on what's best for their business needs, even if its not the newest technology.
But, how do businesses keep up when they don't have time to research what's new, have a small budget and feel ill-equipped on exactly what's needed? I've compiled a list of options for you...
Whether you chose The PaxRat Concierge or not, we hope these tips are helpful. Much success and Happy New Year!
While everyone is attending holiday parties, shopping and enjoying family, we work. So, who celebrates the holidays when you're a business owner? Finding the time to put work away can be hard when you're self employed. But, its necessary to find ways to balance work and prioritizing personal health (mental included) during all seasons of the year. Particularly, during the winter months we start to experience burnout or the "blues" as some call it.
Hi, I'm your new partner! What does that mean for you? You're no longer the only person on your team to champion your cause, your business. You have help...me. So, your social media, HR, operations and administrative department just doubled by adding me to your team. What does this mean for me? You've likely hired (or will after spending time here on the PaxRat site) me to help with things like process improvement, content creation, emailing, HR staffing advice, research or any other number of things. Over the course of my career I've done all of the above and more for much larger companies and clients. Now, I'm bringing my expertise to you, the small business. A concierge? What's that? Think about the concierge at your local hotel. Their job is to organize and handle the smallest details to ensure your stay is comfortable. So, my job is to ensure that your company's needs are addressed and things move as seamlessly as possible. As with most small businesses, the owner/manager is left handling everything from branding to product development and creation. While that method appears to be the easiest and most affordable, there is low to no ROI on the investment it takes to be all things. It's more beneficial to focus on your product/service and allow me to handle the other moving parts in your business. And whether you need help here and there or every week, I'm your new partner and I will work with you to further your own vision. The biggest and most urgent question most small businesses have by now are "can I afford this". Yes. We have solutions for every budget and work across the US, remotely. There are cost comparisons to hiring a full time employee vs hiring The PaxRat Concierge. I think you'll be please to see that it's much more affordable to hire our service.
I'll be here every Wednesday with a new post on topics across business functions and interests. Make sure you sign up to have updates sent to you each week. I look forward to partnering with you and Welcome to The PaxRat Concierge.
The Concierge Brandi Surratt
With nearly 10 years of experience in outsourcing management, Brandi has a proven track record with client success in HR functions, diversity, compliance and business operations. Her experience with Fortune 100 clients and beyond has helped her develop skills valuable to clients/companies of any size. She has now taken her skills to the small business market to help small businesses thrive with fewer resources.