Leo Willcocks is the author of DeStress to Success; here is a link to his website:
Q: What is the basic theory behind your book?
A: The theory behind DeStress to Success is that everyone experiences stress, but no one has to be a victim to stress. With the right tools, many stresses can be resolved and overcome. However for the most part, stress relief tips (such as go for a walk, count to ten etc.) aren’t enough to really beat stress. They can help reduce stress temporarily, but in many cases, stress returns at a later time, doesn’t it?
Stress relief tips are important, but they are just one way of dealing with stress. Relying on stress relief tips alone is like riding a bike with only one pedal, and no handlebars. In DeStress to Success I’ve focused on the stress relief tools you don’t hear about. I include quick stress relief techniques, and then focus heavily on stress resolution- ways of resolving stress so it doesn’t return. I include tools to identify, grow from, and resolve challenges that cause stress. This creates lasting happiness and satisfaction.
Q: What qualifications do you have to write it?
A: When I first left school I had a career in a stock broking firm, which is a high stress environment. While I enjoyed it and had opportunities for progression, I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to dedicate my life to. One thing I enjoyed in the firm was helping my colleagues relax and de-stress when they had a high workload.
So I left the firm and chose tertiary education. I have been working as a therapist for almost ten years helping people, organisations and sports teams to minimise their stress. I get a lot of enjoyment helping people to build confidence to go out and achieve things that they never thought possible.
Q: What kind of research did you do for your theory?
A: DeStress to Success is not a presentation of a new theory, but rather application of existing psychology and behavioural theories into practical techniques people can use. DeStress to Success draws heavily on client experiences and the results that my clients have had in their lives. I have written DeStress to Success for everyday people, so it is not full of medical jargon, but rather the practical use of that information.
Q: What are some of the services you provide?
A: I work with clients one on one, as well as speak and do trainings for organisations. In consultations, I help people when stress from a challenging circumstance is impacting their life. Most clients experience a major turnaround within a few appointments, and feel completely empowered to deal with the situation. Stress is minimised very quickly.
With organisations, I train staff on stress resolving techniques, and understanding where stress is coming from and how to reduce its power over thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Stress is a physiological process that impacts thoughts, feelings and behaviour, however it doesn’t have to dictate those things. I also discuss common workplace stressors and how to resolve them.
Q: What are the most common stressors you see in your clients?
A: Common situations include workplace harassment, business setbacks and difficulties, partner separation, abuse, relationship frustrations, childhood trauma impacting adult life and financial stress.
Q: What are some of the more unusual things you see that stress people out?
A: This is very common but it is really unnecessary- that is the stress from trying to live up to unrealistic goals and expectations. Some people focus so much on ideals and goals (usually a learned behaviour from their childhood) that they feel continually unhappy, despite incredible progress. One client was years in front financially, but still felt unhappy because as a young adult she had not attained her parents’ results as retirees. She compared herself at the beginning of her adult life, to her parents at the end of their successful careers. Her need to achieve now was causing her so much stress that it was destroying her relationship, and making her incredibly unhappy.
Q: What are some coping techniques that you recommend?
A: There are the usual like doing yoga, going for a walk, and getting a massage. These things are great but they will not particularly help you resolve an issue you are dealing with. When you come back from doing yoga or going for that walk, life is still waiting for you along with all the stressors that you left.
However they still have an important place and can help with general stress reduction. Meditating can be helpful as well. I teach clients a quick meditation technique that helps them to refocus and separate themselves from stress. When stress is simply from a busy schedule or modern life, zoning out and reenergising can be enough. When stress is actually from a challenging situation, different tools are needed.
One very easy technique to reduce general stress levels is a gratitude journal. This is where you think of 5 things you are grateful for, each day. This is a very simple technique that increases your perception of happiness- it helps you to notice the good things in life. As a society, we are conditioned to focus on the negative and stressful situations (think about news headlines), but doing a gratitude journal helps you have a more balanced perspective. Yes, the stressful things are still there, but the good things are there too. Clients report feeling more energised, happy and less stressed by simple day to day upsets, when they use this technique.
Q: Isn’t a certain amount of stress necessary for survival?
A: Stress is a natural part of life and a very important part of life. Without stress, there is no progression. However too much stress, or stress that is not dealt with properly, can become very detrimental to your life happiness and cause a lot of problems. Recognising the positive side of stress can help you grow during difficult situations.
Imagine how Steve Jobs felt when he was fired from Apple- the company he started, risked everything to start and grew into a very well-known brand. Do you think he walked out happy and cheering? Of course not. But through that hard time in his life, he gave birth to PIXAR, the company you see at the beginning of many Disney movies, heavily involved in the creation of the hit movie Toy Story and many since then.
While stressful situations can have lasting negative effects if not dealt with properly, they can also have lasting positive effects, when you grow from them as Jobs did. The best Chinese translation of stress is “crisis”- containing two characters- “danger” and “opportunity”. In times of stress there are opportunities to build more future happiness for ourselves. Many of my clients have survived terrible circumstances, where stress was an understatement to how they felt. However with the right help they have grown from their stress, and now feel more happy and empowered than they did before the stressful situation occurred.
Some self-help books encourage the idea that life can be easy and even effortless. In reality, life can be a lot easier than it is, however it will never be completely stress free. It can be meaningful and fulfilling, even with periods of challenge. Your response to challenge will impact how stressed or happy you are. But trying to live up to an illusion of an effortless life can create stress in itself, as you feel frustrated at the fact that your life isn’t perfect (as opposed to being frustrated with the difficult circumstance itself).
Q: What are some examples of how stress is contagious?
A: “Second hand stress” is a term that has been coined fairly recently, as research has shown that stress is in fact contagious. It comes from the ability to empathise with others and mirror other people’s body language and emotions. It is very easy to think of examples in daily life; no doubt you have experienced some of these things yourself!
- If you think of when a boss or colleague is having a bad day, notice how they speak and then notice that others start to speak in a similar way. Even if they don’t “stress out” at you, you will most likely feel stressed or tense just being in their presence
- Closer to home, actually in the home, have you ever noticed when a parent is grumpy it seems to filter through to the children. Or one child’s bad mood quickly spreads to others, even if they don’t directly “take it out” on them
- When a friend starts talking about a stressful issue, sometimes friends will reassure and uplift the person feeling stress. Often however, many of the friends start talking about all the “bad” things about the situation and the tone spirals down quickly. If you are in one of these conversations you leave feeling stressed
Q: To what theories of psychology do you ascribe?
A: I find that several theories of psychology apply in life. There is not one theory that helps with everything and everyone. Another important factor to be aware of is that while an entire theory may not be applicable, the fundamentals learned from the theory contribute significantly to therapy today, and my work specifically.
Approaches that I find helpful are classic and operant conditioning, attachment theory, Erikson’s Theory, parenting styles, the fundamentals behind humanistic psychology, Glasser’s control theory, Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome and stages of stress, the work of Demartini, the list goes on.
Another area is neuroplasticity, and how even heavily ingrained behaviours and stresses can be overcome.
The biochemical approach is also important to understand, as stress impacts biochemistry, and biochemistry can also impacts stress levels. I think that biochemical intervention is not the first line of approach (research shows that talking therapies are just as effective), however it is important to be aware of, as some hormonal imbalances can cause depressive symptoms, or constant anxiety and stress. Obviously not everyone experiencing these things has a hormonal imbalance, but it is important to be aware of as a possible cause.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)