Breathe in, breathe out

Employers like to hire people who are passionate about their work. Take two candidates with equal abilities and experience — the deciding factor will be who shows the passion, the attitude, the hunger for the job, the emotional connectivity. That’s all very well but what about when passion comes with the tendency to get angry and frustrated about workplace stuff?

One friend told me: “I’ve got to do something. I feel rage. Email can be my worst. I’ve had to rein myself in, force myself to hold back and not press the send button. I make myself sleep on the issue and reconsider my response the next day.”

Another friend said he needs to think on his journey home from work. He drives and stews about all the stressful things that happened during the day. Then he walks into his home and his mood pervades the loving space he’s created with his wife and children.

They have learned to leave him for a while. His wife tells him that they get the worst of him, that there’s no way he’d get away with being so irritable with colleagues. Hence his question to himself: “What can I do differently to arrive home differently?”

Closer to the bone, last year I married John Perlman, the passionate founder of the football NGO Dreamfields. A friend heard him at a conference and told me that he lit up from the inside as he spoke about his work.

But I’m worried. We just may not make it together to that 25th wedding anniversary I’ve got my sights on — maybe not even the first.

My concern is John’s ability to change from a state of calm to a state of anger with a speed of acceleration that leaves a Porsche standing. A phone call on a Friday afternoon with news of a problem about the order for 360 pairs of football boots for girls playing in a Women’s Day tournament caused mayhem. Seriously scary. Cardiac arrest territory.

It seems passion, attitude and caring for a job well done often come with a health warning or price tag.

Scientists at the Institute of HeartMath, in the United States, do research on how stress affects heart-rate variability and how that, in turn, affects cognition. They found that negative emotions and stress lead to abnormalities in the heart’s rhythm and the autonomic nervous system. The top graph shows an erratic and chaotic heart-rate variability pattern produced by negative emotions such as anger or frustration.

Their research shows that a chaotic heart-rate variability pattern has the following effects:

  • Reduced ability to think clearly;
  • Reduced decision-making efficiency;
  • Reduced ability to communicate;
  • Impaired physical coordination;
  • Higher risk of heart disease; and
  • Higher risk of blood pressure problems.

On the other hand, positive emotions and better stress management create harmony and coherence in the heart’s rhythm and improve balance in the nervous system.

This coherent pattern leads to:

  • Improved mental performance;
  • Improved creativity and problem-solving;
  • Better decision-making;
  • Greater flexibility in the way we think;
  • Improved memory; and
  • Improved immunity to disease.

Heart-rate variability training is a powerful performance enhancer. People who learn effective stress management are able to maintain their state of wellbeing and handle difficult situations.

The secret lies in breathing and focus. Some coaches, such Lloyd Chapman, who introduced me to this work, strap monitors to the wrists of their corporate clients.

Chapman teaches his clients breathing techniques and together they witness a change in heart rate.

Pritam Haur Singh, of Bryanston Fruits and Roots, teaches kriyas, which are short Kundalini yoga meditations. I’ve asked her to work with a client of mine.

At the Houghton Transcendental Meditation (TM) Institute I watched a film in which dealers at the London Stock Exchange who periodically take a few minutes of time out were interviewed. Their adrenaline and cortisol levels were lower as a result of TM, which combines breathing with a focus on a mantra, a personal word chant.

My friend Maryse Barak sings the “Breathe In, Breathe Out” song, which you can listen to at http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/459308/13%20Uh%20Huh.mp3.

I need my man to learn to breathe. I’d feel more at ease if I knew he could do this stress-control stuff when fury signals surge through his veins. And watching Arsenal would be more relaxing for me.

Then again I might feel nostalgic if the screaming with excitement and the hurling of invectives at the ­referee were to disappear from our lives. And there’s the rub. Passion and calm: must one be at the expense of the other?

Contact Helena Dolny at [email protected]

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