Brian Luke Seaward is a renowned nationally and internationally as an expert in the field of stress management, mind/body/spirit healing and corporate health promotion. We know stress permeates our workplace culture in negatively impactful ways. This interview explores how we define wellbeing in relationship to stress, what causes stress, and what we can do to address its effect in the workplace.
Interview with Brian Luke Seaward
Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials series. I’m Mari Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Brian Luke Seaward. I’m very excited to have Brian here as a guest on today’s topic on stress and stress management. Brian Luke Seaward is a renowned nationally and internationally as an expert in the field of stress management, mind/body/spirit healing and corporate health promotion. The wisdom of Brian Luke Seaward, a TEDX speaker, and author of sixteen books can be found quoted in PBS specials, college lectures, medical seminars, boardroom meetings, church sermons, keynote addresses, and graduation speeches all over the world. He is renowned for his work in speaking and teaching in a variety of settings, including universities, and leading workshops. He has shared the insights of meditation with the staff of the White House, taught stress management techniques with various heads of state, and coached relaxation techniques to several Olympic athletes, Broadway actors, media personalities, and leaders of several multi-national corporations. It’s been said that he looks like James Taylor, dresses like Indiana Jones, and writes like Mark Twain. Luke, welcome, delighted to have you here today.
Luke Seaward: Thanks, Mari. I just want to say thanks for inviting me to be part of your series, and I’m a big fan of your newsletter. Thanks for all the great work that you do about getting out that message about wellness in a corporate setting.
Mari Ryan: I’m excited to have you here today to talk about this topic that I hear a lot about from my clients and from the employees that work in those work settings, and that is the topic of stress. So, let’s explore a little bit. What are some of the underlying causes of worksite stress today that you are seeing, and how do they differ from twenty years ago?
Luke Seaward: First, I’ve got to tell you that, and you’ve noticed I’m sure, a lot of people have, everyone seems like they’re on edge today. By and large, one reason why there is so much stress going on is we’re in times of tremendous change, and my impression is by and large people don’t like change, especially change they can’t control. What’s happened over the past twenty years, if that, is the invasion of technology into our lives. Now we have multiple means to communicate through emails, Facebook, Snapchat – you name it – and it turns out people are overwhelmed. The term I often use, I’ve heard a lot, which I think is great, is called “digital toxicity.” So, this on top of our workload responsibilities, this is on top of financial concerns, because that’s what’s going on in the world today. It seems like you can’t help acknowledge some headline about the global financial aspect and how that impacts you individually.
Weather is a big factor and we hear about global warming, but it’s actually here right now, and so all storms, [indecipherable - 0:03:58.2] far and wide seem to be on our front doorstep, too. So, there’s a lot of things on the plate. Twenty years ago, when they thought we were stressed out – and people were stressed – but it turns out that adds on layers and layers of things, but the big thing we are seeing right now is that visual component that makes people feel as if they are anchored to an electronic leash.
Mari Ryan: So, it’s never-ending. It’s something we can’t get away from.
Luke Seaward: Yeah. It used to be … I heard someone say that when the mail came, you knew what time the postal mail came, like one time a day, but with emails they come at every hour of the day, sometimes several times, or hundreds of times over the course of an hour. Then people have their alerts on their smartphones and their iPads about Instant Messaging and social media messaging. It’s quite funny, I don’t own a cell phone, I’m a great hold-out, I’m a dinosaur with this, but I’ve watched other people’s behaviors at the airports while I’m traveling in various places, and I’ll hear these pings, pings, and a little jingle that goes off with Apple when cell phone calls come in, or whatever, and it seems important. You hear one thing, and all forty people in the area grab their smart device, hoping it’s them.
The [indecipherable - 0:05:15.1] quality to all of this, which is a little disconcerting. In fact, it’s now gone on notice that we now have a huge problem called “screen addictions.”
Mari Ryan: You’ve often said that wellbeing, and health promotion in particular, is more than just broccoli and aerobics, now kale and CrossFit, what do you see wellbeing as, and where does stress fit into this perspective?
Luke Seaward: Great question. I was so greatly influenced by one of my mentors and role models back about forty years ago, her name was Elizabeth Kübler Ross, and she was a speaker at [0:07:00.7] where I was also speaking, she was a keynote, and although she is famous for her work On Death and Dying, her keynote presentation was called “Holes to Wellness.” She made her presentation of a circle, and drew a line north-south-east-west, and put in the components mind, body, spirit, emotions. She was the first person who I heard so eloquently described wellness as more than just physical. Up until this point, wellness was described as the opposite of illness. Illness here … wellness there, or the absence of disease. She took a much bigger approach. I think I was about twenty-three at the time I heard this and I knew this intuitively, but it was great to have someone else of that stature describe this so eloquently.
What she said was if you do not acknowledge the integration, balance, and harmony of mind, body, spirit, emotions, you are going to end up with dysfunction. She said the reason why the physical component is so easily acknowledged in the Western culture is that it’s hard to understand that. You can measure heart rate, you can measure blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, you can even measure DNA right now – we’ve got that down really well. That is safe ground to stand on. It’s great for data collection, but how do you measure emotional wellbeing? How do you measure mental wellbeing? She said if you don’t acknowledge the spiritual component, then basically you are doing a half-baked job.
Mari Ryan: Let’s talk a little bit … what are you seeing are some of the current issues in stress management these days? You mentioned the digital toxicity, and so many of us are living that. What other issues are you seeing currently in the world of stress management?
Luke Seaward: Well, I’ll tell you what I’m hearing from corporate America. The phone rings, they ask me to come and speak, and they’ll say can you give a talk on work-life balance? Can you give a talk on resiliency? Can you give a talk on stress and disease, but not just heart disease; we need … we’ve got people at our organization who have Lyme Disease, they’ve got a number of autoimmune diseases. Most people who don’t do exercise because they can’t, they’re being left out of the wellness equation at the worksite. We need to be more inclusive of people from all aspects, not just the ones who can walk down to the gym and hop up on a bike for thirty minutes.
The buzzword right now – two buzzwords – work-life balance and resiliency. Of course, digital toxicity plays a big part of this. Also, what I’m seeing is this lack of sleep; insomnia is huge in America, and it’s huge in the worksite side, too.
I came across a [indecipherable - 0:14:18.8-0:14:20.6] talk about. The problem with absenteeism is where people are sick, or they don’t come to work. Of course, and everyone here should know this, but there is also a new concept, new absenteeism, called presentee-ism, where they show up but they don’t do anything because they’re exhausted. It used to be health promotion was really about performance, and you can’t perform if you are not there, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, but only physically. Here’s an example of doing only a half-baked job with that.
I think one reason why we’re seeing a work-life balance connect is because I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me that they get emails and messages from their supervisors, managers, and bosses at all hours of the night, not just the day, but the night, which means those people aren’t sleeping, and there is a real lack of healthy boundaries. One of the big issues I talk about when I give presentations is healthy boundaries. We have to have healthy boundaries with our eating habits, our exercise habits, our sleep habits, our technology habits, and of course, people, too. I know that’s a lot, but that’s the buzz right now.
Mari Ryan: I’m seeing a lot of the same things. The sleep piece is huge, and it’s interesting when we do assessments and gather data from our clients and their employees, we’re seeing sleep being one of the big issues. When we are sleep-deprived, or not getting enough sleep, we just don’t have the fortitude and the resilience to be able to with what is thrown at us every day. There was just some data that was released last week from the Fitbit organization, since they’ve been collecting data with a lot of the wearable devices that reinforces this idea that people are sleep deprived. One of our clients, in the follow-up to asking the question “how much sleep do you get,” the majority of the respondents to the survey were not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep.
We also asked in relation to that question about their energy level, and the majority, it wasn’t quite fifty percent of the respondents, said they didn’t feel they had enough energy to get through the day. That’s really scary.
Luke Seaward: Yeah. I think that’s a slam against work productivity, for sure.
Mari Ryan: Absolutely. Well, anything else you’d like to add in our conversation today? There’s been some great conversation about stress and some of the causes of it, and some of the approaches we can take to dealing with it in our lives.
Luke Seaward: First of all, thanks again. I can’t understate the importance of meditation – or overstate it, I should say. We all need to take time to unplug and sit quietly, if nothing else to focus on breathing. We are living in a culture of distractions right now, from the news, to social media, you name it. That’s not how we were designed, to always be on, so we have to take time to become centered and focused and catch our breath. That’s a healthy boundary, too, is taking the time to say hey, this is my quiet time. Do not disturb.
We are in times of great change, but like I said, I’m an optimist. I see great things on the horizon. I think it’s time that we do all step up and engage what I call the “muscle of the soul,” and rise to our fullest potential, whether that’s at a work site or home, or the world stage in general. By doing this, we become great leaders, and we’re in a time right now where we need to be a great leader; everyone needs to lead by example. Thanks for allowing me to share that.
Mari Ryan: Thank you, this has been a delightful conversation, as always, and I’m grateful for your willingness to be part of the Expert Series, and know that our audience will benefit from the tips that you’ve shared, and some of your knowledge and experience. Thanks for being here, Luke.
Luke Seaward: Thanks, Mari, my pleasure. See you around.
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