Is our Generation a Ticking Time Bomb?


Everyone is made up of matter, we know this. We need oxygen to breathe, and various other elements to stay alive.

Chemicals (hormones) gush through our bodies and nervous systems: the vast majority benefiting us on a short-term basis. But, you can have too much of a good thing.

Take cortisol. Often called the ‘stress’ hormone, this chemical can have a range of functions: it can help regulate blood sugar and salt in the body, improve memory function and control our blood pressure. If we have too much cortisol in our bodies, though, it can interrupt our sleep patterns, affect fertility, cause muscle weakness, and much more.

Research has shown that we have more cortisol in our systems that our parents and grandparents carried. We have learned to react to a 24/7 world, which means we don’t spend as much time relaxing as previous generations did. And we don’t mean being physically relaxed; for many of us, even if we sit down to rest, our minds still turn over the things that worry us. And in this instance, your body will still produce cortisol – as it gears up for what it thinks could be a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

In a 2017 study, 40% of the employees questioned said they experienced ‘excessive pressure’ at least once a week. Do you imagine your parents or grandparents would have said the same? Yes, they lived through traumatic periods, no more so than during world wars, but outside of these horrific incidents, was life for them as stressful on a daily basis?

Have you ever fallen ill when on holiday? On a daily basis cortisol keeps our wits sharp, its stirs our adrenaline, and it makes sure we function well, but constant overproduction can affect our immune systems long-term. One reason why people in demanding jobs often get sick in their downtime is because the sudden drop in cortisol production causes an inflammatory response.

Mindfulness is a word that’s been batted about in recent years, though there are still many of us who don’t practise it. It’s not a New Age practice, but the simple act of slowing down and clearing your mind for a short while. Your brain is a muscle; we would gladly rest our legs if we’d been on them all day – why should our minds be any different?

Ten minutes meditation/mindfulness once a day is a help, but for long-term benefits, and so we can avoid the cortisol time bomb going off – which has the potential to explode into a breakdown of some kind – we need to flood our systems with positive chemicals. These include dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins, which are all part of a group often called ‘the happiness chemicals’. With an amygdala full of ‘happiness’ hormones, we react to situations calmly and with a positive attitude. If cortisol overrides these chemicals our reactions tend to come from a point of anger and frustration.

Incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives is not a case of jumping onto the latest self-help bandwagon – it has real effects on our effectiveness and productivity. Consider this: the number of sick days employees take from work each year, due to anxiety and stress, costs the economy £29bn.

So, how do we increase our happy vibes? How do we ensure there are more happy chemicals in our systems?

Well, they don’t derive from having the biggest house, the latest designer handbag, or the flashiest car – sorry! Research has shown that people are happiest when they “feel good about themselves and what they’re doing”. According to Fredrickson et al, happiness stems from gratitude, love, inspiration, awe, hope, pride and more.

These positive emotional states improve our decision-making, productivity and resilience. Another significant benefit that comes from increasing these chemicals in our systems is better life expectancy: studies show that happy people live 7-10 years longer. These people don’t have better circumstances, more money or greater health than the rest of us, but they exercise acceptance and gratefulness for what they do have and can do, rather than stressing about what they haven’t got or what they’re unable to do.

Our Jigsaw Development Tool is useful in this instance. It can help you understand in which scenarios in life, and within which aspects of your personality, improvements could be made – to achieve a greater balance between cortisol and happiness chemicals. We’re all a work in progress; increasing the flow of endorphins and its stable-mates won’t happen overnight. They will only come with effort and from forming new habits. For example, gratitude is a state of mind; experts recommend taking a few moments at the end of each day to consider what you’re grateful for from the last 24 hours and recording it in a journal, so that it’s more tangible. Doing this often enough will create a habit, and before long, you’ll be exercising gratitude throughout the day, not just when you’re winding down to sleep.

This quote from Abraham Lincoln sums it up: “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

How happy do YOU want to be? How happy do you want your EMPLOYEES to be, when you realise the effect it will have on them…and your business?

 For further information contact Michelle on 01924 898930 or




Can You Lead A Horse To Water?

How many times have you heard “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t Horsemake it drink.”?

Well actually that’s not true, if the horse doesn’t want to move it won’t! The only way the horse will choose to go with you is by being confident and developing a trust based relationship with the horse, enabling them to feel safe. Horses are motivated in similar ways to human beings, by satisfying their basic needs for safety, food and staying clear of any threats to their survival. Sound familiar?

It is because of these similarities with human beings that working with horses can provide such a powerful way of gaining feedback and learning invaluable lessons about the impact of your leadership style upon others and the relationships you have with your colleagues, customers, friends and family. The behaviours displayed by the horses when working with them provides you with a reflection of yourself. Just as the developments in neuroscience have shown that emotions between people are contagious, horses too can pick up and sense the emotions and thoughts people. If you approach or stand close to a horse with a head full of negative or stressful thoughts, you will see a behavioural reaction in the horse.

If you want to lead a horse to water, you need to;

  • be confident and clear about where you are going and how you are going to get there
  • build up a relationship of trust
  • and be totally focused on the horse and the present moment.

When I was invited by equine-facilitator Roz Danks, to attend one of her workshops, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the increase in self-awareness and transformations of behaviours in the participants within such a short space of time was absolutely astounding. I observed participants as one by one they nervously approached the horse, heads full of “The horse won’t do it.” or “The horse is much bigger than I am.” And it was of no surprise to them or anyone else when the horse started to turn away or refused to move. However, as the facilitators began to coach the participants, increasing their awareness of their thoughts and behaviours, you could see the participant’s confidence levels rise as they displaced their unhelpful thoughts and began to focus on the horse and what they wanted it to do. In a relatively short space of time, the participants were leading the horses around the arena and guiding them, without holding onto the reins through and around strategically placed obstacles.

As I watched the workshop unfold, the participants grew their confidence and skills in leading the horses and I was drawing the parallels of what I was watching with the situations and challenges people face in the workplace. I started to think about the way mindful practices could support participants to regain and maintain their focus in the present moment and have increased awareness of their thoughts once they returned to the pressures and demands of the workplace.

This is how my interest in developing an equine-facilitated mindfulness workshop began.

If you would like to find out more about our equine-facilitated workshops, please contact Michelle McArthur-Morgan on 07801 056 284 or email



Are Tea Breaks An Unnecessary Indulgence?

Picture of Cup of TeaIn a recent survey published in the Daily Telegraph today, one in five people said they took fewer tea breaks than they did five years ago as they feared their bosses would think they were slacking.

One in half of the 2000 surveyed said they were too busy to stop for a cuppa, whilst one in four believed they were not allowed to have a break.

Psychologist Honey Langcaster-James said that the research “reflected the increasing pressure they feel they are under at work”

Yet evidenced new research has the importance of taking regular breaks throughout the day to sustain performance on average every 90 minutes the mind needs a short break to help it maintain clarity and calmness which enables good decision making, creativity and increases overall performance.

In today’s working environment where people are after working to tight deadlines, where distractions are high, it is becoming ever increasingly more difficult to stay focused and maintain a clear mind to do our best work. By taking regular breaks just 2/3 minutes every 90 minutes or thereabout helps to keep our mind in peak condition.

It is when we feel that we really cannot afford to stop for a short break, that we should try even harder to take one.

There is also a second reason why regular breaks should be encouraged. One of the basic human needs which plays a major role in intrinsic motivation is the ability to be ‘social’.  Tea breaks provide a valuable opportunity for staff to socialise with their colleagues which encourages better teamworking and collaboration.

Long live the Tea break !


Our Stress Busting Seminar for Wakefield Business Week

Did you know, in the UK we have the longest working hours in Europe, yet we have one of the lowest levels of productivity?

Sounds alarming doesn’t it? Particularly in today’s climate where everyone is expected to do more with less!  No wonder there is an increase in stress in the workplace and in turn friction between colleagues, ill health, ineffectiveness and absenteeism.  What’s more, this is a real problem for both individuals and for organisations.

During Wakefield Business Week (on Thursday 21st March) Jigsaw@work will be delivering a free seminar to deal with stress in the workplace. Managing Stress in Today’s Climate’ is for anyone who feels that the pressure of work is impacting upon their work performance and life. During this seminar, we’ll be teaching strategies and techniques to help develop personal resilience to workplace stress.

We’ll be covering:

  •           The science behind the stress
  •           Personal coping strategies
  •           Mindful working practices
  •           How to achieve a state of ‘flow’ for maximum productivity

As well as leaving with a toolkit of ideas which can be used immediately to help to reduce and control your stress levels, we’re also offering a free 30 minute telephone coaching session for all attendees.

In addition to our stress management seminar, we will also be delivering a free workshop aimed at business owners, managers, supervisors and team leaders who are interested in how to raise employee engagement levels, without raising a fortune. Having an engaged workforce is vital to the long term success of an organisation and creates positive outcomes for both the individual and organisation.

We always enjoy giving seminars and are excited to be taking part in Wakefield Business Week (18th – 22nd March). The week is packed full of activities that bring together the Wakefield district business community and there’ll be a major business conference and trade exhibition, as well as different seminars.

If you would like to book a place on either of these free seminars, please visit or call a member of the team on 01924 864444 to find out more about how we can help your organisation.


Getting Rid of Those Monday Blues

Have you ever had one of those days where you “Got out of the wrong side of bed” as my Grandmother would say? Having one of those “Monday Blues” can impact upon your whole outlook for the day and get your week off to a really bad start.

Having a few tips to help you overcome the blues can be really useful. Here are our top tips;

  1. Give yourself permission to wallow – Allow yourself 5 minutes of self indulgent wallowing
  2. Acknowledge your feelings – take a few minutes to focus upon your state of mind, exploring the feelings and sensations you are experiencing
  3. Visualise your feelings, what do they look like, how big are they, what colour are they? Give them a name, label your feelings
  4. Give yourself some compassion – don’t beat yourself up, it’s Ok to feel this way
  5. Divert your focus – get moving, go for a walk, or some other form of physical activity. It may be the last thing you feel like doing but the activity will kick start the production of Endorphins, which are the happy hormones
  6. Smile – there is a direct link between our physiology and psychology. It is not possible to feel blue for long if you have a smile on your face.
  7. Meet a friend for a comforting Hot Chocolate and a catch up
  8. Play your favourite upbeat music
  9. Random Act of Kindness – be spontaneous, do something nice or pay a compliment to someone you don’t know. Doing something good for someone else, makes you feel good about yourself.
  10. Start a journal, by writing down FIVE things which you are grateful for. I started a journal myself twelve years ago and every day I make one positive entry. Then when I start to feel “Blue” I have read through some of my entries and the world doesn’t seem that bad after all.

The Pitfalls Of Being A Perfectionist

Those listening to Radio 2 a couple of weeks ago may have caught Jeremy Vine’s show where he was discussing the fact that being a perfectionist can sometimes lead to stress and depression.

Although on first glance you may think a workforce full of perfectionists would be great – you’d have a team full of people wanting to do their best and settling for nothing less than 100%. However, being a perfectionist can not only be detrimental to your health but also to the team.

Accuracy and perfectionism is often desirable, however there are many instances where time is wasted striving for perfectionism when it’s not needed. To use Pareto’s 80:20 rule, 80% of productivity/profitability comes from 20% of time put into the task. Perfectionists often spend too much time focusing on the wrong area and are unable to see the bigger picture and how the task they’re working on relates to the rest of the work process. By trying to do their best, they’re actually becoming inefficient by spending too much time on one project.

Perfectionists, like our Mr Huey Blue, often expect the same high standards from others. Although it’s not unreasonable to expect your colleagues to put in hard work and effort, Mr Huey Blue is often unrealistic with his expectations, is not very flexible in his views and perhaps is unaware of how he’s perceived by others. Workers like Mr Huey Blue are often thought of by colleagues as being ‘job worths’, nitpickers and pedantic. They become a loner within the team because they are constantly under self-made pressure and take everything so seriously. As a result, they don’t join in the workplace fun and humour, often frowning upon it, and in some instances can become the focus of humour.

The importance of being able to establish rapport with your colleagues should not be underestimated. It builds trust, more effective ways of communicating, and helps create a desirable atmosphere within the work space – all which can lead to more productivity/sales/achievements.

If you identify yourself as a perfectionist, here are our top three tips to become less of a detrimental perfectionist, whilst still having high standards and creating excellent work:

  • Give yourself permission to get things wrong sometimes. We often learn more by getting things wrong than we do by always getting things right. As Henry Ford commented, “Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”
  • Set yourself a target for the length of time you will spend on a project – and stick to it!
  • Question the consequences of being a perfectionist upon your health, relationships and work output, and then consider the consequences of just easing up a little and not being so hard on yourself.

Here are our top tips on dealing with a perfectionist within your team:

  • Praise them when they complete work on time. This highlights the importance of meeting deadlines rather than fixating on one task for too long.
  • Encourage them to take breaks and go home on time.
  • Make it clear what you expect from them so that they don’t stress about going above and beyond on matters which aren’t actually that beneficial or important to the organisation.
  • Bring them into the office banter – this will help them improve their relationships with colleagues as well as relaxing them.




The Cost of Taking Work Home

BBC News last week reported that 2/3rds of employees are working an additional one-two hours per night at home resulting in an increase in neck problems and repetitive strain injuries.

However taking work home and checking our emails at home on our smart phones and tablets, may be doing a great deal more than just creating increased physiological problems, it also means that we are not allowing our minds to switch off and rest.

So what?

The first thing we may notice is that it is becoming more difficult to get off to sleep when we go to bed. This is because our brains are still on a high state of alertness, as our sympathetic nervous system is still activated. When we are at work, more and more people report feeling stressed by increased workloads, bombardment of emails, numerous meetings, telephone calls, chasing targets etc, this causes our sympathetic nervous system which activates fight or flight responses to be activated and it remains activated throughout the day and possibly into the evening if we are taking work home and dealing with emails at home on a regular basis.

Whilst it can be a very good thing to be in a state of alertness, it is important for our well-being that we have frequent periods when our minds can rest and relax, or stand down. In the past we have been able to give our minds time for rest and relaxation by taking regular breaks at work, and at home of an evening. But speaking to many of the people I work with breaks and lunchtimes are now being spent at their desks as they feel they have so much work to do they need to work through their breaks. I think that it is a very sad reflection of the society we exist in when organisations have to enforce rules that employees will take a minimum of 20 minutes for lunch away from their desks.

We spend much of our time striving to achieve the things we need to do at work or home, and just basically surviving that we have very little time left to rest relax and show any form of compassion for ourselves resulting in many of us feeling a lack of contentment with our lives.

In addition to the lack of contentment or depression many people experience, we also often feel tense, irritable, and tired although we find it difficult to sleep when we go to bed.

But it does not stop there, prolonged periods of being in a heightened state of alertness means that we find it harder to be creative, we have difficulty in focusing, we expect too much from others, we are less decisive and more self critical, making work even harder and more stressful. It can easily become a vicious circle, if we do not take stop. These symptoms develop gradually over a period of time and when you are being consumed by them it is often difficult to recognise them in yourself. One of the people being interviewed on the BBC News said, that they were “fine with taking work home each evening”, and I often hear people that are in the grip of prolonged periods of working long hours say that they are fine with it; I myself was one of those people.

So what can we do?

  • Make a start by taking regular breaks at work, make use of the time it takes you to make a cup of coffee to relax, stop thinking about your and take a five minute breather
  • Ensure you have at least 30 minutes away from your desk and not thinking about work, whilst you have your lunch
  • If it is a nice day, take a short walk during your lunch break
  • Stop taking work home every night, start by taking one night a week off and then gradually increase it until you are no longer taking work home on a regular occasion
  • Turn your smart phone off on an evening or take your work email account off your phone
  • If you are finding it hard to complete a task, STOP take a breather  and then return to it with a refreshed mind
  • Start your meetings with a quiet minute, to allow your mind to rest and relax.

Learning Not To React

It’s your partner’s birthday and you have promised to get home on time, as you are going out for the evening.

It is now 4.00pm and you are working on a presentation for a major new client, which is required in two days time. Just as you are checking your watch, your manager drops by your office to inform you that the presentation needs to be ready for tomorrow. You inform them that it cannot be done, but your manager is adamant!

As the conversation continues, you start to feel bullied, your heart starts pounding and the palms of your hands begin to sweat. You are left feeling angry and frustrated, in a no win situation.

You try to refocus and return to your presentation, with increasing difficulty as your mind keeps returning to the conversation you have just had and the anger you feel towards your manager.

You eventually arrive home, berating yourself for being so late, as you see your partner walking towards you, you can’t help yourself from screaming at them “It’s not my fault!” a full blown argument ensues.  Sounds familiar?

In times of stress, our ability to concentrate and focus are depleted and we become cognitively disabled. We instinctually react to situations, shouting and snapping at those around us at work and at home. Our instinctual reactions may well have served us well in the past when we were living in caves and fighting off Lions and tigers, but in today’s corporate world, there are no lions about to eat us, just colleagues who are also working under similar pressures and feeling just as frazzled.

Frazzle and reactivity is enormously wasteful. It produces inefficiencies, mistakes and endless needless hassle. The cost to organisations is immense.

Dealing with Frazzle

Next time you find yourself frazzled and unable to focus, take a few minutes out and follow our simple relaxation techniques.


Recognising the signs of stress

National Stress Awareness Day, developed by the ISMA, took place this week with the theme stop stressing and start living.

Not an easy task, especially when research suggests that stress is on the increase and with so many job and budget cuts stress in the workplace looks likely to rise.

What research says
According to the Trades Union Congress biennial survey of its safety reps published last week, “nearly two thirds say that stress is in the top five problems faced by the workforces they represent.”

Commenting on these recent findings, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The economic crisis and redundancies have created more anxiety about job security, and as the spending cuts begin to bite and even more jobs start to go, stress at work is bound to increase.”

Current climate
Due to these recent cuts, many people in both the private and public sector are more at risk of redundancies, and the worry of not knowing what is going to happen, waiting for calculations to be done, strategies drawn up and agreed with unions etc, adds to the stress.

Now more than ever individuals need to take positive action and responsibility for managing their stress and finding personal coping strategies.

Organisations also need to acknowledge the impact that stress can have on the workplace and the business as a whole and identify ways of supporting individuals within their organisation.

Recognising the signs
Whilst we do not deal specifically with stress management, dealing with and recognising stress is always integrated into our management and change programmes. For us helping individuals to recognise whether they are stressed and the impact this may be having, is often the first step to managing and dealing with the issues.

So in our bid to stop stressing and start living we have developed a simple questionnaire, which we hope will help individuals take the first step – finding out if and how stress is impacting. Our top tips may also go some way to offering support.