Curse of the strong

Disease of the strong:

I have just read an article in which Freddie Flintoff describes being depressed and the effect this had on his life as a professional sportsperson.  I come across a number of people that fall into this category and here are some things which may help you understand the problem as well as deal with it. Two books I would also recommend are The curse of the strong – stress related illness both by Dr Tim Cantopher. There is also a great book called the little book of big stuff about the brain. This shows you has the mind works and files things which you may also find useful.

Pse retweet –

Symptoms and treatments of depression – and what you can do to help yourself or someone you know.

If you are depressed, you may feel that nothing can help. But this is untrue. Deciding to do something is the most important step you can take. Most people recover from bouts of depression, and some even look back on it as a useful experience which forced them to take stock of their lives and make changes in their lifestyle.

What is depression?

We often use the expression “I’m feeling depressed” when we’re feeling sad or miserable about life. Usually, these feelings pass in due course. But if the feelings are interfering with your life and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back, over and over again, for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you’re depressed in the medical sense of the term.

“I felt detached from the world around me. All emotions – love, affection, anger – were gone. Actually, I can’t say I had no emotions, I did, but they all seemed desperately negative. Most involved fear. Fear that I would never escape the condition.

In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening, because it can make people suicidal or simply give up the will to live”.

There are also various specific forms of depression:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

If you usually become depressed only during the autumn and winter, it could be due to not getting enough daylight. You may benefit from spending time sitting in front of a special light box.


Postnatal depression

Many mothers have ‘the baby blues’ soon after the birth of their baby, but it usually passes after a few days. Postnatal depression is a more serious problem and can appear any time between two weeks and two years after the birth.


Bipolar disorder (manic depression)

Some people have mood swings, when periods of depression alternate with periods of mania. When manic, they are in a state of high excitement, and may plan and may try to execute grandiose schemes and ideas.

At least one person in every six becomes depressed in the course of their lives. One in 20 is clinically depressed. Figures suggest that it is women more than men who become depressed, but men may find it harder to admit to or talk about their experience. All age groups can be affected, and it’s important to take symptoms seriously and not to dismiss them as an inevitable part of growing up or growing old. By recognising and treating the symptoms and getting help, it’s possible to overcome depression, and prevent it coming back.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression shows itself in many different ways. People don’t always realise what’s going on because their problems seem to be physical, not mental. They tell themselves they’re simply under the weather or feeling tired. But if you tick off five or more of the following symptoms, it’s likely you’re depressed:

  • being restless and agitated
  • waking up early, having difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more
  • feeling tired and lacking energy; doing less and less
  • using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
  • not eating properly and losing or putting on weight
  • crying a lot
  • difficulty remembering things
  • physical aches and pains with no physical cause
  • feeling low-spirited for much of the time, every day
  • being unusually irritable or impatient
  • getting no pleasure out of life or what you usually enjoy
  • losing interest in your sex life
  • finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
  • blaming yourself and feeling unnecessarily guilty about things
  • lacking self-confidence and self-esteem
  • being preoccupied with negative thoughts
  • feeling numb, empty and despairing
  • feeling helpless
  • distancing yourself from others; not asking for support
  • taking a bleak, pessimistic view of the future
  • experiencing a sense of unreality
  • self-harming (by cutting yourself, for example)
  • thinking about suicide.



People who are depressed are often very anxious. It’s not clear whether the anxiety leads into the depression or whether the depression causes the anxiety. A person feeling anxious may have a mind full of busy, repetitive thoughts, which make it hard to concentrate, relax, or sleep. They may have physical symptoms, such as headaches, aching muscles, sweating and dizziness. It may cause physical exhaustion and general ill health.

What causes depression?

There’s no one cause of depression; it varies very much from person to person and can occur through a combination of factors. Although depression doesn’t seem to be inherited through genes (with the possible exception of manic depression), some of us are more prone to depression than others. This could be because of the way we’re made, or because of our experiences or family background.

“I was so scared of being alone with my thoughts. At night, everything seemed so bleak. I couldn’t concentrate on anything; I couldn’t read or watch TV. I couldn’t relax or unwind. Sleep seemed impossible – so many thoughts were racing through my mind. I would spend hours fantasising about ways of killing myself.

Past experiences can have a profound effect on how we feel about ourselves in the present, and if those feelings are very negative, they can be the start of a downward spiral. In many cases, the first time someone becomes depressed, it’s triggered by an unwelcome or traumatic event, such as being sacked, divorced, physically attacked or raped”.

Depression is seen by some experts as a form of unfinished mourning. Often events or experiences that trigger depression can also be seen as a loss of some kind. It could be following the actual death of someone close, a major life change (such as moving house or changing jobs) or simply moving from one phase of life into another, as we reach retirement or our children leave home. It’s not just the negative experience that causes the depression, but how we deal with it. If the feelings provoked are not expressed or explored at the time, they fester and contribute towards depression. It’s important to acknowledge and grieve over what we have lost in order to be able to move on successfully.

Everything to do with everyday life seemed like such hard work. I simply didn’t have the energy to go to work, to see friends, to shop, cook or clean. It all seemed pointless! What was the point in eating, when I didn’t even want to be alive?

Depression may also be caused by an underactive thyroid. The thyroid gland controls metabolic rate and, if it is not working properly, can cause you to experience various symptoms. If it is underactive, you will feel sluggish and lethargic, may put on weight, and feel depressed. If it is overactive, you may feel very speeded up, lose weight and have symptoms similar to mania. It is important to have a thyroid function test (a simple blood test) to make sure that this is not the cause of your depression, especially if you cannot account for it in other ways, such as recent life events. If an underactive thyroid is diagnosed, it can be treated successfully with appropriate medication (see Useful websites).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that occasionally people become very depressed in response to certain foods. Such a reaction is very individual, and people are often not aware of the particular food substance or drink that is causing the problem. But if you suddenly feel depressed for no apparent reason, it may be worth considering whether you have eaten or drunk something new, and whether this might have caused your sudden change of mood. If this is the cause, your mood should lift very quickly, so long as you don’t consume any more of the particular item.

Poor diet, lack of physical fitness, and illnesses, such as flu, can all leave us feeling depressed. Frequent use of some recreational drugs can also play a part.

It’s clear that people who are depressed show changes to the chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) in the brain. It’s less clear whether this is a cause or a result of the depression.

What can I do to help myself?

Depression has one major characteristic that you need to be aware of when thinking about what you can do to defeat it. It can feed on itself. In other words, you get depressed and then you get more depressed about being depressed. Negative thoughts become automatic and are difficult for you to challenge. Being in a state of depression can then, itself, become a bigger problem than the difficulties that caused it in the first place. You need to break the hold that the depression has on you.

An important thing to remember is that there are no instant solutions to problems in life. Solving problems involves time, energy and work. When you are feeling depressed, you may well not be feeling energetic or motivated to work. But if you are able to take an active part in your treatment, it should help your situation.

Fighting negative attitudes

Try to recognise the pattern of negative thinking when you are doing it, and replace it with a more constructive activity. Look for things to do that occupy your mind.

Activity is good for the mind

Although you may not feel like it, it’s very therapeutic to take part in physical activities, for 20 minutes a day. Playing sports, running, dancing, cycling, and even brisk walking can stimulate chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which can help you to feel better.

Caring for yourself

You need to do things that will improve the way you feel about yourself. Allow yourself positive experiences and treats that reinforce the idea that you deserve good things. Pay attention to your personal appearance. Set yourself goals that you can achieve and that will give you a sense of satisfaction.

Look after yourself by eating healthily. Oily fish, in particular, may help alleviate depression. Don’t abuse your body with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, which make it worse.

Alternative and complementary therapies

Practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine concern themselves with the person as a whole, and don’t just treat their symptoms. They can take more time with you than a GP can.

Practitioners may offer treatments such as acupuncture, massage, homeopathy and herbal medicine that many people with depression have found helpful. St John’s Wort is one of the herbal remedies that have become very popular, and may help to lift your mood. But if you are already taking other medication, it may not be safe to combine them. Consult your pharmacist or GP for more information.

Self-help groups

It can be a great relief to meet and share experiences with other people who are going through the same thing you are. It can break down feelings of isolation and, at the same time, show you how other people have coped. Finding that you can support others can help you, too.

These groups are often led by people who have overcome depression themselves. For help in locating local self-help groups, talk to your GP and consult the ‘Useful organisations’ below.

What treatments are available?

At a time when you may well find making decisions difficult, it can also seem like an added burden to try and choose between a range of treatment options.

What is actually available to you may depend very much on where you live. For example, talking treatments, such as counselling and psychotherapy, are more readily available in London and the South-East than they are in rural areas of northern England. You should be able to choose freely among a range of treatment options, but, in practice, most people attending GP surgeries are offered antidepressants as the first treatment choice. Don’t be afraid to ask your GP about the treatments offered and what the alternatives are.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on the treatment of depression (updated 2009) suggest that, for mild depression, antidepressants are not appropriate because the risk of side effects outweighs the benefits. Suggested treatments include watchful waiting – a recognition of the fact that depression often goes away without
treatment – guided self-help, short-term talking treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), behavioural activation, and exercise programmes. For more severe depression antidepressants are appropriate, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are suggested because their side effects are usually better tolerated than those of the alternative types of antidepressants. However, combining a psychological treatment with medication maybe the most effective course for severe depression.

New Year 2012

The beginning of the year 2012, always a good time for reflection and a look at your current start point and where you want to go. I tend to do this every 4-6 months anyway so I do not consider this New Year resolution time.

I am off to Bangladesh and India on the 10 Jan to work with a team who will compete for a World Cup in the summer of 2012, I love that the start of the year will allow me to go away on a training camp which will assist me to prepare for the rest of the year both mentally and physically-this will be a tough camp for them/CANT WAIT.  It is also the culmination of a programme I have been involved in for a couple of years.  Time to test the results and be judged.

The injections in my knees during the last training camp I attended have helped and this week I will be putting them to the test.

Later today I will have a fitness session to take stock of my current level of fitness, we shall see how much of gap there is to make before I am happy.  I aim to set my level/bar high. When I told someone what I wanted to achieve this year a slightly skeptical look met my plans.

I always love it when I am told that I will not achieve something.  The minute I hear someone tell me this I know my vision is at the correct level.

At the end of each year I usually play an old friend (extremely competitive) at squash to see who ends the year as champion.  It is a winner take all match.   We play the best of 9 games. Unfortunately he injured himself the week prior to our competition, which was very disappointing – GH I hope you get better soon. My son will take your place tmw morning.

I am meeting with my publisher at the end of the week which I am looking forward to. My book is about leadership and personal development.  I am about to find out how close or far we are from making this book a reality-so work to do no doubt.

The launch of Britam Recruitment/Resettlement Company will take place this week.  I am looking forward to seeing how this project will develop.  The aim is to provide soldiers with a career transition to business or any other are of life that they would like to try.  I think that due to the economic climate we will find ourselves in 2012 it is likely that we will also be assisting business people in making career transitions as well.  I am sure that we will have a number of learning curves along the way.

I will also be working with a very talented international coach later this week and his management team, which I am looking forward to.  I was also pleased that a very talented coach (Andy Flower) received the credit he deserved for assisting England Cricket Team achieve great things during his tenure. His ability to create the correct culture was in my opinion key to this success.

In February I have lots of work on the Olympics from a business/security perspective  and other areas of sport. I still do not think that people have quite realised this this event is not business as usually and something that people need to be prepare for to be at their very best.

I am looking forward to working with very talented businesses once again.  At the beginning of the week I am with a group who have recently done a 360 degree profile.  This company is far ahead of many groups that I have come across in developing the individual, team and organization. It continues to push the senior leadership team to higher levels of performance by constantly challenging them.

The final week of December ended with a trip to Val d’Isere for a week of Skiing. The weather was glorious, snow outstanding and I met a lot of very nice people.  We skied and jumped off a cliff, won a quiz, which was important, as there was a very competitive Australian team involved.

Sadly the year ended with the death of my brother’s wife. A truly wonderful person who literally looked after everyone else before herself.  She never had a bad word for anyone.  My heart goes out to her sons and my brother who loved her dearly.  It is always at moments like this you get to see the strength in people and my mother who is 85 years old is once again a rock, such an inspirational attitude to life and who again does not complain of ill health or things not going her way, she just gets on and deals with it.   Powerfulmindset.

How often do we actually take stock of our health (check up and diet), fitness level, financial position, time we actually spend with family, our friends or loved ones, how much time over the last year have we actually looked at our own personal development, hobbies, or our work/life balance?

When we truly look and perhaps score ourselves from 1 – 10, 10 being totally brilliant in this area, how many of those zones of our life do we score 5 or less?

We can always convince ourselves that we are too busy in our lives, that this is the reality of having to earn money and therefore some areas will always come up short.  Whilst this is obviously true, we are not always so busy that we can’t take a step back and take a little stock of ourselves and change the important areas around to higher scores.

We must learn to take time out and ensure that we are content with our way of life and why shouldn’t we be?

The training test I did this evening was as follows.

I rowed 3,000 meters on the rowing machine – averaging 1:43 for each 500 m (pleased) – Time required 1:38 per 500

Body stretches including multiple holding exercises for 30 seconds plus – including planks-this is to test suppleness and flexibility-lots of work to do in this area.

Exercises including dips/press ups/squat thrusts/star jumps/ burpees/sit ups.  Each one over 30 seconds with a five minute rest – Score 198

400 meters on the running machine x 10 – each rep must be with five seconds of the last one.

Strength test bench/shoulders/squats/dead lift

Very tired at the end – felt sick and pleased.

Have a truly wonderful year – it is down to YOU…………………

Kevin Up date

Floyd, Many thanks for your other blogs over the course of 2011. As much of my time over the past 6-8 months has been spent working in far-flung places such as Algeria, KL and North Dakota your blogs have always been well received not only as a source of inspiration but also as a reminder of home with your references to English cricket, rugby etc.

I recently came across the following article by Mark de Rond who studies people by living with them under the same conditions – trying to understand how and why their world makes sense (to them). His research described below focused specifically on the experience of being human in high-performance environments.  His time spent with Cambridge University boat crew provides insights into the challenges of creating an elite team from a group of elite individuals.

Have a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year.

The Relevance of Rowing for Business, Mark de Rond

Professional Manager, Volume 17, Issue 5, September 2008

The celebrated Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race is both a public spectacle and a long-standing trial of strength between two rival universities. Over a quarter of a million spectators watch the race from the banks of the Thames, while a guestimated 120 million TV viewers follow the twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies of this private match, held each year between late March and early April. The first Oxbridge race took place in 1829 and, with the exception of the first and second World War years, the race has been held continuously since 1856.

It is on that four mile and 374 yard length of tidal river, between Putney and Mortlake, that the outer limits of human performance are explored, where two student crews row alongside each other until one of them decides it can no longer win. It is the ultimate varsity race.

What is the enduring appeal of this extreme sporting challenge? Is it that the protagonists represent two of the world’s oldest and grandest institutions – the intellectual homes of Nobel laureates, philosophers, mathematicians and politicians? Is it the secrecy surrounding crew selection and race preparation? Or is the enduring appeal of this British sporting institution due to the sharp contrasts it throws up: at once passionately amateur and yet holding to professional standards, exhibiting mutual respect yet intense rivalry too, where it’s all about taking part but where the pain of losing is both physical and mental, and laid bare for all to see?


Differences between Cambridge University rowing and business are easy to spot. Not all teams have as clear and unchangeable an objective as the Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC). Founded in 1828, it exists for one reason only: to defeat Oxford in the annual Boat Race. Moreover, not all business teams can cherry-pick their membership. CUBC begins its season with around 40 keen athletes, from which it needs to select one crew of eight, plus a coxswain. Also, physical training has a degree of transparency not often found in business. Whereas everyone involved can see what weights you are lifting and how fast you are on a rowing machine, in typical business teams it is rather more difficult to isolate individual contributions.

Nevertheless, rowing contains some surprising similarities. Firstly, it requires a superb sense of coordination – something that remains relevant irrespective of whether you are doing the same thing (as in rowing) or are engaged in different, but complementary, activities. If, for example, the success of one’s work depends upon the input of others (as it so often does), the better coordinated the team is, the more efficient and successful it should be.

Secondly, Cambridge oarsmen – just like members of business team – are intelligent individuals, impatient of jargon or ‘management speak’. They easily see through any attempt at manipulation. Thirdly, rowing is an environment in which cooperation and competition co-exist in a necessary but socially often awkward relationship.

And, finally, rowing crews and business teams alike suffer from the Ringelmann Effect. Based on a set of experiments conducted in the 1880s and 1970s, Ringelmann and subsequent researchers discovered the inverse relationship between team size and individual effort due to a combination of increased coordination costs and social loafing. In other words, as more and more individuals are added to a team, the contribution of each individual team member decreases as they find it increasingly more difficult to coordinate their efforts with others and easier to get away with suboptimal performance.

Six parallels

But there may be further parallels between crews and teams. Here are six that we think are most relevant to the workplace:

1. What makes them good makes them difficult too. Cambridge oarsmen express individuality in wishing to remain on the coaches’ radar screens but togetherness in building team spirit. They are strong-minded yet rife with self-doubt, masculine yet unafraid of male intimacy, extraordinary in some ways yet so very ordinary in others too, ever prey to thinking that they can do always what they can do sometimes. For what makes them good makes them difficult: they are smart, which makes them have near-perfect faith in their intuitions; they are quick thinkers, meaning that they can be bad listeners; they are intolerant of failure, theirs as well as that of everyone else; they take an extraordinary level of performance as given; they will rarely admit to being wrong, and have little idea of the sort of impact their attitude has on others. As with most generalizations there are many exceptions to this characterization. But by and large Cambridge rowers are alphas, painstakingly cultivated yet a raw and instinctive cast of alpha males in a Dead Poets Society world.

How then do you craft a high performance team from a dysfunctional group of high performing individuals? It’s never going to be easy, though the following suggestions may help: don’t fall into the trap of cow-towing to these individuals (after all, everyone else does); confront them, if need be, with concrete examples or ‘hard’ data on their performance; be patient and empathetic as they argue their case (which may include blaming circumstances, or others, for their failure to perform), but be resolute. Remind them regularly of why this team exists and what you expect of them in very specific terms.

2. To collaborate effectively may require you to give up what you know has worked for you in the past. As with many organisations, the Cambridge squad is composed of various nationalities. This is relevant to the extent that rowing styles differ across the globe – from Canada to the US and Germany to Great Britain. These differences can be slight but, given the degree of coordination required in a crew, important. What this effectively means is that one is asking decorated oarsmen to give up a technique they know made them go fast in the past, and to adapt to that quintessential Cambridge style – something which takes some time getting used to. This can create much insecurity as rowers who might have been top dogs in their respective national squads are now slowing down their crews.

3. High performance crews, like business teams, are often characterised by tensions. However awkward this may feel at times, it does not mean they are dysfunctional. Far from it. And here is why. In most teams competition and cooperation co-exist, as do trust and vigilance, control and autonomy, unilateral and democratic decision-making, confrontation and compromise. The only way for rowers to compete effectively for a seat in the Blue Boat (or the crew that races Oxford) is to cooperate seamlessly with the very same individuals they are competing with.

Take the example of seat-racing as a selection tool. Here two crews of four race each other over a 1500 metre course. After finishing times are noted, two individuals (one from each crew) will swap places. The crews race each other again over the same course. Again, two individuals swap places after which the crews are raced once more. This process continues until the coaches are satisfied that they have been able to isolate the contributions of each rower to a crew. What this means, of course, is that oarsmen can only make their crews go fast by coordinating perfectly with those they were competing with only minutes ago. And what is true in rowing is often true in business too: competition must still weed out the inefficient and keep the fire at the heels of those involved. Yet cooperation is imperative to achieve organisational objectives. It too can improve efficiency in distributing information. Control likewise ensures efficiency even as autonomy may make organisations more creative. Trust is good but dangerous in the absence of vigilance. Thus these tensions must coexist. They are an ordinary characteristic of extraordinarily healthy teams, though sources of considerable anxiety.

4. Conflict occurs even as people agree on what’s important and why, and try hard to coordinate their efforts with others. It sometimes takes the shape of disagreements on how particular goals are best achieved, or it results from simple misunderstandings. What is striking is the degree to which crew and team members alike often resort to questioning each other’s intentions when faced with conflict. Behavioural science suggests that this is partly because we tend to think that our views of the world are more common than they actually are, or that we often believe ourselves to have access to an objective reality that those around us, if only they were more rational or clairvoyant, would have too. And yet experience tells us there are few things more destructive or alienating than for one’s intentions to be called into question. Our work with the Cambridge squad suggests that reality is actually often more benign than they think it is, leaving them with few justifications for paranoia. Imagine how much more efficient organisations would be if only they were to accept that the intentions of others are more often good than bad?

5. Individual performance is only ever meaningful in the context of a specific crew or team. What is interesting is the degree to which the performance of individual rowers can fluctuate depending on (i) who else they row with, and (ii) whether the seat they’ve been assigned caters to – or minimises – their self-concept. Some oarsmen, for example, dislike rowing with people they don’t rate, causing them to subtly under-perform. Or they fail to give their best if they feel undervalued by having been placed in, say, the middle section of the boat rather than the more technically demanding stern and bow sections.

These issues raise dilemmas for coaches and managers alike. After all, should one cater to someone’s ego to get the best out of him or her? Can this be done successfully without setting a precedent? Or should one fight that ego in the interest of fairness to the rest of the group?

6. Sometimes it makes sense to sacrifice technical ability to gain social skills in the interest of team performance.This would seem counter-intuitive in a sport as technically demanding as rowing. However, a socially gifted individual may help provide the glue to keep the crew together and thus minimise the Ringelmann Effect.

For example, the 2007 Cambridge crew included one oarsman who was included in the crew not based on his individual technical skills but because he seemed able to get a higher level of performance out of the rest of the crew. His affable personality was able to defuse conflict and help the crew gel socially.

There exists an interesting parallel of this in the management literature. In 2005, the Harvard Business Review carried an article provocatively entitled ‘Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks’. In it, the authors examined trade-off decisions made by managers when recruiting: does competence trump likeability, or vice versa? Unsurprisingly, most responded that it would be considered unprofessional not to hire the most competent for the job. However, in practice, managers more often sided with likeability as a criterion, suggesting that personal feelings play an important role in forming job-oriented relationships.

Of course this tradeoff relationship is contextual. If one requires brain-surgery, one should care infinitely more about competence than likeability. And a team of only likeable individuals may get little accomplished. However, it might make sense occasionally to trade one technically competent individual for one that is socially more gifted (even if technically less competent) if that improves the cohesiveness of the team.

Will social cohesiveness ensure team success? No it won’t. However, it will allow you to get the most out of each of the individuals involved – and that’s no mean feat.

The process of training and selecting the teams that will compete in 2009 begins soon. They will face six months of intensive coaching to mould them into a winning crew with just one chance to get it right on the day. Luckily, business teams get more than one opportunity to show what they are made of and pull together to achieve success.