Get a Handle on Stress Losing sleep over your next transaction? Struggling with work/life balance? If so, our expert has some advice for you.
Recently, in the middle of the night, a half-asleep Henry Heller woke his wife, Yvonne, and told her it was time to feed their infant daughter. As he handed over the “baby” nestled between them, his wife was shocked to see that it was actually their toy poodle, Sonny. “I don’t remember that,” says Heller, broker-owner of My Real Estate Guy in Wellington, joking that he’s been sleep-deprived since 2002.
Heller explains that, in the space of four years, his life has become, well, complicated. Not only did he change careers and start his own real estate company, but he also traded bachelorhood for family life. And boy, did he.
In January 2004, Heller and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Then, just a few months after their son turned one, their daughter was born. But here’s the kicker: Before their second child was six months old, his wife announced she was expecting again.
The couple’s second daughter was born this past July. They now have three children under the age of three, and they just celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary.
Although Heller jokes that his first reaction to the news of his third child was, “Are you kidding me?” he says fatherhood is “fabulous.” “When people ask how I do it, I tell them it’s the hardest job you love.”
Heller is also dealing with the demands of running a business. Sales have dropped—his only associate quit to work in new construction—and tenants at two of his rental properties decided not to renew their leases. And, on the home front, he’s still cleaning up from Hurricane Wilma.
“The hits keep on coming,” he says. “My last closing was earlier this year, and my pipeline is bone-dry.” Bring in the Expert
Heller talked with Dr. George Rozelle, a licensed and certified psychotherapist who helps people from all walks of life regain control over their busy schedules and optimize their performance. He offered this advice. 1. Listen to Your Body
When we’re stressed, the body releases hormones, such as cortisol, that raise blood pressure and cause what’s called an “adrenaline rush.” This occurs, says Rozelle, because the brain is genetically wired to protect us from harm by preparing us for a “fight or flight” response.
“Stressors in modern society are subtle,” says Rozelle. “We can’t really fight or flee, so muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, hand temperature drops, palms sweat, and digestion is affected. If we don’t expend the energy, our adrenal glands pump out cortisol that can compromise our health over time.” His approach is about teaching people to become more self-aware and to self-regulate. He recommends that Heller stay tuned in to the signals his body is sending him so that when he feels stressed, he can slow down and allow his body to recover. 2. Get Moving
Staying physically and mentally active is another way to combat stress, Rozelle says. “Even if it’s going for a walk or doing tai chi or yoga, there’s no substitute for exercise.” Heller enjoys playing basketball with the guys each week, for camaraderie and fitness, and Rozelle encourages him to continue.
“Maintain a social life too—not just with your wife but with friends you two share, and friends of your own,” adds Rozelle. 3. Catch More ZZZs
Rozelle recommends that Heller aim for seven hours of sleep every night. Considering the distractions Heller is plagued with, that’s easier said than done.
The duration of sleep isn’t as important as the quality, says Rozelle. “If you’re in bed 12 hours, tossing and turning, you’re going to wake up exhausted. If you’re sleeping soundly, six hours is good.”
To facilitate sleep, Rozelle advises Heller to avoid caffeine and rigorous exercise at least six hours before going to bed. Any activity that helps him relax, such as reading or listening to quiet music, can help.
Rozelle prefers a clinically proven treatment that fights insomnia, stress and headaches, and improves productivity and concentration. After seeing Dr. Galina Mindlin, director of the Brain Music Therapy Center in New York City on “Good Morning America” last year, he decided to affiliate with her to offer his clients a non-invasive treatment called Brain Music Therapy. The individual’s brainwave patterns are recorded via an EEG during a relaxed state and converted to musical sounds (like Classical piano) on a CD that can be used to promote relaxation in the body. “The theory is that listening to your brain at rest helps your mind relax,” says Rozelle. “Clinical studies show that 82 to 85 percent of people studied experienced a significant improvement of their symptoms [after receiving this therapy].” 4. Strike a Balance
“With balance, stress can actually make us stronger,” says Rozelle. “If we don’t have enough of it in retirement, we get flabby and bored. Rather than dreading stress or obsessing about it, find ways to create balance in your life.”
Heller can’t say he’s found his passion, but he feels blessed when he’s able to make a difference in people’s lives—especially first-time buyers eager to achieve the American Dream of homeownership. Rozelle commends him for finding a sense of purpose in his work. 5. Hire an Assistant
Heller is disorganized, which he finds nerve-racking yet difficult to change. “I’m a pack rat, and I’m the king of procrastinators,” he says. “I come up with great ideas, but I don’t always follow through because of the details.”
He admits that he finds the adrenaline rush of getting a new listing “a real motivator,” but following up after the transaction isn’t easy. “I put on my ‘A game’ when I’m competing, but once I’m not competing, I kind of let it go.” As a result, he doesn’t go after much repeat business.
“Being disorganized makes handling stress much worse,” says Rozelle. “Take one [task] at a time and see it through to completion.”
A part-time assistant, or even a virtual assistant, could work wonders for Heller. “Those of us ‘one-man-show performers’ find it difficult to ask for help,” says Rozelle, “but an assistant doesn’t have to be added to the payroll. [He or she] could get paid by the hour to organize your desk, files, office and do whatever else needs to be done for [clients and customers].” (For ideas, see “Help Wanted: 10 Types of Personal Assistants,” page 46 of The Real Estate Solutions Guide 2007.) 6. Keep a Journal
Journaling could also help Heller get a handle on day-to-day stress. “One of the traps we can fall into is keeping stuff inside until it eats away at us,” says Rozelle. “Jotting down what you’re thinking and feeling can be therapeutic. There have been some interesting studies on the subject.” One such study involved a number of stressed-out college students who were divided into three groups. Group No. 1 went through counseling, Group No. 2 was asked to keep a journal, and Group No. 3 did nothing. “The group that did the journaling fared better,” says Rozelle. 7. Own Your Choices
Stress often leaves people feeling powerless. “It’s as if things are happening to them, and they feel like a victim,” Rozelle says. “Remind yourself that you have a choice, and that only you can decide how you’re going to feel. For example, you can fly off the handle when an aggressive driver cuts in front of you, or you can choose not to get angry.
“So, in terms of your own thinking, try to make good choices. You’ve obviously had a lot of success in your life, Henry, and I’m sure you’ll continue to do well, but also take responsibility for things that don’t go well. When you can make that mental shift, you become empowered. Tell yourself, ‘I create my own reality,’ ‘I chose this job,’ ‘I chose this marriage,’ ‘I chose this place to live,’ and ‘I chose to have these kids,’ and embrace those choices.” 8. Don’t Neglect Vacations
Heller confesses that he can’t even remember the last time he took a vacation. “That’s not surprising,” says Rozelle. “Our society is [centered on] doing, and there isn’t enough of just being. But a quiet weekend away or going to the beach can really regenerate the soul.
“The best thing you can do for your family is take care of yourself so that you’re in a better position to take care of them,” Rozelle concludes.
This column, designed to provide advice from industry experts to real estate professionals who need help with technology, business or promotional issues, won the Bronze Award in the 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.