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Coffee write: managing stress

December 11, 2013
By Brian Martell


Dec. 11, 2013 – Brian Martell explains that sometimes when a stressful situation comes along it is best to view it as an opportunity for growth and to face the challenge head on, rather than getting stuck in cyclical anxiety.

Dec. 11, 2013 – Stress comes in many packages. Not all of it is bad or unhealthy; the good kind often leads to personal and professional growth. We stress our muscles when we work out and our mind when we learn new things.

Positive stress brings us to new plateaus more often than not, but can be complicated by the by-product called anxiety. In the business world we are often faced with many stresses that are not of our making. External forces – be it competitive, regulatory or perceptional – can put us into a siege mentality where existence rather than growth becomes the focus. The challenge we face under these circumstances is to resist our evolutionary predisposition of fight or flight.

Often, the crisis that causes the stress has “opportunity” written on the reverse side of the coin and is usually evident only when we pause to reflect on the situation. Experience shows that grace under fire is a learned trait, but it is one that is hard to be self-taught. Mentors that possess this skill can pass it along to their protégés through demonstration far better than through explanation. Perhaps the key aspect of this virtue is to know the difference between a crisis (when to ramp up and flex those muscles) and an isolated problem requiring only a decisive solution. Indeed, it is the rookie mistake of adding unnecessary and harmful stress to our lives by allowing fear to control our actions.


In the coffee business we experience different levels of stress at different times and often with half of the industry in a state of anxiety with the other half in a state of euphoria when the market is on the move. Planters of late are feeling the pinch with the price of green trading lower than the recent highs they’ve been used to. In Brazil, there have been calls for the government to step in and buy excess green stocks at above market prices to give relief to growers.

Eighteen months ago, from roasters to OCS and foodservice distributors were walking on eggshells with every increase they had to pass along in the face of record high green prices to very irate offices and restaurants. In the early stages of anyone’s career, in a volatile commodity market prone to pendulant swings, there is a tendency to think that they are the only ones affected. Rationally, we know that if the disruption is macro-economic then all companies will be challenged in the same way leaving no one with an advantage. Emotionally, our minds can allow us to conjure doomsday scenarios that have no basis in reality.

This, of course, is counterproductive and a total waste of an opportunity to exercise the real (good) stress required in the situation by using the disruption for a tactical advantage. Veterans who have lived through and thought out these types of disruptions are usually the ones leading the industry in one direction.
In all facets of a company, employees are faced with challenges that can be an opportunity for growth; rarely will these not require effort and cause some stress. The trick is to convert the energy that would have been spent on anxiety into character building healthy stress.

Brian Martell works at Heritage Coffee as vice-president of sales and has 21 years of industry experience. Brian has also been the recipient of three prestigious awards: the Don Storey, Stuart Daw, and the Albert DeNovelus Customer Service awards. Questions, comments, feedback, start a dialogue? E-mail him at

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