Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Workplace strain prevalent
Statistics point to employers’ need to make changes
Stress for Success

At a personal level, stress related problems are the new plague of our nonstop, hyper, 21st Century lifestyle. Ignore the negative consequences at your own peril.

At an organizational level, your bottom line is being eaten away by escalating health insurance premiums and workers compensation costs for many ailments that could be prevented by following stress management advice. For example, it’s estimated that occupational pressures are responsible for 30% of workers’ back pain. Eighty percent of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say that they need help learning how to manage it. Forty-two percent say their coworkers need such help.

Whether or not your organization supplies you with any, part or all of your health care coverage, they should take note. Not only are most employees feeling stretched too thin, but there’s also the looming retirement of Baby Boomers, which will make it harder to fill their vacancies from the next and much smaller Generation X. More than ever, organizations need to make their work environments less stressful and more appealing to retain valued workers.

What follows is research regarding workplace stress. As you read through it, answer these two questions about your employees:
• What can you do to make your workplace less stressful?
• What can you do to give your employees more control (therefore less stress) over their day-to-day activities?

Large surveys done during the 1990s by Northwestern National Life Insurance Co., St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., Yale University, among others found:
• 40% of workers reported their jobs were very or extremely stressful
• 25% viewed their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives
• 26% said they were "often or very often burned out or stressed by their work"
• Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems

With the increased pressure from living lives that are spinning faster and faster, one of the obvious consequences is increased workplace anger and even violence. The 2000 survey, "Attitudes in the American Workplace VI” and the 2000 Integra Survey found:
• 42% said yelling and other verbal abuse is common
• 18% had experienced some sort of threat or verbal intimidation in the past year
• 14% said they work where equipment has been damaged due to workplace rage • 14% have felt like striking a coworker in the past year but didn't
• 10% are concerned about someone at work they fear could become violent
• 9% are aware of an assault or violent act in their workplace
• 2% admitted to actually personally striking someone
• Additionally they found that 60.2% routinely have work-related neck pain; 44% stressed-out eyes; 38% with hurting hands; 34% with difficulty in sleeping

All of this job stress adds up to a price tag for the United States of over $300 billion every year, with stress causing:
• 40% of job turnover!
• 60 to 80% of on-the-job accidents!
• Annual double-digit increases in workers compensation premiums!
• Repetitive musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, the nation's leading workplace health cost accounting for almost one third of workers compensation awards

If all this doesn't convince you of the importance of helping your employees manage their stress better, I don't know what will. The week after Thanksgiving I’ll share more of the research on other negative consequences of job stress, such as increased accidents and resistance to change.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

People around the world share the need to be thankful
Stress for Success, November 21, 2006
For who-knows-how-long people around the world have celebrated their annual harvests. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, the British have Harvest Festival in the fall, Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, the festival of thanksgiving that lasts nine days, and the Chinese have an equivalent celebration during the eighth month of their calendar. Whatever a culture calls it, a day of thanks is a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon your blessings and to be grateful for them.

The first recognized American Thanksgiving meal took place in 1621 with the Plimouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians celebrating their autumn harvest. The pilgrims continued with this annual celebration thereafter. Or did they?

According to James W. Baker, senior historian at Plimouth Plantation, the first feast was not even called Thanksgiving and wasn’t repeated so it wasn’t the beginning of a tradition. To them, a “thanksgiving” was a religious holiday to thank God for specific blessings. At this first feast the Pilgrims and their new neighbors participated in dancing, singing and playing games, which would never have been allowed at a religious event, making the original feast a secular celebration.

The Pilgrims shared this initial feast with the Wampanoags who had taught them how to survive in their new land. Without them the Pilgrims may not have had successful harvests or endured the harsh winter.

The original feast in 1621 was based on English harvest festivals and lasted three days. After the Plimouth colonists’ first harvest, Governor William Bradford declared a day of thanksgiving shared by the colonists and Indians. Then in 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of Thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. Gradually the custom of annually celebrating the fall harvest took root in New England.

The Continental Congress during the American Revolution suggested an annual day of national Thanksgiving. In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as a yearly tradition, and by the middle of the 19th century many other states followed. In 1863 President Lincoln appointed Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November, which he may have associated with the November 21, 1621 landing of the Mayflower at Cape Cod. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, which was approved by Congress in 1941.

It’s a wonderful tradition and given its pervasiveness in cultures around the world it seems to speak to the human need to acknowledge our blessings. It connects us with family and community in a way that can help us to appreciate the importance of each other in bringing in our harvests, even the modern-day harvest for most Americans, which is through our jobs.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving week. Put your mind into a thankful place with even the craziness that sometimes can accompany such a busy holiday. Give your co-workers, customers and bosses a break. Be grateful you have a job. Forgive your family members or friends whose habits aggravate you. Be thankful you have them in your life instead. Look at life in general this week through grateful eyes. How does that change things? What would happen if we did it 365 days a year?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Limit lifestyle weight gain by dealing with your stress
Stress for Success
October 24, 2006

Cortisol, a fight/flight hormone released whenever you’re stressed, has become the newest excuse for packing on the pounds. However, the research jury is still out on whether high levels of cortisol actually cause weight gain. The minimum that seems to be true is that since the role of cortisol during stress is to provide your body with energy, it can cause an increase in appetite. In other words, stress might lead you to eat more.

"During the first couple of days following a stressful event, cortisol is giving you a cue to eat high-carbohydrate foods," says endocrinologist Ricardo Dr. Perfetti, M.D., Ph.D., of Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "Once you comply, you quickly learn a behavioral response that you can feel almost destined to repeat anytime you feel stressed."

Another unresolved research question is whether elevated cortisol causes fat to deposit in your abdominal area. Some research shows that abdominal fat causes specific chemical changes that can lead to lower metabolism and cravings for sweets, possibly leading to even more weight gain. Additionally, with more stress and cortisol and less exercise you have a proven recipe for heart disease.

Whether your eating is driven by stress hormones, by habits or a combination of both, research shows that there are ways to interrupt the cycle and stop the weight gain.
Notice how the advice is the same as it is for living a healthier lifestyle.
• Solve your stressors or cope more effectively with them.
• Exercise is always one of the best ways to burn calories and to produce a variety of biochemicals that counter the negative effects of the stress hormones. Exercise helps control your insulin and sugar levels with as little as 20 minutes a day three to five days a week. Be careful, though, because too much exercise can raise your cortisol levels and increase your stress.
• Eat a balanced diet and never skip a meal. Eat six small vs. three large meals a day and include foods from all the food groups. This helps to balance your blood sugar levels inhibiting insulin production and reducing cortisol levels, all helping to control appetite and weight.
• Get enough sleep because when you don't, cortisol levels rise, increasing your hunger.
• Relaxation, much like exercise, produces brain chemicals that counter the effects of stress, whether you do yoga, deep breathing, or meditation, multiple times a week do whatever reaches that sea of calm that’s within you.
• Snack on whole-grain, high-fiber foods vs. the typical American habit of high sugar and simple-carbohydrates like cookies, crackers, chips, which increase insulin levels increasing stress hormones and making you feel hungrier. Cereals like oatmeal or multi-grain flakes, along with fruits, help keep your insulin levels in check, which help control blood sugar levels and ultimately, hunger, according to Pamela Peek, MD, MPH, author of “Fight Fat after Forty.”
• Avoid caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol because these can cause stress and cortisol levels to increase, and blood sugar to drop, which spurs hunger.
• Take vitamins regularly since stress depletes the B complex and Vitamin C, and possibly calcium and magnesium. These nutrients help balance the effects of cortisol and may even play a role in burning fat so take a good multi-vitamin supplement.

If you’re experiencing chronic stress don’t go on a strict diet. Canadian researchers found that severely limiting calorie intake can kick off a series of biochemical events that ultimately increase stress and can make you feel hungrier.

Here’s the bottom line about weight loss. It always has been the bottom line, which suggests it always will be --- until a miracle weight loss treatment is invented. There are two ways to lose weight, eat fewer (and better) calories and burn more of those calories by moving your body more. It’s truly that simple.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Take sting out of political differences to reduce conflict
Stress for Success
November 7, 2006

Today is Election Day. I hope you’re planning to vote.

And thank goodness the campaigning is almost over! I’m tired of how too many politicians and much news coverage highlight the wide and deep polarization of our country. Do you ever wonder who or what could possibly unite us short of another 9/11?

I’m old enough to remember the ‘60s’ and ‘70s’ anti-war, civil rights and women’s movements. Does it seem to you (if you’re old enough to remember), as it seems to me, that the political environment of today is much more volatile, polarized and downright hostile than during those raucous decades? There’s even a new TV drama, “Studio 60”, that’s building this relatively new American social schism between the religious conservatives and the more secular population into its plot line.

Like many families, mine has hotly debated countless contemporary political issues. It used to be fun until we started to take it too personally. Since we know we’ll never change each other’s minds we virtually never have those discussions (read arguments) any more.

We’ve also taken an important step. We’ve learned to accept that we all come to our beliefs with good intentions so we don’t demonize each other as ignorant or crazy (not often anyway). This is what I wish for our divided American culture.

It’s perfectly human to have disagreements with others. To take these differences to a much higher, more stressful and polarizing level all you have to do is negatively label each other. “You’re so ignorant, blind, uninformed, self-centered, etc.”

When you label another person negatively it’s like spreading fertilizer on the ground to grow a conflict. When you disapprovingly label another person you’re giving off negative nonverbal signals. The other person picks up on them and reacts more guardedly and defensively toward you and probably joins you in the negative labeling game. You pick up on that person’s resistance and label her even more. All of this leads to an escalating cycle that pits one against the other. The chance for rational discussion, or even emotional discussion that’s tempered, diminishes with each negative judgment.

To reduce political polarization and conflict escalation, counter every negative assumption you make about someone with the facts and behaviors of the situation that you believe justify your negative judgments.

For example, if you believe someone is “naïve” for a belief he has, challenge yourself to identify what he has “done” (factual behavior) that validates your label of naïve. Perhaps he (factually) does not follow the news and argues his position with statements that are clearly inaccurate. You’d get much further if you gathered the facts that dispute his arguments. Let go of labeling him “naïve” and simply present the “facts” to him, (not that this will do much good at changing his mind but it can take the sting out of the encounter).

There’s nothing wrong with political arguments. Discussions would probably be more productive but given how passionately many feel about their positions, argument is most likely a better description of what typically goes on. If you at least want to explore each other’s beliefs in search of common ground or if you insist on trying to convince him (good luck!) drop all negative judgments of him and address only his behaviors and the facts of the situation. Defenses go down and more actual listening to understand can take place. Tiny little bridges of trust begin to develop; slowly but surely respect grows. Be still my heart!
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.