Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Diseases affect blacks more
Emotional problems seem less common
Stress for Success
February 27, 2007

African-American have the highest incidence of diabetes, cardio-vascular heart disease, hypertension and stroke when compared to all other racial/ethnic groups in America.

From 1992 to 2000, 29% more blacks under the age of 60 died from heart disease and stroke than whites, according to the National Medical Association and Pfizer, Inc. (joint study, Pfizer Facts: Racial Differences in Cardiovascular Health.)

National Institute of Health (NIH) research “… links this excess prevalence and severity of hypertension among African-Americans to chronic and disproportionately intense societal stress, especially among low income inner-city residents."

Heart disease is largely a preventable condition. Research has long shown that stress reduction approaches including lifestyle changes not only prevent heart disease and hypertension, they may even reverse some damage.

For instance, NIH funded randomized clinical trials found stress reducing meditation was 2 1/2 times more effective in reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure than typical relaxation. This is a significantly healthier way to reduce blood pressure since it has no adverse reactions and costs nothing compared to standard pharmacological treatment, (R. H. Schneider et al, Hypertension 26,1995 and 28,1996).

Given the fact that over 50% of Medicare recipients suffer from heart disease or hypertension, with a price tag of over $100 billion annually, deep relaxation is a hugely cost-effective option for everyone, black people included.

Interestingly, from the research I’ve done it seems that African-Americans’ discrimination stress manifests itself more through physical illness then emotional problems.

A study from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the world's largest academic survey and research organization, surveyed more than 6,000 African-American, Afro-Caribbean and non-Hispanic white adults and found noticeably different patterns of prevalence of major mental and physical disorders.

The survey evaluated physical health, experiences of discrimination and racial prejudice, including police harassment. The survey, funded by NIH, was conducted between February 2001 and March 2003 and found:
§ Lower rates of major depression for African-Americans (10.6%) than Afro-Caribbeans (11.3%) or white Americans (18.3%)
§ Blacks with significantly lower rates of panic disorder (2.7%) than whites 4.2%)
§ Generalized anxiety disorder for blacks (4.5%) vs. whites (7.9%)
§ Social phobia for blacks (7.5%) vs. whites (12.6%)

It's fortunate that as African-Americans you’re less likely to suffer from emotional symptoms of stress. It’ll be even better when you increase your awareness of the physical consequences of stress, regardless of the cause.

Since stopping others from discriminating is largely beyond a person’s control, it's in your best interest to take control of your health by making lifestyle changes that everyone needs and that have proved to protect you from the physical ravages of stress; improve your daily habits of exercise and nutrition and begin a regular program of deep relaxation.

The health protections these strategies offer are only part of the pay off. The more important benefit is derived from the practicing of these healthy habits and experiencing the subsequent positive results: you gain a greater sense of control, which will always lower your over-all stress.

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, February 20, 2007

African Americans pay a physical price for discrimination stress
Stress for Success
February 20, 2006

Imagine yourself frequently:
۰ being followed by store employees who suspect you of stealing
۰ hailing cabs that don’t stop for you but pick up someone nearby
۰ being excluded at work
۰ having whites not looking you in the eyes, as is the case for too many young black males

If these things happened infrequently they’d be minor irritations. But what if you experienced these and other assaults daily? Would it eventually take a toll on you emotionally and physically?

If frequent enough, they’d certainly qualify in my book as chronic stress, which I've written about many times over the years as damaging to your health.

February is Black History Month and I encourage you to consider the daily psychological affronts that many if not most African Americans encounter especially in their public lives of working and shopping. I know that if I were the target I’d explode with rage.

I speak from experience. For 2½ years in the early ‘70s I was on the receiving end of daily harassment on the streets of Colombia where I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Daily on the streets literal throngs of men "harassed" me, (although from a Colombian’s perspective it was expected social behavior) through blown kisses, butt pinches and flirtatious words whispered so closely I could feel the man’s breath on my neck.

I found this “flirting” dehumanizing and degrading. (In their defense however, one Colombian man said he’d never get a date if he didn't act this way. He advised me to quit taking it personally, which I largely learned to do.) To keep my sanity, though, I ignored most of these encounters only occasionally fighting back in ways that allowed me to have some fun (don’t ask).

A life-time of these insults, however, takes a much greater toll on African-Americans than did my brief experiences and partly explains why, when compared to all other racial/ethnic groups in America, blacks have the highest incidence of:
§ Diabetes
§ Cardio-vascular heart disease
§ Hypertension and stroke

“This is not to say that every African American has poor health,” said researcher Vickie Mays, UCLA professor of psychology and health services. “However, African Americans – as a group – have not been able to gain as much ground (in health improvement) as other ethnic groups.”

When faced with high levels of stress some African-Americans may experience an “allostatic load", the cumulative wear and tear of stress on the body. When the stress to the cardiovascular system is prolonged and excessive to the point of allostasis, the immune system is suppressed, blood pressure increases and, over time, atherosclerosis can develop, resulting in coronary vascular disease. Chronic stress response is also associated with other diseases and obesity. (For more information go to www.MinorityHealthDisparities.org.)

How stressed would you be if daily you were the target of similar insults? Do you avoid eye contact with young African-American males or exclude black co-workers? If so, once aware, maybe you’ll start having more eye contact, including your black colleagues more often and even stop assuming that the color of skin determines a person’s honesty. It’s a start.

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, February 13, 2007

Employers should help workers attain life balance
Stress for Success
February 13, 2006

Today's work pace is drastically different from decades past. The historic 9-to-5-job that was mostly left behind at the end of the day has been replaced by a near-constant state of electronic-on-call, blurring the boundary between work and home for many. New technology from blackberries to the ubiquitous cell phone is largely to blame, keeping you from “turning off” until you flop into bed at night.

Additionally, many employees begrudgingly work longer hours and with both parents typically working there’s no one at home to keep everything running smoothly. It’s no wonder, then, that the March 2005 Families and Work Institute reported:
§ 44% of US employees felt overworked often or very often (only 29% rarely or never)
§ 27% felt overwhelmed by their workload

They found chronically overworked employees have an adverse effect on business outcomes by making mistakes and resenting their employers (with all its passive-aggressive payback behaviors like absenteeism). 39% with high levels of overwork reported anger at management versus only 1% of those with low levels. The overworked also have greater resentment toward coworkers for not working harder.

They also found:
§ A key contributor to feeling overwhelmed is high levels of multitasking
§ More than one-third of all workers don’t expect to take their entire vacation time
§ Employees who are provided with opportunities to learn, are supported on the job, and given flexibility to manage their work/life balance are less likely to feel overworked regardless of the hours or responsibility

It’s in an employer’s best interests to facilitate work/life balance whether through stress reduction and fitness programs or concierge services. It would also make their workplace much more appealing making recruitment and retention easier.

Poll your employees to identify their most common roadblocks to balance, then brainstorm viable strategies with them. For instance, if multi-tasking does rank high, what can be done to reduce it? Or can you at least provide brief, regular brakes to reduce the stress of it? If attending to family responsibilities ranks high, cross-train workers so someone can be covered when taking time off.

There will certainly be resistance, especially from “bottom line” people in your organization, to providing new life balance benefits, some based on misconceptions like:
§ Employees’ personal lives shouldn’t affect work
§ Hours at work equal results
§ Management will lose control
§ Benefits don’t make employees more productive
§ Family-friendly policies are mainly for women
§ Participation will be a career-limiting move
§ It's only for non-managerial positions
§ One approach is good for everyone

Find out why someone resists and satisfy their resistance. Clarify the goals, costs, benefits and challenges of new programs. Suggest a trial period vs. full implementation. Monitor, resurvey, and make necessary adjustments as the trial period moves forward.

In the meantime, if your employer isn’t likely to facilitate greater balance for you take responsibility for yourself:
§ Figure out how to multi-task less
§ Take all of your earned vacation time
§ Request flexibility from your boss rather than wait for her to act

A balanced worker is a more productive one, and one who’s more likely to stick around.

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, February 06, 2007

Is your Wheel of Life in balance?
Stress for Success
February 6, 2007

Certain stress reduction strategies are universally healthy for virtually everybody. One of them is having life balance. This can mean different things, such as balance:
• between work and home
• in personality traits, for example, an overly independent person would be wise to acknowledge the opposite trait, vulnerability, vs. push it away when it’s triggered • activity with rest to reduce the damage stress does to you physically and emotionally

To assess your overall life balance use the best Wheel of Life activity I've ever found by Ben Dean of MentorCoach that will identify areas of your life that are out of balance.

Draw a large circle on a piece of paper. Divide the circle into eight equal pie segments. Use the following categories to label each of the eight sections (or substitute other labels that represent your life more accurately):
• Career (or retirement)
• Financial security
• Health
• Social life
• Significant other/romance
• Spirituality
• Leisure time
• Physical environment

Regard the center of your wheel as a 0 and the outer edge a 10 to measure your satisfaction.
• 0 = no satisfaction
• 10 = complete satisfaction

For each section rate your level of satisfaction with it then draw a line representing your 0 to 10 score to create a new outer edge for that section. The new perimeter of the entire circle represents your Wheel of Life. How bumpy is your ride with your new perimeter?

Those sections you rated low in satisfaction are the areas to work on. For instance, if you rated six sections an “8” or higher and the remaining two, let's say, career and recreation significantly lower, to improve your life balance you need to engage more often in recreation that’s pleasing to you and to adjust your work life more to your liking.

Make a goal to increase your satisfaction with one section you’re presently discontented with by 2 – 3 points over the next three months. Then, regarding that section, what would you like more of and less of? For instance, with the work section, perhaps you’d want more:
• Uninterrupted time to focus
• Positive feedback on your work

Maybe you’d want less:
• Negativity
• Overtime

Next, figure out how to get more and less of what you say you want, making sure that it’s largely within your control to get. Expecting a boss, for instance, to give you more feedback is beyond your control. However, it’s within your control to ask her directly for the feedback you want.

In our rat-race society it may seem impossible to achieve balance. That’s why small steps are fine. For example, to improve your recreation score you could begin by turning off the TV one night a week and engaging in whatever recreational activity appeals to you.

Re-draw your Wheel of Life annually and make the necessary changes it implies. Eventually you’ll be in much greater balance.

Next week we’ll look at what your employer could do to help you move toward a healthier balance.

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.