Monday, March 26, 2007

Learn to follow Mind Management Truisms to reduce your stress
Stress for Success
March 27, 2007

Tom and Mary are stuck in traffic that’s creeping along painfully slowly making them both late for their respective meetings. Are they equally stressed? If you think the traffic is “causing” their stress then your answer should be “yes, they’re equally stressed.”

Tom thinks to himself, “Oh, great! I should have left 30 minutes earlier like I’d planned. I’d better call and let them know I’ll be late.”

Mary is pounding on her steering wheel screaming to everyone, “Get out of my way, you ignorant moron! You’re making me late!”

Whether or not you’re stressed by something is determined by your perception of it. Your perception is communicated to you through your thoughts. Wherever your thoughts are going that’s where you are going, my Mind Management Truism #1. Given what Mary said to herself she’s obviously going toward more stress than Tom.

Become more consciously aware of what you think and say about any given stressor to understand better the degree to which and why you’re stressed. Thinking thoughts that lead you away from problem-solving, not just at first but on and on is causing more stress than the event itself. It’s one thing to initially blow a gasket over traffic, it’s quite another to continue thinking gasket-blowing thoughts.

Eldridge Cleaver said in the 1960s, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” The same goes for your thinking. If your thoughts aren’t problem-solving in nature, they’re problem-perpetuating. If you continue to think stressful thoughts how can you reduce your stress?

Also ask yourself what your goal is in the situation. Are your thoughts leading you toward or away from it? If the goal of both drivers is to remain calm for their meetings, they must think thoughts that lead toward this goal. Tom’s thoughts meet this stress reducing criteria. Mary’s are moving her toward being frazzled.

Mind Management Truism #2 states that your perception of stress is largely about your perception of control – or lack of. Having a sense of personal control in any situation lowers your stress. In this situation both drivers have no control over the traffic. Tom reminded himself that he should have left early as he’d planned. He sees this predicament as largely of his own making. He has an “internal locus of control”, meaning that he believes he has control to influence events; if not this time then the next.

Mary blames other drivers for her stress, exhibiting an “external locus of control”, she thinks she lacks control over what happens to her. Feeling powerless keeps her from seeing how she could avoid such situations in the future. Until she takes responsibility (internal locus of control) to avoid traffic jams like leaving early, she’ll continue to feel like she has no options (external locus of control).

These are two of my Mind Management Truisms that can help lower your stress. Next week we’ll look more of the hugely important issue of locus of control followed in future weeks with more Mind Management Truisms.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Exercise for a better mental state
It helps curb depression, obsessive thinking

Stress for Success
March 20, 2007

The hot head’s face turns red; that vein in his temple throbs; he's about to blow. If he’s older he might blow himself right into a heart attack! For his heart and overall physical health and the health of his relationships, he’d be wise to exercise out his angry energy.

The same goes for those who suffer from depression or anxiety. There’s not much that’s healthier for you than exercise. But if getting out of bed feels overwhelming, exercising can seem impossible. The degree of mood improvement with regular exercise, though, is so significant that many believe it’s more effective than counseling and anti-depressants.

Small amounts of exercise are better than none and can prevent a relapse after treatment for these conditions. Kristin Vickers-Douglas, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic psychologist, says, “Small bouts of exercise may be a great way to a get started if it’s initially too difficult to do more.” If ten minutes is all you’ll do, then do ten minutes.

It’s not completely understood why exercise decreases mood disorder symptoms. It’s probably due to cortisol reduction and increased endorphins and body temperature, which may have calming effects.

Plus, exercise is a great substitute for the obsessive thinking that drives all of these difficult emotions. Where ever your thoughts are going that’s where you are going; anxious thoughts create anxiety. By exercising you burning up your fight/flight energy in a positive way, distracting you from obsessive thinking about how miserable you are.

To get motivated to start exercising:
§ First, talk with your physician and/or mental health professional for advice and support.
§ Next, figure out what you enjoy doing. If you hate “exercise” participate in a sport that you enjoy. You’ll be more likely to continue with it.
§ Set realistic goals. Create a long-term goal with shorter-term intermediate steps. If your ultimate goal is to walk daily for 30 minutes, start with 5 -10 minutes every day for the first month, the next month walk for 15 to 20 minutes, and so on. Avoid unreasonable goals that you fail to achieve. This makes you feel worse about yourself, aggravating your symptoms.
§ Accept that if you “fall off the wagon”, most of us do, you just have to start again.
§ Stop thinking that you “should” exercise; that’s a weight you don’t need. Instead, convince yourself of the benefits.
§ Isolation is common among those who are depressed and anxious, worsening symptoms, so exercise with others. Social contact decreases your symptoms and helps you meet your exercise goal.

Take the advice of Dr. Mary Ann Chapman, “The key to breaking a bad habit (doing nothing) and adopting a good one (exercising) is making changes in your daily life that minimize the influence of the now and remind you of the later.” In other words:
§ Minimize the immediate reward of doing nothing (relief from not having to exercise)
§ Make the long-term negative consequences of not exercising (continued depression/anxiety/anger) seem more immediate

So instead of excuse after excuse to avoid exercise, remind yourself how tired you are of being emotionally stuck and exhausted.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

“Inactivity should be considered a disease state”
Stress for Success
March 13, 2007

Anyone who’s unaware of the benefits of regular physical exercise on mental and physical health has been living under a rock for decades. If you know the importance of it and still don’t exercise, then you’re probably living in denial. As someone once said, "Inactivity should be considered a disease state."

Research has shown over and again that exercise diminishes the ravages of stress on your body, decreasing a variety of diseases and increasing longevity. Exercise that prevents disease and builds muscles also helps you manage your stress better. It’s one of the two most powerful health enhancing practices; the other is deep relaxation.

It drives me nuts when people complain about being overweight, having aches and pains, not to mention illness and disease yet don't find the wherewithal to do what they need to do to protect their health! Remaining sedentary is another way of saying you choose to put your health at risk.

There are countless reasons why exercise is essential:
§ It channels the fight/flight energy you generate daily, thereby keeping cortisol and other stress hormones from wearing you down physically. THIS IS A MAJOR REASON TO EXERCISE!
§ Activities like hiking, biking, swimming, etc. increase your brain’s production of those feel-good endorphins you've heard about. Endorphins are thought to provide some pain relief and to promote a sense of euphoria. (Don’t get addicted to it, though.)
§ Stretching and yoga diminish muscle tension giving you more energy, calming you and helping you think more clearly. Muscles contract during your fight/flight response. Exercising releases your muscles’ stored energy allowing them to return to a balanced – and less stressed – state so you’ll have fewer tension headaches, arthritis and back pain.
§ Physical fitness increases your self-control, which increases your self-confidence in other areas of your life and minimizes symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Anything that increases healthy self-control will diminish stress.
§ You’ll sleep better, too, (presuming you don’t exercise to exhaustion) so you’ll perform at higher levels.
§ Exercise also strengthens your body’s physical systems so you’re in better shape to fight any future illness and disease you may contract.

You don't have to start running marathons to benefit from exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic virtually any form can decrease the production of stress hormones and channel your fight/flight energy in healthy ways.

You can start small. If you know that you don’t get enough exercise, get more. If you now get winded from walking two blocks, walk two blocks until you don't get winded then increase to three, then four, etc.

Which exercise most appeals to you? Walking? Sports? (Please don’t say channel-surfing.) It makes no difference as long as it's regular and safe for you, your abilities and age.

Lastly, make your goal of getting more fit through exercise a step in achieving a larger life goal, such as living to see your grandchildren born! When you see how exercise can help you reach a bigger goal it gives it more meaning and therefore you’re more likely to follow through. Make it happen!

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at 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, March 06, 2007

Laugh your way to a healthy life
Stress for Success

March 6, 2007

There are certain skills that are the best at reducing stress, such as problem solving, deep relaxation, exercise, etc. Included in this list is looking at life with a sense of humor. It’s one of the best coping skills.

When both of my parents were ill at the end of their lives we relied on humor to soften the blow of the incredible stress of having both of them failing at the same time.

One of many examples I still fondly remember was my father in ICU for the first time. He couldn’t talk because he was on a ventilator but was trying so hard to communicate something to my mother and me. With no teeth in his mouth and a tube down his throat we had absolutely no idea what he was trying to say. The communication aides the nurses gave us didn’t work. For 30 minutes we guessed at what he was trying to say. After each guess he’d shake his head in frustration. Finally, my mother said to my father, “Are you asking why you can’t talk?” With great relief he nodded elatedly. We all burst out laughing uncontrollably. We climbed this mountain together and our reward, as it was all our lives, was a good laugh.

Life can be such a challenge and humor can help you deal better with almost any situation. It helps reduce stress because:

• Physically and mentally laughter’s the opposite of stress. It lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension and pain, and boosts your immune system.
• Humor facilitates mental flexibility and increases creativity by blocking negative emotions allowing you to think through problems instead of emotionally muddling through them.
• Laughing at yourself increases your objectivity about yourself, decreasing your defensiveness.
• Team building is facilitated by shared humor. (Not the divisive type like sarcasm or humor aimed at belittling anyone or any group will, of course.)
• “The shortest distance between two people is humor”, said the famed comedic pianist, Victor Borge. Humor improves most communication, especially when it’s potentially confrontational.
• It’s just fun.

Researchers are studying whether or not humor is good for your health. Michael Miller, University of Maryland School of Medicine, is one. Knowing that blood vessels constrict when you’re stressed making you more vulnerable to circulation problems, he wondered if laughter could loosen them. His study showed that blood flow decreased about 35% after experiencing stress but increased 22% after laughter, an improvement equal to about a 15-minute workout. Wouldn’t you love your physician to prescribe 15 minutes of laughter every day?

Other research has shown that stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline cause circulation changes. It stands to reason that laughter may cause the release of pleasure producing endorphins that may counteract stress hormones and increase blood flow.

Lee Berk, associate professor of health promotion and education who studies laugher at Loma Linda University in CA said, “Laughter is not dissimilar to exercise. It’s not going to cure stage three cancer but in terms of prevention it does make sense.”

Whether or not laughter and humor prove to reduce stress to the point of having a positive health effect, it just makes sense to put more humor into your life because it makes life more enjoyable. There’s so much stuff out there that’s funny … if you’d just look for it.

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