Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It’s back to work, say goodbye to summer
Stress for Success
September 25, 2007

Labor Day has past so it’s time to say goodbye to summer. The kids are back in school and you’re back to the work "grind". But take it from me you’d be bored to be on vacation every day.

After nine months of our year-long sabbatical (motor-homing around the country) my husband and I were both ready to return to a "normal" life. A Canadian RV park manager said it perfectly, "You can only play so long."

It's very common for us to dread work and live for our weekends. Bill Cosby did a great stand-up routine poking fun at the Americans who drag themselves through their work-week anxiously awaiting their weekends just so they can stuff themselves with every bad habit, food, and drink possible. Then they haul themselves back to work on Mondays to suffer through yet another work-week.

But humans need much more meaning than this and much of it comes to us from work, psychologist and author of "Finding Flow", Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, found. Most of our “peak experiences” are from work.

In the introduction to his book, Csikszentmihalyi says, “… we often walk through our days … out of touch with our emotional lives. As a result of this inattention, we find ourselves constantly bouncing between two extremes: during much of the day we live inundated by the … pressures of our work and obligations, and during our leisure moments, we tend to live in passive boredom."

To avoid this uninspiring lifestyle he encourages us to engage in activities that require a high degree of skill and commitment. Instead of watching television, perfect a hobby; transform a routine task with a new goal, “learn the joy of complete engagement” by making desirable and undesirable tasks into “flow” activities by:
· Defining your goal
· Creating a sense of control
· Getting relevant feedback on how you’re doing
· Stretching your skills to reach your goal
· Having uninterrupted focus
· Appreciating what you’re doing but it isn’t necessary

For example, for me, skiing is a flow activity.
· My goal: enjoy the challenge while getting safely to the bottom of the hill
· I mostly ski within my limits to give me control
· My feedback: not falling too frequently and reaching the bottom in one piece
· Believe me, I’m stretching my skills just to ski
· The time is uninterrupted; I’m completely focused
· I love the challenge, the beautiful surroundings, and the wind rushing by my cold ears!

You can even make mundane chores, like mowing grass, less undesirable:
· Make a goal to mow it more efficiently or neatly
· Your new goal gives you control
· Your feedback is whether or not you accomplish it
· Make your goal require stretching your skills to reach it
· Focus completely on the task to accomplish your goal
· Appreciate your improved outcome

Boredom and lack of motivation are very stressful states. Make your life much more interesting and fun by turning daily activities into flow activities.

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

Monday, September 17, 2007

Consider alternative treatments for headaches
Stress for Success
September 18, 2007

If you experience frequent headaches and the medications you’re taking aren’t working effectively, why not consider natural treatments instead?

Since stress is a major cause of and contributor to headaches it makes sense that alternative treatments for them are familiar stress reduction recommendations: biofeedback and relaxation (well documented as effective headache treatments), acupuncture, massage, herbs, and diets (less well documented as effective).

Let’s start with biofeedback. Small metal sensors attached to your skin measure muscle tension, brain waves, skin temperature, and other vital signs. Stress, through the fight/flight response, reduces skin temperature by constricting blood vessels while relaxation dilates them warming the skin.

According to the Cleveland Clinic biofeedback trains you to send blood flow to your brain for headache management. Most studies show that it reduces the frequency and duration of headaches in children and adults and seems equivalent to many headache medications. And there are no side effects!

Next is acupuncture, the ancient Chinese technique that inserts small needles into specific body points. Acupuncturists believe that illness and pain develop when the natural flow of "chi", the energy that circulates through the body’s meridians, is disrupted, causing an energy imbalance. Acupuncture corrects this imbalance.

It appears that acupuncture may cause the release of pain reducing chemicals, such as endorphins. The World Health Organization recognizes more than 30 diseases or conditions, ranging from allergies to tennis elbow that can be helped by acupuncture. In 1997 the National Institute of Health stated that for headaches, low back pain, menstrual cramps and carpal tunnel syndrome, “acupuncture was useful as part of a comprehensive pain management program.”

Acupuncture’s effects may also be ongoing: in a recent study chronic pain in the neck and shoulders and subsequent headaches were reduced for months.

Another alternative treatment is massage, although clinical trials haven’t demonstrated its value in headache treatment. Since it reduces muscle tension in the back of the head, neck, and shoulders by increasing blood flow it may reduce muscle tension headaches.

Some people swear by the use of herbs for headache treatment and prevention. Feverfew is the most popular herbal remedy for migraines, with studies showing that it’s helpful and well-tolerated, with only mild side effects. However other evidence has found it no more effective than placebos.

Another headache treatment is aromatherapy. There’s some evidence that the use of lavender, ginger and peppermint oils may help relieve tension headaches.

Avoiding certain foods, such as chocolate, aged cheese, citrus fruits, red wine and others, may limit headaches for some if you know which food is causing your headaches. First you’d need to keep an accurate diary of headaches and eating habits. More research is needed to determine if making dietary changes actually reduces headaches. However, significant reduction in migraine headaches has been observed when:
· dietary fat consumption is reduced
· supplementing the diet with omega-3 fatty acids

Since stress strongly contributes to and causes many headaches consult with your physician to decide if a natural versus “medical” approach would be better for you.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Know what could be causing headaches
Stress for Success
September 11, 2007

Have you ever wondered if your headaches are just headaches or if they're symptoms of something more serious, even life threatening?

"Primary" headaches such as migraine, tension and cluster are just headaches; they’re not caused by other illnesses. “Secondary” headaches are caused by a physical condition or from medication, such as:
· brain tumors
· subdural hematomas (caused by head trauma)
· epidural hematomas (usually from skull fractures)
· meningitis and other infections
· strokes
· sudden onset of severe high blood pressure
· sudden elevation of pressures inside the eyes
· sinusitis
· hypothyroidism
· Parkinson's disease
· cardiac ischemia
· medications such as estrogen, progestins, calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure, and some serotonin reuptake inhibitors used to treat depression
· overuse of over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers
· withdrawal from caffeine or analgesics

If you have on-going headaches, it’s very important to check with your physician to determine their cause rather than assuming they’re “just” headaches.

As I wrote last week, the most common primary headache is a tension headache, which virtually all adults will have at some point. They’re mostly stress related.

The other primary headaches can be more chronic and are also strongly influenced by stress. The National Headache Foundation reports that 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches of one kind or another and spend more than $4 billion annually on over-the-counter relief.

Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache with about 12% of the population experiencing them (approximately 6% of men and 18% of women). Because they’re often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as tension or sinus headaches many sufferers don't receive effective treatment.

Cluster headaches are a far rarer primary headache, affecting .1 - .4% of the population. Approximately 85% of sufferers are men. These more severe and one-sided headaches occur, as the name implies, in clusters usually from one to eight headaches a day. For 90% of sufferers, the clusters occur intermittently. For the remainder the clusters are chronic meaning there’s no remission for more than one year or remission for fewer than 14 days.

If you experience frequent or chronic headaches and routinely medicate yourself, you can actually worsen your pain by causing “rebound headaches,” according to Ken Holroyd, professor of health psychology at Ohio University (holroyd@ohio.edu.). “When you take pain-relieving medication regularly, your body adjusts to that level of medication. Rebound headaches may then occur between medication doses or if you don’t take the medication. For some this can be a cyclical problem. They take medication for a headache, get more headaches, take more medication, and so on. This cycle needs to be broken before headaches can be effectively treated.” Antidepressants and other tricyclics, also used for headache treatment, don’t cause this rebound effect according to Holroyd.

If you experience frequent headaches, you and your physician need to decide if they’re primary or secondary. Rather than automatically medicate yourself try stress reduction to reduce primary headaches. This leads to fewer headaches as well as enjoying the additional benefits of lower stress.

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Try stress management techniques to relieve tension headaches
Stress for Success
September 4, 2007

You're behind on two work projects that are due next week, not to mention the sorry shape of your house. One of your kids needs braces and your mortgage payment is overdue. Life is just too stressful! You reach for the aspirins as you feel a headache coming on again.

Your headache pain probably gradually begins at the back of your head and upper neck, tightening like a band of pressure on both sides. It’s not usually disabling but it makes coping with anything stressful more difficult.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and most adults occasionally experience them; women more so than men. They’re called episodic if you have them on fewer than and chronic if on more than 15 days per month.

There’s no single cause, for instance, they’re not an inherited trait. It’s commonly believed that tension headaches are caused by - you got it - tension or stress. Symptoms can include:
· Irritability
· Waking up with a headache
· Chronic fatigue
· Trouble falling and staying asleep
· Muscle aches
· Loss of focus
· Dizziness

Tension headaches are red flags telling you to reduce your stress. Rather than simply medicating yourself with aspirin, try these ideas:
· Consciously deep breathe for a couple of minutes every hour on the hour to limit your headaches. Inhale deeply and as you exhale imagine the breath slightly expanding the part of your head that aches.
· Do deep relaxation several times a week.
· Free up time daily by not doing unimportant chores and invest that time into creating quiet time for yourself.
· Reduce complaining about things; ask if what you’re complaining about is within your control. If it is identify and pursue your options in dealing with it.
· Stop worrying about anything that’s beyond your control.
· Get regular, daily exercise even if only a relaxed walk vs. cardio-vascular exercise. Do yoga.
· Look at stressors through humorous eyes to diminish the tension they create.
· Do something fun on a regular, at least weekly, basis to make every-day stress easier to deal with.
· Eat a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to give you more energy.
· Consider biofeedback or counseling to reduce your tension headaches.

If these traditional stress management techniques aren’t enough to quell your chronic tension headaches, which 2 – 3% of Americans have, consider using antidepressants along with stress management techniques. Findings from an Ohio University clinical trial, published in the May, 2001 Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest a combination of antidepressants and stress management therapy can cut the frequency of chronic headaches by as much as 50%! This combination is more effective than medication or stress reduction alone. Additionally, those subjects receiving both treatments were able to discontinue antidepressant sooner than those receiving antidepressants only.

Headaches are a real pain. Look at them as symptoms of stress needing to be resolved and go to http://nationalheadachefoundation.com to learn more. Information is power.

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