Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Enjoy Christmas, overcome stress
Stress for Success
December 25, 2007

The shopping is done, the gifts are wrapped, dinner’s ready (all of the gifts will be opened and the food consumed in a tiny fraction of the time it took prepare it), the family and the guests are gathering. It’s show time! It’s time to enjoy your loved ones and the reasons you celebrate today.

To enjoy today more with less stress focus on what Christmas means to you.

Christian beliefs celebrate the values of love, joy, hope and charity, etc. So when your sister Jean drives you nuts with her argumentative ways focus on your meaning of Christmas, which I assume includes love. Practice an underappreciated Christian value; acceptance of others as they are. (“Judge not lest ye be judged.”) Your aggravation with her won’t change her ways, it just aggravates you. Accept her and love her as she is (take a deep breath).

If you have a secular belief system Christmas is probably about gathering with loved ones. So when someone imbibes too much challenge yourself to look beyond it and to appreciate something about him; albeit perhaps when he’s sober.

For some, today is very painful because of the loss of a loved one. I wish there were words of wisdom to make this day less stressful. Certainly staying busy tends to help. But ultimately, grieving seems to require going through the difficult emotions vs. ignoring them or avoiding them. Journaling can help but probably just a little.

To find greater pleasure in today devise and repeat a mantra throughout the day, especially when something or someone is getting on your nerves. Identify two to three ways you need to “be” to side-step possible hassles. Would you need to be more patient? Less judgmental? A better listener? More assertive? Less Assertive? Calmer? Less defensive? Precede the two to three ways you need to be with, "I am …"

My favorite affirmation that I’ve used dozens of times over years is, "I'm calm and relaxed, accepting and gracious." It worked so well in the original situation for which I devised it that I've used it to center myself ever since. When I have it on my mind before I'm in a situation that’s likely to trigger me, I virtually always remain calm and relaxed, accepting and gracious. However, once I let my emotions get triggered, it's difficult to respond graciously.

Granted, it's a bit late to expect a new affirmation to work 100% for you, but by creating one right now and repeating it throughout the especially challenging moments today, you’ll center yourself so you can more likely “rise above” (as my mother always said) the events that trigger your stress reaction. Whenever you feel your blood pressure rising repeat your affirmation over and over (and take a deep breath).

Use your affirmation to bring yourself back to center to increase your ability to “be” as you want to be today.

Merry Christmas and strive to remain centered.

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. Stress for Success

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shop for gift of reason
Stress for Success
December 18, 2007

Think about what you’re buying vs. what you need
There are only seven more shopping days until Christmas! You'd better hurry!

Or so Madison Avenue would have you believe. But before you buy another gift for your kids, consider this research.

Lan Nguyen Chaplin of the University of Illinois and Deborah Roedder John of the University of Minnesota found that materialistic values, like preferring "nice sports equipment" to "being good at sports", increases between the ages of eight and nine, and 12 and 13. And it’s not surprising that children with low self-esteem value possessions much more than kids with higher self-esteem.

So if you want to give your kids the best Christmas gift ever, spend more time with them and teach them something new, which enhances their competence thus their self-esteem.

Deprivation can also lead to excessive materialism like for those who felt inadequate growing up in a poor household. On the opposite end of the economic scale, if money, status and image were very important to your parents, you may be more materialistic than your friends.

We’re also brainwashed by the media to buy, buy, buy. Advertisers imply greater happiness if you buy their product; has that ever worked for you? Doubtful.

Judith Levine, author of “Not buying it: my year without shopping”, bought only the necessities for an entire year. She not only saved $8,000 she also spent more time with friends and did more meaningful work. She said she felt liberated and also lonely and bored because she couldn’t do things that cost money but still had to replace her shopper’s “high”.

To cut back on buying things Levine recommends:
▪ Research the history and craftsmanship behind products to help you develop your own tastes versus advertisers’.
▪ When you obsess about shopping distract yourself with non-shopping activities, like exercising, reading or volunteering.
▪ See yourself less as a consumer and more as one who pursues what brings you passion and joy. When you spend, do it on what truly makes you happy in the long run versus the short run.

Also, think before you pull out your credit card:
▪ Differentiate between what you “want” and “need”. You need to eat to survive; you want an expensive meal at that trendy new restaurant.
▪ Before you buy something, weight the possible disadvantages versus the benefits of owning it.
▪ Ask yourself why you want something. If it’s to lift your spirits remember if it works at all it works only temporarily. If it's to improve your status remind yourself that extrinsic rewards (e.g., the sporting equipment) don’t work. Intrinsic rewards (e.g., developing your athletic skills) create true self-esteem.

With this year’s less stable economy it’s a good time to reevaluate your spending habits. Don't buy just for the sake of buying. Instead of racing around madly searching for the perfect gift that’s too soon forgotten and too little appreciated, why not spend time with that person doing something interesting as their Christmas gift instead? It won’t be as good for the economy but it’ll be much better for yours.

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, December 11, 2007

Always let your body win
Stress for Success
December 11, 2007

It’s comforting to know that your assessment of your own health more accurately predicts your future health and longevity than a review of your complete medical records (see last week’s article). This supports my commitment of always letting my body win.

Your body never lies to you. When you develop a symptom like insomnia, headaches or constipation, your body’s telling you to minimize the cause, therefore the physical symptom.

Those who consider themselves healthy are better listeners, and, according to recent research, experience a positive influence on their endocrine and immune systems, making them healthier. Those who consider themselves less healthy would be wise to listen more.

Tel Aviv University health psychologist, Yael Benyamani, believes if you think you’re in good health you take better care of yourself. Since healthy habits lead to healthy outcomes, exercising, for example, becomes not only good for your health it also supports your perception of good health, which leads to even more healthy habits; a great cycle.

Benyamani also believes that if you think your health isn’t so great you’ll give in to unhealthy habits like smoking, eating poorly and not exercising. Your belief may not only predict but also cause less healthy outcomes. His advice to those who think they’re less healthy includes:
§ Pay close attention to changes in your physical functioning. When your sleep pattern, appetite, energy level, or what Benyamani calls “vague bodily sensations, not things you’d necessarily tie to specific illnesses” deteriorate
they’re red flags to pay attention to.

For any physical symptom that goes on for more than a few days, figure out its cause. Usually there’s a stressor that has been bothering you since or shortly before the symptom onset. Make a commitment to yourself that for all physical symptoms you’ll let your body win by taking appropriate action. Solve your stressor to reduce the stress therefore your physical symptom. For example, if your physical symptom is exhaustion, get more sleep, take more naps, meditate more versus reach for another cup of coffee to keep going!

§ Pay much more attention to your risky behaviors like smoking, overeating, etc., and acknowledge the potential and actual impact they’re having on your physical and emotional self.

If you choose to do nothing different at least remain consciously aware that it’s your choice; maybe someday you’ll make healthier ones.

It’s common to take years to talk yourself out of a bad habit and into a better one. When you’re in this “contemplation” stage of change, use the time wisely and seek information regarding the potential damage the bad habit causes and the benefits of its corresponding good habit.

§ Depression hinders awareness of the negative impact of bad habits and inhibits taking positive action. Consider counseling, which can pave the way for healthier choices.

Get on your own great cycle: pay much closer attention to the invaluable physical information you gather from inside yourself daily. It’s your roadmap to healthier choices, better health and ultimately a growing perception that you are indeed healthy.

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.

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