Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Play devil’s advocate when interpreting your anger issues
Stress for Success
September 30, 2008

Do you know someone who' s "enemy-based," someone who’s hyper-vigilant and distrustful? They look for and find enemies where there are none. They interpret nonverbal behavior as hostile when there is no such intent. They frequently react to life’s situations with anger, cynicism and aggression.

But they see their reactions as justified. For example, hotheads in traffic are often enemy-based blaming all those rotten drivers for a myriad of sins. Given that they probably enjoy the high of their own adrenaline they feel little motivation to curb their hostility.

Here’s why they may want to challenge their suspicious interpretation of life's events:
Research published in Circulation found that men who explode with anger are at greater risk for strokes.
The UC, Berkeley Wellness Newsletter reported that a 2002 study found that postmenopausal women with heart disease had strong hostility as an independent risk factor for a second heart attack or death.
Medical scientist Dr. Nick Hall reports that discomfort with negative emotions, especially anger, correlates with increased susceptibility to some cancers and immune system problems like rheumatoid arthritis.

Excessive anger -- over real and imagined offenses -- is bad for your health let alone your relationships.

If you frequently believe that you’re mistreated, first and foremost learn to play the devil's advocate with your interpretation of events.

For example, your spouse washed the laundry but the brown pants you wanted to wear weren't included and you blow up over it. To put into perspective how upset you "should" be ask yourself, "How important will this be in one year that my brown pants didn't get washed?"

Or rate how important the upsetting event is on a scale of 1 to 10. Then rate the intensity of your emotional reaction. Getting the pants washed you decide rates a two in importance but your outburst was a seven, which shows that you're entirely too angry about it.

Or your boss reprimands you and you assume “she’s always out to get you." How can you know if you're looking for trouble or if she’s really unfair?

Focus specifically on what she criticized. For example, she said your report was late. Well, were you late? If so, then at least that part of the reprimand was legitimate.

Next, listen to your response. "She never gets on anyone else’s case for this." Challenge extreme words such as "always." Identify, if you can, at least one time when she reprimanded someone else for this, which proves that she doesn't "always" come down only on you. If there truly is no evidence then maybe she does treat you differently. Why?

Give permission to those whom you trust to challenge your perceptions when they think you’re being “unreasonably” distrustful. Look for factual evidence of differing interpretations to assess more accurately what’s going on.

Gradually, by playing the devil's advocate with your interpretation of perceived offenses you’ll see exceptions to your suspicious assumptions, which may lead to the awareness that you’re looking for trouble more than you realize.

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 23, 2008

Making friends the best medicine
Stress for Success
September 23, 2008

"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.
Two can be as bad as one.
It's the loneliest number since the number one."
Opening lines to Three Dog Night's “One”

These wise lyrics acknowledge that you can be lonely alone as well as within a relationship. Untold numbers of lonesome people rush into relationships to get rid of their isolation only to find themselves as unhappy as when they were by themselves.

And the sense of isolation can be bad for your health.

Last year researcher Stephen Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues published findings "that showed people who scored in the top 15% of the UCLA loneliness scale exhibited increased gene activity linked to inflammation and reduced gene activity associated with antibody production and antiviral responses. These patterns … were specific to loneliness not to other negative feelings such as depression," according to Scientific American Mind, June/July 2008.

In another study, Cole analyzed a variety of lonely people and found that their stress hormone cortisol wasn't suppressing the genes associated with inflammation as intended making them more vulnerable to serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. He also found in recent animal studies that cortisol receptors stopped working in rhesus monkeys that were socially stressed.

Unrelated research has shown for quite some time that "the impact of social relationships on life expectancy appears to be at least as large as cigarette smoking, hypertension, obesity, and (the) level of physical activity," according to Dr. Robert Sapolsky author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.

Think about the enormity of this!

Sapolsky refers to additional research that "lonelier, more socially isolated individuals had less of an anti-body response to a vaccine in one study; in another study people with AIDS had a faster decline in a key category of lymphocytes; in another, lonely women with breast cancer had less natural killer cell activity." People experiencing bereavement, even if historically they've not been lonely are also vulnerable.

No doubt, it's difficult if you're feeling abandoned to force yourself to go out and connect with others. But it’s the natural antidote to loneliness and it’s what you need to do.

British researchers have demonstrated that the healing power of friendship has close to the success rate in dealing with sadness of antidepressants or cognitive therapy.

Tirril Harris, Ph.D., of Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ schools of medicine in London reported in the Journal of Psychiatry that chronically depressed women were either randomly assigned a volunteer who acted as their confidante, or were placed on a waiting list for a “befriender” volunteer. Among the women who met with their volunteers regularly throughout the year 72% had a remission in their depression compared with 45% in the control group.

To combat your loneliness, whether you’re in a relationship or not, it’s vitally important to connect with others through volunteering or by spending more time with supportive family and established friends. Allow the healing power of human connection to help wash away your solitude.

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 16, 2008

Creating a life of contentment doesn’t have to involve marriage
Stress for Success
September 16, 2008

In the early ‘90s when I conducted training for CareerTrack Seminars, I was talked into presenting a new program titled, “How to Find and Keep a Mate.” Astonishingly, hundreds of people, predominantly women, attended each workshop. They seemed to mostly want a formula for literally finding a partner. But the key to finding a mate is to live your life to the fullest and in so doing you’ll meet like-minded people, a much healthier strategy than bar-hopping.

Historically one was thought to be incomplete if they were single, at least for women. So, many single women - and some men - were on a constant quest for the perfect partner. After all, married-couple households had been the norm making up 80% of all households in 1950.

But, how times have changed!

According to the US Census Bureau today only 50% of households are married-couples. Singles are the fastest growing demographic and soon will become the majority. They make up 42% of the American workforce, 40% of homebuyers, and 35% of voters.

Social historian Stephanie Coontz told Psychology Today, "Marriage is not the gateway to adulthood anymore. For most people it's the dessert -- desirable, but no longer the main course." Singles are a lot less desperate than before, as evidenced in a recent Pew Research Center survey: 55% of 3,000 singles reported that they aren’t in a committed relationship and for now aren’t interested in seeking a partner.

Ironically, after generations of women trying to get men to commit to marriage, polls show that men are becoming more amendable to marriage just as women are becoming more cautious. Because women still do more of the household chores and child care, they’re increasingly unwilling, as Coontz says, "to put up with something that violates their sense of fairness."

Historically, marriage was necessary for survival but it no longer is. Today, singlehood is a much more viable option, again especially for women due to greater opportunities for financial independence and reproductive freedom.

Surprisingly, most of us will spend more of our adult lives single than married. So, it’s time to update our perception of living solo.

If you’re single and not completely satisfied with it, consider:
buying your own home, which encourages you to progress as an independent person versus waiting for marriage to happen. It also increases your financial independence as your equity grows (it will grow again, right?)
pursuing all that engages your curiosity and gives you pleasure and joy and doing whatever helps you create a full and meaningful life
traveling more
furthering your education
developing lots of friendships with women and men. There are more single people than ever to connect with and enjoy.
getting your quota of touch, and not necessarily romantic. Everyone needs human connection.
that marriage doesn’t cure loneliness. Creating and living a meaningful life does.

So, whether you’re married or single, create the life you want to live rather than wait for something better to happen.

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 08, 2008

Don’t use cell phone before bedtime and other tidbits
Stress for Success
September 9, 2008

Here’s one last article with tidbits of health information. Hopefully, you’ll find something helpful for you or a loved one.

Don’t use cell phones before bedtime: Recent studies are again warning that cell phone signals can alter brain waves, which can interfere with sleep.

Neuroscientist Rodney Croft and colleagues at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia found a sudden power boost in volunteers' alpha brain waves when the researchers switched on the cell phones strapped to their heads (the subjects didn’t know when that was). Croft believes this may be explained “by the mind concentrating to overcome the electrical interference in brain circuits caused by the pulsed microwave radiation from cell phones.”

And sleep researchers at Loughborough University in England found that after being on the cell phone for 30 minutes, people took nearly twice as long to fall asleep as they did when the phone had been off or in standby mode. The scientists think this represents the time it takes the brain to relax after being agitated by the phone’s electrical field.

James Horne, one of the study's authors, however, cautions that the effects are harmless and less disruptive to sleep than half a cup of coffee. He wonders, though, "With different doses, durations or other devices, would there be greater effects?"

The elderly should talk to teens for better health: Working out in a social setting with younger people seems to be especially helpful for the elderly. Psychiatrist Sharon Arkin, of the University of Arizona, runs a clinical program in which Alzheimer's patients exercise with college students. She found that this stabilizes cognitive decline and improves patients' moods.

Drink pomegranate juice for prostate health: The American Chemical Society recently reported that pomegranates are rich in an antioxidant called ellagitannins, which when metabolized turns into compounds known as urolithins, which find and destroy prostate cancer cells. Although further study is needed, researchers are hopeful that the fruit may play a vital role in treatment.

Eat flaxseed for hot flashes: A small preliminary study from the Mayo Clinic suggests that flaxseed can help with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms for women who aren’t on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The study participants ingested 40 grams of crushed flaxseed daily and reported a 50% reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flashes, improved mood and a decrease in joint or muscle pain, chills and sweating. Flaxseed is becoming a natural and effective alternative to HRT.

Use your sense of smell for instant relaxation: Pamela Dalton, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says to pick a distinctive odor then pair it with a peaceful meditation. After a few sessions, the odor itself will trigger a relaxed state, even when you’re not meditating.

Use other common scents for other purposes:
Peppermint to increase brain activity to help wake up in the morning
Jasmine to facilitate sleeping
Lavender for relaxing
Vanilla after you’ve eaten to avoid eating sweets (otherwise it can make you hungry)

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 02, 2008

Think fast! Quick ways to improve health, outlook
Stress for Success
September 2, 2008

I’m always looking for interesting ideas to improve my own health and life. Not all work but many do. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve run across recently in my reading. Hopefully, you’ll find something that you can use.

Think faster: To improve your mood has it ever occurred to you as it has to Emily Pronin of Princeton University to speed up your thoughts? From her research she discovered that, "Even if you're having negative thoughts about yourself, you're better off having them fast. People are happier when they race through those thoughts rather than when they think each slowly."

Pronin and psychologist Daniel Wegner of Harvard can't explain why thinking faster is better. "We may be thinking so fast … our thoughts can't wander to dark places," Pronin speculates, and it may also explain our addiction to nicotine, caffeine, and anything that speeds us up.

They recommend trying the following to improve your mood:
Rapidly relate a story to someone
Quickly scan newspaper headlines
Play charades
Do jumping jacks or other faster moving exercises

In 60 seconds:
Come up with your top 10 dream vacations
List the 15 favorite people in your life
Write 20 three-letter words
Say 30 words that begin with "M"

Perform more acts of kindness: in 2005 Stanford University psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky tested whether there was a connection between acts of kindness and a sense of personal fulfillment. She assigned students to do five weekly "random acts of kindness” of their choice, “anything from buying a Big Mac for a homeless person to helping a younger sibling do school work.” Everyone reported greater happiness, and those who performed all five acts in one day were the happiest. Previous studies have found that altruistic people tend to be happy, but her study was the first to establish that good deeds actually cause an increase in well-being.

Why? It seems it’s because when you do something nice for someone else you feel like what you’re doing is more important. Plus, you’re appreciated by others, and some will reciprocate the kindness back to you.

Keep yawning: When I was in junior and senior high school I yawned dozens of time during virtually every period. I assumed it was because I was so tired, as evidenced by my sleeping through most of my classes. But Evolutionary Psychology reports that the reason we yawn is to cool the brain. The movement of the required facial muscles increases blood flow, which draws heat from the brain. Inhaling through your mouth to yawn brings cooler air into the lungs and lowers the temperature of blood in the brain by convection. Cooling your brain keeps you mentally alert (I wonder why it didn’t work for me.)

Do yoga if you have asthma: It was reported at an American Physiological Society meeting that doing 20 minutes of yoga, three times a week for six weeks improves breathing capacity, which, of course is great for asthmatics.

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.