Monday, December 28, 2009

Set goals with the “end in mind”
Stress for Success
December 29, 2009

Goodbye and good riddance to 2009, right? Let’s make 2010 a much more stable year by learning from the past to prepare for our futures.

“Start with the end in mind,” said Steven Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” Seeing how your day-to-day efforts move you toward larger and important - even distant - goals creates energy, willpower and the motivation to accomplish them. Plus, making steady progress toward your vision gives your life greater meaning, therefore significantly less stress on a daily basis.

So, where do you want to be in three - five years? You can create New Year’s goals to nudge you in that direction. If you don’t know your destination, answer the two magic questions repeatedly over several weeks about your personal and professional lives:
* “What do I want/need more of?”
* “What do I want/need less of?”
Whatever repetitively appears on successive lists paints a picture of your desired destination around which you form your smaller goals.

Answering these same two questions also helps when you know your destination.

Let’s say that in three years you plan to graduate from college and get a better job than the one you lost during this recession. Keeping the end in mind, you define your vision as regaining financial stability, protecting yourself from being unemployed again and getting serious about saving for your retirement, which is twenty years down the road. To reach it you want/need:

* time to study;
* sharing of household responsibilities to create that time;
* paying off debt;
* savings;
* energy to succeed in school;
* weight loss;
* satisfaction with what you have;

* debt;
* perfectionism about unimportant tasks;
* stress over finances;
* unnecessary spending;
* wanting what you don’t have;

Next, set and achieve smaller goals to reach your vision within three years. But set realistic ones since unattained goals create stress. For example:
* Pay down credit cards faster, even if only by a small amount, and when they’re paid off, deposit that same amount of money monthly into savings;
* Create and stick to a reasonable budget and stop buying what you can’t afford;
* Take an assertiveness class to learn how to set limits with your family and to request their help in sharing responsibilities;
* Start walking a mile a day multiple times a week to lose weight and get healthier;
* Begin each day being grateful for your blessings;

Keep your destination on your mind by making a colorful and appealing collage that depicts it. Post it at home, in your office and/or in your car to keep you focused on what you need to do daily to accomplish it. Even tiny investments of time toward one of your goals, like making a five minute phone call, give the rest of your day more meaning while reducing your stress.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started and make 2010 and less stressful year.

Happy New Year!

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pets can be great stress relievers
Research shows they lower your blood pressureStress for Success
December 15, 2009

Recently, watching a loving friend sleeping while draped over my lap (our cat Blue) I realized that I’ve never written about pets and stress. So let me right this wrong for they are one of your best stress breaks, at least if you like animals.

My husband and I have virtually always had cats over the last 33 years and we can attest to their calming influence. This became clearest to me during an episode of chronic stress – parental care giving. Frequently, dragging myself home after incredibly stressful days our two adorable Siamese kittens would use me as a Jungle Jim melting away my stress in seconds.

These beloved best friends provide constant comfort while bringing out our own nurturing instincts. They serve as a distraction from weightier issues and stave off loneliness. They never judge us if we’ve gained weight or even abused drugs. We can be ourselves with them. They love us unconditionally.

There’s much research reporting the health benefits of pets like from the CDC: pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and loneliness.

The State University of NY at Buffalo studied 48 stockbrokers with no medical conditions other than hypertension, who in the previous five years lived alone with no pets. Half of them were assigned a cat or dog, while the others remained alone. Six months later, those caring for a pet had significantly lower blood pressure than those without pets. “When we told the group that didn’t have pets about the findings, many went out and got pets,” says researcher Karen Allen, Ph.D. “This study shows that if you have high blood pressure, a pet is very good for you … and pet ownership is especially good if you have a limited support system.” Pets can even lower blood pressure better than drugs, especially during stressful times.

Dr. Allen also examined the effects of friends, spouses and pets on stress over unpleasant tasks. Compared with human support, “the presence of pets was associated with lower perceived and actual responses to stress.”

Other research finds:
* Petting an animal calms you lowering your heart rate and blood pressure;
* Pets can provide exercise, helping your heart;
* In 1999 UCLA Public Health report: AIDS patients with no pets were about three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than those who had close attachment to pets. Elderly people with close connections to pets had fewer doctor visits; those with disabilities reported improved health status;
* A City Hospital in NY study: heart patients with pets were significantly more likely to be alive a year after being discharged than those with no pets. The presence of a pet was found to increase survival more than having a spouse or friends!
* A 2007 Met Life study found pets ward off elderly depression;

Pets aren’t for everyone. But if you’re a fan, connect regularly with your pet and nurture their emotional connection and support. If you don’t have a furry best friend consider getting one to significantly reduce your stress.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at

Monday, December 07, 2009

I wrote my book to “wake you up!”
Stress for Success
December 8, 2009

I’ve learned some things about stress over my 25 years of international speaking:
§ The most important point is that stress is in the mind of the beholder, what stresses you may not stress your neighbor;
§ Much if not most of your stress is in your interpretations, not in the stressor itself;
§ Most want to believe that “they” or “it” cause their stress;
§ Most don’t want to do the hard work of stress management, which requires that playing devil’s advocate with your own thoughts - the difficult part of stress management;
§ You probably know what you’re supposed to do to reduce stress - healthy eating, exercise, meditate, etc. - but probably don’t do enough;

This is what motivated me to write my recently published book, “Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain and Simple” (available at It drives me nuts (I know, I choose to be driven nuts) when people continue to barrel through life accumulating tons of stress, not realizing the physical and emotional damage they’re doing to themselves then doing too little to protect themselves from it.

I am passionate about helping people make this very conscious connection between the parade of stressors that march through their lives and the physical and emotional symptoms they exhibit. Once they become very aware of this connection my hope is that instead of taking daily aspirins for headaches or Nexium for ongoing indigestion or blood pressure medication they’ll see their symptoms for what most of them are: symptoms of stress. Instead of popping pills they could work to lower their stress.

My book is about the damage from chronic stress (too much stress for too long) that makes you vulnerable to illness and disease development. You’ve read in this column numerous times the negative consequences from diabetes to depression, headaches to heart disease. My mission is to scare you with the research and to wake you up to the “why” you need to adopt healthier habits.

To explain the consequences of chronic stress, Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University’s brilliant stress researcher and author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” says:
“No single disastrous effect, no lone gunman. Instead, kicking and poking and impeding, here and there, make this a bit worse, [make] that a bit less effective. Thus, making it more likely for the roof to cave in one day.”

The way I convey the damage is drip, drip, drip.

Depressing as this may be, there is also GREAT news about stress.

The “Plain and Simple” part of my book title is what really motivates me to spread the good news. The advice is simple: to protect yourself and your future physical and mental wellbeing from the ravages of stress and its excess fight/flight hormones get more rest away from your stress through Stress Breaks. Rest doesn’t have to be literal like a nap, although it’s a great Stress Break, but any break away from the onslaught of daily pressure. I include techniques for releasing your fight/flight energy like yoga, volunteering, connecting with people, etc. and relaxing the energy through meditation, deep breathing , etc. You don’t necessarily have to engage in the two Stress Breaks that give you the biggest bang for your buck – exercise and meditation – because even practicing the smaller things frequently increases your protection.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at .

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Reclaim control by overcoming your fear of flying
Stress for Success
December 1, 2009

Having experienced panic attacks, I’m grateful mine never extended to flying or I’d never have pursued the profession I love, which involved near-weekly flying. I can too easily imagine aviophobes’ fear when panic sets in and there are no options of escaping until the airplane lands!

A 2006 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found 27% of American adults are “somewhat afraid” to fly with 9% “very afraid,” better than post-911 when 43% were frightened and 17% were very afraid. At least 10% of Americans have full-blown phobias and worry obsessively that they’ll crash or die from their own fear.

There are multiple causes for this fear:
* Feeling of not being in control;
* Claustrophobia;
* Fear of heights;
* Multiple, frightening flying experiences, like severe turbulence;
* Heightened stress putting you into a “panic zone” where you’re more vulnerable to panic;

The great news is that there are effective treatments:
* Therapy and self-help products that teach you to notice and combat fear-escalating thought patterns, imagery and relaxation techniques to overcome them;
* Virtual therapy using 3-D computer flight simulations, which 2006 research by psychologist Barbara Rothbaum of Emory University found a greater than 70% success rate;
* Hypnosis can expose the circumstances when you first developed your fear to better understand and conquer it;
* Cognitive-behavior therapy includes information about aircraft safety;
* Tranquilizers or antidepressants can help but aren’t long-term solutions. Therapy is usually required to overcome your anxiety.

However, the best treatment, exposure therapy, requires you to confront your fears by actually flying – with preparation. Exposure therapy can help more than 90% of aviophobes, according to German psychologist Marc-Roman Trautmann.

Trautmann believes that lack of information is the main cause of aviophobia so he provides the facts about air travel to soothe exaggerated beliefs of its dangers. For example, when an airplane banks you might fear it could tip over. But what you see is an optical illusion. It looks like the horizon is perpendicular to the aircraft when it actually takes the curve at scarcely 25 degrees from horizontal and planes are built to take curves safely at 60 degrees.

Aviophobes also exaggerate their fears by obsessing about them sending their mental and physical symptoms through the roof! To interrupt the cycle, Trautmann uses a cognitive-behavioral approach of educating clients that although their fear and physical symptoms are real they’re simply the fight/flight response mistakenly trigged. The stress response is meant to engage when you’re in danger. Aviophobes create danger in their minds, which triggers their physical panic symptoms. “I feel like I’m going to die,” some say. Trautman counters, “No one dies of fear.”

Students are also taught relaxation to dull their panic symptoms. Then through habituation, a form of learning where reactions to a stimulus diminish with repeated exposure, they accompany him on actual flights.

This may sound scary but what’s scarier is missing out on your life. Buck up by seeking out effective treatments to overcome your fear so you can reclaim your life.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Even in these hard times, you can still be grateful
Stress for Success
November 24, 2009

Societies around the world have seemingly always celebrated annual harvests. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, the British have their fall Harvest Festival, Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, the nine-day thanksgiving festival, and the Chinese have an equivalent celebration during their eighth calendar month.

The first recognized American Thanksgiving meal was in 1621 with the Plimouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians celebrated their autumn harvest. The Wampanoags taught the Pilgrims how to survive in their new land; something for which the Pilgrims must have been very grateful.

The original feast in 1621 was based on English harvest festivals and it lasted for three days. Our ever-expanding middles can be grateful that our celebration is just one meal plus leftovers (love those leftovers.) In 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of Thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. Gradually the custom of annually celebrating the fall harvest took root in New England.

It’s a wonderful tradition and given its pervasiveness in worldwide cultures it seems to speak to the human need to acknowledge our blessings. It connects us with family and community in a way that can help us appreciate the importance of each other in bringing in our harvests, even our modern-day harvest - jobs.

Appreciation is an important antidote to stress, especially during these ongoing economic difficulties. Focusing on something other than the dire, yet hopefully improving, condition is healthy for your well-being.

Being consciously grateful is also a proven technique to pull yourself out of emotional drama. For example, you’re exasperated over the fact that you do virtually all of the work for Thanksgiving dinner. After hours and hours of preparing the meal it’s consumed in a matter of minutes. If that weren’t enough, you watch the stuffed dinner guests waddle over to the TV to watch football while you’re left with the mess.

What could you be grateful for? That you …
* Have people you love who are pleased with your meal;
* Are a great cook and host;
* Are healthy enough to create such a feast and have enough energy to clean up after it;
* Are getting help cleaning up from some guests;
* Can change your approach next year and make it clear that you expect everyone to have responsibilities before and after your Thanksgiving meal;

At least for this week, see if your stress abates a bit by daily being consciously grateful for what you have. Put your mind into a thankful place with even the craziness that sometimes accompanies such a busy holiday. Give your co-workers, customers and boss a break. Be grateful you have a job or if you don’t that one might come along soon. Forgive your family members or friends whose habits aggravate you. Be thankful you have them in your life instead.

Look at life in general this week through grateful eyes. How does that change things? What would happen if we did it 365 days a year?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Fort Myers, FL (November 11, 2009) – Jacquelyn Ferguson, author of Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain and Simple will appear from noon to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, November 21, 2009 at Mark Loren Designs, in Fort Myers, for a book signing reception. This will be her first official appearance to introduce her newly published book.

Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple is about chronic stress -- elevated stress that lasts for six months or longer. Chronic stress makes people vulnerable to illness & disease development. Diabetes to depression, insomnia to indigestion, heart problems to headaches are common symptoms from too much stress. The book presents practical techniques, in plain and simple language, to help readers protect their emotional, physical & mental well-being by letting their body win. Techniques addressed include stress breaks like deep breathing, recognizing signs of stress, and activities which help mitigate the damage of the stress response.

Jacquelyn Ferguson is a professional and stress coach and owns InterAction Associates, a management development and training firm. For over 25 years, Jacquelyn has presented keynotes and workshops on stress management, diversity, customer service and communication skills to audiences throughout North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and points in between. She has served in the Peace Corps, holds a Master’s degree in Community Counseling/Psychology, and worked for several years as a Program Director at the Ruth Cooper Mental Health Center in Fort Myers, Florida. She has authored four audio programs, and her column “Stress for Success” appears weekly in the Fort Myers News-Press’ Healthy Living section.

Mark Loren Designs is located at 13351 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers, Florida 33919. Wine will be served and books will be available for purchase. Guests will have the opportunity to have their books signed, meet the author, and discuss the benefits of stress management. Reservations are not required.

For more information about Jacquelyn Ferguson and her new book, visit
Stress a major factor with panic attacks
Knowledge most effective treatment
Stress for Success
November 17, 2009

Panic attacks are frightening. Your heart races to the point you fear a heart attack. You experience shallow breathing, nausea and sweating triggering agonizing thoughts about losing control, going crazy or dying.

You probably obsessively worry about future attacks so avoiding the situations causing them seems logical. Your world shrinks and your quality of life diminishes. Your panic symptoms and avoidance behavior qualify you for a diagnosis of panic disorder.

I overcame infrequent panic attacks in my 20s. Thirty years later they returned while driving over high bridges. Why? My overall stress level was through the roof due to my care-giving for both of my parents during their end-of-life illnesses.

Virtually anyone can develop panic attacks. Research explains that a person’s first one is caused by enough ongoing heightened stress where just a little more can put you into a panic zone. My newly emerged attacks disappeared as my stress level gradually returned to normal (out of my panic zone) after my parents passed away.

Genetic vulnerability explains why others panic. If one identical twin has panic disorder, the chance that her twin also has it is two to three times higher than for fraternal twins.

New research suggests another cause: too much carbon dioxide. Danish experimental psychiatrist Eric Griez had healthy volunteers inhale air with varying levels of carbon dioxide. With higher amounts they reported feeling fear, discomfort, fear of losing control and dying. These results build on Donald Klein’s “false suffocation alarm” theory suggesting that some people have an overly sensitive suffocation monitoring system.

Physiological and/or psychological vulnerabilities can also make you more likely to panic, such as a short-fuse fight/flight response from excessive childhood stress or having parents who taught you that the world is a very scary place.

Regardless of the cause, you’ll likely associate your physical and mental symptoms with what’s going on at the time. These associations become “learned alarms” that can provoke further panic. Like how some mistake the accelerated heart rate from vigorous exercise with the heart pounding of a panic attack, triggering an attack. Or confuse excitement, which triggers the fight/flight in a positive way, with panic, thus setting off another attack. It’s a vicious cycle. You’ve become hyper-vigilant to the physical and mental symptoms associated with panic attacks setting you up for more of them.

Knowledge about panic disorder is the most effective treatment:
* Accept that panic attacks are a perfectly normal physiological function (the fight/flight, albeit overheated) that won’t kill you nor drive you crazy. They trigger catastrophic thinking that’s within your control to minimize. For example, avoid building exaggerated scenarios of passing out based on your faster breathing from a panic attack.
* Wait for a few minutes and the panic will subside. It’ll diminish faster if you don’t feed it with exaggerated thinking.
* Take yourself out of the panic attack zone by reducing your overall stress;
* Get gradual exposure to the internal and external cues to diminish their associative power;

Next week we’ll look at panic attacks in the air.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Go to for past articles.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chronic stress may lead to cancer development
Weakened immune system less likely to stave off illness
Stress for Success
November 10, 2009

Mounting research demonstrates that chronic stress, elevated stress for more than four months, makes you vulnerable to illness and disease development but does this include cancer? According to the National Cancer Institute it seems the answer depends upon whom you talk to. Some researchers say yes, others say no. There’s not enough evidence to say definitively one way or the other. Some studies have found a link but not a direct cause-and-effect.

Partly it’s unclear because the relationship between physical and psychological health isn’t well understood. Also because of that huge variable: genetics. Then there are common risk factors for cancer like:
* Bad habits like smoking, alcohol abuse
* Growing older
* Being overweight
* Having a family history of cancer
Researchers have difficulty controlling the presence of these factors in study groups and separating them from the effects of stress.

One researched connection between stress and physical health that’s near-universally accepted is that stress weakens your immune system, which protects you from infection and disease, including cancer. Also, recent animal studies suggest that your fight/flight stress response can directly alter important cellular processes that help protect against the formation of cancer, such as DNA repair and the management of cell growth.

Since chronic stress also increases your risk of obesity, heart disease, depression and other illnesses and conditions possibly leading to unhealthy habits like overeating, smoking or alcohol or drug abuse, all of which can influence your cancer risk, it’s safe to say that elevated stress for too long can make you vulnerable to develop whatever your genetics predisposes you to develop.

Additionally, some studies indicate that stress can affect cancerous tumor growth and its spread, but the how isn’t well understood. Perhaps it’s the effect of stress on the immune system, which affects tumor enlargement. Also, research using animals indicates that the body’s release of stress hormones can directly affect cancer cell functions.

Finally, a review of studies researching psychological factors and vulnerability to cancer suggests a relationship between certain psychological factors and the growth or spread of cancer:
* Feeling helpless
* Suppressing negative emotions
Not all studies, however, found this relationship. A stronger relationship has been found between psychological factors and cancer growth and spread versus cancer development. (This information is from the National Institute of Mental Health:

In short, we can’t definitively say that stress causes cancer. At minimum since chronic stress is strongly indicated in cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and many lesser afflictions (from insomnia to irritable bowel syndrome) it behooves you to manage your stress well, especially if cancer is in your family. And since stress can exacerbate any health problem, it’s wise to direct your stress energy to keep the stress hormones from triggering your genetic vulnerabilities. Channel this energy regularly through the two most efficient and powerful Stress Breaks: physical exercise (releases the stress energy) and meditation (relaxes it). Taking better care of yourself also increases your sense of personal control, automatically decreasing your stress, therefore its harmful effects.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Go to for past articles.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Sudden death of stepson something quite different
Support from others critical to coping
Stress for Success
November 3, 2009

When the phone rings at 1:00 a.m., it’s never good news. This happened to my husband and me very recently. And it was very bad news. My 38 year-old step-son, my husband’s younger of two boys, had just passed away. We were stunned.

Bobby lived with us when he was a very sweet and social 16-year-old (it’s great to describe a 16-year-old boy that way.) He was a pleasure to live with. He moved back in with us a few times after that as an adult, as so many young people do.

Sad and bad news like this sinks in slowly. Throughout the day we both frequently found ourselves staring into space. Friends and family started to call with condolences and the tears flowed. Family gathered, and that’s good. It helps so much. These make it real.

We’ve lost several friends and relatives over the past years and it’s never easy. But a son – that’s different. That’s not supposed to happen.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past decade from losing both of my parents, a sister, a brother-in-law and several friends is that it’s important to have no unfinished business with your loved one who passes away. I’ve seen it happen time and again where the ailing person and a surviving loved one patched things up at the end; even with no words spoken about anything needing to be patched up. It was the behavior of each that showed the other that all was forgiven; that their mutual love was far more important than whatever had separated them. Why do we let things fester?

Life contentment is to a huge degree determined by how connected to others we were throughout life. Even something little like sending heart-felt sympathy cards strengthens these connections. I’d never previously understood their significance from a survivor’s eyes. Now I’ve become much better at sending cards myself.

More importantly, opening yourself to the expressions of love and support help cope with stress and loss. Like a dear friend who cooked a meal large enough for an army after my father died. She knew we were hosting many family members and cooking is one of her gifts. Other friends lent their shoulders to cry on throughout my parents’ illnesses (they went through their end-of-life illnesses at the same time.) A brother called me almost daily to help make decisions and share the stress of my care-giving. He’d make me laugh in the first minute or two of each call momentarily lifting my stress. Other siblings came down to FL to take our place so we could occasionally get away. Our new kittens made me smile. I don’t know what I would have done without them. Each one contributed something valuable and special.

But with Bobby we had no warning. Boom! He’s gone. Something tells me this will be a different kind of grieving. Thank goodness we have so many loved ones to help us get through it. Writing about it helps, too. Thanks for reading.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Go to for past articles.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Healthy foods help in weight loss
Stress for Success
October 27, 2009

Since being over-weight or obese makes you more vulnerable to several medical conditions including diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, asthma, and some cancers, here are some foods that can help you lose some of your excess baggage.

Apples are great because they help prevent “metabolic syndrome” and the accompanying blood-fat disorders (plaque buildup in arteries, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and the risk of heart attack or stroke.) Apples also reduce cholesterol in your blood and liver.

Red grapes and wine
Royalty in diet foods includes red grapes and wine, which contain resveratrol. Resveratrol reduces the number of fat cells in your body and may someday be used to prevent or treat obesity. Grapes stop young fat cells from maturing and impede their ability to store fat. They also reduce production of inflammatory substances that contribute to obesity-related disorders like diabetes. But limit yourself to one glass of wine since two glasses erase the benefits by pushing blood pressure and stress above where they were in the first place (darn.)

Lucy Danziger, SELF Editor-in-Chief recommends several foods that are filling and nutrient-packed to help you take off more pounds.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Women on a diet that included red meat lost more weight than those eating equal calories but little beef. The protein in lean cuts of steak help you keep muscle mass during weight loss, which is important since muscle burns more calories than fat, promoting additional weight loss.

Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge research: Women on a low-calorie diet who ate an egg with toast and jelly each morning lost twice as many pounds as those who had a bagel breakfast with the same number of calories. Egg protein is so fulfilling that you’ll crave less food the rest of your day.

These beans, which are full of protein and soluble fiber, can help reduce your belt size since they balance blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes that cause your body to create excess fat, especially in the abdominal area.

Low in calories with great taste and high nutrition;

The capsaicin in spicy chiles increases your metabolism for 20 minutes after you’ve eaten them, which helps your body burn extra calories. Since it’s uncomfortable to eat them quickly they promote slower eating, which gives your brain time to register that it’s full, discouraging overeating.

Quinoa (KEEN-wah)
This grain is full of fiber and protein to keep you hunger-free for hours, also diminishing craving.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Women who daily had one serving of whole milk or cheese were less likely to gain weight over time. Those who ate low-fat dairy didn’t experience the same benefit possibly because whole-dairy may contain more conjugated linoleic acid, which seems to facilitate fat-burning. Plus, it’s so flavorful you only need a few sprinkles.

You constantly make on-going choices about what to eat. If you choose healthier alternatives more often than not your body will thank you for each excess pound you shed.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at

Monday, October 19, 2009

Obesity adds weight to health costs
Stress for Success
October 20, 2009

With the health care debate raging around the country little attention has been paid to the obesity epidemic, which costs an estimated one out of every six health care dollars. Consider:
* The Mayo Clinic reports that two-thirds of Americans are over-weight, one-third are obese;
* Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health projects 86% of Americans could be overweight or obese by 2030 if present trends continue!
* The Center for Disease Control: in 2008 obesity-related medical bills cost the country approximately $147 billion. An obese person annually had approximately $1,400 more in medical bills compared to a healthy-weight patient;

Beyond the cost savings, losing weight helps you feel better in several ways, like decreased joint pain, increased flexibility and more energy. It may also save you money. As I wrote last week an increasing number of government agencies and corporations are charging obese employees more for health coverage.

You’ve been inundated with weight-loss advice (exercise and a healthy diet), but did you know that sleeping better can help, too?

Bad diets and bad sleep enable each other:
* University of Pennsylvania study: after a four-hour night’s sleep, people are more likely to choose handy junk food;
* Other studies show that we devour more calories after a few consecutive nights of poor sleep because of changes in appetite-regulating hormones. Ghrelin, which signals hunger, increases, while leptin, which suppresses appetite, decreases;
* May issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology: chronic insomniacs experience a significant disruption in nighttime ghrelin levels therefore have an increase in appetite during the day, leading to weight gain over time;
* Inadequate sleep causes an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which increases cravings for high-carb, high-calorie “comfort foods;”
* The brain secretes growth hormones during deep-sleep, necessary for helping the body convert fat to fuel. Without enough deep sleep, fat accumulates;
* Sleep-deprived people exercise less, so burn fewer calories;
* The journal Cell Metabolism: mice fed a high-fat diet stayed up nibbling, while mice on a normal diet slept soundly. So:
o Avoid food high in protein or fat within three hours of bedtime since your body has to work harder to digest them;
o Don’t go to bed on an empty stomach, munch on complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables;

Sleep expert Michael Breus, clinical director of the sleep division at Southwest Spine and Sports in Scottsdale, Arizona says that there is no magic number of hours people should sleep but that the average adult needs about five 90-minute sleep cycles per night, so 7.5 hours seems optimal as a minimum. Getting enough sleep probably isn’t enough to achieve long-term weight loss but Breus says, “What these findings suggest is that there’s a new triad to achieving a healthy weight: diet, exercise and enough sleep.”

The comfort of doing nothing about weight loss today isn’t worth the potential negative consequences tomorrow. At least by getting more regular sleep you’ll not just discourage weight gain, you’ll also function better physically, emotionally and mentally.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Order her newly published book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jealousy of fiancé can develop into a self-fulfilling prophesy
Stress for Success
October 6, 2009

Dylan lives in fear of losing his fiancé. He doesn’t trust her and becomes enraged when she talks to other men. If he continues, his jealousy can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, pushing her away and ultimately losing her. Excessive jealousy in isn’t an attractive mate-trait.

Thesaurus words for jealousy include envy, resentment, protectiveness, suspicion, and distrust. Each is very stressful and emotionally exhausting. Far more menacing, jealousy is also the leading cause of homicide.

On the other hand, a little jealousy can be a good thing in a relationship. In small amounts it shows that you care.

Feeling inadequate fuels jealousy. You’re likely to project it onto your partner as anger through spying on him, trying to control him, and blaming him for how rotten you feel. But what you should do is look inside yourself for your own insecurities, which are what trigger your jealousy. After all, those most vulnerable to this toxic emotion are those who are the most self-doubting. Jealousy says more about you than about the perceived misdeeds of your mate.

Psychologist David Buss along with a Spanish colleague in a yet-to-be-published study found that jealousy is closely associated with two of the “big five” personality traits, both of which are influenced by heredity and environment in approximately equal proportions. Jealousy is:
* Positively associated with neuroticism (emotional instability), with tendencies toward anger, anxiety and depression; a common tactic used to discourage a partner from straying is increased vigilance;
* Negatively related to agreeableness (cooperative and compassionate versus suspicious and antagonistic); common tactics include yelling, insulting and undermining a mate’s self-esteem, cutting a partner off from friends and family, or threatening violence;
None of these tactics is likely to increase trust and intimacy, both necessary for a healthy long-term relationship.

“The formula for jealousy,” says psychologist Steven Stosny, “is an insecure person times an insecure relationship.” Insecure people tend to destabilize relationships and make them insecure.

To keep jealousy from wrecking your relationship family therapist Lori Gordon suggests:
* Nurturing your relationship to discourage jealousy in the first place;
* Deciding if you want to confront your mate with your suspicions; at minimum don’t obsess about them;
* Use “I” statement if you choose to say something:
o “I noticed that you’re coming home late,” versus “You’re always coming home late …”
* Focus on your mate’s troubling behavior (e.g., arriving home late) versus negatively judging him (you’re inconsiderate for not calling);
* Use this formula:
o “I notice …” (that you’ve arrived home after 7:00 three times this week.)
o “I assume that it means …” (you’re working later than you typically do.)
o “I wonder …” (why that is and if you’d tell me and whether there is more to it.)
Give your partner time to respond and see where this leads.

Finally, Dylan’s jealousy means he’s feeling unlovable. Instead of doing something that exercises power over her like yelling he’d be wise to do something that makes him more loveable to her. What a great idea!

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, is now available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Simple steps for finding great spouse
Stress for Success
September 22, 2009

In the 1990s I conducted a crazy, evening workshop, “How to Find and Keep a Mate.” In city after city my audiences consisted of hundreds of mostly disgruntled women and a few curious men. My approach to this topic was to pursue what gives you meaning and pleasure. By doing so you’ll put yourself in contact with like-minded people. And if you’re happy you’ll attract happier people. If you’re depressed you’ll repel some – or you’ll attract other despondent souls.

It seems the more you look for a partner the less likely you are to find one; thus my approach for this program. But here are some thoughts to use in your search:

  • Put yourself out there. Escaping through nightly TV is a recipe for meeting no one. What interests you? Tennis? Volunteering? Go do it, but not exclusively for meeting a potential mate but rather for your own good.
  • Consider on-line dating to see who’s out there.
  • “Love the one you’re with.” This 1970 Stephen Stills song was my anthem. I knew I didn’t want to settle down as I was soon entering the Peace Corps. I had seen too many (mostly) females turn every date into a potential candidate for marriage. What pressure! Think about it logically: if you date twenty people, and on average you’ll marry just two to three of them, then you’ll never marry the vast majority. Just enjoy their company and don’t try to force a relationship.
  • Sometimes good enough is truly good enough. Too many people have unrealistic, expectations of finding the perfect mate. They don’t exist! And even if you think you’ve found one it’ll take only a few months to discover their imperfections.
  • Broaden your horizons: Do you reject those who are less than perfect? Consider changing. If you only date those with advanced degrees, date someone with no degree or a lesser one. If you only date beautiful people, date someone who doesn’t rise to that standard. You may surprise yourself with whom you find enjoyment.
  • Write ten qualities that represent your values that you want your ideal mate to have (like humor versus which type of car does s/he drives). Are there deal-breaker traits, like not wanting kids? It’s important to know these ahead of time.
  • “Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you,” asked my father of any of us kids who’d been dumped. It rang very true with me so when a boyfriend pulled away from me I’d give him space with no attempt to reel him back in. To a person they couldn’t stand my indifference to their distancing themselves. But I truly didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me. Duh!

There’s much research documenting how healthy, close relationships protect you from the ravages of stress. The key word is “healthy”. Whatever makes you feel good about yourself is what’s truly healthy for you. Don’t settle for anything less.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, is now available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Changing something about yourself can be stressful
Stress for Success
September 1, 2009

Virtually everyone has something about themselves they don’t like. Whether it’s a habit like smoking or a perceived interpersonal deficit like defensiveness, we all have something we’d like to change about ourselves.

Forcing yourself to change probably doesn’t work. Last week I addressed an important reason why: ambivalence. While you want to change for certain reasons at the same time you don’t want to for others. Since all change equals stress any behavioral modification triggers your fear of the unknown. Until you consciously process these opposing forces you’re unlikely to make progress.

For example, you’re working very long hours to increase your income to pay your bills but also neglecting your family in the process. To make tough decisions about work/life balance it helps to identify and reconcile this tug-of-war: make more money and spend more time with your family. Becoming more aware of your mental conflict can create discomfort with the status quo, which can motivate you to figure out a better balance.

To support clarifying and challenging your ambivalence, apply Dr. Mary Ann Chapman’s advice, “The key to breaking a bad habit (remaining too sedentary) 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 (the nonthreatening TV watching versus exercising);
* Make the long-term negative consequences of not exercising (carrying too much weight causing physical discomfort or depression and anxiety) seem more immediate;

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

Another vital tool to help you change is becoming much more consciously aware of your disagreeable behavior. Observing yourself exhibiting this unwanted behavior is called mindfulness or the observing self. For instance, if you express your stress through over-eating, observe yourself as you stuff yourself. Don’t try to change it, just watch it. The derived awareness is a huge help in changing at some point.

Susan, a coaching client, observed herself overeating for a month. It put her much more in touch with the stressors that were triggering it. She learned that her main trigger was phone calls from her parents. Becoming mindful of this connection motivated her to replace eating with yoga after a parental phone call.

Mindfulness requires personal responsibility as well as cultivates it. It’s much easier to blame your weight gain on genetics or rationalizations like, “eating helps me cope.” But, observing yourself exhibiting this self-destructive habit drives home to you that you alone are in charge of what you put inside your mouth.

Most change is very difficult. To be successful you must be patient, persistent and above all conscious of yourself as you engage in your undesirable behavior. Scare yourself a bit with the negative consequences of changing nothing. With time you’ll hopefully become uncomfortable enough with the status quo to take the leap and make the desired change.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, is now available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Listen to your hesitations if you want to modify your behavior
Stress for Success
August 25, 2009

What’s the most difficult change you’ve ever attempted? Losing weight, quitting drinking or smoking? It’s tough. If change were easy we wouldn’t continue to have 20% of American adults smoking, more than 30% being significantly overweight and about 15% binge drinking.

Whether you’re trying to change your jealous ways or accomplish a New Year’s resolution you may assume any failure is because of your stubborn, self-sabotaging or addictive ways. But in “Ambivalence in Psychotherapy” authors David Angola and Hal Arkowitz argue that dealing with ambivalence is vital to paving the way to change.

People who want to change but can’t (won’t) are pulled in two competing directions by opposite motivations: to change and to stay the same. The balance between these predicts who changes and who doesn’t

Ambivalence is fed by:
* The status quo being familiar and predictable, albeit possibly uncomfortable, and change being unpredictable and anxiety producing;
* The fear of feeling even worse if you fail in your efforts;
* Others pushing you to change so you may resist because your independence feels threatened;
* Faulty beliefs, like “I can’t socialize unless I’ve had a few drinks;”
* The clinging to the undesirable behavior because it serves and important function, like the alcoholic who finds that drinking relieves stress and depression – temporarily; changing (stopping drinking) may eliminate their only way to deal with this distress.

Of course, to help someone change it’s important that they want to change. Pressuring them is likely to backfire. Researchers at the University of New Mexico found that for problem drinkers, directive-confrontational therapy led to significantly more resistance and poorer outcomes one year later than more supportive approaches.

One of these researchers, William Miller and another, psychologist Stephen Rollnick of the Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales, developed the therapeutic approach, “motivational interviewing.” This attempts to improve the client’s natural motivation to change by exploring and resolving his ambivalence. The goal is to put the client (rather than the therapist) into the driver’s seat for change. The therapist – or loved one - sees a client’s resistance to change as ambivalence to be understood rather than opposed.

To help resolve ambivalence the therapist is supportive and points out the client’s statements that reflect conflict between his behavior and values. E.g., “So you value exercise but your smoking makes it difficult.” Awareness of such inconsistencies creates discomfort with the status quo therefore increases motivation to change. To help resolve ambivalence the therapist focuses more on the client’s words about changing versus their unwillingness to change. Once those uncertainties are dealt with, behavioral change is more likely to occur. In fact, University of Arizona researchers found a 51% improvement rate for motivational interviewing compared with 37% for other interventions or no treatment at all.

You can use this same approach to help yourself or a loved one transform. Listening to and understanding your hesitations to change versus pressuring yourself to change can tip the balance in favor of taking the plunge and actually making the change.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, is now available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Procrastination seldom pays off
Personality traits add to propensity to delay
Stress for Success
August 18, 2009

When you have an unpleasant task that’s tedious, distasteful, or daunting do you put it off? Do you exaggerate its unpleasantness by avoiding it instead of reaping the rewards for acting now? If so, you likely allow other activities to distract you while you promise you’ll get to it tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, you probably find another excuse.

University of Calgary economist Piers Steel defines procrastination as “voluntarily delaying an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.” Fifteen to 20% of adults routinely delay activities that would be better accomplished now. His 2007 meta-analysis found 80 - 95% of college students procrastinate regularly!

But postponement takes its toll:
* Financial: how many Baby Boomers put off saving for retirement?
* Job loss: chronic procrastinators could make their jobs vulnerable due to being inefficient;
* Endangering health: a 2006 study by psychologist Fuschia Sirois of the University of Windsor in Ontario found that procrastinators had more stress and acute health problems than those who were more timely.

Certain genetic characteristics increase the likelihood that you’ll pick up this habit, such as these “five big personality traits”:
* Conscientiousness
* Agreeableness
* Neuroticism
* Openness
* Extroversion

The extent to which a person exhibits each of these traits influences their likelihood to procrastinate. The characteristic most strongly linked to procrastination is the lack of conscientiousness. A highly conscientious person is responsible, action-oriented and productive so less likely to dilly-dally.

Impulsive people are also at risk for procrastination due to their more spontaneous approach to life and responsibilities.

Anyone is likely to dawdle over something they have an uneasy feeling about and stalling allows them to avoid the discomfort. The most common drivers of procrastination include:
* Anxiety such as fear of failure (anxiety being an offshoot of neuroticism): for example, not studying for a test after which you console yourself by thinking, “If I’d studied harder I would have done better.”
* Avoidance of discomfort: like avoiding confronting a conflict;
* Indecision: can’t make up your mind about executing a task so you resist until enough time passes that there’s no reason to do the task you’re avoiding.
* Arousal: you claim you work best under pressure and love the high of your own adrenaline but it’s just an excuse to rationalize dragging your feet.

Recognizing your procrastination drivers can help you overcome them. Regardless of the reasons, the most common advice to limit procrastination is to:
* Replace your automatic tendency to postpone with specific goals, action steps and deadlines. For example, instead of setting vague goals like, “I’ll market myself,” be more specific, “I’ll spend 9 – 11:00 a.m. daily in promotional activities.”
* Just get started. Do any step, even if only a tiny one. Any impetus is good.

Typically, negative anticipation of any given task is worse than jumping in and getting it done. So go for a twofer: get something done on time and reduce your stress! Just do it! (Now I’m off to do my marketing.)

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, IS NOW available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Perfectionism causes more stress than it’s worth
Put more time in your life and don’t sweat it
Stress for Success
August 11, 2009

Do you need life to be perfect? What happens when it isn’t? Are you perceived as imperfect yourself? Is that what worries you?

Here’s a perfect (forgive the pun) definition of a perfectionist: “One who takes great pains and gives them to others.” Source unknown.

For example, when you have guests coming for dinner, do you exhaust yourself obsessively cleaning and cooking for them so that preparation becomes more important than your guests? Is preparation truly your top priority for the evening?

Part of the problem with perfectionists is that they tend to see things as white and black: either you prepare perfectly or not at all. So the perfectionist knocks herself out and ends up yawning over dinner.

Women more than men have been socialized to be perfect: perfectly nice, to NEVER hurt anyone’s feelings, to always be clean and smell good (your homes, too), and not to lose your temper – it’s very unladylike.

I’ve known a few male perfectionists but far more women.

Part of the problem for any perfectionist, male or female, is that we judge others by our own impossible standards. Who can live up to them? And when they don’t, we become judgmental of them leading to more conflict and stress.

To decrease your perfectionist expectations of others start with this rule (be careful how you read this): “I won’t should on you if you won’t should on me.” Source unknown.

When someone disappoints you, listen for the “should” in your assessment of what they’re doing “wrong.”

For example, your boss didn’t give you any positive feedback on your recent project that was widely praised by others. Your reaction was, “If I were the boss I’d compliment employees’ good work.” You’re shoulding on him. The implied should is, “He should give positive feedback.”

No doubt employees’ good work should be praised. But has your boss complimented you historically? If not, what leads you to expect him to change?

The problem is that through your perfectionist (and judgmental) eyes, you think it’s perfectly realistic to expect that he will. But that’s where most of your stress is coming from – your unrealistic expectations that someone beyond your control will change. Your stress is far less from his actual lack of approval.

To reduce at least some of your perfectionism follow additional advice, some of which is from “How to Put More Time into Your Life” by Dr. Dru Scott:
* Strive for excellence not perfection.
* Get comfortable with “good enough” for lesser priorities.
* Use headlines in books and magazines to choose what to read.
* Prioritize your responsibilities. Ask if the time required to accomplish unimportant tasks would be better spend on something that’s a higher priority.
* Each day, do at least one thing imperfectly.

Take it from a recovering perfectionist, perfectionism causes far more stress than it’s worth

Life really does go on when you reduce some of your too-high expectations of yourself and others. Plus, more realistic expectations lead to lower stress.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, IS NOW available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Put more time in your life
Habits can be wasting your most precious resource
Stress for Success
August 4, 2009

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” Benjamin Franklin.

Yet every day virtually everyone squanders time. Some of the most common ways are explained through Dr. Dru Scott’s five habitual, compulsive time habits from her excellent time management book, “How to Put More Time into Your Life”. She estimates that 50 – 90% of one’s time is spent unproductively chained to the behaviors implicit in these patterns.

To maximize your time the first step is to become conscious of your present time use. Decide if any of the following four styles of time misuse describe you (I’ll cover perfectionism next week). If so, her advice can help you move beyond your habitual choices:

Hurry Up! Always in a hurry:
* Get enough excitement/stimulation in your life so you don’t have to depend upon your last-minute-adrenaline-rush to get it;
* Do central (the most important) priorities first;
* Precede planning with SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely) goals;
* Keep your personal calendar/pda up-to-date and use it faithfully;
* Slow down many things you do: your driving by 5 m.p.h., brushing your teeth, eating, etc.

Like Me! Wasting time trying to please others by saying “yes” when you’d rather say “no”: Assertiveness training is strongly advised, plus:
* Rate others’ requests according to your own priorities (as covered in last week’s article): Are they Central (most important), Secondary (what you have to do but these tasks don’t lead to important goals) or Marginal (the unimportant) to you reaching your own goals;
* Practice saying “no” in advance to requests that distract you from your own priorities;
* Assertively tell others what you want in situations;
* Daily identify your priorities and do something toward the most important ones;
* Use written “to-do” lists and stick to them;

Good Student! Try hard even when it’s for low priority concerns:
* Clarify the day’s objectives before deciding what to do;
* Give the appropriate amount of time to each activity based on its importance;
* Divide big projects into smaller pieces;
* Ask, “What’s an easier way to accomplish this?”
* Use technology to increase efficiency;

Rock of Gibraltar! Always disciplined and rational:
* Consider the negative consequences to others and to you of letting them lean on you too much;
* Develop people around you by delegating effectively; train them where necessary;
* Learn to trust others as they prove themselves to you;
* Minimize your negative judgments of others who do things differently;
* Make time for R & R;
* Set realistic deadlines for yourself and for others through effective scheduling;

Everyone has reasons for neurotically engaging in one or more of these five compulsive habits. I know from experience that you can significantly decrease the hold these largely unconscious beliefs have over you. Lower your time stress through mindful attention to discover why you make your automatic time choices (e.g., “I’ll upset him if I say ‘no’,”) and to change them.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, will soon be available at Go to her blog, for past articles.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Prioritize your time investments
Stress for Success
July 28, 2009

Here’s great time management advice: not everything will get done so focus on the important and ignore the trivial.

The first time I read this I almost had a heart attack! Not everything will get done? Impossible! But if everything’s a priority then nothing is. I used to race from task to task giving each equal attention. Dr. Dru Scott’s “How to Put More Time into Your Life” woke me up to my folly.

Since our time choices are mostly unconscious it’s easy to assume you’re efficient. The only way to truly know, however, is to keep a time log. Dr. Scott recommends one with five columns:
* “From/to”: E.g., 8:00 – 8:15 a.m. Record all you do in 15 – 30 minute increments for one week whether for just work time or 24/7.
* Activity: Briefly describe each activity you tackle and with whom, where appropriate. “Three phone calls: Jennifer about accounting, Jim about the XYZ project, Charlene regarding Saturday’s party.” When in a meeting for 90 minutes obviously log it just once.
* The next three columns are labeled “C,” “S,” “M.” After the week return to each task and check the appropriate column regarding its importance using Scott’s priority system:
o Central: the most important activities that lead you directly toward your goals. Schedule your best time to work on Centrals.
o Secondary: tasks you must do but they don’t lead you directly toward your goals, like paperwork. Schedule regular, specific time for these. If you discover that you spent three hours doing Secondary tasks at work block off three hours of work time to focus on these. Since they’re secondary in importance you could schedule them during hours with more interruptions but set aside more than three hours.
o Marginal: the most unimportant activities. Avoid these unless you have absolutely nothing left to do.

My first time log shocked me. I spent an unbelievable amount of energy on Marginal and Secondary tasks, woefully neglecting my Centrals. Much of my reason was perfectionism.

Her book helped me become a recovering perfectionist. It taught me to strive for perfection only on my Central activities. It astounded me that making the bed daily was Marginal and didn’t have to be done! This standard was my mother’s but I could let it go! This may seem silly to some but it was revolutionary to me at the time. Now our bed gets made when I change the bedding and when we have guests. And the sky didn’t fall! Even my mother didn’t care!

To manage your time better make conscious choices to override automatic ones. Keep a time log for one week and notice if you exhibit one or more of the five compulsive time uses that Dr. Scott identified:
* Hurry Up!
* Be Perfect!
* The Rock!
* Good Student!
* Like Me!

In 1989 I saw myself in four of the above five! Dr. Scott’s advice helped me curb each of them significantly. I’ll pass on her advice over the next two weeks.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is a speaker and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, will soon be available at Call her at 239-693-8111 for information about her presentations on this and other topics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Make wise choices on how you spend time
Stress for Success
July 21, 2009

Is lack of time one of your biggest stressors?

But how can that be when you have all the time there is - 24 hours a day? How can a Martha Stewart accomplish incredible things while others do so little with the same amount of time?

Because time management isn’t about “finding” more time it’s about managing yourself better.

If you have impulses like, “I have to clean the house,” and “I must help those around me,” you may operate out of one or more of the following “compulsive time use” habits identified by author Dr. Dru Scott:
* The Rock: others depend upon you;
* Like Me: say “yes” when you want to say “no;”
* Be Perfect: everything must be right;
* Good Student: A for effort;
* Hurry Up! Always in a hurry;

Do any of these describe your habitual time use motivations? Dr. Scott estimates that approximately 80% of your time may be spent compulsively (obsessively). When you’re a perfectionist, for example, it doesn’t occur to you that some things are entirely fine imperfectly done or that people don’t always have to do things your way (even though your way is better).

Red flags that you’re compulsively using your time include having lots of have tos, musts and shoulds. These amorphous decrees are rigid and lead you to operate unconsciously without contemplating your true options: you avoid conscious responsibility for daily choices.

If you’ve been shoulding on yourself forever it’s hard to know why you blindly follow your unwritten rules. Suffice it to say, you learned your imperatives and haven’t challenged them enough to decide which to discard.

One thing’s certain, as long as you continue to believe you have to do this or must do that, nothing will change.

If time feels like an enemy take responsibility by making conscious choices about your time investments:
* Keep track on paper for a week whenever you do something because you think you should, must or have to.
* Substitute with “prefer”, “want” or “choose” to identify which to stop doing for the subsequent month. Stop doing some things you should do but prefer not to do. (Weigh the consequences. If you prefer not to feed your kids and some are too young to feed themselves, you have to feed them.)
* Discontinue doing easier things first, like if you typically run errands for your parents on the weekend and you fear they’d be upset if you stopped, even though you want to stop, choose another area in which to protect your time. Eventually you can set limits even with your parents and see that the world doesn’t end.

We all have rules imposed on us by parents and society that continue to dominate us. Question the wisdom of adhering to those that unduly stress you. Change some of your choices to lower your stress. Over time you’ll learn to become more in charge of your own standards, which puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life.

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, July 07, 2009

There’s an important difference between judgments, behaviors
Stress for Success
July 7, 2009

Often in interpersonal conflicts we forget that it takes two to tango. We’re so focused on what the other person’s doing “wrong” and what they “should” be doing instead that we lose sight of what we add to the situation, eroding personal responsibility.

For example, in a common workplace conflict an employee with no kids thinks it’s unfair when she’s expected to take on more after-hour responsibilities to free up her parent co-workers with childcare responsibilities. One complained to me about a colleague, “She’s so selfish. It never occurs to her that I’m stuck here until 6:30 while she waltzes out the door at 5:00!”

Her statement makes clear that she’s convinced that her colleague is “causing” her stress. But by labeling her colleague selfish she dodges responsibility for her own role and becomes part of the problem. Negatively judging others is like spreading fertilizer to grow a conflict. And that’s her responsibility.

And does the parent co-worker even perceive a conflict? If not, how can she be expected to alleviate the injustice?

If I could wave a magic wand over everyone on earth, myself included, it would be to avoid the destructiveness and resulting conflict that judging others negatively grows.

You can become much more a part of the solution by replacing your negative judgments of others with the facts of the situation and the behaviors of the party with whom you have a problem.

There’s a huge difference between judgments and facts/behaviors:
* Judgments are interpretations; they’re not necessarily facts, and they vary person to person. They tend to be adjectives describing someone: lazy, inconsiderate, arrogant, etc. You see someone as rude I see the person as enthusiastic. It’s a matter of perspective.
* Facts are facts and consistent person to person. Anyone observing a situation could observe the same facts. Behaviors are factual and can be videotaped. Behaviors are verbs. The person “does” something like talk, interrupt, etc.

In the above example the judgment is that the colleague is “selfish.” But selfish cannot be videotaped since it’s an adjective therefore in the mind of the beholder. What did the person “do” that leads to this judgment? Factually/behaviorally, the co-worker “left at 5:00.”

To lower stress and resolve conflicts more easily our friend would be wise to focus on the facts and her co-worker’s behavior: Tuesday she left at 5:00 and I stayed until 6:30. Period.

To take appropriate responsibility in your conflicts don’t assume your judgments are accurate. Think before you address the situation:
* Identify your negative judgments and commit to letting them go;
* Identify the facts and behaviors of the situation;
* Decide if they’re worth confronting;
* If so, address the person about the facts/behaviors not the judgments;

Defensively judging others and assuming we’re right makes it difficult to focus on the factual. Accurate or not, approaching someone from a judgmental point of view will set up almost sure conflict escalation. At minimum, stay conscious when you judge and accept at least partial responsibility for the outcome it produces.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple is available at Call her at 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stay in the driver’s seat of your life to manage stress
Stress for Success
June 30, 2009

Personal responsibility seems like an old-fashioned notion in our rights-oriented society. But to effectively manage stress and be in the driver’s seat of your life you must hold yourself accountable for your action AND inaction. Mostly, don’t allow others to drive you and don’t drive for others, that’s their job.

Highly responsible people tend to achieve more and feel more in control so are less stressed. They’re proactive in making the life changes they deem important vs. reactive, waiting for someone else to make things better.

The bottom line is that your life, well-being, health and happiness are your responsibility. Blame your parents (and some have pretty darn good reasons), society, or whatever is handy for what’s wrong. Ultimately, however, the buck stops with you for your life.

Two opposite personality types have trouble with this.
1) The victim who believes that what goes wrong is beyond his control and is caused by others who, therefore, must change. Habitual shirking of responsibility puts victims into the most stressed-out position for they don’t see options to improve their lives.

His reasons include, “Society won’t let me succeed.” “My parents set me up to fail.” These statements make clear who’s at fault and it certainly isn’t him!

But here’s the danger. Let’s use the belief, “I never get a fair shake.” This could propel him to avoid taking initiative at work, for example, and then complain that others are treated better. He never sees how his inaction contributes to the outcome.

2) At the opposite end are those who take responsibility for others; the rescuer or the people-fixer.

She (I purposely use “she”) focuses on how others don’t live up to her expectations. She tries desperately to fix her mate and kids; how they dress, talk or handle their lives. She knows the right way to do things and by golly she’s going to “help” them! Invariably the target of her tinkering becomes defensive because the implication is that her target is inferior. Who takes kindly to that?

Both extreme personalities confuse boundaries. The victim waits for you to fix things for him. The fixer thinks she should fix you. It’s no wonder these two opposites often attract one another. They both also “expect” others to change rather than changing themselves to get a different result. The truth, however, is you can only control your choices not others’.

Both need to honor their own boundaries:
* What’s within their control? (Themselves and their choices)
* What’s beyond their control? (Everything else)

Investing your energy into what’s actually within your control makes for healthier choices that more effectively bring about your desired outcomes. If you err on the victim side be more proactive; grab the bull by the horns more often. If you’re a fixer accept others more as they are. If you want a different outcome change something you’re doing versus assuming the other “should” change. To do anything else is a waste of energy and a sure formula for more stress.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You are seldom blameless when you’re “caught”
Taking responsibility helps reduce stress
Stress for Success
June 23, 2009

I recently spent time with an adorable youngster with the not-so-adorable tendency to blame others for his actions. When confronted by adults about his misbehavior he quickly pointed the finger at others. If this habit continues into adulthood he’ll remain immature and become a far less competent stress manager.
We all blame others sometimes, but doing so habitually robs you of a strong sense of personal responsibility. Being accountable is essential to developing an “internal locus of control,” (ILOC) the belief that you have can handle what comes your way; that you control your destiny. Having an ILOC automatically lowers your stress and enhances your coping ability. The opposite, assuming you lack control, the most stressful of beliefs, leads to defensively finding fault outside the self.

Additional traits help explain why one person manages exceptionally stressful events well while another falls apart over much less provocation, such as:
* Awareness of what you contribute to your stress;
* Honesty and assertiveness with yourself and others;
* Perception of stress as challenges versus threats;
* Self-confidence and a less emotional reaction to stress;
* Creative thinking for problem-solving;
* Putting solutions into action to exercise your influence;
* A sense of humor;
* Hope and optimism facilitate challenging overly-negative thoughts with more realistic ones so your thinking doesn’t become more stressful than the situation itself;
* Humility to realize that your way of looking at situations and your solutions may not be the best;

The boy referred to above was chastised for throwing toys inside the house after being told not to do so. He shirked responsibility and blamed other children for starting it thereby violating the first four traits above (he’s too young to appreciate all of them), he:
* Didn’t acknowledge his own involvement;
* Wasn’t honest about it with himself nor the adult;
* Perceived being caught as a threat, reacting defensively;
* Lacked the self-confidence to handle it calmly (he’s just a kid but can gradually learn);

When you’re “caught”, recognize when you blame someone or something else. Occasionally, responsibility does rest outside yourself, but virtually always you add something voluntarily to the situation. Start by acknowledging, at least to yourself, your behavior and its contribution to the outcome.

For example, your boss told you to complete something “a.s.a.p.” Later, she gets angry that you’re not finished yet. You blame her for not being more specific about her deadline. But this overlooks your responsibility to ask for clarification, like, “Just exactly when do you need this?” If she responds in a general way again you could say, “Given my schedule the earliest I can finish this is tomorrow morning. If you need it sooner we’ll need to postpone another task.”

An internal locus of control puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life. It requires personal accountability. Don’t let others drive you through life and blame them for taking you in the wrong direction. Instead, take responsibility for your own action or inaction and give up the blame-game.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. Her new book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple is available at Call her at 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Increase hope through humor and optimism
Stress for Success
June 16, 2009

Hope that the future will be better helps you deal with life’s curve balls. Without it existence can look grim leaving you less resilient, therefore less capable of fielding your problems. Hope helps you cope with exceptionally stressful times, whether from a lingering illness or financial uncertainty.

Two particularly effective methods of nurturing it are:
* Seeing humor in your stressors;
* Shaping more optimistic perceptions of them;

For example, Melissa B. Wanzer, EdD, professor of communication studies at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, recently found that aging adults who more frequently used humor reported greater coping, therefore, greater life satisfaction.

In 2005, Texas A&M University demonstrated that humor can significantly increase your level of hope, according to psychologist David H. Rosen. He also found that the severity of recent setbacks takes more of a toll on hope than does the number of stressors. So the more weighed down you feel by any challenge the more you need to foster faith.

Seeing humor contributes to the two components of hope, the ability to:
* Overcome obstacles;
* Problem solve;

Appreciating humor fosters optimism by softening negative thoughts with positive ones. Plus, humor’s positive emotions lead to greater confidence therefore, more creative thinking and problem solving.

To cultivate humor, therefore hope, many hospitals offer humor rooms or humor carts. These are brightly decorated and furnished with a TV, VCR and funny videos. They offer games, toys, costumes, masks, funny hats, yo-yos, bubbles, etc. Patients’ imaginations determine their potential fun.

The second avenue for greater hope is diminishing pessimism and increasing optimism about your challenges. Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, world-renowned optimism/pessimism researcher, identified three components of speech that make up your "explanatory style": how you explain why something bad (or good) happens to you. These reveal your interpretations as optimistic or pessimistic.

More optimistic interpretations lead to greater resiliency to stress, more success at many things in life and even better health.

Pretend this bad event happened to you: you applied for a job and didn’t get it. Now, answer, “Why didn’t I get the job?”
1. Ongoing vs. temporary: Does your reason suggest the event has ongoing consequences vs. a temporary setback?
* “I’ll never get a job!” (On-going/pessimistic)
* “I wasn’t on for the interview.” (Temporary setback/optimistic)
2. Global vs. specific: Does not getting the job have global effects on your life or only on a specific part?
* “I’m a loser.” (Global/pessimistic)
* “Money will be tight until I get a job.” (Specific/optimistic)
3. Blame yourself vs. an outside source:
* “I suck at interviews.” (Self-blame/pessimistic)
* “What a terrible interviewer!” (Blames outside source/optimistic)

(Seligman isn’t suggesting you shirk personal responsibility but finds excessive self-blaming is a sign of pessimism.)

When something bad happens change your explanations from on-going to temporary, from having global implications to specific ones, and from self-blame to lightening up on yourself. Increased optimism leads to greater hope and opens the door to see humor, increasing your confidence that you can tackle any setbacks you encounter.

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, June 09, 2009

Be mindful of work jokes
Stress for Success
June 9, 2009

Have you heard the one about the guy who had his left side cut out? He’s all right now (ba-doom-boom, courtesy of Nina Jones.)

A Robert Half International survey found 84% of top corporate officers thought employees with a sense of humor do better at work than those with little or no sense of humor. Yet workplace humor can be a double-edged sword: it can help reduce stress but also create conflicts since what’s funny to one may be insulting to another. And in our litigious society harassment lawsuits can “come out of nowhere” when really they often come out of a difference in sensitivities. When jokes insult people, the organization needs to intervene or risk morale problems, not to mention legal ones.

During times of heightened pressure such as now, HR directors report that some stressed-out people are more likely to harass others, including through inappropriate jokes, while others are more likely to complain about being harassed. So be careful which kind of humor you use.

Professor Christopher LeGrow of Marshall University found that about 70% of people polled reported hearing workplace jokes that made fun of coworkers’ age, sexual orientation and weight. 40% admitted that that they themselves told these kinds of jokes. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much difference between what men and women found offensive but women were more offended by remarks targeting their physical characteristics. Comments intended to be funny were often taken as hurtful.

Humor is most often taken as offensive when the joke-teller actually uses humor to make an insulting or threatening point. Consider these guidelines to decide if your workplace humor is inappropriate:
* Identify the underlying point of your joke. Would you make the same point without humor or would that make it too confrontational? If so, communicate your meaning assertively rather than disguising it with misplaced humor.
* Know your audience: if you’re poking fun about, for example, someone’s weight, are you sure the person will see it as humorous? Or might it feel hurtful to them?
* Avoid:
o Controversial topics, like sexual or racial differences or physical disabilities;
o Politics that could offend someone with different beliefs, especially if they’re part of your team; call this political correctness if you like but if you value cooperation offending colleagues works against it;
* The loved-one rule: For instance, don’t tell jokes about women if you wouldn’t find them funny when told about a woman you love.
* The local-media rule: If your joke were reported in the local media, would it embarrass you? If so, don’t tell it.
* When you’re not sure how a joke will be received, don’t tell it;

If you hear offensive humor, assert yourself and tell your colleague that you find it distasteful and ask her not to use that kind of humor in the future. How can she know it’s objectionable if no one tells her?

Appropriate humor can make your workplace much more enjoyable, build stronger teams and boost creativity while reducing stress. Just think before you speak.

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.
Laughter and humor will help bolster your life
Being happy pays off in many ways
Stress for Success
June 1, 2009

The great Bill Cosby once said, “If you can find humor in something you can survive it.” But can it really help us cope with today’s topsy-turvy world?

How you react to stress is significantly determined by whether you see it as a threat or a challenge. When you see it as a threat your reaction will likely be more of a defensive one driven by greater anger and/or fear resulting in a response that’s aggressive (fight) or a withdrawal (flight). Finding humor helps you to see the stressor more as a challenge, making it less threatening and leaving you feeling more in control. All of this leads the ability of perceiving more viable options.

Humor is one of the best coping strategies of all because it:
* Facilitates mental flexibility and creativity by blocking negative emotions allowing you to think through problems versus emotionally muddle through them;
* Is the opposite of stress: it lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension and pain, and boosts your immune system;
* Reduces the stress hormone cortisol while increasing health enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters;
* Strengthens your immune system by increasing antibody producing cells and enhances the effectiveness T cells;
* Dampens pain;
* A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, your heart, contracts the abs and other areas, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward.
* Laughing at yourself increases your objectivity about yourself, decreasing your defensiveness.
* Shared humor strengthens teams (not sarcasm or belittling humor, though).
* “The shortest distance between two people is humor,” said the famed comedic pianist, Victor Borge. Humor connects people improving most communication, especially when it’s potentially confrontational.
* It’s just fun.

To nourish your sense of humor you must look for and find what tickles your funny bone.
* Do things differently: Vary your routines and become more aware of life around you. Take a different route to work. Change your lunch habit. Then look for and find five things that make you smile. Keep looking to keep finding.
* Keep a humor file: Add humor like this odd newspaper headline, “Good Samaritans may get stun guns.” That’s funny! Cheer yourself up by reading what’s in your file.
* Develop a sense of playfulness: Play with kids and pets.
* Laugh with others and you’ll laugh more: Watch your favorite sitcoms together or go to a comedy club.
* Be mindful (conscious) of finding humor in taxing situations. Instead of complaining, laugh about what’s stressing you; like your catastrophic images of ending up a street person due to economic losses.
* When having a bad day, exaggerate it and have a really bad day. Complain endlessly about how the world is falling apart (not to mention your big screen TV).
* Imagine your favorite comedian(s) having your family arguments.

Studies show positive outcomes of smiling even when you don’t mean it. Smile more to benefit from its helpful effects and it may lead to genuine smiles and eventually even outright laughter!
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, May 12, 2009

Three more ways to bolster brain
Stress for Success
May 12, 2009

Use it or lose it, they say. As you age this is more pertinent than ever.

I certainly hope that my mental capacities remain strong until my last breath. Doesn’t everyone? For that to happen I’m willing to invest more energy into healthy habits for my brain.

Last week I covered three of the six habits (exercise, diet and stimulants) covered in a Scientific American Mind, February/March, 2009 column, “Six Ways to Boost Brainpower” by Emily Anthes. Here are the final three habits to add to your list.

1. Video games: Before picking a surgeon you may want to ask if he plays video games. Those who play at least a few hours a week make one-third fewer operating room errors than non-gaming doctors. “According to research video games can improve mental dexterity, increase eye -hand coordination, depth perception and pattern recognition, and improve attention span and information processing,” Anthes reports.
a. But doesn’t excessive gaming cause increased violence in some? Several studies have shown this connection especially for those playing first-person shooter games where brain activity patterns consistent with aggression have been reported. But the preponderance of research so far doesn’t support the theory that video games contribute to increased youth violence. But these troubling findings deserve further research.
2. Music: Even though the “Mozart effect” has been challenged and some would say discredited, music does seem to possess wonderful benefits beyond sheer enjoyment. It activates your brain’s reward center and calms the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. It soothes anxiety, can minimize insomnia, lowers blood pressure, calms patients with dementia, and helps premature babies gain weight so they can be discharged sooner.
a. Music training can also bolster the brain. Musicians compared to non-musicians have a larger motor cortex, cerebellum and corpus callosum (the connection between the brain’s two sides.) Some studies show that music classes also improve spatial ability in young children.
b. I guess I should thank my dictatorial public school music director for pushing us to seek musical perfection. Apparently all of that practice increased my brainstem’s sensitivity to the sounds of human speech, not to mention the increase in discipline and competence, which led to increased self-confidence.
3. Meditation: Anthes reports, “Deep relaxation seems to help all types of conditions from anxiety to pain reduction to treating high blood pressure, asthma, insomnia, diabetes, depression and skin conditions. Those who meditate regularly report feeling more at ease and more creative than non-meditators.” Expert mediators show spikes of brain activity in their left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that has generally been associated with positive emotions. Those who have the most activity in the area during meditation also had big boosts in immune system functioning.”
a. Meditation can also increase focus and attention, therefore improve performance on cognitive tasks.

You’ve known that most of these habits are excellent for your health and stress levels. Now you know they’re also good for preserving mental power. It’s just one more reason to get going on increasing habits that enhance your overall well-being.

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.