Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Combat that holiday excess
Stress for Success
January 27, 2009

“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

If work includes healthy eating and exercise and play includes no exercise and eating lots of Christmas goodies, then I’ve been a very interesting girl. My husband’s homemade toffee candy is to die for and my Norwegian lefse is nothing to sneeze at and I’m full of both.

Since the late 1960s at this time of year I eat only a variety of apples (about eight a day) for two days (the recommended is for three days.) It feels good to flush out from my system all those accumulated holiday sugars.

Avoid being too dull by balancing your excesses with moderation, even though it goes against our survival instinct of eating until we’re full.

For most of human history the food supply was uncertain so our metabolism was calibrated to guard against possible future starvation. The problem today is because eating more doesn't satisfy us we merely readjust how much we think we need.

Our survival instincts work against us in several other ways, too.
§ We crave the historically rare calorie-dense fats and sugars that protected us from starvation that are now plentiful and in overkill cause obesity;
§ We don’t yearn for historically abundant plants;
§ Our dieting willpower decreases once we've lost weight.

Just compare our ancestors' lean and muscular bodies due to their physical exertion for hunting or gathering their unsure food supply to ours. It isn’t pretty. We have an overabundance of food that we get from the grocery store. Too many of us eat entirely too much and exercise entirely too little, and not just over the holidays. For many it’s a lifestyle choice.

According to an April 3, 2008 US Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service progress review:
§ Adults 20+ years with healthy weight range (body mass index or BMI 18.5 - 24.9) was 32% from 2003 to 2006
o It was 42% from 1988 to 1994
o This disturbing trend was found across all demographic groups for whom data were collected, including Mexican Americans, non-Hispanic blacks, and non-Hispanic whites, across genders and income levels.
§ Obese (BMI 30 or above) 20+ years old was 33% in 2003 to 2006
o Up from 23% from 1988 to 1994.
o Mexican Americans rose from 29% to 35%
o Non-Hispanic blacks from 30% to 45%
o Non-Hispanic whites from 22% to 32%

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health posted a July 28, 2008 projection that 86% of Americans could be overweight or obese by 2030 with health care spending as much as $956.9 billion!

We’re all in this boat of excess together. It’s in our collective interest to develop more moderate eating habits and to lose significant weight, improving our health, which would take pressure off of insurance premiums and taxes that ultimately pay for these excesses.

Next week we’ll look at how we can overcome our human nature of eating more than we need out of the fear we may starve tomorrow.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action 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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Live and authentic life
Stress for Success
January 20, 2009

Authentic: genuine, real, valid, bona fide

Living an authentic life, one that' s consistent with what you value and who you genuinely are, leads to a much more meaningful life that’s less stressful and can help you through today’s challenges.

The opposite of authentic is fake (counterfeit, forged, phony). Living a counterfeit life leads to an underlying discomfort in all that you do that feels phony to you. For example, an honest person who sells a product she believes is faulty would be stressed. Her mental health would improve significantly if she found employment that honored her values.

"Authenticity is a cornerstone of mental health and is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one's core self, a trait called self-determination, is ranked by some experts as one of the three basic psychological needs, along with competence and the sense of relatedness,” says Karen Wright (Psychology Today, May/June 2008.)

Social psychologist Michael Kernis of the University of Georgia, Athens, and graduate student Brian Goldman, now of Clayton State University, defined authenticity as “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.”

They identified four components of authenticity. Self-awareness is the first and most basic: awareness of and confidence in your own intentions, emotions, and preferences. This is represented in:
* Defining what you want in life and making it happen vs. living the life that others say you “should” live
* Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and making appropriate choices based on them
* Taking personal responsibility for your actions vs. blaming outside forces when things go wrong
* Development of self-confidence to tackle life’s challenges, accomplish goals and to develop intimate relationships.

Kernis and Goldman also found that living authentically leads to developing better coping strategies versus manipulating others to get what you’re too unassertive to directly request or escaping through self-destructive patterns like substance abuse.

Doesn’t it make sense then that authentic living could help you deal with the current and stressful state of our world?
* Having an abiding faith in knowing what’s important in your life can help you see this national turmoil as secondary in importance to love of family and friends; it doesn’t make the stress go away but puts it into perspective
* It allows you to cope with greater stability, which improves clear thinking to figure out your options more quickly and decisively
* It encourages you to realize your tendencies so if you’re aware that you spend spontaneously, for example, it could motivate you to create and live by a responsible budget.

Defining what living authentically means to you begins by identifying your values. For example, if you value living within your means then you probably set a spending limit for holiday gifts before you begin shopping; your spending behavior expresses this value.

Next week we’ll look more closely at knowing what you value in life to set a clearer course for a more authentic life.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action 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, January 12, 2009

Slow down and silence the noise around you to access inner voice
Stress for Success
January 12, 2009

Does keeping pace with the hectic and very complex American lifestyle put you into “rut-living” where you operate on automatic pilot therefore missing much of the best of life? If so, learn to access the healthy advice your inner voice tries to communicate to you; some of which could help you create a life that’s simpler and less stressful.

To access your internal wisdom, however, you must slow down to hear it; you must regularly stop the noise and create silence. Try these ideas:
* Start your morning routine more slowly. Get up a few minutes earlier, brush your teeth, eat and drive more slowly.
* Cut down your intake of coffee and other stimulants.
* Connect with nature daily with a conscious walk; not just a mechanical one, but one where you focus on nature and the dawning light. If you're not willing to do this, at least take a deep breath of fresh air and enjoy our incredible Florida fall weather each morning.
* Surround yourself with beauty. I don’t mean buy stuff that becomes mere clutter but rather make your environment at work and at home more appealing to you. Bring in flowers, photos, meaningful mementos, candles and fresh air. Years ago I followed advice from a creativity book by setting up my office with more pleasing colors through multihued paper clips, pens and picture frames. I’ve drawn pleasure and energy from them ever since.
* Seek and enjoy daily silence, the opposite of the cacophony of noises that surround you: the alarming alarm that shocks you awake, the offensive hair dryer, the endless drone of depressing TV news, the ubiquitous office clamor and strident screams of rush-hour traffic. All day you’re surrounded by so much noise that it becomes part of the backdrop of life --- until it totally stops --- leaving the sweet sound of silence.

Don’t underestimate the stress of this incessant clamor. It absolutely blocks your intuition from seeing the light of day.

Once you create a more pleasant and restful rhythm to your life, you can more easily tap into your innate good judgment. A quiet mind is the window through which you can do this using:
* Deep relaxation
* Quiet mind journaling

Here’s the easiest relaxation technique I’ve ever learned. Start with five minutes and work up to 20 minutes:
* Deep breathe for a few minutes until you feel quite relaxed
* With eyes closed, notice yourself inhaling, then as you exhale think, “I’m relaxed,” over and over again

Frequently follow relaxation with journaling. Keep your journal private so you’ll feel no need to edit yourself. You can always destroy what you’ve written later if necessary.

Gradually important insights will surface. To speed these up, write a question or two about whichever challenge you’re focusing on before relaxing and answer it after you’ve meditated.

Repetitively journaling about your life’s questions provides a channel through which your sixth sense can communicate with you. Let it help you create a more genuine and simpler life.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action 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, January 06, 2009

Simplifying your life will help put you more in control of it
Stress for Success
January 6, 2009

There's nothing simple about the American lifestyle where we work too much and rest too little while we race against the clock eating too much and exercising too infrequently. No wonder we’re a society of obesity and diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

Wow, that’s depressing! While this description may not be true of everybody, perhaps, it's a little true about most of us.

So what can you do?

Make living easier by slowing down, if not getting off, the treadmill of your life.

Happiness and satisfaction come from being what you want to be and living your values, from loving and supportive relationships, and from being satisfied with what you have versus dissatisfied with what you don't have. Simplifying your life can clear out your mental, emotional and physical clutter so the clarity of what’s truly important to you can shine through. Then slowly build your life around those things.

Unfortunately, too many are controlled by having to make a living to support the lifestyle they’ve chosen, one that’s full of clutter. This is the opposite of simplicity. To live more simply you must get rid of whatever confuses your life, both figuratively such as emotional clutter, and literally such as the stuff that piles up at home and at work.

Start the process by repeatedly asking yourself:
* What drains me the most at work and at home? Why?

For example, Peggy (not her real name) had been living in her stressful rut for so long that she couldn’t see the forest for the trees. But when she stepped back to contemplate this question it didn’t take her long to identify what was exhausting her; too much housework after long work days and too much fighting between her kids that she “had” to referee.

Here are some of the changes she made:
* She instituted weekly, family meetings where everyone discussed little, daily problems like Michael playing his music too loudly vs. Sarah failing Spanish. They learned to negotiate problem-solving, which reduced family tension so the kids fought less. Peggy also learned to stop refereeing their battles, which she shockingly learned was actually encouraging them.
* Through another family meeting everyone negotiated sharing household chores. Over a couple of months of Peggy not stepping in to “improve” or criticize how someone did their jobs, gradually all stepped up to the plate to pitch in more while Peggy learned to let go of expecting all tasks to be done perfectly.
* She scheduled thirty minutes of solitude three times a week after work to mediate, do yoga or just take a nap.

She started these small steps to decrease the tension from her main irritants. Over several months she experienced less stress, which allowed her to see even more areas that needed adjustment.

Taking even small steps to resolve what drains you miraculously moves you along the path to not only simplify your life but, more importantly, to put you back in control of it.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action 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