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 www.jackieferguson.com. 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 www.jackieferguson.com 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 www.jackieferguson.com 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 www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.