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 http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

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 www.letyourbodywin.com.
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 http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Go to http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com 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: www.nimh.nih.gov.)

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 http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Go to http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com 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 http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Go to http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com for past articles.