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