Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Be wary of traps, or risk being weary of holidays
Stress for Success
December 14, 2010

Do holiday decorating, socializing and gift-giving energize you? Or on January 2 are you depleted and depressed?

If depleted, maybe you suffer from unrealistic expectations.

Respond to the four situations below. “Yes” answers indicate you’re either locked into “Holiday Traps,” which stress you, or “Holiday Treasures,” which energize you (Adapted Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits by Donald & Nancy Tubesing.)

Answer “true” or “false” for each item. If it’s difficult to decide, estimate which answer would be 51% true of you.

1. It’s important to make the holidays perfect. Your house, food and gifts must be memorable and appreciated. But every year you feel let down when reality doesn’t match your Madison Avenue expectations. You expect yourself to feel loving, joyous and peaceful but find yourself feeling lonely, sad and discouraged.
True False

2. You love to decorate your home for the holidays. All of the festive sights, smells and sounds are magical and energize you. You love hearing from others through their cards and can hardly wait to visit and celebrate with loved ones.
True False

There are no perfect holidays – for anyone. If you think others experience them you’re experiencing the “Magic Trap (#1).” Magical thinking tends to be “all or nothing thinking:” everyone’s always perfectly happy or they’re miserable.

Unmet expectations are often unrealistic; no one could satisfy them. If you want your holidays to be perfect it’s your expectation that’s stressing you. Those around you rebel against your need for perfection, causing the very problems that later depress you.

Turn this into a “Magic Treasure (#2)” by:
* Accepting others as they are. Don’t expect behavior from them they historically haven’t shown. If your brother is always late, let him be late. Don’t take it personally. Accept that it’s a part of him for whatever his reasons.
* Which holiday expectations historically fill you with joy? If it’s planning and selecting gifts, do it and enjoy it.

3. Both you and your new mate have your own treasured holiday traditions and you work hard to blend them together. But it’s more confusing and exhausting than comforting and enjoyable. Why does she have to have things her way?
True False

4. The holidays put you in touch with the meaning of life. The rituals and traditions stimulate spiritual reflection as well as a sense of excitement and wonder. Your traditions help you through the difficult times even when your feelings don’t quite match the occasion.
True False

Some traditions are worth continuing, others need to be pitched, while still others can be tweaked and made better. Move from the “Traditions Trap (#3)” to “Traditions Treasure (#4)” by:
* Resurrecting beloved traditions from your past like singing holiday songs before dinner, attending a religious ceremony, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Ensure participating in this tradition lifts your spirits versus depresses you with yet one more obligation.
* Ask friends about their traditions and adopt an appealing one for yourself.

Next week we’ll consider moving from another Trap to a de-stressing Treasure.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

It’s time to tame holiday burdens
Stress for Success
December 7, 2010

Do you eagerly look forward to the holidays? Does your creative and spiritual energy expand?

Or are your holidays filled with too many “shoulds” that exhaust you?

Over the following weeks you can respond to a series of situations from an assessment requested by O Magazine that I adapted from the book, Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits by Donald & Nancy Tubesing. These will help you move from your “Holiday Traps,” which stress you, to “Holiday Treasures,” which balance you.

1. You lose control over your activity calendar saying “yes” to all invitations and requests. Each carries a “social obligation” burden that can overwhelm you. Or the opposite, you sit at home waiting for someone to include you, which doesn’t happen so you’re alone again.
True False

2. You love the busyness aspect of the holidays because it fills you with a sense of purpose and worth. All of the social gatherings reconnect you with the support system you hold dear. Plus, the extra commitments help you appreciate the solitude and silence when they return.
True False

The first situation represents the stressful “Activity Trap” and the second one the stress reduction “Activity Treasure.” A “Yes” answer to #1 indicates that you are adding to your own stress while a “Yes” to #2 suggests you are nurturing yourself, therefore protecting yourself from the holiday strains.

It’s startlingly easy to get caught up in the holiday Activity Trap. You have your own expectations of yourself and of others while they have their expectations of you, as well. Often these expectations are very unrealistic.

To avoid the Activity Trap, list everything you want to accomplish during the holiday season then cross out the unnecessary activities.
* If everything is a priority to you then nothing is. So, identify your top priorities and make time for them, even if that means something else gets tossed out.
* What energizes and what drains you? Do more of what invigorates and less of what exhausts you. It doesn’t have to be a 100% change. Small movements in a healthier direction will do for now making more significant moves with time.
* Hold onto the activities you enjoy, even if they aren’t essential or could be done by others. You need them. They nurture you.
* Do unpleasant tasks as quickly and painlessly as possible, then reward yourself. Refuse to suffer.
* When you’re over-stressed, lighten your load. Accept help and imperfection.

Finally, turn obligations into energizers by creatively updating them:
* Instead of sending out holiday cards with a telling of the past year, write a compliment to each recipient.
* Surprise some on your list with a brief, long-distance phone call.
* Fill out your holiday cards at the library, a favorite restaurant or someplace enjoyable to you.

We’ll look at moving from another Holiday Trap to a Treasure next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stuffing yourself on Thanksgiving can add pounds
Stress for Success
November 23, 2010

I asked my husband what I should write about for Thanksgiving week and his immediate response was, “the turkeys in our lives.” After I stopped laughing I decided to focus on the real Thanksgiving turkey.

To stuff yourself or not to stuff yourself on Thanksgiving, that is the question.

There’s a part of me that says, “Oh what the heck, it’s only once a year.” Then the responsible-me remembers how miserable I feel when I overeat. Plus, my husband and I have Thanksgiving, Christmas, both of our birthdays and our anniversary from mid November to New Year’s Eve. So we can careen from one reason to overdo it to another and find ourselves on January 1 feeling like stuffed turkeys.

To counter this, in early January every year for two days, we eat nothing but apples. We purge ourselves of all of the stuff we’ve eaten since my husband’s birthday. It feels good. I’ve been doing it since the late 1960s.

But I also consciously remind myself throughout the holiday season how uncomfortable it feels to overindulge. Plus I don’t want the added weight to add up over the years, which would require that I shop for new clothes, something I hate to do.

Remembering Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean phrase, “Moderation in all things,” can help, too.

Think of this immoderate estimate of how many calories the average American eats on Thanksgiving Day:
* More than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat! (Source: Caloric Control Council)
* The Council finds that most of these calories come from all-day snacking in front of the TV watching parades and football games.
* FYI: one pound equals about 3,500 calories.

The National Institutes of Health and the Medical University of South Carolina found that the average person’s weight gain over the holidays is just over one pound. So, it’s OK to eat anything and everything you want since one pound is not much, right?

But the researchers also found that 85% of study participants still carried that extra pound one year later. If you gain and retain an extra pound each year they’ll add up. Duh!

Striving for balance and moderation is usually good advice no matter the concern. So if you eat too much lefse (the Norwegian delicacy I make for my family) over the holidays try making it last longer than just for the holidays. If you drink too much alcohol maybe you should consider setting a limit on how much you allow yourself. If you feel uncomfortable when you overeat why not use a small dinner plate and fill it only once?

So, what, if anything, will you do to avoid overindulging on Thanksgiving? Whichever choices you make, make them conscious ones. Identify what would define moderation for you. Then over the holiday weekend and for the next month keep an eye on yourself (without obsessing) and set appropriate limitation on your excesses.

Above all, enjoy Thanksgiving and all that it represents.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Assess your emotions before a confrontation
Stress for Success
November 19, 2010

You swear you’re prepared to speak calmly and professionally to a coworker you believe is intentionally sabotaging you. But the second you open your mouth to say something, BAM! you’re practically yelling at him! The first moments of an encounter set the stage for the entire conversation and you know you’ve blown it. But how can you control your aggression?

Use advice from the great book, “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)

Defensive emotions once engaged are difficult to turn off. And the more defensive you are the more convinced you are that you’re right, giving more fuel to your emotions. If you’ve blown it you may want to apologize and arrange to talk later after you privately take responsibility for your emotions. Here’s how.

Last week I wrote about the book’s advice to identify the other person’s behavior and ask yourself why s/he is behaving that way. Your answer is what actually causes your emotions, not the other person’s behavior. It’s vital to understand this so you can move beyond your defensiveness.

For example, you and I are working on a project together. I discover that you’ve met privately with our boss. Plus, when we both attend meetings you “hog” the time, making it seem like you’re in charge of the project, which you’re not.

“Why” do I think you’re hogging the limelight and excluding me from meetings? My answer: “Because you want all of the credit.” Doesn’t this assumption fuel my anger and resentment?

But just because I believe this doesn’t make it true. If my “why” answer is defensive and judgmental, which it is, I need to identify your behaviors and the facts of the situation before speaking to you.
* Fact/behavior: you had two meetings with the boss that I wasn’t notified of so couldn’t attend. You didn’t inform me later either.
* Fact/behavior: when we presented our idea together you spoke for several minutes while I spoke far less.

Separating the facts and your behaviors from my assumption that you want all of the credit balances me emotionally. I feel more in the driver’s seat of my own life, which decreases my stress therefore my defensiveness. I can assertively speak to you by using this formula:
1. State the facts from my point of view;
2. My interpretation of their meaning;
3. How I feel about it;
4. Ask if I understand correctly.

E.g., “Tom, you didn’t inform me of the meetings you had privately with the boss. This makes me think excluding me was intentional. I felt resentment and was hurt by this. Was I purposefully excluded and if so, why?”

Substituting my assumptions (“hogging” and “wanting all the credit”) with the facts of the situation including your behavior plus using this formula to address my concerns can help balance me so I’m less likely to become instantly defensive.

Next week we’ll look at additional ideas to improve your ability to handle your “crucial conversations.”

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Anger may be an emotional castle built on sand
Stress for Success
November 9, 2010

Do you avoid difficult workplace (or personal) conversations where you fear the outcome will be uncomfortable? If so, read “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)

According to these authors an organization’s effectiveness is strongly determined by its employees’ willingness to have crucial conversations. They found in the:
* Worst organizations poor performers are ignored then transferred (sound familiar?);
* Good organizations supervisors eventually handle problem situations;
* High performing organizations’ employees willingly and effectively speak to someone who fails to deliver on promises. Everyone is held accountable regardless of their level. How radical is that?

Difficult conversations usually trigger your stress cycle, therefore defensive behavior (my words not theirs,) bringing out your worst behavior (their words). What’s your worst behavior? It’s not pretty, is it? You’d probably be as embarrassed as I to have people you respect see you act that way.

To move beyond your automatic, defensive reactions and your worst behavior determine what – or who – is actually causing your problem. Is it really that co-worker who aggravates you so or might it your own interpretation of that person?

I’ve frequently written about how your negative judgments of others trigger your worst behavior. These authors approach this formula differently. This may help you see that your own interpretations determine your emotional reactions and behavior.

Their advice is to ask yourself why the other person is behaving as he is. A simple example is from a program I recently presented, “Collaborative Communication.” During our lunch break an attendee had to wait a long time at a Subway shop where there was only one employee working. He was doing his best and actually, according to my attendee, was doing quite well. He waited on four people at a time, taking each sandwich through the same steps together. All four customers had to wait for all four sandwiches to be made together.

Upon his return to our classroom, my attendee explained his own impatience was because the employee was disorganized (negative judgment). In my attendee’s mind it was the employee’s disorganization that made him impatient. Another attendee offered a different perspective. She suggested that the Subway employee probably didn’t want to take off and put on his plastic gloves repeatedly so made multiple sandwiches together. My attendee thought this seemed a likely explanation and said he probably wouldn’t have been impatient if he’d looked at it that way.

In other words, the label “disorganized” is what caused the attendee to become impatient, not the Subway employee’s system.

Who drives you the most nuts? Why is that person doing what he’s doing? Your explanation, your “why,” triggers your emotions therefore you reaction. The other person doesn’t make you feel as you do, therefore cannot be responsible for your reaction.

To have an important conversation that you’re now avoiding, prepare for it by asking yourself, “What’s your problem person’s behavior and why is he acting that way?” Next week I’ll address how to handle your negative why.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

To be happy consider strengths
Live, appreciate your strong suits
Stress for Success
November 2, 2010

Dr. Martin Seligman, University of PA author of “Authentic Happiness” and Positive Psychology pioneer, says happiness is strongly enhanced by three factors, the first two were covered in previous articles:
* Feeling better about your past;
* Thinking more optimistically about your future;
* Experiencing more contentment in the present, this week’s focus;

To be happier in the moment Seligman advises you to avoid “shortcuts to happiness:” sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating hot fudge sundaes, having sex or watching spectator sports. These “pleasures” give you upticks in happiness but fade quickly.

It’s much better to seek “gratifications,” which are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They involve thinking and require stretching your skills to improve.

Gratifications will bring you greater ongoing happiness when they are an expression of your “signature strengths.” (Take Seligman’s VIA Strengths Survey @ www.authentichappiness.org to discover your own.) All of these strengths are very positive. Living your life expressing your top five or so makes you much happier - so much so that you can stop focusing on fixing what’s “wrong” with you. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? These strengths include:

Wisdom and Knowledge: Courage:
Curiosity Valor
Love of learning Perseverance
Judgment Integrity
Social intelligence

Humanity and Love: Justice:
Kindness Citizenship
Loving Fairness

Temperance: Transcendence:
Self-control Appreciation of beauty
Prudence Gratitude
Humility Hope

For example, my top five strengths identified by taking his assessment two years ago and again recently, are:
* Integrity;
* Curiosity;
* Zest;
* Loving;
* Gratitude;

These strengths have strongly influenced my choices, thereby my happiness.
* Integrity: Hopefully those who know me well would say that I have integrity. Just a small example is that lying is virtually impossible for me. I also deliver what I promise, etc.
* Curiosity: I love my work and have great curiosity in all the workshop and speech topics I present (not to mention this column.) In fact, I won’t present topics that don’t interest me.
* Zest: Researching areas that fascinate me gives me great zest or energy and passion for presenting information to others.
* Loving: I’m fortunate to have a wonderful husband and great friends and family. Throughout my entire life I’ve had abundant loving relationships.
* Gratitude: All of my life I’ve been a very grateful person, which is an effective buffer against depression, according to Seligman.

I truly have a great life; and not because of money or possessions nor quick pleasures – although I do love watching MN Vikings’ games. My happiness and contentment come from living what is to me an interesting life; one of my own choosing and designing, therefore authentic.

Identify your own signature strengths by taking Seligman’s assessment, then figure out how you already live these and consciously appreciate that. Seek even greater happiness by looking for additional ways to express your strengths. If authentic happiness is your goal, living your strengths is your strategy.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to become more optimistic about future
Stress for Success
October 26, 2010

Would more money, a nicer house or better health make you more content? Are these the same things that satisfy happier people, too? If not, what can we learn from them to become happier ourselves?

Last week I wrote about the Positive Psychology movement, which finds that you’ll get the most bang for your happiness buck by changing how you:
* Feel about your past (covered last week);
* Think about your future (this week);
* Experience your present (next week);

So let’s look to your future.

Future-oriented positive emotions include:
* Optimism;
* Faith;
* Hope;
* Trust;

You must be fairly optimistic for these emotions to augment your happiness. Optimism is hope about your prospects. In these tough times it’s more difficult to remain hopeful, yet many do.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the University of PA pioneer of Positive Psychology, author of “Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness,” and world renown optimism/pessimism researcher, has shown through extensive research that:
* Optimists and pessimists interpret events very differentl. Pessimists are more realistic but optimists are more resilient, healthier and may live longer, and are better at work and in sports.

Seligman has narrowed down becoming more optimistic to changing how you explain why good and bad things happen to you through two dimensions of your “Explanatory Style:”
* Permanence versus temporary: for how long do you give up?
* Pervasiveness - universal versus specific: how much of your life is affected by events?

Permanence vs. temporary: Pessimists see causes of bad events as permanent, such as not getting a job interviewed for:
* “I’m all washed up.”
Optimists use temporary terminology to explain:
* “I wasn’t on for that interview.”
Whose stress lasts longer? Who’s going to give up more easily? Being washed up sounds very permanent.

Pessimists also use expansive and exaggerated words like “always” and “never:”
* “I’ll never get a job.”
Optimists use “sometimes” and “lately.”
* “I’ve had some bad interviews lately.”

Opposite terminology is used when something good happens.

Pessimists use temporary terminology to explain why something good happened:
* “I’m lucky to get this job.”
Optimist use permanent causes for good events:
* “I’m the best candidate for this job.”

The second dimension of your Explanatory Style is Pervasive: how much of your life is affected by an event?

For bad events pessimists explain with universal terms and may feel helpless in multiple areas of their lives, like not getting the job:
* “I’m such a loser.”

Optimists use specific explanations and limit any helplessness to the bad event:
* “I wasn’t feeling well that day.”
Who’s more resilient for the next interview?

Pessimists use specific reasons to explain why something good happened:
* “I got the job because I’m good at math.”

Optimists use universal reasons:
* “I got the job because I’m smart.”

So, to become more optimistic and happier about your future explain bad events with temporary and specific causes and good events with permanent and universal ones.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Depression more common now
Effort-driven rewards more meaningful than short-term pleasures
Stress for Success
October 12, 2010

Isn’t it odd that depression in America increased along with our affluence? Shouldn’t it work the other way around? Is there something in our relatively prosperous lifestyle that’s an actual cause of depression?

The pioneer of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, described two studies conducted in the 1970s in which people of different generations reported on their lifetime episodes of depression.

One might assume that the older generation would have more incidents of depression because of experiencing far more hardships from the Great Depression and two world wars, not to mention having lived longer.

But the opposite was true. Younger people were much more likely to have experienced depression. In fact, one study found that those born in the middle third of the 20th century were ten times more likely to suffer from major depression than those born in the first third of the century.

Here are two reasons that may help explain.

Lifestyle differences: older generations were far more physically active than younger ones. Think about some differences:
* Today it’s throw-away diapers; yesterday it was cloth diapers that were soaked and washed;
* Today you buy microwavable, ready-to-eat meals; yesterday, they grew, hunted, and prepared their own food;
* Etc.

Why might modern life along with its hi-tech gizmos, cars and microwaves be part of the soaring rate of depression? What might we have lost when we went from labor-intensive lifestyles to our sedentary ones?

“Our brains are programmed to derive deep satisfaction and pleasure when our physical effort produces something tangible,” says neuroscientist and psychologist Kelly Lambert, writing in Scientific American Mind (and author of “Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-on Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power, 2008.) She calls our ancestors’ hard work “effort-driven rewards.” They had greater appreciation of their efforts producing their necessities, which very importantly gave them a greater perception of control, more positive emotions and maybe protection against depression.

Other social scientists have suggested a contributor to the greater affluence/higher depression formula has to do with modern humans taking short-cuts to happiness. With increased disposable income and leisure time we bought more things (note the past tense) that brought us pleasure. But pleasures are short term enjoyments. They are sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating your favorite foods, sex or watching spectator sports. Investing more energy into pleasures gives you frequent upticks in happiness, but they fade quickly.

It turns out that we’re happier and less depressed when we seek gratifications. These are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They:
* Involve thinking;
* Are an expression of your strengths;
* Stretch your skills to improve;
* Are often considered “flow” activities;

Gratifications also lead to an increase in important, positive emotion boosting neurochemical releases
which improves mood.

Consider fighting the blues and depression by seeking fewer short-term pleasures and more meaningful gratifications. Next week I’ll address identifying your strengths that are at the core of these gratifications.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Motivation is diminished by rigid, internal rules
Stress for Success
October 5, 2010

Humans have a strong desire to be the author of their own actions, which is inhibited by two kinds of external influences:
* Obvious ones like society, your boss or family - even that early morning alarm clock or your kids’ crazy schedules;
* The less apparent but equally if not more restrictive controls are your rigid “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts;”

Regardless of which control is operating, exert control by asking, “What are my options?” Do you have to allow your kids to participate in so many activities? How can you feel more rested when the alarm goes off? To passively accept that there are no options equals stress therefore leads to a loss of motivation, if not to burnout.

Your shoulds and shouldn’ts often operate beyond your awareness making them more powerful. Rules like, “You should be polite,” “You shouldn’t appear weak,” you most likely learned growing up. You internalized these and they now control you in largely unchallenged, unconscious ways. They reside in your head and you assume they belong there even if in the same breath you resist them.

For example, people who endlessly battle weight loss, stopping smoking or drinking have their share of rigid rules (who doesn’t?), which often create a “Master/Slave” relationship that’s more pronounced than in those with no addictions.

On the one hand “I should lose weight,” sounds like a helpful inner voice. But what if the “should” represents the Master commanding you to lose weight, rankling you so your Slave resists? You may diet and exercise as you “should” or as your spouse pressures you to and you make some progress - for a while. But your rigid rules and your spouse’s pressure are both extrinsic motivators, which don’t motivate well, nor for long. Your internal Master demands compliance, which can trigger your Slave to sabotage your diet.

Charlotte Selver, counselor to very famous students like Fritz Perls and Clara Thompson, said, “If you dare to be fat, then you can be thin.”

She was referring to this Master/Slave power struggle: you pressure yourself to lose weight with the threat of hating yourself if you don’t. This creates resistance through unconscious sabotaging of yourself. To lose weight – or quit smoking or drinking – you’ll be more successful if you move beyond the power struggle and its inevitable self-hatred.

Counter your rigid rules by substituting “should, shouldn’t, have to, must” vocabulary with “choose, want, prefer.” Instead of saying, “I should lose weight,” say, “I want to lose weight,” or “I choose to lose weight.” Whereas “should” and “shouldn’t” predict you’ll behave in rigid, Master-induced ways, the more flexible vocabulary bypasses the Master putting you in charge of deciding if you really want to or not, which is the essence of motivation.

Additionally, if you’re motivated to quit your bad habit in order to take control of your health (intrinsic reason) you’ll have significantly better success than if you do it for others (extrinsic reason.) So take control by consciously challenging your Master/Slave dichotomy or it will continue to control you.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Motivation suffers in unstable workplaces
Stress for Success
September 28, 2010

On-going workplace instability is negatively impacting American employees and taking its toll. Those who still have jobs are dealing with the stress of:
* Doing the additional work of those who’ve been laid off;
* Living with the dark cloud hanging over them that their job, too, may be eliminated;
* Dealing with both internal and external customers who are stressed to the max, which brings out defensive behaviors in most;
* Possibly their spouses having lost their jobs making it even more important to keep their own;
* Realizing that they’re lucky to have a job but tired of being reminded of it;

One of the casualties of all of this stress is employee motivation, which if suffered too long leads to burnout. And you don’t want your staff to get burned out since it usually requires drastic change to remedy, such as leaving for a better job once one shows up.

So how can employers increase motivation during these challenging times? What works and what doesn’t?

The research is in and it shows that rewards don’t really motivate, at least not for long. Rewards such as gifts, money, and benefits may be appreciated in the short run but according to much research these external motivators:
* Can be perceived by the receiver as having strings attached - a controlling intention - which won’t motivate at all;
* Refocus employees’ attention onto the reward to the point where the task can suffer;
* Rewards are difficult to end once started;
* External attempts to motivate decrease a sense of causation on the part of the recipient, the true motivator that actually works;

Depending upon the intention of the person giving the reward (is it to recognize someone’s good efforts or is to get him to work even harder?) will determine whether the reward motivates at all and if so for how long. Rewards tend to work better for recognizing people’s efforts if given with no strings or manipulative intentions attached.

The true motivators are intrinsic ones; things that increase a person’s sense of control – of causation.

Humans need to believe that their own actions cause outcomes. That’s why bosses who include subordinates in decision-making and problem-solving in areas that affect their work can become better managers with more productive employees. Bosses can also allow their employees to decide how work gets done as long as it meets the required outcome, rather than dictating how staff is to accomplish their work.

Intrinsic motivators lead people to greater persistence, creativity and success. They’re so important that psychological researcher, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, says that developed nations’ workforces are moving from assuming that money is the primary motivator - you can only buy so many things, which are extrinsic (external) motivators that don’t work well - to understanding that being the authors of their own actions is what truly motivates. The challenge is for managers to help their employees be more in the driver’s seat of their own jobs.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Intrinsic motivators feed your success
Stress for Success
September 21, 2010

Losing weight, getting out of bed some days, not screaming at a customer; the list of responsibilities and tasks that require motivation to accomplish is a long one.

But what is motivation? Where can we get some?

The thesaurus says that it’s incentive, inspiration, drive, enthusiasm, impetus, stimulus and impulse.

You may lack these for something you don’t want to do but you’re full of them for what you love to do. Think about:
* Something you dread doing;
* Something you love to do;
What motivates you to do each?

For what you dread it may be an external force that’s pressuring you to complete it. Like the threat of losing your house if you mess up on your job or the perceived or actual disapproval of family members if you somehow fail to tow the line.

Consider the vast difference in what motivates you to do what you love. Maybe it’s caring for your grandkids on a weekend. You love those kids so much that there’s no real motivation that you have to work up; it’s just there. Or perhaps it’s your favorite hobby that you dive into after the work day that exhausts you. Your energy miraculously returns because your hobby captivates and challenges you.

An important difference is that you’re probably intrinsically motivated by what you love to do and have to depend upon extrinsic motivation (threats, pressure, guilt, money, etc.) to force you to do what doesn’t excite you.

The trick to creating motivation for tasks that you don’t feel like doing is to look for and create intrinsic rewards for finishing them.

Intrinsic motivators represent who you are at your core. They’re associated with better mental health and lead you to greater persistence, creativity and life success. They include:
* Your positive values, which are natural motivators;
* Making a contribution;
* Pride in your work;
* Personal and professional growth;
* Meaningful relationships;

Extrinsic motivators and rewards come from outside the self and are associated with poorer mental health, even depression, and create a fa├žade that you must then invest energy into to carrying on. These include:
* Wealth and the stuff it can buy;
* Beauty;
* Fame and adulation;

Self-esteem works in the same manner as motivation: if your perceived value is dependent upon external things like a hot car or a big house, your self-worth will be fleeting. What happens to your confidence if you lose these things? Intrinsic self-esteem based on positive values like love, connection, growth, giving, etc., gives you meaning. These values don’t leave you in hard times like your income and your looks can.

So, what is something you procrastinate doing? Or dread? Or a task that bores you? Which intrinsic motivators could help you accomplish these? Sometimes your only motivator will be a threat, money or other external rewards or punishments. Just know that mental health and success are nourished when intrinsic motivators significantly outnumber your extrinsic ones - more on this next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

You can control your instinct to be controlling
Stress for Success
September 7, 2010

Are you a control freak? If so, what do you think drives your behavior?
* Fear of loss of control so you compensate by exerting excessive control? Like micromanaging employees (next week’s topic).
* See your spouse and kids as a reflection on you so you demand perfection from them by telling them how to act and look?
* Or you’re convinced that you’re the best person to be in charge because you know the most (which can include the first two, also)?

You may be quick to let others know how to better handle their emotions or their life in general. You find fault in others and you’re convinced their lives would improve if they’d just take your well-informed advice. After all, you wouldn’t give advice about things you’re uniformed about now would you?

Can you tell when someone doesn’t appreciate your superior knowledge and competence? Do you dish out your advice anyway? Can you just not help yourself?

To add insult to injury you’re probably frustratingly right so often! Darn!

Instead of attempting to completely stop advising others you might have greater success by mitigating your usual approach. Rather than blurting out your counsel, preface it by saying, “I have some information that can help you, if you’re interested.” This gives the other person the control to say yes or no.

You could also light-heartedly admit to those who are typically on the receiving end of your unsolicited guidance that you know you have this tendency and your intent is truly to help. Develop an agreed upon word or better yet a nonverbal signal that the other person gives you that says “stop,” to which you agree to stop immediately.

Here are some other ways you can temper your controlling tendency:
* Consider: if someone were to give you unsolicited and excessive advice how would you react? Defensively? If so, what makes you think others enjoy yours? Try saying nothing for a couple of weeks and notice if some don’t come to you asking for your opinion! They want to be in control, too.
* Before criticizing or giving advice deep breathe a couple of times while asking yourself, “Is my advice important enough to risk any potential relationship fall-out?”
* Identify your area of expertise and who would benefit from it. Perhaps a volunteer program needs your know-how. Share your knowledge with them.

If you’re on the receiving end of a control freak you can also diminish the negative impact. Instead of reacting with automatic hostility and resistance channel your control freak’s energy. If he sticks his nose into something you’re working on invite him to help with part of it. Or head him off at the pass. Invite his input before he offers it. At least it gives you some control.

Whatever the control freak’s motivation, consider giving her a break. She can’t bother you if you don’t allow her to. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Nor can a control freak stress you without your consent.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let go of need to control and you’ll let go of stress
Stress for Success
August 31, 2010

Believing you have insufficient control is one definition of stress, like the office worker whose knuckle cracking colleague drives her nuts or the parent who becomes angry over the children’s messy rooms.

The employee blames her colleague for keeping her from concentrating thereby assumes he’s causing her stress. The paradox is that the bulk of her stress is her fixation on wanting him to stop his irritating habit.

We all tend to want to control those who bother us. But that’s our stress. Get it? Instead, for example, the parents must stop wasting their time wishing their kids were tidier and change their approach. They could impose logical consequences if their rooms remain messy, which is within the parents’ control.

Given this, then, control freaks must live highly stressful lives! They often attempt to control people and situations that are inherently beyond their control, thus the paradox.

But we’re all control freaks one degree to another. Like passive people who loathe taking the initiative and exercise their control by associating with those who are more than happy to take charge.

Who’s your control freak? Someone who tells you how to live your life or spend your money? These unwanted authorities can be irritating to those on the receiving end if not downright intimidating.

Could these control freaks be acting out their own fear of the unknown, as Pasadena psychologist Ryan Howes contends? Their unsolicited advice is an attempt to combat their feelings of powerlessness like not being able to prevent an accident if the driver does something wrong. Psychologist Steven Reiss of Ohio State University says, “The backseat driver is an individual who has a strong need to feel influence, and they’re always looking for ways to express that need.”

Where does this need for control come from? “If you grew up in an environment that was kind of chaotic, it’s almost a defensive sort of reaction,” says Jerry Burger, Santa Clara University social psychologist. “We’ve seen this in homes where a parent has an alcohol problem, for example – those children develop a need for control themselves.”

Other control freaks can trace their tendency to a specific, traumatizing life event, like mine: eye surgery at the tender age of 2 ½ after which I was tied to the crib 24 hours a day minus the 15 minutes of relief when my parents were allowed to visit. At some level of awareness I made an unconscious decision to never be out of control again!

Decades ago I worked very hard to diminish my need to control others. What helped was accepting and acknowledging what’s within my control and what’s beyond. Everything about everybody - their personalities, tendencies, habits – are beyond my control. If I want a different outcome with someone I must change my approach. For example, I could assertively ask the person to change. Or I could tolerate what they’re doing. But if my goal in changing me is to get them to change I’m still barking up a stressful tree; more on this next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We’re better off if doctors take care of themselves
Stress for Success
August 24, 2010

When treated by your physician, especially for something serious, you want her or him to be alert and functioning on all cylinders, right? But what if your doc is seriously stressed out and unlikely to take care of himself? Does that mean you’ll suffer, too?

The medical journal The Lancet reported, “The emotional well-being of doctors is a major index of the quality of the health-care system as a whole.” This is a bit scary since this is also a profession with higher suicide, burnout, alcohol and substance abuse rates. “The baseline physician is walking around fairly burned out,” says Professor Dan Shapiro, chair of the department of humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. “We teach doctors that they have to be self-denying.” Besides, stress management isn’t taught in med school because physician stress isn’t recognized.

Dr. Suzanne Koven in a Psychology Today article says that doctors have a plethora of career-specific stress to deny, which can and does work against good mental health, such as:
* Those who get into and through medical school are likely competitive and perfectionists.
* Expectations within the field include toughing it out during difficult professional situations like exhaustive surgeries or very long hours. Shockingly, “a large majority of doctors in residency training say that they’d keep working if they had vomited all night, saw blood in their urine, or experienced extreme anxiety.” On occasion ignoring symptoms may be harmless but as a lifestyle over the years a physician can find herself in dire, physical and emotional shape.
* Other strains include long hours, sleep deprivation, medical school debt that pushes them to work harder, fear of being sued and of not performing perfectly, endless paperwork, meetings, etc. All of which can create chronic stress making them vulnerable to illness and disease development. In one survey 20% of medical trainees rated their mental health as “fair to poor.”
* Many have enormous workloads with great responsibilities while not practicing good stress management nor eating healthfully.
* To make a living, they have to see more patients in less time, defeating the reason they came into medicine. They’re chronically rushed and probably not focusing on patients as carefully as they should. “They’re like air traffic controllers with too many planes in the air,” Shapiro says.
* Shapiro points out that 75% of American health-care dollars goes to treating chronic illnesses leaving docs spending significant time caring for people who remain ill. This must be very frustrating and a serious contributor to burnout.

For these and other reasons too many doctors are hesitant to seek medical and psychiatric care. Additionally, this is a profession that operates with an unspoken code of silence so physicians are unlikely to report colleagues with substance abuse or psychological problems so they go untreated.

It’s in all of our best interests if those who care for our medical needs take better care of themselves. Physicians with improved self-care and less stress make for better patient care and presumably healthier patients, too.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Passive-aggressive behavior can be difficult to handle
Stress for Success
August 17, 2010

Manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior is the most difficult and frustrating interpersonal problem for me because it’s so hidden, indirect and hurtful. Passive-aggressive behavior, including gossiping, is also the most destructive to the health of a relationship.

We all manipulate subconsciously or consciously at times. When you do so, be aware that you’re being unassertive and failing to speak directly and truthfully for whatever your reasons. It’s very stressful to be on the receiving end of this. Wouldn’t you rather upset co-workers talk to you directly versus gossip about you?

A key to understanding passive-aggressive behavior is to realize that it’s an attempt to get even with you, the aggressive part. It’s an indirect expression of anger or frustration. Apparently gossiping co-workers feel the need to discredit you and don’t have the courage to do it openly. Their method is passive.

If you’re chronically manipulated by someone, you’re almost certainly part of the problem. As in all relationships, it takes two to tango. To diminish others’ manipulation of you, take responsibility for your own complicity. Since you can’t make others change (be less manipulative) and since all you have true control over are your own choices, you must change your response --- or continue to dance the manipulative dance. How do you respond now and what could you do differently?

The main change you’ll need to make to extinguish or significantly diminish others’ attempts to manipulate you is to expose their attempts, which can feel very uncomfortable. For example, you could say a colleague who went behind your back.,

* “Jane, it’s my understanding that you’ve told others that I didn’t do my share of the work on this project. I’d appreciate it if when you have a problem with me that you bring your concern to me directly rather than to someone else. Then we can discuss it openly and resolve any misunderstandings.”

Expose hidden manipulation a time or two and she’ll be less likely to manipulate you in the future.

If the passive-aggressive person is a customer or a boss with whom you’d be unlikely to be so direct, here’s another idea. Your customer says,
* “Your employees were over yesterday and they actually did a good job!”

Doesn’t it sound like he’s really saying that they usually don’t do a good job? To clarify the customer’s hidden message you could say,
* “Dave, it sounds like what you’re really saying is that they usually don’t do a good job. Is that right?”

Whenever you expose manipulative behavior you’ll need to be prepared to deal with what the person has to say. If he admits that, “no, they usually don’t do a good job,” you could address it by saying,
* “That’s unacceptable. Tell me what they need to do better.”

Passive-aggressive behavior is very difficult for most of us to handle well, especially when the relationship is one of love or of power. Learn to surface it in a non-defensive manner to create an opportunity to resolve any underlying issues. Then and only then can you know what you’re dealing with.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spread the word: Productive gossiping a skill
Stress for Success
August 10, 2010

In the 1980s I read about and followed good office politics advice: listen to (virtually) all gossip but spread none. This kept me in the loop but not as a backbiter that “gossiping” implies. When you’re out of the loop - by choice or by exclusion - you miss out on valuable information needed to “play the game.” This includes greater awareness of your organization’s informal network, especially important in organizations that practice poor communication.

Because evolutionary psychologists believe gossiping is an innate human trait enhancing survival, consider it a social skill versus a personal weakness. And seek a balance. Avoiding all gossip because you believe it’s always destructive will isolate you. But blabbing everything to everyone is also undesirable. To balance gossiping:
* Know when to say nothing by;
* Asking if spreading the rumor will hurt your team;
* Avoid making yourself sound like the hero when you share information;

Consider these tips to benefit you and your team and lessen the damage:
* “The Local Media Rule” is a concept I use in harassment training but it also applies to whether to pass on gossip. If what you spread about someone were to show up in your local media or your company’s newsletter (not to mention Twitter or Facebook) would it embarrass you? If so, don’t spread it.
* Be tactful. Rather than saying, “Our new boss knows nothing about leadership,” you could say, “Our last boss was such a great leader,” implying that he was better than your present boss.
* Generate good will by passing on information that makes a colleague look good. “Chris worked over the weekend to save the account.” This reflects positively on you, too, especially when Chris hears about it.
* Defend your friends: A former, close colleague of mine reported that a mutual co-worker was calling me the “b” word for being assertive. (Back in the 1980s this was a common label applied to assertive women.) I asked if he stood up for me and he answered “no.” At no risk to him he could have said, “How do you see her as aggressive?” Or, “I find her to be assertive not aggressive.” The only way to diminish malicious, passive-aggressive gossip is to expose it. Then the gossiper will think twice about spreading hurtful opinions to at least you if not to everyone.
* Communicate openly with employees especially during heightened stress when they’re feeling less in control. Instead of trying to create a gossip-free workplace, which is probably impossible, talk directly with them and keep them posted on changes and challenges. Since gossip loves a vacuum don’t stick your head in the sand but be proactive in communicating what’s going on through regular emails and meetings.

You can decrease the negative impact of gossiping by following these simple rules. If you feel compelled, however, to spread trash at least be very careful about whom you tell. CYA, if you know what I mean.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Gossip can be good
Stress for Success
August 3, 2010

Is gossip among humans equivalent to grooming between primates?

Yes, according to psychologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Liverpool and author of “Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language.” He suggests that gossiping connects social groups together.

Since gossip is found in people of all ages, eras and societies, evolutionary psychologists believe it’s an innate human trait born out of our primitive past. It’s likely an evolutionary adaptation that allowed us to survive and flourish throughout the ages.

Here’s why.

Prehistoric humans lived primarily in small groups with everyone knowing everyone. They had few encounters with strangers. To survive, they cooperated with their “in-group” members against “out-groups” but also saw those in their in-group as their main competitors.

To deal with relationships successfully our ancestors had to have a strong interest in others’ private lives to accurately predict and influence their behavior (see where I’m going here?). Those who were the most successful at managing relationships became more attractive mates, thereby more likely to pass down their genes to us.

Our curiosity about others is, therefore, a survival skill used to this day and especially important given our regular interactions with strangers.

Gossip is used for a variety of reasons, some more adaptive than others. It can:
* Attempt to equalize power; like employees spreading rumors about a boss. Gossiping is called the weapon of the weak.
* Indicate a sign of deep trust, creating bonding through shared secrets. Sharing gossip indicates that you trust the person you tell that they won’t use it in any way against you. Those excluded from office gossip, for example, become outsiders not trusted or accepted by the group.
* Serve as a source of information for employees who otherwise aren’t getting any from management. When gossip is controlled, it can be a positive force in a group’s life.
* Be a way to learn the unwritten rules of social groups by communicating group customs and norms.
* Be an efficient way of reminding group members about the importance of the group’s values, therefore, it’s can be a method of punishing those who go astray.
* Be used as a dysfunctional strategy to increase one’s status at the expense of others. This distasteful side of gossip usually overshadows the productive ways it can unite people.
* Provide information about the activities of same-sex people close to your own age to whom you ought to pay special attention since they are your principal evolutionary competitors.
* Provide information about those who matter the most in your life like rivals, mates, relatives, colleagues, and those with power over you. Humans are most interested in information that can affect their social standing. Keen interest in negative news about high-status people and potential rivals can be exploited while negative information about those lower than us in status isn’t as useful.

It’s good to know that gossip is probably instinctual so we don’t have to always feel guilty when we indulge. Next week I’ll share some tips on successful gossiping.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Entitlements don’t come without responsibilities
Stress for Success
July 27, 2010

In the 1980s two young people we knew had baffling work expectations. One, an office worker, was upset because she didn’t get a raise when a colleague did. The other, an electrician, became indignant when his boss, the owner of the business, dropped him off at a job but didn’t stay to do the work herself.

Does their sense of entitlement seem off-base to you?

Some say today’s Millenial generation has a too-strong sense of entitlement, also. An example is college counselors who cite struggling students blaming their professors for being boring; like boring instructors cause bad grades.

Having a sense of entitlement, often representing unrealistic expectations, manifests itself in many ways. Aggressive drivers feel entitled to intimidate you out of their way. Some hurricane survivors expect an immediate government rescue. Older siblings feel entitled to greater respect from younger ones. Some poor people feel entitled to unending benefits. Some affluent people expect the best opportunities. The list goes on and on.

What do you feel entitled to? Are your expectations realistic?

A sense of entitlement carries a serious risk: the possible shirking of personal responsibility. The office worker blames the boss for not giving her a raise versus wondering, “What are my options?” in securing a raise. The students could ask the same question about getting better grades.

Instead, all are focused on how the other person is interfering with them getting what they want. As I’ve stated many times before, wanting the other person to change increases the stress of a situation because the other person is always beyond your control.

What’s within your control is figuring out your options. The students could study more, get tutoring, figure out how to pay attention even when bored.

No doubt everyone has certain rights and entitlements but for each one we must also accept their inherent responsibilities. You have the right to be respected. Your responsibility is to behave in ways that earns others’ respect; being reliable, honorable, respectful of others, etc.

In the above examples which responsibilities are being ignored?
* The office employee had the responsibility to figure out what’s rewarded in her job and what isn’t. Did her attitude inhibit her from getting the additional responsibilities that would have justified a raise? Did her very sense of entitlement grate on her boss?
* The electrician had the responsibility to know what he was hired to do and to do it; to understand his job responsibilities versus his boss’s. Plus, he needed to accept that the owner of a business can do pretty much what she wants. It’s her company.
* The students need to figure out how to learn and pass. Period.

Too frequently in our rights-oriented society we demand our entitlements with little thought to their corresponding responsibilities. This almost always leads to more anxiety if we passively wait for what we want. To increase success and lower stress, it’s important to identify and pursue the options that are within your control that can lead you toward your realistic expectations.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Space of time stops knee-jerk reactions
Stress for Success
July 20, 2010

Recently I’ve written about how mindfulness can help you respond to stressful situations as you want versus reacting automatically out of your unconscious, past childhood programming. It’s difficult to change these mechanical reactions because when you’re anxious your Stress Cycle is triggered speeding up your response time. The more stressed you are the faster you react. All of your best intentions of behaving more appropriately go down the drain.

To stop these unwanted reactions create a Space of Time between your stressor and your reaction to it. You can gain a millisecond of time to discipline yourself to stop your habitual, defensive behavior and replace it with a more desirable and effective response.

Mind Games can create this Space of Time. This isn’t the idea from the 1980s pop psychology where you manipulate others people’s minds but rather it’s playing a little game inside your own head to stop your undesirable reactions.

Mind Games don’t solve problems. Their sole intended purpose is to give you power to change your behavior, seldom an easy task. Here are some examples.

Mind Games work best when you personalize them to your situation. For instance, a woman was easily intimidated by her very aggressive, loud boss. In fits of pique he threw insults at her and others. She came to the belated conclusion that his rudeness said more about him than about her and decided she needed to keep his insults from sticking to her. So she imagined a protective plexiglass shield slipping into place in front of her resulting in his insulting words dripping down the glass therefore not sticking to her.

When my older stepson moved in with us I became very critical of him, which I disliked in myself. He’d do something and I automatically pounced. I tried deep breathing, looking for humor in the situation but nothing worked well. One day as I was about to criticize him, an image popped into my mind that worked as a Mind Game from that day on - most of the time anyway. I pictured my mother and father watching their dear sweet daughter being so hard on this child. That’s all I needed. It stopped me in my tracks. It created the Space of Time I needed to walk away from the situation.

Finally, a young boy was afraid of being alone in his bedroom at night. His father taught him to hum, When the Saints Come Marching In, whenever he became frightened to push away his fears, which allowed him to fall asleep sooner.

Mind Games that can work for you are limited only by your creativity. Create some image, thought, humor or just use deep breathing to stop unproductive reactions. Create a Space of Time to increase your opportunity for change.

Be patient because this, like anything, takes time. And it doesn’t always work. If Mind Games help you stop undesirable behavior even a little, it’ll be worth the effort. Perfect this skill and you’ll finally be able rid yourself of some of those embarrassing, immature reactions.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It’s easy to go on emotional autopilot
Stress for Success
June 29, 2010

It’s easy to block out painful emotions and operate emotionally on autopilot. Addictive behavior may be a warning sign that this is occurring habitually. To notice some emotions they might have to become extreme. But mindfulness stress management can allow you to face your emotions and not feel like you have to run from them.

According to Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. and author of “Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss and Change” handling stress mindfully helps you to be less reactive focusing on the big picture of a stressor. When automatically reacting to stressors you’re reacting out of your unconscious, which is largely programmed from early childhood. In other words, automatic, defensive reactions tend to be coming from your inner child. You’re also probably focusing on the details of the situation.

Alexander says, “The key to dealing with stressful situations, especially for those who take things personally, is to develop a deeply grounded core rudder so that no matter what size of wave one encounters they can recover quickly and proceed with more focus.” To remain grounded he recommends developing “mindstrength” through mindfulness meditation practice. “Mindstrength is the ability to easily and quickly shift from a reactive mode to becoming fully present in the moment, experiencing the full force of your emotions even as you recognize that they are temporary and will soon dissipate.”

He says mindfulness practices affect your brain’s amygdala, the area responsible for regulating emotions. When the amygdala is relaxed, your stress response is more balanced. Your:
* Heart rate lowers;
* Breathing deepens and slows;
* Body stops releasing cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, decreasing the potential damage chronic stress places on your body;

Over time, mindfulness meditation, Alexander says, “thickens the region of the brain responsible for optimism and a sense of well-being. This area is also associated with creativity and an increased sense of curiosity, as well as the ability to be reflective and observe how your mind works.”

When in stressful situations he encourages you to answer these questions, taking your pulse of the here and now:
What do I feel right now?
Do these feelings benefit me in any way? If I feel anxious and fearful, do these emotions lead me to insights, or do they cause conflict, hold me back, and distract or weaken me?
If what I’m experiencing is in response to another person’s behavior, what’s the evidence that that person’s actions have little or nothing to do with me and are, instead, the result of what’s going on inside his/her own mind?
Can I depersonalize the situation?
How can I nourish myself at this difficult time?

Finally, Alexander says, “Mindfulness meditation and other disciplines such as martial arts, tai chi, and yoga are excellent ways of quieting the rational mind and opening up to the intuitive mind and its link to the spiritual creative force. Through this connection you can build “mindstrength,” stop reactivity, and focus on the big picture.” (www.ronaldalexander.com)

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mindfulness loosens grip of old resentment
Stop inappropriate defensive reaction
Stress for Success
June 15, 2010

Everyone has at least some childhood pain that’s triggered by present-day situations leaving you to misdiagnose the cause of your current stress. The setting off of these largely unconscious memories activates their associated emotions and typically a defensive reaction from you. And the stronger your pain the faster you react leaving potentially a millisecond between the triggering event and your habitual reaction to it. This is why it’s so difficult to change defensive behavior.

For example, your boss condescends to you and you verbally respond more aggressively than you want. Could the real problem be that your boss is simply triggering some unresolved childhood issue? If so, could identifying it loosen its grip on you?

Ask this revealing question to discover if your boss is truly your stress or if he’s triggering an earlier source:
* “Who or what from childhood could trigger this same reaction in me?”

Maybe your father was condescending. Now, as an adult, whenever an authority figure appears to talk down to you your instantaneous, aggressive reaction pops out.

To break outdated and needless reactions become more mindful of what’s going on before, during and after the triggering event and expand the “space of time” between the event and your reaction to it. Eventually you can reduce the intensity, duration and frequency of automatic reactions and respond in a more thoughtful and desirable way.

Here’s how to start:
1. Bring your attention to the present moment, particularly to your breathing; in and out, in and out. At first this may not stop your defensive pattern. Eventually, paying attention to your breathing allows you to observe your unhealthy pattern and ultimately to catch yourself becoming emotionally hooked. Then you’ll be closer to changing your response.
2. Non-judgmentally witnessing your habitual, unproductive reactions helps avoid adding more emotional fuel to the fire. Consistently, over and over bring your drifting attention back to your breathing. Instead of criticizing yourself for getting defensive with your boss simply acknowledge that you sometimes respond to him this way. Notice what he does that triggers you (his derisiveness), your aggressive response, followed by fear that you’ve overstepped the line, then worry that he’ll punish you someday. After one of these episodes set aside contemplative time to observe the unpleasant emotions and physical sensations triggered earlier. Be mindful of these. Observe your thoughts, feelings and fight or flight reactions that exacerbate your stress.
3. Reduce the intensity of your automatic reactions by nipping them in the bud to prevent full development of overwhelming emotions. There’s an opportunity within the first seconds of recognizing your habitual reaction to prevent further escalation. Break these mind/body chain reactions to stop the process. Remember, the less you judge yourself - or him - the less intense your feelings become. Don’t accept nor condemn your emotions, just observe them for what they are, habitual, immature and unhelpful, albeit normal.

Since thoughts determine your emotions next week we’ll look at how mindfulness can help you quiet and calm your mind.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Get off autopilot; kick the past out of the present
Stress for Success
June 8, 2010

It’s disappointing when you habitually react defensively to your critical boss, a dominating parent or whomever. You swear you won’t let him or her get under your skin then, bam! It happens again. Why can’t you get control over yourself?

Many conflicts have less to do with the person in front of you whom you assume is causing your distress and far more to do with this person triggering a painful memory from your past usually involving an important person you believe hurt you. You project onto the present situation your past fears. Practicing mindfulness can help you break your historic patterns even in the midst of difficult emotions.

Meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
* Paying attention: We typically operate on automatic pilot rather than paying conscious attention to the present moment and our place in it. You think of other things, worry about what might happen and react
rather than respond to unfolding events. You’re especially vulnerable to over-reacting when you’re stressed.
* On purpose: Paying attention to what’s happening in this moment requires conscious effort and is the opposite of operating on automatic pilot.
* In the present moment: Versus difficult emotions from your past being triggered pulling you back to habitual reactions.
* Non-judgmentally: Unwelcome situations tend to trigger negative and judgmental assumptions. “You’re unfair!” You instantly judge the situation, others or yourself creating more distress and conflict. Negative judgments imply a certain outcome you desire. “You should be fair.” Too often what you want is for the other person to change. But they’re beyond your control. Non-judgmental mindfulness allows you to see situations more clearly and to evaluate them from an emotional distance thereby dropping your judgment. You observe your emotions and reactions as they arise without trying to control them. Eventually mindfulness allows you to see a typical stressor as less of a big deal and more as a passing, unwanted experience.

Consistently practicing mindfulness, especially when stressed, is difficult but it can bring significant relief and freedom from old, painful patterns.

Mindfulness is not:
* Detaching from experiences nor disengaging emotionally from life. You don’t become indifferent nor lose your enthusiasm. Mindfulness encourages engaging more completely rather than reacting out of habitual patterns.
* Submissively accepting whatever happens. You won’t lie down and play dead in the face of conflict. Non-judgmental mindfulness allows you to respond to difficult situations with understanding and attention rather than habit, impulse or addiction.
* A miracle cure for all that’s wrong.

Mindfulness is an internal strength that can be developed to surmount hurt and pain and grant you greater freedom from your past. It helps you break habitual and defensive life patterns, which can allow you to establish better relationships and increase your kindness toward yourself and others.

Nature, meditation, deep breathing, etc. can help you become more mindful. Next week we’ll continue looking at its benefits and how to develop it.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grieving puts your body under tremendous stress
Survival fear may exacerbate
Stress for Success
May 25, 2010

Just like with any stress, the death of someone dear to you triggers your stress response along with its resulting hormonal releases, increasing your vulnerably to illness and disease development. But does losing a beloved also trigger a deep evolutionary fear perpetuating an on-going, therefore, a more damaging stress response?

Some researchers believe a survival mechanism is triggered when you lose a close loved one: the natural fear that having lost this person makes you yourself vulnerable to death. This comes from the very human, instinctual bond we have with our families for the survival purposes of protection and finding food. The severing of these bonds could literally mean death to ancestors when affected by such a loss.

So, losing a close loved one not only puts you into a state of grieving but at a very deep, instinctual level it may activate an amorphous anxiety that elevates your stress response on an ongoing basis leaving you stuck in a state of continuous anxiety. Because you don’t physically act on your stress energy but rather “stew in your own juices,” your body is put under tremendous stress. Just some of the symptoms of accumulating stress include:
* Loss of focus;
* Disrupted eating and sleeping patterns;
* Panic attacks;
* Shallow breathing;
* Digestion, metabolism and circulation changes;
* Less coordination possibly causing falls;
* Weakened immune system making you more vulnerable to colds, etc.;

Depending upon your condition before your loss, if the stress from grieving continues long enough you can be vulnerable to developing many physical symptoms or illnesses such as:
* Infection;
* Cardiovascular disease;
* Rheumatoid arthritis;
* Dry mouth;
* Leukemia, lymphoma;
* Lupus;
* Alcoholism and drug abuse;
* Pneumonia;
* Diabetes;
* Glaucoma;
* Malnutrition;
* Chronic itching;
* Depression;

When you’re grieving it’s important to know that you can protect yourself from these and other symptoms. A very important first step is to accept that your body is in a state of crisis and to take care of it exceptionally well for the foreseeable future (and for the rest of your life). Are you:
* Eating healthfully?
* Resting and relaxing enough?
* Taking enough time off from work?
* Exercising?
* Drinking enough water?
* Saying “no” to unimportant things?
* Seeking professional help if necessary?
* Treating yourself to a massage, music, etc.?
There’s no time table of when you “should” experience the different stages of grief nor how long it should take you to move through them. There is no certainty that your increased stress will cause any illness or contribute to the development of any diseases. The best way to ensure that you limit any potential physical and emotional consequences is to take very, very good care of yourself. Develop excellent self-care habits and continue them far beyond your time of grieving. You’ll reap the rewards of more energy and better mental and physical health to help you move into the next phase of your life when you’re ready.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Everybody grieves in their own way
Need to go through it, not around it
Stress for Success
May 18, 2010

Some believe healthy grieving means going through all of the Kubler-Ross Model stages - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - but don’t take this as an absolute road map. Each of us grieves in our own way. However, the one thing I’ve learned as a licensed mental health counselor is that you need to go through your grief, not around it. If you deny or avoid it you’ll still have to experience it some day before you can move on.

So grieve you must for according to the National Mental Health Association, “The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event,” especially if you made decisions about the way he or she passed away.

Psychologists estimate that 15% of grieving people experience especially painful “complicated grief.” This goes beyond “normal” bereavement to feeling that life has lost all meaning and a shaking of the foundation of your personal beliefs, even religious ones. If it’s prolonged, it can lead to physical illness and clinical depression. Other common symptoms include:
* Feeling distant from or hostile toward some people;
* Obsessive and agonizing yearning for your loved one and feeling abandoned when reality returns;
* Avoiding places that remind you of your loved one;

Obviously, the loss of a child is particularly difficult. Columbia University’s School of Nursing researchers’ survey found that more than 60% of parents still actively grieve the loss of their children even 20 years after their deaths.

The sudden loss of a spouse can produce similar pain. Surviving spouses lose more than their partner, they lose a way of life and possibly some friends and financial security.

Many say that sharing their grief minimizes the feeling that they’re “sleepwalking” - numb, exhausted, disorganized, confused - and of feeling overwhelmed. If you’re experiencing these feelings, be kind to and patient with yourself. Postpone important decisions if you can until you’ve worked through much of your grief. If you have trouble coping get help from a counselor. If you develop clinical depression consider an antidepressant.

Self-care is also vital to minimize the possibility of developing an illness: eat well, get sufficient sleep, and avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Watch for physical stress symptoms like:
* Lethargy
* Sleeplessness
* Appetite loss
* Loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed
* Uncertainty
* Digestive and other health problems
If these symptoms linger, get professional help. Even if you have no obvious symptoms consider having a physical check-up six months after the death of your beloved to make sure you’re not paying any physical consequences.

After awhile you start to realize that you haven’t totally lost your loved one. Looking at photos there’s a sense that they’re still with you through the history you shared together. This is a sign that you’re moving through, not around, your grief. You don’t want to forget your loved one, but accept that progressing through grief is a process that is necessary and normal and eases eventually moving into the next phase of your life.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Human connections ease pain
It is important to be open to support, love when grieving

Stress for Success
May 11, 2010

The loss of a loved one is a special kind of stress. Your world can be fine one moment and upside-down the next. Your grieving symptoms can run from fuzzy thinking to muscle tension to depression to illness.

Once again I find myself grieving the loss of a loved one only six months after my step-son passed away. This time it’s an older, prankster brother - who’d douse my sheets with water in the middle of MN winters and ditch my glasses in the toilet just for fun. He succumbed to cancer, a cruel disease made worse by his horrible treatment hell.

Over the past year of his battle I, of course, worried about him but mostly wouldn’t let myself go there. His situation was so beyond my control and worrying only increases stress. I mostly redirected my thinking to something within my control like imaging his cancer shrinking (which obviously did no good other than to keep me from worrying).

Going through this with him proved to me once again that human connections ease the pain. It’s refreshingly amazing during trying times how people come out of the woodwork to do kind things, like the local doctor who doesn’t know me from anyone but emailed me Internet research study links that might help my brother. There’s goodness everywhere.

I’m grateful for the support I received from so many like my husband keeping a close eye on me, especially at the funeral. Friends and my “paloaltos” and other members of the symphony chorus I sing with who inquired about my brother, suggested resources and checked to see that I was OK. All made me feel loved and protected with their many phone calls, emails, hugs and offers of help.

After my parents passed away so closely together in 1998 I took a grieving class at Hope Hospice in Fort Myers. Everyone else in this group was grieving the loss of a spouse, which taught me two very important things:
* Appreciate my husband while I have him;
* When a spouse dies your entire life changes;

My life hasn’t changed appreciably with my brother’s passing. My sister-in-law’s has. Everything has changed for her. Any goals they shared are now up in the air. Her future looks totally different whereas mine doesn’t. It’s safe to say her stress far outweighs mine. With her best friend by her side the entire time before, during and after the funeral she has the best kind of support to begin her grieving. She, as everyone else, will move through it in her own way. We all grieve differently.

It’s said that it’s better to give than to receive but when you’re grieving it’s important to be willing to receive others’ support. When you lose your spouse it’s even more important to open yourself to the power of love from supportive others. Let it bathe you in the power of human connection, facilitating your movement through your grief. So, I’m going to call my sister-in-law now, it’ll be good for both of us.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Friendship influenced by biology
Women, men differ, believe it or not
Stress for Success
April 13, 2010

Is it natural that women are likelier than men to have more close friends? Since this behavioral pattern is found in animals it does suggest that turning to others probably has biological origins.

According to UCLA psychologist Shelly Taylor, “females enjoy the comfort of one another’s company,” like prairie vole males who react to stressful conditions by seeking out their female mates, while females turn to other females. And female bonobo monkeys form intense, long-lasting bonds with other females, much more so than males.

And in both humans and animals the pattern of nurturing well -- or not -- is passed on. Vervet monkeys, for example, who were mistreated or deprived in infancy don’t mother their own offspring as well as nurtured monkeys do. Humans who were abused as children are more likely to become abusive parents, too, according to Taylor and many researchers. Additionally, children who don’t receive much physical attention or warmth are at risk for a wide range of serious physical and mental health problems.

Across cultures females are taught to care for others from an early age. Playing with dolls, caring for younger siblings, baby-sitting others’ children and eventually caring for their own kids, parents and even in-laws, are typical for most females.

Taylor goes on to say that relationships are vital and that “social ties are the cheapest medicine we have.” What great health care is that?

I’ve written before about women’s possible built-in advantage in coping with chronic stress due to the hormone oxytocin , which facilitates child birth and nursing and is experienced by both genders during orgasm and bonding. Some researchers believe this bonding hormone protects women against the ravages of too much exposure to the fight/flight hormones. (Oxytocin doesn’t seem to protect stressed men since their testosterone interferes with it.) This suggests that attachment behavior, more associated with females, is a natural stress inoculant giving females a distinct survival advantage. This is a wonderful antidote for stress that women should continue to rely upon. Men could also put more energy into their relationships and reap similar benefits.

But is this hormonal difference a blessing and a curse to women?

Psychologist Alice Domar at the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston says data clearly show that women are more stressed on a daily basis than are men and not because they ruminate more as once thought.

“Men worry about three things: their immediate family, job and money,” she says. “Women worry on a daily basis about up to 12 things: their immediate family, job, money, extended family, friends, their kids’ friends, the way the house looks, their weight, the dog, etc.”

So women may have a built-in resiliency to stress with additional oxytocin releases but also have more stress, much of it over the very relationships that protect women from stress. The trick to this is to stop stewing about anything and anyone beyond your control and when you feel stressed call a friend, or make a friend if you don’t have one.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness 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.