Monday, November 18, 2013

I challenge you today to list what you’re grateful for

Stress for Success

November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving reminds us to give thanks for the blessings we have in our lives. This balances stress by providing a better perspective on life; it reminds us that sure, we have challenges, but we also have much that is good. Taking time to appreciate the good should happen daily, not just at this time of the year.

Listing what you’re grateful for in difficult situations also limits the potential stress hormonal damage done to your body. Even, and perhaps especially, in those little daily hassles, like when stressed by a traffic jam remind yourself you’re grateful your car isn’t overheating, there’s good music to listen to, etc.

Today I challenge you to stretch your conscious awareness of what you’re grateful for. This serves as a reminder that life is significantly better than it sometimes feels.

Here’s my partial list. I’ll start at the beginning.

I’m grateful I was born to my parents who encouraged curiosity, personal responsibility, self-confidence, kindness, etc. in all of us six kids. They passed on their love of music and supported our vocal and instrumental musical development, opening up a life-time of joy. The challenge of reading, learning and performing with the Symphonic Chorale of SW FL gives me bliss.

I’m also grateful my parents encouraged me to pursue whatever I wanted, which led me to a great education and a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in the 1970s. This experience greatly expanded my mind through adventure, learning a second language and forming and maintaining fascinating relationships. It led me to realize that I need to work in the world of ideas, which has fueled my professional motivation ever since.

The warm and fuzzy feeling of blood being thicker than water after fun family gatherings is also very refreshing.

I’m eternally grateful that I married a loving, kind, intelligent, creative and funny man; my best friend for almost 37 years. I’m thankful for the trust we have and the security that engenders. This loving existence almost certainly contributes to our on-going good health, for which I’m also very thankful.

I’m eternally grateful for our wide circle of dear friends. We’ve helped each other through great times and not-so-great ones. We’re always there for each other. We laugh and we cry - together.

I must include our local weather: no hurricanes this year - again, just plenty of nourishing rain. The jungle-like growth of the trees and hedge we planted is fast making our new house an enveloping and peaceful home.

We’re grateful the economy seems to be truly on the mend this time. We’re even grateful for the significant increase in local traffic including the many work trucks buzzing around too fast. More people are working again. Hallelujah!

I’m grateful for sunsets and sun rises, the sound of the wind through the pine trees, no mortgage, funny people, my husband’s great cooking, and our beginning steps to leave SW FL in the summers. I’m thankful for a good night’s sleep, meditation, a commitment to things that are bigger than myself, and that I virtually never get bored.

And finally, I’m grateful to be going on Medicare December 1. I made it!

What are you thankful for? Write down a very long list. Review it, especially when times are difficult. Let it filter into your daily awareness more and more so it leads you to a grateful life, not just an occasional burst of thankfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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  Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Monday, November 04, 2013

“Status stress” creates health problems for a life-time

Stress for Success

November 5, 2013, Week 440

It seems unfair that whom you’re born to influences your stress, hence your health, for your entire life. In general, the greater the family’s affluence and the lower the “status stress,” the better the lifetime health. Conversely, those born into poverty have a lifetime of poorer health.

The reason, according to much research, involves perception of control. The more helpless one feels - the less control one perceives - when facing stressors the more lethal those stressors’ effects. Perception of control typically declines the further down the socioeconomic ladder you go, with potentially severe consequences.

Perception of control influences all areas of life. If you grew up believing your responses to life’s challenges can influence your outcomes, you’ll likely look for and find plenty of options. Your “self-efficacy” will be higher, automatically reducing your stress and making you a healthier, better problem solver.

If you grew up in poverty, you may have learned “there’s nothing I can do” to make things better. The greater this belief the more you’ll suffer from “learned helplessness,” the most stressed personality of all. Learning to feel helpless means you won’t try the many options that are available to you to positively affect your life.

For example, as an infant a childhood friend was unfortunately adopted by a cruel family. She became morbidly obese during grade school over which her mother relentlessly berated her. Her father beat her regularly with no consistency as to why, leaving her unable to determine which behaviors to avoid to minimize the beatings. Throughout her life, she suffered significant learned helplessness. One example was when as an adult she wanted to buy a condo but didn’t approach the bank for a loan because she knew they wouldn’t give her one even though she had a high enough income.

Consider how the following research about learned helplessness and status stress affects the less fortunate of us:
·         Indiscriminate electric shocks given to animals sent them into a form of depression, dulling learning and memory. But, when the animal had control over the shocks’ duration, they remained resilient. Having control over the length of the pain was more important than the pain itself. This has important implications for:
o   A consequence of children growing up with low control is their brains get wired for learned helplessness, limiting their options, therefore their lives;
o   The racial differences in longevity: In the US, whites live on average five years longer than African-Americans. A 2012 study by a Princeton researcher computed that socioeconomic and demographic factors, not genetics, accounted for 70 – 80% of the difference. The single greatest contributor was income, accounting for more than half.
o   Subjective experiences of racism by African-Americans correlate with visceral fat accumulation in women, which increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, thus heart disease and diabetes. In men, they correlate with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
·         In primate experiments low status females are more likely to develop heart disease and greater inflammation compared with higher status females. When eating junk food, they more rapidly progress toward heart disease. High-ranking males heal faster than their lower-status males who are more likely to choose cocaine over food than higher-ranking males.
·         Rockefeller University neuroscientist, Bruce McEwen, says, “Poverty gets under the skin.” He refers to “biological embedding” of social status. Parental social status and early life stress wire your brain, increasing vulnerability to degenerative disease and infection decades later. Carnegie Melon scientists exposed volunteers to a common cold virus. Those who’d grown up poorer, measured by parental home ownership, resisted the virus less effectively and suffered more severe symptoms.

These findings raise important questions about the role of status stress and learned helplessness in hampering life successes. Martha Farah, University of PA neuroscientist, found differences in the capacity to learn. Socioeconomic status correlates with children’s ability to pay attention and ignore distractions. Other researchers have observed differences in the function of the prefrontal cortex, the brain region associated with planning and self-control, in poorer children.

Farah said, “… seeing an image of the brain with specific regions highlighted where financial disadvantage results in less growth reframes the problems of childhood poverty as a public health issue, not just an equal opportunity issue.”

In our polarized political climate there is unlikely to be any significant attempt to address these health differences and their causes, so they will continue to cost each and every one 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  Email her to request she speak to your organization at