Why Can’t I Just Fall Asleep!

Aaah, to sleep. Peacefully. Like a baby, a puppy, a kitty… Is that possible anymore? I haven’t slept well in so long. Every night is a struggle. I futz and futz and go to bed later and later—it doesn’t do the trick. Tell me doc, what do I gotta do?

Villefrance at Stresshacker.com Sleep deprivation is literally a form of torture, and a very effective one at that. You don’t have to be a fiendish Capulet spy to find out how true that can be. US statistics from the Department of Transportation estimate that 20% of drivers doze off regularly at the wheel, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates conservatively that, during an average year, “drowsy driving” causes 100,000 automobile wrecks, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities. These staggering stats are supplemented by data from the US military, children studies, surveys of truck drivers, shift workers, couples, medical students—all pointing to one simple fact: we can’t sleep. Let’s see what is happening, why, and look at some possible remedies.

What’s Happening to Sleep?

Sleep is under attack from many sources. First and foremost, especially in the westerly and northerly parts of the planet, our schedules simply allow much less time for sleep. While this may seem like a no-brainer and suggest that there is a simple remedy (just allocate more time to sleep!), the problem of sleep scheduling is actually very complex and with no easy solution. The reason for this is below the surface and can be uncovered only by identifying that our fundamental belief about sleep has changed. To put it simply, many of us no longer believe in the necessity of sleep, while continuing to proclaim its virtues and benefits, at least out loud. Secretly, don’t we wish we could simply do away with sleep altogether?

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Top 7 Reasons Stress Management Programs May Not Work

Google Search at Stresshacker.com There are thousands of stress management books, CDs, audio books, treatments, therapies, and remedies. With so many to choose from, it has become just about impossible to review them in depth and determine which stress management programs actually help people, in what ways, and how well. In this post, I will review the types of stress management programs that are available and identify some of the most frequent reasons that may keep them from working.

What Are the Choices in Stress Management Programs?

Biological: “Stress is a biochemical imbalance in the body and/or the brain.” Normal biochemical balance is restored through medication, exercise, dietary, and lifestyle changes.
Psychoanalysis: “Stress is real or perceived loss which causes anger that is direct toward the self.” Insight into inner conflict and release of emotion are triggered via intensive and sometimes extended psychoanalytical therapy.
Behavioral – Focus is on emotion: “Stress is anxiety-modified behavior.” Anxiety is reduced by desensitization to thoughts, events, relationships that cause anxiety.
Behavioral – Focus is on behavior: “Stress comes from problems with the reward-punishment processes.” Behavior is modified through skills training in managing reward and punishment.
Behavioral – Focus is on self-control: “Stress comes from problems with the reward-punishment processes.” Increased self-control over reward and punishment is achieved through skills training in self-monitoring, -evaluation and –reinforcement.
Cognitive-Behavioral: “Stress is caused by distorted information, negative thoughts, and negative beliefs.” Better information, positive thoughts and beliefs, and behavioral change are promoted through skills training in reasoning, decision-making, self-monitoring, restructuring.

Many of these programs can work very well at reducing stress except… when they don’t work. Let’s look at some of the reasons that are most frequently cited when users complain that the stress management program of their choice did not work.

Top 7 Reasons Stress Management Programs May Not Work

  1. One Size Does Not Fit All: As opposed to individually tailored treatment programs, many stress management courses and programs are created for “people in general” without customization for culture, gender, age, health status and other significant factors.
  2. The Shotgun Approach: Most programs target generic stressors, i.e. the most common and universal sources of stress. The theory is that stress can be reduced systemically, targeting the symptoms without addressing their specific causes.
  3. When Stress Makes Sense: Effectiveness is limited in people whose stress results from realistic and valid concerns about stressors that must be resolved, reduced or eliminated for the stress symptoms to go away.
  4. “My Situation Is Different”: A program may fail to produce results when users cannot relate its prescriptions to their specific area of concern, either because the program is too short on specifics or too broad in scope.
  5. The Program Fails to Stimulate Lasting Change: To be effective, any stress management program must motivate the individual to view situations and challenges in a new way, and to apply new approaches and solutions. Often there is a return to the old ways of appraising and behaving after a superficial and temporary change.
  6. Scratching the Surface: Deep-seated stressful patterns are often caused by troubles that are caused by conflicts or personal challenges that are below the surface. Relaxing away the symptoms may leave the underlying difficulties untouched. Stress may go away, then return after a relatively short time.
  7. A Sound Mind in a Sound Body? Many exercise, sleep, breathing, aromatherapy and other biologically-based management programs urge the cultivation of certain aspects of physical fitness, on the assumption that if one feels well physically, the stresses of living and working will be less troublesome. Unless these programs also address the thoughts and emotions behind the stress-provoking patterns, however, it is possible to become more physically fit while remaining vulnerable to stress.

The bottom line of stress management programs? The programs that offer a better chance to work are the ones that do so by stimulating new ways of evaluating situations and relationships that cause distress and of coping with them in ways that are more effective and long-lasting. Any program that motivates these cognitive and emotional changes can be helpful in principle, because it will be more likely to cause lasting behavioral changes.

Is Love Apart As Good As Love Nearby?

ShipwreckBeach_EN-US2696310123 Being apart is not as satisfying as being together. Certainly true, common sense would say. Well, not so fast. New, more recent research suggests that long-distance relationships can be, and often are, at least as emotionally satisfying as geographically close ones.

The new research comes from Purdue University(i), where researchers studied attachment patterns of individuals in the United States and South Africa who for various reasons were in a committed (married or unmarried) long-distance relationship. The conclusions of the study are that, with a few caveats, love at a distance can be a well-functioning, if not ideal, committed relationship.

Earlier studies had identified severe distress, loneliness, emotional roller-coasters, and generally very problematic outcomes in the separation-temporary reunion-separation cycle of relationships where one or both individuals are pursuing a career goal in another geographic area. Anecdotal evidence abounds as to the heartaches and dissatisfaction of these arrangements, of the tearful goodbyes and too short reunions. The common assumption is therefore that all long-distance relationships are inherently stressful and more vulnerable to break-ups.

By studying attachment patterns between people in close relationships, Purdue researchers have identified the characteristics that make these relationships endure and flourish. Read more to see how they arrived at their conclusions and what they recommend to couples in these situations.

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Learning From Stress: The Locus of Control

Dali_1954_PiramidesWhen it comes to handling stressors and managing the stress reaction, are you an internal or an external?

Our response to a stressor can be classified in many ways, but when it comes to our interpretation of its impact on our capabilities and resources we fall along a continuum from internal (“I feel I can handle this”) to external (“I can’t handle this by myself”) locus of control.

On one side of the continuum are individuals who feel capable of taking personal responsibility and are therefore inclined to believe that success or failure in handling the stressor can be found primarily within their own resources, i.e. their locus of control is internal. At the other end of the continuum are individuals who do not feel capable of assuming responsibility over the stressful situation and are therefore more inclined to believe that success or failure in handling the stressor hinges on luck, chance, or help from others; their locus of control is external. What are the implications of locus of control? Read more after the jump.

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Runaway Stress Attacks Financial Markets

High anxiety produced the equivalent of a panic attack in the world’s financial markets last Thursday. It was a day reminiscent of the high anxiety, high stress situation in the fall of 2008 when the markets lost almost half of their value in a few weeks.

On Thursday, from the Hang Seng to the Tadawul, from the DAX to Wall Street, fear gripped traders. On Wall Street, shares plunged by nearly 10% of their value and then regained it almost all back by closing time. Millions of dollars were lost and gained in minutes. Automatic halts on trading by computerized safeguards prevented a complete meltdown.

For at least “a discrete period” (i) of a few hours on Thursday, there was “a sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness, or terror, often associated with feelings of impending doom.” (ii)

Among individual traders, “symptoms such as shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, choking or smothering sensations, and fear of ‘going crazy’ or losing control” (iii) appeared and disappeared throughout the day.

This appeared to be the type of panic attack that was “situationally bound (cued)… occurring on exposure to or in anticipation of the situational cue or trigger.” (iv) The situational cue on Thursday was a real or perceived threat to the world economy by the crisis of confidence in Greece’s ability to meet the obligations of its national debt.

When the panic attack was over on Friday, financial analysts and the rest of us were left to wonder if” “the increased global anxiety threatens to slow the recovery in the United States, where job growth has finally picked up after the deepest recession since the Great Depression.” And if “it could also inhibit consumer spending as stock portfolios shrink and loans are harder to come by.”

For anxiety, stress and panic attacks to be linked to allegedly rational financial evaluations and transactions is nothing new.

The notorious tug of war between quantitative economists and those who believe that financial decisions are to a large extent irrational, continues unabated.

An April 2010 NOVA special on PBS, Mind Over Money asked a very straightforward question: Can markets be rational when humans aren’t?

Thursday’s events would seem to indicate, once again, that mathematically-bound, high-intellect frontal lobe activities such as financial markets are vulnerable to sudden irrationality.

Just like the rest of us.

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Business of Stress: Self-efficacy Predicts Success

StradaCampoImperatore In the demands-control model of occupational stress a situation is created whereby high demands are placed on the individual with little opportunity to exercise control over the work environment or the task design. This is the most common type of workplace stressor and it has been shown to have an impact on cardiovascular health. But is the problem simply a matter of demands/control stress diathesis? Why isn’t everyone succumbing to heart disease? Indeed, many individuals seem to thrive even in work environments where personal control is minimal and job demands are chronically high. How?

At least a partial explanation can be found in self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the perception that personal resources are adequate to meet life’s demands. Even in situations of low control/high demands, adequate self-efficacy can act as an important protective factor.

When personal resources are perceived as lower than perceived job demands, low self-efficacy results. Task demands are felt to exceed coping abilities, which often creates emotional and physiological overload. Prolonged exposure to occupational stress with low self-efficacy increases vulnerability to burnout, which is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, interpersonal difficulties, apathy toward personal accomplishment, and occupational disengagement through cynicism about the importance or worth of one’s work contribution.

Individuals with adequate self-efficacy believe that their available personal resources are sufficient and may even exceed what is required by their workloads. In day-to-day work activities, this belief in one’s adequate resources accompanies the process of assessing tasks and personal capabilities: in most instances, the perceived balance is in favor of having more than what it takes and the task is undertaken with vigor and confidence. Read more

Successful Leadership: What Does It Take?

David_NapoleonSt-Bernard In reporting the results of a global survey, Michael Haid discusses the factors that contribute most to exceptional leadership performance. It turns out that it is not what leaders know, i.e. their skill set, but it is how they fit in their company’s culture, how they are motivated by opportunities within the organization, and how they interact with those around them that result in high performance. Read more

Research News: Stress and IVF

Klimt_1895_Love Researchers at the University of Aarhus in Denmark have uncovered preliminary evidence that appears to suggest a link between stress and the chances of success with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Unlike other studies that focused on stress caused by infertility and the IVF treatment itself, this study[i] analyzed non-fertility-related, naturally occurring life stressors. Specifically, this research explored the association between IVF outcome and stressful life events during the previous 12 months. Read the study methods and results after the jump. Read more

Business of Stress: Rise of the Type A Machines


The now irreversible and accelerating developments in communication technology (multiple e-mail addresses available from any platform, high-speed anywhere Internet access, smart mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and what not) have enabled greater flexibility and mobility (e.g., teleworking, telecommuting) but they also have removed traditional boundaries between different roles in life (work, family, leisure). Thanks to these ubiquitous and always-on hardware devices and the software tools they provide, there often is no solution of continuity between work and non-work states, between being somewhere dedicated to work activities and being somewhere else, where relationships or relaxation are possible.

In addition, short-term employment, work on time-limited projects, and working two or even three part-time jobs simultaneously are becoming increasingly more common. These trends may indeed be producing  beneficial effects in terms of greater task variety and flexibility, but also an increased risk of stress due to work overload, disruption of natural circadian patterns, role conflicts, and lack of time for relationships, for rest and energy replenishment through sleep or relaxation activities.

The individual executive, rather than the company, is now tasked with setting appropriate boundaries between work and other roles in life. This is a particularly challenging task for the executive who may be classified as exhibiting Type A behavior. What is type A behavior and why is it becoming increasingly problematic?

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Business of Stress: The Psychosocial Benefits of Work


Being out work carries more than financial consequences to the individual. One of the most important sequelae is the negative impact on self-esteem and to the sense of well-being and adjustment.

Having a meaningful activity provides many non-economic benefits. These may include giving a consistent time structure to the day; self-esteem through achievement and self-satisfaction; the respect of others; an opportunity for physical and mental activity; a setting where to use one’s skills; and frequent interpersonal contact.

When Bohb Jadhav’s architecture firm reduced its staff by 30 percent a year ago, he turned a cozy Park Slope coffee shop, with its sitcom-style mismatched furniture and a rotating gallery of local art on the walls, into his new work space. For six hours each day, Mr. Jadhav takes up residence in one of the comfy, oversized chairs, works on his future plans, and indulges in occasional, workday-like breaks for coffee, cigarettes, lunch and general kibitzing. Mr. Jadhav says the stimulating environment, the hum of ceiling fans, music and conversation, was a crucial bulwark against the feelings of desperation that followed the loss of his job. ”This place is critical to my sanity,” he says. “If I was at home I’d be more easily distracted. And it’s nice to have the company of others. It’s like working with the TV on.”

The New York Times Nov. 27, 2009

Very often, the loss of these psychosocial benefits of employment is at least as important as loss of income to the stress levels and overall health of unemployed people.