Disaster! 9 Critical Crisis Management Skills

aaCezanne_BendOfRiverDisaster strikes…an event with sufficient impact to produce significant emotional reactions, and one that can carry significant consequences. In the range of our ordinary experience, such an event may be extremely unusual. Perhaps it is the first time that we have been in a car wreck, an earthquake, a flood, lost our job, missed the mortgage payment, or discovered a very unpleasant and unexpected truth about a person or a situation. The first time, any of these events constitute a serious crisis, with wide-ranging impact. The second or third time, these events continue to be real crises but may be approached with enhanced skills and capability to cope with their aftermath.

Whenever and however often these critical and extremely stressful events may occur, a few outcomes can be predicted as very likely to be experienced by most people. First, there will be potential and actual traumatic reactions to the event or incident, either immediate or somewhat delayed. Expecting no reaction or minimal reaction is unlikely, and a severely restricted reaction or no reaction at all may be a sign of poor cooping skills, an attempt to deny the impact of the stressor, or to minimize its seriousness. Second, there will be acute manifestations of stress (some purely psychological, other physical, or a combination of both) that must be managed and mitigated. Third, the stressful event may have an impact on the individual’s ability to function in his/her usual occupation, school, or even in carrying out daily routines. Fourth, the stressor may be of such magnitude and effect that short-term psychological or medical treatment may be necessary. Fifth, the best mitigating effects are produced by family support, peer group support and continued interaction in the workplace; isolating is an instinctive reaction when in emotional pain, but it is proven to be counterproductive when dealing with a severe stressor.

In critical incidents or severe stress situations, the first 24-72 hours after the event are the most crucial. It is important to provide to others or seek out for oneself a reduction in the intense reactions to the traumatic event. While it is normal and expected to have a stress reaction, even severe, people should be facilitated in their return to their routine as quickly as feasible. In this respect, re-establishing access to one’s social network prevents isolation and reduces anxiety. In recognizing similarities to others, being understood and supported while in pain, and not being judged or criticized for their reaction, people often are better able to cope with the challenges of troubled times.

Here are 9 ways of managing acute stressors that have been proven to work:

  1. Reaction. Allowing ourselves to have an appropriate reaction that is physical (e.g., crying), psychological (feeling upset), and social (reaching out for help), without much concern for how our grief or sorrow may “damage” our image with others. An attempt to look strong and to show no emotion in the face of a significant stressor may work in the short term, but if the reaction to its impact is not allowed to take place, this may create a situation of chronic stress over time.
  2. First Aid. Psychological “first aid,” education and follow-up are important. Talking to trained peers, chaplains, and/or mental health professionals may be just what is needed in the critical first few days following the incident. Longer term counseling or medical help may be needed to manage any anxiety or mood disorders (such as depression) that could be triggered by the stressor.
  3. Comfort. The basic human needs to be comforted and consoled when in distress and being protected from further threat or distress, as far as is possible, are important. This may mean moving away from the scene of the incident at least for a time. It is not unusual to need and benefit from a few days out of town visiting welcoming family members or very close friends, following a disastrous event or a major personal crisis.
  4. Basic Needs. Immediate care is needed to address any physical necessities caused by the severe incident. In the case of a natural disaster, shelter, food and warmth become critically important and take precedence over psychological interventions.
  5. Reality Testing. Seeking goal orientation and support for specific reality-based tasks (“reinforcing the concrete world”) is important in mitigating the effects of a severe stressor that may make the individual feel like “the world is coming to an end” or “this is too much to even comprehend” and any severe symptoms of derealization or detachment.
  6. Relationships. It is important to facilitate the reunion with loved ones from whom the individual has been separated. If this disruption of relationship occurs, reuniting parent and child, or spouses, or siblings, is critically important. If an immediate reunion is not possible, providing good information as to the loved ones’ whereabouts and health is the next best thing.
  7. Talking. At the earliest opportunity, the telling of the “trauma story” and the expression of feelings as appropriate for the particular individual should be facilitated. Even though not everyone may be willing to go into details as to what happened, at least not right away, providing the earliest opportunity to say what happened and what it means to the person affected is critically important.
  8. Ongoing Support. If the individual seems to be “lost” in the magnitude of the event, linking the person to systems of support and sources of help that will be ongoing is never a bad idea. The key is the continuity of support. For some incidents or severe stressors such as the loss of a loved one, this support may need to continue for weeks and months to come.
  9. Regaining Mastery. Eventually, after all the critical “first aid” interventions have been taken care of, the goal becomes the restoration of some sense of mastery, a regaining of control over one’s life, a new beginning and the ability to deal effectively with the new situation created by the incident. The memory of what happened will most certainly never go away, but its traumatic impact on distress and functioning is meant to fade over time, when new ways of coping have been successfully put in place.

Christmas Stress Survival Kit

aaMantegna_1500_AdorazioneMagiThe holiday season is upon us — the cash tills are ringing — the car parks are chocka — the shops are heaving — and stress levels are rising. For all the perfectionists out there this time of year can be a real nightmare as The Need To Do Things Perfectly swings into overdrive.  Advertising induces huge pressure to roll out the perfect Christmas:  perfect gifts — perfect parties — how to cook the perfect turkey …   and so on. We put impossibly high expectations on ourselves and end up being unable to enjoy the celebrations.

So here are a few ideas to help ease the stress and allow you some space to enjoy the festive season.

► DELEGATE/ASK FOR HELP: If the majority of the work falls on your shoulders please don’t suffer alone.  If you do you’ll have an exhausting Christmas and probably end up feeling resentful.  Ask for help from those around you — partner, children, family, friends.  Preparing food or writing cards together feels very festive and will significantly ease the burden on you.

► BEWARE “SHOULDS”: Christmas is full of ‘shoulds’.  Be aware of the number of times you use this word.  It usually implies that you’re about to embark on something you don’t really want to do — but feel you ought to.  In other words, the impetus is stemming from external expectations.  The antidote is simply to supplant the word should with could. This instantly reintroduces the element of choice.  You DON’T have to brave the crowds to buy just one more gift … you could, but you might choose not to…

► TEMPER EXPECTATIONS … of others and, more importantly, of yourself.  Don’t sweat the small stuff. Please let go of the need to be perfect. If the turkey is a bit overcooked, or the Christmas tree lights go on the blink, or someone isn’t overjoyed with the gift you’ve bought them – how important is that in the great scheme of things?

► And finally … don’t forget to get out and do some exercise over the Christmas period.  We all eat and drink more than usual, so getting out for a walk and some fresh air always feels great and does you good.

Wishing you a happy, festive and stress-free Holiday Season.


fac_sutton_annabelThis guest post is courtesy of Annabel Sutton, a fully trained Life Coach and Author. In 2005 she was awarded the Professional Certified Coach credential. Her clients say that she inspires, energizes and motivates them towards success and she gets wonderful results. Email Annabel@annabelsutton.com or visit www.annabelsutton.com for more information or to sign up for Annabel’s free Coaching Tips.

9 Ways to Beat Procrastination…Tomorrow.

Langisjor_EN-US2321196967Procrastination is three times as stressful as getting things done right away. First, because tasks that need doing aren’t getting done; second, because it is stressful to think about all that needs to be done…and remains undone. Third, procrastination in itself is a source of stress due to its impact on self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Procrastination is a delay in deciding to start a task or in completing it. Men and women in roughly equal percentage suffer from this debilitating condition. Situational procrastination happens to everyone and simply describes an occasional delay that does not indicate a habitual pattern. Dispositional procrastination applies to people who delay many tasks on a regular basis, including tasks that are important and sometimes even critical to optimal functioning. Among dispositional procrastinators, two major types can be discerned based on their presumed motivation: arousal procrastinators, who (often subconsciously) need to be motivated to act by the adrenaline rush that comes from cutting it close to the deadline, and avoidant procrastinators, who are de-motivated to act by their fear of failure or success and/or by task aversion.

Here are nine ways to beat procrastination that have been proven to work with many people. (Try one or two, if you have some time…perhaps tomorrow?)

1. Learn to Tell Time

lastminuteHabitual procrastinators, even when faced with simple tasks, don’t seem as capable to estimate the time necessary to perform the task as non-procrastinators. They overestimate how much time it will take to finish the task, and are therefore reluctant to begin it; or they underestimate how long it will take to complete it, and are afraid of not being able to finish it. Learning to better estimate time to task completion is a skill that needs to be developed by procrastinators who, for whatever reason, seem to fall short of its mastery.

GTD-cover2. Banish Disorganization

Not being able to plan a task, misplacing some of the things needed to perform a task effectively, or losing track of what has already been done are areas that cause people to delay starting a task or its completion.

Getting rid of the very idea of disorganization is the start of a better strategy for getting things done. The enormously popular book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity may help…

3. Post-It and Read It

Sometimes the simplest things carry the most value. Any procrastinator can benefit from the little yellow notes strategically posted in visible locations that act as silent reminders of tasks that need to be done. If the notes are read and acted upon, procrastination can become a less frequent problem.

4. Make It Easy to Concentrate

Not having a specific, designated place in which to concentrate and focus exclusively on a task introduces the scourge of distraction to the misery of indecision. Being in a place where there are too many other stimuli competing for attention is not a winning strategy. Getting in the zone and achieving flow is key to task completion.

LeoMarvin5. Take Baby Steps

Sometimes even a relatively simple task can appear complex, until it is broken down into smaller chunks. Behavioral psychologists recommend chaining, which is a series of responses needed to perform a particular target end-behavior or, in simpler terms, baby steps. Getting things done one small chunk at a time. Simple. It works.

6. Take Small Time Bites

Complexity of the task can be compounded by the (often incorrect) estimation of the total  time needed to complete it. To take care of this aspect of the problem, it helps to break down the task into small bites of time—say, 5-minute segments—instead of staring at the total time needed and freezing in place.

7. Put the 80-20 Rule to Work

Even the best laid out strategy of eliminating procrastination cannot be accomplished in one day. We simply can’t go from “total procrastination” to “total completion” in one fell swoop. A more realistic and achievable plan may be to apply the 80-20 rule, where success means completing at least 80% of the tasks, instead of aiming for 100%.

8. Seek Role Models

Go with a procrastinator and you’ll learn to procrastinate more. Seek non-procrastinators as role models, get past the negative comparisons, and you will learn useful techniques and approaches that may come natural to them, but can be a godsend on the way to getting things done.

9. Take Responsibility

Everyone knows that there are consequences for delays and for failing to get things done. Procrastinators know that, too. Unfortunately, the habit of making excuses that can be accepted by others simply sharpens the skills for coming up with “reasons” that just sound plausible. A procrastinator who is willing to take responsibility is only a few short steps away from kicking the habit.

Forced to Lie About Stress

aaDelacroix_1852_LaMerADieppeA full 36% say it’s stomach upset, 13% that it’s a cold; 12% claim to have a headache, 6% a medical appointment; 5% blame it on a bad back. The rest cite a variety of reasons, from housing problems to the illness of a loved one or the death of a beloved relative, for not showing up for work. None of it is true. What’s going on? In most cases, nothing more than an intense stress reaction forces 19% of workers to call in sick, yet as many as 93% feel compelled to lie to their boss and coworkers about the real reason for missing work.

Although employees are willing to go to great lengths to cover up their dangerously high stress levels, the vast majority do not like having to lie: 70% say that they long to be able to discuss stress with their employers. While some try, most can’t seem to find the courage to bring it up and remain hopeful that their boss will make the first move and approach them directly when they show signs of strain. Few employers do.

Millions of people experience unmanageable stress at work, and the fact that so many people feel forced to lie about it rather than finding a solution should be a major concern for our businesses. If employees don’t feel they can be honest about the pressures on them, problems that aren’t addressed can quickly snowball into low morale, low productivity and high sick leave. We’d urge employers to encourage a culture of openness at work so they can solve problems now, rather than storing up problems for the future.–Paul Farmer, Mind Research

These sobering statistics were published in a study released by the British mental health research group Mind, an organization which campaigns vigorously to promote and protect good mental health and advocates that people with experience of mental distress are treated fairly, positively and with respect.

Not being able to come clean clean on workplace stress claims its toll: 62% of employees feel their bosses aren’t doing enough to look after the well-being of their staff and resent this apparent neglect. One in five becomes physically ill from stress, but only 10% seek help from their doctor or from a counselor on specific issues of stress. Doctors and therapists are often told a different reason, at least initially, for the symptoms the individual may be experiencing.

Stress-related symptoms still appear to carry a stigma in the workplace, as stress may be associated, at least in Western cultures, with a negative perception of one’s ability to manage a heavy workload. In this day and age, the fear of being perceived as a stressed out (and therefore unproductive) worker may have the power to trump honesty and reasonable self-care.

ADHD Breakthrough: Not Just Bad Behavior

IntlSpaceStation_EN-US2825695802 Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a genetic, neurodevelopmental disorder and not just a behavioral problem. In a study published online in the Sept. 30 issue of The Lancet, investigators from the University of Cardiff in the United Kingdom say their findings show that ADHD has a genetic basis. In the genome-wide analysis, 366 children 5 to 17 years of age who met diagnostic criteria for ADHD but not schizophrenia or autism and 1047 matched controls without the condition were included. Researchers found that compared with the control group without ADHD, children with the disorder were twice as likely — approximately 15% vs. 7% — to have copy number variants (CNVs). CNVs are sections of the genome in which there are variations from the usual 2 copies of each chromosome, such that some individuals will carry just 1 (a deletion) and others will have 3 or more (duplications).

The breakthrough results of this study should help in the controversy as to whether ADHD is a "real disorder" or simply the result of bad parenting, in shifting public perception about ADHD and promoting further research into the biological basis of the disorder with a view to developing better, more effective therapies for affected individuals.

eClass 5: Stress and Emotional Intelligence

3060893791_b4015ba15e_o We’re social creatures, and the life best lived often depends on our ability to create and maintain healthy relationships. Success, happiness, and the ability to give and receive love all hinge on our relationship skills. Most of us do a good job with relationships at the start. But why do we so often stumble down the road? Why do relationships develop into such stressful problems? Can emotional intelligence help?

Emotions are the building blocks of each relationship in our lives, and the power of those emotions cannot be overstated. Runaway emotions can override our thoughts and profoundly influence our behavior. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, control, and effectively communicate our own emotions, and to recognize the emotions of other people. Emotional intelligence skills enable us to use emotional building blocks to construct a solid foundation for communication. Well-developed emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success in all areas of life (and particularly in relationships) than the traditional measurement of high cognitive intelligence, or IQ.

At the foundation for all verbal and nonverbal communication, emotional intelligence can:
•    Empower us to build healthy new relationships
•    Help us strengthen existing relationships
•    Help us better understand other people
•    Help us better understand ourselves
•    Enhance our ability to communicate effectively

A Simple EQ Test

What is your current EQ level? Most of us have relationship problems at times with coworkers, acquaintances, friends, relatives, or other people about whom we care. Our emotional intelligence is a set of key relationship skills that help us establish strong relationships and deal with relationship problems.

Find your emotional intelligence skill level by answering “true” or “false” to the questions in this quick relationship quiz.

1.    I hold eye contact with the person to whom I am speaking.
2.    I am comfortable with pauses when others are experiencing emotion.
3.    I sense when someone feels troubled before being told.
4.    I am comfortable with my feelings of sadness, joy, anger, and fear.
5.    I pay attention to my emotions when making decisions.
6.    I have no problem expressing my emotions to others.
7.    I can reduce my stress to a comfortable level.
8.    I enjoy laughing, playing, or kidding around.
9.    I don’t feel threatened by disagreements.
10.    When others are speaking, I listen to them rather than working on my reply.

Answering “true” to at least 7 of these questions indicates a good grasp of the skills that will strengthen relationships and help avoid relationship problems. Less than 7 “true” answers indicates that there is a need for additional skills building to raise emotional intelligence ability. It is important to learn the key skills to use in improving our current relationships, and to forge strong new ones—in both our personal life and the workplace.

The 5 Crucial EQ Skills

While every relationship is unique, there are five areas of emotional intelligence that are of vital importance to building and maintaining healthy relationships:

1.    The ability to manage stress in relationships

Stress shuts down our ability to feel, to think rationally, and to be emotionally available to another person, essentially blocking good communication until both parties feel safe enough to focus on one another. This damages the relationship. Being able to regulate stress allows us to remain emotionally available. The first step in communicating with emotional intelligence is recognizing when stress levels are out of control and returning quickly, whenever possible, to a relaxed and energized state of awareness.

2.    The ability to recognize and manage emotions

Emotional exchanges hold the communication process together. These exchanges are triggered by basic emotions, including anger, sadness, fear, joy, and disgust. To communicate in a way that grabs or engages others, we need to access our emotions. However, our emotions may be distorted, or unavailable, due to the influence of our earliest childhood relationships (chronic stress, i.e. high allostatic load). But they can and must be restored.

3.    The ability to communicate nonverbally

The most powerful forms of communication contain no words, and take place at a much faster rate than speech. Using nonverbal communication is the way to attract others’ attention and keep relationships on track. Eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, gesture, touch, intensity, timing, pace, and sounds that convey understanding engage the brain and influence others much more than our words alone.

4.    The ability to use humor and play in relationships

Playfulness and humor help us navigate and rise above difficult and embarrassing issues. Mutually shared positive experiences also lift us up, help us find inner resources needed to cope with disappointment and heartbreak, and give us the will to maintain a positive connection to our work and our loved ones. Humor can be a powerful stress reduction and relaxation technique.

5.    The ability to resolve conflicts in relationships

The way we respond to differences and disagreements in personal and professional relationships can create hostility and irreparable rifts, or it can initiate the building of safety and trust. Our capacity to take conflict in stride and to forgive easily is supported by our ability to manage stress, to be emotionally available, to communicate nonverbally, and to laugh easily.

Emotional intelligence skills can have a dramatic effect on our relationships at home and at work. As we acquire each one of these abilities, we will increase our overall EQ level and our ability to master the next skill. In the end, we will get to know a newly empowered individual—our social self—and become very comfortable with our ability to attract the respect and affection of others.

6 Worst and 6 Better Ways to Manage Time

How much can time management cost in terms of stress and health risk? It depends on how we choose to manage it. Some choices appear more effective but have short-term benefits and high cost. Others appear lower in stress and health cost but do not seem to use time efficiently. What’s the right answer?

Let’s look at some of the most popular time management approaches, their costs and benefits in terms of allostatic load and stress-related health risk, and an estimate of their long-term effectiveness in getting things done.

  1. Manage time resources allowing for ample relaxation time and with the goal of avoiding all stress.
    couchpotatoAllostatic Load: Probably low to very low.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably low. There may be other health risks connected with low physical activity levels.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably not great at getting things done in a timely manner.
    Not all stress is bad and to be avoided. We experience the stress reaction not only in terms of frustration and anxiety, but also as excitement, thrill, energy and useful motivation. The attempt to eliminate all stress from our life would run counter to our biopsychosocial nature, which requires stimulation, interaction and activity.
    The Better Way: Achieve balance between work and relaxation, family and job demands, personal time and social time, activity and rest.
  2. Manage time resources on a moment-to-moment basis with little or no planning ahead because planning itself just takes more time. frantic-harrison-ford1
    Allostatic Load:
    Probably high.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as stress symptoms may be ignored.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably very good at getting some things done in the short term, giving the illusion of long-term efficiency.
    Frantically going from crisis to crisis, handling each new task as it comes up, without assigning priorities or allocating resources is a reactive approach to time management. It can appear chaotic to the observer. Each new challenge is met head-on and is always “new” because there is little or no provision made in advance.
    The Better Way: Plan ahead for demands and challenges that can be predicted, anticipated and prepared for. Planning indicates self-care, not weakness.
  3. Manage time resources and get more done in less time by using caffeine, sugar, alcohol, nicotine, “energy” drinks or other chemical enhancers. crash
    Allostatic Load:
    Probably high, but masked by chemical “fixes.” Chronic stress.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as useful stress signals for rest may be ignored, sleep suppressed, nutrition casual and expedient.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably very good at getting many things done in the short term.
    When using chemical means to increase energy and output over what the body can safely handle before needing to rest and replenish depleted resources, quality of output is likely to suffer and efficiency to diminish. The illusion of strength that can be derived from these forms of self-medicating fatigue may be merely postponing a crash,  intoxication, tolerance and, in some cases, addiction.
    The Better Way: Listen to the body’s signals. View natural sleep as vitally important, wisely use times of pause and relaxation to recharge depleted resources. Avoid becoming dependent on chemical substances to function.
  4. Take stress and inefficiencies to mean that there isn’t enough time to get done what needs to get done, and that just having more time would “easily” fix it.
    lastminuteAllostatic Load: Probably high.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as stress symptoms may be ignored.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably okay to get some things done in the short term, but poor long-term efficiency.
    Actually, a time management problem is not using time to the fullest advantage, and to get done what needs to be done with just the right amount of energy expenditure, no more no less. Simply adding more time slots to the schedule, cramming a full to-do list, and shortchanging quality is a short-term strategy.
    The Better Way: Find an optimal schedule that fits available energy and mental resources levels, and stick to it. Say “no” to some demands as a key to preserving balance between rest and activity.
  5. View being always very busy, and generally busier than others, as a badge of honor and a sure pathway to success.
    workaholic Allostatic Load: Probably very high, chronic stress.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as the need for balance may be dismissed.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Can lead to some success in the short term, but may take the highest toll on physical, mental and social health.
    Although this approach is by far the preferred one by type A individuals who take pride in being productive and getting a lot of things done, it has significant drawbacks. There is an an adjective that describes its devotees: workaholic. Being always extremely busy can result in poor allocation of resources, i.e. doing mostly what is considered urgent and too seldom what is truly important.
    The Better Way: Work is a means and not an end unto itself. Success is also measured by other yardsticks besides those of wealth and power. Balance is valued as a smart, resource-efficient strategy for long-term success in all facets of life.
  6. Pursuing time management strategies that ignore the truth: I feel pretty good, I am getting things done, so I must not be too stressed.
    IBS Allostatic Load: Probably very high.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, symptoms of stress go unnoticed.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Can lead to some success in the short term, but may take a high toll on physical, mental and social health.
    In reality, many adults don’t even know when they are at dangerously high stress levels until their bodies tell them so in a dramatic way, e.g. when sudden chest pains lead them to the nearest emergency room. It is easy to miss the early warning signs of chronic stress, as long as coping still works, more or less. Many psychosomatic illnesses are directly related to stress and overwork but are attributed to other causes or even ignored altogether.
    The Better Way: Listen to the body’s signals. View pain as a precious ally that alerts us to something in our system that requires immediate attention, and self-care as more than just a quick fix that kills the signal without addressing the cause.

Past: Regret. Present: Stress. Future: Worry!

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
–William Blake: Auguries of Innocence

Wasting time and time management, hourly wage, multitasking, deadlines, bank accounts, financial investments, insurance and retirement planning are all facets of the same way of thinking about time. They signify a linear understanding of time: present becomes past and present anticipates the future. The passing of time is conceptualized as the inexorable ticking of the clock, the falling away of calendar pages, the steady progression of weeks, years, centuries.

The Linear Time Trap

HaroldLloyd_Time Our focus on the passing of time has behavioral consequences, in that our choices and preoccupations reflect its linearity. We think of the past with either longing or regret, we are concerned for our individual and collective future, and we seek to squeeze every second of the present time (at the expense of sleep, relaxation, vacations, the view, smelling the roses) in securing a safer and (it is only hoped) more peaceful (and more relaxed) future. It is a quest that never ends, so long as there is a future ahead of us.

How are we managing linear time? Many have observed that many people seem unable to adequately make sense of their past or fulfill their plans and hopes for the future. The missed opportunities or perceived failures of the past, the demands of what appears as a shrinking present, and the worries and uncertainties of the future can manifest emotionally as guilt, regret, stress, anxiety, and unfulfilled expectations. Behaviorally, they may result in often futile attempts to “manage time” (understood simply as ways to cram more activities into our day), attempts to forget about the passing of time (with various pleasure enhancing products and activities), and earnest pursuits of that one thing (or two, or ten) that will insure and ensure a safe future.

The Endless Chase After the Future

Thinking of time in a linear fashion, we can reflect upon the past as well as make plans for the future. The only true reality is the present time and that’s where anything that is going to happen happens, just before it becomes part of the past. It would seem that a focus on the present is our best choice. In reality, however, it is the endless preparation for the future that consumes the majority of most people’s lives. Most human activities are undertaken to help make a better future, rather than as ends in themselves.

While there are clear benefits to thinking of time in a strictly linear manner, with an emphasis on what is yet to happen, this approach is not devoid of problems.  For many, the present is burned quickly by and becomes little more than planning for the future, which, in reality, never exists.

Is There Another Way to Think About Time?

The linear perception of time appears to be more of a Western cultural phenomenon. Larger portions of humanity perceive time as polychronic. Contrary to linear time, a polychronic view of time sees it as more fluid and not as rigid or precise, allowing for plans to be changed more easily and without much trouble. Schedules and timetables are not as important, and lateness is more acceptable. Many actions are performed at the same time, and completion of tasks is more important than preset schedules.

A polychronic perception of time is more prevalent in Latin American, Native
American, and Middle Eastern cultures, as well as in Asian cultures that view time as circular. Nature itself appears to keep a circular rhythm of time, with the return of day after night, warmth after cold, growth after fallowness, in a repeating cycle that seems to know no beginning and no end.

It is not unusual for Westerners accustomed to linear time to feel psychologically stressed when coming in contact with a culture that follows polychronic time. It seems more chaotic, disorganized, and far less predictable. Even leaving aside the fact that these cultures tend to have fewer problems with time-induced stress and anxiety disorders, the alternative of what is now being called “slow” time has an almost magic appeal. Minimalist approaches to life, slow food movements, flexible work time… perhaps an end to the slavery of the clock is near. Happy Labor Day!

People Who Lie Under Stress And How to Tell If They Are

tborig17pe People who make public statements are generally expected to tell the truth, and most of the time that’s the case. Severe stress, however, can override ethical obligations. People in public positions, such as CEOs, political figures, athletes, entertainers who are under media or legal scrutiny may and do lie about facts and circumstances. How to tell if and when someone is not telling the truth? Conducted by a team of researchers at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, a detailed analysis of over 29,000 public statements by CEOs made between 2003 and 2007 which turned out to be false or deceptive sheds some light on the process.

Results of the study show that, in general, public figures who are not telling the truth use more references to general knowledge (“as you know”), fewer non-extreme positive emotions words (great, good), and fewer references to ethical values and value creation.  Deceivers use significantly fewer self-references (“I believe,” “I think”), preferring to use more third person plural and impersonal pronouns (“it is believed,” “many people think”), fewer extreme negative emotions words (terrible, disastrous), more extreme positive emotions words (fantastic, terrific), fewer certainty words (“to be specific,” “as a matter of fact”), and fewer hesitations.

This and earlier studies on the language of deception suggest that the use of “I” statements implies an individual’s taking ownership of a statement, whereas covert liars try to dissociate themselves from their words by using general attributions (everyone, everybody, anyone, nobody). Dissociation is also evidenced by a greater use of group references rather than self-references, as for example in saying “we, as a company, believe…” Not surprisingly, liars are less forthcoming with their own opinion than truth-tellers and refer to themselves less often in their stories. In extreme cases, people using deceptive statements may choose to omit references to themselves entirely.

The Liar Unmasked

Behind the words chosen by public figures to deceive their audience, say the researchers, are severe stress, a cognitive effort to misrepresent the facts, an attempt to control the audience’s perception of the liar, and a desire to distance themselves from the situation.

The severe stress experienced by deceivers is a consequence of the guilt they feel and the anxiety of being caught in their deceptive act. The high stress level is manifested not only in their negative comments but also in their negative emotional state, which they may or may not be able to hide from the audience. Because of their guilty feelings and their desire to dissociate themselves from the lie, deceivers are also likely to use general terms and not to refer explicitly to themselves. As a result of this dissociation, their statements are often short, indirect, and evasive.

A cognitive effort is necessary to misrepresent the facts because fabricating a “good” lie is inherently difficult. Especially when a liar has little or no opportunity to prepare or rehearse, his or her verbal statements are likely to lack specific detail and include more general terms. Thus, a liar may sound implausible, vague and non-immediate, telling a story that avoids mentioning any personal experiences.

roger-clemens-congress The attempt to control the audience’s perception of the liars themselves induces them to avoid making any statements that are self-incriminating. As a result, the content of deceptive statements is tightly controlled so that listeners would not easily perceive it to be a lie. To achieve this deception, deceptive statements contain more general, non-specific language, fewer self-references, short statements with little detail, and more irrelevant information as a substitute for information that the deceiver does not want to provide. For example, a liar will speak with greater caution, using a greater number of unique words to restate the same information. In contrast, truth-tellers often just repeat the information they have provided, using the exact same words.

The attempt to control may also lead to a very smooth speech when a narrative is prepared and rehearsed in advance, whereas truth-tellers often forget (or adapt) what they have said previously. In contrast to the cognitive effort perspective, the attempted control implies that the deceiver’s well-prepared answers are likely to contain fewer hesitations, more specific statements, and a reduced number of general claims.

In their desire to distance themselves from the situation, liars often appear to lack conviction because they feel uncomfortable when they lie, or because they have not personally experienced the supposed claims. This implies that liars use more general terms, fewer self-references, and shorter answers.

Something Needs to Be Done About Hostility!

Ginetto at Stresshacker.com Hostility is stressful, both ways. To giver and receiver alike, hostility metes out its toxic charge of badness. Far from being a true relief for frustration, pent-up anger, or unexpressed emotion, a sudden explosion of hostility merely releases a burst of energy and briefly discharges some muscle tension. Beyond these ephemeral effects, it is hard to find a good justification for hostility in everyday situations. So why is it so prevalent?

Two reasons account for hostility’s “popularity.” The first is the genetically programmed aggression instinct, which, in its proper setting and situation, can be useful (in a competitive physical sport like football), or downright vital (in combat situations, to fight off an aggressor, or in other situations of danger when a calm and relaxed demeanor would be clearly out of place). We can be aggressive and hostile by design, but we are also given a brain that helps mitigate the limbic system’s rage of emotions, and the amygdala’s watchfulness against aggressors, real or perceived as they may be.

The second reason for the pervasive presence of hostility is a misfiring of the very structures of the brain that are supposed to help us regulate it. Poor regulation of negative emotions can unleash hostility. Notoriously so, antisocial personalities have little to no self-regulation of hostility and most of the times this lands them in jail. Many more individuals, though, fall short of law-breaking hostility but still exhibit plenty of it in everyday situations (behind the wheel of their car, while waiting in line, with customer service people, with their spouses, children, friends) to make life more stressful for themselves and for anyone they come in contact with.

Steve Slater on Stresshacker.com At the other end of the spectrum, hostility, while present as a natural emotion, can be sublimated into a more productive and less threatening display of displeasure with someone or a situation.  Well-regulated hostility and aggressive instinct become assertiveness, standing up for one’s right, engaging in an passionate discussion. It can also sublimate into artistic pursuit, an all-out workout at the gym, or humor. A recent example of the latter was portrayed by JetBlue flight attendant Jeff Slater. Justifiably enraged by an unjustifiably aggressive passenger, Mr. Slater regulated down his hostility, expressed himself aloud on the plane’s PA system, grabbed a couple of beers, activated the emergency slide, slid down to the tarmac, ran for his car and drove home.

Hostility and (Bad) Health

Negative emotional states, such as anger and hostility, when they persist over time and become chronic, can negatively impact health. The risk to health comes through a number of mechanisms, including engaging in high-risk behavior (verbally provoking, physically attacking others), loss of social support (no one wants to be with a chronically hostile individual), and social isolation.

Chronic negative emotions also induce a semi-permanent activation of the stress reaction and cause sustained systemic inflammation, both of which increase the risk of disease. Research on hostility and aggressive personality has clearly established a link between these emotional states and heart disease, heart attacks, and cardiac-related mortality. Hostility not only contributes to a higher incidence and increased severity of heart disease, but is also related to symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including insulin resistance.

What Can Be Done?

Taking a page from Mr. Slater’s playbook, humor is one of the highest levels of sublimation that can be achieved in down-regulating aggression and hostility. Other forms of self-regulation of hostility (which incidentally are also ways of dealing with stressful situations in general) can be listed as follows:

  • Anticipation (the ability to anticipate the consequences of hostility and evaluate alternative responses)
  • Affiliation (turning to others for help and support, initiating a dialogue instead of a confrontation)
  • Altruism (taking into account the needs of others, and being able to contain rather than meet their aggression head on)
  • Humor (finding the amusing and the ironic in the situation)
  • Self-assertion (expressing feelings and thoughts directly and openly, but without resorting to verbal or physical violence)
  • Self-observation (reflecting on one’s own reactions and regulating them appropriately, before the explosion occurs)
  • Sublimation (channeling negative feelings into positive behaviors, i.e. taking it out on gym equipment, a good run, a distracting activity)
  • Suppression (intentionally avoiding catastrophic, negative and pessimistic thoughts that can lead to aggression).

Women’s Heavy Burden of Stress-Gets Heavier

Lake Wanaka at Stresshacker.comThe most recent survey of stress in America indicates that women continue to bear the heavier burden of stress, particularly due to financial concerns and worries over their family’s health and family responsibilities. Women consistently report more physical and emotional stress than men, and are more likely to lack the willpower to make changes recommended by health care providers, the survey results also show. What is causing this unhealthy gender bias? Allostasis, or more precisely allostatic load, is the key to understanding gender differences in stress. Let’s first understand allostasis, its benefits, and potential dangers.

Allostasis: Too Much of a Good Thing

Allostasis defines the processes that attempt to maintain the body’s internal stability in the face of physical or psychological challenges. Physiological and behavioral changes are initiated automatically during the stress reaction to external environmental and developmental threats, such as danger, conflict, financial worries, interpersonal difficulties, family and job demands, and other life stressors. Allostasis as a process is a very good thing and aids in survival and coping. It can work well at restoring the body’s equilibrium and ensure an adequate response to the threat. However, allostatic processes can cause physical and psychological damage when they extend beyond their intended short-term activation. This prolonged state of activation creates a burden on the system, known as the allostatic load.

Four factors can contribute to the formation of a heavy allostatic load:

  1. Repeated physical or psychological challenges (e.g., prolonged financial stress, a stressful job, multiple and conflicting demands of time and resources, a serious illness, childhood trauma, adult abuse or violence)
  2. Inability to adapt to these repeated challenges (the feeling of being at the end of one’s rope)
  3. Inability to produce an adequate response to the stressor (such as the phenomenon of learned helplessness, depression or anxiety)
  4. Inability to end the stress reaction even after the stressor has been removed (chronic stress)

Allostatic load accumulates over time. The continuation of multiple small changes in physiological and psychological functioning (which are meant to be only short-term), due to a persisting state of alert against perceived threats (the classic stress syndrome), creates the potential for illness.

What Happens to the Body During Allostasis

During the normal stress response and the body’s process of allostasis, the stress hormones serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine are secreted into the blood stream. The immune system and neurological responses are activated, along with muscular, cardiovascular and pulmonary system. Alongside these physical reactions, psychological changes take place in response to anxious, fearful, hostile or aggressive states produced by the stressor. Behavioral changes also occur in trying to cope with the stressor, sometimes consisting of alcohol abuse and other substances,  working too many hours, or exercising compulsively. Sleep disturbances, depression and other psychological symptoms are usually the first evidence of an increasing allostatic load.

At the physiological level, allostatic load can cause atrophy of the hippocampus and structural changes in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, resulting in a more or less severe impairment in spatial learning and memory. Certain tell-tale physical responses are also indicative of a heavier allostatic load: higher blood pressure, changes in waist-hip ratio, higher serum high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and cholesterol, and glycosylated hemoglobin levels.

These psychophysical changes, though helpful in the short run, can cause damage. This damage is the cost of maintaining an allostatic state longer than is optimal for health. Numerous studies of allostasis show the risk of stress-induced illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and immune/auto-immune disorders.

What about the effects of allostatic load on women?  Details after the jump.

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Rock-a-bye Baby

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A Lullaby As Effective Stress Management

The repetitive soothing sounds and rhythm of the lullaby have been used for millennia as a natural tranquilizer. Globally, children are gently rocked, lullabies are hummed, nursery rhymes are recited, affectionate sounds are spoken in a lilting fashion—all with the intended purpose of inducing relaxation. Without formal training or explanation, human caregivers are acting out of an intuitive awareness of the soothing effects of such rhythmic activities on the children’s psychophysical state. It works. But what makes it work? What is the basic science behind lullabies and can it be put to use in inducing relaxation in adults?

The rhythmic component of the lullaby may be the most important factor in inducing calm, as its rhythmicity is the single common factor among the vastly different types of lullabies sung or spoken in hundreds of languages and dialects around the world. It is not coincidental that rhythmicity is also the key component of mantra meditation.

What Is Mantra Meditation?

There are two basic types of meditation: concentrative or non-concentrative. Concentrative meditation is based on limiting stimulation by focusing on a single unchanging or repetitive stimulus, such as a word mantra or a candle flame. Non-concentrative meditation techniques, e.g. mindfulness or yoga meditation, seek to expand awareness to include as much mental activity as possible. Of the two approaches, mantra meditation is the easiest to learn and use, the most natural technique, and one of the most effective forms of stress relief capable of producing lasting results.

Mantra meditation, much like a lullaby and acting on the same principle, can rapidly induce a deeply restful state. During mantra meditation, body and mind are beneficially affected. During 20–30 minutes of meditation, oxygen consumption is lowered to a level equivalent to that of 6–7 hours of sleep, and both heart and respiration rates generally show a significant decrease. Psychologically, mantra meditation appears to induce a fluid state of consciousness, with shared characteristics of sleep and wakefulness, and comes closest to the sleep-inducing state than any other meditation technique.

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What Would You Do?

777 Cockpit at Stresshacker.comThe airliner, heavy with fuel and filled with passengers, is climbing toward its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, having taken off less than twenty minutes earlier and more than one hour behind schedule. The captain and the second officer are completing their post-takeoff routines and anticipating a smooth ride; the weather forecast is for clear skies ahead and relatively little turbulence. The steady muffled roar of the four jet engines envelops the aircraft.

In the cockpit, a large amber light begins flashing on the upper center quadrant of the dashboard. After a few seconds, the light goes off. An automatic correction has taken place, initiated by the onboard navigation computers. Other lights flash briefly and then go off. To the uninitiated eye, seemingly at random.

Suddenly a bright red warning light flashes in the section of the dashboard that groups all engine functions. The cockpit crew appears to pay scant attention to it. The red flashing continues. If you were the pilot of the aircraft, what would you do?

  1. Put a dark cloth over the light. Too much flashing can be distracting and one simply cannot chase after every light. Get busy doing flight path calculations.
  2. Relax. Take a break and go get some coffee from the galley with the copilot. The light may be off by the time you all come back to the cockpit.
  3. Ignore the light. Look at some other part of the dashboard where there are no lights. A lot of lights come and go. It will probably shut itself off, eventually.
  4. Respond to the message that the light is giving. Check engine functions and take the appropriate steps to address the problem.

If you answered 1, 2 or 3, your stress level is probably very high. If you answered 1, your preferred mode of dealing with high stress is by covering it up. If you answered 2, your strategy consists of using various relaxation techniques hoping that stress will take care of itself somehow, without addressing its cause. If you answered 3, your favorite approach consists of denying the existence of high stress, preferring instead to believe that there are plenty of times when you are really not stressed at all.

If you answered 4, you understand that the amber and red lights (representing mild or severe stress reactions) are occurring as an indication that something of importance (a significant stressor) requires your immediate attention. By acknowledging the valuable message that the stress reaction (the cockpit light) is giving you, you begin to address its cause, the stressor (the engine problem). This is the essence of effective stress management: managing the cause of the stress, instead of simply mitigating (or covering up, or denying) the symptoms.

How do you react to the warning signs of stress? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Check out Stresshacker’s StressWise program: stress coaching, online webinars, and downloads for making sense of stress, and for better stress and stressor management.

Is Stress Entertainment?

Avatar at Stresshacker.com The rep is that stress is to be avoided. The reality is otherwise. Stress is avidly watched, read, and heard because, contrary to what we think we believe about it, stress is entertaining. Why?

The truth is, stress sells—in movies, books, quiz shows, talent shows, and crime scene dramas. Not always and not for everyone, to be sure, but in vast numbers of book plots, screenplays, TV storylines, in radio plays, and theater plays, stress reigns supreme.

The surface reason is that stressful situations, when they are happening to someone else as in most forms of entertainment, hold our attention. Peaceful, restful, and relaxing situations, when we watch them happening to someone else, generally do not. There is not much fun in reading about someone having a really quiet day when nothing much is happening, but isn’t it great to watch a-thrill-every-second action on the big screen? Indeed, there is a deeper, genetically programmed reason why stress can be fun.

What’s the Fun in Stress?

To understand what’s happening, we must step back and consider the mechanics of stress. When we perceive a threat (a risk, a danger, a challenge), our mind is instantly alerted by the stress reaction that we experience in the body. Most often, this consists of increased heart beat, elevated blood pressure, muscle tension, and a release of excitatory hormones into the blood stream (cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline), plus a host of other biological changes that very quickly get us ready for action. Now, what is interesting here is that, in addition to mobilizing the body, the excitatory hormones also generate a certain amount of pleasurable sensations. Is this nature’s little joke, or what?

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Faith And Stress: The Connection

My view is that "bad" stress is handled through scripture, prayer, and faith. That is not naïve but a way to perceive the circumstances of life which would invade our peace and joy. –Doyle Kee

Hurricane at Stresshacker.com The belief in the existence of a supernatural being who has
a plan for each human being, and the opportunity to connect with others who share the same belief, can be powerful relievers of the stress of life. The psychological appeal of faith is beyond dispute: there are over 100,000 registered religions in the United States alone, and membership is constantly on the rise. An even greater number of people accept a form of personal spirituality which includes the belief in a higher being, without subscribing to any one specific movement.

Religious belief and affiliation appear to rise significantly in times of severe stress. Some of history’s most prominent, and some of the most unusual and charismatic, religious movements have arisen in times of great political, economic and societal turmoil. In times of war, widespread famine, poverty and natural disasters, and impending death and illness nearly all religious groups have seen and continue to see their appeal grow.

Sigmund Freud, in his book on The Future of an Illusion admitted, without accepting it, that faith in God could reduce psychological stress. Carl Marx famously stated, “religion is the opiate of the masses” in the introduction of his book Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. And we can certainly consider the meaning attached to faith by the 9/11 suicide bombers who went to their death (and took many with them) as a testament to the power of their religious fervor.

The Connection Between Faith and Stress

Research has shown that faith in a supernatural being, with all its corollaries and attributes, appears to be particularly effective in relieving certain specific psychological stressors. Here are the most important ones:

  • Psychological and physical escape from stress: religious organizations offer physical as well as spiritual shelters where food, clothing, and healthcare are available, along with social support, structure, and spiritual guidance.
  • Consolation, devaluation of and disassociation from the illusory trappings of the material world, and the ephemeral appeal of beauty, money, success.
  • Appealing models of resilience and positive outcomes in the face of life-threatening stressors.
  • Cognitive and dialectical techniques that are useful in coping with stressors, such as individual prayers, group rituals and collective petitions. Nearly all religious movements provide ways of giving voice to individual and collective distress, including the fast-growing Internet-based churches.
  • Explaining the inexplicable: in a world that seems ruled by chaos and administered by randomness, faith in a superiorly organized universe is an appealing provider of stability. By prayer, penance, code, dietary laws, rituals, or positive thinking, faith-based movements promote a sense of personal control.
  • A meaning to life and to life’s end. Faith can promote a hopeful and optimistic outlook with its emphasis on a more peaceful (and stress-free) existence and its promise of life after death.
  • A refuge from aloneness and abandonment. The profoundly comforting sense of belonging to a community of mutual love and support, and the incomparable feeling of being loved unconditionally by someone who epitomizes love and trust are perhaps the most appealing attributes of faith.

As an intensely personal experience, faith remains beyond the investigation by scientific means. In psychological terms, faith can positively influence us in cognitive and emotional terms, in the way we come to perceive ourselves, our world, and our future. When embraced sincerely and whole-heartedly, it can become an important protective factor against the effects of stress in our lives.