Why Hardiness Is Faster Than Competitiveness

aaBruegel_HuntersSnowDo you know someone who deals with stress by working harder and faster to produce more in a shorter time? These so-called type A personalities appear to have a stronger than average sense of urgency, can be more highly competitive, and may be frequently and more easily angered when things don’t go their way. Stress reduction and stress management is perhaps one of their most urgent needs, yet these individuals are perhaps the least likely to take the time to learn effective self-management techniques.

Unfortunately, as discussed in our recent post on the impact of stress on the heart, type A personalities suffer from a significantly higher rate of cardiovascular disease than type B personalities. The former may be more successful at getting things done faster. Type B’s may be slower and somewhat less effective, but they can play and relax without guilt, are much less hostile and unlikely to exhibit excessive competitiveness.

Hardiness Matters More Than Speed

The evidence for the difference in health outcomes between type A and type B originally came from groundbreaking research by S. C. Kobasa of the University of Chicago. Dr. Kobasa looked at personality as a conditioner of the effects of stressful life events on illness by studying two groups of middle- and upper-level 40- to 49-year-old executives. One group of 86 individuals suffered high stress without falling ill, whereas the other group of 75 individuals became sick after experiencing stressful life events.

The results of the study showed that, unlike the high stress/high illness executives, the type B group was characterized by more hardiness, a stronger commitment to self-care, an attitude of vigorousness toward the environment, a sense of meaningfulness, and an internal locus of control. These “slower-paced” individuals appear to view stressors as challenges and chances for new opportunities and personal growth rather than as threats. They report feeling in control of their life circumstances and perceive that they have the resources to make choices and influence events around them. They also have a sense of commitment to their homes, families, and work that makes it easier for them to be involved with other people and in other activities.

SH_Rcmds_smAccording to Herbert Benson and Eileen Steward, authors of Wellness Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Maintaining Health and Treating Stress-Related Illness, the incidence of illness is much lower in individuals who have these stress-hardy characteristics and who also have a good social support system, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy diet.

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This is a stress management book well worth reading, because it specifically targets hardiness and better stress management with type A personalities in mind. It is the Stresshacker Recommended selection for this month.

Making Your Marriage Last and Thrive

SH_Rcmds_smWhat makes a good marriage last? According to the best evidence provided by thousands of studies and experimental research (most prominent that of Dr. John Gottman), marriages where the spouses provide a safe haven for each other and a secure base from which to face the world together provide the best chances of success. A key skill that all good partners acquire is that of arguing in a fair manner, which respects the other’s point of view (without necessarily agreeing with it), seeks to understand the reasons underneath each respective position, and negotiates a fair compromise.

If you are a couple, you most likely have arguments. Big or small, they can ruin a day and, even worse, a relationship. Dr. Sharon Morris May says, "It’s not how similar you are or even your level of conflict that determines your marital success but how you deal with your emotions, vulnerabilities, and dragons when you argue." In her book, How To Argue So Your Spouse Will Listen: 6 Principles for Turning Arguments into Conversations, Dr. Morris May presents conflict through the lens of attachment theory, helping couples understand why they argue, how they argue, and how to unravel arguments. The book also helps spouses identify what’s really going on in their brains and in their bodies when they argue, the cycle they get stuck in, the emotions fueling the cycle, and what can help them argue in more considerate and connecting ways.

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How To Argue offers six practical principles that can help turn arguments into real conversations: Establish a Safe Haven, Comfort Each Other’s Dragons, Get Inside Each Other’s Emotions, Learn How to Complain, Learn How to Apologize, and Bookend It With Good Times.

Learning how to argue so your spouse will listen and in ways which will not lead to irreparable breaches is a fundamental skill that perhaps you did not learn in your prior relationships or from our own parents. The good news is that it is a skill that can be learned at any age and virtually at any point of your marriage: this book, the Stresshacker Recommended book for this week, can teach you how.

When Stress Hurts: Curing Psychogenic Pain

villa-Era-Vigliano-Biella_Current treatments that effectively reduce or eliminate psychogenic pain is the subject of this, the sixth and last post in the series on the close association between psychological stress and psychogenic pain. Encouraging news for psychogenic pain sufferers from the pharmacist: A growing number of patients reports that by taking antidepressants they have experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and intensity of pain. More specifically, relief of psychogenic pain with antidepressants has now been thoroughly documented in the treatment of pain associated with bulimia (Faris et al., 1998), vulvodynia (Stolar & Stewart, 2002), chronic pain of undefined origin (Davis, 1990; Pilowsky & Barrow, 1990), migraine headaches (Kaniecki et al., 2006), chronic pain associated with depression (Bradley, Barkin, Jerome, DeYoung, & Dodge, 2003), functional bowel disorder (Drossman, Toner, & Whitehead, 2003), neuropathic pain (Fishbain, 2000; Saarto & Wiffen, 2005), and post-herpetic neuralgia (Max, 1994).

Non-pharmaceutical Treatments

As we have seen in a previous post, there is a strong emotional and affective component to pain of any origin, whereby pain always has a depressive effect on our mood. There is also ample evidence that pain is often the unwelcome companion of depression, anxiety, psychological trauma, anger and irritability. Even the mere expectation of pain, in the absence of any noxious stimuli, appears sufficient to produce it  and its perception, as has been documented in functional MRI (fMRI) changes to specific brain structures (Fields, 2000; Keltner et al., 2006). Conversely, diverting cognitive attention or causing distraction can mitigate pain, as shown in PET scans of cortical activation (Petrovic, Petersson, Ghatan, Stone-Elander, & Ingvar, 2000).

SH_Rcmds_sm UnlearnPain_BookHoward Schubiner, MD and Michael Betzold are the authors of Unlearn Your Pain, an excellent book that seeks to help reverse chronic pain by promoting a thorough understanding of its principal cause, learned nerve pathways (see Stresshacker’s explanation of the concept in this post). It offers a revolutionary step-by-step process that has been reported to work well by many psychogenic pain sufferers. It is Stresshacker’s recommended book resource.

Psychological Treatments That Can Eliminate Psychogenic Pain

The effectiveness of purely psychological interventions in the relief of chronic or acute pain is supported by the fact that pain and stress share many of the same biochemical processes, neural pathways and CNS structures (see this post for a full explanation).

Decreasing psychological stress through better stress management or counseling has been documented as effective in treating low back pain that is co-occurring with depression (Middleton & Pollard, 2005). There is also evidence that psychosocial interventions are efficacious for pain secondary to arthritis or cancer (Keefe, Abernethy, & Campbell, 2005). Multidisciplinary approaches, including relaxation therapy, biofeedback, behavior modification, hypnosis, desensitization and cognition therapy, have also been proven successful in treating chronic pain of unknown origin (Singh, 2005). Biofeedback therapy can be particularly successful in reducing colorectal pain (Jorge, Habr-Gama, & Wexner, 2003). Hypnotherapy, cognitive therapy, and brief psychodynamic psychotherapy appear to work well in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (Blanchard & Scharff, 2002). Hypnosis has been proven effective in relieving oral pain (Golan, 1997), cognitive behavioral therapy for functional bowel disorder (Drossman et al., 2003), behavioral therapy for the treatment of headaches (Lake, 2001); and family therapy interventions have been associated with successful psychogenic pain treatment (Liebman, Honig, & Berger, 1976; Roy, 1987).

Previously in this series:

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.

Expectant Mother Stress and the Unborn Child

JapaneseGarden_EN-US1668112966Stress during pregnancy is usually discussed in negative terms and fear and anxiety seem to be the rule in explaining its possible consequences. A recent and soon to be published study by Janet Di­Pietro suggests that, at least in part, the contrary may be true. DiPietro, an internationally recognized leader in the field of child development, is credited with having described for the first time the ontogeny of human fetal brain–behavior relations throughout gestation, the associations of maternal and fetal characteristics with the neurobehavioral maturation of the fetus, and the fetal neurobehavioral origins of individual differences in infant physiology and behavior. Her latest study shows that 2-week-old infants of women who experience relatively more stress during pregnancy showed faster neural conduction, “evidence of a more mature brain.” Thus, maternal stress during pregnancy may actually stimulate the unborn child’s brain development, suggesting that the dreaded nefarious effects of stress on the child may be simply a matter of degree.

In her other studies, DiPietro outlined evidence to support the notion that the effects of maternal stress on the unborn child are actually quite modest in magnitude, pointing out that the placenta breaks down the stress hormone cortisol in the woman’s blood, preventing most of it from reaching the fetus. However, she is also careful to note that maternal stress may directly influence the developing fetal nervous system; that these effects on brain development may be aggravated over time by various characteristics of postnatal development; and that existing research on the effects of maternal prenatal/perinatal stress on child development lacks conceptual and methodological consistency and scientific rigor.

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Science writer Anne Murphy, author of the recently published new book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, classifies prenatal stress as belonging to the “profoundly unsatisfying” category of “it depends.” While describing her second pregnancy, Paul traces the developing literature on fetal origins, which has been called the staging ground for well-being and disease in later life. In her chapter on stress, she cites the existence of 200 industrial chemicals that can be found in babies’ umbilical cords, the link between low birth weight and later cardiovascular disease, and raises the possibility that a dietary supplement might one day protect future children from cancer.

Her focus on how expectant mothers can minimize harm to their unborn child during pregnancy makes Paul’s book a fascinating read that will help understand and put into perspective the opportunities and dangers of this fascinating period. It is the Stresshacker Recommended book for this week.

How Great Companies Minimize Employee Stress

How do truly outstanding companies minimize their employees’ stress? What programs do they implement that appear to make it easier to join the company, fit in well within the organization, grow and prosper as an employee?  In their book, Best Practices in Talent Management: How the World’s Leading Corporations Manage, Develop, and Retain Top Talent, Goldsmith and Carter provide a wealth of examples of on-boarding and talent retention programs that facilitate difficult transitions, demystify the process of change, and contribute greatly to reducing tension and work stress.

The book is the Stresshacker Recommended selection for this week.

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Among the case studies highlighted as best practices:

Avon Products: Clear Objectives = Clearer Execution. This case illustrates the practical implications of defining objectives around “executing on the what” as well as “differentiating on the how.” In other words, simple, well-executed practices communicated through an executive coaching model.

Bank of America: A truly exceptional executive on-boarding program. The B of A’s new hire turnover rate of approximately 12% compares to estimates as high as 40% turnover in large corporations. On-boarding reduces the stress of being new to a large company because it is a socialization process rather than just an orientation program.

Corning Corporation: Making use of the collective wisdom of internal experts rather than relying solely on external consultants. Corning seeks to grow “innovation leaders” through a well-designed 5-step development process.

Ecolab: Employees are successfully integrated into the organization’s corporate culture and values. Values include spirit, pride, determination, commitment, passion, and integrity.

General Electric: To high-stress jobs, GE applies a process of sorting (separating necessary from unnecessary items), setting in order (arranging items in sequence of use), shining (maintaining the work area), standardizing (ensuring consistent application of sorting, setting in order, and standardizing), and sustaining (maintaining and improving the previous four steps).

Kaiser Permanente Colorado Region: A practical approach for addressing the not-uncommon problem of an organization that was too reliant on hiring new people without seeking to develop the people who were already there.

Microsoft: A judicious application of research conducted by the Corporate
Leadership Council (CLC) to real-world problems in the organization. Employee development is organized around five key areas: senior leadership commitment to developing people, managers continuing engagement in the process, promotion of open interpersonal contact among employees throughout the organization, communication of development plans with clear goals, and targeting of on-the-job work experiences to build skills and competency.

Seeing Stress Anew Between Two Covers


A fresh perspective on stress doesn’t come easy, given the explosion of self-help books and manuals on the subject that have been published in the last few years. Reading something truly illuminating and new about stress and how to manage it is a rare find. One of the few books that manages to be informative, practical and refreshingly new at the same time is Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness by Dr. Edward Charlesworth and Dr. Ronald Nathan, first published in 1982 and now in its fourth edition.

A pocket-sized 400+ pages little manual of treasures, the book includes chapters that explain stress in everyday language, teach relaxation in an engaging style, address the issue of special stressors, and puts it all together in a captivating and surprisingly simple stress management formula that is sure to be feasible by just about anyone. It earns the nod as Stresshacker Recommended book for this week.

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When the Doctor Herself Is Stressed

“I could easily blame stress for the many emotional and physical symptoms I experienced from early childhood. Free floating anxiety, feeling unworthy and undeserving of love and happiness, feeling hypersensitive and yet numb to many of my emotions and constantly judging, criticizing and berating myself were just some of the unhealthy defense mechanisms I had learned over the years to cope with stress.”

Thus begins Dr. Lori Leyden-Rubenstein’s compact (a little over 200 pages), concise (13 short chapters) yet comprehensive and insightful book, The Stress Management Handbook: Strategies for Health and Inner Peace.

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Throughout the book, Dr. Leyden-Rubenstein never loses track of her own experiences and refers to them often but judiciously, which creates the right feeling of connection without narrowing her suggestions solely to her own experience. After telling her story, she explains what stress is and how to manage it, including its effects on the body and mental health, all in precise yet easy to understand language. She then offers no fewer than 35 strategies for relieving stress, ranging from physical to psychological, and from concrete to spiritual.

Another great book worth having and definitely worth reading and practicing. It gets this week’s Stresshacker Recommended badge.

Stress Reduction Step-by-Step

Progressive relaxation, thought stopping and worry control are often easy to understand but not so easy to do in the right way. These, and a dozen other stress reduction and relaxation techniques are taught step-by-step by Dr. Martha Davis in The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook), now in its 6th edition. The other techniques included in this very helpful book are breathing, meditation, self-hypnosis, visualization, refuting irrational ideas, coping skills, exercise, nutrition, time management, and assertiveness; there are also bonus chapters on job stress management and quick relaxers.

A book worth having and definitely worth reading and practicing. It gets this week’s Stresshacker Recommended badge.

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7 Natural Ways to Heal Stress

Stresshacker Recommends In my recent post I discussed how, “With so many (stress management programs) 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.” Part of the answer may come from this week’s Stresshacker Recommended book selection. French physician, neuroscientist and author David Servan-Schreiber who is a clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, a lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon University, and the co-founder and then director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has written The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy, published by Rodale Press.

41gRvdz0izL._SL160_ The seven natural treatment approaches described in this book make use of the mind and the brain’s own healing mechanisms for recovering from depression, anxiety, and stress. Dr. Servan-Schreiber has selected only those stress management methods that have received enough scientific attention to make him comfortable in using them with patients and in recommending them to his colleagues.

The methods presented are: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (see Stresshacker’s post on EMDR), heart rate coherence training, synchronization of chronobiological rhythms with artificial dawn (which should replace the alarm clock), acupuncture, nutrition, exercise, emotional communication, and cultivating your connection to something larger than yourself.

Servan-Schreiber, D. (2004). The Instinct to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety and Stress Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy. ISBN-10: 1594861587 ASIN: B000GYI1RO

Stresshack #6: EMDR Yourself

The technique of bilateral brain stimulation has an immediate effect on the mood, acting as a powerful and almost instantaneous relaxant.

It is easy to do on yourself. Whenever bothered by distressing thoughts that do not seem to go away, find a quiet spot and move your eyes alternatively from the leftmost spot of your field of vision to the rightmost, for about 20 cycles and then pause. Repeat the sequence for 6 or seven times and see if anything happens to your thought patterns. You may be quite amazed at the resulting change in your mood.

How Does It Work?

One day in the early 90’s, Dr. Francine Shapiro took a walk in the woods while trying to deal with distressing thoughts that did not seem to go away. Quite casually, she started to move her eyes alternatively to the far left and to the far right of her field of vision, without moving her head. She soon realized that her mood was changing and she decided on a hunch to increase the speed at which she was moving her eyes from side to side. Within a relatively short time, her emotional state had changed enough for her to know that she was onto something. That something turned out to be eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, EMDR. Read more