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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New YouTube Video Available

Many people have asked about our legacy product: the Stress: Beyond Coping Instructor CD. This is an invaluable tool to help health educators and medical professionals conduct their own Stress: Beyond Coping stress management programs. It has been used and endorsed by:

  • Hospitals and Clinics
  • Businesses
  • Lifestyle Centers and Fitness Clubs
  • Schools
  • Churches and
  • Community Service Centers

To explain just how great we think it is, we have posted a new YouTube video all about it. You can view the video here:

And here's where you can buy this resource.

Please do let us know if there are any more products you would like more information on. We would be happy to help.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Phantom Stress -- Does it Prey on You?

My five year old daughter leaned over my shoulder as I put the finishing touches on a slide presentation, her face puckered into a grimace. "Mommy," she asked, "Why do you have to show pictures of the insides of people's brains? That's gross."

I was suprised. This is my scientifically-minded child, the one who enjoys sitting in my lap and reading books on almost any science topic imaginable. Just a few days earlier I had described to her the way sound waves travel into the ear, vibrating the ear drum and arrving in the brain as encoded, neural messages. Casting around for the simplest explanation, I finally said, "I'm just trying to explain how certain thoughts get into people's minds."

"Oh," she said, looking relieved. "Well, all you have to tell them is to break their eardrums and all the thoughts will go right in."

Actually, she wasn't completely wrong. We do sometimes manufacture stressful feelings -- fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, etc -- based on the sensory information about the outside world coming in through our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, etc. When we see a bumblebee, memories of previous (perhaps painful) encounters with bees immediately come to mind and trigger a full-blown stress response. Sometimes this is a very good thing, because it prepares us mentally and physically to deal with present dangers.

The problem is that sometimes we create stressful thoughts and emotions when there's really nothing to be stressed about. In Stress: Beyond Coping lingo, we call this "Phantom Stress."

Phantom Stress comes from 2 sources:

  1. Getting Signals Crossed. Sometimes we misread the sensory signals coming into our minds, making a threat out of something that is not threatening at all. Do you remember, as a small child, spying a monster looming menacingly out of the shadows of a moonlit bedroom, only to realize the next moment that it was something else entirely, like a beanbag chair? That's a good example of the first kind of phantom stress. Now, how about an example more relevant for us grown-ups. I can remember times that I've gotten hurt or angry, just to find out later that I completely misread the situation. Has that ever happened to you? How much emotional stress and anxiety did you go through over it? Was it worth it?

  2. Phantom Signals. The second kind does not depend on sensory signals at all. In fact, it has nothing to do with what's going on around you right now. This kind of Phantom Stress is created in our minds as we re-live stressful events in our past, or worry about the potential stresses of the future. Let's say you've had a bad day. A REALLY bad day. Maybe even a car accident/relationship blow-up/courtroom drama kind of day. Now you're lying in bed, stewing over the day's events. Are they part of your current reality? No, they are in your past. Yet, just thinking about them is probably raising your blood pressure a little. Or perhaps you are ruminating over something coming up tomorrow, perhaps a big job interview or a court case. Is it part of your current reality? No, these events (which may or may not happen) are part of your future. And yet, you are experiencing stress over them right now.

Don't get me wrong -- it is simply part of human nature to review past events and anticipate future ones. This is part of what makes us thinking, learning, and planning human beings. But when we choose to wallow in Phantom Stress, we are constantly putting our bodies through the physiological rigors of stress when there is really nothing to be stressed about. Phantom Stress thrives in an internal milieu of past regrets and future fears, and it can eat away at our physical and mental well-being in the process.

The best way of dealing with Phantom Stress is to turn it into something positive:

  • When you and I find that we've gotten our signals crossed, our first thought should be, "What have we learned from this experience that we will not do again in the future?"

  • When past mistakes are brought to mind, we can choose to use those memories to bolster a stronger resolve to make wiser decisions in the future.

  • And instead of worrying about what may (or may not) happen tomorrow, we can choose to whole-heartedly embrace the goodness and joy found in today. After all, we will never live this day again.

I wish you the best of health.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Resources on the SBC website and on Squidoo

I just wanted to let you know that we have recently added some new resources.

Our latest DVD, entitled "The Shadowlands of Stress and Depression: How to Find Your Way Back to the Light" is now available at our store.
Also, we are starting to add "lenses" on different stress topics at Squidoo. View our first one here.
Finally, for those of you on Facebook, we invite you to join the Stress: Beyond Coping page here.
As always, we wish you the best of health.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Healing Balm of Forgiveness

Resentment is an extremely bitter diet, and eventually poisonous. I have no desire to make my own toxins. -Neil Kinnick
Getting hurt by someone you care about is truly one of the worst pains in life. Have you ever gone through a hurt that you just couldn't let go? What does it feel like to hold a grudge? Perhaps even the thought of person that hurt you burns into your brain like battery acid, leaving a deep groove that seems impossible to climb out of. Perhaps that acid seeps into other parts of the your body as well, causing all sorts of inexplicable aches and pains. Interestingly, a recent survey of almost 10,000 Americans found that those who carry a grudge have higher rates of stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches and pain. [1]

This survey also confirmed something that we have long suspected: hard-heartedness is very bad for your heart. The survey participants who reported less forgiveness were more likely to have experienced heart disease, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. For these individuals, the following quote by Malachy McCourt is sadly appropriate: "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die." On the other hand, another study on cardiac patients reported that higher levels of forgiveness results in lower levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and bad cholesterol, which all decrease the risk of future cardiovascular events. [2]

"Gee, thanks," you might be saying. "I already figured out that an unforgiving heart is bad for my health. Can you tell me what to do about it?!"

Dr. Dick Tibbits, psychologist and Chief People Officer at Florida Hospital, has written a magnificent book on this subject: Forgive to Live: How Forgiveness Can Save Your Life. [3] Here are the 10 principles of forgiveness, as outlined in his book:
  1. Accept that life is not fair and that not everyone plays by the same set of rules. Although this can be a tough pill to swallow, remember that forgiveness does not necessarily mean that you condone the behavior. Rather, forgiveness is deliberately choosing to overlook the behavior -- not for the other person's benefit, but for your own. Forgiveness sets you free from all the negative emotions that can quite literally eat away at you mentally and physically.
  2. Stop blaming others for your circumstances. What happened in the past is, simply put, in the past. Where you are now is your business. Don't allow your offender's actions in the past to steer your present life.
  3. Understand that you can not change the other person; you can only change yourself. Don't focus on the other person. Instead, find and capitalize on the opportunities for personal growth this situation has given you.
  4. Acknowledge the anger and hurt that the past event is causing you. Anger can be a positive emotion if it motivates you to find your way out of a negative situation. Learn how to control it and express it in a constructive way.
  5. Re-frame your "grievance story" by placing it into a broader perspective. Think of individuals like Corrie ten Boom and Victor Frankl, survivors of Nazi concentration camps, who channeled their stories into personal testimonies that continue to help millions to learn how to forgive.
  6. Recognize that only you can make the choice to forgive.
  7. Empathize with your offender. "To err is..." That's right, "human." Remember that we have all, at one time or another, needed the forgiveness of others.
  8. Intentionally move from discontent toward contentment. Even in the best of circumstances, there will always be something to be unhappy about. It is equally true that there will always -- ALWAYS -- be reasons to be grateful and content. The choice is up to you.
  9. Understand that forgiveness will take time and can not be rushed. There will still be times when that person or event will cross your mind. With those memories may also come some pain, and that is perfectly OK. Give yourself time to heal.
  10. Take responsibility for your life and your future. Instead of throwing your energy into the black hole of bitterness, invest it in living the rest of your life in a positive, fulfilling way.

Remember that a life well-lived is the best (and healthiest) form of "revenge." And when you can think of your offender and sincerely wish him/her a good life as well, you will know that you have achieved forgiveness.

[1] Messias E, Saini A, Sinato P, Welch S (2010) Bearing grudges and physical health: relationship to smoking, cardiovascular health and ulcers. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 45(2):183-7.
[2] Friedberg JP, Suchday S, Srinivas VS (2009) Relationship between forgiveness and psychological and physiological indices in cardiac patients. Int J Behav Med 16(3):205-11.
[3] (2006) Published by Integrity Publishers, a division of Integrity Media, Inc, Franklin, TN

Monday, May 24, 2010

What is the Stress Pyramid (and how does it relate to stress management?)

Those who have been following Stress: Beyond Coping for a long time have noticed that we recently changed our business logo. Now, changing a business logo is a big deal. But we decided that we needed the very identity of the company to focus on our signature concept:
The Stress Management Pyramid.

You won't find the Stress Management Pyramid anywhere else -- this concept is unique to Stress: Beyond Coping. Kind of looks like a food pyramid, right? Well, that's the idea. Just like we use a food pyramid learn how to get the best nutrition, we use the stress management pyramid to learn the best stress management. And just as good nutrition is preventive medicine for physical health, you can think of the stress management pyramid as preventive medicine for mental and emotional health.

But there's one very important difference between the food pyramid and the Stress Management Pyramid. In the food pyramid, the stuff on the bottom is the most important -- the foods we should be eating the most of. As you get nearer to the top, the foods become less important or even harmful to overall health. Well, the Stress Management Pyramid is just the opposite: the higher you go, the more important -- and powerful -- the stress management tools become.

There are seven stress management tools in the Stress Management Pyramid. The bottom four are what we call the "Foundational Components." They include: (7) Rest and Relaxation, (6) Time Management/Organization, (5) Exercise and (4) Healthy Eating. Of course these are all very important and provide a good foundation to a good stress management program. Some stress management seminars focus exclusively on these four components, or maybe just one or two of them.

However, if you want to become an expert stress manager, you must tap into the top 3 "Power Components." They are: (3) a Healthy Viewpoint, (2) Supportive Relationships, and (1) -- at the pinnacle -- Faith. We didn't just pick these out of a hat, either -- all three are based on solid scientific research. All three of these factors have been shown to significantly reduce stress levels, improve physical and mental health, and even increase longevity. For example:

  • The Power of a Positive Viewpoint: One recent research study followed over 900 elderly Dutch men and women for 9 years. During that time period, those with an optimistic outlook were only 45% as likely to die from any cause. The largest effect was seen, however, in the risk of cardiovascular death, which plummeted by about 75%, even after controlling for differences in age, gender, chronic disease, education, smoking, alcohol consumption, history of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, body mass index, and cholesterol levels. [1]
  • The Power of Supporive Relationships: In a study of 500 women, those with the largest social networks have 24% lower rates of coronary artery disease than those with the smallest social networks. Those with the smallest social networks were 2.5 times more likely to die from heart disease over the course of the 2 year study, even after controlling for other risk factors. What was striking about this study was that, for every increment increase in number of social contacts, the women's risk of dying went down by 20%. [2]
  • The Power of Faith: Researchers analyzed 42 separate studies to examine the effect of an active religious faith on on longevity. A total of 126,000 participants were included in this meta-analysis. The researchers concluded that active participation in religion increased longevity by 29% after controlling for differences in sociodemographic factors, physical and mental health, social ties, smoking or alcohol use, body mass index, and exercise. Further, the researchers concluded that it would take another 1400 studies showing absolutely no effect of religion on longevity to overturn these results. [3]
We'll be talking more about how to implement each of these power componenents in future posts. But if you are interested in learning more now, check out the links and other resources available at the Stress: Beyond Coping website. Until then,

I wish you the best of health.

[1] Giltay EJ, Geleijnse JM, Zitman FG, Hoekstra T, Schouten EG (2004) Dispositional optimism and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in a prospective cohort of elderly dutch men and women. Arch Gen Psychiatry 61(11):1126-35.

[2] Rutledge T et al (2004) Social networks are associated with lower mortality rates among women with suspected coronary artery disease: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-sponsored Women's Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation Study. Psychosomatic Medicine 66(6):882-8

[3] McCullough ME, Hoyt WT, Larson DB, Koenig HG, Thoresen C (2000) Religious involvement and mortality: a meta-analytic review. Health Psychology 19(3):211-22.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Finding your way out of the Shadowlands of Stress and Depression

A couple of months ago a business associate asked me to give a stress management presentation at his health seminar. I ended up speaking on a topic that's been on my mind for a long time: the relationship between stress and depression.

As a stress researcher, I learned that the real danger of chronic stress is that it can lead to all sorts of other nasty things -- physical problems like hypertension and heart disease, but also mental disorders like depression. And have you noticed that depression is a HUGE problem in the United States?! Here are just some of the scary statistics: 1 in every 20 Americans is suffering from depression right now (one in every 7, if you're looking under the poverty line) [1]. Depression is the leading cause of disability[2] and costs the already groaning U.S. healthcare system an estimated $83 billion per year to treat its victims.[3]

But here's the kicker. A lot of our depression stems from stress, the pressure points of life. In fact, about 80% of depression cases are preceded by stressful life events.[4] So as a stress management speaker and consultant, what I try to do is to get people to manage their stress effectively so that it never culminates into the deep, dark shadows of depression.

So let's start with the basics:

  1. Make sure you are getting enough rest and eating a healthy diet (lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, quality protein and healthy fats). A healthy body means a healthy mind.
  2. Make sure you get some (at least 30 minutes) of aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week, preferably out in the sunlight.
  3. Finally, spend 5-15 minutes every day on organization and time management. You will find that a miniscule amount of time invested into these activities gives huge returns in energy, better health and productivity in the long run.

We'll talk more about these basics in future posts. But now let's talk about some stress management techniques that may not be so obvious, yet have been proven to be the real power players in the fight against stress-induced depression.

  1. Stay connected with your friends and family. Good social support systems have been shown to be vitally important in fighting physical and mental illness. Starting to feel blue? DON'T follow your first instinct, which will be to lock yourself in your bedroom with the tv or the internet. Instead, call your mom or visit a friend.
  2. Help someone else. Researchers have been shocked to discover just how much altruism benefits our health and even increases longevity. Helping someone else is beneficial in 2 ways: (1) it will get your mind off your own troubles, and (2) it will make your part of the world a better, happier place. Just think what would happen if everyone did that.
  3. Stay optimistic. I know, this is easier said than done, especially when you're going through a really tough time. If it helps, read a book or talk to someone else who went through the same thing or something worse. It may give you some courage and hope to know that others have made it to the other side, and maybe even learned something valuable in the process.
  4. Laugh. Researchers know that humor is a healer. Don't see anything funny? Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, wrote this of his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp: "An outsider might be astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humor [at Auschwitz]; of course, only the faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes...Humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness
    and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds." [5]
  5. Find Faith. Recent studies at Duke University have found that those who had strong religious convictions and actively participated in religious activities were less likely to be waylaid by depression, and bounced back faster from depression. [6]

There's a lot to think about in each one of these tools -- hopefully we will get to all of them in future posts. If you are interested in learning more right now, check out this DVD on the subject from our Stress:Beyond Coping e-store.

Best wishes for your health.

[1] Pratt, LA; Brody, DJ (2008) Depression in the United States Household Population, 2005-2006. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief (7).
[2]The World Health Organization. The global burden of disease: 2004 update, Table A2: Burden of disease in DALYs by cause, sex and income group in WHO regions, estimates for 2004. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO, 2008.
[3]Greenberg PE, Kessler RC, Birnbaum HG, et al. (2003) The Economic Burden of Depression in the United States: How Did It Change Between 1990 and 2000? Am Fam Physician. 2003;68:2401–2408,2409.
[4]Mazure CM (1998) Life stressors as risk factors for depression. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 5:291-313.
[5] Frankl VE (1984) Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Washington Square Press, New York. p.63.
[6] Reviewed in: Koenig HG (2008) Medicine, Religion and Health. Templeton Foundation Press, Pennsylvania. pp. 70-72.