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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.

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