Last week I told you that research shows that you can become thirty-one percent more productive if you just get happy. At least, companies could get that “Happiness Advantage” when their employees followed certain exercises designed to increase their happiness. I know, however, that for people who are stressed out or feeling down, getting from where they are to a happy state can seem impossible. For those people I have an interim step: implement the Three-Legged Stool. (Of course, if you are truly depressed or anxious, you really should get yourself to see your medical doctor or a therapist first!)
The Three-Legged Stool is a little speech I give every one of my therapy clients (yes, I’m a psychotherapist in my other life) who suffers from some kind of depression or anxiety. There has been a fair amount of research showing the connection between the three steps I recommend and getting rid of, or at least easing, depression and anxiety. Although I have not done any research on the connection between the three legs and true happiness, my clients’ experiences gives me a strong suspicion that a good grounding in any or all three legs of the stool is also a good springboard to happiness, even in those who are not clinically depressed or anxious. So I offer it to you now.
Over the last month or so several of my clients have been blocked at work by their stress. The reasons they have been stressed are very real: an unsupportive boss; financial setbacks; fights with spouses; personality conflicts at work. They knew they needed to take action to resolve their issues, so they did what made sense—they thought about the issue over and over trying to come up with an answer. Unfortunately, that just increased their stress, which kept them from accessing the parts of their brain that could solve the problem.
When you are stressed, your focus narrows. This is great if you have a deadline and need to get that presentation ready. It narrows even more if you are in danger—say a tiger is chasing you. This is also great, since you don’t need to do calculus then, you need to focus everything you’ve got on running like crazy to get away from the danger. The trouble with stress is that sometimes it turns off the areas of your brain that handle higher thinking in order to escape danger when the “danger” is something like an irate customer. Just when you need to be able to think rationally, even creatively, to fix what is happening, all you can do is go over and over the problem, getting more and more stressed and tense.
So what do you do when you’re on that hamster wheel? The counter intuitive answer is to first get rid of the stress so that you can then deal effectively with the situation causing the stress. The good news is that this can be easier to do than you would think.
To get my clients to let go of their stress, I did EFT (a technique involving tapping on acupressure points) with them. If you are curious, you can read more about how to use EFT to reduce stress here. [ However, if you don’t want to take the time to learn to use the technique, you still may be able to get similar results. What you need to do is take a break.
There are a lot of ways to do it. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Go for a bike ride.
Listen to upbeat music.
Take a nap.
Dance to party music.
Call a friend.
Call your mother.
The main thing is to change what you are doing so you stop thinking about what is stressing you out. The most effective ways to do this that I’ve found are taking physical action (so run up and down the stairs a few times), change your scenery (get out of your office and walk around the block), and listen to happy music (but stay away from heartbreak ballads or frenetic electric stuff). By all means, combine them if you wish. Pop in your headset, get out the tennies and walk to the next neighborhood.
Even if you can’t leave your desk you can still let go of some stress. Just do deep breathing, which forces your body to relax. When your body relaxes, your mind follows. Here’s how: close your eyes, take a breath that goes all the way down to your navel, leaving your shoulders and chest still. Let it out easily. Now take another. And another. That’s all there is to it. Simple and effective.
Taking a break is a short-term fix. Sometimes that’s all you need. It’s the equivalent of “sleeping on it.” You stop thinking about something and the answer comes to you.
But I know that sometimes the stressor, or what is stressing you out, is unavoidably in your life for the long term. There is no “answer” that will make it go away. Still, unless your stress is helping you (and it almost never does) you will do better if you can let go of your stressful reaction to the stressor. For long-term stressors I suggest three main approaches: (i) half an hour of exercise, the kind that raises your heart rate, four to five days a week; (ii) face time with people who, when you’re with them, you feel good about yourself; and, (iii) EFT. I’ve noticed that both exercise and socializing with your peeps tends to take longer to have an effect than EFT — and you have to keep doing them, unlike EFT — but they have the great advantages that you can start right away and do them on your own.
So now you know what you need to do if your stress is blocking you. Good luck, and please let me know if you have any other ways you have found to let go of your stress.
Next time I’ll tell you about something that can increase your productivity thirty-one percent. And it won’t hurt a bit!
Interviews can be stressful for people under the best of circumstances. But with fewer jobs out there, the perception that no one is hiring, and the very real possibility of going months before getting even one interview, many interviewees are putting added stress on themselves. Ironically this added stress is likely to undercut their performance at interviews, even for people who used to sail through the interview process in the past.
So if this sounds like you, what can you do about it? Actually, there are plenty of things you can do.
In this post we’ll look at what you can do before the interview to set yourself up to walk in feeling ready for anything they throw at you.
I’ve been assuming that there is a link between stress, anxiety and depression for years now, recommending that strategies to counter an anxiety disorder be used to fight depression, that approaches to lessen depression can work on anxiety, and that all of these strategies should be tried on plain old stress. This has been based not just on my personal observation in the therapy room of the apparent connection between these three, but also the observations of various academics, my fellow therapists and the statistics that show anxiety and depression occurring at the same time.
Finally, researchers have found some real evidence of a biological link between stress, anxiety and depression. The lead researcher, Stephen Ferguson, believes that the connection in the brain that they found explains how stress and anxiety can lead to depression. They are also hopeful that a molecule inhibitor they developed will lead to new and better drugs to treat anxiety and depression.
Of course, if you’re stressed, anxious or depressed, you aren’t going to want to wait for the drug companies to develop the new drugs. Get started doing some of the things now that help bring down the symptoms, like exercise, eating right and getting together with your friends and family. (Of course, if the problem seems overwhelming, get in to see your doctor or a therapist to get some extra help.)
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.
In case you didn’t have enough incentive to bring your stress down already, researchers have just announced that the most anxious and depressed people have the highest risk of heart disease. So, if you want a healthy heart, follow the immortal words of the song: “Don’t worry; be happy.”
Of course, this is always easier said than done. Many experts will tell you (including some in the BBC article I read about the study) your general attitude, positive or otherwise, is ingrained.
I don’t know about changing your general attitude — or your personality, as some would say — but I do know that there are a number of steps you can take to improve your response to the stresses in your life. You can exercise regularly. You can eat more of the healthier foods and fewer of the starchy and sweet foods. You can spend more time face-to-face with good people in your life. You can practice meditation or relaxation exercises like deep breathing (unless you have asthma). You could try tapping, which is also known as EFT. (Check out my Quick Start Guide for a very short introduction to tapping.) Heck, just go for a walk — a change of scenery can bring down your stress on a bad day.
So even if some of those experts are right and you can’t completely change from being a dyed-in-the-wool, stressed-out pessimist to a starry-eyed, happy-go-lucky optimist, you can at least try to move a little further towards the relaxed end of the spectrum. What do you have to lose except some stress?
The lead researcher on the study, Dr. Karina Davidson, said it very well. “Essentially spending a few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health and may improve your physical health as well.”
Please e-mail me at email@example.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about the stresses that might be holding you back.
The devastation in Haiti from this week’s earthquake is all over the news. Clients, colleagues, family and friends are all talking about the suffering there, wanting to understand and find ways to help. This is normal and can bring out the best in people. But what do you do if you seem to be obsessed about the disaster and can’t stop thinking about it?
If thinking about what happened, and is happening, in Haiti is keeping you from focusing on what you need to do at work and/or at home, you need to make some changes. The first is to turn off the news. Stop watching TV, put the newspaper in the recycling without reading it and swear off checking the current events headlines on the internet for awhile. That should help bring your stress down.
You can also do some other basic stress-relieving techniques, like exercising, going somewhere different for a change of scenery, going for a walk, getting out in nature, or doing some breathing exercises (unless you have asthma).
If none of these help, you might try the tapping technique (using my Quick Start Guide to Tapping) on what is bothering you most about Haiti. Say you keep seeing a particular image from the news. Tap on it, saying something like “Even though I can’t stop thinking about that picture of a child crying in the rubble, I deeply and completely accept myself” as your set up. Tap until thinking of that picture shifts in your mind and no longer seems overwhelming.You won’t lose your compassion for those suffering, but the thought of that suffering will stop being debilitating.
If the tapping does not change your reaction to the specific image (or interview, or idea) that has been bothering you, it may be that that image is reminding you of something that happened in your life. Ask yourself if the feeling you get thinking about that image reminds you of anything. If it does, tap on that memory even if it doesn’t seem to be related to Haiti. Our brains can make some interesting and unexpected connections. Once you tap down any negative emotions you have from your memory, check the Haiti image again. If you identified the memory that was being triggered by the Haiti news, your reaction to the image from Haiti should have changed.
It is often possible to use the tapping technique on your own effectively, but sometimes the connections in your brain can be too complex, or the memories too scary or difficult to retrieve, to work on by yourself. In that case, working with someone else (like a therapist or someone trained in this tapping thing) may help you get unstuck. Either way, it’s worth it to clear out whatever has been triggered by the news so that it doesn’t come up again the next time there is a natural disaster.
And please consider donating to reputable groups, like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), if you can. The Haitians have had enough pain to contend with, even before this earthquake.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be blocking you.
I’ve been recommending exercise to stressed out clients (and depressed clients, for that matter) for years. Those in the know suggest that you get aerobic exercise — i.e., exercise that raises your heart rate enough that it is a little difficult to talk, like running or dancing — for half an hour, three times a week at a minimum. If you can’t get a full half-hour in at a time, or you only have two days to exercise, do what you can. My clients have reported that even ten minutes of working out can help them feel more relaxed and happier. (Of course, if your doctor doesn’t think you should exercise, listen to your doctor.)
Therapists, doctors and scientists have known for a long time that exercise helps with stress. Now scientists have run experiments which show exercise actually changes the brain so it handles stressful situations better, at least in rats. A New York Times blog post from last month reviews three recent studies showing how the brains of rats who exercised handled stress better than those of couch potato rats — expressing fewer specific genes, showing less serotonin levels, and dampening the effects of oxidative stress in response to stress.
So the proof is in: exercise really does make a difference. Don’t skip it this season because you have too much shopping to do, or the in-laws are coming to visit, or you have a five-hour drive to Christmas dinner. Those are the very stressful situations that exercise will help you handle calmly.
Oh, and start exercising right away if you haven’t worked out since the late ’90s. It took the rats between three and six weeks of exercising to see big changes in their brains. The scientists don’t know how long it takes to make a difference in humans. They haven’t done that research yet. But it’s a fair bet that the sooner you start exercising, the sooner you’ll feel more relaxed.
Please e-mail me at email@example.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.