Stress Relief Is Just a Phone Call Away

I just read about a study done on stress and girls 7 to 12 years old. (Stay with me here; this could be helpful to you.) It seems that seeing or just talking to their mothers helped lower their stress.

In the study, the girls were given something stressful to do. Then one-third met with their mothers and got hugs and soothing words, another third talked to their mothers on the phone, and the last group watched a movie. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, came down quickly in both sets of girls who had contact with their mothers but remained higher than normal in the control group throughout the experiment. In addition, oxytocin, a brain chemical that helps us feel good, rose sharply in the girls who interacted with their mothers but did nothing at all in the control group.

So what does this mean for you if you are not so young (or a girl, for that matter)? Well, the researchers seemed to think that the effects might hold across the board for young and old, male and female. In other words, if you had to give a presentation to the board, or just got yelled at by your boss, or something equally stressful, try calling Mom.

And, while I’m all for hugs, it seems that you don’t need them to get help with your stress level. So if you live in Boise and Mom has retired to Boca Raton, a phone call will still do the trick here.

All right, I know all mothers are not created equal. If yours is not the comforting sort but more of the keep-your-back-to-the-wall-at-all-times sort, don’t look to her to help you de-stress. Try someone else in your life: a Dad who is good at listening, an aunt who thinks you are the bee’s knees, or a spouse who can comfort instead of lecture. The closer the relationship, I’m guessing, the better the result.

Whoever you choose, you might want to let them know you don’t want them to do a post-mortem on what happened. You just want a kindly shoulder to cry on. Or someone just to tell you it’ll be alright. The clearer you are, the more likely you will get what you need.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.

Mental Health Day

I’m taking my own advice and having a mental health day. I’m going to do things that are not work-related, turn off the computer and the phone, and go for a walk. I highly recommend this for everyone, those who are stressed and those who want to avoid getting stressed. Give it a try.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about the stresses you have that might be holding you back.

Excelling by Finding Enthusiasm For What You Do

As I was winnowing down my in-box, I came across an article sent to me a about the importance of being enthusiastic about what you do. It’s all about how tech companies with genuine enthusiasm excel not only at motivating their customers to buy, buy, buy, but also at inspiring their workers to make great products.

I’ve found the same thing with most of my clients, no matter what industry they are in and no matter what position they hold. (I’ll change some of the details here to protect everyone’s confidentiality.) A partner in a business helping companies get the energy they needed at reasonable prices clearly found what he did to be more than a paycheck. Yes, he liked being an owner, but he also liked the ins and outs of his work week. He passed that on to his employees, and, once he got a few sticking points ironed out, his revenues just kept going up.

Another client was just barely able to pay attention to his law practice, and it was languishing despite the long hours he spent in the office. But get him talking about his new business and he caught fire. It was clear that he needed to transition from law to the new business, but he couldn’t just give up his practice. It was paying his mortgage! Instead, we had him stop taking every legal issues that walked in the door, focusing his practice on the kind of work he could do easily and lucratively. This freed up time for him to build up the new business he loved.

Then there was the client who was making great money doing software coding. She had all the material things she wanted, and her family and friends were very impressed with her success. Yet she was stressed out and finding it harder and harder to get herself to even sit down at her computer. It was getting so bad that she was starting to blow deadlines. It turned out that this wasn’t a question of just getting better organized; she had an artistic side that she was ignoring. She saw the writing on the wall — if she kept coding, sooner or later she would be out of a job. Once she realized that she couldn’t keep coding forever, she decided she might as well be proactive, make plans to get into a new field, save as much money as she could in the meantime, and make the transition as smoothly as possible. She applied to and was accepted by a graduate school, held a few garage sales, sold her house, and moved. I heard back from her three years later. She was working in her new field, and, while new problems had cropped up, they didn’t seem so insurmountable. She was doing something she loved so it was worth fixing them.

Another woman called me up wondering if she needed to make a radical career change. She was exhausted and found herself dreading Mondays. Yet she swore up and down that she loved what her company did and really enjoyed contributing to that. But she was working late into the evenings and weekends, thinking about work when she wasn’t there, and constantly worrying about whether or not her people were doing their jobs. First, I made her do something she hadn’t done in three years: take a vacation (a critical piece of stress reduction). When she got back, we got to work. What we discovered was that it wasn’t the job that was causing her so much stress, it was her approach to it. She was trying to do everyone’s job for them instead of managing them while they did their own work. She was constantly on call to answer every question, no matter how trivial. And all this wasn’t leaving her the time or energy she needed to focus on strategy, a big part of her job description and what she most enjoyed about her work. Once we set up some rules — like no phone calls from work on evenings or weekends unless it was a true emergency and asking employees what they were going to do about a problem rather than automatically taking it on herself — and spent some time practicing sticking to those rule, she was able to find her passion for this job again and make the most of it, for herself and for her company.

What I’ve seen over and over with clients like these is that to really succeed at their job, profession, or business, they have to find their passion for it. Sometimes this means clearing away what has been keeping them from doing what they love. Sometimes it means making a plan and following it to transition out of work they find deadening and into work that inspires them. Trying to stay in a job that doesn’t hold any excitement or satisfaction (other than money) is bound to lead to stress and unhappiness.

Oh, and if you’re curious, check out the article on enthusiasm in the tech world. Be sure to watch the short Apple video at the end. Laughter is also a good stress reliever.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.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.

Deep Breathing for Stress: Not for Asthmatics

Earlier this week the New York Times ran an article entitled “A Breathing Technique Offers Help For People With Asthma.” Since deep, diaphragmatic breathing exercises are one of my favorite, and easy, ways to help people release stress, I was very interested. I figured that, since diaphragmatic breathing was so effective at relaxing people, the technique the Times was reporting on would be some variation on that. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

According to the article, during an asthma attack most people breathe quickly and as deeply as they can, which may actually make the attack worse. Inhaling deeply and forcefully through the mouth can actually trigger a bronchospasm. The Buteyko breathing method featured in the article (developed in the ’50s by a Russian doctor) teaches people “to breathe shallowly and slowly through the nose, breaking the vicious cycle of rapid, gasping breaths, airway constriction and increased wheezing.”

So if you have asthma, don’t try the deep breathing I recommend. If you are interested in the Buteyko method, check out the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/health/03brod.html.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.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.

Breathing to Lower Stress

(If you have asthma, skip this post. Check out my short blog post on asthma and deep breathing.)

The quickest way to lower your stress level that I’ve ever come across is simply to take a deep breath. The great thing about this technique is that you can do it anywhere – in a department meeting, trying to get Powerpoint working during your presentation, talking with an irate customer. You’re breathing. Who’s going to even notice, let alone make a big deal about it?

There is a trick to this kind of breathing, though. You have to do it the right way or it can backfire on you. Try panting to see just how tense you can make yourself. Shallow breathing is the wrong way to breathe.

The right way is to make your breath go all the way down to your diaphragm at the very bottom of your lungs. If you’ve had any singing training, you’ve probably already learned how to do diaphragmatic breathing. If not, it’s pretty easy to do. First, put your hand over your navel. While keeping your chest and shoulders still, take a slow breath through your nose that goes all the way down and pushes out your hand. Hold it for a few seconds. Now slowly let the air out through your mouth. That’s all there is to it.

No really, that’s it. Do two or three of those breaths and you’ll get rid of some tension in your body. Since you can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time, your stress level will go down, and both your body and your brain will start to work better.

For more long-term benefits, you could do this type of breathing three times a day. Before every meal can be a good way to remember. Take ten breaths. Breathe in through your nose on a slow count of three, hold for three counts, then breathe out through your mouth on a count of five. Play with those numbers to see which works best for you. (I prefer four, four, six. Others I’ve worked with liked three, four, five.) If you start to get dizzy that means you’re hyperventilating. Breathe normally for half a minute then finish the ten breaths.

The more often you practice this breathing, the more you train yourself to stay relaxed in general and the easier it is to remember how to breathe right when things get tense.

If you really want to get hard-core about this, start doing yoga. In yoga, this kind of breathing is an important part of meditating. By the way, yoga and meditation in general are great ways to bring stress way down.

I’ve heard that combat trainers teach this sort of breathing to Green Berets and FBI agents as a way to master their fear while in action. If it can help them focus when somebody is pointing a gun at them, it should help you focus in the boss’s office.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.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.

Luck and the Stressed Out Person

I recently read a 2003 article on a study of lucky v. unlucky people. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3304496/Be-lucky—its-an-easy-skill-to-learn.html Among the conclusions the researcher reached were a few that stuck out for me: (i) both lucky and unlucky people create their own “luck,” good or bad; (ii) lucky people notice more, and so discover more good things to take advantage of; (iii) stress narrows a person’s focus so that they notice less; and (iv) people can be taught to be lucky.

I’m not surprised. I’ve noticed that once clients lower their stress they become much more creative, seeing possibilities where before they seemed to be facing brick walls. Once the stress has lifted, they are also much more likely to change rather than keep doing the same thing over and over, getting the same less-than-stellar results. And with creativity flowing and motivation to change, these clients start having positive experiences — meeting the right people at a networking event, realizing a way to save money, catching a mistake before sending out a report.

Most of my clients don’t describe these experiences as “luck,” but this researcher would probably categorize them that way. So the bottom line here is: to increase your luck, lower your stress.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.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.

Sleeping Despite Stress

“Jack” (whose name I’ve changed for confidentiality reasons), a solo attorney, has been working on a big case for over a year. He’s up against one of the big law firms in his city, and the stress from feeling ganged up on has been building as the trial got closer.

Last week Jack told me that he hadn’t slept well for the two nights before the pretrial conference with the judge on Friday. In fact, the night before he hadn’t slept at all. Now he had a long weekend to prepare for the trial and was worried that he might be a sleepless wreck by opening arguments on Tuesday. I went over with him the stress-relief tapping technique I use and told him to try it if he had any more trouble sleeping.

We spoke Tuesday after the first day of trial. Jack reported that he had slept very poorly all weekend long, but that “for some reason” he had slept well the night before and been quite relaxed throughout the day’s proceedings. I asked if he had tapped, and he said he had forgotten to over the weekend, but then added “Oh, I tapped last night. Maybe that was why I slept better.”

While we can’t be sure that tapping made the difference here for Jack, it is common for people to forget they tapped once their problem goes away. And I know other clients who have had relief from their insomnia when they tapped. It certainly can’t hurt to try.

Get started.

If stress is keeping you awake, try my Quick Start Guide to tapping. It might help you, too. If you would like more individual attention, please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to arrange a get-acquainted call by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together.

Getting Rid of Unreasonable Fears Fast

A client of mine was thrown for a loop this week when he had back-to-back calls from a friend and a relative. Both callers expressed doubts about his plan to take his business in a new direction. The extreme stress he felt from those calls almost derailed his plan completely.

My client had determined that he had to change his business’s approach to deal with the realities of the current economy. He had done a lot of research into what customers wanted, what they would pay, and how best to approach them. His  energy and enthusiasm were higher than they had been in weeks. He was almost ready to launch his new service.

Then came the calls. Although the callers intended only the best for him, and they were by their own admission inexperienced in the business area he was pursuing, their trusted words took a powerful toll on him. They not only had him doubting the wisdom of his plan, they had him questioning whether he was capable of keeping his business going at all. He had trouble thinking about anything other than the calls and his motivation came crashing down. He estimated that his productivity was cut down to a quarter of what it had been before he said “Hello.”

A few hours later he contacted me. We talked and used the stress-reduction tapping technique I teach while focusing on what was bothering him about the calls to help him clear his stress. Within twenty minutes, his head had cleared. He dropped the fear that he wouldn’t be able to succeed and was able to quickly re-orient his thinking around the fact that, while his callers had his best interests in mind, they knew almost nothing about the area he was working in. Their reaction was based on their own fears and concerns, not on a reasoned analysis of the market for the services he was offering. His analysis of his business and the market had not changed — he was on the right track. His motivation and energy came back to where they had been, or even higher. He called the results “amazing.” (This from one of my more skeptical clients, who took a long time to accept that this tapping stuff might actually help.)

As a bonus, my client realized in the middle of our tapping how to get around an obstacle that had been blocking him from asking some contacts to refer him business. This was not something we had focused on at any point. It shows how getting rid of stress can open up your creativity.

Could he have achieved this without our talking and tapping? In time, perhaps yes. But given what a fast-moving month this was in his life and the stakes in the decisions he was about to make, he told me he was grateful for how quickly he was able to clear his head and move forward without lasting distraction on a purely emotional level.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to arrange a get-acquainted call by phone or Skype to talk about your blocks and how we might work on them together.