Category Archives: Tools that End Stress

Generation Stress

from Don Joseph Goewey’s article in the Huffington Post

Millennials, who came of age after 1999, and Generation X, born between the early 1960’s and early 1980’s, are now being dubbed Generation Stress. That’s because the American Psychological Association’s research on stress has found Millennials to be the most stressed demographic in America, with Generation X coming in a close second.

Wired-For-STRESS-2 copyBoth generations report nearly twice the level of stress that’s considered safe from serious health risk. They’re having problems with anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression, and it’s affecting their children. Research has found that today’s kids are stressed, now more than ever, and it’s because of how stressed their parents have become. Yet 83 percent of us are doing little or nothing about it.

BUT DON’T STRESS. If stress is a problem in your life, it because genetics and past traumas wired you for it. You can rewire those faulty circuits with simple, proven approaches. Your experience of life can change dramatically without circumstances necessarily changing. Experiencing a higher quality of life is simpler than you might imagine and change can happen fast, as happier, healthier, and more successful outcomes build one on the other to achieve the Good Life.

Below is a starter kit to get you moving in the right direction. These 3 stress busting tools are part of the more extensive program in my new book, The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.

Look Inside

The tools are all quite simple. This is because simple approaches are what work best in resolving stress. The tools in my book are also neuroplastic, meaning they rewire the brain to change a stress-provoking auto-pilot  that causes you to fixate on a problem … to a calmer auto-pilot accessing the clarity of higher order brain networks to create solutions.

The first step is a simple practice that goes a long way to frame a great day, instead allowing a stressful beginning to take over. It’s called Starting the Day in Quiet. This tool is an antidote to the frenetic, over-caffeinated early morning rush out the door that heads straight into a traffic jam. This tool encourages you to set aside a few minutes first thing in the morning to consciously frame a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative mindset to meet the day’s challenges. Doing this can make a big difference in how the day goes.  Here’s how it works.

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  • Start your day by rising 10 minutes earlier, ahead of the morning rush.
  • Sit quietly in a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Close your eyes, tilt your head toward your heart, and follow your breathing. The idea is to feel each breath opening your heart and mind wider, empowering heart and mind to work in concert.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. It’s not guaranteed. Feel gratitude for another day with the people you love. Gratitude is a powerful psychological state. It is the gateway to positive emotions.
  • Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achievements. Equally, commit to a great state of mind to face the day’s ups and down with a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative attitude.

The next step is to practice using a tool during the day that busts stressful, anxious, angry, or depressing thoughts and emotions that ruin your attitude. The brain offers you 90 seconds to bust these reaction before dumping a load of toxic stress hormones in your system that can overwhelm you with anxiety. This tool is called the Clear Button. It gets you through the 90-second window in time. Here’s how it works. You imagine a button at the center of your palm.

Clear Button for DJG

You press the button and keep pressing it as you count to 3, thinking of each number as a color.

  • Breathe in, count 1, and on the exhale think red.
  • Breathe in, count 2, and on the exhale think blue.
  • Breathe in, count 3, and on the exhale think green.
  • On the next breath, let your mind go completely blank for 10 seconds.
  • Next, refocus on the problem at hand, recommitting yourself to being calm, creative, and optimistic as you face this and other stressors that arise during the day.
  • If the problem you face seems beyond your control, recite the Serenity Prayer: Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

The calm this tool facilitates can shift control from the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, where all you see are problems, to higher order brain function in the prefrontal cortex where you are able to create solutions.

The third step in this “starter kit” provides a way to close out the day. It’s called Finish
Each Day and Be Done With It.

Finish Each Day copy

This helps you let go of the day’s problems, so you don’t take them home.  Moreover, it allows you to let the day go so you can begin tomorrow serenely, with too high a spirit and purpose to be encumbered by the past. This piece of wisdom comes from a letter written by the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter who was stressed over a mistake she’d made. This is what it says:

Finish each day and be done with it.

You have done what you could. Some blunders, losses, and the old nonsense no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.  It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

I invite you to cut-and-paste the statement and post it where you’ll see it at the close of your work day.

The more you learn to apply tools that bust stress reactions, the more your brain will strengthen synapses that quiet stress and anxiety the moment it raises its ugly hand. Before you know it, you’re functioning at the top of your game, and at the end of the day you’re the person coming through the door that your loved ones were hoping to see.

images: canstockphoto.com

America’s #1 Stressor (Money) and How to Overcome It

Money is the #1 worry for Americans, according to the Stress in America survey released by the American Psychological Association. And here’s the problem with stressing over money. Financial stress not only means you’re short on money, it also means you’re short on the brain power you  need to resolve money problems.

The stress from worrying about money can lower your IQ by 40 percent. That’s nearly half your smarts, which means you’ll lack the cognitive and creative capacity to not only resolve your current lack of cash, but also to carry out a plan to lift you out of debt and scarcity.

Compounding matters is that people with diminished IQs tend to be less happy and in poorer health. Thus, your attitude is likely to be pessimistic, your energy low, and the brain circuits in charge of creative problem-solving switched off. Your stressed brain locks into a vicious stress loop, making you perform the same unproductive things over and over, instead of coming up with a better idea, which is why you never seem to get ahead.

But don’t stress.

YOU CAN CHANGE THIS PICTURE

You can recover the brain power to move your life forward, even in the midst of a cash flow crisis.  Raising your credit score starts with lowering your stress level, and it’s simpler than you might imagine.  Abraham Lincoln said, Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.

Consider Ursula Burns. She was raised by her single mother in a housing project on the Lower East Side, back when the Lower East Side was an impoverished neighborhood with a scarcity of opportunity to advance. Ursula and her mother didn’t let the lack of money dampen their attitude or vision.  Her mother ironed shirts to put Ursula through college, and Ursula kept her eye on the prize. She is now the CEO and chairwoman of Xerox, and the first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 Company.

The journey from the poverty of the Lower East Side to the boardroom was not launched and propelled along by a stressed brain losing IQ. It was fueled by a can-do attitude. Ursula Burns says, The best way to change it is to do it … And then after a while you become it, and it’s easy.

THREE SIMPLE TOOLS

Taking the stress out of a financial problem is so simple you might initially think it couldn’t possibly work.  Research proves otherwise.  Click here for the three things you can do to make the change.

Quieting the Crtitical Inner Voice that Shames You

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from my article in the Huffington Post

Imagine making a mistake that holds the threat of negative consequences for your family or your work. As you sit there alone, aware that it’s your mistake, and it must be disclosed, what is your internal dialogue? What are the words you’re likely to call yourself?

If you’re like most people, the words you’ll direct at yourself will be condemning. These harsh words spring from shame, which is the moral condemnation that guilt becomes when you believe something you did wrong means something is wrong with you.

Shame is at the bottom of that critical voice in your head that follows you everywhere, waiting for the chance to berate, criticize, and blame you, whispering its insults in your ear or shouting them in your face. This voice grows out of all the times when the people who were supposed to love and encourage you, or teach and mentor you, admonished your efforts instead.

But don’t despair; there’s a cure to shame and it’s simpler than you might think.

I’ll get to the cure in a moment, but first let’s briefly look at the problem.

Freud defined shame as the fear of loss of love,[1] which leads to being controlled by what others think and say about you. “[It’s] the fear of disconnection,” says Dr. Brené Brown, “… of being perceived as flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging.”[2]

And it’s very stressful. Margaret Kemeny’s research found that “stress caused by how others view you is extremely powerful, as much or more so than [that] caused from . . . working too hard.” [3] Her research found that “acute threats to our social self increase stress hormones and proinflammatory cytokine activity occurring in concert with shame.” [4]

In short, shame is a condition that can seriously compromise the brain function that enables you to succeed and  the immune function that keeps you healthy.

Albert Ellis, the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, found that there are two shame-based sentences that people tell themselves.

(1) The first sentence is I made a mistake; I made an error, and I got it wrong. This may invoke feelings of guilt or frustration, but if we were to stop here, the crisis would only represent an error to correct or a lesson to learn, extending the opportunity to grow or advance.

(2) The second sentence is This mistake I made . . . This event that turned out badly . . . This thing I got wrong . . . This way I behaved . . . it means that there’s something wrong with me. This is guilt or frustration becoming shame. It has us saying to ourselves I’m not good enough; I’m not smart enough; I’m not worthy enough; all of which calcify into the belief that I deserve whatever punishment is coming. And it’s this sentence – this belief – that does the damage.” [5]

Shame is psychologically painful, which makes us afraid to make a mistake, more because of the emotional punishment we inflict on ourselves than for anything the world might do to us. Eventually, a shame-based mind represses its mistakes to avoid feeling bad, preventing the possibility of learning from a mistake, which only increases the likelihood of repeating the blunder. Thus, mistakes can’t teach us anything. We become afraid to take risks, which limits our growth.

The problem with repression is that it isn’t selective. We can’t numb ourselves to difficult feelings, such as shame, without numbing ourselves to empowering feelings, like joy, passion, and peace, and this lessens our sense of self. We form facades and pretenses to compensate, which of course makes us feel even more inauthentic. As a result, we can’t see what’s right or true about us, and a narrow view of our strengths, talents, and contributions take hold. As a result, we can’t see what’s right or true about us, and a narrow view of our strengths, talents, and contributions take hold. Research shows that people struggle at naming a few good points about themselves, but easily fill two pages of things they perceive as faults. [6]

So, here’s the cure.

The cure is found in the words of Carl Rogers, arguably one of America’s greatest psychologists.  Rogers said, “What you are is good enough if you would only be it openly.” Does that sound too simple and too small to effect something as large as shame.

Becoming good enough begins with the simple step of accepting yourself exactly as you are, which is not easy, at least at first. It entails closing the gap between “I am” and “I should be;” which is the gap between the authentic you that’s true and realizable, and the ideal self that’s illusion. The ideal self is the image of the person you think you should be that is always out of reach, imposing an unrealistic  standard you can never meet. It becomes a measuring stick that says you’re failing in some way, even when you’re doing well.

Transcending the ideal self begins with awareness. It’s being mindful of facades and pretenses your ideal self fabricates, so you can let them go. It’s being mindful of facades and pretenses, so you can let them go. It’s understanding that it doesn’t help to act one way on the outside when you actually feel another way inside. It doesn’t help to pretend to know the answer when you don’t.

It’s being open to your experience, listening to yourself with acceptance. It’s learning to identify clearly what you’re feeling. The more you’re able to experience all of your feelings, the less you’re afraid of any of your feelings, including shame.

This facilitates the courage to accept that you’re not perfect or infallible; that you make mistakes, that you don’t always function in the best way or always achieve the best result. No one does. Ironically, the courage to be imperfect opens the way to experiencing the whole of you. The critical voice of shame no longer negates the better angels of your nature or blocks your strengths and talent. This quality of undefended openness is what leads to the realization that what you are is good enough.

In this way, your experience gradually becomes your authority. Other people’s ideas, judgments, and perceptions, while considered, cease to over-rule or control you. By definition, that’s personal power. Your relationships also become more meaningful and alive because your deepening sense of connection with yourself increases your regard and empathy for others.

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[1] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (New York: Norton, 2005), 123–24.
[2] Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough,” (New York: Gotham Books, 2007), Kindle edition, Kindle location: 638–39.
[3] Amy Maxmen, “Secret Shame: Do You Fear What Others Think of You? How Shame Can Hurt Your Health,” Psychology Today, October 26, 2007, http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200710/secret-shame
[4] S. Dickerson, T. Gruenewald, and M. Kemeny, “Shame, Physiology, and Health,” Journal of Personality 72, no. 6 (December 2004): 1191–1210.
[5] “Albert Ellis—On Guilt and Shame—RARE 1960 recording, part 2,” uploaded by ProfessorMystic to YouTube, June 4, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuNWeI_l0F4.
[6] Herbert Arthur Otto, A Guide to Developing Your Potential (North Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Co., 1977), 172.

One Simple Thing that Makes You a Star

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from my article in the Huffington Post

There is one very simple thing you can start doing right away that will sustain you at the top of your game, day-in, day-out. It will also provide you with higher energy and the steady flow of creative insights that solve problems and inspire you with new ideas. And if that weren’t enough, they tell you that this very simple thing is an essential step in achieving mastery in your chosen profession.

It’s taking a 20-minute break every 90 minutes.  It’s simply stepping away from your computer, leaving your smart phone behind, and going for a peaceful walk; preferably outside amongst the birds and trees and sky, allowing your mind to relax and your brain to refuel (I’ll explain the refueling part in a moment.)

The science that has established this fact is not theoretical; it’s definitive. Yet when I lay out the science for people in corporate seminars about the powerful benefits achieved by taking a break every 90 minutes, many of them say, “I can’t possibly stop every 90 minutes.” Moreover, they can’t imagine that a 20-minute break is actually the key to becoming a star performer.

It’s all about the brain and a biological cycle called the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC,) [1] which recycles every 90 minutes. During the first phase of BRAC, brain waves oscillate at a fast rate making you feel wide-awake and able to focus your attention. Your mind is humming. Ideas flow more easily and faster. The ideas your brain produces during this phase of BRAC are usually better, and you tend to have more of them. Your memory is also better and your brain generates what is called “memory consolidation,” which is essential for envisioning something novel or learning something new.

But in the second phase of the cycle, brain waves gradually start to slow down until, in the last few minutes of BRAC, you begin to feel tired and somewhat fuzzy.[2]  The ideas dry up and it’s harder for you to connect the dots.  You start to experience minor but annoying memory lapses, such as looking for something and momentarily forgetting what it was you were looking for. These are telltale signs of brain waves slowing down.

During the fast brain wave phase, brain cells use sodium and potassium ions to generate electrical signals. These fast brain waves burn through these ions, which means your brain requires a period of rest to recharge with new ions. The restoration process requires twenty minutes of rest, after which your brain has the fuel to run fast brain waves once again.

Related research also found that the 90/20 cycle was how musicians achieved mastery. This research focused on young violinists who had mastered the instrument. It was discovered that these virtuosos universally limited the rigors of practice to ninety-minute sessions, systematically distributed over the day, followed by a leisurely break, and sometimes even an afternoon nap.[3]

People don’t take breaks partly because of guilt, partly because they are afraid it will cause them to fall behind, but mainly it’s because we’ve been conditioned to keep our nose to the grindstone.

It’s time we change our mindset and embrace fifty years of research which shows that working non-stop is an unproductive way of getting things done, and a hopeless approach to excelling, innovating, or achieving mastery.

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www.canstockphoto.com

So, monitor your mental energy and before it hits bottom, take a break (usually around 90 minutes of sustained effort). Here’s how to do it; it couldn’t be simpler:

  • Step away from your work. Leave your smart phone behind.
  •  Go for a stroll outside or simply look out a window. Gaze at the sky. Watch the wind blow. Smell the roses.  Look at the people you pass with non-judgmental eyes.
  • Let your mind and brain relax completely.
  • While on a break, keep your mind open just enough to catch a creative insight that might emerge.

 If you can’t imagine taking a break every 90 minutes, start out with a break mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. Do this for a couple of weeks and the tangible increase in brain function you’ll experience will motivate you to add more breaks to your day.

Notes

[1] “Basic Rest and Activity Cycles,” Polyphasic Society, http://www.polyphasic society.com/polyphasic-sleep/science/brac/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Psychological Review 100, no. 3 (1993): 363–406.

Take Your Vacation. It Will Rebuild Your Brain.

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More than one in three of us are forfeiting our vacation time.  Instead of taking time to renew, most of us are working harder than ever, an average 49 hours a week. We are putting in 100-200 more hours per year than our parents.  We sleep less than our parents did; one to two hours less.  Those are averages; you might be working more and sleeping less than that.

Two million years of lost vacation time

We talk about vacations, plan them, dream about them and then fail to take one. As much as a half billion vacation days will go unused this year.  Surveys reveal that we don’t take vacations because we fear an adversary will get ahead of us, or that work will pile up while we’re gone.  If we do take a vacation, we take work with us.  A survey found that 92% of those away on vacation frequently check in with the office.  That’s really not a vacation.

The Reward for Taking Vacation Time

A proper vacation can repair and expand higher order brain function that a stressful year has debilitated and even damaged. The reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, emotional balance, and physical energy that sustains you at the top of your game. When you return from vacation, neurologically you will be ahead of the person you worried would get ahead of you.

Here’s How to Take Your Vacation

Think of your vacation as an intensive care unit for your brain, where no one from the outside is allowed to enter your personal space who might stress you. That means that before you leave for your trip, put your email account on auto-responder.

When you arrive at your destination, put your Blackberry in a drawer. If you have to use it, be disciplined about letting non-urgent business calls go to voice mail.

Here’s a simple approach to making your vacation rejuvenate your brain.

(1)  Start your day in quiet in a place where you won’t be disturbed and follow the process below:

  • Close your eyes or take a downward gaze.
  • Tilt your head toward your heart. Follow your breathing. Imagine each breath softening your heart and opening it wider.
  • Take a few minutes to frame the day in a positive light.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life.
  • Feel appreciation for another day to be with the ones you love.
  • Set the intention to have a relaxing, happy day.
  • Make your goal to succeed at love, peace and joy.

(2) During the day,

  • Practice being present, right here, right now.
  • Practice letting go of worries and judgments.
  • Commit to tuning into your loved ones. Rediscover them all over again.
  • Hold the intention to listen better, judge less, and forgive more. In fact, practice judging nothing that happens while on vacation, from traffic jams to unpleasant people.