The Biological Key to a Long, Healthy, and Rewarding Life

If you’re interested in living a long, healthy, and rewarding life, take note of this: There is a direct correlation between how long and how well you will live and the quality of your connection to other people. The Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard, the longest running study on health, found that the more friends people have, the less likely they will become physically impaired as they age, and the more likely they will be leading happy, successful lives.

A study in Science Magazine reported that the health risk associated with neglecting our social relationships is equal to cigarette smoking, elevated blood pressure and blood lipids, [and] obesity. Social isolation also increases emotional reactivity to stress dumping toxic stress hormones into our system that, when chronic, damage our heart, impair our immune system, alter our DNA, predispose us to depression, and prematurely age us. And, the greater the stress the greater the likelihood of marital problems and family dysfunction.

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The sense of belonging that positive relationships instill has a great deal to do with how we thrive and succeed. Yet many of us don’t get the biological and psychological importance of our connection to one another. Surveys show we are becoming more and more disengaged from friends and family, and we don’t join clubs, volunteer, or interact with neighbors as much as previous generations.

Our stressful careers have taken over to the point that people routinely miss family events, and we tend to think we’re too busy, too stressed, or too tired to spend time with a friend, forgetting the way friendship revitalizes us. Our friends actually have an even bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.

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It would do you enormous good if you took this moment to reflect on a friend or family member who you’ve been meaning to connect with, and followed through in doing so. Calendar it and hold yourself accountable to following through. Make this as important to your health as going to the gym or eating healthy foods or not smoking… because it is that important.

Here’s the story that led science to come to this conclusion.

The first study to reveal the biological connection between interpersonal connection and health was the Roseto Study. It has come to be called the Roseto Effect. Fifty years ago, medical researchers were stumped by a bewildering statistic in Roseto, Pennsylvania, a village populated mostly by descendants of Italian immigrants. The local health officer discovered that Rosetans were nearly immune to the number-one cause of death in America–heart disease. Cardiac mortality rises with age, but not in Roseto. It dropped to near zero for men aged fifty-five to sixty-four.

Moreover, the local death rate for men over sixty-five was half the national average. This made no medical sense, given that most of the men smoked, drank lots of wine, ate a high-fat diet, and made their living at backbreaking work in a rock quarry.

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A team of medical researchers from Oklahoma University descended on the village to try to find out why. They pulled death certificates, performed physical exams, and conducted extensive interviews with villagers. But they could find no biological, genetic, environmental, or any other physical reason to explain the people’s resistance to heart disease–until one of the researchers stumbled across two telling social factor.

  • First, the crime rate in the village was zero.
  • Second, between 1945-1966 none of the Italian families were on public welfare, even though a number of families fell below the poverty line.

When researchers dug deeper, they found that the community took care of their poor. They also found that family structure in Roseto was close-knit. Nearly all the homes contained three generations, and elders were held in high regard. Mealtimes were much more than a matter of eating; they were family time. Community events were also common in Roseto. In warm weather, neighbors took evening strolls and dropped in to visit one another.

Sociologist John Bruhn of the University of Texas said that Rosetans “radiated a kind of joyous team spirit as they celebrated religious festivals and family landmarks. Their social focus was on the family . . .”

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The researchers finally concluded that the village’s immunity to heart disease and an early grave was the result of the strong sense of belonging that people felt.

But sadly, the effect didn’t last. The children of Roseto went off to college in pursuit of the American dream, and after graduation most of them moved to the big city, where the high-paying jobs were. As a result, the community gradually lost its cohesion, and in 1971 the village recorded its first death of a person under the age of forty-five from coronary disease. It went downhill from there.

In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (p. 107) Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University relates a story about a boy who was severely abused, emotionally and physically. After he became a ward of the court, it was discovered that he had zero growth hormones in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down his growth system, threatening his life. He was hospitalized but didn’t improve.

During his hospital stay, he developed a close relationship with one of the nurses, undoubtedly the first loving relationship he had ever experienced. To everyone’s amazement, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. But no one could explain it at first.

The medical staff got its first clue when his friend the nurse went on vacation. As soon as she was gone, the boy’s blood level dropped back to zero. The second clue came when the nurse returned from vacation and his blood level shot up again.

Think about it. The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.

Genes

Scores of other studies have corroborated the Roseto Effect. In a recent review of 148 separate studies involving a combined 308,849 participants, it was found that people who cultivate strong relationships with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers improve their odds of survival by 50 percent. More and more, the evidence shows that who we become is not determined by genes alone. Love has a lot to do with turning up the intensity in genes that strengthen us and turning down genes that weaken us.

So, how do you reconnect and stay connected? The formula for sustaining positive relationships is simple but not always easy. Here it is:

Rx for Connection 570 Smaller wth heart copyIt means listening better, with empathy. It’s judging less and accepting people exactly as they are, and it requires a willingness to forgive. No relationship can last long without forgiveness. It also means asking yourself, Do I want to be right or do I want to be connected, when you’re about to dig in your heels during an argument with a loved one.

 

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Why Dreams Don’t Come True

2016-02-10-1455135173-7716651-RobertoWeigandwithattributecopy.jpgfrom the Huffington Post article

Shame sucks the life out of your dreams and aspirations. It punishes you for getting something wrong and drains the joy out of your triumphs. Shame is why you lose faith in yourself and end up thinking you’re not good enough and never will be. It can reach the point where you’re not even sure about your strengths and talent. Eventually, its false voice that says You’re not good enough and never will be becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy preventing your dreams from coming true.

How do we end up this way?

Shame is largely the result of criticisms and judgments inflicted by parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, and bosses, some of who were well meaning, some not, that steadily programmed your brain for shame reactions. But don’t fret, those faulty neural circuits can be pruned back so that they no longer run your life. I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first let’s briefly look at the problem.

Freud defined shame as the fear of losing people’s respect, which leads to being controlled by the fear of what others think of you. “[It’s] the fear of disconnection,” says Dr. Brené Brown, “of being perceived as flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging.”

It’s extremely stressful. Research at the University of California found that “stress caused by how others view you is extremely powerful, as much or more so than [that] caused from . . . working too hard.” Researchers found that “acute threats to our social self increase stress hormones and proinflammatory cytokine activity occurring in concert with shame.” That adds-up to poor brain function and disease.

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.”

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. 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.

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 accepting that you make mistakes, that you don’t always function in the best way or always achieve the best result. No one does. It’s learning that the more you’re able to experience all of your feelings, the less you’re afraid of any of your feelings, including shame.

Ironically, the courage to be imperfect quiets the shaming voice in your head, and opens the way to a greater sense of wholeness, in which your experience gradually becomes your authority and your guide. Shame no longer negates the better angels of your nature, mistakes no longer stop you, and other people’s judgments no longer control you. Your way is now cleared.

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The Simple Cure to Fatigue and Burnout

from the Huffington Post ~ posted:

Believing we have drained our brain is what drains our brain.

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Can we sustain a high level of energy, regardless of circumstances? The answer is yes.

Most people think that the exhaustion they feel at day’s end is caused by a hard day at work. Yet, if we look at it closely, for most of us the only physically taxing thing we probably did at work that day was walk in and out of the building from the parking lot and type on our keyboards. The rest of our exertion was primarily mental.

Is it possible that the two-pound wonder called the brain is able to expend most of our physical energy simply through thinking?

The answer is no. Sitting at your desk performing cognitive functions doesn’t take much energy. Our brain only needs 12 watts of energy to operate smoothly, which is one-fifth the energy it takes to light up your desk lamp. On top of that, the brain burns only 11 calories an hour, which is the equivalent of one minute of modest exertion on an exercise bike. Clearly, this is not enough to cause exhaustion.

Is it the difficulty of a mental task or the amount of time we concentrate on the task that leaves us exhausted?

Again, the answer is no. Mental fatigue is really not about the task. For example, millions of neurons connecting through a multitude of neural circuits are active when we follow a movie with a plot as complex as The Matrix, or read a book as intricate as War and Peace, or pondering our opponents next move in a chess or card game while planning our own. Yet we can focus on these complex activities for two hours straight and at the end feel stimulated by it.

So what exactly is causing the fatigue that can lead to burnout?

2015-11-10-1447199836-4022960-AmazonLookInsideSmall.jpg It’s our mental attitude. Research has found that if you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be. If you expect a meeting to drain your energy, it will. If the fear of failure overwhelms you, it’s likely to result in bad decisions that lead to failure. In short, we get what we expect to get. A chronically anxious, negative attitude repeatedly activates the stress response system. Stress hormones flood your system with adrenaline and cortisol, elevating heart rate, raising blood pressure, and debilitating the higher order brain function that generates the savvy, creative insight and optimism that solves problems. You’re more prone to emotional upsets, memory lapses, and mistakes. We human being generate all sorts of stress reactions purely in our heads, exciting wild emotions that send the mind and body into an uproar and leave us physically exhausted. More often than not, the driving force behind it isn’t our job or the task or even our boss. It is our attitude towards  people, tasks, and events.

Type A personalities, for example, are the highly competitive workaholics who tend to be overly-reactive and aggressive. Type-A’s face a much greater risk of cardiac death than the more peaceful Type-B’s. But it’s not hard work, a difficult challenge, or even long hours to blame for Type-A’s heart problems. It’s the stress from the hostile struggle their aggressive attitude generates.

Attitude is everything, even in those moments when you feel stressed and anxious. Shifting your perspective when you are afraid of failing to feeling excited in the challenge can make you less likely to burn out in a demanding job. A study in Germany found that professionals who were skilled at shifting their anxiety in this way were less likely to be  frustrated or drained by their work. In another study, students who viewed their stress as excitement reported less emotional exhaustion, did better on exams, and earned higher grades. A positive mindset provides an immunity to emotional exhaustion and predicts greater success with all our goals. A positive shift in attitude, when sustained over a few weeks, can literally rewire our brains for the Good Life.
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The technical term for the way a change of mindset rewires our brain for greater success is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity has huge implications for business. Results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people (APA 2005) have found that every key business outcome improves when people are emotionally positive.

  • People are 31% more productive, three times more creative, and a positive mindset increases sales by 37% (Lyubomirsky, 2005).
  • We are ten times more engaged with work (Achor, 2012), and prosocial in ways that achieve superior customer service (George, 1991), and facilitate teamwork that is highly collaborative. (Barsade, 2002).
  • In addition, a positive mindset fosters supportive relationships, which in turn predicts a longer and healthier life (Danner,2001), and lowers health care costs for companies (APA,2002).

The brain scans on the right show the difference in brain function when we’re positive and well-adjusted compared to when we’re stressed and depressed. Multiply the difference by 1000 and you have the loss in brain power in a company doing nothing to alleviate stress.

jumper-cables-resizedA Kit to Jump Start Your Mindset

It takes a specific practice to change our mindset. But if you build a practice and every day apply the simple steps are proven to change our attitude, with 4 to 6 weeks your brain’s emotional set point will reset to positive. My book The End of Stress helps you build the practice.  In the mean, click here for a starter kit that helps move in this direction.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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Far from the holiday crowd, better known as peace

The holidays, especially the crowds, can be stressful to the point of making us miserable.  Peace is Picasso's Dove Pinterestsupposed to be the reason for season, and yet it’s the polar opposite experience for many.

You can change all that simply by making peace your primary intention this holiday season. It’s easier than you might imagine.

Think back to the last time you were at peace and how it made everything easier. Stress and anxiety are what make life hard. Peace is the one true quality that makes effort feel effortless. And science tells us that a dynamically peaceful mindset makes our higher brain work better, making us calmer, smarter, more creative and optimistic as we face stressors.

What better gift to give yourself this season; and you’ll be giving it to others. Peace, by its very nature, is contagious. Your peaceful vibration extends the gift of peace to everyone around you. Just ask anyone lucky enough to have sat at the feet of the Dalia Lama or Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela.

Starting the Day in Peace

The first step in this direction involves waking up ahead of the morning rush and starting each day in peace. Set the day in motion by making peace your primary goal.  Here’s how:

  • Sit comfortably in a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Tilt your head toward your heart and focus on your breathing.
  • Breathe slowly and evenly, allowing the next breath to wake-up your brain, the breath after that to open your mind, and the breath after that to arouse your heart.
  • Take a moment to feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life, and for another day to share it with the people you love.
  • Reflect for a moment on how you want to feel today.
  • Reflect on the state of mind you want to sustain throughout the day.
  • Reflect on how you want to be with other people.
  • Science has established that belief creates the actual fact. It’s called the “power of expectancy“. So, believe today will be as you imagined.
  • Set your intention to have a great day, accomplishing tasks with the effortless effort that an attitude of peace generates.

Studies show that people who start the day with good intention experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, are more likely to feel connected and supportive toward others, and are also more likely to sleep better that night.  Quite a reward for a five-minute investment.

Letting Go of Fear

Fear is the opposite of peace; that’s obvious. Thus, another step in preserving inner peace involves actively letting go of fear by not believing the stories fearful thoughts spin.  Start by adopting this motto:

If fear is talking, for the love of God, stop listening.

When we don’t believe a fearful thought, it doesn’t turn into stress or anger or depression.

Transcending the Holiday Crowds

Be prepared for crowded streets and stores. If you let it, the holiday crowd will stress you and wear you down, and it can even lead to a panic attack.  There are practical as well as spiritual things we can do to keep our commitment to being at peace, even in a crowded mall.

Being Practical

On the practical side, we can plan shopping treks carefully by avoiding weekends. Stores are crowded most on Saturdays and Sundays, so if you can, take a vacation day or two to shop a week-day. Especially avoid the three worst shopping days, which are:

  • The worst: Friday, November 27 (the day after Thanksgiving)
  • The second worst: Saturday, December 19
  • The third worst: Saturday, December 26

Being Spiritual

On the spiritual side, if crowds frighten you, protect yourself with the power of love by taking a friend with you when you go shopping. Friends are powerful stress busters, simply because they help us feel safe.

Mindfulness

If you are in a crowd and becoming stressed, you can quickly collapse the stress-provoking thinking that’s about to erupt into a reaction by using the Clear Button.  Here’s how:Clear Button for DJG

  • Imagine there is a button at the center of your palm that, when pressed, sends a signal to your brain to stop fearful, worried, judgmental, or pessimistic thinking.
  • Press the imaginary button with your index finger of your opposite hand and keep pressing it.
  • Imagine an electrical signal travels to the brain and begins to quiet your mind.
  • Now become aware of your breath, and begin counting to ‘3’, thinking of each number as a color.
  • Take in a breath, count “1.” On the exhale, think red.
  • Take in a second breath, count “2.” On the exhale, think blue.
  • Take in a third breath, count “3.” On the exhale, think green.

On the next breath, let your mind go blank for a moment for a few seconds. Let go and relax into the present moment. As you refocus on the world around you, make the commitment to be at peace as you relate to whatever comes next.

High Anxiety

If you start to have an anxiety attack, deep-breathing can help.

  • Find a chair in the store or if none are available return to your car.
  • Sit with your back straight and release the tension in your shoulders.
  • Close your eyes, and place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  • Start with a few normal breaths, then breathe deeply. Deep breathing means your belly will rise and fall with every inhale and exhale.
  • Focus on moving your belly as you breathe deeply.

Family

Sometimes, it’s our families that crowd us out. Below is a simple formula for sustaining peace of mind with difficult relatives. It consists for 4 simple reminders:

  1. Listen better,
  2. Judge less,
  3. Forgive more
  4. And during those differences of opinions, ask yourself this: Would I rather be right or peaceful?

I wish you peace.

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