Breathe and Be Present!

When all else fails and you find yourself emotionally spinning or anxious or angry, STOP, take a deep slow breath. Feel the cool air as you inhale and the warm air exhale as you slowly breathe out… Be present! Release the anger or resentment from the past. Let the future wait, without the fear and anxiety of the unknown. Sure this is easier said than done but with some practice, and willingness, you can learn to live more in the appreciation of the present moment.

It really is not that difficult to pay close attention to the cool air as you breathe in, then pause a moment, and then slowly release the breath while allowing the unnecessary thoughts and emotions to slowly, but freely, flow out and away. You have to breathe anyway. Why not do it consciously? And, while you slowly breathe, why not learn to take responsibility for YOUR role in creating the life drama that may be upsetting to you… Sure, there are annoying people and  incidents, but you have a choice to get sucked in to the drama or to not get sucked in. Yes, you can just watch the drama unfold and wonder what your lesson is and what you are supposed to be learning from the weird turn of events.

There are styles of meditation which are practiced for years and built around focusing on slowly breathing. It can take people years to master these styles but it does not have to take years to have important benefits for you in the present moment! In fact, if you walk out into a beautiful natural setting like by the ocean, or by a river/stream, or by the majesty of the mountains with the sky above reaching up to the heavens, you can use your slow breathing to find the beauty and appreciation of the present moment. This will change your attitude quickly, if you let it! You can let go of the fear and be present, basking in the love that accompanies the beauty of the present moment in nature. If you can not get out into nature then use a candle to focus on or maybe a beautiful photograph or painting as a natural mandala to soothe your mind and soul. Even a pleasant memory of a time basking in the beauty of nature will help to soothe you in the present moment if you find yourself slowly breathing deeply with the willingness to “let go.”

You can close your eyes and go inward to feel the cool air as you inhale, pause, and release the warm exhale, slowly. String together 8-12 slow breaths and your heart rate will begin to slow and your muscles will begin to relax. As you slow down, your mind will gently follow into a more peaceful and pleasant state. This is a great skill to share with the people you care the most about… And, also it is worth sharing with people who you do not care the most about. The calming with gently spread like a chain reaction and offer calmness to all of your environment.

The Stress Education Center has information at www.dstress.com . The Masters of the Journey has information and ways to find a spiritual tribe to support you at www.mastersofthejourney.com  Please take good care of yourself and find ways to be “Present.”

Why we are more Overwhelmed Now! Stress

Why we are more stressed now. Do not be a victim to advances in technology.

Written by L. John Mason, Ph.D., Author of the Bestseller; Guide to Stress Reduction

Overwhelmed???

Why we are more stressed now than ever before!

Quality of life has suffered. Health has been affected. The rate of change has accelerated. Productivity can be jeopardized. We are “running” faster than ever and do not feel like we can ever catch up! Personal and professional support is draining away.

We are “stuck” with a “primitive” response mechanism which may never evolve fast enough to keep pace with technology. This ancient survival mechanism is built into our genetic code and has its origin billions of years ago. We still need this response on occasion, but day to day, it may be a major thorn in our side. It has been known since the 1930’s as Walter Cannon described it, the “Flight/Fight” response. This automatic reaction to fight or to flee to save our life is stilled needed, however, the normal daily reactions to less than life threatening situations, can trigger a part of this reaction in a habitual way which is slightly different for each of us.

The problem arises when we ignore the response until our systems have to over-react to get our attention. A major display by this mechanism can look like: tension headaches, tight neck and shoulders, sleeping problems, back pain, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, stroke, heart disease, asthma attacks, panic/anxiety attacks, stomach problems, sexual dysfunction, certain skin irritations, hyper sensitivity, learning problems, memory problems, communication problems, poor decision making, emotional swings, resistance to change, lower productivity, and increased likelihood of worker’s compensation claims due to stress or on the job accidents and injury. Any of these symptoms can affect an individual employee, a team, a department, or the whole company’s bottom line. 70-90% of visits to medical doctor’s offices are for symptoms that are either caused or made worse as a reaction to this primitive stress response.

Symptoms of stress cost companies Billions of dollars annually in lost time, reduced productivity, worker’s compensation claims, replacement of key personnel, even lawsuits, and internal sabotage from overwhelmed employees. Prevention not only can enhance quality of life, it will also raise productivity, reduce sabotage, and assist retention strategies.

To make a point that we are more stressed today than ever before, consider the ever increasing rate of change based on new information. The “Information Age” was coined in the 1980’s. It has created a revolution of new information technologies. To see this point more clearly, think back to common societal changes since the mid to late 1980’s. Did you have cable TV in 1985? How many channels did you get from your cable provider? How many channels of TV do you have today, with cable or satellite dish? Probably 15+ channels in 1985 to now as many as 500 choices. In the mid-1980’s did you have a fax machine? A “pager”? A personal computer? E-mail? A Cellular telephone? You have probably experienced all of these since then. If you still do not have a “Cell phone,” you are not immune from the increased numbers of them… Just go to a movie, a restaurant, church, a meeting…. everywhere you go people are using the new technologies and probably stressing you out. A big one to consider that did not exist in the 1980’s is related to “cell phone” use while driving. Do you call when driving? Do other people behave unsafely when they are distracted by calls while driving?

Do you remember the early 1990’s? You could get new computer with software and not have to upgrade for 2-3 years. Now, if you get a new computer, it is outdated before you get it home and out of the box. Software upgrades seem to happen by the minute… Have you noticed that there are more coffee and espresso stands in the last 10 years? Is this how people cope with the increase in the pace of change and new information? Are there more cases of people going “postal” or “car rage”, or “air rage,” or whatever new anxiety we experience.

A final question, since 1985 has your genetic code “upgraded” to keep up with the pace of the Information Age? It takes thousands of years to biologically evolve! Psychologically and emotionally we must learn coping strategies to ensure our healthy survival. That is why now, more than ever before in human history, we must invest time and resources in preventing the adverse effects of our own stress response. Though it does take time and energy, prevention is worth the price. We can actually save time and get more done, by eliminating the internal distractions of stress. Also, we need to mentor, as positive role models, our children in these coping strategies that they will require to survive the ever-increasing presence of stress in our society.

There are models of companies using various prevention strategies and finding a return on investment. I know of one study with the company Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado where human resources reported a $5 return on every $1 invested in health and wellness programs. The positive return was based on reduced sick time, fewer accidents, increased morale and productivity. The more subtle cost savings due to prevention of sabotage (and resistance to change) from overwhelmed, disgruntled employees is very difficult to measure, but still a significant factor in many organizations. Often, improved communication, allowing for input from all levels of the workforce, can be a valuable stress management and prevention strategy that leadership is learning.

In house trainers, coaching and mentoring can create a tailored program that will best fit your organization. Outside consultants, coaches, and trainers can assist your organization to build the most effective programs, if your in house staff does not have the necessary training or experience. Consider the cost benefits of reduced: sabotage, health claims, accidents, sick time, turnover, and loss of productivity due lack of focus. Proactive retention strategies, which have used employee surveys, include stress management as a highly requested benefit (always in the top three requested programs.)

If you feel that you might benefit from an individualized stress management program to minimize your overwhelm and stress, consider the Stress Education Center’s audios which include a basic stress management series or specific stress management programs for: sleeping, pain management, anxiety control, and even pre-natal stress management. Check these out at www.dstress.com or http://dstress.com/products/specific-health-topics/.

Panic and Anxiety Control Program

Symptoms of panic and anxiety can be confused with life threatening physical disorders! Please consult your physician to determine the source of your symptoms.

Behavioral techniques for controlling panic and anxiety. Help get back in control of your life.
This is an update of specific things you can do to control the symptoms of panic and anxiety attacks. These devastating occurrences can negatively affect your day to day quality of life. But this is not news for anyone suffering from this terrible disorder. Millions of people live in fear of these “attacks.” Major transitions, trauma, and stress can lead to feelings of little or no control over one’s life! This can affect people in major ways.

A scary symptom which can develop is called Panic (or Panic Attack.”) A panic episode can come on suddenly or can awaken you from your sleep with a nasty feeling of apprehension. Some people believe that they are having a heart attack because often there is chest pain, a shortness of breath, neck or arm pain, major stomach upset, an adrenaline rush, lightheadedness, dizziness, and other unpleasant feelings of fear and apprehension. These feelings can be triggered by specific events such as: driving (getting stuck in traffic), shopping, waiting in lines at stores, banks, post offices, etc, feeling trapped in church/movies/classes, traveling distances from home (especially flying, etc.), making a presentation in front of a group of people (drawing attention toward yourself), doing new or unfamiliar activities, meeting new people, basically, doing anything new or seemingly stressful where you may fear “LOSING CONTROL.” Loss of control is the main feature that makes this so frightening for the people who suffer from panic and anxiety. We may not know a panic sufferer by looking at him or her because they can maintain such good control that unless we were to look very carefully we might not notice the nervousness below the surface.

Heart problems, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties (hyperventilation and dizziness are common symptoms of panic/anxiety attacks) should be carefully examined by your physician! If no heart related problem exists, but you are still in great fear of these occurrences of panic then the following behavioral program, with practice, will greatly aid you in preventing or at least minimizing the episodes of panic. Also, remember that exciting/positive actions or events can raise your heart rate. This excitement is not bad or life threatening, but you fear of the physical symptoms of excitement can really hamper your enjoyment of life!

The keys to controlling panic and anxiety are:

• Breathe slowly/diaphragmatically
• Remain in the present… in your body, in a positive way
• Positive self-talk… not negative ruminations
• Avoid caffeine and stimulants
• Regular aerobic exercise
• Regular deep relaxation with Biofeedback Temperature monitoring
• Use relaxation tapes/CD’s regularly!
• Learn to warm your hands and feet
• Get support in confronting and then desensitizing yourself to fears/phobias
• Taper your anti-anxiety medication after you have mastered the relaxation-biofeedback

1. Learn to breathe diaphragmatically
Place a hand over your upper abdomen
Push it OUT as you inhale
Let in move IN as you exhale
Let your chest, shoulder, neck, and back relax as you breathe.
Only on a very deep breath should these parts move in the breath.
This may be the most important Panic Control Technique you can learn!

2. Use any of the Stress Management Audio’s, especially, #205 Stress Management for Controlling Panic and Anxiety, 1-3 times per day for 8-12 weeks. Check the “Products” page at the Stress Education Center’s website.
After achieving a level of controlled deep relaxation, repeat suggestions of “control,” especially control of slow, regular breathing and slow regular heart rate. Suggestions of “letting go” to help achieve hand and foot warming, along with any visualizations that can encourage this increase of peripheral blood flow, would be very useful, as well.

Try to find: StressDots or some sort of temperature training biofeedback device on your hands to learn how to warm your hands with relaxation. When you can consistently get above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (93-95 degrees is ideal) then you can begin to master warming your feet to 90 degrees.
When you can “let go” by relaxing and warming your hands and feet, you will be able to control if not prevent your panic episodes. Then you must develop the confidence in your control so the fear of panic will not control your life.

3. Regular exercise will help you to work off the effects of life’s stresses
3-5 times per week of regular exercise that can elevate your heart rate for 15-45 minutes would be best. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program if you have been inactive for a long while. Even though elevating your heart rate can be a little scary, the release of tensions and the strengthening of your cardiovascular system will have great benefits.

4. Eat regular meals.
Low fat and complex carbohydrates are better than fast foods with lots of sugar. AVOID CAFFEINE and other stimulants. Caffeine is found in coffee, black teas, cola drinks, chocolate, some over-the-counter pain medications, and other foods/drugs. Read labels. Eating as closely as you can to natural foods (lots of: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) will benefit any one.

5. Practice positive self-talk.
Do not let your fears escalate into you losing control of your body and your mind. By breathing slowly and staying in your body, in present time, you avoid falling into the negative pattern of fear and panic.

6. Get support from your friends, doctor, and a therapist if necessary.
Check your area for panic/anxiety support or treatment groups! Regular use of anti-anxiety medications may be better than just taking your prescription only after the panic has begun. Reduce your medication in a supervised way after you have mastered the relaxation/biofeedback control techniques.

Remember you can get back in control of your body and your life! You must make this a priority so you can avoid being a victim to this set of scary symptoms.

Panic/anxiety is not always your enemy. This reaction is designed to protect you and may teach you something about the stresses and transitions you are going through. Denial of these challenges only creates a more stubborn set of symptoms that can be more debilitating.

Other Good books that can help you:David Barlow, Ph.D. and Jerome Cerny, Psychological Treatment of Panic, Guilford Press, New York. 1988.

Susan Lark, MD, Anxiety & Stress: A Self-Help Program, Westchester Publishing Company, Los Altos, CA. 1993.

For more information regarding the Stress Education Center Panic/Anxiety Control Program visit the website at www.dstress.com or call 360-593-3833.

Thoughts That Keep You Awake: Better Sleep

Almost every one of us has had our sleep interrupted or prevented by uncontrollable thoughts that run through our conscious minds. Reduced quality of rest has a negative effect on our performance and quality of life in many situations. So learning to control these distracting thoughts, or perhaps better, preventing these thoughts from racing through our minds, when we should be sleeping, would be a positive. Easier said than done…

I have had difficulty with avoiding certain anxiety producing conversations with my wife at bedtime or just after the “lights go out.” This is not unique because this can be a good time to have an undistracted conversation. However, an unsettling conversation as I am trying to let go of the thoughts of the day can open the doors for consideration of the dilemmas of life which can prevent an easy path to a restful sleep.

These conversations can be important and necessary. It is just the timing of these moments of communication that I find difficult. There are better times in the day to work on these important subjects. The bottom line is that at “bedtime” there is not much that you can do with the new information other than ruminate or fret over it.

The things that are the most stressful are things that you care the most about but which you can not control. As an example, parents usually care about what happens to their child (or children) but often the parent can not control every detail regarding what our offspring will be confronted by. When we experience difficulties with jobs/careers, finance, relationships, health concerns (for ourselves or our loved ones,) changes in our economy, weather, or even the process of aging, we can find ourselves troubled by distracted minds stressed by these events that we have little or no ability to control. These distractions dance through our minds and set off our primitive survival responses and this, in turn, does not allow our minds to relax and drift into soothing, restful sleep.

Medications can relax some of the systems that can keep us awake. Drugs can mask the emotional challenge, but not solve the roots of this challenge. Drug use can also lead to physical and emotional dependency which creates more problems. Better solutions include appropriate communication and problem solving. Some people can benefit from adjusting their attitudes realizing that the things they can not control may be better tolerated if one learns to accept the issue and to build a more solid emotional foundation to help stabilize our responses in these difficult times. (Again, easier said than done, but worth developing as a preventive mechanism.)

Self-care will help give you strength to tolerate these difficult situations. Physical exercise, eating well (healthy), and regular relaxation/meditation will help. Counseling which can help create emotional and spiritual support may be helpful, additionally. Most importantly, deal with your challenges during the day. It may not be best to discuss, or to mentally work on these issues at bedtime.

The 50 to 1 Countdown exercise that I teach in other blogs, articles, and in the book is a great technique to help quiet the mind and promote a deep and restful sleep. Consider trying it. For more individualized coaching, consider our professional coaching for enhancing performance and productivity by contact us through the Stress Education Center’s website at Stress Education Center’s website

Please take good care of yourself.

Letting Go a Meditation

(From a meditation on a beautiful Fall day… and, for future meditations to find peace…)
Consider this meditation by reading each line slowly and pausing to experience these words/thoughts.

Experience the feelings of being angry.
Experience the feelings of fear.
Experience the feelings of being sad.
Experience the feelings of being anxious.
Experience the feelings of the lack of control.

Learn the lesson of anger and accept it.
Learn the lesson of fear and accept it.
Learn the lesson of sadness and accept it.
Learn the lesson of anxiety and accept it.
Accept the lack of control. Accept that death is the outcome of living. It is not the enemy, it is an important transition.

Let go of anger.
Let go of fear.
Let go of sadness.
Let go of anxiety.
Let go of frustration.

Now say:
I am letting go of my anger.
I am letting go of my fear.
I am letting go of my anxiety.
I am letting go of my sadness.
I am letting go of my frustration with my lack of control and I am learning to accept the process of death for my loved ones and for myself. If possible, find grace in the final transition.

I am Joy!
I am Love!
I am Blessed!
I am Peace!

In my heart, I feel the glimmer of peace from acceptance…

Fanning the Flames of “Media Created” Anxiety

A Break From Unnecessary Drama

Do you ever feel caught up in the “Media” frenzy when disasters strike? Do stories regarding dramatic weather, or planes landing in the Hudson River, or banking scandals, or babies born by “in vitro fertilization,” or even celebrities faux pas ever seem blown out of proportion by “Hype?” We news consumers are often bombarded by the media as they attempt to gain, and then hold, our attention…

Tips for gaining control of your life…
The news media is more than a source for information and current events. It has become a “roller coaster ride” of drama and self-aggrandizement. We consumers of these presentations are swept up and our visceral anxiety responses are fanned into a frenzy. But why are swept up in this media blitz of emotion?

Since the dawning of the “Information Age” in the 1970’s, we have been steadily drawn into an escalating 24/7 need for worldwide news and the media has provided us with anxiety producing excitement from every corner of the world. Technology allows this instant communication and seems to encourage our “need to know” mentality. We “need to know” because we have a very primitive survival mechanism that stimulates our external focus on any threats, even perceived threats that may exist thousands of miles away, so our unconscious minds can protect us by preparing to fight or to flee from “danger.” When the Flight/Fight Response is triggered, our reactive, survival mechanisms take priority. We can react with “knee jerk” habitual patterns that are unique to our learned responses, but are born from the survival reaction. One major reaction that occurs for many people under threat is a reduced ability to creatively problem solve and communicate effectively. We react and often do not really think things through. When this occurs, mistakes can be made. Accidents can happen. People or projects can get hurt. Relationships can be harmed. Our world can suffer by becoming a victim to poor rational thought in cases of fear or media driven anxiety. It is an extra “heaping, helping” of annoying distractions that take us away from self-care, focus on priorities, and creative pursuits that promote productivity and well-being.

Just before 9/11/2001 our news media changed. Do you remember? About 3 months prior to the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, the television news media upgraded their reporting to include, not just a “talking head” (reporter) giving us the “news” but also text messages flying by on the bottom of the screen, and often a graphic on the left of the “talking head.” Now we have to deal with 3 sources of information simultaneously. This multi-tasking creates added frenetic anxiety in coping with this increased input. Have humans evolved to keep pace with this new use of technology? When we are threatened, we have a response that NEEDS to know what is going on around us so that we can take action and survive any threat. We are often overwhelmed. We have learned to cope by becoming unconscious regarding this media craziness. The media fights to keep our attention. The media has evolved their approach to sensationalize their coverage, to yell at us even louder, with more graphic events that “demand” our attention. Even the weather news whips us with “STORM” coverage that makes weather events major news, even when it occurs hundreds of miles away!

To combat this media blitz on our senses we must do three things. First, we must become aware that we can become victims to sensationalism that may not necessarily be an immediate threat, and filter the news so that we can respond more appropriately. Secondly, as my friend Rodger Ruge suggests, we should consider a media “Fast,” where we reduce and limit the amount of media news that we subject ourselves to. For many of us, turning off the news, especially before bedtime, would be a very good option. The third necessary step is to practice self-care and strengthen our emotional foundations by eating better, avoiding caffeine, getting regular exercise, and practicing daily relaxation.

Awareness of the media frenzy can help protect us and our children from the “overwhelm.” Since the mid 1980’s, we have been deluged by new technologies that force us to react to news and information that is swirling around us. We have experienced: pagers, fax machines, cable TV with 500 channels, Cell phones, text messaging, e-mail, internet information, changes in media coverage of world “disasters,” “robo-calls” at dinner time, and huge expectations that we are plugged in 24/7 and can respond instantaneously even when we are driving our cars…. This is crazy making! Some people can handle this gracefully, in fact, some people can thrive in this environment. But most of us are just victims to our technology and can benefit from setting some limits on the ways that we use, and react to, our technologies… We need to evolve and to create survival strategies that meet our unique, individual requirements.

Please be smart and figure out how to “not become a VICTIM” to the media and our newest technologies!

When we see natural disasters on the TV, we think that we filter the visceral effects on our survival systems, but our unconscious often reacts to the possible threats that are perceive through our visual and auditory senses. When we witness “coverage” of war zones, murders, attacks, rapes, fires, or vehicular accidents, we may believe that this does not affect us at a “conscious level,” but we are still triggering the flight/fight response in some systems at an unconscious level. Have you ever noticed your heart race or your gut tighten when confronted by news or movies? Does your neck, jaw, or back react to accidents or disasters that you witness in person or on TV? Do thoughts of “media images” ever pop into your conscious mind as you try to sleep? We are bombarded by negative media attacks almost everyday.

Do media pundits ever whip you up with their “news coverage” or editorials so that anger or fear seem to rise to the surface of you or your loved ones? This can be emotionally and physically hard on our systems…. Be aware and do not get caught up in the media circus, if at all possible.

Final note. Many people are studying and applying the principles of the “Law of Attraction” believing that goal setting and positive attitudes toward achieving these goals is essential to success. World class competitive athletes have been using these “Sports Psychology” techniques in their training regimen for decades to achieve advantages in mental preparation in their events. When we get caught in the sensationalized, negative reporting by the various media we are sapped of our positive thoughts and energy. We lose our focus on attracting success and positive outcomes. In fact, we can be overwhelmed by negativity. This can strip you of your ability to problem solve in positive and creative ways. Negative thoughts can attract negative outcomes, mistakes, and ill health. Avoiding negativity (and negative thoughts) can be a path to better health and lead to positive outcomes. “Dwell in the Light” (Choose “Joy”) and when you feel overwhelmed, consider turning off the negative newscasts and immerse yourself in a book or audio program, or a video that will inspire you with positive; thoughts, actions, and emotions.

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the country’s leading stress management expert and the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Success & Executive Coaching and Training.

Please visit the Stress Education Center’s website www.dstress.com. If you would like information or a targeted proposal for training or coaching, please contact us at (360) 593-3833.

Commuter Stress Management – Celebrating Beauty

I had a brief visit with “Mr. Scruffy” as I rode in to work one day. It was good to see him. He was perched on his regular lamp post as he scanned his domain. I was blessed to live on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, northwest of Seattle, WA. The Northwest has many beautiful sights to behold. There are the Olympic Mountains, the Cascade Range, the San Juan Islands, the Puget Sound itself, and the many types of wildlife that grace our landscape. In my neighborhood, there are at least 30 Bald Eagles that live much of the year within about 5 miles of my home.

That day, I set a new eagle spotting record, for me, as I drove to work in Coupeville. I counted 7 eagles perched in various trees along my way. There were 5 white crowned mature eagles and 2 immature eagles. I was looking for them on my familiar drive into the office. With every sighting my heart felt joy and I felt that nature was allowing me a special moment. (FYI, I have become familiar with some of my special neighbors and my wife and I named “Scruffy” because he appears older and unkempt compared to some of the younger mature eagles we see. But know that “Mr. Scruffy” is beautiful when he flies. He reminds me of Peggy Fleming, the ice skater, because he is graceful, elegant and without wasted effort as he soars the winds over Whidbey Island.)

I am in my tenth year of living in the Northwest, having moved from Sonoma County in California’s “Wine Country.” Sonoma County is also a beautiful place to live, though traffic and increasing population has added challenges to that part of our world. There are no Bald Eagles in my old neighborhood, but there were many other magnificent features of nature. Sonoma County has grand Redwood trees, amazing coast line, rolling pasture lands, oak grass lands, and of course, the vineyards that are picturesque any time of the year. Though I am vigilant when I am driving, I celebrate the beauties of the natural world when I drive down all but the most congested of roads.

In my first book, I coached “commuters” to play a game as they drive to or from work. Within the common sense limits of safety, I ask them to look out into their world and notice something new on every commute. Or, I ask that they find an aesthetically pleasing natural, or even man made, object to celebrate. Perhaps a pleasing or unique cloud formation or a classically designed house or building. Maybe a special vehicle drives by. Or for me, the noticing of birds or wildlife makes me appreciate the present moment of time. And that is the lesson… release your thoughts of past or future events and bask in the present moment, in a “positive” way. Smile as you celebrate the sharing of a special and unexpected sighting. At the end of your commute, whether arriving at work or at home, you will feel less stressed and better focused to get on with the next activities of your day.

This technique may not work as well in speeding Los Angeles freeway driving or when gale force winds threaten to blow your car into another lane of traffic but in many other situations turning your focus to something positive and being in the “present” can create a better commuter experience. I challenge you to find, and then celebrate, the best sights that you might encounter upon your commute. Find beauty or find the most interesting things that you experience along your way. Try it. It works!

Drive carefully and DO NOT TEXT MESSAGE while driving, ‘cause that is dumb!

For more stress management suggestions which can assist you as a commuter, go the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com

Heart Disease and Stress

Whether you are consciously aware of your body’s response to stress or not, everybody will have their cardio-vascular system respond when you are subjected to stress. For many people, the primary habitual response to stress manifests with significant changes their cardiovascular system. If your life was threatened, your body will respond with the “Flight-Fight Response.” This response would prepare our bodies to fight or to flee in a life saving reaction. The way this response may affect the cardio-vascular system includes: increased heart rate (to pump more blood to muscles and brain for survival,) changes in the pattern of relaxed blood flow (the blood is directed to muscles and brain and away from hands/fingers, feet/toes (they get cool/cold), and digestive/reproductive organs,) and increased blood pressure.

This suggests that the heart rate changes and blood flow patterns change when you are in survival or in a “stressed out” mode. 70% of people with high blood pressure have “Essential” or “Situational” hypertension which means that their blood pressure goes up in the doctor’s office as a response to fear or anxiety. This can also be referred to as “White Coat” hypertension. High blood pressure, if chronic, can damage blood vessels, the kidneys, and makes the heart have to work extra hard to pump against the higher pressures in this system. This can lead to severe health problems. Warning: since this is potentially very serious consult with your physician and get the proper tests to determine how your body responds.

Denial regarding the important negative effects of stress is very common with people who suffer from heart disease. Since reducing stress seems impossible, people ignore the positive results can occur. People, for convenience, will gravitate to medicines to control symptoms of heart disease but the side-effects can be very costly and sometimes the positive results from medication can be limited. Please consider “connecting” with your heart and your body to gain control of your habitual response to stress.

Learning to relax includes learning to “Let Go” with the circulatory system. This will include, slowing heart rate, a vasodilation of blood vessels to reduce blood pressure, and the warming of the hands and feet. All of these responses are exactly opposite the stress response.

Stress can also raise the level of free floating cholesterol which the body produces and releases to patch tears in blood vessels that can occur when the blood pressure goes up. Over time this repair work can create “hardening of the arteries” which also can lead to fatal health challenges like heart disease, strokes (CVA’s), and kidney damage.

If you have had a “by-pass” operation or stents placed in a blood vessel to keep it open or if you wish to help to prevent these situations, consider using regular relaxation, getting more physical exercise, and making dietary changes to prevent this situation from getting as bad as it can, as fast as it will. If your genetics pre-dispose you to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol then seriously consider these steps to prevent damage and possible early death.

Articles at our website describe stress management for high blood pressure techniques that can help to lessen the possible negative effects of life’s stress on your systems. Look for the article on Temperature Training Biofeedback as an important add-on which allows the process of self-awareness and stress management to work most effectively. Go to the “articles” page at the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com for access to this information.

You can get back in control of your body’s habitual response to holding stress in your cardiovascular system with 8-12 weeks of regular practice. These practices will end up saving you time and energy, but may also add “quality” years to your life.

Holiday Survival

Happy Holidays… They are headed our way, ready or not!

I know that for many people this is easier said than done… It is the season for high expectations of happiness, joyful family gatherings, and limitless supplies of good food and cheerful gifts. Most of the time, expectations seem to mess things up! This time of year can make people irritable if not crazy because we expect so much of ourselves and the people around us. Sadness, depression, and anxiety begin to peak at this time of year for many people. Many people are struggling with financial challenges, even homelessness and these people can feel left out of Happiness in the Holidays. Illness and losses of family or friends, even from the past, can make this season difficult traumatic to celebrate. The short days and Winter weather for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere also can take an emotional toll on the Holidaze. There may be changes of schedule, travel, or dietary changes that can make positive, joy filled celebrations a bit difficult at this season of the year.

Consider the Holiday Survival Tips from the article below. This can be found in a more printable form at the Stress Education Center’s website, www.dstress.com, on the “Articles” page.

Please take good care of yourself and have some sympathetic understanding of people you may meet who may be struggling during the Holiday Season.

Holiday Survival tips
10 basic strategies to more gracefully survive holiday stress. Written by L. John Mason, Ph.D., Author of the Bestseller; Guide to Stress Reduction.
Are expectations of happiness in the holidays making you sad? Do you want to be happier and healthier this holiday season? Would you like to enhance your holiday stress management skills?

This holiday season will be stress filled. World economic swings and terrorism have created conditions that have changed our holiday celebrations. Attitudes towards travel, being with family, celebration in the face of fear and sadness, will make this year’s holiday season different than in years past. Adjustments will help to create new ways of participating in the holiday events. These can be both positive and negative. Consider new traditions in self-care. Search for community support that will open your heart to the joys that are possible in this season. Remember the things that are the most stressful are the things that you care the most about, but have the least control over. World events, the economy, the way people respond, and our families (and children) are major stressors that we wish we could control, but often cannot.

1. Schedule Time for Self-Care! Regular exercise and time for stress management are a must. Find what techniques work best for you, and use these tools. This is non-negotiable time devoted for your health and well being.

2. Eat Well Moderation is the key. Do not use alcohol or drugs for stress management. Do not “over” celebrate. Avoid fast foods.

3. Avoid Caffeine Minimize the impact of caffeine on your life.

4. Plan the Holiday… Set some limits. Do not over spend your financial and emotional resources.

5. Control Your Expectations of: Happiness, Joy, Sadness, and Loneliness

6. Be Nice to Others Give compliments and smile. Around negative, anxious, or rude people, take a breath and remember that you do not need to get pulled into other people’s holiday misery or their craziness.

7. Reach Out for Support Talk with “stable” friends or family, or clergy, or mental health counselors.

8. Humor Helps… Have Fun Laugh daily, if possible.

9. Stay in the Present! Mentally and emotionally, do not be consumed by things that happened in the past or fear events in the future. Enjoy the people you are with and make the very best of the situation that you are in.

10. Find the True Spirit of the Holidays Share “the Spirit” of this holiday with those people who you love or care about. Give love and support to the people of the world. Volunteer or go out of your way to be thoughtful and kind. A smile or a hug can go a long way. Sometimes it is just listening… Show others that they have value and that you are aware of their special qualities.
Even learn to let others give to you!

Dangers of Ignoring the Impact of Stress: Why are we in denial?

Have you ever experienced any stress? Is the world more stressful now than it was 20 years ago? Have you ever experience physical or emotional symptoms that are made worse as a response to stress? Do you believe that the best solution to stress is getting drunk or taking drugs?

I ask these questions many times per month to groups I train or individuals I coach. Without exception, people respond by saying that there is plenty of stress out in the world. It can be a distraction and effect physical and emotional health.

Now I ask you, what do you do, on a daily basis, to control your responses to stress? Do you meditate or practice stress management for 20 minutes per day? Most people say that they are too busy for 20 minutes of relaxation. People think that there is some easier way to control stress like taking medication. It is not convenient to practice stress management, so why bother to do it? The other response that many people use when confronted by the challenges of stress is to a point a finger and then blame someone or something else, rather that to take any responsibility for ones own habitual response to life’s stress.

Do not believe me without testing this out for yourself, but most people find that by practicing 20 minutes of deep relaxation, daily, they will actually save time and energy. Research suggests that 20 minutes of deep relaxation can take the place of as much as 2 hours of sleep and the sleep that you do get will be deeper and more restful. When I first heard this statistic I did not believe it, as most of you will not. I tested the statement and after 3 months I discovered that I required less sleep. Instead of needing 8.5 hours of sleep, I was getting rested with only 7 hours of sleep. So I invested 20 minutes and required 1.5 hours less sleep time, so I came out ahead by one hour and ten minutes. Many of my Executive Coaching clients, after I convince them to try the 20 minutes of stress management, report that they get more work done in less time, with less energy, because they are better able to focus and make fewer mistakes. I challenge you to try this activity for 8-12 weeks and find the benefits that will surface.

People resist trying new things even if these “new things” are good for them. In fact, people are so overwhelmed that most of us are apathetic about taking good care of ourselves. We simply do not have the energy to care… Making time, even just 20 minutes per day, is painful and difficult. Motivation is low for using stress management preventively. Stress can cause headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, rapid heart rates, anxiety, depression, GI complaints, sexual dysfunction, back or neck pain, and poor quality of life, and yet most people would rather develop annoying or dangerous symptoms rather than practice stress management…

Most people have an unconscious need to get beaten up by stress as if it were their badge of honor for surviving our hectic world… There are a few genetic immunes who thrive on stress, with no sleep, and they make the rest of us mere mortals look bad. These “immunes” are in denial and stress will eventually affect their health or their relationships in negative ways. In Japan there is a word “Karoshi” which translates; people who work themselves to death. There is an addiction to work in our society and we need to be aware that the long term consequences of this attitude are high costs to our health, relationships, and quality of life.

When we are younger, we can get away with not sleeping or self-care. We are young and strong and flexible, but as we get older, we lose our flexibility and our strength. We have to learn how to do things smarter instead of “muscling through.” If we don’t, we will pay the price and our denial will not save us from our suffering.

Things in life that are the most stressful are the things that you care the most about but that you can not control. The only thing that you can control is the way that you respond in these difficult situations but this can take time and effort.

Please take your head out of the sand and take good care of yourself. Even if this means spending 20 minutes per day with stress management. It will save you time, energy, and even money in the long run.

L. John Mason, Ph.D. is the country’s leading expert on stress management and the author of the best selling “Guide to Stress Reduction.” Since 1977, he has offered Executive Coaching and Training. In 1978, he opened the Stress Education Center www.dstress.com.