Tag Archives: stress

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever

(This is part 1 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Overeating is easy to do, especially when you’re indulging in an unusually delicious meal and particularly this time of year. It’s also easy because there are many factors that cause us to overeat, including stress and noshing too fast—both of which we likely experience or do on an almost daily basis. Fortunately, there are many tactics you can use to stop overeating once and for all, from slowing down to learning your body’s hunger cues. Use these tips to get your eating on track so you can feel fueled and satiated instead of full and frustrated.

  1. Look Ahead. – If you’re surrounded by unhealthy food all the time, it can be easy to eat all day long, whether or not you are hungry. Here’s one way to avoid this temptation: Think about how you’ll feel after you eat too much—like those times when you know you’re full, but there’s still food on your plate. A similarly powerful tactic is thinking about how you’ll feel if you don’t eat the food. In almost every case you feel proud, happy and more satisfied than if you’d indulged unnecessarily. Tip for Success Before you grab the doughnut from your office kitchen—especially if you’ve already had a full breakfast—think to yourself: How will I feel when I finish this? Better yet: How will I feel if I walk away right now? Make this a habit, doing it every time you reach for an unnecessary snack; sometimes you’ll want to indulge and that’s okay. But you may find that you say “no” a lot more often than you say “yes.”
  2. Eat Slower. It takes time for your stomach to tell your mind that you’re full because the process of feeling satiated takes time. “Stretch receptors in the stomach are activated as it fills with food or water; these signal the brain directly through the vagus nerve that connects gut and brainstem. Hormonal signals are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine,” explains Ann MacDonald, a contributor to Harvard Health. This process of sending signals from your gut to your brain can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes, which is why it’s important to eat more slowly. Eating too fast is a surefire way to overeat because we get this cue well after we’ve already eaten too much. Tip for Success The next time you eat, set a timer for 20 minutes and see how long it takes you to feel full, paying close attention to the cues your body is sending you. This will give you an approximation of how long it takes your body to feel full, which you can use to stop overeating in the future. Continue eating slowly until you notice that “I’m full” feeling.
  3. Eat Mindfully. In our on-the-go world, we’re often eating breakfast in the car, rushing through lunch at our desk, and half-heartedly noshing on dinner while watching our favorites shows. In all of these situations, your focus isn’t on the food you’re eating. It’s on driving, working or watching television, which can lead to overeating. When you’re not paying attention to your body, it’s easy to miss the “I’m hungry” cue—just like when you eat too fast. Tip for Success  Make a rule to eat at least one meal a day without doing anything else. Notice the difference in recognizing your satiation (feeling full) cues and how satisfied you are. Slowly increase this to two meals each day and eventually to all three.
  4. Get Your Stress Under Control It seems as though there’s always something stress us out, whether it’s work or a family issue. This stress not only wreaks havoc on your body physically, causing everything from chronic high blood pressure and diarrhea, to headaches, chest pain and more, it’s causing you to overeat. When stressed, your body releases cortisol, which also happens to increase appetite. Whether you’re hungry or not, your body is craving food, and to quell that “hunger” you eat. In many cases, you end up eating high-fat, sugary foods, making the overeating even worse. Tip for Success If you can’t reduce the amount of stress in your life right now, the next step is to recognize the potential for overeating and stop it before it starts. When stressed, rely on portioning your food, and when you go out to eat, get half of your meal put in a box for later before you even start eating. If you’re hungry for a snack, when you normally aren’t, check in with yourself: Is this stress or am I really hungry?
  5. Eat Before You’re Hungry. This idea may sound odd, but think about these two scenarios: You eat dinner a little early, not because you’re very hungry but because you know you’re going out with friends and don’t want to order out—or you wait until you’re starving and eat post-drinks. You pour a glass of wine, browse the fridge, take your time making dinner, eat until you’re relatively full and then head out. You decide not to eat before going out because you’re not hungry. You wait to eat dinner until 8pm, after you’ve gone out for drinks. Now you’re ravenous. You dive into your cabinets looking for whatever is easiest to make, and dig into the first thing you see. You eat so fast, you don’t realize how full you are—and now you’re stuffed and wishing you hadn’t eaten so much. In the second scenario, you’re so hungry that you may be experiencing slight nausea or a headache from the hunger. But you may even eat unhealthier foods because you’ll likely eat one of the first things you find; forget about taking time to make a healthy dinner. You may have similar experiences if you wait too long to have lunch at work, or eat breakfast late in the morning. Tip for Success  Most people tend to eat around the same time every day. Set an alarm on your phone for an hour before you’d normally eat each meal so you remember to nosh earlier than usual. You’ll quickly find that you’re more likely to make rational healthy choices about what you’re eating and how much.
  6. Give Yourself Time. How many times have you looked down at your plate, knowing that you’re full, and finished it anyway? When you’re done, you feel full and mad at yourself: Why did I eat the rest of that? I didn’t need it and now I feel like crap. It’s hard to resist food in the moment, thanks to our need for instant gratification. But giving yourself time to decide whether or not to finish the plate may be exactly what you need. Tip for Success The next time you’re in a moment where you would normally eat more, but know you shouldn’t, stop for 10 minutes. Give yourself time to decide if you want to eat the rest of the food on your plate. Almost every time, you’ll be happy to toss or save the rest of the food when your 10 minutes is up.
  7. Pay Attention to All Your Hunger Cues. If you’re waiting for your stomach to growl, you may be setting yourself up to overeat, because we don’t all experience the same hunger cues. Sometimes it shows up as a headache or a bad mood that comes on suddenly. Knowing how hunger can show up in your body is key to recognizing it before it’s too late and you’re starving. Other potential hunger signals include:
    • Growling stomach
    • Nausea
    • Headache
    • Low energy
    • Suddenly irritable (“hangry”)

Tip for Success Make note of which hunger cues you experience each time you eat. Slowly you’ll discover what means “I’m hungry” for your body, allowing you to eat right away rather than waiting until later, when you’re ravenous, and therefore more likely to overeat.

Stop Overeating. It can be so hard to say no when food is right in front of you—and so easy to ignore that full feeling and eat until you’re so full you literally need to lay down because it hurts to sit or stand. Stop the cycle of overeating once and for all with these simple tips. Test each one to see which works best for you and then stick with it. Once it becomes a habit, you’re more likely to say no when you’re full and indulge when your body needs the fuel.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 2 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 5

(This is Part 5 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

High-Blood-PressureThink for a moment about the pipes in your home right now. If you have running water, there is a pressure that keeps water moving through the pipes. Same thing if your house is heated by hot water; there is pressure in the lines to keep hot water moving throughout the house to keep it warm. If there’s not enough pressure, the running water trickles and there’s little to no heat and if there’s too much pressure there could be a pipe or valve that bursts leaving you with no water and no heat. Our bodies work almost identically to the example here with pipes and water, only the pipes are the blood vessels and the water is our life force, blood.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls (systole) and the subsequent recoil of the vessel walls pushing the blood continually along (diastole). Without enough pressure, it is difficult to get blood to and from the heart efficiently, often resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness. Too much pressure and there is stress on the body that is almost undetectable and felt without the use of a blood pressure reading. High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body and contributes to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), rupturing of the vessels, and to the potential development of heart failure.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure can vary greatly from measurement to measurement and situation to situation. (i.e. the white coat syndrome). An individual will be diagnosed as hypertensive when blood pressure is elevated for an extended period of time. Often there are no warning signs and 65 million American adults or about 1 in 3 people have high blood pressure.

What Is “Normal” Blood Pressure?

A blood pressure reading has a top number (the systolic) and bottom number (the diastolic). The ranges are:

  • Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
  • Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, including:

  • Smoking – preventable
  • Being overweight or obese – preventable
  • Lack of physical activity – preventable
  • Too much salt in the diet – preventable
  • Too much alcohol consumption (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day) – preventable
  • Stress – preventable
  • Older age
  • Genetics
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Adrenal and thyroid disorders

Blood pressure is of vital importance to our health, well-being and existence. Even though it’s something most of us probably take for granted, it’s one of the few health markers where we have a good opportunity of controlling what we can control. Simply just letting it go or waiting until a medication is prescribed is like taking a walk on a short plank. Sooner or later, you’re going to fall. Get it checked periodically and take charge of your plumbing.

See you tomorrow for Day 6 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

 

Recession Proof Your Health

recession-proofDoes your head hurt as the bills pile up? Is your heart racing as your investments and job opportunities head south? In these tough economic times, financial stress can hurt not only your wallet but also your body and your mind. According to a recent poll from the Associated Press, the recession and consequential debt may be harming the health of up to 16 million Americans. Although a recession does not kill tens of thousands of people in a single catastrophic event, it harms health in the long run. The consequences of dealing with financial uncertainties can be devastating. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and other economic woes are boosting a higher than normal demand for mental-health services. Money woes can trigger insomnia, anxiety and depression, rob you of time to get exercise and cook healthy foods, and make it harder to afford regular medical care. Aside from turning off the TV and ignoring the press, it’s time to fight back and protect your greatest asset–your health.  So what can you do to protect your health during the recession? Plenty. And you can do it with just a little extra effort — and very little money.

Bail Out Your Stress Reaction

A certain amount of stress in life is normal and healthy. But many people have too much or handle it poorly, and that can make us sick. It can lead to alcohol and substance abuse, headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also raise the risk of obesity, diabetes, infections, back pain, irritable bowel syndrome and many other conditions. The wild stock market ride, rising foreclosure rates, and increasing layoffs may give you a queasy feeling in your stomach, but it’s your heart that is really at increased risk during a recession, cardiologists say. “We may not think of chemicals when it comes to matters of the heart, but much of the way the heart responds to stress comes down to body chemistry”, explains Cam Patterson, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill. And several different chemical molecules can harm us as a result of stress. Our bodies react to stress by producing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Especially for those already at risk for heart disease, the results of an outpouring of stress hormones can be deadly — or at least risky. They can build up over time, with effects that lead to damage of arterial walls and weakening plaque that may already be in a vessel. “They make the plaques more likely to explode,” Patterson says.  “Stress, anxiety, and depression all affect heart health,” says Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, section head of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. One major effect is accelerated atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate are also side effects of stress.

To keep financial stress from making you sick, the American Psychological Association (APA) advises you to:

  1. Pause and not to panic. Stay aware of current events without succumbing to media hysteria. Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused.
  2. Identify stressors and make a plan. Review your finances and note which areas are stressing you. List ways you can trim spending and better handle your money. Budget for health care, food, grooming and other expenses. Write up a financial plan and review it regularly. Contact creditors if you’re having difficulty paying bills.
  3. Examine how you handle financial stress. Beware of negative behaviors such as smoking, drinking, gambling or fighting with your spouse. Get help if needed.
  4. View problems as opportunities. Realize that blowing your paycheck at the mall doesn’t bring happiness. Explore ways to simultaneously save money and boost physical and mental health such as walking, biking, cooking and having a family game or story night. Learn how healthy behaviors can save you money. If you’re overweight, for example, losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight may save you thousands of dollars in medicals costs over your lifetime.
  5. Chill out. Learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation. Even sharing your experiences in support groups can help your health during the recession.

Health is Wealth

When the economy is stressed, you need your health more than ever. Resist the urge to react to stress with unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or excess drinking. Look for positive, inexpensive ways to manage stress, such as:

Exercise. I know you’ve heard that exercise is important, but during a recession, your health may depend on it. This is particularly true if you’ve been laid off. The tendency may be to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed — or sit in front of the TV. Don’t. “Get your day started with a brisk walk”, says Winston Gandy, MD, co-director of cardiac ultrasound at Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta. Hazen recommends, “Do jumping jacks, take a milk crate and turn it upside down and step on it — do something.” Repeated studies have shown the benefits of exercise to heart health, with as much as a 15% decrease in mortality rates with relatively minor changes in one’s exercise routine. Running, walking and hiking are fun activities to get your heart pumping, while having fun with your friends. The bonus: it doesn’t cost a dime!

Social support. Family and friends are more important than ever in tough economic times. Researchers have documented that isolation harms our health and social support improves it. Connect with family and friends. Check out support groups or online communities. Join neighborhood organizations.

Sleep  Sleep is not just a time of rest, but of restoration,” says Charles Raison, MD, director of the Mind-Body Clinic in the department of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. While we are sleeping, our bodies repair a lot of the damage that happens during the day. Although we need eight hours of sleep a night, many Americans live in a sleep-deprived state, and that’s not good for our health during the recession, or any other time. To sleep better, avoid doing stressful things before bedtime, such as paying bills, reading about your diminishing retirement fund, or having a tense conversation with your partner or family. If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, discuss this with your doctor.

Nutrition  Eat healthful foods and limit fatty, processed foods. Fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meats should top your grocery list. Skip desserts and fried foods — and save money, too. If you’ve been laid off, it’s especially important to watch your weight.. “Suddenly people begin to see 5 pounds around their middle, and they don’t know where it came from,” Gandy says. Often, it comes from mindless nibbling and snacking throughout the day. That extra weight, particularly around the middle, can increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Before heading to the store, create lists and reduce your impulse buying with a grocery list, and stick to the list. When you are hungry, don’t shop. Keep your attention on the perimeter of the store where the fresh produce and foods are. Processed and packaged foods are in the middle. Be a smart snacker and avoid junk foods that are low on nutrition and high in calories.

Above all, while the financial news is horrible, focus on the good things going on in your life. Even if you have lost a great deal in your retirement fund, maybe you still have your house. Maybe you still have a job. And with a little extra attention, you can still have your health.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Featured in July 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Defeating Back Pain at the Office

back painIt’s only Monday and you’re already wishing it was Friday. Sound too familiar? Is work really that bad or is it that you just don’t enjoy what you’re doing? Or is it perhaps that the cause of your anguish really has nothing to do with your job, your career, or your colleagues? Chances are, the one thing that can make any work seem a lot worse than it actually is the one thing you take to work and even take it back home with you. I’m talking of course about your back.

Most of us take our back health for granted until the day that it causes great discomfort.  To this day, back pain is the number one reason why people make appointments to see their doctors, and in most cases, not until the pain has become unbearable.  Identifying back pain is easy and can range from dull, nagging aches, to stiffness, to unexpected sudden twinges or spasms. The more difficult part, but most critical, is being able to identify how you developed the back pain in the first place.

Some common presumed causes of back pain would be picking up a heavy object improperly, bending over awkwardly to pick up something that was dropped, or sleeping in a goofy position.  While all of those causes could certainly lead to back pain, they were more the proverbial “stick that broke the camel’s back” of poor body mechanics and muscle imbalances. After a while, something has to give.  The real culprit in the imbalances we experience is not just from all the sitting, standing, or lifting we may do at work, but how our bodies have to adapt to all of the sitting, standing, or lifting.

Let’s take sitting for example. Due to the amount of time most people spend sitting, the body must gradually adapt itself to that position. This happens in a number of ways. The first thing it must adapt to is how the weight goes through the hips and pelvis. Then, there is the way in which you sit – upright, slouching, or something in between. But what’s most important and often overlooked is what happens to the postural, core, and support muscles while you’re sitting. For example, the hip flexors (crease where the thighs and hips meet) will get tight from being in a shortened position, and the opposing muscles, the gluteus maximus (a.k.a. the butt) will get weak and atrophy from being in a relaxed state. The simple combination of tight hip flexors and weak glutes is what ultimately becomes a “muscle imbalance.” The result of these muscle imbalances will be postural dysfunctions of the pelvis and spine. These imbalances send both the spine and pelvis into abnormal positions, the combination of which can be devastating to a person with a healthy back (the back that goes out from bending over to pick up a simple paper clip) and catastrophic for a person suffering from any form of back pain (i.e. bulged disc). What you must understand is that these imbalances are the direct result of what you do in your everyday life – sitting, the activities of your job, and your own personal habits. What can you do about it?

The good news.  Back pain is highly preventable and even if back pain already exists, can be treated and remedied without any without medications or drugs.  To prevent back pain from occurring, here are some action steps to take:

Sitting

If your job requires you to sit, get up and move around every 20 minutes, even if not just to stand up. While sitting, sit with your legs in different positions and try to keep the legs moving. Stand up when the phone rings or when you have to read something.  Bottom line – stay off of your bottom as much as possible

Standing

If your job requires you to stand all day long, be sure you have quality footwear and a neutral shoe insert. Body mechanics start when our feet hit the ground. It is best if your feet are in the most neutral position possible. One negative body pattern that many people fall into is to continually shift their weight from one foot to the other. The problem with this is that most people eventually find that one leg will be more comfortable than the other, and then that leg will get most of the weight most of the time. This will wreak havoc on the pelvis and spine. Better to put equal pressure on each foot as much as you can, and learn to correct when you catch yourself shifting your weight or leaning on one leg too much.

Lifting

A third obstacle on the job can be situations where you have to lift anything over 10 pounds repeatedly. Again, it’s not the activity itself that puts you in jeopardy; it’s your body’s inability to tolerate the stress of the weight. In other words, you should be able to lift anything you want to and not have any difficulty doing it. The problem occurs when your body is suffering from the muscle imbalances and postural dysfunctions discussed earlier. So, when you lift that object and get injured, the body was already in a compromised state, and it just needed that last bit of stress to send you in to a painful situation.

Stress

It’s an unavoidable fact of life at work, and it can also play a role by causing your muscles to tense up, which makes you more prone to injury. Stress also lowers your tolerance for pain. In some cases, minimizing stress on the job can be a daunting task, but deep-breathing exercises, walking around the block, or even talking about your frustrations with a trusted friend can help.

The best and most reliable ways to prevent and treat back pain is good old fashioned exercise (specifically designed to address muscular imbalances), flexibility training, yoga, regular massage treatments, and proper rest (a good bed is worth its weight in gold). You only get one body…take good care of it.

Featured in March 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Take Time to Slow Down

slow-downImagine driving your car at the average pace on the 422 By-pass and then suddenly hitting the brakes.  What would happen? If your car is equipped with the latest in safety features, it may quickly come to a stop but not without some tremendous shift in forces affecting the car, the road, and more importantly, you. Now imagine for a moment that that zooming car is you as you go through the speed of the day and then all of the sudden stopping as if hitting the brakes.  You’d have one heck of a case of whiplash wouldn’t you? Do you ever get the feeling that you have whiplash all the time? All the going and stopping and going and stopping.  Does it ever end? Or is it that you’re never really giving yourself a chance to slow down?

Life today seems to move at an alarming pace.  Careers, family obligations, etc., all seem to sometimes just meld together and rarely if ever do you really take the time to take care of the one thing that matters most – you. Days, weeks seem to come and go in the blink of an eye, and if you’re not careful when it does come time to stop, you’re going to end up a wreck. There’s no better way to simply slow down and de-stress by following some of these helpful hints. While you may scoff at some, perhaps it is you who really needs to slow down and enjoy life a little bit more before it passes you by.

  1. Turn off the phone.  Not all day, but certainly at times where a phone call really is not necessary – while eating a meal, going to the bathroom, working out at the gym, etc.  Use those times as mini escapes – opportunities to just focus on nothing but yourself.  It wasn’t long ago that we lived and worked very efficiently without cell phones.  To the best of my knowledge, the only person who really needs to be accessible 24/7 is the President. If you’re not dealing with something urgent, a call can wait.  Voice mail is a wonderful technology.
  2. Ignore the computer.  Impossible you say? Consider that a recent survey showed that we now spend upwards of 30% of our day surfing the Internet and reading and replying to e-mails. That adds up to a lot of time sitting and a clock that keeps ticking away. The Internet and e-mails will still be there when you’re ready to return to them.  Perhaps you use your computer time as wind down time; just use it wisely.
  3. Exercise.  No matter how hard you might try, there is just no getting away from all of the benefits that exercise can provide.  If you exercise for any reason at all, do it for the time spent doing nothing but giving your body something to feel good about. Shift the focus off from just trying to lose weight to one of physical and mental health enrichment.  Let the cards fall where they may
  4. Get outside. Sounds elementary but take some time to experience the natural quiet of the outdoors.  The Delaware Valley has some of the nicest outdoor spaces, from Valley Forge Park to French Creek. It will make you appreciate what life was like here before there was urban sprawl and forget that buildings and highways surround you.
  5. Go on a media fast. Many people feel the day isn’t really started until they check the headlines in the newspaper or tune into the TV or radio news.  Since there is seldom very little positive that is reported in the news, why drown yourself in negativity before you even have the chance to start off on the right foot?
  6. Eat a meal in silence.  Most of us don’t pay enough attention to the food we eat, hence the epidemic that our country is now experiencing.  But aside from just watching portion sizes or making healthy choices, try cutting out the distractions and let yourself really see, taste, smell, and savor your food.  Enjoying a delicious meal, particularly in the company of loved ones, can provide instant comfort and relaxation.
  7. Go to your room and close the door.  Who knew that the dreaded command from mom as a child would be something so cherished and invigorating as an adult.  Use it as a haven of quiet time to read, nap, meditate, or just simply stretch out .Do what’s needed to let go of your stress and recover your psychological balance.
  8. Turn off the TV.  Most of us love our TV to relax, inform and entertain, but sometimes it can drain our energy or add to our tension.  Due to technology, you can watch your programs whenever you want and not be held to a schedule.  Plan a night or a few hours a week where the TV does not pull you in.  You just might find yourself becoming less dependent on it.
  9. Take a vacation.  While it may seem like a no-brainer to take a vacation, too many people go through life without ever taking a break.  The body, the mind, the emotions – they all need a break.  Once granted that break, all three will absolutely return to normal speed
  10. Drive in silence. Driving can be stressful enough.  Add cell phones, traffic jams, bad music/news on the radio, and your car becomes a tinderbox. Use the time spent driving as a chance to collect your thoughts, unwind a bit, and think about where you’re going to spend that next vacation.

Just as it’s not recommended slam on the brakes when approaching a stop, it’s much better to sometimes slow things down a bit.  There will always be something to do, somewhere to go, people to see, things to discuss. But if you don’t slow down a bit from time to time, you’re going to zip right on by and hopefully not crash too hard when it comes time to stop.

Featured in July 2007 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Overstressed and Overworked

imagesTo paraphrase a very familiar patriotic tune, “Oh beautiful for spacious skies……….from sea to shining sea.”, America truly is a magnificent place to live.  Built on the values of our forefathers, the United States grew from a mere thirteen colonies to fifty strong and thriving states. Now within its third century, the United States sits as one of the most powerful nations in the world.  The question is, is it worth it and what does it ultimately cost?

As they say, getting to the top does not come easy.  Hard work and a little bit of luck go a long way.  However, consider that even with all of the advances in technology and the conveniences of the modern day world, that employers lose an estimated $150 billion annually in revenue due to stress related costs.  In today’s work force, employers and employees alike are forced to do more with less in addition to working long hours, which puts them under constant pressure to do their jobs faster and better. Stress in the workplace can result from any one of several situations, such as a need to respond to others’ demands and timetables with little control over events, family responsibilities, financial dilemmas, etc. The demands placed upon us often times can exceed our resources and when this happens, feelings of anger, disappointment, and frustration increase. Over time, this situation can result in working environments where employee motivation is negatively affected by increasing stress levels, thus resulting in decreased performance, increased absenteeism and higher health care costs. To an employer, stress costs time lost in productivity, absenteeism, poor decision making, stress related mental illness and substance abuse.

A three year study of a major corporation revealed an alarmingly disturbing association between stress and its affects on time, productivity, and money lost at work.

  • 25% of Americans suffer from a mental health problem rooted in stress.
  • 75% of Americans describe their jobs as stressful.
  • 50% of workdays lost annually in the US are stress related.
  • Over 50% of work days lost annually in the US are stress related.
  • Over 46% of all employees are stressed to the point of burnout.
  • One out of four American workers suffers a mental health problem rooted in stress.
  • In 2000, those at-risk for stress related illnesses were revealed as the costliest risk factor, accounting for $6 million, or 7.9%, of total expenditures.
  • In 2001, health care spending by employers averaged $5,266 per employee.
  • In 2004, approximately 75% of Americans described their jobs as stressful, which clearly links stress to high health care costs.

Research continually reveals that emotional stress has an immediate and profound affect on our daily performance.   Furthermore, it contributes to our health problems, and as Americans, we absorb the rising health care costs.  But is it that we are just simply overstressed, or are we overworked?

In a Chicago Tribune article titled, “Call It a Day America” (May 2002), a survey had showed that 37% of American workers work more than 50 hours per week.  It also discovered that Americans have the least amount of vacation time in the industrialized world, averaging two weeks per year as compared with European workers who average six. In Europe, vacation is a guaranteed right mandated by federal statutes.  Here in the States, there are no legal rights to a paid vacation. Vacation time however, should be a higher priority when you consider that the average American works 12.5 weeks more than German workers, 6.5 weeks more than British workers, and 6.0 weeks more than they did 20 years ago.   There could be numerous reasons as to why we are reluctant to take time off from work, such as not wanting to fall behind schedule or thinking our bosses will perceive us as not working hard enough. But in the long run, it puts us all at risk for any one of the stress-related illnesses.  Basically, we are overworked and over our heads by trying to do it all, all the time.

In the New Year, make it a point to set time aside not only to vacation, but to devote time to unwinding or de-stressing from your daily grind.  Activities like exercise, yoga, massage, meditation, reading books, etc. can be both a distraction and a benefit to your health.  Do whatever you can to not be swept into the rut and take care of yourself.  Afterall, it is one beautiful country to enjoy, “…from sea to shining sea!”

Featured in October 2006 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Managing Stress

images (2)Riddle.  What does everybody have, nobody wants, and follows you wherever you may go. Give up? It is STRESS.  The word itself causes anxiety and uneasiness.  We are surrounded by stress every minute of every day, from the ultraviolet rays of the sun (or fluorescent lights if you work indoors), to driving in traffic, meeting deadlines, etc.  If you are not careful, stress can consume your life and even worse, it can destroy your health.  What most people do not realize is that all stress is not necessarily bad for you.

There are two types of stress: eustress, or good stress, and distress, or bad stress. Good stress comes from things like exercise, taking a vacation (although packing and traveling can be stressful), but when people refer to the word stress they usually mean bad stress – stress from work, the boss, the spouse.

Here are some helpful ways to deal with stress in any form:

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: The easiest, cheapest, and best way to combat stress immediately is to practice this form of breathing.  Taught in yoga/tai chi classes, diaphragmatic breathing is done by breathing deeply through the nose, focusing on trying to draw the air deep within the abdomen.  Then breathe out slowly and continuously through the mouth.  With each breath, try to breathe in deeper and exhale longer.  Three of these focused breaths are usually all that is needed to calm our nerves down and clear the head.  Diaphragmatic breathing is also very effective in helping to alleviate feelings of nausea or dizziness.
  • Take a hike! As simple as it may seem, simply walking away from your desk or work station can help alleviate loads of stress.  Take a walk over to the water cooler, go outside for a breath of fresh air, or even something as basic as going to the bathroom.  Anything you can do to put your mind at ease, even if temporary, can have huge pay offs.
  • Listen to music: Music can have powerful effects on our mood (Ever listen to speed metal?).  That is why choice of music is just as important.  Listen to whatever makes you feel good but try and keep it to yourself.  You do not want to stress out others.  For those of you glued to your computer all day, there are a vast array of internet radio stations playing everything from Top 40 to reggae.
  • Yoga / Tai Chi / Pilates: These three types of group exercise classes have been all the rage within recent years, especially yoga and Pilates.  Without getting into too much detail, all three are effective at stress reduction through improved body awareness, increased flexibility, inner peace, and deliberate breathing.
  • Exercise: All forms, all types, and all kinds.  Whether you enjoy a nice walk, throwing around some iron, or hitting a heavy bag, exercise can do a lot more for you than just improve your physical fitness and self-confidence. The “perfect” stress release because it turns negative energy into positive energy.
  • Massage: Probably the best feeling method to alleviate stress.  You owe it to yourself to have a massage regularly, if not every month.  Massages come in all different varieties from Swedish to shiatsu and can be done in as little as 15 minutes up to an hour and a half, on a chair or table, in your home, office, health club, or spa.  A massage will only cost you the same amount a dinner out will cost you.

Featured in September 2004 Issue of 422 Business Advisor