Stress Relief and Stress Out
Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse circumstances. This blog explains 90+ new best hacks and ways for Stress Relief and Stress Out.
In other words, it is normal that we all have different stressors, emerging from our personal experience in everyday life, which can put us in stress.
If leaving behind your informal personal survey you proceed to consult an English language dictionary you will find that it describes stress as “Pressure or tension exerted on a material object.”
We need some stress to get us out of bed and going in the morning and it is normal to stress levels that keep motivating us to go through our study or work schedules throughout the day.
90 New hacks for Stress Relief and Stress Out
MEDITATION AND TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION
Classic approaches mostly associated with the far eastern cultures aiming to improve conscious control of body functions included various types of meditation and yoga but were not exhausted by them.
Meditation requires the presence of a teacher and participation in special classes and so do the various types of yoga, containing mental and physical elements, which necessitate the presence of a trained teacher-instructor and the willingness to attend the required classes at specific days and hours.
The Transcendental Meditation ‘TM’ technique is taught by properly credentialed instructors at a relatively substantial cost and it involves a 15–20 minute twice a day practice in which the individual with eyes closed, sits somewhere comfortably breathing slowly and repeating the ‘mantra’ which provided by the ‘TM’ instructor.
The practice is supposed to help the individual control stress levels, acquire an optimistic view of life and to function more smoothly being able to handle successfully the small and big daily challenges at work or in school, in family settings or in the social networks.
Further benefits of ‘TM’, according to its late creator and the instructors-teachers trained at the ‘TM’ institutions, related to heart health and general physical and emotional well-being.
Autogenic training, as does Benson’s relaxation response and the progressive muscle relaxation technique, requires that you find a silent place, sit or lie comfortably on a bench or on the floor and with eyes closed engage in giving a series of commands to your body.
Schultz and Luthe have suggested that you follow progressively a command-scenario which includes the states of heaviness, warmth, calm breathing, calm heart beating and complete relaxation as follows:
Sit or lay down in a comfortable position, since the quietness, feel calm, be in touch with yourself. You keep your eyes closed and without verbalizing you say:
My left arm from shoulder to my hand feels heavy, my right arm from shoulder to hand feels heavy, my left leg from my thigh to my foot feels heavy, my right leg from my thigh to my foot feels heavy, then my abdomen feels heavy, and finally my neck and head feel heavy.
The sequence is repeated as shown above but you substitute the word heavy with the word warm. The process should last about 15 to 20 minutes and most people do it twice a day one in the morning and one in the afternoon and start seeing pleasant results after a few weeks.
Biofeedback is the process of making the individual aware of internal organ functions through the use of specialized equipment. You have used biofeedback equipment and gained appropriate experience every time you stepped on a weighing scale and saw your weight in kilograms and every time you used a thermometer to assess your fever level.
Biofeedback combines neurophysiological, psychological and electronic knowledge and principles in collecting data from internal organ functions of our bodies.
Biofeedback training goes one step beyond the process of measuring muscle tension, heartbeat rates and blood pressure levels adding the methodical conscious effort to try to control these autonomous functions by the use of some specialized relaxation techniques.
The idea behind the gadget use is to help the users receive information on the state of their bodies and internal organs and train them to exercise some control over functions once considered impossible as they are autonomous, meaning that they are not subjected to conscious control.
HOLISTIC WELLNESS APPROACH
‘Holistic wellness’ constitutes a new approach aiming to go well beyond the techniques we discussed above and beyond the focused concern with controlling stress and lowering anxiety levels.
Holistic is a Greek word meaning ‘total, or whole or complete’ and the ‘holistic approach’ shuns away what it considers as the treatment of symptoms, stress or anxiety, suggesting that we should deal with the whole person encompassing physical, mental, social and psychological parameters.
The holistic wellness approach does not involve the use of expensive equipment, or attending regular sessions under the supervision of trained instructors to show us procedures and lead us through processes.
However, this approach is not simple or easy to accept and adapt in our daily routine as it demands radical changes in the way we live, in the way we have set and structured our goals.
Holistic wellness begins with systematic efforts to change attitudes which produce negative symptoms. And all things being equal, as you have discussed earlier, attitude change is not an easy task.
The holistic wellness program includes changes in our eating habits as well as our meal hours, in our food intake which should avoid sugar and fats, excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking and prefer foods which are high in fiber, vitamins, and nutrients.
In addition, it requires the adoption of a program of regular physical exercise aimed to increase our physical, muscular and cardiovascular wellness.
Furthermore, it foresees the incorporation, on a daily basis, of some program of muscular relaxation or autogenic training which should lower stress and anxiety levels and avoidance of environmental or mental and emotional stressors.
In other words, the holistic wellness program requires drastic changes in our daily practices and adapted behavioral attitudes which require strong will and high levels of stamina and perseverance promising in return substantially improved quality of life, physical health and psychosocial fulfillment.
Setting our life goals is not and should not be viewed as a ‘once and forever’ static action but should constitute a dynamic process permitting us to evaluate, revise and even totally change previous goals as we progress in the various stages of our lifespan.
Goal setting is a useful and necessary process as it will help you focus your attention, concentrate your efforts and channel your physical, mental and emotional energy expenditure to a specific direction.
‘If a man does not know what port he is steering to no wind is favorable’ is an aphorism found in many public speakers’ ‘help books’ and it is attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger. The quote surely catches the usefulness of setting life goals and objectives.
However, when you engage in the act of setting goals and objective make sure that they are specific (avoid dubious and general goals), realistic (keep your feet attached to the ground and don’t fly to the clouds) and achievable (which necessitates an objective and sensible assessment of your own talents, capabilities and skills).
GOALS IN A TIME PERSPECTIVE
Your goals and objectives relate to a time perspective which helps differentiate them as long-range life goals, medium range career and social-psychological attachment goals and short-range goals.
The time element comes strongly into play as short-range goals by their nature demand full concentration and step-by-step, level-by-level creative efforts to bring them to life and to successful completion. Unlike medium and long range-life goals the short-range goals demand increased attention and care in avoiding time waste.
You may have already encountered a reference to the ‘20-80’ rule ascribed to Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto which states that 80% of our success is the result of 20% of our effort. Consequently, it is your responsibility to determine that ‘crucial and useful’ 20% of your efforts that will provide you with the 80% of success.
In its vocal expression a ‘NO’ is a simple word but psychologically it involves your ability to respect your priorities which will lead you to fulfill your objectives and reach your goals when you say it too distracting stimuli in the form of persons or attractive events.
Learning to say ‘NO’ without guilt, or arousal of needless but debilitating inadequacies stemming from the fear of disappointing good friends, relatives, classmates or colleagues will give you the time needed to devote to completing your task and reaching your goal.
THINGS TO DO’ LIST
Printed or handwritten on paper lists of ‘things to do’ continue to serve their purpose magnetically attached to refrigerator doors or pinned at the office wallboard.
Nowadays with so many electronic gadgets available to all of us students and professionals alike such lists are digitalized and stored in cell phones, iPad, tablets, laptops, and tablet pcs.
They do help to improve our ability for effective time management and, as said before, occasionally they penalize us with remorse and guilt feelings when looking at them we realize that we are falling behind.
Some people like to differentiate categories of urgency and significance on their ‘things to do’ lists and some use color markers to prioritize items noted on them by calendar time or by significance or urgency. In the digitalized electronic gadgets such differentiation may be marked by stars attached to each item on the list.
For professionals time-saving techniques may take one or more of the following forms: Keeping scheduled meetings as brief as possible, Avoiding interruptions, Refusing to answer the phone while engaged in creative activity.
For students, effective time management necessitates keeping the ‘chit-chat’ sessions with friends to a bare minimum when deadlines for paper submission approach or when the examination period starts.
The use of telephones has dropped significantly among office personnel while the volumes of e-mails have risen dramatically. Effective time management necessitates appropriate ranking of the significance of e-mails so that reading and responding to them do not steal away from your valuable time.
Be More Musical
“I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music . . . I get most joy in life out of music.” Einstein
If you're a musician, you're in luck. Every time you play, you're giving your brain one of the best workouts it can get. Neuroscientists have shown that musical skill requires a suite of neural processes firing in tandem: perceptual, cognitive, motor, and executive. Making a career as a musician is like being a professional bodybuilder of the mind.
Steven Pinker and others feel that our musical powers – some of them at least – are made possible by using, or recruiting, or co-opting brain systems that have already developed for other purposes. This might go with the fact that there is no single “music center” in the human brain, but the involvement of a dozen scattered networks.
Playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain's corpus callosum – the bridge between the two hemispheres – allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively, in both academic and social settings.
“Making a career as a musician is like being a professional bodybuilder of the mind.”
So maybe Einstein's love of music was more than just a pleasant distraction from all that hard thinking he did. In actual fact, playing his violin was very much part of his working day. After a few hours thinking, he'd pick up his violin and then the ideas would start to flow.
It's not surprising really as it's now been found that playing an instrument is a very good way of switching the brain from the active brain to the default mode network, “the mind-wandering brain”, that's so helpful for insight.
Music can also help your brain to grow. Harvard neurologist Gottfried Schlaug found that the brains of adult professional musicians had a larger volume of grey matter than the brains of non-musicians.
Schlaug and colleagues also found that after 15 months of musical training in early childhood, structural brain changes associated with motor and auditory improvements begin to appear.
In a study by Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, 70 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 83 were divided into three groups: musicians who had studied an instrument for at least ten years, those who had played between one and nine years, and a control group who had never learned to play an instrument or how to read music.
Then she had each of the subjects take a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests.
The group who had studied for at least ten years scored the highest in such areas as nonverbal and visuospatial memory, naming objects, and taking in and adopting new information. By contrast, those with no musical training performed least well, and those who had played between one and nine years were in the middle.
In other words, the more they had trained and played, the more benefit the participants had gained. But, intriguingly, they didn't lose all of the benefits even when they hadn't played music in decades.
And it's not too late to gain the benefits, even if you don't take up an instrument until later in life. Jennifer Burgos, an assistant professor of music education at the University of South Florida, Tampa, studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85.
After six months, those who had received piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, compared with those who had not received lessons.
“Musical training seems to have a beneficial impact at whatever age you start. It contains all the components of a cognitive training program that sometimes are overlooked, and just as we work out our bodies, we should work out our minds,” she says. So if you want the keys to a fitter, stronger, more active mind, they're piano keys.
“Boredom is your window, Once this window opens, don't try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.”Joseph Brodsky
Most of these hacks are about actively doing something to change how your brain works. This one's about not doing something. It's an un-hack. It's about not using your mobile phone.
The average smartphone user checks their phone at least 150 times a day and 58% of smartphone users don't go an hour without checking their phones.
It's not surprising they're called smartphones because they certainly know how to push our buttons. Our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain that expresses our personality and makes decisions) has a novelty bias. Basically, it's hijacked by anything new. And smartphones are brimming with newness.
Also if you're already doing something when you grab your phone you're multitasking and thereby creating a dopamine-addiction feedback loop. We're turning our brains into drug addicts. Effectively we're rewarding it for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.
Of course, there's no denying how useful smartphones can be, but the way we get them out as soon as we have an idle moment is cutting out the opportunity for our mind to wander.
Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Interstellar, doesn't have a phone. In fact, he doesn't even have an email account.
He likes to be disconnected from the online world because he says it gives him time to think. I'm not saying give up your phone. I know I couldn't. I'm just saying, don't turn to it as soon as you've got a quiet moment.
Imagine you're in a coffee shop waiting for a friend who's ten minutes late. Do you sit and stare out of the window and let your mind wander or do you grab your phone?
The urge, of course, is to take out your phone. It's easy to feel like staring out of the window is wasting time, whereas if we spend the time catching up on emails or social media we feel it's time well spent.
But it's important to let yourself get bored. Getting bored is good. It's when we daydream when our minds wander and this is a very important part of coming up with new ideas.
The time when you allow yourself to daydream is one of the times when your mind's at it's busiest. “Perceptual decoupling” is what cognitive psychologist Jonathan Smallwood calls it.
He says, “In a very deep way there's a close link between originality, novelty, and creativity and these sort of spontaneous thoughts that we generate when our minds are idle.”
“It's important to let yourself get bored.”
A recent study by Pennsylvania State University researchers Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood found that being bored helps promote the creative association and pushes one to find deeper meaning and satisfaction.
After watching videos that were designed to create certain emotions, the participants took creativity tests. Of all the emotions elicited: relaxed, elated, bored and distressed; the ones who were bored outperformed all the others.
At the University of Central Lancashire, Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman ran their own boredom-related study. They took two groups, one that had to do nothing and one that had to do the mind-numbing task of copying phone numbers out of a phone book.
They followed this with an exercise to think of as many possible uses for a pair of plastic cups. The group that had suffered through the phone book task thought of more creative uses.
Sandi Mann said, “One of the by-products of boredom is it seems to make us more creative. This is because it's a connection between mind-wandering and daydreaming that allows new connections in our brain to form and come up with creative solutions.”
We are so scared of being bored that we rarely spend time alone with our own thoughts. Most of the time we're either interacting with someone, busy doing something, going somewhere or reading or watching something.
“We are so scared of being bored that we rarely spend time alone with our own thoughts.”
I've been involved in running a day's workshop where part of the day involves participants spending two hours on their own. They can't use phones or computers and aren't allowed to talk to any of the other participants. They can either go for a walk on their own or just sit and think.
In the end, they always remark about what a powerful and sometimes quite emotional experience it is. It gave them new ideas, new directions and sometimes helped them find the missing piece to an old problem.
Not All Daydreamers Are Created Equal
What's interesting though, is you have to be aware that you are daydreaming for it to be of value creatively.
Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara, ran tests where participants were given a boring activity and had to press a button as soon as they noticed their mind had wandered.
However, some people failed to notice their minds had wandered. They didn't press the button and only realized their mind had wandered when prodded by the researcher. According to Schooler's data, these individuals didn't exhibit any increased creativity.
So to be more creative you need to be aware that you're daydreaming. But then, as soon as you become aware that you're daydreaming, you're not daydreaming anymore!
The secret is to become aware of your daydreams at the point when an interesting thought or insight arises. This isn't something we can really control. But if your conscious mind has been grappling with a problem and is passionate about finding an answer, when a new insight arises in your daydream, your conscious mind will naturally grab it.
If you're passionate about finding an answer to a problem the interplay between your conscious and unconscious will happen naturally. So the next time you're bored and go to grab your phone, try and fight the urge. We're thinking all the time, but it's only when your mind is idle that you actually get to listen to your own thoughts.
“Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake, one must stay awake all day.”Friedrich Nietzsche
This is the most important of all brain hacks.
Sleep offers so many benefits. A lot of the time we think if we're busy we can get by on less sleep and extra caffeine. But if you want your brain to function better and to be more productive, sweet dreams will always beat a strong coffee.
Now I'm sure you've experienced those annoying people who say they can function just as well on four hours of sleep as you can on seven or eight. Well, they're right and they're wrong. Studies have found that a sleep-deprived person can, in fact, deliver exactly the same results in any exercise as someone who isn't sleep deprived.
The problem comes when you lose focus. Whether we are sleep deprived or not, we're all going to lose focus at certain times. “Sweet dreams will always beat a strong coffee.”
Dr. Clifford Saper, of Harvard University, said: “The brain of the sleep-deprived individual is working normally sometimes, but intermittently suffers from something akin to power failure.”
If you've had a good night's sleep and you lose focus, your brain can compensate for that by increasing attention. But for anyone who is sleep deprived, they haven't got the brainpower to steer themselves back to being focused. What's even worse, sleep-deprived people don't realize their performance has decreased.
Professor Michael Chee, the lead researcher at Harvard, said: “The period of apparently normal functioning could give a false sense of competency and security when, in fact, the brain's inconsistency could have dire consequences.”
The A to Zzzzzzz of Sleep
A good night's sleep returns your brain to full power. Creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, and decision-making can all be enhanced simply by getting enough sleep.
But it's not just lack of sleep that can have a negative effect on us. Oversleeping can be bad for us as well. Regularly having more than nine hours of sleep a night or having less than five hours of sleep a night can both be really bad for you. Both markedly increasing your chance of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks, strokes and angina attacks.
Dr. Jane Ferrie, who led the study of 30,000 adults for University College London, said the decline in brain function suffered by people who got too much or too little sleep was equivalent to them having aged between four and seven years.
“A good night's sleep returns your brain to full power.”
It also seems the optimum amount of sleep we should have a night isn't eight hours, but seven. In fact, even one hour more or less than seven hours increased the likelihood of heart disease, the study found.
But don't worry, this doesn't mean your Sunday morning lie-in should carry a health warning. The dangers associated with sleeping too long only affects you when it happens over a long period. If you've had a really busy week at work of early mornings and late nights (or if you have children), then a lie in is vital.
Dr. David Dinges from the University of Pennsylvania said: “The additional hour or two of sleep in the morning after a period of chronic partial sleep loss has genuine benefits for continued recovery of behavioral alertness.”
A single, proper lie-in can be all that is required to replenish the brain and boost energy, alertness and attention span after a week of restricted sleep.
The Nap Zone. Time to Hit Snooze.
There's also a reason why you hit that dip after lunch. It's your body trying to tell you something. If you used your circadian biological clock to tell the time you'd know you're strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00–4:00 a.m. at night and in the afternoon between 1:00– 3:00 p.m.
We desperately try to fight it with double espressos, but your body and more importantly your brain, is telling you, it wants and needs, some shut-eye. Our obsession with one long sleep has only been adopted since the industrial revolution.
Before then most people would take naps. People used to have day beds in their living rooms and they were called day beds for a reason.
Of course, many countries like Spain and India do stop for afternoon rests. In China, many companies encourage workers to take an hour's nap after lunch. Japan is also changing its workaholic ways and persuading its workers to take naps. They've even got nap cafes popping up where you can buy a snooze.
Sleep experts have found that daytime naps can improve many things. It can increase alertness, boost creativity, reduce stress, improve perception, stamina, motor skills and accuracy, brighten your mood and boost memory.
Taking a nap also helps in solidifying memories. When a memory is first recorded in the hippocampus (the area in the brain that converts short-term into long-term memory), it's still fragile and can be easily forgotten.
Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain's more permanent storage, preventing them from being “overwritten”. Sleep is a necessary process that clears the brain's short-term memory storage so there is room to absorb new information.
The lead researcher from the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Matthew Walker, says, “Sleep prepares the brain like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.”
A reason, no doubt, why Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, President John F. Kennedy, and Winston Churchill swore by them.
10, 20 or 40 Winks?
So if you're on board with the whole nap idea, how do you fit one in? It's easy if you work at a company like Google and you have nap pods, but for everyone else, it's a bit harder.
Firstly, you don't need to nap for long to feel the benefit. In a study by Professor Leon Lack from Flinders University in Adelaide, it was found that 10 to 15 minutes seems to be the optimum period in terms of improving mental operations.
And that improvement in performance and alertness seems to be maintained for up to two and sometimes three hours after the nap.
However, the five-minute nap wasn't long enough to create any benefit, and longer naps of 25 to 30 minutes led to the subjects being somewhat drowsy and less alert for up to an hour after the nap.
Now all you need to do is find a place to have a nap. If you feel uncomfortable putting your head down at your desk, try to find an empty meeting room, or if you've got a park nearby, try sitting under a tree. If you really can't find anywhere, you can always sit on the toilet for ten minutes.
“You don't need to nap for long to feel the benefit.”
And instead of having a coffee at the end of your lunch break, why not try having a nap instead?
You could even bring the subject up at work as a way to improve productivity. But if you are thinking of organizing a meeting about it, don't arrange it for three o'clock!
Take a Walk, Have a Shower
“Thoughts come clearly while one walks.”Thomas Mann
It's almost become a cliché: “I get my best ideas in the shower”, but like all clichés, it's based in truth.
It's not just showering; it's any simple mundane activity that doesn't require much thought: walking, cycling, mowing the lawn. Agatha Christie said, “The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.”
I will go into more detail on why these activities are so good for coming up with ideas later, but first I have to reiterate what I've said in the last two sections: good ideas don't appear out of anywhere; you need to have thought long and hard about a question beforehand. You have to be passionate about finding a solution and a little obsessed.
If you've done this, then that's when these simple physical activities can help you. The door between the conscious and unconscious only opens one way. You can't go into your unconscious, but ideas can come out.
What these activities do is oil the hinges of the door to your unconscious, to help it open more easily.
“You have to be passionate about finding a solution and a little obsessed.”
Professor Jonathan Schooler of the University of California created an experiment to test out this theory. He took three groups of people and gave them each a minute to think of as many unusual uses for a house brick as they could.
They were all then given a two-minute break. While they rested, the first group was told to just sit there and think of nothing. The second had the simple and unchallenging task of sorting Lego bricks by color and the third had to build a house out of Lego. After that, they were all given another minute to think of some more uses for a house brick.
The group that did the worst were the ones who had been concentrating and focused on building a house out of Lego. And the group that did the best were the ones whose minds were mildly stimulated and just had to sort the Lego by color.
Now you might think that the ones who had nothing to think about should do best. But as soon as they'd finished the initial task their minds were thinking conscious thoughts about their life, what they were going to do later, what they were going to eat.
Whereas the group who had the mundane task of sorting the Lego bricks into different colors, had that to occupy their conscious minds, leaving their unconscious to carry on thinking about uses for a household brick.
All the mundane activities that I mentioned at the start still require some conscious thought, but you can almost do them on autopilot. And as soon as the brain sees the chance to go onto autopilot, it takes it. It sees it as a chance to relax.
When you're focusing on a task, the “cognitive control network” is running the show. At the heart of this network is the prefrontal cortex, the brain's command center for decisions, goals, and behaviors. Now the cognitive control network (the active network) uses up a lot of energy, so when the brain sees the opportunity to rest, it will.
So when you're doing a task almost on autopilot, it will switch to what is called the “default mode network” (the resting network). It's the equivalent of you flopping down in a comfy chair at the end of the day.
Incredibly the brain will use any opportunity to switch to the resting network. A study by Tamami Nakano of Osaka University revealed that the brain switches briefly to the resting network even for the very brief period when we blink.
But what it shows, is when the brain's got the chance to switch from the active network to the resting network, it will. And while the resting network is in control, the conscious mind is having a breather and the mind is allowed to wander. At this time the door to the unconscious may not be fully opened, but it is at least ajar.
The Cat's Away, the Mice Will Play
The reason I think this is such a productive area for ideas is that it creates a new type of thought; you're not consciously thinking, but at the same time you're not daydreaming. I would call it “dream thinking”.
Take the Agatha Christie quote where she says she finds the best time for plotting a book is when she's doing the dishes. If she was just thinking focused conscious thoughts, she would have no access to the more surprising and more lateral thoughts that come with daydreaming and the unconscious.
But at the same time if the mind went off on a daydream it would just wander through various thoughts and wouldn't be able to concentrate on the plot of a book.
As Tamami Nakano's study showed, the brain can switch to the resting network for the briefest of periods. So I think when, for instance, you have a shower you're in this “dream thinking” zone, whereby you're constantly switching from thinking to mind-wandering states. Engaging, disengaging and then engaging again.
Walk the Walk
Walking, like taking a shower, is an activity we can almost do on autopilot, so is an ideal activity for the brain to give the active network a rest and switch to the mind-wandering of the resting network.
Dr. Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz from Stanford University decided to test whether it was the actual act of walking that made people more creative.
What they expected to find was that walking outside in the fresh air with inspiring scenery would be, but that walking inside on a treadmill wouldn't.
Dr. Oppezzo says she thought “walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me.”
But whether it was walking inside or outside, the participants' creative output went up by an average of 60% compared to people sitting down. It wasn't to do with the environment, it was to do with the repetitive act of walking, which switched the mind from the active network to the mind-wandering resting network.
In total, 81% of the participants saw an increase in their creativity when they were walking. Also when the participants took the second test after walking, they were still more creative, showing the positive effects of walking continued even after they sat down again.
These results would come as no surprise to many famous creative people throughout history who swore by the value of walking. Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Freud, Milton, Dickens, Darwin, Watt, and Poincaré all valued it as a way of nurturing creativity.
Dickens would never miss his afternoon walks through London and in the countryside. Dickens said if he couldn't walk “far and fast” he would “explode and perish”. He would often walk up to thirty miles a day.
Darwin created his own version of the treadmill and had a circular gravel path created in his garden, that he would walk round and round until a certain problem was solved.
James Watt came up with the idea for his steam engine while out on a Sunday afternoon walk: “I had not walked farther than the golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.”
Poincaré, frustrated with his failure in solving some arithmetical questions, went to spend a few days by the seaside. “One morning, walking on the bluff, the idea came to me, with just the same characteristics of brevity, suddenness and immediate certainty.”
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Walk and Talk
It's just as valuable today and perhaps more so, as long as you can manage to keep your mobile in your pocket. Steve Jobs was a huge advocate of walking as a method of working on problems, but also as a way of holding meetings. Co-founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook are also big fans of walking meetings.
Driving can also be a good activity for accessing this mind-wandering state. But obviously, you need to be driving a route you know well. In fact in a survey a few years ago, Americans chose the car as the place where they did their most creative thinking.
What's important is that it's an activity that you can do without really thinking about it. One that doesn't require a great deal of concentration, so the focused thought of the prefrontal cortex can switch off.
Watch Cat Videos
“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.”Lord Byron
In a recent study by the Draugiem Group, it was found that 10% of employees with the highest productivity, surprisingly didn't put in longer hours than anyone else. In fact, they didn't even work full eight-hour days.
What they did do was take regular breaks. Specifically, they took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.
And to be really productive, it's just as important to concentrate on what you do in your breaks as what you do while you're working.
Laughing All the Way to the Bank
Once you've stretched your legs and got yourself a coffee, the last thing you should do is sit down at your desk and check up on what's happening in the news.
What you should be doing is sitting down at your desk and watching videos of epic fails, grumpy cats and sneezing pandas; whatever makes you laugh, in fact.
A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that subjects who watched brief video clips that made them feel sad were less able to solve problems creatively than people who watched an upbeat video.
Ruby Nadler, one of the researchers from the University of Western Ontario said, “A positive mood increases cognitive flexibility, while a negative mood narrows our mental horizons.
If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you to do that.”
One of the other great benefits of watching things that make you laugh is that they're fantastic stress busters. “One of the other great benefits of watching things that make you laugh is that they're fantastic stress busters.”
Seeing a Joke Coming
Dr. Lee Berk and his team at Loma Linda University in California ran tests on the effects of watching funny videos in relation to reducing stress.
The tests showed that thirty minutes after watching funny videos, cortisol was down 67%, adrenaline was down 35%, and DOPAC was down 69%. But what really shocked the team was that cortisol, adrenaline, and DOPAC decreased by 39%, 70%, and 38% respectively before anything funny was seen.
“It would seem that merely having a merry heart in anticipation of the happy experience, lowers stress levels,” said Dr. Berk.
Now this cat may look grumpy, but I'm sure if he knew the huge positive impact he was having on the country's workforce, he'd realize the humiliation of having to wear a bunny outfit was a small price to pay.
‘I'm not grumpy, I'm livid. I specifically ordered the tiger onesie.'
Don't Be Biased
“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it.”Francis Bacon
How biased are you?
You might think you're not that biased, but you are, we all are.
Cognitive bias is the way our mind skews our thinking or decisions that cause stress. If you look up cognitive bias on Wikipedia, there is a list of over a hundred. There is even one called “the IKEA effect.
The tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves, such as furniture from IKEA, regardless of the quality of the end result”.
Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations. The trouble is these biases still happen when we're not in danger and can often lead to serious errors in judgment (like buying furniture that you have to assemble yourself!).
Often, the more experienced you are in a field, the more biased you become. A classic example of this created the central premise for the book and the film Moneyball.
It showed the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed.
Statistics such as stolen bases runs batted in and batting average typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th-century view of the game and the statistics available at that time.
The Oakland A's used a more analytical gauge of player performance to field a team that successfully competed with the big teams like New York Yankees who had a payroll of three times as much. “The more experienced you are in a field, the more biased you become.”
Now I want to test your bias
Think about how you felt when you read that last paragraph. Did the fact that they were “Israeli” judges have any negative or positive effect on you? The thing is, people have quite polarized views about Israel and this can add bias.
In actual fact, it's irrelevant that the judges were Israeli, it's just that the study happened to take place there. The findings would have no doubt been the same in any country where there weren't enough breaks in court sessions.
Still on the subject of food, but on a more personal level, there is another bias called “the current moment bias”. This is based on the fact that we have a really hard time imagining ourselves in the future and alter our behavior and expectations accordingly.
A 1998 study showed that, when making food choices for the coming week, 74% of participants chose fruit. But when the food choice was for the current day, 70% chose chocolate. Now you might think you would be less biased than that. But then you would, wouldn't you?
In fact, we all (well, nearly all) would. Only one in every 166 people believes they are more biased than the average person. It's what's called the bias blind spot. It's the tendency to see ourselves as less biased than other people.
Biased About Our Own Bias
Take doctors for example. When they receive gifts from pharmaceutical companies, they may claim that the gifts don't affect their decisions about what medicine to prescribe because they have no memory of the gifts biasing their prescriptions.
However, if you ask them whether a gift might unconsciously bias the decisions of other doctors, most will agree that other doctors are unconsciously biased by the gifts while continuing to believe that their own decisions are not.
The trouble with this bias blind spot is we can try to push ideas through, even if they aren't very good, purely because we thought of them. That's why it's always good to get the opinion of someone you trust on your ideas or projects.
“It's always good to get the opinion of someone you trust on your ideas or projects.”
The strength of the blind spot bias will show through because what you're really asking them is to confirm what you believe, that it's a great idea. If they're lukewarm about the idea, the first thing you question is their judgment and not your idea.
Another way to counteract your personal bias yourself is to give it time. Put your idea to one side and carry on thinking. When you come back to it later, you'll find you will be able to judge it in a more unbiased way.
I think this is a great idea, although I think my idea of getting feedback from someone you trust is even better. But then I might be biased.
Be Kinder, Be Happier
“You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.”Publilius Syrus
Once we have the basic necessities of food and shelter and being healthy, the next thing we want is to be happy.
Whether it's spending more time with family and friends, becoming rich, having a holiday, going shopping, losing weight, going for a walk in the countryside: we do all these things because we want to be happy.
Of course, different people will have different opinions about which of these things will really make you happy; but we do these things because we want to be happy.
But there is an instant way to be happier, one that will also benefit others.
And that is to be kind.
In a study conducted by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, students were assigned to do five random acts of kindness per week for a period of six weeks. At the end of the study, the students' levels of happiness had increased by 41.66%.
Every thought we have and every action we take creates new connections in the brain. While, for instance, going shopping might make you feel happy for a while, it also creates the desire to do more shopping. Being kind creates happiness that has a more long-lasting effect (and it's cheaper).
“Every thought we have and every action we take creates new connections in the brain.”
By being kind you are creating a more positive outlook, which is far more likely to make you happier.
Dr. Lyubomirsky found that when describing their previous life experiences, self-nominated happy people retrospectively evaluated their experiences as more pleasant at both the time of occurrence and when recalling them.
Unhappy people, however, evaluated their past life events relatively unfavorably at both time points. But what was interesting was that objective judges did not rate the events described by happy people as inherently more positive than those described by unhappy people. This suggests that happy and unhappy people experience similar events but interpret them differently.
“Happy and unhappy people experience similar events but interpret them differently.”
But being kind won't just make you happier; it can make you healthier as well. Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth, which produces the hormone, oxytocin.
Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which expands the blood vessels.
Just think about a time when someone you didn't know did something kind and try to remember how that made you feel.
“Kindness really can have a powerful effect on melting away negative emotions.” Reward Upfront
“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature's delight.” Marcus Aurelius
It's been found that people value something more once they own it. If you give someone a bonus upfront and tell them that they'll lose it if they don't reach a specific target, they're far more likely to reach that target.
A study showed that students gained as much as a 10-percentile increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds if their teacher received a bonus at the beginning of the year.
The condition was that the teachers would lose the bonus if their students didn't reach a set target. But there was found to be no gain for students when teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year.
“Our natural tendency is always to go for the safe bet.”Take a Break
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”Plato
Five days on, two days off. That's the work routine most people are used to. And for those two days off (commonly known as “the weekend”) most of us try to switch off and not think about work.
It's vital to have time to switch off, especially if you've had a stressful week. But taking time off doesn't just have to be about switching off. It can be a great opportunity to come up with new and innovative ideas.
If we keep doing the same thing the neural pathways in our brain become neural superhighways. The more ingrained they become, the harder it is to have fresh and original ideas. But the brain is incredibly malleable, so if you can find new environments and influences, you'll soon start creating fresh neural pathways.
Stefan Sagmeister and Ferran Adrià were still working during the time they took off, but having the freedom of no customers to please and no meetings to attend, gave them the time to dream and think freely. Of course, you don't need to takes months off to get the benefit of “free thinking” time.
“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”Mary Heaton Vorse
How many times have you heard someone say “I've got this great idea for a book/movie/business/product/app/website?” And how many of those people have actually gone ahead and done it?
People can no longer say there's no outlet for their ideas. Anyone can now self-publish, put a video on YouTube, start a website/blog, or get funding on Kickstarter for a product or business idea.
I think the big problem is the fear of failure. And fear of failure is like nice dry kindling to the fire of procrastination.
The important thing is to start. It's all about learning on the job. Why do you think entrepreneurs always talk about “failing fast” and writers say, “writing is re-writing”?
Dr. Piers Steel of the University of Calgary is probably the world's foremost expert on the subject of putting off until tomorrow what should be done today.
In an article he wrote for The American Psychological Association he said, “Essentially, procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task. … Perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more.”
“Fear of failure is like nice dry kindling to the fire of procrastination.”
The thing is no one gets it the right first time, you learn by doing. What's most important is just to get started and not worry about whether what you're doing is good or bad. As Margaret Atwood said, “If I waited for perfection I would never have written a word.”
A great way to force yourself to get started is with “morning pages”. This is an exercise popularized by Julia Cameron in her book TheArtists Way. Write two to three pages of handwritten, stream-of-consciousness writing, first thing in the morning.
The thing about the morning pages is they're not meant to be creative. They're more like morning therapy. Write about what's annoying you, your worries, your fears; just don't think too much about it.
You don't even have to read them back and you certainly shouldn't show them to anyone else. It is like a warm-up before a race; no one judges an athlete on how good a warm-up he or she does before a race, but that doesn't mean it's any less essential.
By not really thinking about what you're writing, you're getting your unconscious involved. Our unconscious mind is a hugely powerful tool when it comes to coming up with ideas, but we need to get past our self-critical conscious thoughts to access it.
Another technique is to give yourself a deadline to come up with a certain amount of ideas for something. Whatever you're working on, try giving yourself 10 minutes to come up with 10 ideas on the subject. What's important is not to worry if these ideas are any good or not. Your only goal is to think of 10 ideas.
When you've got your 10 ideas, you may be surprised to find a few really interesting thoughts in amongst them. Like the morning pages, this exercise helps bypass your critical conscious mind and access your unconscious.
I'm sure you've been in a brainstorm where everyone starts to run out of ideas. Well, when this happens in one of my workshops, I get people to do this exercise. People who really feel they can't think of anything else, suddenly find a second wind.
Once you've done your morning pages or have come up with 10 ideas, working on your project of choice won't seem so daunting. Don't expect perfection and just start.
If you could write 350 words and then do that five days a week (even tortured artists need a break at the weekend) for a year, you will have written 91,000 words. There you go, you've written the first draft of a novel. You see, it wasn't that hard, was it?
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”Winston Churchill
Staying focused is something that's harder and harder in this age of information. Did you know that 90% of all the data in the world has been created over the last two years?
The lure of social media is constantly dragging us away from important tasks. You think you'll just have a quick look and before you know it, half an hour has passed. The distraction of email is just as bad, but we console ourselves that “it's work”.
While there's more and more information vying for our attention, our ability to focus is, if anything, getting worse. It's not helped by information being fed to us in smaller and smaller chunks.
Look at movie trailers for example. In the 1950s, the average amount of cuts per minute was twelve – now the average is thirty-eight; over three times as much.
“The lure of social media is constantly dragging us away from important tasks.”
But the trouble isn't just the speed and the amount of information that's thrown at us, it's that our brains can't multi-task.
David Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at Michigan University and one of the country's leading experts on multi-tasking, says “You can't do two cognitively complicated tasks at once.
When you're on the phone and writing an email at the same time, you're actually switching back and forth between them, since there's only one mental and neural channel through which language flows.”
It's been known for some time that when our brains are focused on a task, we can fail to see other things that are in plain sight. This phenomenon is known as “inattentional blindness”. One of the famous examples of this is the “invisible gorilla” experiment
Viewers are asked to watch a video of players passing around a basketball and count the number of passes. Whilst focused on counting, they end up failing to observe a man in a gorilla suit walking across the center of the screen.
But more worrying, new results show that our visual field does not need to be cluttered with other objects to cause this “blindness”. Focusing on remembering something we have only just seen is enough to make us unaware of things that happen around us.
Firstly, rather than spending an hour “multi-tasking”, split your time up. So instead of writing a document, making phone calls and checking emails all at the same time, spent twenty minutes on each.
Twenty minutes on the document, twenty minutes on phone calls and twenty minutes on emails. If you can manage it, you'll find you write better and have more insightful conversations and just as importantly, your mind will stay fresher.
Having a lack of focus is very much like having a lack of fitness. As with physical exercise, you build up your stamina over time. The same can be done with your focus.
Try performing a task, without letting yourself get distracted for thirty minutes. It can be any task but it's important that it's not an activity you love, so you have to make some effort to stay focused. Then for three or four days, increase the period by five or ten minutes each day.
You don't need to push beyond an hour. But just by spending three or four days building up your concentration, you'll really notice the difference. The important thing is not to take a break in that time, not even for a minute.
A Busy Mind Is a Focused Mind
What Nilli Lavie found helped keep people focused, was making the task more visually demanding. That meant adding more colors and shapes. So if you are focusing on learning something, use different colored pens and different symbols for indexing the information.
This takes up more of your brain's processing power and doesn't leave it with any inclination or energy to wander.
Don't Waste the Power Hour
Of course, there's no point in trying to be really focused at the end of a long day, it's just not going to happen. We are at our most alert first thing in the morning, so don't waste that first hour looking through emails. Give yourself one hour focused thinking on your current task and after that look at emails/check social media.
But make sure you stick to one hour. Your brain will find it a lot easier to stay focused when it knows it can bunk off after exactly an hour and look through emails and social media updates.
The secret is not to get distracted. So for that one hour, make sure the only connection is between you and your project; switch everything else off.“The secret is not to get distracted.”
Rock studied thousands of people and found that we are only truly focused for an average of only six hours per http://week.So try to give yourself one fully focused hour every weekday morning. Use it to work on an important project without any distraction. It's not the best way to focus; it's the only way to focus.
At this point, I will kindly ask you to recall the ‘fight or flight’ response involving body arousal through the secretion of hormones directly into our bloodstream as it flows in our cardiovascular system.
Arousal, as you can recall, is desirable in order to confront an imminent danger or run away and escape from it. Subsequently, once the episode has been dealt with, other hormones will be secreted restoring our body and mental conditions to calmness.
Muscle tension with rigidity is usually one of the bodily effects of intense stress and anxiety. It does make sense then to learn to use and apply one of the so-called ‘muscle relaxation techniques’ in implementing a consciously controlled program aiming to reduce stress and anxiety without the use of medication.
Muscle relaxation is something that you can learn to do by yourself and the presence of an instructor may be useful but not always necessary.
It was the work and publications of Harvard medical school cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson who introduced what he termed ‘The Relaxation Response’ which helped demystify oriental meditation techniques and made things more amiable and adaptable to westerners and the western way of life.
Attempting to put matters in simple terms we could see meditation as a variety of techniques which involve focusing in our breath tempo, creating visual imagery, or repeating a specific ‘tailor-made for each one of us’ word or phrase known as a ‘mantra’.
Meditation in its different forms and types and Benson’s relaxation response are closely related to providing us with the ability to minimize, and ultimately control the debilitating effects of the ‘fight or flight’ produced arousal, muscle tension, raised blood pressure and increased heartbeat rate.
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION TECHNIQUE
The progressive muscle relaxation technique appears to be one of the most popular in this group. If you will not be upset by complying with my kind request I will now ask you to stop your reading for only a few minutes and follow these simple directions in progressively tensing and relaxing your body muscles.
You can start the process from the neck and carry it through to your feet or, if so pleases you, take the opposite route:
Stress and clench the muscles of your left leg from your thigh all the way down to your ankle and foot for a few seconds while simultaneously taking slowly a deep breath.
Exhale deeply and slowly, relax all muscles of your leg all the way down to your left foot and keep calm for half a minute. Repeat the same sequence with your right leg tensing for a few seconds and relaxing for half a minute.
Go to your belly, clench and tense your abdominal muscles for a few seconds while taking slowly a deep breath, then exhale deeply and slowly and relax for about half a minute. Repeat the tense-inhale, relax-exhale sequence with your right hand, arm and shoulder.
Conclude by clenching and tensing both of the upper shoulder muscles all the way to your neck while inhaling deeply and slowly, then relax all muscles while you slowly exhale deeply and stay relaxed for about half a minute.
Stay relaxed, breathing calmly and feel your whole body wrapped-up with a pacifying and desired the feeling of calmness. Some instructors of progressive muscle relaxation techniques suggest that once you muster well the procedures involved.
keeping your eyes closed as you are in a relaxing state you can add some pleasant mental visual imagery and transfer yourself in these imaginary icons so as to succeed in forgetting the present state you are in as you are being absorbed into the visualization.
THE ROLE OF THE ADRENAL GLANDS
The adrenal glands are two triangular shaped organs located on top of each of our two kidneys. They are made up of two parts, namely the outer part which is known as the cortex and the inner part which is known as the medulla.
Each part of the adrenal glands plays a different role in operating within our body and contributing to our wellbeing but they are both related to the “fight or flight” syndrome which we briefly discussed above.
Should the need arise for immediate reaction to clear and present danger the adrenal cortex (the outer part of the gland) produces cortisol to help our body respond to stress and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
The adrenal medulla (the inner part of the gland) produces adrenaline which helps our body go into heightened stress levels and nor-adrenaline which helps restore calmness after the stress causing stimulus or event disappears or is handled efficiently.
CAUSES OF STRESS
In the daily life of our distant ancestors living in the primeval forest or in primitive villages in the grassland, surely there were stressors such as the need to find food, to secure shelter from adverse weather conditions, to overcome all sorts of dangers and successfully confront and deal with various other challenges.
You, I and all of us, though, can bring testimony to the fact that the modern, multicultural societies in which we are born, grow up and spend our lives while solving many of mankind’s older problems have amassed a host of challenges that easily transform into stressors catching us very often off-guard.
Losing a bus or a train when in a hurry, being late for an important job interview or for a romantic date, getting stuck in our cluttered highways are just a few day-to-day samples of stressors.
It is not an exaggeration to state that the causes of stress, (we already have referred to them as stressors), count almost in the myriads for some of us and in the dozens for some others.
They can occur over a short period of time or they can be a chronic state of affairs. Indeed, many aspects of everyday life can cause stress coming from the external environment or coming from our inner self.
For young people, external stressors are usually related to school, grades and performance demands and to interpersonal and romantic relationships with peers of the same or opposite sex.
Stressors can also originate from the person’s family in the form of possible friction with siblings and parents as well as from the behavior of parents facing marital and/or financial problems.
For young adults and more mature persons, external stressors are usually related to money and financial concerns, to difficulties encountered with work peers or supervisors. Within the family, setting stressors emerge from possible friction with a partner or spouse and with child problems when the persons are parents.
For all of us, the internal problems related to our personality and psychological make-up when they become acute can operate as stressors creating stress and necessitating proper handling and solutions.
Some people get themselves into stress because their ambitions are too high and very difficult to materialize, some because they are incurable perfectionists, while some others may be eternal worriers unable to accept their given realities, adjust and be happy.
It is true that some stressors, be they negative or positive, may constitute an enormous challenge to all of us. In the vast array of negative stressors, examples are the serious illness or even loss of a loved person or being laid off from your job.
Among the variety of positive stressors, we encounter the preparations for an engagement party or for our first day in our new job.
There are other, minor stressors, however which are usually managed fairly easily by some of us but may present a serious challenge to some others. To put in other words, what constitutes a critical issue is not only the severity of a stressor that matters but also the psychological make-up, the personality each one of us has and the behavioral patterns we have adopted in dealing with various stressors.
Persons who overly stressed, suffer lessened ability to manage responsibilities, which tends to pile on yet more pressure and intensify the stress condition.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF STRESS
It may appear somewhat repetitive and perhaps tire to state that there are myriads of stressors leading each one of us into stress, hour after hour, day after day and week after week throughout our lifetime. All of these stressors are usually, in scientific essays and articles as well as in popular presentations, classified into four major types of stress.
The four main types include the familiar to all of us basic everyday stress which is referred to by some as acute stress; the less familiar cumulative stress known also as episodic acute stress, the very serious critical incident stress and the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Basic, everyday stress also referred to as acute stress, encompasses all the stressors present in our daily life and ranging from minor problems in the family to problems at the workplace or in school and problems with our social network. Most psychologically well-adjusted individuals can and do manage to handle fairly well and without major consequences the various stressors.
In the case of heightened stress, well-adjusted individuals do go efficiently through the calmness-arousal-and return to calmness continuum described earlier above.
Basic or acute stress may stem from and indeed relates to the various difficulties we faced in our recent past or to challenges anticipated in our foreseeable future.
Cumulative stress which by some is referred to as episodic acute stress is the type usually affecting individuals who are not very well adjusted, may be ‘stuck’ in a miserable emotional relation, dysfunctional marriage or in a ‘leading to nowhere, non-motivating and not- promising’ work or employment setting.
Surely there are plenty of so-called external factors placing burden and stressing some persons. There are also many individuals who are overburdened by stress as they have the personality types characterized by pessimism, lack of optimism, self-deprecating attitudes.
Furthermore many others are overstressed as they have overambitious wishes, not supported by the necessary skills, dexterities, and talents required to handle them efficiently and successfully.
In the cumulative or episodic acute stress type the variables of frequency, intensity, and duration some into play and exacerbate the stress in which these psychological types of individuals find themselves.
Cumulative or episodic acute stress is seen by some as the end result or piling-up basic manageable stress which is not properly dealt with and ends up going out of control.
For some writers, in the field, this type of stress is referred to as chronic stress and it involves persons trapped, because of personality structure or external social commitments and demands.
In situations where the challenging and demeaning pressures of stress are continuous, overbearing and detrimental to their health necessitating medical intervention which, depending on the person and the physician, usually combines medication with psychological support therapy.
The critical incident stress relates to major, almost catastrophic events that engulf and imprison a person into unmanageable stress overtaxing physical and emotional reserves.
The death of a loved person, engagement in a serious automobile accident involving loss of life or major injuries or the loss of a job through a redundancy program are some examples of such critical incident stress.
I was often time surprised to find out from participants in my courses in understanding, controlling and managing stress that many of them (and surely many of you in everyday affairs) are excellent diagnosticians for the problems others face, for example, relatives at home, fellow employees at work or classmates in their school environment.
To put it differently, it appears that we can see the effects of stress in others but we are not so skillful in diagnosing ourselves as being victims of stress. Be it as it may, let us now take a brief look at the range of symptoms we may experience as we are experiencing stress or we are diagnosing it in relatives, friends, and associates.
There are four major categories of effects (symptoms) related to uncontrolled stress:
Behavioral changes, and,
In order to better understand the physical-organic changes resulting from excessive stress, which the suffering individual experiences as effects or symptoms, I would ask you to recall our previous brief discussion of the relationship of the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the adrenal glands to stress.
The stress response involves the secretion of hormones directly into our bloodstream as part of the ‘fight-flight response’ which provide extra resources of energy to our aroused body.
The circulation of adrenaline will cause tachycardia (increased heartbeats), while the increased rate of breathing may result in making us feel dizzy and physically unstable and additionally, we may experience sweating.
These physical-organic symptoms aim to enhance our fighting ability if engaged in a fight with the threatening sensor is unavoidable, or our fleeing speed should our judgment dictate avoidance of engagement and running away toward ‘salvation’.
The emotional changes while we are experiencing the stress mode include an increased sense of irritability, significantly increased sense of overload and inexplicable sadness, an exhibition of some rather inappropriate states of shock and, finally, a gradual sense of sinking into a state of depression.
The behavioral changes we experience when our stress levels escape our ability to control them encompass alterations in our usual social manners, in our personal hygiene, and in our eating habits.
Typical and easily observable changes in our behavioral patterns which we may easily observe in our relatives, friends, schoolmates and fellow employees and, when we are the victims they can observe in our behavior include a tendency to long periods of silence and an unusual but easily noticeable avoidance of participation in group activities.
When we lose control of our stress levels and we enter the overstressed region others can see in us or, vice versa, should that happen to others we can notice some serious cognitive changes in them?
Excessive and uncontrollable stress will result in lowered concentration levels, sudden memory dysfunctions and a tendency to procrastination coupled with an obvious inability to decision making.
Stress and anxiety are not two entirely different conditions and, vice versa, they are not identical conditions either. It should be clear by now from our previous discussion that stress is our body/mind reaction to situations that are threatening and require mobilization and response.
We can be stressed not only when obvious and real threat stressors (perceived as dangers) are present but sometimes as we ‘perceive’ of threats which are not part of the so-called objective reality but emanate from inner thoughts and subconscious feelings, threats, and challenges; the same holds true for anxiety.
Anxiety is part and parcel of the human condition and relates to situations or challenges which are not clear and present but are perceived as threatening, uncontrollable or unavoidable.
Some relevant research findings show that anxiety resembles long-term, chronic stress while chronic stress appears to be a component of anxiety disorder. However, it is not necessary for people who face stress problems to manifest anxiety disorders as well.
Anxiety is defined as a pervasive feeling of unease, worry or fear which ranges from a mild level to more acute levels of severity. Everyone has some feelings of anxiety relating to challenging situations such as facing a job interview if you are seeking employment, or preparing for an examination if you are a high school, college or university student.
These are normal phenomena for the average person but things become problematic for those who are continuously worried and suffer from anxiety.
The ‘automatic’ or ‘objective’ anxiety which is more primitive and primary and relates to feelings of fear emanating from some real and present threat of potential severe trauma and perhaps total annihilation of the self.
The ‘signal ’or ‘neurotic’ anxiety which is not related to real and present danger but more to some imaginary signal/warning that a threatening experience which could prove catastrophic might be coming and the individual should react by immediate mobilization of resources for protection.
Modern views of anxiety which are useful in the present context of our discussion encompass a widely accepted typology which is made up and includes the following types: The generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (anxiety attacks), post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder (social phobias).
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a specific type of problematic anxiety levels that causes some persons to be anxious about a wide range of events, situations or conditions to be met.
Persons suffering from GAD are the ones popularly referred to as ‘chronic worriers’. Unresolved stress has a magnifying impact on the anxiety levels experienced by persons with GAD.
In the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) the persons are obsessed with thoughts and behaviors which they cannot control, avoid or stop. Often time the obsessive-compulsive sufferers will admit that their thoughts border on silliness but they cannot avoid returning to make sure they have locked their car’s or apartment doors or turned off the oven, or even washing their hands again and again.
The Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been briefly presented above. This type of anxiety disorder may occur weeks, months and in some cases, even years after the individual has had a severely traumatic, life-threatening experience and its symptoms include nightmares, intense irritability, and fears, avoidance of social contacts and isolation.
Social anxiety disorder involves symptoms of social phobia ranging from extreme shyness and the avoidance of public places as the individual is afraid of rejection to the so-called ‘stage fright’ which involves avoidance of public performance such as standing in front of your classmates or having to address an audience.
Stress Relief and Stress Out Methods
In this section Stress Relief and Stress, Out strategy will be dealt with as a broad attempt for you to alter the way you have been living your life and help you draw a new plan of actions and behaviors.
Am I pleased with the way my emotions operate leading me to high levels of stress and anxiety? Are the problems and challenges confronting me insurmountable or am I handling them wrongly? Are my attitudes in life, toward loved ones and friends and toward my work the right ones?
Can I change what are for my challenges and problems or should I change the way I handle them? Throughout the centuries and millennia, Meditation has taken a variety of forms as practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism and so has yoga which combines physical, mental and spiritual practice.
Before we proceed to examine stress reduction techniques we will harbor a bit longer on the questions listed above and in addition, I will bring to your attention a paragraph from Aristotle’s book ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ in which the great philosopher and teacher discusses the feeling of anger;
I happen to be one of those who believes that Aristotle’s view served as the nucleus, the live seed if you would prefer, which blossomed conceptually into the theory of ‘Emotional Intelligence’.
Changing your life strategy in dealing with stress and anxiety is surely and undeniably not an easy task. It requires fundamental changes in your attitudes toward people, events, and situations.
Attitudes are formed from childhood on to adulthood and they are functionally interwoven in the structures of our personality and so resistance to change them is not only a very difficult task but for some persons, it could perhaps be a threatening experience.
Changing our individual life strategy is indeed a major call and will demand to examine each and every aspect of our socio-psychological being in the process of replacing the dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors with more functional ones.
To put it in simple terms, or in other words, changing our life strategy will demand time, psychological resources, social support from family and friends and financial means which most of us do not possess.
In other words, uncontrolled stress and anxiety will tend to place your daily life in serious jeopardy. So stress control and reduction of anxiety levels is needed if you desire to improve the quality of your everyday life and of your relationships.
USE OF ALCOHOL, CANNABIS AND PRESCRIBED DRUGS
The Japanese have a very useful proverb which states ‘as a start, I take a drink, then the drink takes a drink and finally, the drink takes me…’
You could, alternatively, choose to use another type of ‘social pacifier’ by accepting and smoking that rolled marijuana joint, the weed or grass cigarette the host or one of your friends at the party you are attending is so politely and generously offering you.
Finally, if alcohol and cannabis ‘do not do the trick’ for you, then you could pull out of your bathroom-house pharmacy a couple of these ‘miracle pills’, namely medications your physician has prescribed which affect your nervous system and aim specifically to control your stress and anxiety levels and to lessen their detrimental effects on your emotional, social and professional well-being.
After all, stress and anxiety reduction is the very reason that pharmaceutical companies with global marketing facilities engage in extensive and costly research, and after successful testing in animals and humans, sell through pharmacies their ‘pacifying’ products.
The problem with prescription medication for stress and anxiety control is that some people, unable to lessen their stress/anxiety levels with the specified dosage levels will resort to the dangerous practice of using pills in combination with alcohol or cannabis.
Is alcohol, marijuana smoking or legally prescribed pills the solution?
Personally, I will respond with a resounding NO to the use of alcohol and cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, grass, joint, pot, Maryjane, locoweed etc.) to control your stress and lower your anxiety levels.
As far as prescription drugs are concerned, my advice would be to use them only when your physician has determined that you will not be able to perform your daily duties without them.
In such cases, your physician will keep in touch with you making sure that the medications are used only within a specific time span and at the specified dosages and, sometimes, in conjunction with supportive psychotherapy.
The web is full of advertisements offering drugs without prescriptions but I would strongly advise you against it.
My categorical answer in the form of the two-letter word NO might surprise you. Please bear in mind that it comes to me naturally after having amassed substantial experiences and first-hand knowledge working for several decades with drug-dependent persons of sexes, all ages, and ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations, educational and socio-economic status.
Half a century of experience working with persons attending various rehabilitation programs including 24-hour live-in drug-free therapeutic communities, or as clients in my private practice at both sides of the Atlantic Ocean I have enough good reasons to be so negative on alcohol, drugs and prolonged use of pills.
Indeed if the use of alcohol and illegal or legally prescribed drugs were the ‘solution’ in attempting to control your stress and ease your anxiety it would be senseless for me to write this book, and even more so for you to spend time reading it.
My personal aim is to offer you a good understanding of the causes, the mechanisms involved and the nature and types of stress (and anxiety) and to provide you with some down to earth, simple and yet effective drug-free ‘solutions’.
As you can imagine I will not dwell any longer on the subject of alcohol and illegal drugs but feel obliged to briefly expand on the issue of medication prescription as it is something that involves large numbers of persons plagued by uncontrollable stress and anxiety levels.
One of the main problems associated with these and similar drugs is that the persons may become dependent on them as they control the symptoms but do not help the sufferer learn more about stress or anxiety as is the case with other, drug-free methods in effectively dealing with them.
The reality remains, however, that people are in a hurry, time may not translate always and for everybody into ‘money’, but in seeking ‘quick relief and quick solutions’ prescribed medications are preferred by many who are seeking immediate, symptom liberating help.
Prescribing drugs which can help you control your stress and anxiety levels fall in the domain of medical doctors, who could be general pathologists or specialists in psychiatry.
It is not a rare occurrence but a frequently encountered reality that some psychiatrists are properly trained and may in addition to prescribing drugs provide to their clients psychoanalytic or some other type of psychotherapeutic services.
Psychologists, and specialized and properly trained and licensed social workers and counselors come into the picture when psychotherapeutic treatment is needed for serious stress and anxiety problems.
Psychotherapists are trained and specialize in a variety of psychotherapeutic orientations and forms but experience has shown for those seeking specialized help the most effective type of therapy for stress/anxiety problems seems to be the ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ (CBT).
CBT belongs to the general area of Behaviour Modification therapies and so while undergoing CBT the individual is made aware of irrational or maladaptive thoughts that underlie severe, uncontrollable stress and anxiety and progressively helped to replace them with logical and functional patterns of thought.
The individual is, furthermore, guided in learning breathing techniques and muscle relaxation techniques. In some cases the psychotherapist, psychologist, social worker or counselor, while providing psychotherapeutic treatment may cooperate with the physicians-psychiatrists who may have already prescribed medication to their clients.
OUR NERVOUS SYSTEMS AND THE PHYSIOLOGY OF STRESS
I happen to have grown up in an environment that encouraged the pursuit of knowledge and I have spent my professional life as an academic and a practitioner encouraging my students, clients, and trainees to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and to absorb information that could someday prove to be useful both in their personal daily lives as well as in exercising their duties as students, workers or professional managers.
We as humans poses a very sophisticated nervous system which can be divided into two major parts, namely, The Central Nervous System (CNS) which includes our brain which is located in and protected by our skull, that is the cranial structure, and the spinal cord which is protected by our spinal vertebrae.
The Peripheral Nervous System(PNS) which is made up of all our nerves and nerve cells lying outside the CNS and which operates relaying information from the CNS to our bodily organs and from our bodily organs to the CNS.
The Autonomic Nervous system(ANS) is fundamentally a major part of our PNS and serves the significant function of ensuring that all our internal organs and glands function properly.
The ANS is made up of two subsystems, namely the Sympathetic and the Para-Sympathetic both of which relate to the same internal organs and glands but serve opposite functions.
At the moment our brain decides that we must engage in the ‘fight or flight’ response immediately the sympathetic subsystem is aroused first and mobilizes our resources which bring us to a raised stress level.
Subsequently when the threat has disappeared or effectively dealt with the parasympathetic subsystem comes into play helping us return to a state of calmness and rest. Within our brain, the Autonomic Nervous System is regulated by the area known as the hypothalamus.