Tuesday, October 19, 2021

From Chaos to Calm Part 1

 

Carrie Demers, MD

August 19, 2019



Remember the tale “The Lady or the Tiger?” As it ends, the hero is standing before two identical doors: one conceals a beautiful maiden; the other, a ferocious tiger. He must open one of the doors—the choice is his—but he has no way of knowing which will bring forth the lady and which will unleash the tiger.

I am sometimes reminded of this story when a patient is describing one of the symptoms of chronic stress: headaches, indigestion, ulcers, tight muscles, high blood pressure, or some combination of these. When I point out that the symptom is stress-related, the patient seems resigned—stress is such a constant in most people’s lives that all the doors seem to have tigers lurking behind them. Most people who find their way to my office know the fight-or-flight response is hardwired into our nervous system, and many have come to accept a constant feeling of tension as normal, even inevitable.

Like the hero in the story, we have a choice.

It isn’t. Like the hero in the story, we have a choice. There is another response to the challenges of everyday living—another door—also hardwired into our nervous system. And unlike the hero, whose destiny rests with chance, we can discover which door is which. A general understanding of how the nervous system responds to stress, coupled with training in three simple techniques, makes it possible for us to distinguish one door from the other. Practicing these techniques gives us the power to open the lady’s door while keeping the tiger’s door firmly closed.

Unleashing the Tiger

The autonomic nervous system controls the body’s involuntary processes: respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, gastric juice secretion, peristalsis, body temperature, and so on. It has two main branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic. When we feel stressed, our brain activates the sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight response we’ve all heard so much about. This response causes the adrenal medulla to secrete adrenaline, a hormone that circulates in the bloodstream affecting almost every organ.

Adrenaline revs up the body to survive a threat to life and limb: The heart pumps faster and harder, causing blood pressure to spike and respiration to increase and move primarily into the chest. Airways dilate to bring more oxygen into the body; blood sugar rises to provide a ready supply of fuel; some blood vessels constrict to shunt blood away from the skin and the core of the body, while others dilate to bring more blood to the brain and limbs.

The result? A body pumped up to fight or run and a hyper-alert mind. When we find ourselves face-to-face with a tiger, this stress response dramatically increases our chances of surviving. Once the threat has passed, our sympathetic nervous system calms down and homeostasis is re-established.

We need mild sympathetic nervous system stimulation to get us out of bed in the morning, to focus, to plan. We need a bit more to speak or perform in front of a group, for example, but we need it at full throttle only to meet a life-threatening situation. The problem is that many of us have lost our capacity to regulate our fight-or-flight reaction, and full-throttle activation is almost constant. The source of our stress is psychological rather than physical—a perception that something crucial to us is threatened. We worry about the future, our jobs, our relationships, our finances, or getting stuck in traffic, but even though the perceived threat is psychological, it triggers the archaic survival response.

We find ourselves in a constant state of tension.

The upshot? We find ourselves in a constant state of tension, poised to fight or flee, with stress hormones washing through our bodies almost continuously. You can see the consequence if you consider what happens when adrenaline floods the body: elevated blood pressure, rapid shallow breathing, high blood sugar, and indigestion. Adrenaline makes our platelets stickier, so our blood will clot quickly if we are wounded, which increases our chances of surviving a physical injury. However, chronically sticky platelets are apt to clot and create blockages in our arteries, thus setting the stage for a heart attack or stroke.

The damage doesn’t end there. When we are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, the adrenal cortex secretes cortisol, a steroid whose job is to help us adapt to a prolonged emergency by ensuring that we have enough fuel. Cortisol acts on the liver and muscle tissues, causing them to synthesize sugars (glucose) and fats and release them into the bloodstream. Excess sugar in the bloodstream leads to diabetes, and excess fat to high cholesterol/high triglycerides. Both conditions boost our chances of developing heart disease. Cortisol has been the focus of a lot of research on stress in the last decade and is now linked to multiple disease states including insulin resistance and diabetes, osteoporosis, thyroid dysfunction, and even memory loss.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? It is. A chronically activated sympathetic nervous system keeps the body under constant pressure. If we ignore the early warning symptoms—tight shoulders, digestive upset, recurring headaches, a tendency to lose our temper or become easily upset—sooner or later the tiger will tear us up.

Rather than living under the tyranny of a ramped-up sympathetic nervous system, we can learn to trigger the parasympathetic system instead—the rest-and-digest response. Just as the fight-or-flight response automatically kicks in when danger threatens, the rest-and-digest response automatically responds to our sense of equilibrium. When it is activated, our heart rate drops, our blood pressure falls, and our respiration slows and deepens. Blood flow to the core of the body is re established—this promotes good digestion, supports the immune system, and infuses us with a sense of well-being.



We enter this state unconsciously when we’re enjoying a vacation, in the throes of a hearty laugh, or in deep sleep. It feels good, and it offers a much-needed respite from the hectic pace we set for ourselves. But, unfortunately, we have come to accept stress as the norm and to expect the feeling of relaxed well-being to come about only sporadically—and so it does. We release the tiger a dozen times a day, even though the other door is also there in every moment. Once we learn to open it at will, we can override the harmful habit of triggering our stress response, by activating the rest-and-digest component of our nervous system instead.

Meeting the Lady

I use a variety of natural therapies in my medical practice to minimize chronic stress. The three that are simplest and most accessible are exercise, diaphragmatic breathing, and relaxation. Exercise generally loosens physical tension and dissipates the pent-up energy that the stress response fosters. Deep breathing and systematic relaxation nourish and strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system, so that the rest-and-digest response is activated and in time becomes our normal mode. With that in mind, let’s look at some ways we can open Door Number Two.

... to be continued




Monday, March 15, 2021

Three Steps To Boost Critical Thinking


 “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”

Henri Bergson

Leaders know the importance of critical thinking, especially during times of crisis. The pandemic requires that leaders provide thoughtful and informed direction, helping guide their team forward even when the way ahead looks uncertain.

Although you know your team looks to you for leadership, you may be struggling to think clearly during these tumultuous times. Some experts call it a “brain fog,” as your attention becomes limited and you look for threats.

Fortunately, you can emerge from the fog and lead your team well. You can start by following three steps to improve your critical thinking, as outlined by leadership writer and TEDx speaker, Tanveer Naseer.

Plan for thinking time. As your work schedule and location shifted over the past few months, you may have gotten sidetracked. You can get back on track by scheduling time specifically for thinking. Working from home gives you more control over your day, but you also must contend with many more distractions. Naseer encourages leaders to block off thinking time in their calendars. And he advises professionals schedule time for exercise as well, so they are not stationed in front of a laptop all day.

Take a walk for quiet time. Sometimes, all you need to clear your mind is to get outside for a walk. Naseer says getting out of your office for a walk is an important way to boost your critical thinking skills during the pandemic. When you take a walk, you give yourself a quiet space to think and reflect. You also give yourself a change of scenery, which does wonders for your mental health. At the very least, he says it gives you a break from reading the latest news around the coronavirus. See if you can schedule just 10 minutes a day to get some fresh air and walk around your block or office building.


Breathe deeply. There is truth behind the phrase “take a deep breath” when you are upset about something. Naseer says breathing deeply really does make a difference in how you feel and think, both of which can impact your critical thinking skills. He notes that researchers at Northwestern University conducted a series of experiments that demonstrated that inhaling through the nose stimulates brain areas associated with memory processing and decision-making more than inhaling through the mouth. When you inhale through your nose when absorbing new information, you can actually better retain that information.

Critical thinking is necessary to be the best leader for your sales team. While no one knows when the global pandemic will end, you can take steps now to guide your team through the weeks and months ahead. Be sure to give yourself time every day to think. Do not let a busy schedule get in the way of your planned thinking time. It’s also a good idea to step away from your laptop occasionally to take a walk. And always remember to breathe deeply. It can help you reset and retain information.

 

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Tanveer Naseer is an internationally acclaimed leadership and TEDx speaker, award-winning leadership writer, and principal and founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership. 


Monday, March 1, 2021

Simple Ways To End Each Workday On A Positive Note




 

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Maya Angelou

Even when you love your job, some days are difficult. You may have had to make a tough staffing decision. Or maybe you didn’t win the client you had been working so hard to land. When you carry those stresses and negative emotions with you at the end of the workday, it becomes difficult to experience true joy and fulfillment.

That’s why Abby Wolfe, a content marketing expert, advises professionals to close each day on a positive note. Just as you make a plan to start your day, you should also approach the end of your workday with intention.

Run through your achievements. Taking just five minutes to review what you accomplished in the workday is a powerful habit, says Wolfe. By reflecting on your daily victories, you can build your confidence and assess your strengths. If you felt like you did not have a productive day, looking back on what you made happen can help provide a feel-good boost to carry you into your evening or weekend. Even if you did not check off all the items on your to-do list, give yourself credit for showing up anyway. Don’t dwell on those items you still need to get done.

Do some prep for the next workday. Before you end your workday, spend a few minutes writing out the tasks and goals you need to accomplish next. Think about upcoming meetings that you may need to prep for or important deadlines coming up. By simply acknowledging what you need to do next, you can lighten your mental burden. You no longer have to stay awake mulling over what you need to do because you have already noted the important projects and meetings coming up next.



Tidy up your space. Whether you are working at home or you have returned to the office, keeping a clean workspace can help you end the workday happy. When you organize your files, wash those coffee cups that may have stacked up and tidy up the things on your desk, it’s like tying up the loose ends of your day with a bow, says Wolfe.  When your space is clean, you won’t end the day feeling like you have forgotten something.

Schedule things you enjoy. Wolfe notes that happiness doesn’t just come to you – you have to invest the effort to find happiness. This means making time to do things that make you happy, whether that’s penciling in a phone call with a friend or unwinding with 30 minutes yoga at the end of the day. When you know you have something enjoyable to look forward to, you bring happiness into your life before you actually do the thing that sparks joy.

Don’t let difficult days at work derail you. You have control over how you think about your day and how you prepare for the next one. Use the tips above to infuse more positivity into your days, no matter what your workday looked like.


Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Abby Wolfe is a content management and marketing professional living in Portland, Maine. Her career and health-focused writing has been featured on The Muse, Trello, Cove and more.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Helpful Ways To Manage Stress And Avoid Burnout

 

"Believe in yourself, trust your gut and surround yourself with resilient people who inspire you to be better."

Monique Hicks

Maybe you have a colleague or a family member who remains calm no matter what. Even in the face of persistent and overwhelming stress, they somehow manage to keep their stress under control. What gives? According to the "Leading Through Burnout" study, it comes down to one thing: emotional intelligence (EI).

Kandi Wiens, Ed.D., an executive coach, national speaker and organizational change consultant, and Annie McKee, the director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program, say that EI supports superior coping abilities and helps people deal with chronic stress and prevent burnout. 

In this issue, we share advice from Dr. Wiens and McKee on how to better manage stress and avoid burnout.

Don't be the source of your stress. Too many of us create our own stress, with its full bodily response, merely by thinking about or anticipating future episodes or encounters that might be stressful, say Dr. Wiens and McKee. People who have a high need to achieve or perfectionist tendencies may be more prone to creating their own stress. Dr. Wiens and McKee found in their research that leaders who are attuned to the pressures they put on themselves are better able to control their stress level.

Recognize your limitations. Becoming more aware of your strengths and weaknesses will clue you in to where you need help. In their study, Dr. Wiens and McKee discovered that those who recognized when demands were outweighing their abilities didn't go it alone—they surrounded themselves with trusted advisors and asked for help.


Take deep breaths. When you feel your tension and anxiety rapidly rising, take a moment to breathe. Mindfulness practices help us deal with immediate stressors and long-term difficulties. Practicing mindfulness allows you to be more open to other solutions so you don't have to waste time in defense mode. Heightening your awareness of your breathing may be difficult at first, note Dr. Wiens and McKee, but remember that attention is the ultimate act of self-control.

Re-evaluate your perspective of the situation. While you can't change what's happening in the world right now, it helps to change your perspective. When you shift your mindset, you might see that what once felt like stress is a problem you want to solve.

Try putting yourself in the other person's shoes. Dr. Wiens and McKee say that the stress from conflicts often leads to burnout so it's best to deescalate conflicts when you can. Be inquisitive, ask questions and listen deeply. Keep your attention to the other person and focus on what he is trying to tell you. By seeking to understand his perspective, you'll be in a much better position to gain his trust and influence him.

By working to improve your emotional intelligence, you can make significant strides in preventing burnout. Remember that improving EI takes time, so be patient with yourself.

 

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Kandi Wiens, Ed.D. is an executive coach, national speaker and organizational change consultant. Annie McKee is the director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program. She is also the author of How to Be Happy at Work and a coauthor of Primal Leadership, Resonant Leadership and Becoming a Resonant Leader.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Learn To Avoid Burnout And Enjoy Time Off

 "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you."

Anne Lamott

 

If you find it hard to step away from work, you're not alone. For many professionals and business owners, the work never stops. While you might think buckling down and working to get ahead is good for business, it can also lead to burnout. When you're burned out, you can't deliver 100 percent. You might see yourself making mistakes or working slower than usual. Beyond work, burnout can impact your overall health. You might lose sight of good habits such as eating right, exercising and getting enough rest.

David Rodeck, a Delaware-based copywriter, says it's important to watch for signs of burnout, such as being overly critical or feeling less excited to work. You also might find yourself reworking the same task or losing focus, which are signs that you need a break. If you see yourself heading down the path of burnout, don't despair. There are some ways to turn it around so you can get back to enjoying all aspects of your life.

1. Take care of your body. Remember to exercise and eat right. Your body is your most valuable piece of equipment, so make sure to maintain it properly. Rodeck says that even when he's slammed with work, he always makes time for a nightly walk. Otherwise, he runs into serious writer's block.

2. Rethink your work goals. Could your work goals be too ambitious? Maybe you're taking on too many projects or over-promising on the delivery schedule. Personal time should be a set part of your calendar and built into project expectations.


3. Get enough sleep. Those quiet hours late at night or early morning are a tempting opportunity to catch up on work, but this time shouldn't be at expense of your sleep. The Mayo Clinic recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for the typical adult.

4. Learn to delegate. Whether it's passing work to employees, bringing on a contractor/freelancer or outsourcing an entire project to another firm, delegating will free up your time so you can relax and concentrate only on your most important priorities and on those to which you can bring the most value.

5. Focus on a positive future. When you're buried under deadlines and other work problems, it can feel like a never-ending slog. But Rodeck wants to remind leaders and sales professionals that they will get through this and better days are coming soon. When something goes wrong, ask, "Will I still be upset about this a year from now?" That can put things in perspective. Practicing yoga and mindfulness can also help your mindset.

6. Take time off. Above all, prioritize taking time off. You need those moments to recharge and enjoy the benefits of all your hard work.

Commit to taking some time off to rest and recharge. You'll do yourself—and your clients—a lot of good.

 

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: David Rodeck is a financial copywriter based in Delaware. Before writing full time, he was a financial advisor.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Tips For Staying Productive When Working Remotely

 

"Persistence – the ability to keep moving forward in spite of difficulties."

Byron Pulsifier

 

In the wake of COVID-19, most companies are requiring or recommending that employees work from home for the foreseeable future. This mandate can be stressful when you're used to working in a bustling office or visiting with clients face to face. If you don't often work from home, it's helpful to have a grasp on how to stay focused, engaged and productive.

In this issue, we share some advice from Patrick Lucas Austin, a technology columnist for TIME, on how to succeed at working remotely.

Location, location, location. Try to find yourself a dedicated and comfortable spot to work that you can associate with your job and leave when you're off the clock, recommends Austin. This means getting off the couch and definitely out of bed. Try to set up a dedicated home office where you can close the door and shut out distractions. To prevent spreading COVID-19, avoid working from public places such as coffee shops.

Find a buddy. Just because you must work remotely doesn't mean you must be socially disconnected. Austin points out that social interactions — even with coworkers via Slack — can alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness. Find a colleague you can talk to or text when you're feeling the need to chat with someone. Alternatively, buddy up with a friend who works elsewhere and is going through the same experience. It's also helpful to hop on a social video call.

Have a plan. When working alone, it's critical to keep a more structured daily schedule than usual. When you go into an office, the structure of your day is influenced by other people. Austin encourages professionals who are working from home to schedule multiple breaks into their day, whether it's playing with their dog or pausing to grab the day's mail.


Consider how you're communicating. For clear communication, go beyond email and use other digital tools that can better replicate the in-person office experience. Look to tools such as videoconferencing services, Slack or Zoom. You can also explore screen sharing to ensure members of your team are on the same page. Austin also recommends boosting camaraderie and bringing a smile during these difficult days with a remote lunch date. Invite everyone on your team to enjoy a meal together via videoconferencing. It's a way to connect with colleagues and help everyone still feel like part of the team.  

Remember everyone works differently. Managers should remember that not every employee wants to work from home, which can make for a stressful switch. Austin recommends that leaders communicate as much as possible and help employees struggling with the change.

If you're not used to working remotely, it can be a big adjustment—for you and for your team. If you're grappling with the new remote reality, it helps by making sure you have a dedicated spot to perform your job and connect with your clients and team members. Then, be sure to stay connected and have a plan for your day. Remember that it's a process. Give yourself—and your team—some grace.

 

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Patrick Lucas Austin is a technology columnist at TIME. His work has also appeared in Complex, Gizmodo, The Wirecutter, Consumer Reports and others.