Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - PreventingStress6Steps-sm
How can we create a model for managing and preventing stress
o major health victory has EVER been achieved without prevention. We can only fix
one person at a time when they are already sick. But we can PREVENT illness by the
millions. Sanitation and vaccines provided the first major public health victories.
Could simply changing a person’s attitudes toward unhealthy behaviors like stress provide
the next? If so, is there a precedent for this type of across- the-board attitude change
already in existence?
Less than half a century ago doctors and nurses smoked IN hospitals, expectant mothers
smoked while pregnant, underage students smoked IN high schools and adults of all kinds
smoked on planes, in restaurants, in offices, around children, and even in other people’s
houses who didn’t smoke!
Obviously our attitudes toward smoking have changed dramatically. But this change didn’t
just happen overnight. People had to be taught and convinced that this was an unhealthy
behavior. The evidence had to be made crystal clear. Even the rights of non-smokers
needed to be recognized.
Unfortunately, we haven’t had the
same success trying to change
people’s attitudes toward stress,
at least so far. In fact, you could
say: We are today with stress,
where we were with smoking 50
years ago. The sad truth is that
people get stressed more than
ever and their stress is affecting
them in ways they might not even
realize! Mothers get stressed while pregnant
(and the stress chemicals are passed across the placenta
and permanently alter the life of that newborn child). Children get
stressed in schools, (resulting in test anxiety and reduced attention) and
adults of all kinds get stressed on planes (air rage) while driving (road
rage) while firefighting, policing or defending our country (PTSD) while
attending to the sick (compassion fatigue) and certainly while doing
ANY type of work (job stress and burnout).
tress has reached epidemic proportions and most people barely seem to notice or
even care: Just as it was with smoking 50 years ago. And just like with smoking,
there’s second-hand stress, too. The difficult boss; The violent co-worker; The
angry customer; The aggressive driver: All are happy to share their stress with innocent
The American Psychological Association (APA) has been trying to raise awareness about the
dangers of stress for over a decade now. Since the year 2007 the APA has been conducting
“The Stress in America” survey which has been an excellent source of information about
how pervasive a problem stress has become in our culture. Dr. Norman Anderson,
Executive Vice President of The APA warns “stress has the potential to become the next
public health crisis.”
Heart disease alone is the biggest killer in the US by far. It takes more lives than the
next three killers on the list (cancer, stroke and lung disease) combined! A major risk
factor for heart disease is STRESS. For people who don’t smoke and eat a relatively healthy
diet, and are not obese, stress may be the number one lifestyle risk factor when it comes to
Stress has also been associated with 7 out of ten of the leading causes of death in
These are all diseases with a stress component to them. That means that stress contributes
to the disease process without necessarily causing it. What we know for sure is that
chronic unrelenting stress leads to chronic disease. Dr. Norman Anderson of the APA
confirms: “Various studies have shown that chronic stress is a major driver of chronic
illness which in turn is a major driver of increased health care costs in this country.”
Containing health care costs is yet another reason why we all need to address the subject of
In addition to contributing to chronic disease which can stop work altogether; stress can
greatly hamper a person’s ability to work also. Signs and symptoms of stress that can
affect a worker’s output include tension headaches, migraine headaches, back pain, neck
pain, fatigue, depression, stomach upsets, agitation, having a short fuse and the inability
to focus. Any one of these stress-related health issues can really slow a person down and
greatly diminish his or her level of productivity.
•• Heart attack
•• Accidental death
•• Liver disease
•• Lung disease
ith the advent of technologies like mobile phones and other wireless devices that
make it hard to get away from work and that lead to even further distraction and
increased tension it’s no wonder that in certain areas of the country stress levels
are at an all time high.
There’s another even more insidious aspect to all this over-dependence on technology.
It creates a stream of work that is never ending so there’s rarely the sense of completion
at the end of each work day. In addition, our technology is leading to sedentary lives
where we spend 8 hours a day sitting in an office chair and we engage in passive forms
of entertainment at night like watching sports and listening to music. (Remember the
good old days when people played sports and played instruments?) It may be that it’s our
sedentary lifestyles – encouraged by technology – that are leading us to atrophy, inactivity
and weight gain.
New research confirms that managing stress may hold the key to overcoming a wide
variety of health problems associated with lifestyle risk-factors like
smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. It turns out that our ability to
resist these unhealthy temptations may hinge on our ability to manage
stress. In other words, usually when we start a diet, start an exercise plan
or quit smoking and then fall off the wagon, the reason we do so is
because of stress.
So how do we create a model for stress management that
works for us now? How can we give people tools that they
can use at work and at home, that don’t require a major time
commitment since time pressure is another major source of
stress? How can we change the culture around how we manage
our stress, without having to totally overhaul the culture that
is already in place? And finally is there a way to intrinsically
motivate people to make these changes themselves, so they can
create their own self-paced stress management programs?
Introducing THE STRESS PREVENTION MODEL. The Stress
Prevention Model is a new 6-step model for managing stress at home
and at work. It’s a model that recognizes the realities of managing
stress. It’s a PROACTIVE model that understands that on some days the
average person doesn’t even have time to catch his or her breath, let
alone take time out to meditate, exercise or practice yoga.
THE STRESS PREVENTION MODEL
1. Assess your stress.
2. Avoid unnecessary stress.
3. Appraise every stressful situation rationally.
4. Accept stress using mindfulness.
5. Activate your life to build resilience.
6. Attune to others by building your support network.
The stress prevention model promotes strategies that can be used at work and at home
allowing anyone to manage their stress on the fly. It’s a model that is built on changing
the structure of how individuals see stress and how they interact with it. It relies on
simple time-tested strategies like journaling, planning, time management, cognitive
restructuring, mindfulness and resilience training that have been around for decades and
have been clinically proven to be effective.
hen Dr. Hans Selye, an
endocrinologist and considered
the grandfather of the stress
concept, first defined stress, he was studying
the physical effects of stress on rats like
extremes of hot and cold. PHYSICAL stress
is a bit easier to quantify and explain so his
original definition of stress was simply “the
response of the body to demands placed on
it.” Defining stress got trickier though, when
scientists realized - later in the 20th century
- that most stress is PYSCHOLGOICAL stress.
So it made sense that it was a psychologist,
Richard Lazarus who finally came up with a
definition of stress a few decades later that
a lot more people (but not everyone) could
“When the demands placed on you exceed your ability to meet
This definition is often used when describing the “fit” between a person and his or her
work environment. This definition implies a transaction between the person and their
environment that almost always takes place in a stressful situation. So, it’s not just the
demands placed on you that results in stress. It’s your ability to meet those demands. In
fact, Selye, later on in his life liked to say: “It’s not what happens to you that matters but
how you take it.”
Lazarus’s definition of stress is often also used to define job stress. For example, usually the
best candidates for a new job or a new position are the ones where there is a good person-
environment fit or “P-E fit.” In other words where the applicant’s capabilities match what
he or she will be expected to do.
Definition of Stress
Hans Selye, the Canadian scientist who coined the term stress.
Here’s how the Lazarus definition plays out in the six-step model:
Step 1: Assess
Assess the demands being placed on you. Figure out what they are. Measure them. You
can’t solve a problem until you know exactly what it is.
Step 2: Avoid
Avoid the demands that don’t match your capabilities. Delegate the jobs you can’t
do or don’t want to do, because they cause you unnecessary stress. Plan ahead to
avoid unnecessary demands you create yourself by lack of planning. Practice time
management to avoid the unnecessary demand of always feeling like you have too
many demands and not enough time to deal with them.
Step 3: Appraise
Properly appraising the difficulty of the demand and properly appraising your
capability of meeting that demand is a crucial step. Our minds play tricks on us by
often exaggerating the difficulty of a demand or by minimizing our own capability of
meeting that demand.
Step 4: Accept
Learning to occasionally accept the disparity between demands and capabilities as an
opportunity for personal growth is the fourth step.
Step 5: Activate
Improving your ability to handle demands by developing coping skills and
strengthening the body is the fifth step. The stronger you become, the more of a
burden (i.e., stress) you will be able to carry.
Step 6: Attune
Getting help with big demands through social support (like loss of income, injury,
illness, or the death of a loved one) that may be beyond your ability to cope with by
yourself and/or building your support network proactively (by helping others) so that
when the big challenges (demands) come, you are in a better position to handle them.
In the next section we will take a detailed look at each of the six steps.
Step 1: Assess
veryone complains about stress but few people take the time to really assess it. It’s
when you don’t do this; when you DON’T take the time to assess your stress that you
end up with only a vague notion of what is actually bothering you and no creative
solutions for the very problems that are causing you to feel stressed in the first place!
For example, take the statement: My job is stressful. What does this statement tell you
in terms of actionable information? (That you’d like to quit, find another job, ride it out
or what?) The problem with this statement is that it doesn’t really pinpoint WHAT about
your job is stressful. It doesn’t help you draw ANY conclusions about what to do about your
stress. And it certainly doesn’t lead to a solution to your stress.
For a lot of people (and for organizations too) this is about as far as their “assessment” of
their stress ever goes.
Thus, most people and most organizations feel their stress, but never solve it because they
never take the time to drill down and really evaluate it, measure it and deconstruct it into
its component parts. Lyle H. Miller, Ph.D, author of The Stress Solution agrees: “The first
step is to find out what is causing the stress. You have to measure what goes on. Once you
measure it you can manage it, but you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
Dr. Miller goes on to say, in a whitepaper entitled The Business
Case for Corporate Stress Assessment and Intervention: “Clearly
defined problems are problems on their way to being solved – and
measurement is the requisite ingredient in defining problems.”
But when we talk about assessment in STEP 1 we are talking about
more than just handing out a stress test or conducting a stress
survey. We are also talking about raising awareness about what
stress is and what it does to the body, what the symptoms of
stress are, how you can go about measuring those symptoms
and even how you can break through the mindset that prevents
people from taking the time to manage their own stress. What
you are ultimately measuring here is your receptivity or lack
of receptivity and even the skill sets already in place, to help
you take on the challenge of truly changing your attitudes
around managing stress from the ground up.
The Stress Prevention Model
Here are five ideas for how to assess your stress:
Monitoring stress symptoms helps you connect the dots between your symptoms of
stress and your sources of stress. Biofeedback devices and even BIODOTS can help you
accomplish that goal.
Understanding the consequences of stress keeps you motivated to make changes and
stick with the program. People need to know the myriad of reasons WHY stress can make
them sick. Brochures and workbooks like the STRESS MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK can help
you do that too.
Measuring stress involves breaking it down into its component parts, which ultimately
leads to possible solutions. Stress Assessments, like THE STRESS PROFILER put your stress
in perspective and give you a baseline to measure your improvement.
Finding the time to manage stress is about realizing that taking the time to exercise,
practice yoga and meditate SAVES time in the long run. If you are training others in how
to manage stress, ask your listeners if there are any regular meditators, exercisers, yoga
practitioners, etc in the audience. Usually these people will provide testimonials about
exactly how important these practices are to them personally.
What signature strengths do I already have to help me manage my stress? In
assessment we tend to focus more on weaknesses. But we need to also consider what
strengths we have to call on in order to meet the challenge of handling stress. Martin
Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website can help you do that.
STEP 2. AVOID
void unnecessary stress. You wouldn’t dream of getting on a local highway that was
always jammed at rush hour if you knew a better way of getting across town. Like
avoiding the traffic during rush hour, a lot of the stress in our lives is avoidable,
too. “Taking a deep breath or counting to 10 when you are stressed is all well and good,”
explains Dr. Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. “But you will be
much happier in the long run if you can find ways to avoid the situations that make you
feel stressed in the first place.”
If a certain task you do at work or particular client makes you tense, you may be able to
trade that task or client off with a fellow worker who doesn’t mind it or them as much. If a
certain co-worker makes you tense, there may be ways you can limit the amount of time
you spend with this person. If you always say yes, to everything people ask of you, or you
don’t stand up for yourself, learning how to be more assertive and politely say “no” is yet
another way you can avoid unnecessary stress.
Here is a list of what people often find stressful:
As you read the suggestions below for how to AVOID STRESS, consider the problems above,
particularly the ones that apply to you or your work setting and see if you can apply any of
the following advice to a particular situation in you may be facing right now.
Keep track of your stress for at least a week, preferably two to find recurring sources
of stress that you can eliminate or alter in order to reduce your stress. Use THE STRESS
MANAGEMENT JOURNAL for exactly this purpose.
Planning your day.
Spend a few minutes every day, planning your day. Make at list of 5-10 of the things
you must do each day, and don’t forget to cross off items on the list as you complete
Getting rid of clutter, cleaning out closets and storage spaces, working from a clean
desk will save you time, save you money and lift your spirits.
Study Steven Covey’s time management matrix below. In
quadrant 1 you spend all your time dealing with crises and
putting out fires. This quadrant is considered both urgent and
important. It’s the stress quadrant. Quadrant 2 is the stress
management quadrant. Activities here like exercising and doing
yoga, are important to do but not urgent. Quadrant 3 activities
are urgent but not important. A telephone call and most
interruptions can wait until later. Quadrant 4 is the
time waster quadrant. These activities are neither
urgent NOR important.
•• Time pressure
•• A difficult boss
•• Long commute
•• Too many meetings
•• Forced overtime
•• Traffic jams
•• Long lines
The simple trick to managing time and stress is to spend less and less time in quadrant
four where the things you do are neither urgent nor important and spend that time in
quadrant two educating yourself, practicing stress management, building your most
important relationships, exercising and planning which will ultimately save you time
in the long run.
Delegating. We all put up roadblocks to delegating like believing that no one can do
the job better than we can, or that we can’t afford to delegate, or that we just want to
do things the way we’ve always done them even if it is more time consuming! You
must shed these limiting beliefs first in order to begin delegating.
Must Do Should Do Avoid Doing Don’t Do
Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix
Deadline driven projects
Putting out fires
Last minute preparations
Important but NOT urgentUrgent AND important
Urgent but NOT important NOT Important NOT urgent
Some phone calls
Watching the news
Surfing the internet
Opening junk emails
Most TV watching
STEP 3. APPRAISE
ppraisal is about changing the way you think. The vast majority of the stress we
experience in life is psychological stress. This means that most of our stress starts in
our own minds. It doesn’t mean our stress isn’t real, it simply means that often times
an appraisal, or sizing up of the situation comes between the stimulus – what happens
to you and your response – how we react. One of the most confounding (but ultimately
liberating) things about stress is that, to a large degree, the amount of stress we experience
at any given moment is almost entirely the result of our appraisal of the situation.
It’s confounding because an overly negative interpretation of a situation (Like: I’ve got the
world’s worst boss) can lead to a lot of stress. It’s liberating because we can potentially
eliminate a LOT of stress just by changing our interpretation of stressful events.
Dr. George Everly and Dr. Jeffery M. Lating explain this concept in their book A Clinical
Guide To The Treatment Of The Human Stress Response. “Like beauty, a stressor
resides in the eye of the beholder.” They continue by writing that a person’s “interpretation
of the environment leads to the formation of [stress] from an
otherwise NEUTRAL stimulus.”To put it another way, what
YOU find stressful, say for example, slow moving traffic, long
meetings and a particular coworker, another person with an
entirely different method of appraising the situation might find
mildly stressful or NOT stressful at all.
Throughout history great writers and philosophers have
said the same thing. In fact Albert Ellis, one of the founders
of cognitive therapy included quotes from some of
these great thinkers in all his writing: He quotes,
Shakespeare, who wrote:
“There is nothing either good or bad
but thinking makes it so.”
And the Greek philosopher Epictetus who wrote:
“Men are not disturbed by things but by the views which
they take of them.” Even Hans Selye as we pointed out
earlier, liked to say: “It’s not what happens to you that
matters but how you take it.”
ot only do we appraise the severity of every event we encounter, we also appraise
our own ability to handle it. This appraisal forms the basis for the definition of stress
we talked about in Part 2 which was drawn from the work of Dr. Richard Lazarus.
This is often referred to as a transactional definition of stress because it acknowledges
how we go back and forth between appraising what’s happening in our environment to
appraising how well we BELIEVE we can cope with it. It’s this transaction between the two
positions that determines how stressful we THINK an event is going to be.
Consciously altering one’s appraisal of a situation in order to make it less stressful is
often referred to as cognitive restructuring. The word cognitive here simply refers to
thinking. The word restructuring refers to our ability to change our thinking. In their
research paper, Effects Of Occupational Stress Management Intervention Programs, A
Meta Analysis, authors Dr. Katherine M. Richardson and Hannah Rothstein point out that
“cognitive-behavioral interventions,” i.e., cognitive restructuring approaches are the most
effective methods of reducing stress across the board. “Cognitive-behavioral interventions
consistently produced larger effects than other types of interventions.”
Cognitive-behavioral interventions or cognitive restructuring is most often taught by
giving people specific techniques that promote greater fluidity of thinking during a
stressful event. It’s when our thinking becomes rigid and fixed, that we tend to react to
stress badly. But these cognitive techniques (or methods of accurately APPRAISING each
and every situation we encounter) teach people how to change their
thinking on the fly and often prevents stress from happening in
the first place, or at least nipping it in the bud, before it has a
chance to inflict any pain or suffering. While there are numerous
cognitive techniques to choose from, here are five that seem to
be the most effective:
Become aware of your negative self-talk. When you
hear yourself say things like I’ve got the world’s worst
boss or this job is going to take forever to finish, this
kind of talk increases your stress levels and makes your
job even more difficult.
Seeing the big picture. Much of the stress we experience
is the result of what are known as “the daily hassles”
that assault us on a regular basis. In order to rise above these
inevitable irritants we need to put them in their proper perspective.
Next time you are confronted with one of these minor annoyances
ask yourself, on scale of 1-100 with one being a broken shoelace
and 100 being a nuclear holocaust, how serious is this problem?
Most problems fall at the very low end of the scale.
Not blaming others. Taking responsibility for all aspects of your job and life will put
you on the fast track to success because it separates you from the vast majority of
people who don’t realize how they undermine their own sense of power, by blaming
outside forces like the economy, challenging circumstances and difficult coworkers for
all the bad things that happen to them.
Learning to expect stress. Many of the tasks we perform at home and at work have
a certain sense of time pressure associated with them. This sense of urgency is what
drives most decision-making at home and at work; it’s why people want things when
they want them. Once you see how urgency and time pressure drive most decisions
and governs much of what we do, you’ll learn to expect this major source of stress. And
when you do, it doesn’t come as a surprise, and therefore it doesn’t seem as stressful.
Accurately appraising a stressful situation and one’s ability to handle it. When
our appraisals of a situation are inaccurate, it leads to all kinds of communication
problems between workers and supervisors and between family members too. We
make blanket statements about others that simply aren’t true, because of our natural
tendency to exaggerate the negative circumstances of a situation. Notice this whenever
you say somebody ALWAYS does things one way or another, like accusing a coworker
of ALWAYS coming in late (even though he or she is only late two times a week) This
kind of exaggeration, even though it seems harmless, makes you more stressed about
the situation than you need to be and it distorts ANY form of communication between
you and the other person.
STEP 4. ACCEPT
ccepting certain situations that you can’t change is a vital
part of learning how to manage and prevent stress. One of
the best ways of putting this skill into action is through
the practice of mindfulness. In this section, the word ACCEPT is
shorthand for the word mindfulness.
Mindfulness is often defined as “present moment awareness
with acceptance.” According to a recent cover story in
Time Magazine, entitled The Mindfulness Revolution,
“mindfulness is intended to help practitioners quiet a
busy mind by becoming more aware of the present
moment and less caught up in what happened earlier
or what is to come.” But what is “present moment
awareness” and how can it possibly help us lower our
uch of our anxiety is the result of ANTICIPATING what’s going to happen
tomorrow: the root-canal appointment, the big presentation and the surgical
procedure you have to have are all examples of future events the mind loves to
obsess about. Much of our anger, on the other hand, is the result of past events that can’t
be changed: the argument you had with your spouse, the criticism your boss unexpectedly
leveled on you, or the rude remark a co-worker made. Thoughts of the future and thoughts
of the past whirl around in our heads: Sometimes in an almost dysfunctional way.
When you find yourself getting angry over things that
happened in the past, or nervously anticipating an
event that has yet to be, you are no longer in the
present moment. These departures from “the
NOW” fuel your emotional fires, and stir up your
anxieties. “Many cognitive therapists recommend
mindfulness to their patients as a way to
help cope with anxiety and depression. More
broadly, it’s seen as a means to deal with stress,”
explains the authors of the Time magazine article
mentioned above. “Scientists have been able to
prove that…rigorous mindfulness training can lower
cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immune
response and possibly even effect the way our genes
It comes as no surprise that cognitive therapists are recommending mindfulness because
mindfulness takes up where cognitive restructuring leaves off. It’s the perfect next step
in the six step model. Cognitive restructuring simply says when you see your thinking
is irrational change it. But what happens when we know we are thinking and acting
irrationally and we can’t change it?
That’s where mindfulness comes to the rescue. Whereas cognitive restructuring asks us to
CHANGE an irrational thought, mindfulness simply suggests, that we must learn to co-
exist with our irrational thinking, by learning to recognize it for what it is and ACCEPT it,
but not necessarily try to change it. How you go about doing that will be the focus of the
next five steps.
Name it and tame it encourages you to notice your stressful thoughts and emotions
and behavior patterns and move toward them and not away from them. By NOT
labeling these feelings as bad, and always trying to squash them down you’ll notice
that you can begin to benignly co-exist with them and, more importantly, they will
loosen their grip on you.
Accept what is and can’t be changed. What’s done is done. Grasping on to the way
things were, and can no longer be, only leads to pain and suffering. Learning to accept
“the full catastrophe of life” is what Jon Kabat Zinn, in his first book Full Catastrophe
Living, writes about. There are no ups without downs and no happiness without
occasional sadness. Accepting this reality on a deep level, allows us to say “yes” to life.
Accept the fact you can’t accept it. Mindfulness practice is remarkably fluid and
nimble. When you have trouble accepting how things are, take a step back and simply
accept that you can’t accept them. Allowing this bit of space into your thinking
sometimes is just enough to free up your internal river of joy and get it flowing again.
Everyday mindfulness practice. These are the little practices you can do on the fly
while your day progresses that help you stay focused on the present moment. These
practices include listening intently, trying to notice new things in your environment,
feeling the weight of your body in the chair and really focusing intently on everything
you do. Don’t rob yourself, of the currency of your life, THIS MOMENT right now, by
Mindfulness meditation. These formal mindfulness practices include breath
awareness, sonic meditation and thought watching where you focus on one particular
aspect of your senses for 10-20 minutes each day. It is these practices that lead to
many health benefits from reducing stress and anxiety to overcoming depression and
STEP 5. ACTIVATE
xperts tell us that inactivity kills. According to Harvard Medical School health
newsletter author Dr. Michael Craig Miller, “physically inactive people have a 45
percent greater chance of developing coronary artery disease than active people…and
are 40% more likely to develop colon cancer.” On the flip side, Dr. Miller writes, getting
active has many benefits: “Adults can gain as many as two hours of life expectancy for
every hour of regular vigorous exercise. Exercise lowers blood pressure, and in women
being treated for breast cancer moderate activity cuts the rates of recurrence and death in
Health guru, Dean Ornish, M.D. agrees. In his book The Spectrum he writes “exercise
helps reverse the aging process, gives you more energy, makes you smarter, and may even
help you grow new brain cells. Furthermore, these results suggest a strong biological basis
for the role of aerobic fitness in maintaining and enhancing central nervous system health
and cognitive functioning…” “Also,” Ornish writes, “regular moderate exercise along with
healthier eating and stress management techniques reduces inflammation throughout your
hile running on a treadmill or hopping on an exercise bike may seem unnatural,
we forget that our sedentary lives are unnatural, too. Up until the last century,
the average work day included enough movement and strenuous exercise that we
didn’t need to worry about getting additional exercise. Now experts estimate that we spend
around 60,000 hours of our adult lives sitting in a chair. Even housework and yard work
like washing the dishes and mowing the lawn have been made easier by a variety of labor-
saving devices. Our modern lives are leading us down the road to an assortment of health
problems exacerbated by inactivity, overeating and the bombarding of our senses by too
This point was made perfectly clear by the 2001 PBS series, FRONTIER HOUSE. The three
families in this reality TV series agreed to live for six months - on
a 160 acre ranch in Montana –exactly like pioneers did just
prior to the turn of the last century. These families
would all eat the same foods, roughly the same
amounts of food (supplies were strictly rationed)
prepared the same ways, did the same chores and
worked the same ways to make ends meet.
For example, in this era, sugar was a scarce
commodity, so rations of sugar were limited. Not
surprisingly, just about every participant on the
show lost a significant amount of weight (Even
people who were not obese to begin with). They lost
weight not because they went on diets but because
they lived a completely different lifestyle. This was all
very carefully documented with before and after pictures (and
weigh-ins) that were quite dramatic.
The takeaway here is that, before the industrial revolution,
there would be NO NEED for this ACTIVATE step. Much of
what we’re recommending here, from increased sleep, better diet,
more exercise, and even more time spent in contemplation, was
just a NATURAL part of life back before the 20th century. Strenuous
work, eating healthy, eating smaller portions, going to bed
early, spending lots of time away from technology seems somewhat
unnatural to us today, but it’s the way human beings have been living for
thousands, if not millions of years.
This is not to say that we need to go back in time in order to live healthy lives. But maybe
it IS time to consider how generally UNHEALTHY our current lifestyles naturally are. Thus,
what we need to do is change our way of living so that working out, eating healthy and
spending time in quiet contemplation – seem NATURAL to us again today.
ctivate is about creating a MODERN lifestyle, which includes movement, exercise,
stretching, contemplation and a healthy diet as an integral part of that lifestyle. You
exercise, eat right, get enough sleep and practice yoga on a regular basis, not because
you HAVE to but because you WANT to. These healthy behaviors have healthy benefits that
you can only experience by doing them on a daily basis – which is what ultimately LEADS
to YOU wanting to do them. And WANTING to do these behaviors – being intrinsically
motivated to do them – CHOOSING to do them is what makes them as automatic for us as
it was for the people who had no other choice but to do them in an another era, like out on
Here are five methods for activating your life right now.
Exercise has so many health benefits that Newsweek proclaimed if it were available in
pill form, everyone would take it. Whether it’s aerobic exercise like jogging, swimming,
basketball or soccer, or something milder like brisk walking, raking leaves, or even
playing ping pong, these forms of exercise all help lower stress, boost the immune
system and help you sleep better at night.
Yoga helps improve flexibility, balance and reduces chronic pain. So much stress gets
stored in the form of muscle tension, that practicing yoga is almost imperative if you
really want to conquer stress. Whether you take a few classes a week, or just create
your own 10 minute routine that you practice every day, seriously consider making
yoga a habit.
Nutrition. Eating heavy, fried, fat-laden foods leaves you feeling sluggish and tired.
Eating light, healthy carbs like salads and veggies, will leave you feeling energized
and ready to tackle the day. Few people take into account the side effects that an
unhealthy diet has on their MENTAL health. (Usually we think of it only from the
standpoint of our physical health.) Add in the effects of caffeine in making us jittery
and anxious, and proper nutrition takes on a great deal of importance.
Self-soothing is simply a bunch of different techniques like deep breathing,
progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and body scan that you can use to ward off
stress before or after it occurs.
See more on Self-soothing below.
Sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is probably the most under-rated method for
reducing stress. People in the US get on average 6.2 hours of sleep a night indicating
that insomnia may actually be reaching epidemic proportions. All the methods in
this section, will contribute to reducing insomnia. Probably the most useful of all, is
meditation which can be used to help you fall asleep and fall BACK asleep when you
wake up in the middle of the night.
Self-soothing is a term used here to describe a variety of techniques that help you self-
regulate your autonomic nervous system. Until the 1950’s Western scientists believed that
you couldn’t exert any control over your nervous system. That’s why it was called the
autonomic nervous system. The belief here was that it ran completely on auto-pilot. But
scientists and researchers like Harvard professor Herbert Benson, M.D. and Dr. Elmer Green
of The Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas proved this wasn’t the case. Their research
showed that simple techniques, like the ones described below could be learned to self-
regulate body temperature, blood pressure, metabolism, heart rate and breathing rate.
Deep breathing. Also known as abdominal breathing lowers stress by increasing
oxygen levels in the brain and bloodstream and clearing out carbon dioxide in the
lower lobes of the lungs. Deep breathing is often taught by holding a hand over the
belly, and watching it rise and fall with every deep in-breath and every extended out
breath. Try breathing in to a count of four and breathing out to a count a six. Do this for
as little as two minutes and the reduction in stress levels is measurable.
Progressive muscle relaxation. Also known as point by point relaxation, this
involves tensing and relaxing various muscle groups throughout the body. One simply
moves through the entire body, usually starting with the head and moving downward
focusing for a minute or so on each area at a time including stops at the forehead,
jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, belly, lower back, buttocks, upper legs, lower legs and
feet (which all typically hold a lot of stress). At every stopping point, one tenses the
muscles in that area as much as possible for a count of 5-10 seconds and then allows
the muscles to relax immediately afterwards. This technique, developed by Harvard-
trained Dr. Edmund Jacobsen in the 1930’s has been popular for decades.
Body scan simply involves going through the entire body – point by point - and
focusing on that area and just ALLOWING the muscles in that area to relax. Taking
a deep breath in for each area and imagining the tension leaving that area with the
breath going out. This exercise is often done with a person lying down flat on the floor
or on a bed and works well as an adjunct to progressive muscle relaxation. Start from
the top of the head and move down point by point to the tips of the toes. Focus on
relaxing the same areas described above in the progressive muscle relaxation exercixe.
Guided imagery is another way to self-soothe. According to Belleruth Naparstek,
an expert in this field “just ten minutes of guided imagery a day can reduce blood
pressure, lower cholesterol, and heighten short term immune cell activity. It lessens
headaches and pain and reduces anxiety and even reduces the adverse effects of
chemotherapy.” The easiest way to try this technique is by listening to the various CD’s
and podcasts you can download that teach it.
Meditation. A simple way to learn how to meditate is to simply focus on your
breathing. Here are six steps for how to do a mindfulness “breath awareness”
meditation: 1. Sit up straight in a chair, feet flat on the floor (Or, if you prefer, sit
cross-legged on a cushion on the floor). 2. Notice your breath. Don’t change it. Just
notice each in-breath, each out-breath and gap between the out-breath and the
next in-breath. 3. As you notice your mind wandering as it naturally will during your
meditation, just bring it back to focusing on the breath as in step 2. 4. Don’t judge
yourself or your ability to meditate or try to force out distractions. Just make a mental
note (or observation) of each distraction and then bring your focus back to your breath.
5. Start by meditating 5-10 minutes a day. Work on making whatever length of time
you choose a daily habit. It’s the daily habit of meditation that confers the benefits of
meditation over time.
Massage We unknowingly tense the muscles in our shoulders, neck, arms, legs and
hips while we drive, sit at a computer or engage in any stressful or contentious event.
We need to find reliable ways to release this tension on a regular basis. Recent studies
published by the NCCAM division of the National Institutes of Health show that
massage helps people “reduce pain, promote relaxation and boost mood.” Swedish,
deep tissue and Tai Yoga massage will all help you reap these rewards, but there are
other less costly ways to self-massage that can be done including using a foam roller,
exercise balls, tennis balls, soft balls and other hand-held devices.
STEP 6. ATTUNE
ttune is a term used here to describe social support. Social support is universally
viewed as an effective way to help you manage stress. The Mayo Clinic website
agrees: “Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. A
strong social support network can be critical to help you through stressful challenges and
tough times, whether that’s a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness.”
The Mayo Clinic Website goes on to say that social support can help you lower stress in the
Sense of belonging. Spending time with people helps ward off loneliness. Whether
it’s other new parents, dog lovers, fishing buddies or siblings, just knowing you’re not
alone can go a long way toward coping with stress.
Increased sense of self-worth. Having people who call you a friend reinforces the
idea that you’re a good person to be around.
Feeling of security. Your social network gives you access to information, advice,
guidance and other types of assistance should you need them. It’s comforting to know
that you have people you can turn to in a time of need.
he word attune (or attunement) is also used here to describe the brain science behind
what happens when you really connect with anyone, but particularly someone in
your social support network. It helps you understand how social support turns an
interaction between two people into a health benefit.
“There’s an interpersonal emotional economy going on every time we have a social
interaction,” writes Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the books Emotional Intelligence and
Social Intelligence. In other words, we sense what’s going on below the surface, but we
aren’t always aware of this consciously. “Through this subconscious emotional exchange
we have the ability to change another’s mood. I smile and you feel happy; I frown and you
feel worried. I laugh and you feel good inside.”
“In short, we help (or harm) each other not just emotionally but at a biological level. Your
hostility bumps up my blood pressure; your nurturing support lowers it.” This is what
it means to be attuned. And this is at the heart of what it means to be a part of a social
o attune, as we define it here, is more than just social support, which has been
proven to reduce stress and increase resilience. Attune, as we use it here also includes
attunement which involves relating to others and connecting in a deep way that
typically releases neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine in the brain. These feel-
good chemicals are part of what makes it so rewarding to give and receive social support.
And the only thing it really requires is to take the time to listen to what other people are
saying and to try and connect with what they are trying to tell you.
Thus, attunement is NOT just some social courtesy we extend to others in order to be nice,
it’s a way of connecting with people on a deep level that helps you as much as it helps
them. How these connections are formed and how we nurture them, has a surprising
impact on our lives and on our personal success. The following five steps will demonstrate
exactly how you go about making these health-enhancing personal connections.
Call a friend. Research shows that social support helps you increase your resilience
to stress. Every time you call a friend, not only will you improve your odds of handling
the stress in your life well, you are building your support network. So whether times
are stressful or not, maintaining ties with old friends can help you maintain your
equilibrium when you are challenged.
Find a mentor. A mentor is usually a person who is older and who shares some of the
same interests as you. Mentors are easier to find than you might think. Older people
love to share their insights and help others who are beginning their careers. Don’t be
afraid to ask any person, you think might be able to help you in this way.
Join a support group. If you have a physical or mental health issue, like cancer or a
drug or alcohol problem, support groups may prove invaluable. Hospitals, churches
and community support groups come in just about every conceivable shape and size in
order to help people cope with major life issues.
Spend time building your most important relationships. Don’t be hypnotized
by the tyranny of the urgent into thinking you don’t have the time to nurture and
cultivate your most important relationships. Remember the TIME MANAGEMENT
MATRIX from Step 2. Steal time from quadrant 4 activities like TV-watching and use it
to spend time talking and listening to your significant other.
Seek out counseling. People used to have a stigma about seeking out counseling
and fortunately that misguided notion is quickly disappearing, because everyone, no
matter how mentally healthy they are, can greatly benefit from it. Remember to form
an alliance with a counselor who you find supportive and wise, and the results of your
therapy are much more likely to be long-lasting.
Step 1: Assess
Assess is about identifying the true sources
of your distress. Knowing what it is you
want to change is where prevention begins.
Even the term stress tends to disguise the
real problems lurking beneath the surface
like time pressure, financial problems, poor
communication, relationship problems
and unsafe working conditions. Take the
time to assess your stress, to dig below the
surface and really indentify it. That way
you can move on to step two, with the goal
of eliminating a great deal of it.
Step 2: Avoid
Avoid unnecessary stress. There’s just so much stress we create ourselves that is
unnecessary. Look at the problems you identified in step one and do some creative
problem solving to eliminate them in step 2. Our high tech world allows us to bank
online, shop online, pay bills online and even go to work online. So why are you still
getting stressed running errands? Careful planning, delegation, problem solving and
time management eliminate a lot of this unnecessary stress.
Step 3: Appraise
Appraise. Changing your appraisal during a stressful situation stops stress before it
starts. Our appraisals of situations, both in regards to HOW difficult the situation is and
how capable we are of handling it often turn out to be overly pessimistic or just flat out
wrong. We can prevent a great deal of our stress by first realizing this tendency (to be
overly negative) and then changing our appraisal when it’s inaccurate.
Step 4: Accept
Accept the stress you can’t avoid or reappraise. Worries about the future and
regrets about the past cause us a great deal of stress. Learning how to mindfully stay
in and accept the present moment for what is will prevent a lot of stress. Every day
mindfulness practices where you think about what you are doing while you are doing
it can help you stay mindful throughout the day. In this regard make a point of being
mindful while you take a shower, while walking somewhere, while eating, while
driving (turn the radio off) and particularly while listening to others.
The Stress Prevention Model Review
Step 5: Activate
Activate daily to build resilience. When you layer flexibility training, aerobic
exercise, and relaxation techniques onto a body that is well rested and well fed, you
will really start to see first-hand how this six step prevention model works from the
inside out! When your body feels good, it’s much, harder for you mind to feel stressed.
Do your workout or your yoga or your meditation in the morning if you can. You’re
body and mind will thank you for it all day long.
Step 6: Attune
Attune. Every time you genuinely connect with another person, you experience
attunement which is the feel good chemical signature in your brain for the act of
engaging in any kind of social support, whether you are on the giving end or the
receiving end of that support. Every person you add to your social support network is
like adding another trestle under your bridge (which metaphorically carries your stress
burden). With each trestle you add, the bridge keeps getting stronger and stronger and
you can carry more and more load.
ne of the many advantages of learning this six-step method is any step works to
manage and prevent your stress. You can work on one step at a time or apply all six
steps in a unified, comprehensive approach. It’s up to you. Until now, you may have
believed that you didn’t really have much of a choice in how you reacted to stress. Now
you know you do. You can literally prevent a great deal of stress by practicing each of these
six steps. Notice how this six-step method allows you to manage stress, seamlessly, on
the fly, without anyone else even noticing that you are doing it. That’s the beauty of this