Wednesday, December 24, 2008


In addition to these readings, visit the right margin for the latest newspaper headlines about stress in America and to watch the videos on laughter and stress management/reduction. The videos on the benefits of laughter research are inspiring!

I. What is stress? The experts have varying opinions on defining it. Here’s a compilation of overlapping definitions:
Stress can be brought on by a situation or by thoughts. Anxiety, anger, frustration, etc. is the result. However, we’re all different and we all react differently to the same situation. Stress is not abnormal…it’s a normal aspect of living! In the right amount, it can motivate us and increase our productivity. But, too much stress over a period of time can lead to bodily harm: susceptibility to infections, heart disease, depression, compulsive eating, abuse of alcohol/drugs/ and a host of other psychological and physical ailments.

II. What do the experts recommend to combat stress? What concrete tips do they espouse? Here’s 10 suggestions to reduce stress in your life:
(1) Eat well! Don’t engage in compulsive eating and don’t overeat. Plan your meals and serve yourself smaller portions.

(2) Get adequate sleep. Poor sleep is a symptom of stress and can severely affect your performance and appearance.

(3) Exercise daily.

(4) Limit caffeine and alcohol and don't use nicotine, cocaine, or other recreational drugs.

(5) Study relaxation techniques: cognitive therapy, yoga, tai chi, muscle relaxation, biofeedback, meditation, etc. Limited relaxation methods, like deep breathing and breaks, are not enough, but are an important component to overall stress reduction and control.

(6) Bring back balance in your life! Schedule relaxation techniques and fun activities in your daily planner, beside your work and home responsibilities. Did you know that Americans spend 60% of their “free time” doing things they DON’T like to do!

(7) Become your own expert on reducing stress and relaxation and seek help outside your own inner world. Read self-help books and/or seek professional help for your stress and anxieties. How about talking to a good friend or family member over coffee in the morning. Putting stressful thoughts and anxieties into words is therapeutic in and of itself. Find out support groups, hotlines and mental health practitioners in your community who specialize in stress therapy and who can prescribe proper medication, if needed. Most communities have support groups and hotlines that can help.

(8) Perform an informal self-assessment to determine what’s making you burnt out. Begin with the Stress-Test at the end of this column. Ask yourself: “What makes me worry? When I’m performing those quiet self-talks, what negative thoughts keep resurfacing? What feelings do these thoughts drag out of me: anger? despair? worry? depression? sadness?” Then, determine what’s constantly on your mind and what you worry about the most?

(9) Write things down! A diary helps greatly so your thoughts are no longer fleeting elements. Write down your daily life’s frustrations, how they make you feel and how you react to them. Are your responses productive and healthy ones? Or, are they useless and unhealthy?

(10) Read your diary and note recurring underlying problems. Focus on them to reduce, eliminate or transform the stress they create. In this age of fast pace and intense competition, you need the
right tools for the right jobs to walk from stress to success with a better work and life balance!

Neurologists, heart specialists, psychiatrists and a host of other disciplinary specialists are finding links between stress and physical ailments. Much research suggests that being over-stressed for several years will lead to severe physical ailments.

III. What does the latest research tell us about stress?
These days, up to 45 % of youngsters (MTV 2007), 80% of workers (Harris 2007) and 100% CEOs (Vistage 2008) are suffering from stress. It is not surprising if you are stressed out. However, stress is not as hard to manage as you think, and you are at the site of a top expert in stress management.

Stress can make people age faster, and worsen many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, ulcer and Fibromyalgia. This explains why stress costs U.S. corporations $300 billion annually in medical costs, absenteeism, and turnover (the American Institute of Stress 2007).

However, once symptoms impair your judgment, productivity, or appearance, negative circles can kick in. A clear mind is critical when you are looking for solutions. Increased alcohol and drug use also connect you to addiction
and more disasters in life and work later. Anger and readiness to explode can put you next to a series of social and legal problems.

Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, professor in the Department of Economics at The University of Texas at Austin, is one of the leading authorities on stress and stress management. He sees Americans as highly-stressed, in that they don’t seem to have enough time in the day for everything they need to do: His approach is kind of a “Tough Love” one, in that he says, “Quit complaining!” If somebody complains, he replies,” Look it’s not the problem—the problem is you have too much money.”

Hamermesh has co-authored a study that backs up his claim. He and graduate assistant Jungmin Lee analyzed survey data from the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany and South Korea, and concluded that the more money people have, the more pressed for time they’ll be as they try to find ways to spend it all.

This is because there are really only a couple of hours in the average weekday in which a person has some flexible time. With more money comes more options, which leads to greater stress in trying to get everything done. It’s logic only an economist would use, Hamermesh admitted.
This just bothered the sociologists like crazy because they all said, ‘Look, if you have more income you can have people do things for you,’” Hamermesh said. “But if you think about most of the things you do, you can’t have people do them for you.”

For instance, Hamermesh noted that you can’t pay a person to sleep for you—or go to plays, read, exercise, eat or any of the countless other things that occupy the day. Those things take time, and time is a scarce commodity.

Conversely, Hamermesh found that people who have less money don’t complain about not having enough time. Not surprisingly, they’re more concerned about their income. This has led Hamermesh to conclude that those concerned about a time crunch are focusing on the wrong issue. “This notion of time crunch is not one that should occupy public attention,” Hamermesh said. “It’s basically yuppie kvetch—complaining by the well-to-do. Poverty is a problem. Time scarcity is not a problem.”

With a touch of irony, Hamermesh noted that his study was funded in part by foundations interested in finding solutions to time crunch. But the solution that Hamermesh’s study suggests—that time-pressed people give away their excess money—isn’t likely to be a big hit in the affluent suburbs. “They’re clearly better off with more money and with the stress for time than they would be with less money and less time stress,” Hamermesh said. “They made this choice. Nobody is forcing them to do more.”

Hamermesh admits that both he and his wife feel the effects of time crunch—but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I have lots and lots of money and not much time, so I’m running around like a maniac and feel quite rushed,” he said. “On the other hand, I have the ability to purchase almost anything I want within any kind of reason. I don’t deserve sympathy. Quite the contrary.”

Another finding in Hamermesh’s study is that women—particularly wealthy housewives—complain the most about time stress. Hamermesh speculated that the cause of this is the fact that women tend to be household managers, and hence have more tasks to juggle in a day than men, who are more singularly focused on work. And if you add children into the equation, the potential for time stress is that much greater. In his study, Hamermesh cites his daughter-in-law, who lamented, “With kids and the house, I often feel I have four hours of tasks and only two hours to do them in.”

Although the subject of time crunch has been thoroughly analyzed by social psychologists and sociologists, Hamermesh is the first economist to take a look at the issue. And by using economic theories and models, Hamermesh said he hopes he shed new light on the subject.

“The beauty of being in this business is that unlike some other disciplines, there’s a specific theory with specific predictions,” Hamermesh said. “And when you test them and they come out correct, you feel just wonderful about the whole thing. That’s why this paper was so gratifying.”

In addition, Hamermesh said he believes his study will open avenues for further research. To that end, he was able to get a question about time stress added to a major U.S. survey last year, so new data on the topic will be available soon. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that somebody will use those data and take off from our paper sometime in the next four or five years,” Hamermesh said. “So in a sense I’ve laid the seed for future work.”

But even if new studies shed further light on the time crunch issue, Hamermesh said we shouldn’t expect Americans to heed his advice and quit complaining. After all, he said, complaining is what makes us special: “The essence of America is complaining. It’s really a unique cultural thing in this country.”

Let's get to know stress better
Hans Selye, a lab scientist, accidentally discovered the stress response. Selye was absentminded, and his rats were always escaping from their cages and then being chased. When Selye examined these rats later, he found their adrenal glands (for stress) enlarged and their thymus glands (for immune) had shrunk--the stress of escape and capture had changed the rats' internal chemistry.

What is stress? Someone calls stress physical and psychological disturbance. While stress can be a good motivator, it can damage your thinking, health and emotions if over stretched. It takes good skills to keep a good balance. Below are common symptoms proven by years of studies, thanks to studies at Harvard. They are combined into a self-assessment stress test:

IV. STRESS TEST: If you have 5 or less of the 36 symptoms listed below, some experts say you are handling stress quite well:
Cognitive Symptoms: 1. Poor concentration 2.Poor memory 3.Inability to think clearly or make the right decisions 4.Decreased creativity 5.Leaving things undone.

Psychological Symptoms: 6. Anger 7. Bossiness 8. Loneliness/Isolation 9. Boredom 10. Crying, 11. eadiness to explode 12. Lack of feeling pleasure over past interests 13. Upsetting easily 14. Excessive critique 15. Excessive worries
16. Excessive resentment 17. Feeling powerless18. Feeling hopeless 19. Feeling emptiness 20. Cynicism 21. Increased gum chewing 19. Increased smoking 22. Alcohol or drug use 23. Food binging 24. Needing to prove oneself.

Physical Symptoms: 25. Stomach-ache 26. Indigestion 27. Poor sleep 28. Headache 29. Back pain 30.Tightness over neck and shoulders 31. Restlessness 32.Feeling tired easily 33. Increased heart rate 34. Increased breathing rate 35. Low sexual desire 36.Grinding teeth at night.

V. The Social Readjustment Rating ScaleAn inventory of common stressors
This Social Readjustment Rating Scale was created by Thomas Holmes & Richard Rahe, University of Washington School of Medicine to provide a standardized measure of the impact of a wide range of common stressors.

Using the Scale- To use the scale, simply add up the values for all of the listed life events that have occurred to you within the past year. If a particular event has happened to you more than once within the last 12 months, multiply the value by the number of occurrences. Enter your value total at the end of the list.

The Scale- Each life event is assigned a value in arbitrary “life changing units” chosen to reflect the relative amount of stress the event causes in the population studied. Stress is cumulative, so to estimate the total stress you are experiencing, add up the values corresponding to the events that have occurred in your life over the past year.

Life Event Value
Death of Spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Jail term 63
Death of close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Fired at work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sex difficulties 39
Gain of new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of close friend 37
Change to a different line of work 36
Change in number of arguments with spouse 35
Home Mortgage over $100,000* 31
Foreclosure or mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Son or daughter leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28

Spouse begins or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in work hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Mortgage or loan of less than $100,000* 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family get-togethers 15
Change in eating habits 15
Single person living alone**
Other- describe**

Your Score Total:
* the mortgage figure was updated from the original figure of $10,000 to reflect inflation.
** Estimate the impact on yourself

Interpretation- Interpretation of the overall score is difficult because of the large differences in each person's ability to cope and their particular reactions to stress, but here are some general guidelines:
(1) A total of 150 or less is good, suggesting a low level of stress in your life and a low probability of developing a stress-related disorder.

(2) If your score is 300 or more, statistically you stand an almost 80% chance of getting sick in the near future. If your score is 150 to 299, the chances are about 50%. At less than 150, about 30%. This scale seems to suggest that change in ones life requires an effort to adapt and then an effort to regain stability.

About the Scale
The scale is based on the observation that important life changes, whether positive such as marriage or negative, such as death of a close friend all induce stress. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed the scale by listing common stressful events and arbitrarily assigning a value of 50 “life-changing units” to the stress caused by marriage. They then had a large number of men rate the stress caused by the other events in comparison to marriage. The results were combined to create the scale. Studies show a modest correlation between the number of life-changing units experienced in the previous year with a person's health in the present year.

Specifically, correlations have been shown between SRRS scores and heart attacks, broken bones, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, complications of pregnancy and birth, decline in academic performance, employee absenteeism, and other difficulties. Although the scale was originally developed and validated using only male subjects it provides useful results with both male and female subjects and it has been validated in Japanese, Latin American, European, and Malaysian populations.

Inherent Variation- The stress caused by a particular stressor varies greatly from one person to the next because of the variability in the circumstances, interpretation, goals, personality, values, coping strategy, and resources from one person to the next. Therefore, although this scale is well-researched, the values are only a rough approximation at best.

Psychology: Core Concepts, by Phillip G. Zimbardo, Ann L. Weber, Robert L. Johnson
The social readjustment rating scale, Holmes, T. H. and Rahe, R. H. 1967, Journal of Psychosomatic research, 11(2), 213-21.
Stressful Life Events: Their Nature and Effects, by Barbara Snell Dohrenwend, Bruce P. Dohrenwend