FUTURE SHOCK… the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in to short of a time.
- Alvin Toffler, 1970
Let's start with the conclusion. The odds are that you will never deal directly with the root cause of stress in your life. You view your success in life as the result, in part, of the extraordinary commitment you have made to improve yourself, to provide for your family, to get ahead.
As a result, you expect life to be a pressure cooker. That of course doesn't mean that you deal with life's daily indignities in any effective way. In fact, you don't consciously deal with the situation at all. You let your body’s survival system, hardwired physiological changes designed to deal with imminent physical danger, bear the brunt of your psychological stress.
When your flight is 3 hours late, or you have a disagreement with your boss, or the line at the cash machine just doesn't move, you react in much the same way that your caveman ancestor did when facing a woolly mammoth - you exhibit a classic fight-or-flight response:
Your blood pressure goes up and your heart rate increases, and your digestive system goes on hold;
Your pupils dilate so that you can see better;
Your body is flooded with extra energy and your blood sugar level goes up;
Your breathing quickens and the blood flow to the brain increases - both help you think more clearly;
There is even a small change in the chemistry of the blood which would help it clot more quickly in the event of bodily injury.
Countless “all-nighters” have taught you just how powerful these natural mechanisms are. How many times have you finished a project and marveled at how well you withstood an incredible array of demands and pressures?
The problem? The body's system was designed to deal with physical, not psychological, threats. As the age of future shock descends on us today, our fight-or-flight system becomes overloaded and we begin to do physical harm to ourselves.
If you need to know only one statistic about stress, consider the following: 14% of the people who were considered “highly stressed” at age 25 where dead by age 50… only 2% of those considered “low stress” at 25 were dead at 50. What we have created is a society whose achievers are encouraged to commit slow suicide.
If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.
- Eubie Blake at age 100
What more do we need to do to scare you? Recent studies have shown that stress can damage brain cells, accelerate aging in rats, and cause ulcers and migraines. Stress us even been shown to quicken the pace of hair loss. A normal hair growth pattern last 2 to 5 years. Tension ups the production of adrenaline and testosterone, speeding up the cycle and causing hair to fall out faster.
One recent study showed that major life changes such as a death in the family, divorce, losing a job, and moving are often followed by major illnesses. The finding? Stress somehow weakens the body's immune system, leaving us vulnerable to disease. Another study indicated that mental stress can cause episodes of blood shortage to the heart muscle, leading to catastrophic heart attacks.
The fast track is good… unless it becomes a treadmill. This is especially true for middle managers, whose jobs are typically high in demand and low in control. They have borne the brunt of America's much-needed corporate downsizing and restructuring and suffer from constant work overload, fear of job loss, lack of say about there their employment destiny, and superiors who offer a little support.
And the middle managers are not alone. Close to 3/4 of all Americans say their jobs cause them stress. Sure, it's easy to throw a laundry list of problems, real and imagined, into a convenient catch-all description - stress. But the stress-reduction programs at corporations such as AT&T and Equitable Life are indications that even top executives are word about the impact of stress, and, why not? With stress-related absenteeism, lack of productivity, and illness is on the upswing, one NBC News study estimated that major corporations lose $150 billion dollars per year as a result of stress.
Do in health what you have often promised to do when you are sick.
- Siegmund , Holy Roman Emperor
1440 - 37
You probably already know what you should be doing to deal with the tension and pressure in your life. It's taking effective action that's the toughest part. If you're overweight, lose 20 pounds. If you smoke and drink too much coffee, stop. If you schedule is overbearing, change it. In each case, easier said than done.
You're probably someone who exercises plenty of discipline in your life as it is. To change your diet, add an exercise routine, and reorder your schedule is probably asking too much. Your best hope is for regimen that includes bran flakes and a rasher of bacon; regular exercise and the occasional cigar; hard work with time out of meditation.
But, before crafting even such a realistic approach to your stress, you should be aware of the full range of options for reducing stress:
Change your routine. Be organized but not over scheduled. If you have to have a detailed schedule, build cushion time into it so you aren't always racing from appointment to appointment. Plans some time to relax. Keep To-Do List and check things off as you finish them.
Make friends with your conflict. Things don't always have to be 100% one way or the other, and things don't always go as you expect them to go.
Watch your diet. Your stressful life leads to poor eating habits, depriving you of needed nutrients an increasing the impact of stress on your health. Cut down on caffeine and drink alcohol in moderate quantities.
Get enough rest to feel energetic. Take naps if necessary.
Keep a real eye on hostility. Of all the type A behaviors - ambition, being a workaholic, impatience, hard driving, and hostility - it's hostility that is most injurious to the heart.
Maintain a sense of humor. Don't always take yourself so seriously. Laugh at yourself.
Share your problem with family and friends.
Change your environment.
Be happy and proud about what you do that accomplished in your personal and work life. Keep a list of your achievements.
All of these recommendations will help deal with stress. But, again, reality has to be brought to bear on the situation. We opened this chapter by admitting that you'll probably never take actions on the root causes of your stress. What executive do you know who wants to be a Type B in anything? Maybe it's un-American not to be Type A.
Assuming that you won't change your job, take naps on a job, curb your temper, end your love affair with Oreo cookies, or totally change your approach to life, there is one solution that we believe can change your life: exercise and stretching.
You may have started, and failed to continue, many exercise regiments and diets, but let's review the reasons why exercising and stretching are good for stress:
A properly designed exercise program will take you away from the situations that stress you.
Regular exercise work to lower blood pressure.
Exercise and stretching increase your metabolism and counteracts the effects of hormones that are released as a result of stress.
A fatigued muscle is a relaxed muscle.
Exercise and stretching will raise your tolerance of stress.
By following an exercise and stretching program regularly you will gain control over an important facet of your life.
Still, if you don't follow and exercise and stretching program, you won't reap any of the benefits. When you're at home, it’s easier to get out to the gym and work with a personal trainer who can motivate you and help you exercise properly. But, when you are pressed for time or are on the road, a personal trainer isn't the answer. You want something you can do immediately, conveniently, that will provide the benefits you need. You need to be your own personal trainer - with the help of Greg Herzog’s Executive Stress-Relief Program.