What If You’re Doing Stress All Wrong?

September 26, 2016

You’ve heard the recommendations about managing stress for years. They say too much stress can be bad for you. You’ve even heard it can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. You hear someone say “Stress can kill you” and you nod your head because you’ve heard that’s true.

But you’re not sure you believe it, not completely. The way you see it, stress is what motivates the high achiever. Stress is part of the challenge you take on to get the big prize. A necessary evil.

Maybe you try some suggestions about reducing your stress. You:

  • Plan some time to decompress every so often after work, to kick back and relax for a while. But who’s got time for that? Slow down and you’ll fall behind! Besides, isn’t dinner and drinks with friends – okay, a business dinner – enough relaxation?
  • Plan to take a break for a few minutes in your day and get some physical activity, deep breathing, time with nature, or whatever. But who can really get deep breaths and relax when the proposal has to be done by close of business? And how can you enjoy taking a walk in a park to appreciate nature when you have 5 calls to return?
  • Try a brand-new time management system to schedule everything, I mean everything, not just the important stuff, because that way you can keep it all contained. But what urgent situation schedules itself on your calendar before erupting? How many people are going to check your Google calendar before calling you about a big problem?

So you keep doing what you’ve been doing, hoping that watching sports on the weekend is kind of like de-stressing (pretty risky if you’re a Cowboys fan) or getting together for drinks will help you relax. Sadly, while excitement is fun, it doesn’t help with stress. And alcohol is just a chemical pause for stress, not a solution.

Fortunately, there are a couple of important new pieces to the stress puzzle that can completely change how you prepare for and respond to stress. Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, summarized them in her 2013 TED Talk.

McGonigal for years warned people of the research-proven health risks of too much stress. And they can be pretty bad. Heart disease, risk of heart attack, risk of stroke, plus other chronic illnesses. What the new research showed, and what made McGonigal feel guilty, is that those health risks only exist for people who believe stress will harm them.

People who don’t believe stress is physically harmful don’t have increased health risks from stress. Your mindset, how you understand things and what you expect, makes all the difference in the world.

Some of the people in a study were prompted with a new belief about stress. They were told:

  • Your faster heart rate is preparing you for action.
  • Your faster breathing gets oxygen to your brain.
  • You are getting ready for what’s coming your way.

People who were taught this belief were less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident during the study and showed no negative health impact from stress down the road. Their physical response to stress changed. A typical stress response is that your heart rate goes up and your vessels constrict. For these people, heart rate increased but vessels stayed open. It was the same physical response as people who experience joy or courage.

It gets better. There’s a hormone in your body called oxytocin. It has a big role in bonding, establishing emotional connections. Turns out it also plays an important role in stress. Oxytocin protects your cardiovascular system from stress. It’s anti-inflammatory, helping blood vessels stay relaxed.

Your heart has receptors for oxytocin. When you reach out you release oxytocin. It strengthens your heart. It helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. Your stress response becomes healthier and you recover from stress more quickly.

That means our stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection. Oxytocin motivates you to seek support and to connect, and when you do additional oxytocin protects you from stress.

The harmful effects of stress on health are not inevitable. When you choose to view the stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. When you choose to connect with others under stress, you create resilience.

Intrigued? Click here to see the TED Talk.

This post appeared in the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce Blog as part of the Experts Series.

7 Simple Ways to Make a Positive Difference for People

July 25, 2016

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

This is a powerful truth. To make a positive difference that people will remember, you have to leave them with a good feeling. Genuinely good feelings come from connection, and you can’t “fake” connection. We evaluate other people’s sincerity in a sliver of a second.

The suggestions below won’t work if you’re sizing up someone as a potential competitor or potential client. You have to really value the person. Our bull detectors are immediate and they’re highly accurate, especially when someone is closely adhering to a sales script instead of being a real person.

1. Smile Genuinely

Research shows we read smiles subconsciously and respond very differently to fake smiles and genuine smiles. A genuine smile goes all the way up to your eyes. To smile genuinely you have to feel it. Make warm, friendly eye contact with the person and feel the respect and regard you have for another human being. Your smile will reach your eyes and that will shift the other person’s mood right away.

2. Ask People “What Lights You Up?”

When you meet a person, don’t ask “What do you do?” at first. Ask “What lights you up?” or “What’s something you’ve done recently that you’re proud of?” This gives the person the option of talking abut any area of their life, and that opens them up. They’ll remember being heard as a complete person, not just a job description.

3. Notice People’s Strengths and Values

This will take some practice, but it leaves people feeling genuinely heard, and they’ll remember that. Knowing that someone “gets it” when we’re talking is powerful. Noticing a value sounds like “I can tell you make family time a priority.” Noticing a strength sounds like “You’re really good at organizing all the pieces and keeping things going.”

4. Praise Them Publicly

Planning to tell someone they did a good job? Ramp it up by bragging on them to other people while they’re listening. This is especially meaningful when you’re bragging to someone who evaluates them, whether a supervisor or a client – or a family member!

5. Acknowledge Their Challenges and Just Listen

When someone is struggling or when they’re down, sometimes they just need to be heard. No advice, no attempts to make it better, no joking around; just listening. “That sounds really difficult” or “You must be really worried” will show that you understand. Don’t try to fix it. Just be with them and hear them.

6. Remind Them What They’re Capable of Doing

When someone is facing a really tough challenge, especially over time, they can get focused on all the problems and lose perspective. Point them to a time they rose to a challenge and remind them what they can accomplish. “I hear the transition to the new system is kicking everyone’s tail and you’re taking the brunt of it. But I remember when you set up a branch office on your own with only two part-time temps to help out and nobody could believe how fast you got it done.”

7. Notice An “Invisible” Person

There are many people we come across who think of themselves as being in a low station of life. Sometimes it’s because of their role, such as a physical laborer or cleaning crew member. Sometimes it’s because of race, religion, ethnicity, or any label that separates people. You can greet that person with a genuine smile and warm, friendly eye contact. If the person is serving you, thank them and feel your gratitude as you smile. You can make their day.

It’s hard to do these things consistently. But the great thing about this is when you tune in to being genuinely interested in other people, it shows up in all areas of your life. Your family relationships will be strengthened, your friendships will be more enjoyable, and your social time will be a lot more engaging.

You’ll be making a huge positive difference in your own life while you’re spreading goodness around for other people. That’s wins for everyone. And business? Business is relationships, so you can imagine how that will go.

This post originally appeared in the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce Blog as part of the Experts Series.