Stressed for Success

“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress
into a positive one.”

–Hans Selye, Pioneering Endocrinologist

Whether you have the right attitude or not, the question really is—how do you manage your stress?  Do you turn your Blackberry off?  Unplug your iPad?  Take a long walk?  Go for a bike ride?  Run?  Listen to music?  Or just spend time with your family?

This post’s topic is stress—could it be an asset?

We spoke with three dynamic women at the top of their fields to find out about the pros and cons of stress.

Dr. Susan Bookheimer

Dr. Susan Bookheimer is Clinical Neuropsychologist and Joaquin M. Fuster Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.  She specializes in functional brain imaging with PET and functional MRI.  Her work has focused on the organization of language and memory in the brain.

Dr. Bookheimer talked with us about the fact that, on the plus side, stress enables you to focus more, respond quickly, and multi-task, keeping a lot of information in working memory all at once.  Stress allows our body to be in readiness to act quickly.  It’s a hyper-focused state.  “If you are working hard on something important, having that increased level of focus and arousal is good—but only for short bursts.  It has immediate gains and long-term losses. When it continues repeatedly and unceasingly, it is toxic.”

Dr. Bookheimer believes that, as in most things, balance is important.  “You need to recognize when the stress is too much and too prolonged and punctuate it with periods of cool relaxation.”  She recommends that to reduce stress quickly, do yoga, meditate, or exercise in a stress-free situation.  “Those of us who live stressful lives need to consciously inject stress-free interludes.  Be mindful and aware how much stress you’re experiencing; work down time into your schedule each day and more extensive down time on a regular basis.”  Dr. Bookheimer warned,   “Today, people allow themselves to be interrupted with work 24 hours a day.  If you can be interrupted at anytime, you’re never in a state of relaxation.”

Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin is a Leadership Coach and author who has worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies and their executives to achieve greater levels of personal balance and fulfillment.

Lisa told us, “When you have too much stress, the research shows how debilitating it can be to one’s psyche and one’s health. But there is also research out there that shows that a little bit of stress can help your ability to perform, be productive, and be creative—that old time “fight or flight” response.  The key is how to differentiate between the two so that stress can be your friend and not your foe.”

Lisa identified a three-step process we can all use to combat stress:

  • Awareness: Be aware of the stress itself and how it’s fueling you–understand whether it’s affecting you in a positive or negative way.
  • Assessment: Assess the stress—what kind is it and what’s the source?
  • Re-direction: Re-direct the stress—let it go in a way that’s more positive.

According to Lisa, stress comes from four key areas:

  • Fear
  • Lack of control
  • Isolation or loneliness
  • Things left undone or incomplete

“When you assess where the stress is coming from, you may be able to re-direct it from a negative to a positive.  Turn it into an asset by viewing it as a positive challenge rather than as a threat.”

Dr. Nieca Goldberg

Dr. Nieca Goldberg is a cardiologist and a nationally recognized pioneer in women’s heart health.  Her New York City practice, Total Heart Care, is now the NYU Women’s Heart Program.  Dr. Goldberg is Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of NYU Women’s Heart Program, the Co-Medical Director of the 92nd Street Y’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, and a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red” campaign.

Dr. Goldberg agrees that there are good types of stress and bad types.  “The kind of stress you have when you give a presentation or have a revved up response when you’re running a race—that rush, the “fight or flight” response is good stress.  Negative stress is when you’re chronically stressed—when you’re over-scheduled, can’t do anything well, and can’t get your to-do list done.”

According to Dr. Goldberg, negative stress leads to heart disease and high blood pressure.  It causes people to engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors which are health hazards.  These include not exercising, eating bad foods, drinking, and smoking.

When you recognize that you’re not getting your work done and you’re becoming inefficient from stress, Dr. Goldberg recommends:

  • Narrow your to-do list
  • Schedule some downtime
  • Do an activity that’s good for you—go to the gym, take a bath
  • Don’t take your Blackberry to bed
  • Don’t drink caffeine after 4 pm
  • Use your bed for sleeping only, not watching TV
  • Give up unhealthy patterns

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Categories: Stress

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