Tag Archives: stress

Trump’s Election Makes Men More Aggressive, Research Shows

April 11, 2017

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business finds that the emboldening of the extreme right that helped Donald Trump win the presidency has altered social norms. Part of that shift reflects an increase in men acting more aggressively toward women.

To explain, the researchers noted that such groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have found an uptick of hate crimes and harassment taking place across the country. The rise of such incidents led Wharton researchers to examine whether a dimension of that might be found in differences in communications styles of men and women; for example, if their negotiation tactics changed – both before and after the election – depending on which gender they interact with.

Their experiments found a striking result: Post-election, male study participants were less cooperative, more likely to use adversarial strategies and less likely to reach an agreement with a partner. “We didn’t know Trump was going to be elected; we didn’t set out to study Trump’s election,” according to lead researcher Corinne Low. “We had the [lab experiment] sessions on the calendar already, and post-election, we looked at the data and saw that people’s behavior was profoundly different.”

“It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors.” Before the election, men were less likely to use aggressive negotiation tactics when they knew their partner was a woman – a pattern that could be classified as chivalry or a kind of “benevolent sexism,” Low says. “This tells us that if women’s outcomes are dependent on men’s whims, those whims could change. We could see the turning of the tide, and suddenly men are more aggressive.”

The experiments involved playing a “Battle of the Sexes” game in which men and women had to divide $20 with a partner. In some cases, participants were told the gender of their partner; in other cases, that information wasn’t provided. Each round had only two options for splitting the money: One partner would get $15 and the other would get $5, or vice versa; or, if they couldn’t agree, both would walk away with zero.

The researchers pointed out that previous studies suggest that political and world events can affect people’s behavior, including their displays of generosity, cooperation and fairness. “It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors,” Low says.

Many human rights and social justice groups have observed a spike in anti-Semitism and hate crimes following the election. “That’s anecdotal evidence that words matter,” Low says, “and what we have is lab evidence that this matters.”

 

Credit: Wisegeek

 

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What Prevents Taking Work Stress Home With You?

February 14, 2017

I think this new study is useful, per se, but it contains a glaring, most significant omission. And that’s often typical of academic research that ignores the reality of everyday experience. To explain, researchers at the University of Central Florida found that exercise and sleep are keys to keeping employees from bringing work stress and frustrations home.

The study, reported in this summary from the University, looked in particular at abusive behavior at home. They found that those who engaged in more walking at work, and had more sleep, were less likely to behave abusively at home. That is, according to researcher Shannon Taylor, “…employees who are mistreated at work are likely to engage in similar behaviors at home. If they’ve been belittled or insulted by a supervisor, they tend to vent their frustration on members of their household. Our study shows that happens because they’re too tired to regulate their behavior.”

Well, yes. Exercise and sleep help everyone.

But as a solution, that finding deals with a symptom, not the source. It ignores the primary sources of most employee distress and dissatisfaction to begin with: A management culture that’s outright abusive, psychologically unhealthy, unsupportive of career development, too limiting of opportunities for continued learning, and a host of other management and organizational issues. I’ve written a great deal about the impact of an unhealthy management and leadership culture upon people’s workplace experience; and their role in a range of emotional and physical ailments that people experience as a consequence.

Moreover, the current study was conducted with MBA students – a population whose work experiences are not the same as entry level, mid-level or senior career workers. So the researchers’ conclusions — “burning an additional 587 calories can reduce the harmful effects of mistreatment and help prevent it from carrying into the home…(by,for example) with an hour of swimming or a brisk 90-minute walk” — are healthy practices, certainly. But they don’t address the fact that healthy organizations will help people experience a more positive, supportive, and meaningful career and work experience to begin with.

The research was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Credit: NIU Newsroom

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Childhood Insecurity Affects How You Deal With Adult Stress

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-5-44-18-pmSeptember 20, 2016

This new study adds to the knowledge that child relationships have profound and lasting impact on a range of adult experiences, including personality traits, the potential for positive engagement with others; or for emotional disturbance. This study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that insecurity in childhood makes it harder to deal with stressful experiences as an adult. That’s often visible in how individuals respond very differently to situations that might be challenging or difficult in some way.

I think the upshot of this study, described below, adds to the growing knowledge that childhood experiences have lasting impact; a long “tail” throughout many dimensions of adult life. In this case, its impact is visible when dealing with potentially anxious or stressful situations.

The key challenge is determining what can heal the impact of the past and enable new growth.

In this summary of the current study, Christine Heinisch, one of the authors, points out that, “We know from other studies that our history of attachment directly influences how we act in social situations, but what about reaction to a neutral stimulus under emotional conditions?” Continue reading

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Chronic Stress and Anxiety Will Damage Your Brain

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.03.47 PMFebruary 9, 2016

A new research review finds that chronic stress and anxiety puts you at increased risk for developing depression and dementia. Finding such an association is not new, but this examination of several studies was more extensive and conclusive. It examined a number of research reports of how brain areas are impacted by chronic anxiety, fear and stress.

In a summary of the findings, the authors concluded that there is “extensive overlap” of the brain’s neurocircuitry in all three conditions, which may explain the link between chronic stress and the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors pointed out that experiencing anxiety, fear and stress is considered a normal part of life when it is occasional and temporary, such as feeling anxious and stressed before an exam or a job interview. However, when those acute emotional reactions become more frequent or chronic, they can significantly interfere with daily living activities such as work, school and relationships. The research was published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry and conducted by Canadian researchers from the the Rotman Research Institute.

“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia,” said Linda Mah, lead author of the review.

“Looking to the future,” she added, “we need to do more work to determine whether interventions, such as exercise, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy, can not only reduce stress but decrease the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Credit: Allouteffort

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Your View of the Future: It Can Increase Your Mental Health….Or Create Depression

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.14.00 AMJune 30, 2015

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely to believe that your emotional state generates negative thoughts and expectations about the future. After all, depression can color everything, so it’s natural to assume that a negative outlook reflects your depressed mood. And that’s the conventional thinking among most of us in the mental health professions, as well. But for many people the reality is the other way around: It’s how you envision the future that can make you depressed.

A new study supports this. I was happy to come across it because it’s what I’ve observed and emphasized for years: Your vision of your future “self” shapes your mental health. Specifically, a positive vision of what you aspire towards –– a picture of what you’re aiming for, a sense of new possibility –– acts like a kind of psychological magnet. It pulls you towards it, helping you find the path that will take you there. Picturing what you strive towards can feel as though it has tether connected to you, steadily tugging you towards it. That generates positive energy and wellbeing.

But if you lack that vision of possibility, you’re likely to remain more stuck if you’re already depressed. Or you may become depressed, as the new research shows. And even if you’re not, you’ll tend to feel stagnant and flat-lined about some important dimension of your life –– your relationship, your career, your sense of purpose.

The study I referred to was published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It concluded that a pessimistic view of the future may not be the result of depression but the cause of it. The researchers found that three kinds of pictures of the future, or “prospection,” can drive depression:

  • poor generation of possible futures
  • poor evaluation of possible future
  • negative beliefs about the future

According to the researchers, “Prospection belongs front and center in the study of depression…(and) that faulty prospection does drive depression. An understanding of how prospection shapes psychopathology may enable researchers to create more effective treatments and help distressed individuals to create brighter futures.”

Credit: Triometric

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Positive Emotions Are Linked With Long-Term, Healthy Life

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This should be obvious, but it’s good to see another study showing the links between how we deal with stress and the ups and downs of life, emotionally; and our body’s inflammatory response. The level of inflammation affects many forms of disease. It’s significant for our long-term health.

This study, conducted by researchers at Penn State, and summarized in this report, found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life have elevated levels of inflammation. 

I think this research is particularly important because it shows that “resilience” to stress is more than the capacity to absorb, handle, and rebound in the face of stressful experiences. It also includes a pro-active mentality; a positive outlook and positive emotions in the face of life’s conflicts, negative experiences and unpredictability. That mental and emotional orientation plays a key role in the body’s level of inflammatory response when we’re stressed.

That is, the research showed that the frequency of daily stressors, in and of itself, was less consequential for inflammation than how an individual reacted to those stressors. “A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” said lead author Nancy Sin. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.” These findings add to growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of emotional response to daily stressors. 

In the short-term, with illness or exercise, the body experiences a high immune response to help repair itself. However, in the long term, heightened inflammatory immune responses may not be healthy. Individuals who have trouble regulating their responses may be at risk for certain age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty and cognitive decline, Sin said. “Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,” Sin added.

Click here for the full summary from Penn State.

Credit: CPD Archive

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The Fake Workaholic

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.23.35 AMMay 12, 2015

This recent article by New York Times writer Neil Irwin caught my attention: He describes a study of the workaholic culture within one large consulting company. The study, from Boston University, found that “Some of the people ostensibly turning in those 80- or 90-hour workweeks, particularly men, may just be faking it.” The findings were based on just that one company, but it does raise the possibility that workers in other companies that promote — or require — a workaholic culture may also be publicly pretending to embrace the long hours regimen.

But to me, these findings raise, implicitly, a deeper problem: Our career and organizational cultures require men and women to adapt and embrace a view of “success” defined by steady, singular pursuit of position, power and financial reward — via workaholic behavior. That, despite substantial evidence that the latter leads to diminished productivity, innovation and employee commitment; despite the pervasive stress among employees, which underlie a wide range of illness — emotional and physical; and despite — no surprise — surveys that show tremendous employee dislike, dissatisfaction and conflict with the culture and management of their organizations. Irwin alludes to an aspect of this at the end of his article, writing, “Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.”

Interestingly, the study found that people who were “passing” as workaholics “…received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.” Moreover, “…women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods.”

Those additional findings highlight the deeper, pervasive theme I raised above: Our cultural norm that equates a successful adult life with embracing a workaholic and psychologically unhealthy workplace culture has ongoing destructive impact –to individuals, but also to the long-term viability of organizations in this fast-evolving era of rapid change and the rise of younger generations and their view of work, life, and what they are seeking in both realms.

For Irwin’s full article, click here.

Credit: Peter Arkle

 

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Why Anxious People Make Bad Decisions

Screen shot 2015-03-03 at 11.50.54 AMMarch 3, 2015

If you’re highly anxious, you’re going to have trouble making decisions in unpredictable, uncertain situations. That’s no surprise, but new research shows how and why that happens. I think the findings add to the value of meditation, which many studies have found builds your capacities to regulate stress and anxiety.

In this new study, researchers at at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Oxford looked at people’s response to unpredictability. As reported in Medical Express, they found that people prone to high anxiety have a tougher time reading the environmental cues that could help them avoid a bad outcome. They have more trouble deciding how best to handle life’s uncertainties, in general.

“Our results show that anxiety may be linked to difficulty in using information about whether the situations we face daily, including relationship dynamics, are stable or not, and deciding how to react,” said study lead author Sonia Bishop, in a summary of the research. “It’s a bit like being Alice in Wonderland, trying to work out if the same rules apply or if everything is different and if so, what choices you should make,” she added.

For example, the researchers explained, a friend may suddenly lash out for no discernible reason. That friend’s behavior could reflect a typical variation in their day-to-day mood or interactions or, more dramatically, an underlying change in their relationship with you. The challenge for a person prone to anxiety is assessing the situation in context of what else has happened recently and responding appropriately.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that highly anxious people may catastrophize as well. For example, they may “interpret a lovers’ tiff as a doomed relationship or a workplace change as a career threat.” And, as Bishop noted, “An important skill in everyday decision-making is the ability to judge whether an unexpected bad outcome is a chance event or something likely to reoccur if the action that led to the outcome is repeated.”

The researchers suggest that a glitch in the brain’s higher-order decision-making circuitry may underlie this difficulty. For a full description of the study and how it was conducted, see this summary in Medical Express. 

Photo Credit: HomeArt / Shutterstock

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Become More Productive at Work by Giving it Less Attention?

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February 17, 2015

I often suggest to business clients — as well as to some of my psychotherapy patients — that they create a “life project” in which they commit to personal development within these six interrelated dimensions of life: intellectual, emotional, relational, creative, spiritual and physical. Note that none of these relate explicitly to work and career. But when you do this — creating new goals or aspirations for each dimension, and taking steps that pull you towards them, you find that it also enhances your effectiveness and productivity at work. You realize how interrelated the different “parts” of your life is.

In an interesting Harvard Business Review article, Stew Friedman of the Wharton School describes research confirming that building an integrated life will, in fact, increase work effectiveness and productivity. This is important, because I think we’re seeing increasing evidence that when you seek to develop and “grow” more fully, in all dimensions, it enhances your overall life — your inner wellbeing and your outer success.

Friedman’s study has a somewhat different take on the dimensions of life from those I described above, but it confirms the value of bringing “parts” of your life into greater integration and harmony. That leads to a seeming paradox: By giving less focus to your work, you perform better at it.

He writes, “…what if the secret to performing better at work, and feeling more satisfied, isn’t to put more effort and energy into work but less? Instead of working harder and longer, what if you better integrated the four domains of your life – work, home, community, and self? My research has shown just that: By focusing more on the areas of life you care most about, even if those aren’t work, you’ll perform better at your job.”

In the research, Friedman asked participants to experiment with small changes “to see how those tweaks affected all four domains over a short period of time.” He pointed out that there are, of course, barriers to integrating the dimensions of one’s life, such as fear of change. But learning to minimize them can make it more likely to try, “thereby getting more done and creating greater harmony in your life.”

He suggested these three ways of minimizing the barriers: Continue reading

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Post-Holiday Loneliness? It Has Many Sources — Here’s What May Help

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January 5, 2015

I was standing in a bar and watching all the people there
Oh the loneliness in this world well it’s just not fair

 — Brian Wilson, “Love and Mercy”

Holiday seasons often intensify feelings of loneliness for many – even if you’re in a crowded bar, as in Brian Wilson’s song, or in an unfulfilling relationship. Aside from what some people experience during holidays, loneliness can intensify at any point in the year. And it can have different roots for different people.

For example, Anne, a therapy patient, tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Growing up with an alcoholic mother and sometimes-present father, her intimate relationships have been brief and her friends, few, throughout her adult years. Now in her early 40s, she’s suffered from one physical ailment after another.

Another patient, Brian, has an active social life with friends and business associates, as well as a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this apparently full relationship life, he speaks of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me…something always feels missing.” Brian, too, suffers from frequent illnesses and allergies.

That both have physical complaints isn’t surprising, since our mind/body/spirit are all one. Each “part” affects each other “part.” In fact, some new research underscores this. It finds that loneliness can weaken your immune system, which then sets the stage for a range of physical illnesses. Continue reading

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Negative Relationships at Midlife Can Cause Mental Decline

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November 25, 2014

Hey, midlifers, this is definitely worth noting: New research led by University College London finds that stressful, difficult, or otherwise negative relationships can contribute to mental decline during the middle years of life.

The study was summarized by Reuters, and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study found that those who reported more negative aspects of close relationships also tended to have more rapid cognitive aging. People who reported the most negative aspects of close relationships were also more likely to have symptoms of depression and diabetes than others.

In the Reuters report, the lead author Jing Liao said “Any relationship involves both positive and negative exchanges, especially those close relationships that are most likely to evoke ambivalent sentiments. Negative aspects of close relationships refer to unpleasant social exchanges when the recipient finds the relationship ineffective, intrusive or over-controlling,”

Similarly, “Previous studies…have found that close relationships that involve strain and conflict are associated with poorer executive functioning,” said Margie E. Lachman, director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging and Lifespan Lab at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Liao pointed out that “There is evidence that, in general, those with a partner or those who are less socially isolated report better quality of life and live longer…but healthy people are more likely to have a partner and be more socially engaged.”

For Reuter’s full report of the research and how it was conducted, click here.

 

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Can Distancing Yourself From A Conflict Help A Relationship?

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September 30, 2014

By “leaving” a conflict you can gain the expanded perspective needed to solve it. That means stepping out of your limited ego, and some new research shows how that can help.

It’s easy to become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who you are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for expanding your personal capacities, your thinking or emotions — outside of that fixed view. Unfortunately, that disables you from enlarging your perspective, which can be essential for solving conflicts or problems that you feel stuck inside of, unable to change or alter. That’s especially true for solving relationship difficulties.

President Eisenhower once said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. Certainly that applies to life beyond the battlefield. That is, “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

How can you do that? Some new empirical research shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning; it helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. And that provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, as reported in Psychological Science, examined “the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.” Continue reading

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Less Stress Among Managers With Positive Employee Relationships

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September 10, 2014

Many studies in recent years show the connections between positive, collaborative relationships at work; a positive, supportive management culture; and higher levels of creative, productive work. I think the findings of this recent study from Norway of 3000 managers, conducted by researchers at BI Norwegian Business School, add to this knowledge, and are relevant both to managers and those being managed here in the U.S.

The study examined stress among mangers, and found, In essence, that managers who enjoy a good relationship with their employees suffer less dangerous stress at work. “The best thing a manager can do to prevent work stress is to develop good relationships with the employees at work,” concluded lead researcher Astrid M. Richardsen in a summary of the findings.

The research found that more than six out of ten Norwegian managers (61.8 per cent) indicate that they often or all the time experience time pressure or a heavy workload. Fewer than five per cent say they rarely or never have time pressure at work. Most relevant to U.S. organizations is the finding that managers experience significantly less stress when they feel they have a good relationship to their employees, and the employees show a positive conduct and confidence in their managers. That is, according to the research summary, when the employees are happy with what the manager does, understand his or her challenges and participate actively in solving the problems, the manager will have less stress. This will probably be because the manager trusts the employees more and delegates more tasks to them. Hence the work pressure will decrease, Richardsen believes.

Although differences exist between managers and workers in Norway and the U.S. culture regarding work-life stress and organizational pressures, one commonality is the Norwegian finding that managers who feel they have control of their work situation and great freedom to make decisions experience less work pressure and emotional strain. They also suffer considerably less role stress than managers who do not have such control. Most U.S. managers would resonate with that, as well as the finding that Continue reading

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So Much Work, And No Time for Vacation? Here’s Why!

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMAugust 12, 2014

Do you work increasingly long hours, maybe even pride yourself on taking little, if any, vacation time? If so, you’re in pretty good company. Some recent surveys confirm – again — that U.S. workers tend to take relatively little vacation time, and they work increasingly longer hours. With more heightened awareness of the damaging effects of work-life “imbalance,” physically and emotionally, one wonders, what maintains this unhealthy way of life for so many?

It’s easy to cite the fact that U.S. companies provide very little paid vacation time as a matter of policy compared with other industrialized nations. We’re the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays, says John Schmitt, co-author of a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that, even after 10 years of employment, about 65 percent of workers have less than 2.5 weeks of paid vacation.

But the lack of vacation time provided by employers is both a cause and effect: It reflects something about our social values to begin with. For example, how we define success and personal worth can include taking little time away from work. And that, in turn, is reinforced by company policies. But beneath the surface, psychologically, is often a sense of being trapped in a way of life that one can’t break free from. Or, as one person told me, “I don’t like who I’ve become.”

According to one survey, the median vacation time is 12 days. And 40 percent take a week or less. Yet, the impact of overwork is well-known: Higher levels of stress, which can create both physical illness and emotional conflicts. It fuels marital and family conflicts. In fact, a Gallup survey found that nearly 70 percent who take no vacations at all report that they struggle to balance work and life. And, while another survey found that about 50 percent claim to be satisfied with their work-life balance, 81 percent also said that work-life balance would be a critical factor in deciding whether to accept a new position. Ironically, overwork and little time off leads to less productivity and less effective decision-making, as well as diminished focus and clarity. That’s become worse in today’s world, as recent research shows the cost of being online and available 24/7, thanks to digital technology.

As the saying goes, no one on their deathbed says they wished they had spent more time at the office. So, what propels people to diminish time away from work — even short breaks to recharge and reboot their energy and life balance? We need to look at some of the social and psychological motives that give rise to this paradoxical picture. Here are some that Continue reading

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

This is worth heeding, if you’re in midlife: Frequent arguing with partners, children, other relatives or neighbors may significantly increase the risk of middle-aged death from all causes, according to a new study. Reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healththe study is described in Medical News Today

All of us have engaged in arguments with others in the past, whether it is with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors. Although these experiences are stressful, we do not necessarily think about the health risks they pose. But a new study suggests that frequent arguing may dramatically increase the risk of middle-aged death.

According to the research team, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, past research has indicated that good social relationships with others have positive effects on general health and well-being. But they say there are limited studies looking at how negative relationships impact health. With this in mind, the investigators set out to determine whether there was a link between stressful social relations with partners, children, other family members, friends and neighbors, and all-cause mortality. Continue reading

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Does Short-Term Meditation Work? Here’s What New Research Found

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 11.11.03 AMJuly 22, 2014

This updated and expanded version of my July 15 article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

I regularly encourage the people I work with to practice meditation. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While that’s not the true purpose of meditation (another subject altogether), it’s certainly a by-product benefit. The problem for many people is that they say it takes too much time to devote to regular meditative practice.

Well, some new research looked the results of short-term meditation for your thought processes — your judgment in making decisions — and also your level of resilience in the face of negative emotional states. Here’s what they discovered:

Research conducted at INSEAD and The Wharton School, and published in Psychological Science, found that even short-term mindfulness meditative practice of about 15 minutes can help you make wiser choices when making decisions. In mindfulness meditation, you build awareness of the present moment and try to let go of other thoughts that intrude and distract.

The researchers found that meditation can help counteract the tendency to people to “have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” according to the lead author Andrew Hafenbrack, from INSEAD. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.'” The researchers referred to this tendency as the sunk-cost bias — commonly known as “throwing good money after bad.”

Co-author Zoe Kinias added: “We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation Continue reading

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Can Business Leaders Activate These Dormant Capacities?

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In a business environment where surveys find 70% of employees saying they hate their work; and in which the demographics of leaders and employees are rapidly changing, it’s no surprise to hear — as a senior executive asked me, recently — “How can I prepare for what I can’t prepare for?”

Some recent research points the way. Several studies find that most people can arouse and apply seemingly contradictory capacities for different leadership purposes, as needed. They are latent or dormant capacities, dimensions of oneself that are both emotional and cognitive. They include the more linear, data-based, and structured; and those that are more improvised, non-linear and creative.

Research shows that activating them builds an important, broader mentality, not just a fixed set of actions. The challenge for leaders is learning how to activate and utilize these dormant capacities needed in today’s fluid, unpredictable environment.

Some examples:

The Capacity To Shift Focus At will, As Needed For The Task
Research finds that we can learn to activate and apply both linear and nonlinear capacities, as needed. One study examined this in terms of leadership orientation. Researchers at Case Western University examined a common assumption that one is fixed within either a “task” or “team-building” orientation: an analytic, linear focus on people completing tasks; or an empathic orientation, supportive of workers development and open to their ideas.

Based on brain research they published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the research team found that those capacities actually co-exist. According to lead researcher Anthony Jack, “Every normal brain contains both modes, with the flexibility to go to the right mode at the right time.” The researchers indicated that this fluidity enables a leader to shift between a more operational, linear focus, and a nonlinear focus, supporting innovative ideas and actions that enhance team collaboration and performance.

The challenge, then, is to learn how to develop and strengthen both capacities. Moreover, Continue reading

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Materialism and Depression Are Linked

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Research conducted at Baylor University finds that the more materialistic you are, the more likely you are to be depressed and unsatisfied with life. It’s good to see another example of empirical research that confirms observational evidence. Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the research suggests, according to the researchers, that materialistic people find it more difficult to be grateful for what they have, which causes them to become miserable.

The research was summarized in a news release from Baylor:

Gratitude is a positive mood. It’s about other people,” said study lead author Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D. “Previous research that we and others have done finds that people are motivated to help people that help them — and to help others as well. We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health.”

The research found that those who rated low on gratitude were more likely to be materialistic and less satisfied with life. Materialism tends to be “me-centered.” A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has, researchers said.

“Our ability to adapt to new situations may help explain why ‘more stuff’ doesn’t make us any happier,” said study co-author, James Roberts. “As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier, we simply raise our reference point. That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption. We continue to purchase more and more stuff but we don’t get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill.” Continue reading

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New Poll Reveals The Continuing Toll of Workplace Stress

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMA version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

It’s déjà vu time once again: A new poll of nearly 7000 people by the job-search site Monster found high levels of unrelenting stress among workers, which mirror findings form other, periodic surveys. There are many reasons for work-related stress, but I’m struck by the continued lack of focus on the management and workplace culture of too many organizations marked by a debilitating, emotionally damaging environment.

One finding is especially striking, in this respect: Asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace?” 66%, answered “nothing.”

The new poll was summarized by Kathryn Dill in Forbes. She quotes Monster’s Mary Ellen Slayter, who says that “People feel stressed out because there’s that continuing pressure to do more with less. Workers feel pressure to get more accomplished. People know they’re not happy, but they’re not clear on whether or not it would be better somewhere else.” However, nearly 50% report having changed jobs to escape the stress. In her Forbes article, Dill cites a separate survey of more than 900 workers that found an employee’s relationship with their boss as the most common cause of workplace stress, followed closely by workload, work-life balance, and relationships with coworkers. She adds:

Nearly half of employees surveyed report having missed time at work due to work-related stress, and an even greater number, 61%, say that workplace stress has caused them actual physical illness, with insomnia, depression, and family issues cited as results. Seven percent of employees report having been hospitalized as the result of work-related stress.

In another summary of the poll, Constantine von Hoffman writes in CBS Money Watch that

It’s not only workers who are affected. Nearly 85 percent said it had an impact on their personal lives, with 21 percent saying it had caused problems in their family or in other relationships. More than a third said they dealt with it by eating, according to the study, while a quarter resorted to drinking after work. By contrast, many workers also sought to defuse tension through exercise or by stepping away from work and taking a day off.

Nevertheless, there’s the fact that when asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace? 13% noted additional time off and 11% cited the opportunity to work from home. But — the majority, 66% — answered “nothing.”

In her Forbes article, Dill cites Slayter’s observation that people who find themselves regularly overwhelmed to a level that’s unbearable might want to contemplate a job–or career–switch, to something that makes better use of their talents or involves fewer tasks that cause distress. “Make sure that overall your career is a good fit,” says Slater. “If you find yourself thinking that every day is stressful, if everyday is unpleasant, if it feels like that chronically, its time to sit down and ask yourself, ‘Is this the right fit?

I think that’s good advice, per se. But easier said than done. Moreover, the sources of work-related stress are pervasive, across many companies. Failure to build more positive management cultures in our organizations will lead to yet more surveys that will cite similar findings.

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Meditation Changes The Expression of Your Genes

Screen shot 2014-04-01 at 10.54.46 AMEvidence continues to mount that how one’s genetic tendencies or vulnerabilities, are actually expressed — or not — is highly shaped by our life experiences, both those that we choose and those that are handed to us. A new study demonstrates how the practice of meditation affects the expression of genes that are involved in one’s stress response and inflammation, which underlie a wide range of health conditions, physically and mentally. It found evidence that meditation results in beneficial changes at the molecular level.

The research was reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and conducted with meditators who engaged in an intensive 8-hour session of mindfulness meditation. They were compared with a group of 21 others who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities for the same period of time. Both groups gave blood samples before and after their activities. When researchers analyzed the samples at the molecular level, they found that the expression of genes which are involved in inflammation, and generally in the body’s stress-response, were down-regulated.

Moreover, tests of cortisol levels in participants’ saliva revealed that the expert meditators were able to recover quicker after an induced stressful event than the control group. In a summary of the research Richard Davidson, one of the authors of the study, said, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice. Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression.”

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Take This Job And…Shove It?/Love It?

Screen shot 2013-11-12 at 11.34.24 AM It may be hard to say, when you see this contradiction: A new survey finds that 90 percent of older workers, and nearly 40 percent of younger workers say they’re satisfied with their work. But many other surveys report high levels of dissatisfaction, stress, unsupportive management and disengagement from work altogether — across age groups.

How to make sense of such divergent findings? Actually, they all make sense when you look at the surveys more closely, in the context of the career and management environments of many organizations. People of different ages, attitudes and desires deal with their workplace environments in different ways, both subtle and overt.

First, the new survey, reported by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: It found that “9 in 10 workers who are age 50 or older say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their job.” Specifically, 65 percent said they were “very satisfied,” while the remaining 26 percent were just “satisfied.”

The survey did find that nearly 40 percent of younger workers reported dissatisfaction with their jobs. But on the face of it, the findings suggest that the older you get, you become more “satisfied” with your work. Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey, observed that “Older workers generally have already climbed the career ladder, increased their salaries and reached positions where they have greater security, so more satisfaction makes sense.”

These findings may appear puzzling in the face of many other surveys that report high levels of stress, hostile, unsupportive management, and other negative, debilitating experiences that many workers deal with.

My take is that the AP-NORC Center survey unintentionally masked several underlying phenomena. The result was the high level of reported “satisfaction” among all older workers. Some examples: Continue reading

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Materialistic People Respond to Severe Stress With Compulsive Shopping

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 10.29.03 AMA new cross-cultural study finds interesting links between materialism, response to external threats, fear of death and compulsive shopping. It found that highly materialistic, possession-oriented people tend to experience greater fear when faced with stress and threats to their lives; and engage in compulsive shopping in response, compared with less materialist people.

The study was reported in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science and summarized in Science Daily, According to lead researcher Ayalla Ruvio of the University of Michigan, “When the going gets tough, the materialistic go shopping, And this compulsive and impulsive spending is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being. Essentially, materialism appears to make bad events even worse.”

The study was conducted with participants from Israel and the U.S. The findings revealed that highly materialistic people who faced or perceived a mortal threat, reported significantly higher levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and impulsive and compulsive buying than their less materialistic counterparts. “The relationship between materialism and stress may be more harmful than commonly thought,” Ruvio said.

The research explored the roots of these responses from the more materialistic individuals through a survey of 855 people in the U.S. The survey examined their attitudes about materialism and their fear of death. Researchers found that the more materialistic individuals are more likely to try to relieve their fear of death through impulsive and out-of-control spending. Click here for more description of the Israeli and U.S. parts of the study.

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Why the Workplace Is So Destructive to So Many People

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 10.17.20 AMAs Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” We’re seeing yet another survey (they appear with increasing frequency) showing how negatively men and women feel about their workplaces; how damaging the workplace is to mental and physical health, and therefore to the economy. Recently some new high-profile initiatives raise hope about the possibility of meaningful change. But it’s crucial that both hone in the key source of the destructive impact careers and the workplace have upon so many people today: The leadership and management culture of companies, and the practices that result. Ironically, those are often at odds with the personal values and perspectives of the very people who occupy leadership roles, but are hamstrung by constraints from the very top — even when they’re part of it.

Jim, a senior VP, feels unsure about his future role in the organization as it undergoes major transition. His boss provides no information, saying, “just don’t worry about it.” Jim’s also in a bind about Continue reading

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New Research into Psychedelic Drugs and their Positive Benefits

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 11.02.06 AMFor decades, now, research into responsible medical and psychological uses of psychedelic drugs has been forbidden by law. Recently, however, some research into psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDNA (ecstasy) and other chemicals has begun in university research settings. It’s become allowable by a slight shift of laws towards more sanity: allowing research that can aid healing of emotional traumas and create positive development in one’s attitudes and behavior. This is a welcomed trend. Some recent studies are described in an article by Don Lattin, “The Second Coming of Psychedelics,” in Spirituality & Health. He writes, “What’s new is that these powerful mind-altering substances are coming out of the drug counterculture and back into the mainstream laboratories of some of the world’s leading universities and medical centers. Research projects and pilot studies at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Purdue University, and the University of California, Los Angeles, are probing their mind-altering mysteries and healing powers. Psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and Ecstasy are still illegal for street use and cannot be legally prescribed by doctors, but university administrators, government regulatory agencies, and private donors are once again giving the stamp of approval—and the money needed—for research into beneficial uses for this “sacred medicine.” For the full article, click here.

Similarly, a recent article by April M. Short in AlterNet describes research reported at the conference of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). She reports that “Today, in addition to other psychedelics and cannabis, MAPS continues to study the healing potential of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on psychological and emotional damage caused by sexual assault, war, violent crime, and other traumas.” Continue reading

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More Stress — For More Workers

Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 3.25.26 PMIt seems like every other day there’s a new survey or research study that shows – again – how stressed-out American workers are, at all levels of career; both men and women. This latest report, by Harris Interactive for Everest College, finds that about 83% of workers report feeling stressed by their jobs. It’s a number that keeps rising, and the usual sources are multiple: pay, too much to handle with too few resources; troublesome co-workers, and work-life balance issues. These are valid sources of stress, but I think these periodic surveys fail to tap into more pervasive, underlying sources of stress and conflict at work: boredom; lack of mesh between the person’s skills and the role; an unhealthy, unsupportive management culture; outright abusive, arrogant and narcissistic bosses, and so forth. I’ve written about some of these issues in previous posts, and plan to address some new versions of these underlying sources of conflict and stress in some future essays.

The current survey was summarized in a Forbes article, by Susan Adams. She writes:

Some 83% of American workers say they feel stressed out by their jobs, up from 73% a year ago, according to a new study by Harris Interactive for Everest College. The No. 1 reason workers feel stressed, according to the survey: low pay. This is the third year of the survey and the third year that less- than-adequate paychecks were the top stressor for workers. The study was conducted by phone among 1,000 adults between Feb. 21 and March 3.

While pay was the biggest source of stress last year, Continue reading

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Daily Stress Affects Long-Term Mental Health

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMOnce again, we find more evidence that daily stress has a long-term negative impact on mental health. Any research that highlights this fact is helpful, but it also draws attention to the role our social conditioning plays in generating the stress that debilitates mental health. And that’s not addressed as much as it should be. I’m referring to the ways we learn to behave in our public and private roles – in relationships, in our careers — that define “success,” and what you learn to do to achieve it, in ways that steadily create emotional conflicts. Without addressing those issues, which include over-emphasis on manipulation, self-centeredness, domination-submission struggles, to name a few — it’s difficult to describe what can support the “emotional balance,” the researchers cite as crucial for avoiding long-term emotional problems.

The latest research about this, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues. Here’s what they reported:

Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health. The research suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road. The study examined this question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later tribulations? Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later. Continue reading

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Why Self-Deception Can Be Psychologically Healthy

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 10.02.25 AMThe founder and editor of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Shermer, described in a TED presentation, “The Pattern Behind Self-Deception,” how our human tendency to “believe” can lead people to embrace a range of falsehoods, despite evidence to the contrary. That brings to mind another interesting aspect of “self-deception” — one that’s psychologically healthy and leads to positive development: Both research studies and clinical evidence from psychotherapy show that a strong belief or expectation about achieving a goal or overcoming a problem can have a powerful impact upon what actually happens in your life.

To explain, first consider which “self” it is when we speak of “self-deception.” You might recognize two “selves” within you: One who envisions and believes in the possibility of achieving something you desire — say a new project that you though of; or of solving a personal conflict that creates much unhappiness. And then there’s your other “self,” who tells you desire isn’t possible, or that it’s unrealistic or that you lack the ability to make it happen.

Many people experience those conflicting “selves.” It can be difficult to know which one is “true,” or which to identify with. Continue reading

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Training Your Brain To Be Positive — More Evidence

Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 10.01.06 AMResearch continues to show that we are capable of “training” our brain towards greater compassion and empathy. This Wall Street Journal report  by Elizabeth Bernstein describes some findings that show ways to develop greater self-compassion and happiness in the context of everyday life – which always contains ups and downs. “Research shows self-compassionate people cope better with everything from a major relationship breakup to the loss of their car keys.” And, “you can learn self-compassion in real time. You can train your brain to focus on the positive—even if you’re wired to see the glass as half empty…We can’t change our genes or our experiences, but experts say we can change the way we interpret what has happened in the past.” Bernstein’s article follows:

Donna Talarico sat at her computer one morning, stared at the screen and realized she had forgotten—again!—her password. She was having financial difficulties at the time, and was reading self-help books to boost her mood and self-confidence. The books talked about the power of positive affirmation—which gave her an idea: Continue reading

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Loneliness Can Harm Your Overall Health

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A new study finds that loneliness has a negative impact on your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to illness. This should be no surprise: Everything is connected; we are one mind-body-spirit interwoven system, interconnected with the social and other “external” forces that shape our experience of life. The research, conducted at Ohio State University, was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

New research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health. Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response. Continue reading

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Can True Solitude Be Found In A Wired World?

This article, by AP writer Martha Irvine, highlights an issue worth deeper exploration: the simultaneous upside and downside of being always wired. Especially its impact on both well-being and a sense of interconnection, of community. The latter is visible during Hurricane Sandy’s impact on our lives.

She writes:

When was the last time you were alone, and unwired? Really, truly by yourself. Just you and your thoughts — no cellphone, no tablet, no laptop. Many of us crave that kind of solitude, though in an increasingly wired world, it’s a rare commodity. We check texts and emails, and update our online status, at any hour — when we’re lying in bed or sitting at stop lights or on trains. Sometimes, we even do so when we’re on the toilet.

We feel obligated, yes. But we’re also fascinated with this connectedness, constantly tinkering and checking in — an obsession that’s starting to get pushback from a small but growing legion of tech users who are feeling the need to unplug and get away.

“What might have felt like an obligation at first has become an addiction. It’s almost as if we don’t know how to be alone, or we are afraid of what we’ll find when we are alone with ourselves,” says Camille Preston, a tech and communication consultant based in Cambridge, Mass.

“It’s easier to keep doing, than it is to be in stillness.”

One could argue that, in this economy, Continue reading

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Overconfidence May Lead You To Incompetence

Some new research gives a new twist to the “Peter Principle” – the idea that people often rise up in their career to their level of incompetence. This study found that being overconfident can increase one’s social status, including greater power to sway others and subsequently achieve higher levels of success. However, the downside is that the overconfident person may convince themselves that they are more skilled and capable than they really are. That is, they can delude themselves and others; and be promoted beyond their actual level of competence. The research was conducted at Berkeley’s Hass School of Business, and summarized by Medical News Today in the following report: Continue reading

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Stress Increases The Risk Of Death From Any Source

Research keeps accumulating that confirms the damaging impact of stress — all kinds — upon our mind/body/spirit. This analysis of several studies, reported in the British Medical Journal, sound that stress is linked with increased risk of death, from all sources. I think the larger issue that this highlights, indirectly, is that we are socially conditioned to adapt to values and behavior and a number of norms that, themselves, are unhealthy. That, in turn, generates a wide range of emotional and physical consequences. The report was summarized in MedPage today:

Even at low levels, psychological distress was significantly associated with an increased risk of mortality from several causes, researchers found.

A meta-analysis of 10 British cohort studies showed that the risk of all-cause mortality in adults with the lowest level of psychological distress — termed subclinically symptomatic — was significantly higher than that of asymptomatic adults at an age- and sex-adjusted hazard ratio of 1.20 (95% CI 1.13 to 1.27), Tom Russ, MRCPsych, of the National Health Service Scotland, and colleagues wrote online in BMJ.

The study measured the association of psychological distress with death by any cause, cardiovascular death, cancer death, and deaths from external causes using data from the Health Survey for England. The survey included data from 1994 to 2004 on 68,222 adults ages 35 or older, mean age 60 years, who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and who lived in a private household in England at baseline.

Participants had measures of psychological distress taken at a household visit using a 12-item version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) — a unidimensional scale of psychological distress that includes symptom measures for anxiety, depression, social dysfunction, and loss of confidence. Continue reading

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Why Today’s Workplace Creates Emotional Conflicts

One of the most poorly understoodthough frequently experiencedrealities of work andcareertoday is that success often takes an enormous toll on people’s emotions and overall lives. It sounds ironic, I know, but it’s true. And to the extent it’s noticed at all, the downside of success is usually assumed to be understandablestressor work-life balance problems of modern lives.

But that misses the larger problem: Career success often generates a range of emotional conflicts that affect the person, job performance and ultimately the company’s success. Conflicts range from questioning the value and worth of the toll you pay along the path to success to more troubling problems. For example, feeling constrained by long hours, work that often lacks meaning, vigilance about political conflicts that can suck you in, and frustration withmanagementpractices. More serious emotional problems include anxiety, depression and chronic physical ailments. All of the above can be triggered by successful career advancement.

Though the problem is underrecognized, it’s widespread. Periodically anew surveyappears, documenting depression in the workplace and dissatisfaction with leadership. Other research confirms that demoralization rises when work isn’t very engaging; or when opportunities for continued growth and expanding competencies are too limited or blocked. It’s time we recognize the negative psychological impact that the management culture and the “requirements” for success can have on people and the organizations they work for. They exist at great cost to both.

When I investigated and wrote about career-related conflicts this a few decades ago I found Continue reading

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The End Of Mental Health — And Why That’s Good

The idea of mental healthas we know ithas reached a dead end. It doesn’t describe much of anything relevant to people’s lives today. If you Google “mental health,” most of what comes up describes mentalillness, not mentalhealth. Both practitioners and researchers focus more onunderstandingand treating emotional disturbance, than on describing what health is or how to build it.

That’s good, actually, because it opens the door to a needed, broad re-thinking of what psychological health looks like in today’s worldin your emotions, thoughts, attitudes, values and behavior. In this post I explain what’s brought us to this dead-end, and I sketch some features of psychological health that reflect new challenges and realities of today’s tumultuous world.

First, let’s look at why we’re at this dead-end. The aims of treatment for emotional conflictswhether via medications,psychotherapyor a combination of the twohave been, in essence, goodmanagement, coping and adaptation. That is, management of emotional conflicts that create dysfunction and symptoms like depression and anxiety. Coping withstressor sustained conflict in your work, relationships and other parts of your life. And good adaptation or adjustment to the norms, values and conventional behavior of the society or group you’re part of. Thosegoalsare useful, per se, but there are three problems with them. One is that Continue reading
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Does Your Work Interfere With Your Life?

I often hear people tell me that they feel their work is getting in the way of their life. And they’re only partly joking. In fact, several recent research studies find that the workplace is pretty unpleasant for many people. Large numbers of men and women are severely stressed or depressed at work, often to the point of being unable to function and becoming sick, emotionally or physically. The numbers are at the highest levels, ever. Conventional explanations point to career uncertainties in today’s economy, or heavy workloads. Those are obvious contributors, but I think such explanations miss a deeper, more systemic problem that’s pervasive throughout the workplace culture of most organizations today.

In brief, it’s that management practices, the workplace relationships that result from them, and the overall business model is stuck within a 20th century mindset and worldview. And that’s dysfunctional in today’s world of chaos, interdependency, and transparency. Today, collaboration and openness are essential for generating and sustaining success, both in work and in life outside of work. The new world environment includes clear shifts in what people look for and want from their careers; and from the organizations to which they’ll commit their creative energies. These new realities are pushing companies to transform how they do business and how they treat people working within them. The push is towards supporting new learning, creative innovation, and long-term vision that promotes sustainability as well as contributes to greater well-being via the product or service.

What Happens At Work

With those emerging shifts in mind, some of the new findings shed light point to what may help support these transformations in people’s life at work and within business leadership. Consider a new survey from the consulting firm rogenSI. It reports that about 25% of the global workforce is depressed. The primary source is Continue reading

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How To Deal With Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management With “Engaged Indifference”

Inmy previous postI described how abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management harm both employees and business success, and I explained that such behavior in the workplace is increasingly dysfunctional intoday’s highly interconnected, interdependent economic and social environment. This follow-up piece offers some suggestions for dealing with such situations when you find yourself within them.

Many people struggle to find ways to better cope when subjected to unhealthy, abusive management. Often that means learningstress management techniques. They can be helpful, especially when you don’t think any alternatives exist. But ultimately, they aren’t enough. However, reframing how you envision your situation to begin with can open the door to proactive, positive actions in the situation you feel trapped in.

Cathy’s example contains some ways you can do that. She was at mid-level in her company and had a record of steady promotion. At one point, senior leadership in her area changed abruptly, and she was now reporting to a newly appointed boss. “I’m here to shake things up,” he told everyone when he took over. “Everyone’s job is on the line.”

Cathy’s assessment of her new boss was that he didn’t really know her area of expertise, nor was he very interested in learning about it. Nevertheless, he freely criticized her work. Moreover, he kept sitting on a promotion that she had been in line for.

It wasn’t just her: Her boss stirred up much resentment among others because of his arrogant, controlling, dismissive style. When Cathy researched something he had requested and presented it to him, he exploded, Continue reading

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Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management Take An Enormous Toll

“I’ll tell you what thereal problem is,” Ralph told me with a confident smile. “I’m a high-level performer. But most everyone around me – my peers, direct reports, uppermanagement – they’re incompetents, jerks, or total idiots. Take your pick.”

“This company values incompetence,” he continued. “That’s the real problem. That shows you how screwed-up it is. But they’re telling me thatI’m the problem! ThatI need help? It’s the people upstairs that need it!” He shook his head in dismay.

Sound familiar? People like Ralph are all too common in companies today. He illustrates just one type of abusive boss, often part of an overall unhealthy management culture that takes an enormous toll on both workers and business success.

In this post I describe some examples of that toll in today’sworkplace culture and point towards some ways to deal with them — ways that require something different from the usual coping andstressmanagement strategies.

You might guess, correctly, that Ralph was oblivious to the fact that his description of others was how his co-workers and subordinates described him. One of his colleagues had e-mailed him after their last encounter, saying “If you ever set foot in my office again, I’ll throw your ass right out the window.” Ralph dismissed that with a wave of his hand, saying, “That’s typical – he’s threatened by me because he knows I’m leagues beyond him. Always have been.”

Ralph is a senior executive and, in fact, a high-level performer in his company. But his abusive management and poor relationships were generating a growing chorus of complaints. To its credit, his company wanted to salvage rather than fire him, and offered him anexecutive coaching program. But Ralph saw this aspunishment.

Of course there are psychological roots to behavior like Ralph’s. But that doesn’t matter much to the people who have to deal with the consequences on a daily basis. Continue reading

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Psychological Health In Today’s World Needs A Redefinition

This post continues what I wrote about in In myprevious post –that we lack a clear, relevant description of what psychologicalhealth is, in today’s world; and, how you can build it. Here, I describe more about what a psychologically health life looks like – what it’s criteria are — in your relationships, your work, and in your role as a “future ancestor.”

To begin with, I want to emphasize that psychological health isn’t the same as the absence of mental or emotional disorders. For example, you can’t say that a happy person is someone who’s not depressed. Many people have consulted me who aren’t depressed by clinical criteria, but they aren’t happy with their work, relationships or their overall lives, either.

Moreover, self-awareness isn’t equivalent to health. It’s a necessary underpinning, but it’s not enough. Therapists often help their patients deepen self-awareness about the roots of their conflicts, only to wonder why they remain the same. Psychiatrist Richard Friedman described that dilemma in a recentNew York Times article in which he illustrated the puzzlement practitioners experience when they are confronted with the limitation of awareness, alone.

To the extent there’s a conventional view of psychologically health at all, it’s mostly equated with good life-management and coping skills. That is, managingstress in your work and personal life, and coping with — if not resolving — whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood.

A less visible view of psychological health also exists: Successful adaptation to and embracing of the dominant values, behavior and attitudes of the society or milieu you’re a part of. The problem here is that such socially-conditioned norms have also embodied greed, self-absorption, domination, destructiveness, and divisiveness. They’ve been equated with “success” in adult life.

The upshot is that you can be well-adapted to dominant attitudes and behavior that are, themselves, psychologically unhealthy. So you may be “well-adjusted” to an unhealthy life.

We’ve been witnessing the fruits of that form of “health” throughout our society in recent years, in the form of Continue reading

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Why The Loss Of Your Job Could Be A Gain For Your Life

As the 52 year-old man entered my office one afternoon, he asked, plaintively, “How do you start over when you can’t start over?”

He had just been let go by his company; he was devastated and frightened about the future. Despite a successful corporate career, he had no prospects in sight, and his wife’s income wasn’t enough to support the family — especially with a daughter in college and a son headed there next year.

He’s one of a rising number of people who’ve been hit hard by the recession in two ways: a forced “career transition” (the euphemism for firing), which is always difficult, and the emotional consequences of job loss, which are more severe in today’s world of uncertainty and insecurity about what the future holds.

Nevertheless, I think the career-related and emotional impact of the economic implosion could prove to be the best thing that ever happened for some people’s lives.

To explain, let’s look at the man I described above. Like so many others who’ve sought my help over the years, he had defined his worth, his value to others, his whole identity, through his career. Now he felt thrown out to sea, alone, not knowing how to “start over when you can’t start over.” In the years prior to the economic meltdown, he could have expected to land another position within a reasonable period of time. He’d probably be dealing with a manageable degree of anxiety.

But that was yesterday. The current economic recession is taking a severe emotional toll on many people: Increasing anxiety and depression, family conflicts and stress-related physical ailments. Moreover, the practical and mental health consequences of job-loss and job-seeking can be especially severe for midlifers. In fact, many are considering the possibility that they may never work again.

So how can I say that this situation could be the best thing that ever happened to someone? It’s because I’ve found Continue reading

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Why Psychotherapists Fail To Help People In Today’s World

Many people who enter psychotherapy today aren’t helped at all. Some end up more troubled than when they began treatment. And ironically, some therapists are examples of the kinds of problems they’re trying to treat. In this post I explain why that is and how to become a more informed�consumer when considering psychotherapy.

The popularity of the TV show “In Treatment” is one indicator that there’s a large, market for psychotherapy, today. Despite the decline of the more orthodox psychoanalytic treatment – the kind that Daphne Merkin described in a recent�New York Times article about her years in treatment – people continue to seek competent professional help for dealing with and resolving the enormous emotional challenges and conflicts that impact so many lives in current times. Beyond healing, they want to grow their capacity for healthy relationships and successful lives.

Many skilled and competent therapists are out there. (I use term “therapist” to describe psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers – professionally trained and licensed practitioners.) Moreover, research shows that psychotherapy can be very effective. Either alone, or sometimes in combination with the judicious use of�medication.

Yet so often practitioners don’t help people very much. Some struggle for years in therapy with one practitioner after another, and never seem to make any progress. Others resolve some conflicts, but then are hit with others that hadn’t been addressed.

I see three reasons for this situation. One is rooted in the�kind of people therapists tend to be today. Their personal values, social attitudes and how they relate to conventional norms and behavior contrast in several ways with those of the “pioneers” from Freud’s era. That contrast impedes effective help.

Then there are the�kinds of problems that people experience. They’ve evolved over the decades, but especially since 9-11 and the near-depression that began in the fall of 2008. But many therapists aren’t in synch with the impact of that shift. They fail to understand how�21st Century conditions impact emotional lives and conflicts. Many are clueless about how life in today’s world interweaves with the dysfunctions or family conflicts that patients bring with them into their adult lives.

The third reason is the therapists’ vision of the�goals of treatment; what a healthy outcome or resolution of conflicts should look like, and how to get there. Many remain stuck within an older model – helping patients better manage, cope with or adjust to change and�traumas; build�resilience and restore equilibrium. But that’s no longer possible: Our�new environment is one of “non-equilibrium” and unpredictability. That creates new emotional and life challenges across the board — for intimate relationships, careers and for engaging with a changing society – the “remix” that America is now becoming.

The Psychotherapist – Past and Present

The early analysts were pioneers, adventurous explores of uncharted terrain. They were trying to uncover how human�personality and�unconscious passions evolve within people to create symptoms and dysfunctions. They courageously risked their careers when they called attention to the impact of repressed�sexuality. Aside from the accuracy of early theories about the causes of emotional disturbance, the practitioners’ aim was to reduce suffering. They wanted to help people develop more love, reason and independence – albeit within the context of the norms of their era that they, themselves, accepted.

Moreover, most were well-read in literature, history and culture, more so than today’s practitioners. That gave them a broad outlook and perspective on life. For example, Freud’s writings are filled with references from Shakespeare, Goethe and other great works of literature, drama and mythology. He drew on their themes, plots and character portrayals to help illuminate and understand the motives and�moral dilemmas underlying his patients’ emotional problems.

Most contemporaries and followers of�Freud possessed a radical spirit. They wanted to uncover the truth beneath patient’s symptoms; see beneath the surface. They shared the view that successful treatment was based on a love of the truth; that is, emotional reality. And that it must preclude any kind of sham,�deception or illusion.

Of course, Freud and his contemporaries interpreted their patients’ problems in many ways that were flawed. They made assumptions about psychological health that were part of the prevailing values and norms of post-Victorian, early-20th Century society – a largely patriarchal culture. For example, most assumed that a normal, successful life derived from being well-adjusted to those norms.

Nevertheless, their spirit of truth-seeking, rooted in broad understanding of human culture, literature and history, has become lost. Today’s practitioners tend to be�technicians, looking for the right technique that will treat the patient’s symptoms. Many tend to be cautious, often disengaged and detached people in their manner and interactions with patients. They are largely ignorant of philosophical,�religious, cultural and socio-economic forces that shape people’s psychological development, especially those in non-Western societies. And yet, all of those forces in all parts of the globe profoundly impact how and why we learn to think and behave as we do. Much current world conflict reflects those differences that define what we think in “normal” or “disturbed.”

Many therapists today simply assume that adjusting to prevailing values and norms reflects psychological health. Now that’s desirable for those whose conflicts have disabled them from minimally successful functioning. But it misses the mark for those whose conflicts are linked with their successful adaptation to begin with. The therapist then fails to explore their patients’ definition of “success” – how it’s shaped their�career and life goals, their conflicts and disappointments.

Some therapists will spend inordinate time ferreting out tiny truths about the patient’s family and�childhood, without figuring out which have relevance to the person’s conflicts today, and which don’t. They may ignore the impact of trade-offs and compromises patients made as they created their sexual and intimate relationship patterns

Overall, today’s practitioners tend to�share in, rather than�critique and examine, the social norms, values and anxieties of today’s world. Too often, they uncritically accept good functioning per se, and conventional values like power-seeking, as psychologically healthy. This blinds them from recognizing that “normal” adjustment can mask repressed feelings of self-betrayal, self-criticism, and the desire to be freer, more alive. All of those longings can conflict with or oppose parental expectations or the pressures from social class membership.

Emotional Conflicts In Today’s World

People’s problems have evolved. Up through World War II and into the 1950s-early 60s symptoms that were more typical of Freud’s time — hysteria or specific phobias, for example – diminished. People wanted help for fitting in with the apparent paths to success and�happiness and for dealing with conflicts that interfered with or limited it. Therapy often addressed things like guilt, inhibition, the need for approval, and dealing with the conflicts generated by defined, rigid roles for men and women. Desires or longings that deviated too much from the prevailing norms were troublesome and created conflicts, often unconscious.

The popular TV show “Mad Men” is a good portrayal of conflicts of that era, especially issues of�identity, longing for an authentic self and�gender�roles. At the same time, the men enjoyed the surface appearance of power and control. And women chafed against the limits imposed by gender roles, as the women’s movement began to arise.

The period of social upheaval of the late 60s and 70s created more openly conscious conflict and struggle for many people. The theme, here, was seeking more freedom from oppressive relationships and social constraints. Some therapists were able to address these issues in helpful ways. But others were bound by their own uncritical embrace of the very norms their patients wanted help to free themselves from.

Partly because of that disconnect, many�psychotherapy patients were attracted to the vision of personal development offered by the rising “new age” movement, although its gurus generally lacked any depth of understanding about emotional conflicts or psychological development.

Then, from the 1980s to about 2000 more men and women sought help to create more personally fulfilling, engaged relationships, and more personal meaning from their work. The�costs and limits of success became visible in patients who wanted help to create greater work-life “balance” while preserving their relationships and their upward climb in their careers. Dealing with the emotional fallout of the dot-com bubble burst added another dimension to these stresses. During this period of greater fulfillment-seeking, more people turned to�spiritual development as a companion to or substitute for traditional therapy, especially via older traditions like Buddhism and other Eastern practices.

And now, in the current era, emotional conflicts spring more from the psychological impact of our nonlinear, unpredictable, highly interconnected world. For example, financial and�career uncertainties. Changing practices in romantic/sexual relationships. Facing one’s responsibilities to fellow inhabitants of the planet, and for sustaining the planet for future generations. The psychological impact of these issues interacts with the legacy of family conflicts and their dysfunctions that people carry with them into the adult world. It’s a�new universe of potential pain and confusion that people are now struggling with.

What Helps?

Therapists need a vision of what healing and emotional health looks like, today, and how to help the patient achieve it. And therapists must engage in self-examination about their own values and attitudes. That’s one safeguard against rationalizing failure to help their patients examine these same issues within themselves. Otherwise, the therapist may collude with a patient to avoid confronting issues relevant to both of them. Then, it becomes like a Shakespearian play where the motives of the characters are visible to members of the audience, but the characters themselves remain oblivious to their�unconscious motives that propel them along.

Therapists bear a responsibility to help patients uncover the deeper truth about their life dilemmas – not just continue to detail all of its manifestations. Like the branches of a tree, all of them spring from the same trunk, the same roots. For one person, that might be a deep, unconscious desire to remain protected and secure like a baby. Or a desire to destroy one’s father or mother. It could be intense lust for power and domination. Exposing and confronting that core of truth can be liberating, like in fairy tales when the power of the�evil spirit is broken when you can call it by its name. At least you then have an opportunity to do something about it.

Being a more personally engaged therapist is also important today. People are increasingly turned off by therapists who maintain the old manner of silence and detachment. Or whose rigid focus invokes in patients the same unmet longings for nurturance and acceptance that patients may have experienced in their families to begin with.

The traditional practice is for the therapist to divulge little or nothing about him or herself. That’s been fading, especially in a Google world. More are drawn to people like the psychiatrist played by Gabriel Byrne on “In Treatment.” While that TV show has elements of a soap opera and the therapy sessions often sound like “life-management” discussions, the psychiatrist shows more openness and flexibility with his patients.

The viewer sees him as a human, himself, struggling with his own personal issues. People like that openness. It’s more consistent with psychoanalyst Steven Kuchuck’s�comment about Merkin’s article in�The New York Times. He described the greater appeal and benefit of practitioners who emphasize “…greater patient-analyst�collaboration, the analyst’s selective self-disclosure and other techniques designed to address many of the concerns and limitations Merkin has experienced…

In addition to personal qualities, therapists who are familiar with the broad impact of our post-9-11, post-economic meltdown world on people’s mental health are better positioned to help their patients. In addition to knowing that people’s emotional issues are tightly interwoven with global political, social and economic forces as I described above, it’s helpful for therapists to be tuned-in to demographic and other changes that are pulling many in our culture to move beyond motives of purely self-interest, and towards serving the�common good.

Similarly, too many practitioners tend to be sadly uniformed about the realities of life in business and career world — the political realities, the politics and conflicting agendas; the challenges of transparency, collaboration, and�innovation — all needed for success. Without that awareness it’s hard for them to�differentiate problems that people bring with them from in their�attachment issues and family relationships, from those that are reactive to confusing, demoralizing, non-linear challenges and constantly shifting goal posts in their workplace.

It’s also valuable for therapists to be current with new research relevant to dealing with today’s conflicts. Two recent examples:�One finds that people who maintain a long-range perspective of their past, present and future are better able to navigate through turmoil or setbacks and maintain greater well-being.�Another study finds that some adversity in life actually contributes to mental health and resiliency.

The upshot of all this is that you need to be an informed�consumer of therapy. To aid that, here are some useful questions to ask:

About Your Therapist:

  • Does the therapist seem to enjoy his/her work? Sound bored or depressed?
  • Does he or she convey a sense of�humor?
  • Does he or she seem to have a broad, understanding perspective about the variety of human lives?
  • What experience and knowledge does he or she have regarding the impact of work and careers on people’s lives? Be wary if the therapist indicates that such familiarity is irrelevant to treatment.

About Yourself:

  • Do you feel challenged by your therapist to look at yourself, but within a safe, respectful, non-judgmental environment?
  • Do you feel the therapist is capable of “seeing” you; your hidden truths?
  • Do you think the therapist is engaged and interested in helping you, as opposed to treating a diagnostic category?

Keep in mind that everybody has some barriers to facing and dealing with unpleasant truths about themselves. You might rationalize your own and conclude that you’re dealing with a bad therapist. Try to be open and honest with your perception. Use your�intuition, but in consort with your reason. Don’t’ hesitate to discuss these questions and your response to them with the therapist.

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Reboot and Remix Your Life for Greater Health – Part 2

After rebooting your life, it’s time for a remix.

In Part 1 of this post I wrote that the reality of life today includes much confusion, uncertainty, and confused emotions about pursuing success and wellbeing. In fact, our tumultuous, changing world spurs actions that often undermine rather than support psychological health. That’s visible in the dysfunction and unhappiness emerging from the choices, decisions and overall way of life of many people, today.

Based on current research and new thinking aboutresiliency and psychological health, I suggested three practices for “rebooting” your life in today’s environment: Self-awareness (“Wake Up”); envisioning your life circumstances with out-of-the-box perspectives (“Lose Your Mind”); and actions that support positive growth rather than stagnation (“Push The Envelope”).

In Part 2 I propose that you combine “rebooting” your life in those ways with a life “remix.” That is, create an intent to activate six important dimensions of your life, each with a new, clear purpose. The “remix” reflects the holistic reality that everything you do in each “part” of your life affects and is affected by every other “part.” A life “remix” in the dimensions I describe below helps you evolve in healthy, proactive ways. And the latter is a necessity for positive,resilient living within this fluid and uncertain world that we now inhabit.

The Six Dimensions:

Here’s what you do:

Formulate specific newgoals for each of the following six interconnected dimensions of life. Each should be modest; that is, realistic and able to be achieved within a reasonable time-frame that you specify and commit to.

Then, describe some specific actions you can begin taking right now that support each of the goals.

The six dimensions are: Continue reading

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Building An “Inside-Out” Life

1. Why “Work-Life” Balance Is A Myth

Meet Linda and Jim, who consulted me for psychotherapy. Linda is a lawyer with a large firm; Jim heads a major trade association. They told me theyre totally committed to their marriage and to being good parents. But they also said its pretty hectic juggling all their responsibilities at work and at home They have two children of their own plus a child from her former marriage. Dealing with the logistics of daily life, to say nothing of the emotional challenges, makes it hard just to come up for air, Linda said. Sound familiar?

Or listen to Bill, a 43-year-old who initially consulted me for help with some career challenges. Before long, he acknowledged that hes worried about the other side of life. Hes raising two teenage daughters and a younger son by himself one of the rising numbers of single fathers. Hes constantly worried about things like whether a late meeting might keep him at work. He tries to have some time for himself, but its hard enough just staying in good physical health, let alone being able to have more of a life, he said. Recently, he learned he has hypertension.

Its no surprise that these people, like many I see both in my psychotherapy practice and my workplace consulting, feel pummeled by stresses in their work and home lives. Most are aware, at least dimly, that this is unhealthy that stress damages the body, mind and spirit. Ten years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 70 percent of all illness, physical and mental, is linked to stress of some kind. And that number has probably increased over the last decade. Much of this stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home and trying to balance both. The problem seems nearly universal, whether in two-worker, single-parent or childless households.

I think these conflicts are so common because people have learned to frame the problem incorrectly to begin with. That is, theres no way to balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale what I call your outer life. On the other side of the scale is your personal, private life your inner life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life, try, instead, to balance your outer life and inner life.

The Other Balancing Act

Let me explain. On the outer side of the scale you have the complex logistics and daily stresses of life at both work and home the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, phone calls, to-do lists and responsibilities that fill your days. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world. Its where you use your energies to deal with tangible, often essential things. Paying your bills, building a career, dealing with people, raising kids, doing household chores, and so on. Your outer life is on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or your e-calender.

On the other side of the scale is your internal self. Its the realm of your private thoughts and values. Your emotions, fantasies, spiritual or religious practices. Your capacity to love, your secret desires, and your deeper sense of purpose. In short, it embodies who you are, on the inside. A successful inner life is defined by how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness , and your sense of clarity about your values and life purpose. It includes your level of mental repose: your capacity for calm, focused action and resiliency that you need in the face of your frenetic, multitasking outer life.

If the realm of the inner life sounds unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, this only emphasizes how much you like most peple have lost touch with your inner self. You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that theres little time to tend to your mind, spirit or body. Then, you identify your self mostly with who you are in that outer realm. And when theres little on the inner side of the scale, the outer part weighs you down. You are unbalanced, unhappy and often sick.

When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to stress, and thats related to a wide range of physical damage. Research shows that heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, a weakened immune system, skin disorders, asthma, migraine, musculoskeletal problems all are linked to stress.

More broadly, when your inner and outer lives become unbalanced, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. When operating in the outer world at work, for example, or in dealings with your spouse or partner you may struggle with unjustified feelings of insecurity and fear. You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you dont understand. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional default positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.

Even when youre successful in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. Without a developed inner life, you lose the capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with awareness, self-direction and judgment. Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best maybe a new win, a new lover, drugs or alcohol.

And that pulls you even more off-balance, possibly to the point of no return. The extreme examples are Continue reading

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Thoughts On Political Intolerance and Bigotry In Today’s Culture

In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the G.O.P. has become

…theparty of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a racist and asserted that he has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obamas economic policies: Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

And over the weekend, such civil rights leaders as John Lewis were subjected to racial slurs; Congressman Barney Franks was slammed with homophobic labels as he walked to the Capitol. Much of this occurred with the egging on of Republican House members, shouting and sign-waving from the balcony, as they watched Tea Party members engaging in what Michael Steele described as just “stupid things” being said by “idiots.” But they aren’t. They are statements of bigotry and racism.

The interesting thing, psychologically, is what propels this in 2010, and how pervasive such intolerance is, in our country. I think it may be more widespread in appearance than in reality, however, though it certainly looks like the former. And Herbert is dead-on when he writes,

…it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

I think the real trends across our culture are in opposite directions — towards greater, not lesser tolerance; towards awareness that we’re all interconnected in this globalized world, and that we rise or fall together, as a species. Continue reading

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Three Kinds Of Boredom At Work

Boredom at work can as stressful and damaging as overwork perhaps more so. Sometimes it creates embarrassing situations, as it did for Joel, a mid-level executive. He felt so bored that he sneaked out of his office one afternoon to take in a movie.

When it was over, guess whom he ran into coming out of the same theater? His boss.

“We know that 55 percent of all U.S. employees are not engaged at work. They are basically in a holding pattern. They feel like their capabilities aren’t being tapped into and utilized and therefore, they really don’t have a psychological connection to the organization,” said Curt W. Coffman, global practice leader at the Gallup Organization, as reported in the Washington Post. And Jean Martin-Weinstein, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council, a division of the Corporate Executive Board Co., cited findings from a survey of 50,000 workers around the world who were asked questions such as: “Do you love your job? Do you love your team? Are you excited by the work you do every day?” Thirteen percent came out saying no, no, and very much no. They are disaffected, because they are basically completely checked out from the work they do,” Martin-Weinstein said.

Employees who are better utilized are more fulfilled. They work more productively. For example, Continue reading

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The Casualties of War…Coming Home

Before the murders started, Anthony Marquezs mom dialed his sergeant at FortCarson to warn that her son was poised to kill.

It was February 2006, and the 21-year-old soldier had not been the same since being wounded and coming home from Iraq eight months before. He had violent outbursts and thrashing nightmares. He was devouring pain pills and drinking too much.

He always packed a gun.

It was a dangerous combination. I told them he was a walking time bomb, said his mother, Teresa Hernandez.

His sergeant told her there was nothing he could do. Then, she said, he started taunting her son, saying things like, Your mommy called. She says you are going crazy.

Eight months later, the time bomb exploded when her son used a stun gun to repeatedly shock a small-time drug dealer in Widefield over an ounce of marijuana, then shot him through the heart.

So begins “The Casualties of War,” by Dave Philipps, which appeared recently in the Colorado Gazette

It was forwarded to me by my old friend David Addlestone, who founded the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, DC and led it for many years, until stepping down in 2008. Addlestone whom the American Bar Association called a Human Rights Herowho dedicated his entire professional career to vindicating the rights of the often scorned warriors…has fought for veterans legal rights for decades, going back to the Vietnam era.

So its no surprise that he would be calling attention to this latest human rights tragedy underway regarding the mental health of our returning veterans and the behavior their psychological condition provokes.

Philipps article documents chilling accounts of the emotional damage suffered by many vets, often leading to violence, murder and self-destructive behavior both while on duty and especially after the vets return to normalcy. Unfortunately the military appears to not take very seriously — and even eggs on, in some cases — the mental traumas that the returning soldiers bring with them. See the rest of Philipps article at http://tinyurl.com/ngo3hz

Our elected officials and our institutions need to address this, perhaps with a war-to-peace transition program Continue reading

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