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Sep 07

3 Proven Psychological Strategies to Add Years to Your Life!

By Dr. Jack Singer | Confidence , Self Improvement , Stress Management

No, we haven’t found the fountain of youth. However, psychologists and neuroscientists have conducted a ton of research regarding how people can flourish in this life and enjoy happiness, while actually extending their lives— in both a physically and mentally healthy way. This post truly captures the essence of the three most powerful, research-based psychological strategies to make this happen – quickly and permanently!

1. Maintain optimistic expectations

Optimistic expectations can help you challenge setbacks that come your way. Neuroscientists have discovered that self-talk can actually re-wire your brain in either a very positive or very negative way, depending on whether it is optimistic or pessimistic. This re-wiring process is called “neuroplasticity.” One of the best ways of changing your thinking is to develop an optimistic interpretation of negative events that you experience.

Burgeoning research by Dr. Martin Seligman (“Learned Optimism”) involved hundreds of studies where people were trained to change their hard-wiring from reacting to disappointing events pessimistically, to reacting optimistically. Thus effectively changing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (the main contributors to depression) to hope and self-confidence helped them eliminate their feelings of depression.

Many of these studies also show when people develop an optimistic attribution of negative events, they can often recover from the physical challenges associated with chronic depression and anxiety.

So, how do you explain setbacks and unfortunate events to yourself?

How do you persevere and remain resilient under adverse circumstances?

Do you look at setbacks as overwhelming catastrophes or as hurdles that can be overcome?

[Tweet “Be #optimistic, laugh often—build a strong support system. Find out how to extend your life:”]

How Pessimistic People View Setbacks

I refer to this kind of self-talk as “linguistic toxicity.” When bad things happen, pessimistically hard-wired people tell themselves such things as:

  • Internal Cause (“It’s my fault.”)
  • Permanent (“It’s a permanent flaw.”)
  • Pervasive (“It’s always going to be this way for the rest of my life.”)

How Pessimistic People View Good Outcomes

When good things happen to pessimistically hard-wired people, they view it as

  • External Cause (“It was a fluke, or luck.”)
  • Temporary (“This won’t last.”)
  • Exclusive (“I was lucky with this, but the rest of my life is awful.”)

How Optimistic People View Setbacks

I refer to this type of self-talk as “linguistic nutrition.” People who are hard-wired, or learn to give themselves optimistic explanations for setbacks, view them as follows:

  • External Cause (“This was a fluke and an exception to the rule of how things go with me.”)
  • Temporary (“This is a fluke occurrence. It won’t happen again.”)
  • Exclusivity (“I had difficulty dealing with this, but in the rest of my life I am thriving.”)

How Optimistic People View Good Outcomes

People that are optimistic expect good outcomes to occur frequently.

  • Internal Cause (“It’s my skills, work ethic and motivation that caused this to happen.”)
  • Permanent (“I certainly expect good things to continually happen to me.”)
  • Pervasive (“This is just one example in my life where I have the skills and talent to be successful.”)

Obviously, it is extremely important for people who are not hard-wired to attribute unfortunate outcomes in an optimistic sense, to learn how to remove their pessimistic thinking habits, and change them to positive thinking.

2.  Laugh as often as possible

Research on the amazingly powerful effects of laughing on the body and mind started with the groundbreaking book by Norman Cousins (“The Anatomy of an Illness”).  Cousins chronicled how he completely recovered from a terminal diagnosis by laughing out loud several times a day, for at least a few minutes each time.  He produced the humor by watching the funniest videos he could find (“The Three Stooges,” “Candid Camera,” and others) while hospitalized for his illness.

Once he saw how his pain subsided while laughing, he convinced the medical staff to take his blood pre and post laughing episodes.  The results were remarkable.

His symptoms immediately went into remission, and he helped fund massive research projects studying the power effects of laughing and having fun on brain chemistry, and the eradication of physical symptoms.  One of the more modern advocates of the power of bringing fun and humor into ones’ life is Dr. Steve Allen, Jr., a physician and the son of the famous comedian, Steve Allen.

3.  Maintain a strong support system of friends and family

Depression affects nearly 15 million Americans and each year close to 43,000 commit suicide in this country. Recent research into how to minimize depression without using psychotropic medication demonstrates the idea of an “Anti-Depression Toolkit.”

Three powerful tools in the toolkit are are:

a) using healthy self-talk (“linguistic nutrition”)

b) any form of spirituality, including prayer and meditation

c) frequent exercise.

However, the most important “tool” by far is having a caring, empathetic, and non-judgmental support system.  While depressed individuals often lack the energy or motivation to reach out, it is a critical component of mental health. For example, widows and widowers are particularly vulnerable—having lost their soul mate, and they can slip into depression if they do not build an alternative support system. If you suffer from depression, you must also stay away from critical, judgmental, anxiety-provoking, and demanding people. You can always consult with a therapist to decide who to include and exclude from your network.

Research shows that when one has a strong support network their emotional strength grows. This means getting involved with an objective sounding board of like-minded peers, and removing yourself from the isolation that accompanies depression. Social interaction is conducive to a healthy and active lifestyle.

There you have it. Do you want to build amazing resilience to stress, add joy to your life, and extend your well-being far more than you have ever dreamed? Add an optimistic and expected habit. It brings fun and laughter into each day, and nourishes your support system.

Jun 23

2016 APA Work and Well-Being Survey: Still a Long Way to Go in Workplace Wellness

By Dr. Jack Singer | Blog , Stress , Workplace Wellness

Every year the American Psychological Association conducts a survey to study stress, workplace wellness, and other critical factors among America’s workers. The 2016 survey was conducted in March and findings were released in June, so it’s time once again to examine the results of the APA Work and Well-Being Survey. The results show key areas where employers can improve their respective workplaces.

My overall thoughts on the 2016 APA Work and Well-Being Survey? The results are both surprising and disappointing.

Main Findings of the APA Work and Well-Being Survey

Overall, the findings show that after all of these years of consistent research findings by professional industrial/organizational psychologists, many companies are still failing in several critical areas.

Some of the most disappointing findings I read:

  • Only about half of those surveyed feel valued by their employer.
  • About half of workers still do not believe that their employer provides opportunities to participate in decision-making, solving problems, or setting goals.
  • The main sources of worker job stress are low salaries and insufficient opportunities for development and advancement

Feeling valued and having the opportunity to challenge yourself, reach goals, and grow as a worker are basic needs that every company must address. These crucial elements help employers nurture their most valued assets—their employees.

Workplace Wellness Findings

In addition to job stress, the APA Work and Well-Being Survey also examined workplace wellness, a topic that I have covered in recent blog posts.

Despite the research and anecdotal documentation of the wonderful benefits of workplace wellness programs, the survey found that only one-third of American workers regularly participates in such health-promoting programs, when provided by their employers.

Secondly, despite the plethora of research proving that workplace wellness programs promote health (for example, by proactively teaching employees how to manage stress), more than half of those surveyed believe that their work climate does not support employee wellness and a third still complain of chronic stress in their jobs!

There is evidence that more than half of the companies in the U.S. still do not see the benefits of promoting worker and job site wellness initiatives.

Much more education regarding the health and bottom line benefits for employees and their companies, respectively, must be provided for HR professionals.

[Tweet “2016 @APA #Work and #WellBeing Survey – still a long way to go in workplace #wellness.”]

What Key Element Differentiates Companies that Embrace Wellness Initiatives from Those that Do Not?

From the survey results, it seems that the key determinant of whether a company embraces workplace health and wellness programs is whether senior leadership supports and encourages wellness.  A whopping seventy-three percent of employees who have senior managers who show support and commitment to well-being initiatives said their companies encouraged and nurtured healthy workplace and healthy lifestyle plans.

There are also other significant, positive outcomes for employees with senior leadership that supports and encourages wellness. These employees:

  • Feel motivated to do their best.
  • Have higher job satisfaction.
  • Have positive relationships with their supervisors and co-workers.

Eighty-nine percent of these employees also recommended their company as a “good place to work” and were less likely to leave their job the next year.

Using the Findings to Create Better Workplaces

Results of the APA Work and Well-Being Survey demonstrate that the presence of senior leadership that embraces wellness programs is linked to many far-ranging outcomes. As David W. Ballard, director of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, concludes, “When supervisors’ actions match their words, employees notice.” 

The take-home message from the APA Work and Well-Being Survey is that employers must focus training on their senior leaders and be sure they understand the critical need for workplace health and well-being initiatives.  Ballard puts it succinctly: “Employers who truly embrace well-being as part of how they do business create a workplace where both employees and the organization thrive.”

May 05

How Corporate Wellness Programs Boost Employees AND Companies

By Dr. Jack Singer | Self Improvement , Stress , Stress Management , Workplace Wellness

Corporate wellness is a current buzz word, but the fact is, some businesses have been offering corporate wellness programs for years or even decades. New research on corporate wellness and the physical effects of stress is making more and more corporations interested in implementing their own wellness programs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the norm in the future.

Arguably the most convincing study on corporate wellness was recently published by the American Psychological Association (APA). It tackles the argument that some companies have for not enacting wellness programs – more specifically, some argue that although these programs benefit employees, they are costly and don’t help the business’s bottom line. As it turns out, this thinking is wrong.

APA Study Shows the Financial Benefits of Corporate Wellness Programs

This study looked at stock portfolios from two different groups of publically-traded companies. The first group had established wellness programs for their employees – robust wellness programs that had won industry awards. The second group was composed of traditional publicly-traded companies that had no wellness programs.

The researchers then compared the performance of each groups’ stock portfolios over a period of 14 years. In the end, they found that companies with wellness programs outperformed the S&P by more than 200 percent.

This study demonstrates that not only do corporate wellness programs benefit individual employees – they also impact a company’s profit. This shows that it is financially and fiscally smart to implement wellness programs in order to increase revenue and profitability.

How Corporate Wellness Works on the Individual Level

Obviously, this study took a macro-level view of corporate wellness, examining performance at the company level. So how does corporate wellness work at the individual level to produce these astounding results on corporate profit?

On the individual level, corporate wellness programs work to raise the health of your workers. By focusing on physical health, mental health, diet, and exercise, your employees stay healthy and strong. They get sick less often, which means fewer insurance claims and fewer missed days of work. And their work improves because they are alert, confident and perceptive. They make fewer mistakes, their productivity improves and so does their morale. These individual effects then add up to company-wide improvements which fuel profit growth.

Corporate wellness programs contain a range of elements related to physical health, exercise, diet and mental health. Although all of these components are important to a well-rounded corporate wellness program, I argue that mental health is a crucial concern for any business starting a corporate wellness program.

This is because mental health impacts other forms of health and there are proven ways you CAN change the amount of stress in your life. This is done by understanding how stress forms – that it isn’t a result of events but rather your interpretation of those events – and then taking steps to change your interpretations. Doing so not only improves your mental health, but your physical health as well.

Apr 21

How Stress Impacts Physical Health: Fight or Flight in the 21st Century

By Dr. Jack Singer | Blog , Stress , Stress Management

In my last blog post over at Advising the Advisors, I talked about how stress forms. Although most people view stress as the result of specific negative events in their lives, stress is actually not formed by these events but rather how you interpret them. A negative event can trigger a series of negative thought patterns, and when you get caught in these tangents you, yourself, create your own stress.

Fortunately, we are capable of changing our thought patterns. With every event we encounter we make choices about how we interpret the event (whether we realize it or not). By becoming mentally aware of how we interpret events, we can reduce and even eliminate stress in our lives. Saying goodbye to stress means living a happier, more productive and fulfilling life.

However, a focus on mental health does more than just reduce stress. Actually, this reduction in stress will improve your physical health as well. Let me explain how stress impacts physical health by first taking a look at fight or flight in the 21st century.

Fight or Flight in the 21st Century

Think back to the last biology class you took and you might remember an idea called the fight or flight response. This is a biological system that originated back in early human history when physical threats were abundant. A sudden noise, for example, would trigger the fight or flight alarm system to go off in your brain. This stress response would make us more vigilant so we could protect our own lives. If a hungry tiger was lurking around the corner, we were primed to process that information quickly and make the right choice (fight or flight) so we wouldn’t end up as dinner.

Our fight or flight response still works in the 21st century, but the things we respond to are a lot different than when the system was first developed. Many of us live in safe environments, so we don’t have to worry about being devoured by a predator. However, events in our lives can still trigger the fight or flight alarm system. Our subconscious mind doesn’t know if this is a life-threatening event or not, but it is not going to take any chances. If we interpret the event as a threat, we create stress and flip the switch that turns on the fight or flight nervous system.

[Tweet “#Stress is making you sick! Learn how stress impacts physical #health here.”]

How Stress Impacts Physical Health

The fight or flight response has not changed much from our early days. Our body physically tenses up as we prepare to flee or to battle. We become hyper-vigilant and on edge.  And our other systems shut down or become minimized so we can expend our energy in fight or flight mode.

All of these things impact our physical health:

  • Anxiety and tension can raise blood pressure and make you susceptible to heart disease and other illnesses.
  • Our hyper-vigilant state means it is hard to sleep and can bring about insomnia.
  • Our immune system is minimized during the fight or flight response, making us more receptive to illness with a decreased ability to fight that illness off.

This demonstrates how stress can have a physical impact on our bodies, and how reducing stress can improve our physical health. In fact, the American Medical Association has admitted that ‘gatekeepers’ in the medical community (such as family practice doctors and internists) say that 2 out of 3 of their clients don’t have a physical disease. They do have real symptoms, but these symptoms are caused by some kind of stress. They run busy practices so the most efficient procedure is to treat the symptoms. However, what we really need to do is deal with the original cause of these symptoms – stress and our ability to manage it.

Knowing how stress impacts physical health, every individual who wants to live a happier and healthier life should focus on their mental well-being. Not only is it possible to reduce your stress by changing how you interpret events, but in doing so you can also improve your physical health.