Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Choosing Emotional Wellbeing: A Solid Foundation

Are we at risk only for longterm mental health problems resulting from major traumatic events or do those day in and day out life stressers cause as much or even more harm? In other words is experiencing a thousand emotional paper cuts equal to or even worse than being hit in the head with life's baseball bats?

Dr. Susan Charles, professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, and other researchers undertook a study to answer a basic mental health question: Do everyday irritations accumulate in ways that hurt us or do they make us stronger and more resilient over time?

Dr. Charles and team used data from two 10-year studies to help answer the question. Using a survey group of 711 people ranging in age from 25 to 74, they found that participants' negative emotional responses to everyday stressers such as arguments with family members, work conflicts, traffic delays, and so forth predicted psychological distress to include anxiety and mood disorders 10-years later.

"How we manage daily emotions matters to our overall mental health," according to Dr. Charles. "We're so focused on long-term goals that we don't see the importance of regulating our emotions. Changing how how you respond to stress and how you think about stressful situations is as important as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine."1

Self-Regulating Emotional Response

Many of us assume how we respond to emotional stressers is always outside of conscious control. It's as if some unconscious force or even a force "out there" rises up and takes control. Our reactions seem immediate and uncontrolled. Examples include experiences of road rage, irritations with co-workers or family members, sadness when watching a television news story about abused animals, and a thousand other emotional reactions to events throughout any given day.

So how do we stop being buffeted by the storms of emotions and start asserting control over our reactions and behavior?

A foundation insight for our, "Choosing Emotional Wellbeing" program is to realize one simple truth:

"It's only energy!"

What does that mean? It means the feelings we label as anger, fear, sadness, and so forth are the presentations in our bodies of energy created feelings. We feel emotions and those feeling seem like reality, but they are only blocked energy forms within our energy system.

We create the energy forms through physiological processes that typically involve the amygdala (and other parts of the limbic and reptillian brain segments) and the HPA (hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal) Axis. Our brains are hardwired for emotional response, but our beliefs play a major role in assessing the meaning of a given perception and our subsequent reactions.

When our energy is flowing freely we feel good; we feel in balance; we smile frequently and we experience a state of body-mind called happiness. When we're in emotional reaction to perceived negative events, happiness leaves the building followed by emotional balance and self-control.

Can we gain greater conscious control over what seems like an automatic immediate emotional response? Yes we can.

De-Stressing Throughout the Day

We begin by choosing to de-stress throughout each and every day. How do we de-stress?

As a minimum, at least once an hour get up from your desk or stop what you're doing for a de-stressing break. Walk around; go outside if possible; look out of a window; close your eyes and breathe deeply for 30 seconds to a minute.

The simple act of closing your eyes increases alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves are associated with what's called the Relaxation Response, a calm and creative state of mind that promotes physical and mental wellbeing.

If you have time and privacy, there are multiple methods of meditation that, done consistently over time, change the brain in ways that lead to greater mindful awareness and control over emotional reactions.

Meridian Tapping and Other Energy Psychology Methods

One of my favorite methods for general de-stressing and releasing emotional reactions associated with specific events is Meridian Tapping and other Energy Psychology methods. We'll have much more to say about using Meridian Tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy, Energy EFT, etc.) for emotional and physical wellbeing in future posts.

To learn more about these wonderful methods, please visit my Energy Psychology website at:

In addition to eyes closed deep breathing and other de-stressing activities, spend time listening to your favorite music and doing other things that create good feelings. Feel good for no reason and decide that the real "You" is much, much bigger than knee-jerk emotional reactions.

I encourage you to make a conscious choice now to begin a de-stressing program. Start your day with a one-minute (or longer) eyes closed deep breathing routine. Repeat periodically throughout the day and evening. Adding in a little Meridian Tapping to neutralize emotional charges associated with specific events that happen during the day can help round out your foundation emotional wellbeing program.

Until next time,

Stephen Carter

Chief Energy Officer, Stress Solutions, LLC


1. "Daily stress takes a toll on long-term mental health, UCI-led study finds"; "USIrvine News";

Important Note: This and all other postings to this blog are for informational purposes only. This and all other posts are not intended to diagnose, treat, or otherwise recommend any treatment for any medical or psychological condition. Anyone using any of the information contained in this or any other posting on this website does so at his or her own risk. You are urged to seek competent medical consultations with appropriate licensed medical professionals for any and all medical or physical conditions.

Stress: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

This is the first post for our Stress Mastery blog. Over the coming posts we'll be exploring the role of stress, what it is, what it isn't, and how to truly master stress in every area of life.

We'll kick off by commenting on an article posted to "Forbes" on May 24, 2013 by Heidi Grant Halvorson. In "How You Can Benefit From All Your Stress", Heidi summarizes research by Yale University's Alia Crume and two others that assert it isn't so much the level of stress that affects us negatively as it is our beliefs about how stress will affect us.

In the "Stress-is-debilitating" mindset, the predominant belief is the effects of stress are bad for us and should be avoided. A more healthy point of view, according to the three researchers, is the "Stress-is-enhancing" mindset. 

Heidi summarizes the main takeaway for this research as, in part:

"Taken together, all this research paints a very clear picture: stress is killing you because you believe that it is."

The Role of Eustress

Certainly our beliefs about how stress will affect us to some extent contribute to how we experience specific stress inducing events and stress in general. The man who brought the modern concept of human stress to science, endocrinologist Hans Selye, coined the term eustress to describe "good stress". 

In his 1975 work, Stress Without Distress, Selye argues that persistent stress not resolved should be known as distress. Distress can lead to mental and emotional conditions to include anxiety and depression. On the other hand if stress enhances functionality, it is eustress.

Yerkes-Dodson Curve

The Yerkes-Dodson Law and curve tell us performance of a given task progressively improves with increases in arousal up to an optimum point. Past that point, performance gets worse as arousal, or "stress" increases.

As an example, suppose you're about to give an important presentation to 300 people that could affect your career for years to come. You've crafted the presentation well and rehearsed it multiple times.

As you're sitting on stage waiting your turn to speak, you feel physical sensations you label as "excitement" surging through your body. Like a racehorse about to run the Kentucky Derby, you're sharp, focused, and ready.

As you stride to and then stand confidently at the podium, you look for your PowerPoint presentation on the conference laptop. Your PowerPoint file is vital to the presentation. Not seeing it, you suddenly recall you never gave it to the audio-visual person when you arrived at the conference that morning. The flash drive is in your brief case. You hear that internal critical voice say, "You idiot".

As you attempt to decide what to do, you notice your throat is tightening and your knees are quivering. You look out into the audience and see your boss in the front row. Your heart beats faster and your legs feel as though they are about to give way. As you open your mouth to speak, nothing comes out. Your stress is now so high you can barely breathe.

Clearly, the optimum arousal point was arrival at the podium. The performance curve slid quickly downward as arousal increased. A full on Stress Response (or "Distress Response) took root in a matter of seconds.

The Effects of All Stress - Good and Bad - on the Body

Stress is the physiological experience of the biochemical interactions that create eustress and distress. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfullness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the body cannot physically discern between distress and eustress1.

The evidence from multiple studies tells us stress is often cumulative. Unless we're engaging in stress reduction practices that release the physical and emotional residue of chronic stress we're likely to have increasing health and emotional balance problems over time. 

Is the "Stress-Is-Enhancing" All We Need?

While having a positive attitude about dealing with stress may be somewhat better that wringing our hands in despair over every problem event in our lives, based on my work with thousands of clients and the weight of stress research over time, believing that "stress-is-enhancing" in and of itself will do little to promote long-term well being.

The optimum strategy is to neutralize the Stress Response whenever we notice the physical and emotional signals alerting us to its presence. Whether eustress or distress, its still stress. Chronic stress, by whatever name, isn't beneficial.

The Road Ahead

There are thousands of ways to handle chronic stress. In future posts we'll explore the ones I believe are easy to use, effective, and will make a difference in your life. We'll also be tracking stress related research and report on evidence based methods that promote emotional and physical well being.

To ensure you keep up to date with our posts, I suggest you subscribe. We'll be sharing information about once every week or two, so the reading load will be light and quality of information high. 

Stephen Carter

Founder and CEO, Stress Solutions, LLC
Columbia, Maryland

1. Full Catastrophe Living - how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. (1996)

Important Note: This and all other postings to this blog are for informational purposes only. This and all other posts are not intended to diagnose, treat, or otherwise recommend any treatment for any medical or psychological condition. Anyone using any of the information contained in this or any other posting on this website does so at his or her own risk. You are urged to seek competent medical consultations with appropriate licensed medical professionals for any and all medical or physical conditions.