Low Vigor and High Stress? You’re Not Alone

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt?

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at http://amzn.to/1eju3wu or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Low Vigor and High Stress? You’re Not Alone

Do you ever feel that you’re working harder and harder but still getting further and further behind? If so, you have a lot of company.

The average American workweek, research shows, has mushroomed from forty hours to fifty hours in the past twenty-five years. That level is higher than in any European country and equal to that of Japan. Those extra ten hours of work, however, have not gained workers much. In fact, U.S. workers today are behind in their ability to maintain the same overall standard of living enjoyed a generation ago. At the same time, their expectations have not changed. Even during tough economic times, people still feel pressure to be—or have—the best, whether they strive to own the best car or house or to be the best worker or parent. Talk about stress! And all those expectations are driving many to an early burnout. It is even becoming evident in kids, who run from school or day care to the babysitter to soccer to homework at the same frantic pace. Is it any wonder that the use of Ritalin and Prozac among North American children has increased, as has the diagnosis of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder)?

Consider this too: When the American Psychological Association (APA) released its annual 2010 survey Stress in America, it showed that the picture of an “overstressed nation” is as bad as it has ever been. One of the most striking conclusions from the APA survey was that “stress is not only taking a toll on our personal and physical health, but it is also affecting the emotional and physical well-being of children and our families.” The survey highlighted the fact that children today are more stressed than in years past and also found that kids easily recognize and identify their parents’ stress levels as a key source of their own stress.

As you might imagine, the most common sources of stress identified in the APA survey were money (76 percent), work (70 percent), and the economy (65 percent). But “family responsibilities” also emerged as a significant source of stress (73 percent).

Health experts identify a “healthy stress level” at about a 3 to 4 on a 10-point scale, with 1 representing low stress and 10 indicating extreme stress. Healthy intermittent exposure to stress can actually be a good thing. Some stress researchers, including myself, refer to this intermittent or “temporary” stress as “eustress”—that is, the type of stress that helps motivate you to meet a deadline or to achieve a goal. But chronic stress (or “distress”) leads to problems with biochemical balance, tissue breakdown, and a wide range of physical and psychological health problems that result in low vigor.

The average stress level reported in the APA survey was 5.5, with 24 percent reporting stress levels at 8 to 10 (on the 10-point scale). Those with “more stress” (average of 6.2) tended to have “fair/poor” overall health, while those with “lower stress” (average of 4.9) tended to have “very good/excellent” health statuses. Individuals with even higher stress exposure (in the 8 to 10 range) tended to have significant problems with their weight or even obesity—very likely due to problems with biochemical balance and especially to an overexposure to cortisol and its associated increase in appetite for “comfort foods” and consequent storage of belly fat.

Americans across all age groups and geographic areas generally recognized that their stress levels are “too high” (69 percent) and that stress is not good for their health. However, a majority of respondents also reported facing significant challenges in actually practicing healthy behaviors, such as reducing stress, eating better, exercising, getting enough sleep, and losing weight. Primary obstacles to those healthy behaviors included “being too busy” (22 percent) and a “lack of motivation or willpower” (29 percent). In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the APA survey was the clear indication that Americans know what they should be doing—but that they are not doing a good job of achieving their health goals.

How can you close this gap? How can you break out of the negative spiral that pulls you down into burnout and turn it around toward building vigor? To answer these questions, let’s look at the “central computer” that integrates the biochemical signals that, in turn, direct your behavior: your brain (in the next installment of The Secret of Vigor)…

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