Friday, June 24, 2005

Race to the Finish

Is work dangerous to your health? A large Swedish study indicates that if you operate under high-pressure deadlines, it may well be. In the 3,500 person study, the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Programme (SHEEP), investigators discovered that men are six times more likely and women three times more likely to have a heart attack if they take on increased responsibilities at work, especially ones they don't like. Even more startling is that having a high-pressure deadline increased heart attack risk within the next 24 hours by a factor of six -- meaning that such people are six times more likely to have a heart attack than unaffected people. Given that so many of us operate under high-stress deadlines -- both at work and in our personal lives -- I called stress expert Joan Borysenko, PhD, to discuss it. Dr. Borysenko, author of 11 books on the mind-body connection and a frequent lecturer, explains that when people deal with extended high-stress situations, they tend to forget their own needs in order to focus on the project at hand. (If you doubt that, think back to college finals.) That not only makes you vulnerable to health risks, it also diminishes the quality of your work, she says. Nearly 100 years ago, Harvard researchers came up with the Yerkes-Dodson law, which shows that people who are under pressure work more efficiently to a certain point and then productivity drops, as she says, like a stone. That makes taking time to care for yourself a win-win for everyone. Dr. Borysenko says there are three rules to follow to care for yourself and keep you focused...
*Exercise daily. Simply walking for 20 minutes early in the day will bring you a huge dividend of improved mood and ability to focus.
*Eat three nutritionally sound meals a day. Include lean protein at each meal -- the body uses it quickly under stress -- along with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
*Take at least 30 minutes every day for an activity that centers you. Listening to classical music, for example, not as background noise but by putting your feet up and paying attention, has been shown to be as relaxing as 10 mg of Valium. Meditation, of course, also works. Studies show that women can reduce stress by tending or befriending, which is why, as trite as it might sound, calling a friend or neatening up the house can be particularly relaxing in stressful periods for women.
And, no matter how busy you are, do not forget to make every effort to get a full night's sleep. Contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, adds that during times of stress, certain vitamin and mineral stores also can get depleted, leaving your body running on empty. A good calcium/magnesium supplement coupled with orally absorbable B-12, such as hydroxycobalamin or methylcobalamin, and a twice-daily multi-B will help you better handle stress from the inside out. Taking care of yourself requires about 50 minutes of your day, says Dr. Borysenko. But you'll find that you gain a great deal in the end -- increased productivity, relaxation and continued enjoyment of life, even under deadline pressure.


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