What does confidence have to do with your heart?

Personal note

In keeping with the fact that February is National Heart Month, I am presenting another article that deals with cardiac disease.

But it does more than that; it deals with daily life and how well we live it. To be slightly (but chronically) anxious is not only dangerous to your health but also leads to a limited life in terms of pleasures and fulfillment.

So long as the heart is beating, we are alive, even if we are brain dead. But when the heart stops, all is lost. It seems to me that to be fully alive we should be dedicated to taking care of our hearts.

What does confidence have to do with your heart?7968714_s


Confident people know when to be afraid; they then take action – to run away from the saber-toothed tiger, leave the burning building, or whatever. Unconfident, or socially anxious, people, on the other hand, are wracked by numerous anxieties over what are called “paper tigers”:  fears about how they are perceived. If they speak or act, are others silently (or not so silently) going to criticize them? Do they appear foolish, awkward, unstylish…? The list goes on and on.

In fact, unconfident people fit the description of the Type A, or heart-attack prone personality, proposed by cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman: someone who is engaged in a relatively chronic struggle to obtain an unlimited number of poorly defined “things” in the shortest possible time, and if necessary, against opposition. In other words, they’re constantly fighting paper tigers.

The absurdity of this, of course, is that the events which they fear most – meeting new people, going to new events, speaking up in public – don’t call for the tremendous spurt of strength or speed that the stress response gives them. So they simply endure these events, stewing in their own chemical juices that have been released in response to what they perceive to be a threat.

Researchers in the United Kingdom evaluated ten studies of men and women enrolled in the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004. The data (published in the British Medical Journal), which involved more than 68,000 adults aged 35 or older, not only showed an association between psychological distress and mortality, but also showed that even mild anxiety or depression raised the overall risk of death from any cause by 29%.  The risk of death specifically from cardiac disease increased by 29%. So even the mild but chronically anxious were putting themselves at risk for serious consequences.

Therefore, it’s worthwhile to notice how often you feel attacked by paper tigers.

Whenever you feel even a little uncomfortable (and there’s no real tiger on the horizon), use the StressBuster Formula – Pause, Breathe, Choose.

Start by noticing the paper tigers, and then pausing to breathe. When you pay attention to your breathing, you are becoming aware of your body.

As you reflect, notice when the tension rises – in response to what events, key words, memories?

Where does it affect your body? That may be a clue to a chronic discomfort or illness that you are developing, because stressing your body regularly is a great way to break down physical systems.

Ask yourself, “Is there really a tiger out there?”  

People who suffer frequently from social anxiety often have more reactive nervous systems than do cooler, more confident people. If that is true of you, does that mean you’re stuck forever being intimidated by life situations and other people?   No, but it does mean that you need to take time every day to calm your mind and your body.

You can unlearn these maladaptive responses, become calmer, and learn to respond powerfully and well to real tigers.

In fact, your life may depend on it.

Are you determined not to age?

We live in a youth-oriented society, where the fastest growing group, the Baby Boomers, learned, “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

They’ve probably extended that limit by now; I haven’t checked recently to see what it is. 60? 70?

We see ads everywhere for products and services to erase wrinkles, get rid of flab (painlessly and quickly), and make your teeth whiter than nature intended (without giving up coffee or red wine).

So let’s look at a few facts:

Aging starts when you are born. Not at an age you have mentally selected as “over the hill,” but from the start. Change is inevitable; the question is, “What change?”

And more importantly, what determines that change? If you shrug and say, “It’s just my genes. My mother/father was the same,” you aren’t up to date on the latest findings. (Check up on Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief to read the latest research on this topic.)

Would you believe that beliefs are possibly the most important determinant of how you age? Not when you age, but how. So watch what you believe.

Do you believe 50 is over the hill? 60? 70? Oh, well, not until 80? Whatever you believe, you will experience. You will look for signs of aging and because you look, you will find them.

Let’s say you or someone near you has a memory short-circuit. If the person is 18, we say, “how careless.” If the person is 80, we say, “senior moment.”

Do you have some physical problems that get in the way of your full enjoyment of life, and you say, “Well, I’m just getting old?” Perhaps you don’t remember the tragedy (it seemed like a tragedy) of adolescent acne, crooked teeth that needed straightening, or overly-oily hair that wouldn’t behave (but your mother insisted you go to school anyway).

Everyone has physical problems, mental problems, emotional problems, at any and every age. How you explain those problems determines whether you are a problem-solver, dedicated to finding a solution (or at least a way to co-exist with the problem while continuing to pursue your dreams).

Your beliefs will, in turn, guide you to make wise choices in what you eat, what you do, how you organize your day, who you select to share your time and your life. To live a healthy, vigorous life, you must believe that you can make an important difference in what happens to you.

We all know our time on this planet is limited, but finding simplistic solutions to the challenges we face and providing an explanation (“It’s just old age”) that releases us from the responsibility of dealing effectively with those problems doesn’t make that time pleasant. Focusing on pain and loss, not surprisingly, leads to more pain and loss.

Remember when you were told you were too young to do certain things? And how much you resented it, longing for the day when you were old enough? Then, poof, you were old enough, and then, another poof … the culture tells you … you’re too old.

Some people do more than just survive for their time on the planet; they thrive. They participate eagerly in life, continue to grow, invent new dreams when old ones disappear or are realized, and recognize that love and excitement are not limited to a group of people in a certain age bracket.

The French say, “If youth but knew; if old age but could.” Here’s the final secret some of us already know, and here’s what you can learn: you CAN have both wisdom and the ability to fulfill your dreams at the same time.

Use your wisdom to develop beliefs that lead to actions that make your path here a joyful one.

Don’t go back to sleep

Personal note

Fall is promising to be exciting, with a book by myself (The Confident Introvert) and two books by friends, Lori Campbell and Kristen Brown, to which I have contributed, all coming out in the next two months. You can be sure I will keep you fully informed about the release dates of these books which can help you create an even better life. And there will be special bonuses for early-bird customers.

Don’t go back to sleep

The crisp fall air gets our blood moving and somehow promises excitement.  Are we going to help that excitement materialize, or are we going to let it deteriorate into the winter “blahs?”

Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet, gives us some pointers that are still relevant in the 21st century:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell us
Don’t go back to sleep

Now, I don’t think he is chastising my night-owl friends, who stagger out of bed sluggishly but, once they get up to speed, are still humming energetically along at midnight.  Instead, I think he means to point out that, when we are awake, we should be fully awake – to the present and to all of the exciting possibilities in it.  Drowning mentally in past sorrows and failures, bracing ourselves for future stress, all contribute to helping us miss the exquisite promise of the present.

You must ask for what you really want
Don’t go back to sleep

Are you asking for what you really want?  You may be thinking it and visualizing it; you may even have a vision board in front of your desk to remind you.  But are you actively letting everyone around you know what it is that you desire?

A vision is a kind of dream – it may be glorious, but it you don’t take action, it will always be just a dream.

People are coming and going
across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch

Others are taking those steps to create a better life.  Do you sometimes feel a little envious or even resentful when they get what you want and you don’t?  Look at those successes as a sign that it is possible – for you, too. Then take those little steps – one at a time.

The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep

Enough said. Have a wonderful, bracing, exciting, energetic, wildly creative and entertaining Fall season. It’s just waiting for you to participate.

Be your own best caretaker

Taking care of other people can be a kind and charitable act.  We now know that acts of kindness can physically affect our well-being as well as being psychologically heart-warming.

Altruistic emotions – the “helper’s high” – seem to gain dominance over the stress response, according to Dr. Stephen G. Post, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. We may even gain improved immunity levels.

So why do we sometimes find ourselves exhausted, resentful, and guilty while being a helper?

There is always fine line to tread between taking care of others and – novel thought, this – taking care of ourselves!  As my swimming coach in college used to point out, never try to save someone else until you’re pretty darn sure you can save yourself.

Continued caretaking can result in the feeling that your life is being hijacked by someone else’s needs, creating a sense of helplessness, one of the most deadly of emotions in terms of mental and physical health.

There seems to be a strong relationship between resentment and fatigue: if you spent the same amount of time doing something you truly enjoyed, would you still feel so tired?  It’s important to reflect on what you truly must do for someone else, and what you are doing automatically, while resenting it.

You are taking care of other people at the expense of your own well-being if: You are neglecting your own good health practices to do so.

First of all, guard your sleep as your greatest treasure.  Your ability to think clearly and make good choices absolutely depends on it, as does your body’s ability to resist disease.

Make sure you keep quick, healthful snacks as well as the makings of good meals.

And remember that your exercise program can consist of short, ten-minute spurts of exercise during the day if you don’t have time to go to the gym or take a long walk. Those little exercise spurts will lift your mood, too.

You do something for another person that they can do for themselves.

Sometimes we do this simply because we are impatient, but in doing it, we not only are working too hard but we also rob the other person of a sense of autonomy and competence.  Only infants and the truly incapacitated lack the ability to do at least some things for themselves.

You are not doing or saying something important to you because you think the other person “can’t stand it.” There are a few times in life when backing off because of the other person’s emotional state is a wise idea; approaching someone who has just lost a loved one with upsetting news that is not urgent is one of those times.  But often we keep finding reasons not to tell someone we believe is weaker than we are that we have had enough, or don’t want to continue in a given role. The reasons keep changing but the underlying idea does not: that we are more powerful and therefore must bear the burden of the unequal relationship.

You believe that, because someone else needs your help, you must be constantly and instantly available regardless of your life’s demands. 

Rather than reason with someone who is needy, decide for yourself what time you need to set aside for your needs and what time you can give to someone else.

By the way, “your needs” include time spent daydreaming, reading or watching TV, exercising, taking a walk, having coffee with an undemanding friend, and a host of other things that you may guiltily feel are not important.  They are; they are the fabric of your life that helps you to be strong enough to be able to care for someone else.

Finally, remember the Platinum Rule:  “Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you.”

Why take a risk?

Personal note

These last two weeks have been filled with many opportunities to meet new  people and to share with them the exciting things I am doing.

As I did so, I reflected upon my past, when I was so shy that the patterns on the wallpaper made more impact on a group than I did.  Now I circulate confidently, smiling, chatting, finding out about other people, making friends, and yes … actually talking about myself.

All of this didn’t happen by accident:  it was part of a calculated plan at self-improvement that I started in 1983, and worked through step-by-step.

Today’s article is about that first step:  recognizing that you may stay in a prison of your own making forever if you don’t act.  I’ll make it easy for you.

Don’t forget:
On May 19, I am proud to be a presenter at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation’s FREE heart health screening.  If you are in or near Minneapolis, please join us for this value-laden event, featuring

  • Heart health presentations at 9, 10 and 11 AM
    – Stress management  (THAT”S ME! – at 10 a.m.)
    – Heart-healthy eating
    – Exercise for every body
  • Nordic walking demonstrations
  • Healthy living resources and displays
  • Prizes and more!

Saturday, May 19, 2012
8 AM – 1 PM
Richfield Community Center – Nicollet and Augsburg Rooms
7000 Nicollet Ave. S

Please join us.

Why take a risk?

Some people take risks more readily than other people. And risks can be a little scary, whether they involve making a major career change and/or cross-country move, asking for a promotion or a raise, declaring your affection to someone else when you’re not sure how that person feels, or when it necessitates speaking up to someone whose behavior has been making you unhappy. Risks come in all sizes and shapes.

The first thing to remember is that it is impossible to avoid  risks  –  life is full of them.

First of all, there are Imposed risks:  things that happen to us that we can’t avoid – floods and tornadoes come to mind  –  with the possibility of leaving you feeling helpless and victimized, as do financial disasters, broken relationships, and any situation you can’t control.

That sense of a loss of control is what makes stress so stressful – in fact it is the key factor in determining whether we view an event as stress or as a challenge.

Then there are Chosen risks:  Actions you deliberately take to get something you want or to get away from something you don’t want.  With a chosen risk, there is always the possibility of embarrassment, failure and loss.

Why would anyone choose to take a risk when it may be accompanied by lots of anxiety?

It can result in a rich reward and – think of this, you will never know whether you could have gotten what you wanted if you never try. Even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you want, the long term consequence of that risk-taking act can be positive because you become more resilient and able to deal with imposed risks more easily.

Do you feel safer when you don’t take a risk?  Research indicates that, at the end of their lives, people don’t worry about what they have done.  They worry about what they have not done. As John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.”

Here’s a little exercise to get you started:

Think of a risk you would like to take. What is the worst thing that could happen?

This is called the “worst case scenario.”  Why would you want to think of that?

Because it is the bogeyman that is keeping you from even thinking deeply about taking the risk.  Facing it is necessary if you want to move forward.

On a scale of 0 to 100, what is the probability the worst will happen? Take a minute to think about this. You may find, to your surprise,  that the probability isn’t really all that high, but you have been acting as if it is 100%.

If the probability is less than 50% that it will turn out badly, you are in a good position to go ahead.  It is probably a lot less than 50%.

Finally, can you handle the feelings, or are you undermining yourself by saying, “it will be soawful if this doesn’t work out?”  Will it really, or are you being dramatic?

Risk-taking doesn’t have to be scary or dramatic; it’s a skill, and it can be learned and practiced, just like any other skill you might want to acquire in order to enrich your life.

Next week, we will look at how to set up a risk so it is not so risky at all.

Watch How You Tell Your Story!

Personal note

This week I’m off to London, Ontario, Canada, to meet with my coach in person, as well as the other wonderful people in my Master Mind group. The very thought of traveling (which makes me more creative, especially at 30,000 feet altitude) and sharing stories with others has lifted my spirits so much that I’m almost giddy.The last week has been a mixed bag: some wins, some losses, but all of it, in retrospect, has had an element of humor in it.  So I resurrected this article from last year…..

Watch How You Tell Your Story!

When bad things happen to good people (you), there is an irresistible urge to share the load by talking about it.  This can have two good results:

You relieve yourself of some of the pressure by sharing
You may have insights into a problem when talking with someone else.

It feels comforting to rush to friends or loved ones to tell them all the bad things that have been happening to you, but it can backfire.  Along the way, you may mentally rehearse everything you’re going to tell them, making sure not to omit any details.  It can be calming to see the look of sympathy in the eyes of someone else, and to hear their consoling words.

When you tell your story in all its intensity, you are reliving the event.  If it was stressful when it happened, your recounting of the story may bring back the same physical stress.   Even your mental rehearsal may do that.

The fact is, an estimated 10% of our stress is due to what happens to us; the other 90% is due to how we think about what happens to us, or how we habitually react to what happens.  So for one real stressful event, you may experience the same reaction many times.  It’s like getting a lot of bang for your buck, except it’s much less desirable than a buck. Each time you go through your story, you are undermining your physical health and your happiness, too, by putting your body through the same raised heart rate and blood pressure, muscular tension, troubled digestion, and mental confusion.

How can you get the release of telling your troubles to others in a way that is healthy?

First, position yourself as a problem-solver, not a victim
Instead of saying something like,  “Why ME?” or “Things like this always happen to me?”, try something like, “This was a real test of my ingenuity.” Or “Once I calmed down, I figured it out.”

Find some humor in the situation – particularly when you’re in the middle of the situation.  When my garage door froze shut, I cobbled together all the extension cords in the house, plugged my hair dryer into the end, and trudged out through the snow to warm up the lock.  No power!  I had to giggle when I realized that I had to go back in and plug the other end of the cords into an outlet in the house, and I giggled even more when I had to make another trip to push the re-set button.

Which brings me to the next point:

The joke’s on you  It happens to everyone, at one time or another – stress leaves us feeling so confused that we overlook simple details and make obvious mistakes. I like to say that Stress Makes Us Stupid.  It’s not the fickle finger of fate poking us once again; it’s a fairly natural and predictable process – but it can be avoided.

When you find yourself blocked at implementing a simple solution during a stressful period, pause, take a deep breath, and think the whole process through before you make a move.  Don’t rush because you want to the stress to end – it’ll just make it worse.

Determine in advance whether you’re asking for advice or help
Be careful who you choose as a listener.  Some people just have to jump in and solve your problems. Other people (often, but not always, men), see the disclosure of your feelings as a call for help

Tell your listener what you want.  Say, “I’m not asking for help in finding a solution at this time/ I really just need to get this off my chest right now.”

Express gratitude to your listener for listening to you
“Whew, it’s great to have a friend like you. Thanks for listening.”

Make it a two-way street
Needless to say, being a good listener who doesn’t make judgments or give unwanted advice when other people tell their stories is a great way to get reciprocity.

When you tell your story the right way, other people will be willing to listen to you again and again rather than avoiding you

Regarding that frozen week of minor crises that I mentioned at the start; I figured I must have told my story right when the friend I e-mailed  wrote back, saying, “That’s the funniest story I’ve heard all day.”

Take charge of your stressful assumptions

Personal note

Last week was a whirlwind of activity, ending with the Bloomington Writers’ Festival (9thyear!) on Saturday.

It was inspiring to see so many writers proudly displaying their creations, which were often based on personal experiences that would have felled a lesser person.

I was there as a volunteer, checking people in, along with many friends from WOW (Women of Words), a  group of women who continue to grow and prosper in astonishing ways through mutual support and sharing.  I am a WOW member and profoundly grateful for that privilege, without which I would not be where I am now.

Take charge of your stressful assumptions

It has been said that the bulk of aggression in the world is the result of poor communication.  Sometimes the wrong words are chosen; sometimes the wrong words are heard.

In addition to someone producing a communication and another person hearing that communication, there is another layer: the assumptions we make about what we hear.  We assume a certain intent, a possible threat, and then we create stories around what that is going to mean to us – in the future.

Someone once compared this process to looking at a door of a house and imagining all the rooms behind that door, their furnishings, and the activities that take place in those rooms.  It’s a lovely creative process, but in communication it is misplaced.  We not only set in motion stressful processes that undermine our health and age our bodies, but we set in motion actions that can undermine and even destroy relationships.

Why do we do this?  It’s a form of self defense:  a pre-emptive strike to protect ourselves against the possibility of threat.  It not only doesn’t work, but it may make us feel even more threatened than before.  Sharon Ellison, expert on non-defensive communication (www.pndc.com/) notes that confidence, competence, and even the ability to learn diminish after responding in a defensive manner.

Here are some steps to take when a communication seems to be causing you stress:

Pause and consider what the threat seems to be:  The pause is important because the urgent feeling that stress produces in us often causes us to take action first, and reflect later.

In your pause, consider how you are feeling.  Sad?  Scared?  Angry?  Did you feel your attractiveness or your skills were being underrated because the speaker praised someone else, or offered you some advice?  Did you then assume that the relationship was going to proceed, or even escalate, into something even more negative?

Ask yourself if this has happened before, and if so, how often?  The more often this same thing has happened in your life, the more likely it is that the challenge is within yourself, not in the other person.

Ask questions to clarify: If someone says, “There’s another way to do that,” and you feel a flash of anger at the implied criticism, you could ask, “Are you critical of the way I am doing this?”  You may find that the other person is surprised at the impact of what seemed, to the speaker, to be an informative remark.  You can now have a more open discussion about what’s really going on.

Reflect:  Ask yourself, “Is this episode worth my attention?”  “Is the person or activity important enough to me that I am going to spend time worrying or worse yet, avoiding a situation I might otherwise have enjoyed?”

Communicate/Negotiate:  It takes a certain amount of courage to say, “When you said  … , I felt…. (sad, angry, depressed, etc).”  The other person may be genuinely startled at this revelation, having intended something else entirely.

Ask for the change you would like:  “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t criticize me in front of other people. Perhaps you could take me aside and tell me your concerns.”

Take action:  Inaction is sometimes appropriate: you decide no action is necessary because it’s not worth the battle or it isn’t high on your list of priorities.

But if the situation is important enough to you, suggest two outcomes:  “If you continue to criticize me in front of others, I don’t want to work with you any more.  But if you handle it the way I suggested, I would enjoy continuing to work with you.”

Notice that “take action” is the last step.  It’s that old problem: the urgency of the stress response. We feel something must be done right now or else … or else what?

We go off and feel less confident, less competent, and even a little stupid?  How is this a win?

Instead of creating and furnishing mental “houses” filled with potential strife, save your creative abilities for activities that bring genuine value to your life and to the world.

Is anybody listening?

Personal note

During the past two weeks I have been involved with setting up not one but several projects, each of them involving a small group of people. Communications between us have flown back and forth; revisions have had to be made, misunderstandings corrected, and I have been left sometimes with the feeling of one who is herding cats.

It is a reminder of how fragile communication is, and how important it is to strive to be absolutely clear in order to save stress and time.  But what do we mean by “clear communication?”  That’s the essence of today’s article, a small peek into a topic I call “People Literacy” : learning to read different kinds of behavioral styles in order to operate more effectively in personal and professional life.

Is anybody listening?

One common stressor is the feeling that we are trying to get others to understand our needs and our points of view, but somehow, no matter how hard we try, the message isn’t getting through.

The solution to this stress? Try to understand the needs of your listener; then shape your communication to meet those needs.

In an old sitcom, Archie Bunker stated: “Edith, do you know why we can’t communicate? Because I’m talking in English, and you’re listening in DINGBAT!”

Archie Bunker had a point: a major frustration in life is the realization that we are not being heard. His explanation was also typical: it must be your fault if you don’t understand me.

A good rule to remember is that everyone is tuned into Station WII:FM: What’s in it for me? Each of us filters information beamed towards us in terms the kinds of information we want and need, and the possible threat that may be posed for us. The ability to analyze the communication styles of others allows you to plan your communications so that they will be received and understood.

Here is a brief rundown on four different normal types of people, and what they need to hear in order to pay attention to a communication.

The DOMINANT, take-charge type, likes challenges and speedy movement towards a well-defined goal. Dominant types are better speakers than listeners. Such people give new meaning to the terms “brief” and “concise.”

A phone call from a Dominant is likely to consist of a quick message: “I can’t meet you at I p.m. It’ll have to be at 1:45.” And belatedly, “This is Don. How are you?” The speaker may then hang up without waiting for an answer.

A communication to a dominant person should move quickly to the bottom line: what is the proposed plan, what is his or her involvement? Avoid at all costs the following: a long introduction to the topic (trigger impatience and lack of attention in this listener), entertaining anecdotes (arouse suspicion – “Why are you trying to con me”), and detailed presentations of data on the pros and cons (“You should have thought this out on your own time and come to me with a brief, clear proposal”).

ENTHUSIASTIC OPTIMISTS are animated, optimistic, and very sociable people. Charming and entertaining others is a major goal of this very likable type. They make charismatic leaders, teachers, preachers, and super salespeople.

Major threats to this type include the possibility of personal rejection, or a negative reaction to one of their proposals. The result?  Enthusiastic Optimists, when squelched, have an out-of-body experience. In their imaginations, they travel to another, pleasanter planet where your voice is not being heard.

When your Enthusiastically Optimistic listener’s eyes glaze over, it is a distinct possibility you are not being heard.

Take time, if possible, to listen, socialize and empathize with the feelings of the Enthusiastic Optimist.  You will save time in the long run. Present negative information as if it is one of an array of possibilities.

HARMONIOUS TEAMWORKERS are even-tempered, loyal friends and co-workers. In their conversations, they often use the word “we” where others might use “I”:  ‘We went to a movie last night,” “‘We didn’t like that restaurant.”

People who reflect this style tend to speak in pleasant, well-modulated voices, and expect others to do the same. They are made very uncomfortable by forceful tones and language, as used by the Dominant types, or the rising and falling inflections and volume of the Enthusiastic Optimist, interpreting such vocal changes as being threatening.

Harmonious Teamworkers tend to avoidanything unpleasant, and will consequently avoid listening to overly forceful communication.

CAREFUL INDEPENDENTS are detail-oriented, conscientious types who prefer to work alone, and indeed need a certain amount of solitude in order to be comfortable.

Communications beamed towards Careful Independents should be worded cautiously, with respect for detail. Avoid emotion-laden phrases and attempts at persuasion; simply present the facts to which you wish them to pay attention.

Don’t necessarily expect an immediate reply or reaction to your communication. Listeners might be compared to cameras: some zoom in on a specific topic, while others use a wide-angle lens to take in many details simultaneously. The Dominants and Enthusiastic Optimists zoom in on topics which are important to them, react quickly and make decisions accordingly. Harmonious Teamworkers and Careful Independents survey the entire situation, often contemplating several points of view simultaneously.  This type of information processing demands time for reflection before reaction. Pressing them for a response too quickly will result in irritation and resistance to any suggestion being presented by the speaker.

Of course, communication style can vary by situation; people often don’t use the same style at home and at work, for example, and level of stress can play a factor also. Plus, don’t forget that there is a strong relationship between power, communication, income level, and status in the community. However, studying these four listening styles will greatly enhance the power of your communications, and increase the possibility of actually being heard!

Women’s Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Personal note


February is National Heart Month, and I have been more than ordinarily busy giving my talk, “The Angina Monologue,” in which I describe women’s heart attacks and give preventive advice.  Seeing all the “red” clothing and decorations, hearing of all the “Wear Red” events is exciting – except that cardiac disease occurs all year long, not just in February.

In fact, cardiac disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States; but while the rates for men are declining, the rates for women, particularly in the age 35-54 age group, are rising.

We are surrounded by information about cardiac disease in newspapers, magazines, on the radio and on television, yet most people remain surprisingly ignorant about some of the simple facts of cardiac disease.  So I am once again providing a fuller description of the symptoms, as experienced by real people I have known, including myself.

Women’s Warning Signs of a Heart Attack


The “Hollywood Heart Attack,” where the character, clutching his chest, slumps to the floor immediately, does sometimes happen.  But many heart attacks do not mimic this model.  In particular, women’s symptoms of heart attack may be very different from men’s in both quality and severity.

It can be too easy to brush these more subtle symptoms aside; as one woman in my cardiac support group said, “Compared to childbirth, this is nothing!”  But of course, they are something.  And the sooner you pay attention and get help, the better the outcome.

Because I paid attention to a small signal, and took action immediately, I have almost no heart damage and was able to return to a full life immediately.

So I’m going to provide some descriptions here that might give women a clearer picture of what to look for.

Chest discomfort:  
Men typically experience crushing chest pain and pain radiating down one arm.  Some women do also, but many women do not. I only experienced one second of pressure in the middle of my chest, accompanied by a complete lack of breath – once again for one second only.  Luckily, I paid attention.

Another woman I know reports that she felt as if her chest were on fire.

Any pressure, squeezing or burning in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or comes and goes is a warning sign.

Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach:
One woman I knew had pain in her jaw; another was awakened in the middle of the night by very painful elbows, which she fortunately recognized as being related to her heart.  Others tell of pain in the neck, the shoulder or across the shoulder blades.

At a talk I gave recently, a woman told me of a pain in her jaw.  She had been checked for both a dental problem and a tempero-mandibular joint problem, but no evidence of either had been found.  Should she see a cardiologist, she asked?  I almost shouted, “Yes!”

Any pain in the upper body that can’t be explained should be suspect and you should take action.  See a cardiologist; if the pain is marked or persistent, dial 9-1-1 and go to the ER.

Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort:
Once again, when there is no rational explanation, such as allergy problems or just having run up a flight of stairs, you should be suspicious of shortness of breath.

Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea and vomiting, cold sweats:
I began to experience nausea and lightheadedness a few days after my experience with pressure (I had already seen a doctor, who found nothing wrong with me). It could have been a virus, but I had no temperature. Taking your temperature is a good idea before you decide it is a virus and dismiss the idea of a heart attack.

After I got to the hospital, I began to experience severe gastric distress, a little like the commercials for acid reflux disease, with figurative nuts and bolts revolving around in my stomach!  A doctor asked me, in fact, if I did have acid reflex disease, and when I said no, it was another factor on which they decided to do angioplasty (go in and see if there was blockage).

I know of a young woman athlete who began to faint after she finished races.  She, in fact, had an undiagnosed congenital defect of a heart valve for which she needed surgery.

So, once again, if there isn’t a good explanation for the symptom, seek help.

Feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness — unexplained or on exertion:
I have met at least one woman heart patient who tells of being overwhelmed by inexplicable anxiety as her major symptom. Once again, there was no precipitating event in her life, so it was a very suspicious episode.

The extreme fatigue that a heart attack sufferer experiences is like having a hole in your “fuel tank” from which all the energy has drained out.  One woman I know told me that she was so tired she lay down on her bed, and, feeling cold, wanted to pull the covers up but she couldn’t because it was too much effort.  That was when she realized she needed to get to a hospital.

Take Action

There is an e-mail that keeps circulating on the internet, with advice about heart attacks.  Some of it is good advice: carry an aspirin and take it immediately if you believe you are having a heart attack.  In fact, crunch down on it and wash it down with a full glass of water.

But this e-mail always ends with dangerous advice: “Call and friend or relative and wait by the door,” presumably to have that person take you to the hospital.

This is the message health care providers want you to hear: Do not drive yourself or ask a friend or family member to drive you.
If you have any of the above symptoms, dial 9-1-1.  If you are having a heart attack, emergency responders can start treatment in the ambulance. This can be crucial.

Women, who are often reluctant to have a fuss made about themselves, will dial 9-1-1 in a minute if a loved one is threatened, but will not do so for themselves.

Those few minutes in which you wait for help can make all the difference in the world between life and death, or between a quality life and an impaired life.  One of the possible consequences of heart attack is loss of oxygen to the brain, causing irreversible damage.  You could survive, but only as someone very dependent on others.

The last message I like to leave women with is this:  strive to live the heart-healthy life, and you will feel better than you have in years.  Would you like to wake up every morning eager to start the day, with the kind of zest you had as a child? You can do it!  The women in my support group, cardiac survivors all, glow with health.

The path to heart health is the path to joy.  And who doesn’t want joy?

Time Zones

Cars in a traffic jamPersonal Note

Last Sunday I spent a delightful afternoon with some of the women from Wired4Life, Dawn Huberly’s organization for women with pacemakers. These women, representing all age groups, have bonded, thanks to Dawn. More importantly, they have learned to live in and truly enjoy the present.
Much of my work consists in trying to help people live fully in a supportive present, bolstered by pleasant past memories, and buoyed by inspiring thoughts about the future. So I was pleased to find another example to bring to my readers that I hope will lead you to that happy state.

Time Zones

The wellness expert I was speaking to after her talk commented that she had almost been late for the conference. “I was stuck in traffic,” she lamented, “and I was really stressed.”
I asked her what she was worried about, given that the audience was a group of very supportive women who already knew and liked her. What would they have done had she been late?
She didn’t know, but insisted it was a stressful experience. Why? There would have been no dire consequences; someone else might have spoken first, or everyone would have continued to network and socialize until she appeared.
She had failed to seize that little interlude to experience what I call an “Island of Peace,” a place and time where you can just breathe and center yourself, free from distractions, knowing that there is nothing you can do about the current situation, which will adjust itself when it is darned good and ready.
In the meantime, she had placed undue stress on her body, the very topic on which she was about to deliver a talk.
In  The Time Paradox, Doctors Philip Zimbardo and Jim Boyd explore the psychology of time and how it shapes our thoughts, feelings, actions, and ultimately our destinies. They describe the different mental time zones through which we move: The Present, Future, Negative Past, and Nostalgic Past.
Zimbardo and Boyd explain that it is sometimes appropriate to be mentally in the future, for example when you are planning and setting goals. And while the Negative Past can solidify beliefs about the barriers that have held us back, and continue to do so, the Nostalgic Past can be a support in the present, when pleasant memories can evoke feelings of well-being and high self-esteem to sustain us during difficult times.
The agitated speaker could have reflected on the group of women with whom she was about to meet, and the friendliness and support they had shown her in the past. Instead, she leaped into anxiety about the future – a future in which she was imagining criticism and rejection that was unlikely to occur. Remember, 10% of stress is due to what happens to us; the other 90% is due to what we think about what is happening.
This tendency to dwell too much in the future time zone seems to be a national disease in the United States, forcing us to feel rushed all the time.
What if you could draw on the Nostalgic Past for support, dive into the Future to inspire yourself, and savor the present – all at will? That’s great stress management, and it’s not impossible to achieve. It is said that balancing your mental time zones feels like being on a prolonged vacation.
Want to find out if you have achieved a healthy balance of mental time zones?
Go to http://www.thetimeparadox.com/surveys/ to take their interesting survey.

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