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Best of the Month – August, 2014

Best of month for August included some great research on stress, anxiety, and women in the workplace. Here are a few of my favorites:

Women and stress

Pulled in Too Many Directions Signs Stress AnxietyNew research by Susan Fisk at Stanford shows that risky situations at work increase women’s anxiety, and hurt performance. As frustrating as these data may be, they are not surprising. We know that women experience more diffuse anxiety than men on average, and too much anxiety is well known to be a performance inhibitor. Not a reason to avoid anxiety, instead women and girls benefit from the confidence that is built through stretching beyond their comfort zones that in turn supplies needed courage to face anxiety anew. The more confidence you have, the better able you will be to handle the stress that comes along with risky situations.

Self-perception and confidence matters

Why High-Pressure Situations Affect Women More than Men is another piece reporting on the recent Stanford study additionally reporting:

“It was noted that when men and women perform on the same level, for some reason performance of women is perceived as being subpar. Rather than happenstance, this is most likely based on incompetence. Unfortunately, failure often reinforces any existing self-doubt. Therefore, it is important for women to build self-esteem before facing high-pressure situations whenever possible, regardless of scenario.”

29397743_sThis finding suggests women’s self-perception is likewise vulnerable to self-doubt that can accumulate with chronic anxiety. Self-doubt suppresses courage that is needed to hurdle anxiety. Whereas self-esteem can help in times of stress, where courage is needed most. Facing anxiety, and mustering courage is the mechanism that builds self-esteem. We know that stretching outside our comfort zone is what builds self-esteem in both genders, making it even more imperative for girls and women to practice this courageous stretching. Practicing a growth mindset also facilitates the development of self-esteem, as has been demonstrated by Carol Dweck’s work at Stanford.

Healthy lifestyle protects against aging effects of stress

14023425_sNew research by UCSF shows that healthy living may slow anxiety’s harmful effects. Exercise, sleep, and good nutrition appeared to offset the life shortening effects of stress on 239 post-menopausal women. Not only does this study support the importance of lifestyle health in anxiety management, but this study demonstrates its protective role in overall health and aging in measuring telomeres – a robust measure of long term wear and tear on the body, and animportant indicator of aging.

Could stress be addictive?

This interesting Huffington Post piece, Are you addicted to stress? Here’s how to tell, offers good tips for anxiety management, especially the role that toxic friends can play in elevating anxiety. I agree with the author that anxiety has evolved to help us manage the tasks ahead of us, and to avoid dangers that lurk.  29973173_sHowever, I don’t agree that people seek stress, or are addicted to its motivating effects, as the author suggests. What drives stress is fear, our avoidance of it, and a sense of our coping skills being out of synch with the demands placed on us. This is a primitive and inherently uncomfortable emotional state that most seek to avoid.
To be sure, any of us can overextend ourselves, and tip that delicate balance of healthy stress into dangerous stress, or maladaptive stress. But in my experience, this is not actively sought. I agree with the author that a healthy balance of stress is what is ideal for optimal functioning.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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