Tuesday, February 28, 2023


How tiny stresses add up

When we're hit with big, bad news — getting laid off, or a troubling diagnosis — we often spring into action to deal with the problem. But smaller things that irk us — a terse message from a manager, even a sink full of dishes — add up. And they eventually have an outsized impact on our mental and physical health.

Why it matters: Most of us tend to ignore micro-stresses, and just focus on the big stuff. But the small things also require our attention. "None of these things evoke the fight-or-flight mechanism," says Rob Cross, a professor at Babson College and author of a forthcoming book about micro-stress.

But even if we ignore them, our bodies don't. Small stresses trigger some of the same physical effects as big ones, including elevated blood pressure and lower-quality sleep, Cross says. Micro-stresses explain why we can feel exhausted or defeated at the end of a day — even if nothing big went wrong.

Case in point: One fascinating study found that if even a relatively minor social stress is experienced within two hours of a meal, your metabolism of that meal is disrupted. The effect is equivalent to adding 104 calories to that meal. If that happens every day, it adds up to 11 pounds in a year, per Harvard Business Review.

What to do: We can all take steps to be more aware of — and address — the micro-stresses in our lives.

1.      --Have a big conversation about a small(ish) thing: If your boss is routinely annoying you by not communicating deadlines or if your child is stressing you out by taking hours to respond to messages, consider bringing it up in a bigger conversation. You'll likely be surprised at how much eradicating a small but repeated stressor boosts your mood.

2.       --Diversify your life. Cross' research showed that people with robust personal lives, filled with family, friends and hobbies, tend to be less affected by work-related micro-stresses.

3.       --Meditate. As we've reported, practicing meditation and mindfulness can clear your mind and do away with stresses — small or big. 

–---Mike Allen, Axios

Being a highly sensitive person Is a strength

“You’re overthinking it,” “Don’t take things so personally,” “You’re being too sensitive,” are scolds many of us are extremely familiar with. According to research by Dr Elaine Aron, who coined the term, 15-20% of the population are HSPs, aka highly sensitive persons, meaning that they feel ‘too deeply’ but often hide their emotions from others. HSPs may feel out of place or uneasy in overstimulating situations, such as at a busy work meeting or at parties and tend to seek validation and reassurance more often.

We’re conditioned to associate sensitivity with weakness, as something we should be ashamed of rather than empowered by. Being overly sensitive has negative connotations of being unequipped for reality and needing to toughen up. But while it may not feel like it in a world that seems to reward the loudest, boldest and brashest among us, being highly sensitive is actually a strength. And, according to neuropsychologist Nawal Mustafa, The Brain Coach on Instagram, we should be recognizing and celebrating it more.

“Many HSPs consider this sensory processing sensitivity to be something they hate about themselves because most cultures or communities do not value sensitivity or emotions,” Mustafa writes. “Being told ‘Stop crying’ and ‘You’re overreacting’ can make HSPs feel like something is wrong with them and potentially lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, feelings of being misunderstood.”

Mustafa’s post highlighted seven key strengths that highly sensitive people possess, and how those traits can have a positive impact on their lives.

HSPs are naturally more empathic and caring to the needs of others

 Most HSPs are empaths, and vice versa. Empath’s are particularly attuned to the emotions of others, and often experience a “sixth sense” for unspoken dynamics. “In an fMRI study, researchers found that HSPs have more activation in brain regions involved with awareness, integration of sensory information, empathy, and preparation for action in response to emotionally evocative social stimuli,” explains Mustafa.

HSPs are trusted because of their honesty and conscientiousness

 Dr Aron’s research on HSPs indicates that being highly sensitive can actually be of great value in the workplace. In “The Highly Sensitive Person,” Dr Aron writes: “[HSPs] are intuitive visionaries, able to see the big picture, creative, aware of and thoughtful to the needs of others, good influences on the social climate, vigilant with quality, highly conscientious, loyal, able to pick up on subtleties in the environment and in interpersonal communications and are often gifted. In short, they are ideal employees.”

HSPs notice little details that others might miss

Highly sensitive people attune to and process noise, chaos, disorder and other external stimuli intensely, so what may be an error, mistake or major annoyance could go pretty much unnoticed by a non-HSP.

HSPs are very creative and can appreciate things at a deeper level

According to “Very Well Mind,” highly sensitive people tend to feel deeply moved by the beauty they see around them. “They may cry while watching particularly heartwarming videos and can really empathize with the feelings of others, both negative and positive.”

HSPs have more insight into their mental and emotional processes

Because the mind of a HSP is always racing, it means that they are also more introspective and self-aware. So while they may experience more overwhelm, they are also able to identify any potentially triggering situations or processes early on and attempt to deal with them.

HSPs feel more connected to the world around them

Research has found that highly sensitive people are more prone to adopt pro-environmental actions and behaviors. Studies from University College Cork indicated that nature connectedness increases with higher sensitivity because, given their tendency to be overwhelmed by busy urban environments, highly sensitive people are particularly connected with nature, where they can find restoration and stress relief.

HSPs feel positive emotions more deeply

Being highly attuned to negative emotions like stress or anxiety has a silver lining, in that you’re able to experience positive emotions like happiness, pride, gratitude and contentment in a stronger way. “Being a HSP is not a disorder,” Mustafa stresses. “I am a strong advocate for accepting ourselves for who we are, as we are,” she concludes. “Being aware of what parts of us need work and actively healing them is always encouraged, but I don’t think we should ever shame ourselves for being a certain way.”

--Amy Beecham

Ron DeSantis shows how not to run an education system

It’s no coincidence that Republican governors who have weaponized government against vulnerable populations represent states that are spectacularly failing their residents on a wide range of issues. There’s no better illustration than Ron DeSantis’s war on education.

The Florida governor seems to view schools as the battleground for his war on inclusivity and truth. Whether it is DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law or his vendetta against African American and gender studies, his obsession with telling teachers what they cannot teach far outweighs his concern for how students are performing.

And as it turns out, that performance is pretty lousy.

While Florida officials — including DeSantis — have boasted about the state’s relatively high proficiency scores among 4th Graders, they have largely ignored how quickly those scores drop as students grow older. As education journalist Billy Townsend writes in an opinion piece for the Tampa Bay Times, “No other state comes close to Florida’s level of consistent 4th to 8th Grade performance collapse.”

In the last three state rankings of reading and math proficiency by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (in 2017, 2019 and 2022), Townsend writes, “Florida ranked sixth, fourth and third among states in 4th Grade math. In those same years, Florida ranked 33th, 34th and tied for 31st in eighth grade.”

Moreover, the rate at which they drop below their peers in other states is accelerating. Townsend explains, “Florida’s overall average NAEP state rank regression between 4th and 8th Grade since 2003 is 17 spots (math) and 18 spots (reading). But since 2015, the averages are 27 spots (math) and 19 spots (reading).” In fact, the deterioration in Florida schools “matches and mostly exceeds the negative impact of COVID” nationwide, he writes.

Florida’s embarrassing drop-off in performance cannot be understood without examining its 20-year-old policy to hold back lower-performing 3rrdGraders, which means many students take the 4th Grade test when they are at least the age of 5th Graders. While it’s unclear how many students are kept back in third grade, Townsend writes that it is “significant,” which likely temporarily boosts the 4th-Grade numbers.

But that only delays the inevitable cratering of scores in the 8th Grade. Perhaps that is one reason many Florida politicians are shying away from standardized testing.

One likely reason for the shoddy 8th-Grade performance: The state ranks 48th in teacher pay, so it’s bound to get rotten results. Right now, few seem motivated to pin down the problem and fix what’s wrong.

And if that isn’t distressing enough, consider what is happening to higher education in Florida. Michael A. MacDowell, president emeritus of Misericordia University, warned in a piece for Florida Today last year that enrollment in the state’s colleges was projected to decline by 5.5 percent in the 2021-2022 academic year.

MacDowell explains, “The implications of declining college enrollments here in Florida and nationally will seriously impact individuals and the economic viability of Florida and the country.” Non-college-educated people tend to be poorer, live shorter lives and pay less taxes. MacDowell also notes that they are “more likely to avail themselves of government subsidies and the wide variety of services that federal, state, and local governments provide” than college-educated Americans.

Yet DeSantis, who has two Ivy League degrees, seems to be cheering for failure. Amid reports in 2021 that men were making up a smaller portion of students attending college, he declared, “I think that is probably a good sign.” So he must be thrilled that Florida’s college enrollment is dropping like a stone.

College administrators are trying to puzzle out why Florida’s decline is so pronounced. It might be an affordability issue. Alternatively, with the White population shrinking in the state, DeSantis’s war on “wokeness” has made college campuses less welcoming to younger, more diverse Floridians — the same people the state needs to educate to maintain a vibrant economy. Whatever the cause, DeSantis doesn’t seem interested in finding a solution.

DeSantis’s bullying of vulnerable populations and pandering to White grievance are morally objectionable and anti-American. But they also come at a price: accelerating the decline of the state’s education system. Do we really want DeSantis to do for America what he’s done to Florida?

--Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Words and phrases to avoid in a difficult conversation

Difficult conversations are difficult for a reason, and when you’re anxious or stressed out, it’s easy to say the wrong thing. And it doesn’t matter how prepared you are. Your best laid plans will go to waste if you offend or anger the other person.

Over 20 years of teaching and research, which I describe in my book “Choosing Courage,” I’ve found that people often forget a critical point: When navigating a difficult conversation, you need to craft your message while keeping the other person’s feelings and opinions in mind. Below are some of the most common mistakes I’ve observed — words and phrases that can slip into our vocabulary — and explanations for why they often cause trouble.

--Don’t assume your viewpoint is obvious Sometimes, if you feel like you are 100 percent right, you may use words such as “clearly,” “obviously,” or “beyond doubt.” If you do this, you’re falling prey to naive realism — the belief that you’re privy to some objective reality that others will clearly see and agree with. We’re seldom in such an objectively black-or-white situation, and reasonable people may see things differently than you or need more convincing to come around to your viewpoint.

 Not surprisingly, when your words (inadvertently) suggest that any divergent views are stupid or inconsequential, others may feel railroaded or insulted. If you’ve really made your case persuasively, there’s no need to potentially derail the outcome by stating your own views about how obvious or beyond a doubt something is.

--Don’t exaggerate When you’re speaking with someone who has upset you on multiple occasions, you may find yourself inadvertently resorting to using phrases such as “You always . . . ” or “You never . . . .” Exaggeration will undermine your overall credibility and lead to a debate about frequency instead of substance. “That’s not true,” the person is likely to retort, before proceeding to tell you about the specific date or occasion that runs counter to your claim. If your intent is to get someone to start or stop doing something, keep the focus on that.

--Don’t tell others what they should do. Telling someone what they should do contains an implicit value judgment. “You should do X” implies that X is the way things ought to be. Sure, if you’re a leader responsible for a group’s values and culture, sometimes it’s necessary to be very clear about what should be done or how people should treat each other.

Other times, though, especially when you’re not the boss of the person you’re speaking to, “shoulding” won’t make them willing to comply. People feel judged by “should” statements — as if they wouldn’t come to the right conclusion without your input — when they’d prefer to decide for themselves what to do. Phrases like, “You might consider” or “One possibility is” or “Have you thought of?” increase your odds of having the conversation and influence you seek.

--Don’t blame others for your feelings.  If you’re upset about something someone said or did, it’s natural to have an emotional reaction. You’re human. But stating the cause of those feelings is unhelpful and counterproductive. For example, imagine your colleague interrupts you when you start to speak and you immediately experience physical reactions — your face flushes, your heart rate spikes. You may feel the urge to say, “You make me so angry when you interrupt me,” but, if you do so, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in an argument.

Why? Because people hate being blamed for things — especially for words or actions that harmed others. So instead of apologizing or agreeing to change their behavior, they’ll defend themselves — their specific words and overall intentions or character. You could choose to say, “Hey, when you interrupt me so quickly like that, I feel disrespected (or hurt or angry). Could you please not do that?” Or you could say, “Could you please not interrupt me until I’m finished?” Or you could not say anything about your feelings at all and stick to the topic at hand.

--Don’t challenge someone’s character or integrity You may feel that what someone has done is “unprofessional,” “wrong” or “unethical.” But, if you use words like these, there’s a good chance the target will become defensive. Humans have a strong need to see themselves as decent and moral. If you describe their problematic behavior in ways that threaten their core sense of self then the person is more likely to shift from the issue at hand to a defense of their character.

Instead, try starting with phrases that only question if or convey something is undesirable or sub-optimal. Suggest that missing deadlines “detracts from our mission” rather than labeling it “unprofessional,” or that changing numbers to make your unit’s performance look better is “inconsistent with our core values” or “likely to undermine trust and our focus on learning” rather than calling it “wrong” or “unethical.”

--Don’t say “It’s not personal.” In my experience, people say “It’s not personal” or “Don’t take it personally” when they (subconsciously) know it’s quite personal for the other person. There’s a great example of this in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” when the big-box bookstore executive (Tom Hanks) tells the small, independent bookstore owner (Meg Ryan) that it’s not personal that he’s going to put her multi-generational family bookstore out of business by opening a massive store nearby. That’s deeply personal to her so, understandably, hearing this phrase only makes Meg Ryan’s character even angrier.

When someone is hurt, angry, or otherwise clearly affected by something you’ve said or done, telling them it’s not personal only adds insult to injury. If you actually care, why not acknowledge and own that it is personal to them, even if not to you? If you can’t do that, don’t say anything about “personal” at all.

And then there’s the phrase: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Unfortunately, that’s not great advice in the realm of difficult conversations. You can get a lot of stuff right (your persuasive core arguments, your data and solutions, the setting and timing) and still see your objectives derailed by the seemingly small communication missteps described above. The good news is that getting the small stuff right too is imminently doable — it just takes commitment to notice and minimize the use of these problematic words and phrases.

--James R. Detert, Harvard Business Review

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