Category: Depression

Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

Improving Your Ability to Handle Stress

Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.

Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the body
When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

The effects of chronic stress
Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you’re super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation. And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.

If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

Depression and anxiety
Pain of any kind
Sleep problems
Autoimmune diseases
Digestive problems
Skin conditions, such as eczema
Heart disease
Weight problems
Reproductive issues
Thinking and memory problems
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.

Cognitive symptoms:

Memory problems
Inability to concentrate
Poor judgment
Seeing only the negative
Anxious or racing thoughts
Constant worrying
Emotional symptoms:

Depression or general unhappiness
Anxiety and agitation
Moodiness, irritability, or anger
Feeling overwhelmed
Loneliness and isolation
Other mental or emotional health problems
Physical symptoms:

Aches and pains
Diarrhea or constipation
Nausea, dizziness
Chest pain, rapid heart rate
Loss of sex drive
Frequent colds or flu
Behavioral symptoms:

Eating more or less
Sleeping too much or too little
Withdrawing from others
Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Causes of stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of caretaking overwhelming and stressful.

Common external causes of stress include:

Major life changes
Work or school
Relationship difficulties
Financial problems
Being too busy
Children and family
Common internal causes of stress include:

Pessimism
Inability to accept uncertainty
Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
Negative self-talk
Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
All-or-nothing attitude
Top 10 stressful life events
According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults that can contribute to illness:

Death of a spouse
Divorce
Marriage separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Injury or illness
Marriage
Job loss
Marriage reconciliation
Retirement
What’s stressful for you?
Whatever event or situation is stressing you out, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Some of life’s most common sources of stress include:

Stress at work
While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even determine the difference between success and failure on the job. Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and out of the workplace.

Job loss and unemployment stress
Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve for all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds. Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem. While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many steps you can take to come out of this difficult period stronger, more resilient, and with a renewed sense of purpose.

Caregiver stress
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout. However, there are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.

Grief and loss
Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. Often, the pain and stress of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

How much stress is too much?
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.

Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:

Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.

Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more likely to knock you off course.

Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.

Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more likely to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.

Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.

Improving your ability to handle stress
Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).

Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.

Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Learn to relax. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.

Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.

Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the body

When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

The effects of chronic stress

Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats. If you’re super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation. And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.

If you tend to get stressed out frequently, like many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

  1. Depression and anxiety
  2. Pain of any kind
  3. Sleep problems
  4. Autoimmune diseases
  5. Digestive problems
  1. Skin conditions, such as eczema
  2. Heart disease
  3. Weight problems
  4. Reproductive issues
  5. Thinking and memory problems

Signs and symptoms of stress overload

The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

Causes of stress

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it. While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate. And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of caretaking overwhelming and stressful.

Common external causes of stress include:

  • Major life changes
  • Work or school
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family

Common internal causes of stress include:

  • Pessimism
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
  • All-or-nothing attitude

Top 10 stressful life events

According to the widely validated Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, these are the top ten stressful life events for adults that can contribute to illness:

  1. Death of a spouse
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Imprisonment
  5. Death of a close family member
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Job loss
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement

What’s stressful for you?

Whatever event or situation is stressing you out, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Some of life’s most common sources of stress include:

Stress at work

While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life. It can even determine the difference between success and failure on the job. Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and out of the workplace.

Job loss and unemployment stress

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve for all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds. Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem. While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many steps you can take to come out of this difficult period stronger, more resilient, and with a renewed sense of purpose.

Caregiver stress

The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout. However, there are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.

Grief and loss

Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. Often, the pain and stress of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

How much stress is too much?

Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.

Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:

Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.

Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more likely to knock you off course.

Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.

Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more likely to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.

Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.

Improving your ability to handle stress

 

Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better. Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).

Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure. Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life. If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.

Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Learn to relax. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.

Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.

Become the CEO of Your Own Brain

Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. The Mindful Self-Express

How to be the boss of your brain, rather than letting it master you

Posted Apr 02, 2013

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind.

Buddha

You may have tried to control your thoughts at one time or another. With the aid of self-help books, perhaps you really tried to “Be Positive” and “Show Negativity the Door.”  And this may have even worked for a while. But sooner or later, you probably found yourself back at the starting point. I’m here to tell you that there is another way. And that is to become the CEO of your own mind – skillfully directing it to live in harmony with the other players of self – body and spirit.

If you follow the six steps below, you will be the master of  YOU in no time.

STEP 1:  LISTEN AND ACKNOWLEDGE

Like all good leaders, you’re going to have to listen to your disgruntled employee, and acknowledge that you’re taking its message seriously. Minds, like people, can relax and let go when they feel heard and understood.  Practice gratitude and thank your mind for its contribution. “Thank you, mind, for reminding me that if I don’t succeed in making more sales, I might get fired.” “Thank you for telling me that I may always be alone and never find love and have a family.”  “These are important areas of life, and I need to pay attention to them, and do my best to take advantage of every opportunity that comes up. I also need to learn from past experiences so I don’t keep making the same mistakes.”

STEP 2: MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR MIND

You may not like what your mind does or the way it conducts itself. In fact, all that negativity can be downright irritating sometimes. But the fact is, you’re stuck with it and you can’t  (or wouldn’t want to) just lobotomize it away. In the Book, The Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris uses the example of the Israelis and the Palestinians to illustrate your relationship with your mind’s negative thoughts. These two old enemies may not like each other’s way of life, but they’re stuck with each other. If they wage war on each other, the other side retaliates, and more people get hurt and buildings destroyed. Now they have a whole lot less energy to focus on building the health and happiness of their societies. Just as living in peace would allow these nations to build healthier and more prosperous societies, so making peace with your mind – accepting that negative thoughts and feelings will be there  -that you can’t control them, can allow you to focus on your actions in the present moment, so you can move ahead with your most important goalswithout getting all fouled up. You don’t necessarily have to like the thoughts or agree with them  – you just have to let them be there in the background of your mind, while you go out and get things done.

 STEP 3: REALIZE YOUR THOUGHTS ARE JUST THOUGHTS

Most of the time we don’t “see” our minds. They just feel like part of us!  Dr Steve Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, uses the concept of being “Fused with your thoughts” to illustrate this relationship. To be fused means to be stuck together, undifferentiated. You feel like your thoughts and feelings are YOU and so you accept them unconditionally as the truth without really looking at them. “I’m thinking I’m a failure and boring – gee, I must be a failure and boring. Well. Isn’t that nice? Now I feel really wonderful.”  This kind of simplistic logic seems to prevail because we can’t see our own minds, so we have difficulty stepping outside ourselves and getting an objective observer’s perspective.

In actuality, our thoughts are passing, mental events, influenced by our moods, states of hunger or tiredness, physical health, hormonessex, the weather, what we watched on TV last night, what we ate for dinner, what we learned as kids, and so on. They are like mental habits. And, like any habits, they can be healthy or unhealthy, but they take time to change. Just like a couch potato can’t get up and run a marathon right away, we can’t magically turn off our spinning negative thought/feeling cycles without repeated practice and considerable effort. And even then, our overactive amygdalas will still send us the negative stuff sometimes.

STEP 4: OBSERVE YOUR OWN MIND

The saying “Know thine enemy.” is also  applicable to our relationship with our own minds. Just like a good leader spends his time walking through the offices, getting to know the employees, so we need to devote time to getting to know how our minds work day to day.  Call it mindfulnessmeditation, or quiet time. Time spent observing your mind is as important as time spent exercising. When you try to focus your mind on the in and out rhythm of your breath, or on the trees and flowers when you walk in nature, what does your mind do? If it’s like mine, it wanders all over the place – mostly bringing up old worries or unsolved problems from the day. And, if left unchecked, it can take you out of the peacefulness of the present moment, and into a spiral of worry, fear, and judgment.

Mindfulness involves not only noticing where your mind goes when it wanders, but also gently bringing it back to the focus on breath, eating, walking, loving, or working. When you do this repeatedly over months or years, you begin to retrain your runaway amygdala. Like a good CEO, you begin to know when your mind is checked out or spinning its wheels, and you can gently guide it to get back with the program. When it tries to take off on its own, you can gently remind it that’s it’s an interdependent and essential part of the whole enterprise of YOU.

STEP 5: RETRAIN YOUR MIND TO REWIRE YOUR BRAIN

There is an old and rather wise saying, “We are what we repeatedly do.”  To this, I would add “We become what we repeatedly think.”  Over long periods, our patterns of thinking become etched into the billions of neurons in our brains, connecting them together in unique, entrenched patterns. When certain brain pathways – connections between different components or ideas – are frequently repeated, the neurons begin to “fire” or transmit information together in a rapid, interconnected sequence. Once the first thought starts, the whole sequence gets activated.

Autopilot is great for driving a car, but no so great for emotional functioning. For example, you may have deep-seated fears of getting close to people because you were mistreated as a child. To learn to love, you need to become aware of the whole negative sequence and how it’s biasing your perceptions, label these reactions as belonging to the past, and refocus your mind on present-moment experience. Over time, you can begin to change the wiring of your brain so your prefrontal cortex (the executive center, responsible for setting goals, planning and executing them), is more able to influence and shut off your rapidly firing, fear-based amygdala (emotion control center). And, this is exactly what brain imaging studies on effects of mindfulness therapy have shown.

STEP 6:  PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

The pioneer of Self-Compassion research, Dr Kristin Neff, described this concept as “A healthier way of relating to yourself.”  And that’s exactly what it is. While we can’t easily change the gut-level feelings and reactions that our minds and bodies produce, we can change how we respond to these feelings. Most of us were taught that vulnerabile feelings, are signs of weakness – to be hidden from others at all costs. Or “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.”  These bits of common-sense philosophy were dead wrong! Authors,such as Dr. Brene Brown, provide us with a convincing, research-based argument that expressing your vulnerability can be a source of strength and confidence, if properly managed.

When we judge our feelings –we lose touch with the benefits of those feelings. They are valuable sources of information about our reactions to events in our lives, and they can tell us what is most meaningful and important to us. Emotions are signals telling us to reach out to for comfort or to take time out to rest and replenish ourselves. Rather than criticizing ourselves, we can learn new ways of supporting ourselves in our suffering. We may deliberately seek out inner and outer experiences that bring us joy or comfort – memories of happy times with people we love, the beauty of nature, creative self-expression. Connecting with these resources can help us navigate the difficult feelings while staying grounded in the present.

SUMMARY

To be a successful  CEO of your own mind, you need to listen, get to know your employee, acknowledge its contribution, realize it’s nature, make peace with it, implement a retraining or employee development program, and treat it kindly. It will repay you with a lifetime of loyaly and service to the values and goals that you most cherish.

How to Use Discomfort to Improve Your Well-Being and Transform Your Life

By Teddy McDonald, Contributor

Have you ever had that inner voice inside nudge you to do something you knew was going to be beneficial, but also difficult? One of those things that is tough enough for you to choose not to do it and stay in your comfort zone? We all have. There is an opportunity to go through that difficulty and get to the other side. We know that if we were to take said action we would benefit, but sometimes something holds us back. That something is going through the temporary pain, frustration and difficulty, even though we know there are greener pastures on the other side.

Here are a few things you can do to help yourself push through the pain, get to the other side, improve your well being and thrive! It’s time to get out of our little box and create a life far beyond our wildest imaginations. Without the extra push, we stay stuck and we settle for less than our potential.

Exercise is the perfect example of how we give ourselves healthy stress to get stronger. As you see, many of the people in the US and around the world don’t like to exercise even though all the science shows that you will feel better, live longer, and be happier. What do we need, to be hit in the head?

Changing your diet or cutting out a crutch is another tough thing to do, but you know that you’ll be better once you do it. Too much caffeine, too much sugar, too much food in general, all can be harmful, but some people don’t want to go through the pain and discomfort of giving it up to get to the amazing feeling of strength and vibrancy.

I recommend starting with small difficulties to get used to being in a tough situation, this is what yoga is all about. We create a safe environment to challenge ourselves, our mind body system learns how to deal with difficulty, and it becomes easier and easier over time.

Here are a few other things you can do to get the ball rolling:

Meditation

Sit for just a short time. Of course, you have to do something that’s challenging for you, so if you’re used to meditating, find something different. When I started my meditation practice, I couldn’t sit still for longer than a few minutes. After pushing through the tough times, I’m able to sit comfortably for 20-30 minutes and I love it. I feel the benefits all day long from a great meditation.

Crucial Conversations

I’m sure there is someone in your life who you’ve been avoiding or a conversation you’ve yet to have for one reason or another. Why are you waiting? This shows up in relationships a lot and sometimes people stay in relationships too long. I know I used to, but now, thanks to my wife and our communication, we make it a practice to deal with things as they come up. It’s definitely made our relationship better.

Travel to New Places

I love to travel and get excited about visiting new places, but I know that’s not the case for many people. If you’re one of those people, make it a point to get out of your comfort zone. Even if it’s a different section of your own city. Make a choice to do something out of the ordinary and you’ll always find that you’ve grown as a human being.

Be By Yourself

I know I’m guilty of checking my phone when Lauren goes to the bathroom while we’re at dinner, are you? Don’t lie. See if you can avoid that next time. Just sit, like we used to do, be uncomfortable in your skin and see what happens. I bet you won’t regret it.

There are a multitude of things we can do to push ourselves in a healthy way. The way muscles stay strong is through use of the muscle. You push it, it recovers, you push it a little more. The same is true for our psyche. There is a great cartoon that shows two booths, one booth has a sign that says ‘Uncomfortable Truths’ and the other booth says ‘Pleasant Lies.’ Guess which one has the huge line in front of it? That’s right, most people want to be told pleasant lies over uncomfortable truths. Don’t be one of the sheep in this world, take the road less traveled, you won’t regret it. I’m always here to help you along the way if you need some!

30 Behaviors That Will Make You Unstoppable

A lot of people are good at what they do. Some are even elite. A select few are completely unstoppable.

Those who are unstoppable are in their own world. They don’t compete with anyone but themselves. You never know what they will do — only that you will be forced to respond. Even though they don’t compete with you, they make you compete with them.

Are you unstoppable? By the end of this blog you will be.

Let’s get started:

1. Don’t think — know and act.

“Don’t think. You already know what you have to do, and you know how to do it. What’s stopping you?” — Tim Grover

Rather than analyzing and thinking, act. Attuned to your senses, and with complete trust in yourself, do what you instinctively feel you should. As Oprah has said, “Every right decision I have ever made has come from my gut. Every wrong decision I’ve made was the result of me not listening to the greater voice of myself.”

The moment you start thinking, you’ve already lost. Thinking swiftly pulls you out of the zone.

2. Always be prepared so you have the freedom to act on instinct.

“Just as the yin-yang symbol possesses a kernel of light in the dark, and of dark in the light, creative leaps are grounded in a technical foundation.” — Josh Waitzkin

Become a master of your craft. While everyone else is relaxing, you’re practicing and perfecting. Learn the left-brained rules in and out so your right brain can have limitless freedom to break the rules and create.

With enhanced consciousness, time will slow down for you. You’ll see things in several more frames than others. While they’re trying to react to the situation, you’ll be able to manipulate and tweak the situation to your liking.

3. Don’t forget your WHY on the path of success.

While pursuing big dreams, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day weeds. If you don’t continually remind yourself WHY you’re doing this, and WHY it’s important to you and other people, then you’ll get lost.

Additionally, as you become successful, don’t forget WHY you’re really doing this. Having nice things is, well, nice. But for you, it’s never been about the money, prestige or anything else outside of you. Take these things away and nothing changes for you. You’re still going to be pushing your personal limits and giving it your all. Give these things to you and they won’t destroy you like they do most people.

4. Never be satisfied.

“The way to enjoy life best is to wrap up one goal and start right on the next one. Don’t linger too long at the table of success, the only way to enjoy another meal is to get hungry.” — Jim Rohn

Even after you achieve a goal, you’re not content. For you, it’s not even about the goal. It’s about the climb to see how far you can push yourself.

Does this make you ungrateful? Absolutely not. You’re entirely humbled and grateful for everything in your life. Which is why you will never get complacent or lazy.

5. Always be in control.

“Addictions embody repetition without progress. They produce incapacity as a payoff.” — Steven Pressfield

Unlike most people, who are dependent on substances or other external factors, you are in control of what you put in your body, how you spend your time and how long you stay in the zone.

Act based on instinct, not impulse. Just because you could doesn’t mean you do. And when you do, it’s because you want to, not because you have to.

6. Be true to yourself.

Although 70 percent of US employees hate their jobs and only one in threeAmericans report being happy, relentless and unstoppable people purge everything from their life they hate.

Have the self-respect and confidence to live life on your terms. When something isn’t right in your life, change it. Immediately.

7. Never let off the pressure.

“Pressure can bust pipes, but it also can make diamonds.” — Robert Horry

Most people can handle pressure in small doses. But when left to their own devices, they let off the pressure and relax.

Not you. You never take the pressure off yourself. Instead, you continuously turn-up the pressure. It’s what keeps you alert and active.

8. Don’t be afraid of the consequences of failure.

“The idea of trying and still failing — of leaving yourself without excuses — is the worst fear within the fixed mindset.” — Dr. Carol Dweck

Most people stay close to the ground, where it’s safe. If they fall, it won’t hurt that bad. But when you choose to fly high, the fall may kill you. And you’re OK with that. To you, there is no ceiling and there is no floor. It’s all in your head. If something goes wrong — if you “fail” — you adjust and keep going.

9. Don’t compete with others. Make them compete with you.

Most people are competing with other people. They continuously check-in to see what others in their space (their “competition”) are doing. As a result, they mimic and copy what’s “working.”

Conversely, you’ve left all competition behind. Competing with others makes absolutely zero sense to you. It pulls you from your authentic zone. So you zone out all the external noise and instead zone into your internal pressure to produce.

10. Never stop learning.

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” — Alain de Botton

Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. If you’re pursuing a bigger future, then you’ll be failing a lot. If you’re failing a lot, then you’re learning and transforming and reshaping your brain.

When you look back every 90 days at your progress — by measuring THE GAIN rather than THE GAP — you’ll be stunned at all you’ve learned and accomplished. You’ll look back and be blown away by where you were and who you were. And how far you’ve come. This will bolster your confidence to continue stretching forward with greater imaginative leaps.

11. Success isn’t enough — it only increases the pressure.

“I firmly believe you never should spend your time being the former anything.” — Condoleezza Rice

For most people, becoming “successful” is enough. At some point or another, they stop focusing on the future and become content with a particular “status” they’ve acquired. The status, it turns out, was what they were really after.

However, when you’re relentlesssuccess only increases the pressure to do more. Immediately following the achievement of a goal, you’re focused on your next challenge. Rather than a status, you’re interested in continuous growth, which always requires you to detach from your prior status and identity.

12. Don’t get crushed by success.

“Success can become a catalyst for failure.” — Greg McKeown

Most people can’t handle success, authority or privilege. It destroys them. It makes them lazy. When they get what they want, they stop doing the very things that got them there. The external noise becomes too intense.

But for you, no external noise can push harder than your own internal pressure. It’s not about this achievement, but the one after, and the one after that. There is no destination. Only when you’re finished.

13. Completely own it when you screw up.

“Implementing extreme ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership anddeveloping a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”―Jocko Willink

No blame. No deception or illusion. Just the cold hard truth. When you mess up, you own it. And as the leader, you own it when your team fails. Only with extreme ownership can you have complete freedom and control.

14. Let your work speak for itself.

“Well done, is well said.” — Anthony Liccione

Cal Newport’s recent book, Deep Work, distinguishes “deep work” from “shallow work.” Here’s the difference:

Deep work is:

  • Rare
  • High value
  • And non-replicable (i.e., not easy to copy/outsource)

Shallow work is:

  • Common
  • Low value
  • Replicable (i.e., anyone can do it)

Talking is shallow. Anyone can do it. It’s easily replicated. It’s low value. Conversely, deep work is rare. It’s done by people who are focused and working while everyone else is talking. Deep work is so good it can’t be ignored. It doesn’t need words. It speaks for itself.

15. Always work on your mental strength.

“Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them.” — Josh Waitzkin

The better you can be under pressure, the further you’ll go than anyone else. Because they’ll crumble under pressure.

The best training you will ever do is mental training. Wherever your mind goes, your body follows. Wherever your thoughts go, your life follows.

16. Confidence is your greatest asset.

A recent meta-analysis shows that most people misunderstand confidence. Confidence doesn’t lead to high performance. Rather, confidence is a by-product of previous performance.

Confidence and imagination go hand-in-hand. The more confidence you have, based on small/large wins from your past, the more imaginative you can be with your future.

Hence, your confidence determines:

  • The size of challenges/goals you undertake (imagination)
  • How likely you will achieve those goals (commitment)
  • How well you bounce back from failures (flexibility)

17. Surround yourself with people who remind you of the future, not the past.

When you surround yourself with people who remind you of your past, you’ll have a hard time progressing. This is why we get stuck in certain roles, which we can’t break free from (e.g., the fat kid or shy girl).

Surrounding yourself with people who you want to be like allows you a fresh slate. You’re no longer defined by your past, only the future you are creating.

18. Let things go, learn your lessons.

“You can have a great deal of experience and be no smarter for all the things you’ve done, seen, and heard. Experience alone is no guarantee of lifetime growth. But if you regularly transform your experiences into new lessons, you will make each day of your life a source of growth. The smartest people are those who can transform even the smallest events or situations into breakthroughs in thinking and action.” — Dan Sullivan and Catherine Nomura

Being unstoppable requires carrying no unnecessary mental or emotional baggage. Consequently, you’ll need to immediately and completely forgive anyone who has wronged you. However, forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget. Instead, it means you integrate your new experiences into your daily approach so that you learn from your experiences and don’t repeat them.

19. Have clear goals.

“While a fixation on results is certainly unhealthy, short-term goals can be useful developmental tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy.” — Josh Waitzkin

According to loads of psychology research, the most motivating goals are clearly defined and time-bound.

Your goals can either be focused on your process/behaviors (e.g., I’m going to exercise 5 days per week) or on the outcomes you’re seeking (e.g., I’m going to have 10 percent body fat by October 2019).

For most people, behaviorally-focused goals are the better and more motivating option. But when you crave the results so much that the work is irrelevant, your aim should be directed straight at the outcomes you want.

Without question, the human brain appreciates tangible things to focus on. Numbers and events, according to Dan Sullivan, are candy for the brain. I agree. Goals framed as numbers and events are more powerful.

Numbers can be both process-oriented and results-oriented:

  • I will workout 60 minutes 4 times per week (and at least 150 times per year)
  • I will be able to run 10 miles in under 90 minutes by October 2019

The first bullet above is process-oriented, the second bullet is results-oriented.

You can actually turn the second bullet above into a tangible event, which can create anticipation and excitement.

  • By October 2019, I will have run 10 miles in under 90 minutes on the beach and afterward, eat at my favorite restaurant

Events can cause transformational experiences that upgrade your subconscious mindset. Events can be immersive and deeply memorable — and by creating deep memories, you shutter your former belief system.

As an example, my wife and I are currently trying to improve our marriage and connection. We are attending therapy and setting goals.

One of the EVENTS I want to create an experience with Lauren this year is to fly to Chicago and eat dinner at Alinea, a famous restaurant in Chicago we’ve both been wanting to go to. Given that we now have five kids and are super busy, it would be very easy to push that desired experience off.

But when you’re truly living your life, you don’t push stuff like that off. In other words, you don’t build your dreams around your life. Your build your life around your dreams. You don’t hesitate.

So, we’ll schedule it, buy our plane tickets, and then figure out how to make it real. If you don’t initiate action first, then you’ll always be left waiting for the perfect moment. It’s best to put yourself in a position where you must act. In my book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, I called these types of initiations that compel forward progress, “forcing functions.”

20. Respond immediately, rather than analyzing or stalling.

“He who hesitates is lost.” — Cato

The anticipation of an event is always more extreme than the event itself — both for positive and negative events.

Just do it. Train yourself to respond immediately when you feel you should do something. Stop questioning yourself. Don’t analyze it. Don’t question if it came from God or from yourself. Just act.

You’ll figure out what to do after you’ve taken action. Until you take action, it will all be hypothetical. But once you act, it becomes practical.

21. Choose simplicity over complication.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — Albert Einstein

It’s easy to be complicated. Most of the research and jargon in academia and business is over-complicated.

Cutting to the core and hitting the truth is hard because it’s simple. As Leonardo da Vinci has said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Very few people will give you the truth. When you ask them a question, it gets mighty complicated. “There are so many variables” or “It depends,” they say.

T. S. Eliot said it best, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Wisdom is timeless and simple. Learn wisdom and choose it.

22. Never be jealous or envious of someone else’s accomplishments.

Being unstoppable means you genuinely want what’s best for everyone — even those you would consider your competitors. Jealousy and envy are the ego — which operates out of fear.

The reason you are happy for other people’s success is because their success has nothing to do with you.

You are in control of you. And you are different from every other person. There is no one who can do exactly what you can do. You have your own superpower with your own unique ability to contribute. And that’s what you’re going to do.

23. Take the shot every time.

“If I fail more than you, I win.” — Seth Godin

You miss every shot you don’t take. And most people don’t want to take the shot. Fear of failure paralyzes them.

The only way you can become unstoppable is if you stop thinking about it. Just take the shot. Don’t do it only when it’s convenient or when you feel ready. Just go and make whatever adjustments you need after the fact.

Here’s what’s crazy — you don’t actually know which shots will go in. I’ve found this over and over. By being consistent, for example, at posting blogs, I’ve been shocked at which ones have gone viral. Almost always, it’s not the one you’d expect. But it would never happen if I wasn’t just taking shots.

Are you taking shots every day?

Are you trying stuff that could potentially fail?

At some point or another, life does kind of just become a numbers game. You have to be great at what you do. But you also have to stack the odds in your favor.

24. Seek results, but don’t get caught up in them. This will keep you stuck living in the past.

“Knowledge comes from the past, so it’s safe. It is also out of date. It’s the opposite of originality. Experience is built from solutions to old situations and problems.This is lazy. Experience is the opposite of being creative. If you can prove you’re right you’re set in concrete. You cannot move with the times or with other people.Your mind is closed. You are not open to new ideas.” — Paul Arden

When you start doing noteworthy stuff, there are benefits that can become distractions. It can get easy to “ride the wave” of your previous work. Keep practicing. Perfect your craft. Never forget what got you here. Results are based in the past. Don’t get stuck in a “status.”

25. Think and act 10X.

“When 10X is your measuring stick, you immediately see how you can bypass what everyone else is doing.” — Dan Sullivan

Most people — even those you deem to be “world class” — are not operating at 10X. In truth, you could surpass anyone if you radically stretch your thinking and belief system.

Going 10X changes everything. As Dan Sullivan has said, “10X thinking automatically takes you ‘outside the box’ of your present obstacles and limitations.” It pulls you out of the problems most people are dealing with and opens you to an entirely new field of possibilities.

When you take your goal of earning $100,000 this year and change it to $1,000,000, you’re forced to operate at a different level. The logical and traditional approach doesn’t work with 10X. As Shane Snow, author ofSmartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, has said, “10x progress is built on bravery and creativity instead. Working smarter.”

The question is: Are you willing to go there? Not just entertain the thought for a second or two and then revert back to common thinking. No. Are you willing to sit with 10X thinking? Are you willing to question your own thought processes and open yourself to believing an entirely different set of possibilities?

Could you convince yourself to believe in your 10X potential? Are you willing to undertake goals that seem lunacy, to you and everyone else? Are you willing to take the mental leap, trusting “the universe will conspire to make it happen”?

26. Set goals that far exceed your current capabilities.

“You need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You need to develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. If you think you’re unable to work for the best company in its sphere, make that your aim. If you think you’re unable to be on the cover of TIME magazine, make it your business to be there. Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible.” — Paul Arden

If your goals are logical, they won’t force you to create luck. Being unstoppable means your goals challenge you to be someone more than you currently are. As Jim Rohn has said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.”

27. Make time for recovery and rejuvenation.

“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.” — Dan Sullivan

When you focus on results, rather than being busy, you’re 100 percent on when you’re working and 100 percent off when you’re not. This not only allows you to be present in the moment, but it allows you the needed time to rest and recover.

Your ability to work at a high level is like fitness. If you never take a break between sets, you won’t be able to build strength, stamina, and endurance. However, not all “rest” produces recovery. Certain things are more soothing than others.

Recovering from my work generally consists of writing in my journal, listening to music, spending time with my wife and kids, preparing and eating delicious food, or serving other people. These things rejuvenate me. They make my work possible, but also meaningful.

28. Start before you’re ready.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb

Most people wait. They believe they can start after they have enough time, money, connections and credentials. They wait until they feel “secure.” Not people who are unstoppable.

Unstoppable people started last year. They started five years ago before they even knew what they were doing. They started before they had any money. They started before they had all the answers. They started when no one else believed in them. The only permission they needed was the voice inside them prompting them to move forward. And they moved.

29. If you need permission, you probably shouldn’t do it.

A mentor of mine is a highly successful real estate investor. Throughout his career, he’s had hundreds of people ask him if they should “go into real-estate.”

He tells every one of them the same thing: that they shouldn’t do it. In fact, he actually tries talking most of them out of it. And in most cases, he succeeds.

Why would he do that? “Those who are going to succeed will do so regardless of what I say,” he told me.

I know so many people who chase whatever worked for other people. They never truly decide what they want to do, and end up jumping from one thing to the next — trying to strike quick gold. And repetitively, they stop digging just a few feet from the gold after resigning the spot is barren.

No one will ever give you permission to live your dreams.

30. Don’t make exceptions.

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story of traveling one day and not getting in bed until 4 a.m. An hour and a half later (5:30), his alarm went off. He said, “Every fiber of my being was telling me to stay in bed.” But he had made a commitment, so he got up anyway. Admittedly, he had a horrible day and wasn’t productive at all.

Yet, he says that decision changed his life. As he explains:

“Had I bowed to my human, physical, emotional and mental desire to sleep in, I would have made that exception. A week later, I might have made an exception if I only got four hours of sleep. A week later, maybe I only got seven hours of sleep.The exception so many times becomes the rule. Had I slept in, I would’ve faced that danger. Watch those exceptions!”

Hence, Zig was unstoppable.

Conclusion

When you’re unstoppable, you will make sure to get what you want. Everything you need to know is already within you. All you need to do is trust yourself and act.

Are you unstoppable?

Having a Ranch AND a Life

by Dave Pratt

A friend included me in an email chain informing us of a farmer he knew who recently took his life. I don’t pretend to begin to know this man’s pain or anything about his situation. But the story struck me as beyond sad.

Responses in the email chain spoke of the stress of farming, peer pressure to follow traditional practices, financial stress, the personal health and the ecological consequences of reliance on ag chemicals, and more. I don’t know how much this man’s pain had to do with the farm and how much stemmed from other things. The emails made it seem like the farm had a lot to do with it. That’s understandable. Agriculture is stressful. Compounding the physical demands is the financial pressure, the uncertainty of weather and markets, the weight of expectations  to continue a multigenerational legacy, and the peer pressure to conform to the status quo.

After reading the emails I found myself sad and frustrated. Sad for this man’s pain and the unimaginable pain his family and others who knew him must feel. Frustrated because agriculture doesn’t have to be this way.

Please understand, this column is not about this farmer or his suicide. This tragic event is the trigger that got me thinking about an industry-wide issue. Rates of depression and suicide in farming and ranching are disproportionately high relative to other segments of the population. That seems particularly strange given that most farmers and ranchers consider ranching and farming to be a lifestyle first and a business second. If their farms and ranches were a business first and a lifestyle second, I think the emotional well-being of farmers and ranchers would improve. One RFP grad summed it up well when he said, “When we focused on our lifestyle all we did was work our butts off. When we focused on the business, our lives got so much better.”

We grow up learning that the harder we work, the more successful we will be. But as many farmers and ranchers work harder and harder, they fall further and further behind. If hard physical work were the solution to our problems, our problems would be fewer and smaller. Working harder is NOT the answer. In fact, it is part of the problem. We’ve become so busy working in the business that we don’t have the time or energy to work on the business. Of course, if we were to work on our businesses effectively, we wouldn’t have to work so hard in them.

There’s something else that keeps us from working on our businesses. I don’t think many farmers or ranchers know how. Growing up we learned how to grow crops and raise livestock. No one ever showed us how to run a business that grows crops and raises livestock.

The Ranching For Profit School is not a school on farming or ranching. It is a business school that teaches farmers and ranchers how to transform their farms and ranches into successful businesses. When participants  walk in Sunday afternoon, most own a collection of expensive assets and a bunch of physically-demanding, low-paying jobs. By the time they leave, they own a business. Until farmers and ranchers change this fundamental paradigm, they will continue to struggle economically, financially and emotionally.

Focusing on business before lifestyle won’t eliminate the stresses farmers and ranchers face, but it does put us in a much stronger, healthier position to deal with those stresses. I’m convinced that if farmers and ranchers embraced a business-first approach there’d be a lot fewer tragedies like the one my friend shared with me.

If you want to see how transformative the business-first approach can be, watch this video: VIDEO