How to Reduce Stress and Increase Productivity

by Jill Anne Yeagley, Program Administrator, New Mexico Lawyers & Judges Assistance Program

During a recent conversation regarding the practice of law in today’s challenging world, an attorney remarked that “Stress might be unavoidable, but I don’t have to let it run the show.” He went on to explain that serious health concerns in 2010 convinced him it was time to curtail his 60-hour workweek and learn effective stress-reduction skills. Like many successful and driven professionals, he initially found it daunting to make the necessary lifestyle changes because much of his self-image was tied to his work. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I used to brag I could count on one hand the number of meals I shared in a month with my family. Aside from an occasional game of golf, de-stressing typically meant having a couple of drinks before bed. Since I reduced my work hours and began practicing mindfulness (meditation), my health has greatly improved, I am more productive, and my life is much more satisfying! I still have stress— after all, who doesn’t? But there’s a lot less of it, and I’m better equipped to deal with it.”

Taking action now before stress sends you a personal “wake up call” gives you more choices, more control, and less negative consequences in the future. Not only has a strong body of research found connections between chronic stress and depression, anxiety, and alcohol/other drug abuse, but chronic stress has also been linked to heart disease, hypertension, insomnia, digestive disorders, memory impairment, and immune system dysfunction. The question is: Are you ready to do something about it?

If that’s not enough to motivate you, consider this: According to a recently released Yale University study, stress hormones that circulate through your body and brain cause the brain to shrink by eating away at brain tissue. “Stress is literally chewing miniature holes in your brain,” says Houston neuroscientist and author David Eagleman. While stress affects four areas of the brain, the most vulnerable is the hippocampus where learning and memory functions reside, followed by the frontal lobe which is critical for everyday functionality and decision-making.

Science now shows us that the brain can regenerate, although to what degree is yet unknown. There are many examples of individuals with depression or severe anxiety (often stress-related) who fear they have Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia because of their concentration problems, impaired decision-making, and noticeable memory deficits. Fortunately, treatment and stress-reduction training significantly improve mood, memory, and coping skills for most of these individuals, and regularly practicing stress reduction techniques can help many others ward off these concerns all together. But there is one caveat according to Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University — “You can’t save stress management for weekends or holidays. It has to be done daily.”

Article reprinted with author permission.

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