Why Don’t “The Most Stressful Jobs” Jive With the Highest Suicide Rates? What are we Missing? (part one)

 

Stressed exec

Each year CareerCast publishes its list of the most stressful jobs (http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-2016) according to the Jobs Rated report. And they are as follows. 

Jobs Rated Report defines stress in terms of 11 factors: travel, deadlines, working in the public eye, competitiveness, physical demands, environmental conditions, hazards encountered, the life of oneself or others at risk, meeting and interacting with customers and/or the public, and the potential for job growth.

  1. Enlisted Military Personnel
  2. Firefighter
  3. Airline Pilot
  4. Police Officer
  5. Event Coordinator
  6. Public Relations Executive
  7. Corporate Executive (senior)
  8. Broadcaster
  9. Newspaper Reporter
  10. Taxi Driver

What I noticed however, was that the jobs that were rated as the most stressful were not the jobs with the highest suicide rates. Below is a rank ordered list of the tops ten jobs with the highest suicide rates. The only occupation that is on both lists is Police Officer. 

  1. Physician
  2. Dentist
  3. Police Officer
  4. Veterinarians
  5. Financial Services Broker (Stock Broker)
  6. Real Estate Agent
  7. Electrician
  8. Lawyer
  9. Farmer
  10. Pharmacist

Okay, okay, I know the two list are different and the variables used to rank jobs based on stress level don’t map onto the variables that correlate with suicide. That’s obvious. But why not? 

Why is there such a huge disconnect between the way these two constructs are defined?

Would’t it make sense that those who report the most stress would also be at the most risk for suicide; or wouldn’t one expect at least some overlap? 

What is going on here? 

The short answer is “I don’t really know.” However, based on my experience as a clinician and researcher and the current research literature, I am willing to go out on a limb and give you an educated guess. 

  1. The disconnect is simply due to a lack of agreement on the operational definitions used to generate the two lists.
  2. The stressful jobs list is basically a job satisfaction measure and as the author points out, “employment satisfaction ratings do not necessarily predict whether someone is going to commit suicide” , A. 2015). Point well made…

…but I am still deeply unsettled by this.

While I completely understand that the lack of correlation between the two lists can be adequately explained by differences in measurement, it has prompted me to think about what the heck we are doing as a society. What are we doing as the professionals who are educated, trained and charged with helping people who are hurting? Do others just read this stuff and go on with their day never wondering why those who kill themselves are NOT on the list because they are NOT telling anyone that their job is stressful? 

So, I pulled from the list the professions with which I have the most experience. They are as follows: Airline Pilots, Corporate Executives (senior), Physicians, Stock Brokers, and Lawyers. 

Then I thought about each of these jobs and the things I know about them through my research, my clinical work and the current research literature to see if I could find common threads. I did. 

However, before I continue, I would really like to know what others think about this. When you think about Airline Pilots, Senior Corporate Executives, Physicians, Stock Brokers and Lawyers, what comes to mind?

What are the similarities between these people and the jobs they hold?

Why do Airline Pilots and Senior Corporate Executives report high levels of job stress but do not have high rates of suicide?

Why do Physicians, Stock Brokers and Lawyers fail to report high levels of job related stress yet have such high rates of suicide?

What are your biases?

What in the world is going on with that statistic about active military personnel? Given that the DoD consistently reports active duty suicides rates up to 48% higher than the average population, it seems impossible that “active duty military” is listed at the top of the stress list and missing completely from the suicide list. 

I will publish Part two of this article within two weeks and will include any comments and feedback. I welcome your thinking. If you are uncomfortable posting your comments here, please message me through my Linkedin account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorie-hood-6315a445

I am reaching out as a professional who is concerned about the biases toward those who are hurting, depressed, addicted, suicidal, and the ways those biases keep people from seeking the help they need. More importantly, I am reaching out as a human being who is as vulnerable as the next person to the stressors brought on by my job and career. If I ever show up on a list of occupations that put me at risk for suicide and am not showing up on a list that says my occupation is stressful, I hope somebody is paying close enough attention to question it.

 

Resources:

http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-2016

http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/01/06/top-11-professions-with-highest-suicide-rates/

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If you Really Want to Function at Your Best, Quit the Booze.

wine-glass-1185822_960_720

If you want to perform at the top of your game, give up the booze. Whether you are a litigating attorney, an executive running a company or negotiating a deal, an elite athlete, pilot or other top performer, in order to function at peak levels, abstinence is your friend. If you want to stay at those peak levels, under stress and when the stakes are high, abstinence is imperative.

The detrimental effects of alcohol on human physiology have been well documented. It adversely influences “neural function, metabolism, cardiovascular physiology, thermoregulation and skeletal muscle myopathy” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).

To measure the impact of abstinence on people’s ability to function, a team of researchers at New Scientist decided to work together with those at University College London Medical School to track changes in the body when individuals abstained from alcohol for one month. Their findings were a game changer.

Respondents reported that their sleep quality improved by 10%.

Participants also benefited from a whopping 18% increase in the ability to concentrate.

Take that one to the courtroom or boardroom!

As University of Virginia researcher Lorie Hood puts it, “Many people think that alcohol will help them cope with stress but the opposite is true. Alcohol disrupts sleep, causes cognitive ability to decline and actually increases anxiety” (2015).

Not only did the abstinence experiment show that when people give up alcohol they enjoy an increase in cognitive performance and better sleep, but they also gained improvement in overall health:

“Liver fat decreased an average of 15%, with some participants losing up to 20%.

Accumulation of fat in the liver is a precursor to liver damage — creating inflammation that can lead to liver disease. A reduction this large means that an almost immediate benefit of quitting drinking can help your liver slim down, dramatically reducing your chances of developing cirrhosis or other chronic liver conditions.

Blood glucose levels dropped an average of 16%.

This is incredibly significant among the benefits of the quitting alcohol timeline, since high levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream are a sign of heightened blood sugar and can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Once those levels get under control, the risk is reduced.

Total blood cholesterol decreased by nearly 5%.

Heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., can be predicted in part by examining patients’ cholesterol levels. While an average decrease of 5% in blood cholesterol might not seem like much, it’s quite significant when achieved as a result of cutting out alcohol.

While researchers and spectators alike guessed that quitting alcohol would have several health benefits, all were surprised at the sheer number and quality of positive outcomes that were observed” (Vella and Cameron-Smith, 2010, p. 781).

So, while you may read that there are some health benefits to drinking a glass or two of wine per day, many researchers and clinicians in the field of human potential and performance agree that alcohol consumption does not lead to increased performance. As Hood puts it, “If you want to achieve and maintain maximum, sustained performance in a high stress, high stakes environment, alcohol is not your friend” (2015).

 

Resources:

Hood, L. (2015). Peak Performance in High Stress, High Stakes Environments [Keynote Speech, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients2(8), 781–789. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2080781

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

 

What really happened to Marco Rubio?

marco rubio chris christie

What really happened to Marco Rubio when Chris Christie took him down? You remember, a few thousand republican debates ago? Whether you missed it, turned away because it was too uncomfortable to watch or need a refresher because you watched it like a bad accident but didn’t quite get enough, here it is: https://youtu.be/a0WUtNJAo9k

An analysis of the above referenced video is a great introduction to how powerful is the human stress response is and how it affects us at nearly every level of functioning. Our subconscious mind has evolved to keep us safe and it is largely our subconscious processes that determine what is “unsafe.” When we feel unsafe, whether we feel unsafe physically, emotionally or psychologically, our bodies respond. 

Let’s start with Rubio.

He is already nervous – let’s give him that. He is on live television, is a first term senator and, at 42 years of age, he is the youngest candidate in the presidential race. So, we can assume he probably has less experience with this kind of stress than most of the others. However, it is his body language and social signals that convey the high levels of stress he is experiencing.  

In watching the beginning of the footage, one can see Rubio display multiple signs of stress as soon as the moderator begins to address him. From lip licking, dropping his gaze, and breaking eye contact with the moderator, to body movements such as shifting his weight from on foot to the other, Rubio unconsciously displays his discomfort. As the moderator is winding down his first set of questions, Rubio is accessing his answer which he has formulated in the moment using both his conscious and subconscious minds and is preparing to respond. One can see this by the drop in Rubio’s gaze, the unconscious nod, the sense that his thoughts are turning inward and the slight down-turn to his mouth in what appears to be an internal signal of determination.

So far so good. 

Rubio responds the moderator’s questions and as he relaxes, he gives us the first round of his talking points, “… and let’s dispel, once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country.” Continue with Rubio Talking Points, Round #1 with a few extra “systematic efforts” thrown in. Audience applause. Rubio foot shuffle.

Enter Chris Christie.

Christie, appears calm and in control of his thought processes but also his body language, especially when he addresses Rubio directly. He turns and faces Rubio and delivers his challenge in a factual manner. When the audience applauds for Christie, Rubio becomes uncomfortable (slight smile, looks down, shifts weight). Christie continues and delivers several well-constructed soundbites of his own. Christie even has the presence of mind to remember to make direct eye contact with the camera and those of us at home a few times.

Back to Rubio. He holds his own and answers Christie’s charges for a few sentences and then goes back to his memorized soundbite, “let’s dispel with the myth that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing…” Rubio Talking Points, Round #2. 

Here is where understanding how the human brain responds to stress has everything to do with performance under pressure and why trauma informed performance consultants and are worth their weight in gold. 

Christie not only interrupts the moderator who has moved on to Jebb Bush, he cites for the record the rules by which he has the right to respond. Not too passive, not to aggressive-just enough push to reclaim the stage. One can only conclude Christie is in full command of his mental processes. That and the fact that he is able to think on his feet quickly enough to respond to Rubio’s memorized speech and use it to further his own, previous point (that Rubio is inexperienced and it shows in his robotic memorization.)

The audience explodes with cheers and “Ooo’s and Oh’s” and for all intents and purposes, Rubio is done.

Overwhelmed, Rubio transitions into his subconscious mind and out of the window of tolerance. All of the unconscious body postures and facial expressions resurface in full force and, as if on cue, Christie picks up on them and uses them again and again to verbally pummel Rubio. The Rubio Talking Points, Round #3, #4, and so on are looped again and again, even when completely out of context because they are stored in his subconscious mind and which is all he can access. By the time the Christie uses the words, “shame” and “ESP”, Rubio is reduced to shaking his head and (literally) giving the “palms up gesture” of universal passiveness.

 

Understanding the Traumatized Witness

By: Lorie Hood

One of the biggest challenges Lawyers face is witness examination. You know your job, you have done the preparation and yet, somehow, at some point your witness seems to transform right in front of your eyes. You know the story. Witness “X” has presented in your office as thoughtful, credible, and in control of *her faculties and when she becomes stressed through the process of being questioned, she falls apart. Not the “break-down, cry, ‘I need a minute’” kind of fall apart, but the morph into what seems to be a totally different person.

The once thoughtful and articulate person suddenly stops finishing sentences or completely loses her train of thought. The pitch of her voice goes up and her speech becomes rapid and choppy. She may become overly defensive and appear aggressive or say things that seem to come out of the blue. What is going on?

“How did my witness suddenly become a complete train wreck?”

If your witness has transformed into a different person right before your (and the jury’s) eyes, you could be dealing with someone who has unresolved trauma. And while it’s not your job to diagnose trauma, it is your job to present your case.

It helps to understand what happens physically, psychologically and physiologically when unresolved trauma is activated. It also helps to have a few of the terms psychologists and trauma informed researchers and therapists use:

1) Trigger:  Something that sets off a memory or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.

2) Trauma:  Something that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope and produces a sense of helplessness, fear of devastating loss or death.

3) Flashback: a sudden recollection of the past which can involve any of the senses. The key is that the person relives the experience and is unable to fully recognize it as a memory.

4)  Reptilian brain:  The oldest and most primitive parts of the human brain and is shared by all reptiles and mammals, including humans. It is responsible for coping and unconscious and survival functions.

When an individual’s prior trauma is activated (I prefer the term “activated” over “triggered”), their fight or flight response hijacks their brain and body. Cortisol and other stress hormones flood their system and their reptilian brain takes over. Depending on the circumstances and degree of the trauma suffered, a person may become mildly agitated and distracted or completely unable to function.

“How can I help my witness regain composure and focus?”

While each person is unique, most people will respond positively to the following:

  • Realize that your witness is triggered
  • Focus first on yourself
  • Take a slow, deep breath
  • Make eye contact
  • Move closer
  • Slow your speech
  • Lower the pitch of your voice
  • Lower the volume of your voice

 

  • Realize that your witness is triggered: Just by recognizing that your witness may be experiencing the triggering of unresolved trauma, you will shift your perception. Most of us feel compassion for others when we realize they are hurting or struggling. It is also helpful to understand that if your witness is triggered, their reaction and perceptions are largely, if not completely unconscious and out of their control.

 

  • Focus first on yourself: While this seems counterintuitive to most of us, it is one of the most powerful tools available to you. First, it is truly the only thing under your control and second, your level of tension, intensity or stress—what I call “rev” (as in revving an engine), has an impact on those around you. So, even if you are happy and positive, if you are all revved up, you will likely add to a person’s level of angst if they are triggered. So, focus on yourself and try, to lover your intensity (rev).

 

 

  • Take a slow, deep breath: One way to lower your rev is taking a deep, slow breath. I am talking about a letting go, relax your body kind of breath. If you are able do this so that it is obvious (to your witness), it will almost certainly help to relax him or her. Much like a contagious yawn, when one person takes a slow, deep and cleansing breath and releases their own tension and anxiety, those around him or her unconsciously relax as well.
  • Eye contact: One of the most powerful things you can do to help your witness calm down and find their balance is to gain and maintain eye contact with them. We are social beings and have evolved to connect with others. When we make eye contact with another person, our frontal lobes which are our higher order thinking centers, become engaged. And, at this point you can probably guess what happens. When an individual begins to engage their frontal lobes, they are no longer operating out of their reptilian brain.

 

  • Move closer: Moving closer does a very similar thing as eye contact. It engages the social part of your witness, helps to focus them and moves them out of their reptilian brain.

 

 

  • Slow your speech, lower the pitch of your voice, lower the volume of your voice: When someone is already feeling overwhelmed, whether by the stress of being on the witness stand or by truly being triggered, anything that adds to that feeling of overwhelm, is unhelpful. By slowing your speech, you give your witness the additional time necessary to think and process those thoughts, bodily sensations and signals and emotions.

 

Obviously, you won’t be able to do all of these things all of the time and they won’t all work 100% of the time. However, think of them as skills that you can hone. Practice seeing, attending to different aspects of each of the above outside the courtroom. Watch people closely. Watch yourself closely. Try to approach these skills and understandings of human psychology with some curiosity and experiment with them. Learn to watch for signals that someone may be triggered. What does it look like? What feeling are elicited in you? The better you are at reading and understanding people and the more aware you are of your own responses and reactions, the more powerful you will be as a litigator.

 

 

 

*The author has used “her” in the above example for ease of readability however, the information provided applies to witnesses of either sex.

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