Podcast Episode #33 from https://nuvisionexcel.com/podcasts/episode-33
Introduction: Hi and welcome to Excel Radio. This is your host and high performance expert, Dr. Nick Zyrowski. In this episode, I’m going to be speaking with the author of “The Stress Solution“, Dr. Ciaramicoli. Now Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli is a clinical psychologist who works with people from all over the world in order to help them balance their health through better psychology. He focuses on working with entrepreneurs, executives, CEOs CFOs and high performers. Now, Dr. Arthur, in this episode, speaks about a cutting edge tool that he believes is really a key to living a better life that is not full of stress. Now, Dr. Arthur’s book, “The Stress Solution“, if you have not received a copy of it, we are going to be giving one away in our NuVision Excel Community on Facebook. So if you’ve not joined our Facebook Group yet, surely do that quickly because we are going to be giving this book away once this episode is released. So, once again, you can just go to Facebook and type in NuVision Excel Community and we’re going to be giving away some copies of his book. Once again, Dr. Arthur really delivers value in this episode and I hope you enjoy it as much as us.
Dr. Z: So, one of the things I want to ask you right off the bat, Dr. Arthur, is, you write a lot of books. And why is it that you’ve decided to focus on stress and write a book on that topic?
Arthur: Well, I wrote a book on stress in particular because 75% of the visits to primary care physicians were due to stress. And 75% of Americans say that they suffer from stress either physically or psychologically every day. And 50% of people say, in America, say that they wake up every night due to stress. So I hear this word being referred to so often that I decided to really do some research and also use the experiences of my patients to write a book on it. But I’m very concerned about it because I think it has really accentuated dramatically in our culture in the last few years. So I wanted to address it and try to help people balance their lives. Understand really what causes stress and particularly what releases the stress hormone cortisol, because it can be so damaging, as you know. So that made me want to focus on this subject comprehensively.
Dr. Z: Yeah, and I think that there’s probably not a better time in history to start focusing on this question because when I work with entrepreneurs, executives, CEOs, CFOs. One of the things is that they all have in common is that they are all very stressed out. And why do you think it is that stress has risen so dramatically?
Arthur: Well, you know, Americans have fewer friends. We have fewer friends than we did 15 years ago. From 6 to 2 or 3. The trust levels in America are down. The prejudice rates in America are up. Our empathy for each other has been reduced dramatically. So we are not connecting very well with each other. And most importantly, I think people have to realize that stress is mainly caused by perception. Being able to perceive accurately is crucial to reducing stress because old biased thinking based on early conditioning distorts reality and causes unnecessary tension. You know empathy, which I focus on a great deal in this book makes it easier to recognize and change cognitive distortions. And what I mean by cognitive distortions are, you know, those ways of thinking that we learned early on that are not really based in truth. And empathy slows us down so that we can use the thinking part of the brain, not the emotional part of the brain so we can find out the way we distort reality, the reality about ourselves and about others, because it can cause stress significantly. And some of the cognitive distortions, for example, that people generally use are, generalizing, magnifying, catastrophizing, black and white thinking, minimizing, accentuating, projecting. These are all ways of perceiving that we learn early in life that profoundly distort reality. And when we know how to use empathy, which is basically everyday mind reading, you know, empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another person. It’s really being able to look beyond the surface of another person – into their heart and soul and really get to know them, know their motivation, and know what they’re trying – what is their purpose for interacting with us. It also teaches us who to get close to and most importantly, who to stay away from. But when we’re stressed, when we perceive inaccurately consistently, we produce the stress hormone cortisol. And if we do this on a regular basis, it causes negative thinking. It also causes weight gain, inflammation, hair loss, it breaks down muscle tissue, it causes flabbiness, it can cause depression, anxiety, and most importantly, it can cause memory loss. It actually destroys the memory neurons in the memory center of the brain when we have cortisol in our system. And one of the things, as I’m sure you’ve probably discussed, Nick, with your clients, is that it also throws off the blood sugar levels in our body. Which, cortisol, if it’s in abundance in our body, throws off the blood sugar level so that we crave sugary substances. And it increases fat cells. So it is very crucial in terms of weight gain, which I think is not mentioned very often in terms of many of our weight management programs.
Dr. Z: That’s interesting. So what you’re saying is that stress beyond just this mental piece of it, it really directly destroys your body through just making your hormone go haywire, more or less. Now, would this be a reason that many people suffer from adrenal fatigue as well?
Arthur: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s an excellent point because adrenal fatigue is often precipitated by ongoing stress and you work with a lot of high achieving people. I do as well and these people are good people, they are not mentally ill, but their lives are not balanced and their chemicals are not balanced and what I’m trying to teach people in this book (it’s mainly a workbook) is how to produce calming neurochemicals. For instance, when we give and receive empathy – this is absolutely fascinating – we produce the hormone oxytocin. And oxytocin is the hormone that women produce when they are pregnant. It is a miracle neurotransmitter. I mean, it reduces anxiety and cortisol levels. So it reduces cortisol. It also helps live longer. It aids in recovery from illness and injury. It promotes a sense of calm and well-being. It increases generosity and empathy. Protects against heart disease, it modulates inflammation. It reduces craving for addictive substances, which is very important. And most importantly, it creates bonding. And an increase in trust above is so it decreases fear, and it gives us a sense of security and a desire to connect with other people. So when we’re connecting, when we’re truly listening empathically, and as you know I have a chapter in the book on empathic listening because I think it’s so key to our well-being, that it actually produces this chemical that makes us live longer, we’re happier, and we are more able to open up and be vulnerable with other people. So empathy, giving and receiving empathy reduces – produces the chemical that makes us feel connected, safe and secure. Stress produces the neurochemical cortisol, which makes us feel fearful and biased. And you know when we produce cortisol, it’s been proven that we reduce our capacity to be empathic. So when we’re stressed, we can’t be as empathic with other people, which is critical. I mean, empathy, I think is the most important capacity for success, not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives. I mean, Stephen Cuddy said years ago when he was asked, ‘What’s the most important ingredient to success in the business world?’ he gave a one word answer. He said, ‘Empathy.’ The Harvard Business Review did a study a long-term study to try figure out what is the most necessary characteristics for their MBA students to be successful in the corporate world. It came down to two things. The ability to make people to feel heard, and the ability to make people feel understood. And that essentially is empathy.
Dr. Z: Now, in your book, you really took the time to differentiate between the words ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy.’ It’s my understanding that most people get those confused with one another. So, can you go in and explain the difference between those words, and really share with our listeners why it’s important to understand the difference and use these things properly.
Arthur: Yes, that’s a very important question Nick, because empathy is often confused with sympathy. You know, sympathy as opposed to empathy occurs when we identify with another person’s experience, even if we don’t know if our experiences are similar. Let me give you an example from a client of mine last week. She moved here from California to Massachusetts. I’m in Massachusetts. And she’s new to the neighborhood. And she had lost her father, her father had a fatal heart attack last year and she was very, very close to her dad, and she was devastated by the loss. And then she heard of her neighbor 4 houses up from her. Her father had just died. One of her other neighbors told her that. So she made a basket of food and she made – she put together some flower arrangements and she walked down to the neighbor’s house, and she rang the doorbell, and when the woman answered she said, ‘Oh my God, I heard you just lost your father. I just lost my father last year. I know you must be devastated. I was so devastated. I still can’t get over the loss of my Dad.’ And the woman looked at her, ‘I’m very grateful that you’re being so generous but I want you to know that my father left us when we were 2 years old. I never saw my father after that. I wouldn’t know my father if I saw him walking down the street. So I’m not devastated.’
Dr. Z: Oh wow.
Arthur: So, sympathy rushes in to console. It rushes in right away without really ascertaining the facts. As I said, it’s based on identifying, meaning that if whatever my experience is, I’m assuming yours is the same. Well, in this case, with two people who both lost their fathers with dramatic different experiences. So empathy rushes to console without having the facts. Sympathy – empathy waits to understand the actual facts. It’s very truth oriented.
Dr. Z: OK.
Arthur: So sympathy rushes in to console, empathy slows down to understand. And you know, in the book I talk about holy listening from – in the chapter on empathic listening, which is really listening to another person’s soul into a position of disclosure and discovery. That’s when you really connect and understand another human being. And it makes other human beings feel safe and secure with us and they want to give it back to us so we have a reciprocal connecting process that again releases the hormone oxytocin, which is that connecting love hormone that makes us feel good, secure and safe.
Dr. Z: OK. Thank you for clearing that up. Yeah, I know that there’s quite a difference there and a lot of people really confused about them. And you go through all the time to really differentiate it, so I wanted to make sure that we cleared that up on here. One of the things that you mentioned. I want to talk about a little bit is the, how stress actually raises inflammation levels. There’s a lot of talk about inflammation right now. We see this in science journals and they are calling it the root to all diseases and so what you’re saying is that this inflammation that leads to heart disease and cancer and all these really bad diseases that are plaguing pretty much the whole country right now with huge statistics, you’re saying that stress is actually a driver of that inflammatory process.
Arthur: Oh, unquestionably Nick. I mean, even just last week there was researcher in Australia who released a study they found that chronic stress increases activity in the lymphatic system, allowing cancer to spread 6 times faster. So that’s how damaging it is. And, yes it causes all those negative effects because cortisol, cortisol released, to a minor degree is OK, but when you’re releasing it every day, and a lot of people, it’s sort of like having a low level temperature, they don’t even know they have a temperature, and stress people, especially high achievers, are doing this all the time. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be a high achiever to be stressed. You could be sitting home all day, and just by the way you think, you could be creating stress and the release of cortisol. That’s why I keep emphasizing in this book that stress is mainly produced by what we see, and is what we see accurate? Even about ourselves and other people. That’s why I focus – one of the last chapters in the book is ‘Who Am I?’ You know, who – how have you come to know who you really are. Not based on what you learned early in life, but what you’ve come to know through objective feedback at this point in your life. You know, early in life, we create a novel. A fictitious story about ourselves that we write based on what we think is being reflected back to us from those around us, as though we are looking at ourselves in a mirror. But if the mirrors you’re looking into are cracked and inaccurate, you get a distorted view of yourself, as you would in a circus mirror. So as a result you create an inaccurate story about yourself and this story sets the stage for an irrational belief system. So we cannot change the story alone. We are all too subjective. We need to be in relationships with other reasonable, empathetic people. We need a group of people in our lives that will give us honesty back so that we can obtain an accurate view of who we are today and we can proceed in more objective, truthful ways. Because that early story, I’m sure you’ve seen this in your career, people come in and they say, ‘Oh, I’m not intelligent. I’m not smart. I’m not attractive. I’m not athletic. I can’t sing.’ So many things that they learned early in life that are untrue. And again, if you are looking into mirrors that have their own biases, you take on those biases, and that’s why I wrote a chapter in the book on prejudice and because, prejudice is a great part of this perceiving. That I give an example in the book of several statements that people made about their prejudices that we worked with. And, one of the statements, the first statement, I write about is, a fellow said to me, a CFO, I mean, a very educated who’s a good man, but he said to me, ‘A dog was barking outside of my office.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I had dogs when I was a kid, but we had a black family at the end of the street on our corner, and you know, dogs don’t like black people.’ And I said, ‘Dogs don’t like black people? What are you basing that on?’ And he said, ‘Well, my mother told us when we were kids that something about the smell.’ And I said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘I have an African American uncle and he has dogs and they love him, and we actually call him The Dog Whisperer because our dogs go to him immediately, and they love him as well, so I’m not sure what the facts are, what you’ve come to conclude.’ I said, ‘Did you ever introduce your dog to the African American family on the corner of your street?’ And he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Did you actually ever see your dog next to one of the people in the black family?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘So you’re basing this on what your mother told you many, many years ago. I mean, this is a 52 year old man. And he said, ‘Well, now I’m feeling foolish.’ And I said ‘I’m not trying to make you feel foolish. It’s just a good example of the things that we record on an emotional level that are not fact based about ourselves and about others. And now you know. Black people don’t have problems with dogs. That’s not true. It’s a myth.
Dr. Z: Right. There’s a gentleman I listen to, he was doing a public speaking event and when I went to him – his name is Steve Linder – he was saying that there’s so many people who say, ‘Oh, I can’t be successful because my dad was an alcoholic or they have all these stories they come up with and he was just like, these are just stories. Like, and as long as you hold onto those stories that like, make absolutely no sense, he’s like, it’s the stories you’re telling yourself, that’s the reason you can’t become successful. It has nothing to do with your dad.
Arthur: Yes, and when you have that self-voice, you know, when you have a critical self-voice, and inner voice you’re likelier to internalize stress. You blame yourself for situations that are out of your control. You have difficulty differentiating when the cause of a particular event is situational and when it is personal. You know, you’ve already developed negative thoughts about the stress you may encounter before it actually exists and this internal negativity makes you far more likely to overact – over-react to a stressful situation.
Dr. Z: Absolutely, I agree.
Arthur: On self-voice, because that very much determines what we perceive. And that’s why we have to rid ourselves of old biased thinking, old biased conditioning. And conditioning is encoded in a very deep part of the brain, and particularly in emotional situations, we release cortisol, which kind of cements these memories. That we have to unlock. I try to teach people that it’s not always finding out what’s wrong with you, it’s really unlocking what’s always been right with you, but you’ve kind of lost touch with.
Dr. Z: That’s very interesting. Very interesting. Now, in your book you were saying that this new combination of the power of empathy and what you refer to as CBT as measured through the science of neurochemistry will provide the most comprehensive self-help tool to date. Can you go into that a little bit?
Arthur: Well, as I mentioned earlier, empathy calms the emotional brain. So we can perceive accurately and thoughtfully. And being able to perceive accurately is crucial to reducing stress. That old biased thinking that we’ve been talking about that’s based on early conditioning because it distorts reality and causes unnecessary tension. So empathy makes it easier to recognize and change cognitive distortion. And cognitive behavioral therapy basically focuses on the present. Just focusing on the kinds of ways that we learn to perceive that are not accurate like, again, generalizing, magnifying, catastrophizing, and so forth. So in the book, I tell stories about how people learn about their particular cognitive distortions, how they correct them, and at the end of each chapter, I ask people which person did you identify? Which cognitive distortion have you learned to use? And then empathy, you know, combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, empathy calms the emotional brain so that we can understand where we distort and then we can unlearn. Because anything that’s learned in life can be unlearned. It may take time, but it can be unlearned. And this book is about unlearning the biased ways that you perceive yourself and others so that you can see the truth. The truth about yourself and you can perceive other situations and other people’s motivations truthfully. So the combination, the 3 components produce a synergy that enhances lives, I believe, because it reduces the stress and it’s also teaching us how to produce our own natural chemicals that create calm focused energy to do the best we can.
Dr. Z: From a neurochemistry standpoint, thought, this actually changes the brain so that maybe, if I’m understanding this right, at first it’s more challenging to do, but then once you actually get more or less the hang of it, it becomes easier and easier. Am I correct?
Arthur: Yes, it will become easier and easier. You know on some of my group sessions I’ve had people join whose spouses have told me they don’t have the empathy gene. You know, people who seem to have little empathy and once they are in group, and once they are interacting with people, they begin to learn how to slow down and to perceive themselves and others much more accurately. I had an example just a few weeks ago, Nick, where I added a woman to one of my group sessions who was going through a divorce and one of the women in the room asked her, ‘How come you joined the group?’ and she goes, ‘Well, I’m going through a divorce and I thought I might need to know, I’m 45 years old and I really want to learn more about how to relate to people and make better choices in my life. And one of the women went, ‘Oh my God, you need a hard-nosed attorney. I know somebody in Boston who you can use. I used him and you know, you never know what’s going to happen in court. Your husband could want to take you to the cleaners.’ And another man who had been divorced recently, he joined and said something very similar. And then one of the men was shaking his head, and I said, ‘Roy, how come you’re shaking your head.’ And he said, ‘ Well, you know, Art, 2 people have jumped to the conclusion that this guy is a terrible person and he’s going to take her to the cleaners, and we havening even asked Marie what the nature of her divorce is.’ See that was an empathic comment. And then he asked her. And she said, ‘You know, my husband and I, I was pregnant when I was a senior in high school. We were married at 19. We were both 19. And my husband is a very good person. And I do not hate him. I do not worry about him taking any advantage of me in this process,’ she said. ‘Because he’s a good person and I think he thinks I’m a good person. But we’ve been in love. We’ve always sort of been like friends. Brother and sister. We thought we had to get married back then, and we’d like to see if there are other opportunities in life. We both would like to know what it’s like to be in love, and to really love someone on a deeper level.’ And she said, ‘ We don’t need hard-nosed attorneys. We have a mediator, and right now we’re pretty much thinking we’re going to be divorced for under $3,000.’ So you see, the first 2 people jumped in with sympathy. The other person was waiting to understand the facts and he asked an open-ended questions. What is the nature of your divorce? And asking open-ended questions is the heart and soul of empathy. Because it doesn’t conclude. You know, closed-end questions. And a lot of times, questions are really statements. Like, don’t you need a hard-nosed lawyer? Well, that’s not a question. It’s really saying, I think you need a hard-nosed lawyer based on my experience. Which again is sympathy. Open-ended questions open the door to a person’s experience. Instead of asking – it’s sort of, instead of asking your teenage daughter, ‘honey do you really think your date was cute?’ you might ask, ‘ how was your evening with your new date?’ You know, one is implying an answer. The other is opening the door to another person’s unique experience. So as people do this more and more, for instance, the 2 people that reacted so quickly in this situation, they are learning that they’re reacting too impulsively based on emotion. The hurt of their own divorces. And they’re not really listening to the experience of the other person. So in a situation like that, yes, when you do it a few times, you come to realize your own biases. So, if you’ve only been divorced for 3 months and you, you know, there was an affair or something unethical involved, yeah you’re probably pretty raw and you ought to hold back your judgment about these situations because you know you’re more likely to read in your own experience rather than understanding someone else’s experience.
Dr. Z: Right, and really, what we’re talking about here is like, self-peace, more or less, you know so, in order to have self-peace and not tear your body down through the stress of the whole thing, then you need to just ask better questions, is where we’re going with this, right?
Arthur: When you ask better questions, when you learn how to listen empathically, which is why our youngest daughter says it’s the most important chapter of the book. She said, ‘Dad, you should have wrote the whole book about empathic listening because no one listens to each other anymore. We all talk over each other.’ Now, and yes, when we are able to slow down, and listen from an empathic, open-ended point of view, we produce calming neurochemicals. And when we produce calming neurochemicals we increase our health. Oxytocin and some of these other chemicals can be produced naturally. You know, we’re so medication oriented in our society right now that the high percentage of young people on antidepressants and ADHD medication, when we’re not really teaching people how to cope differently, how to perceive differently, so that the change is lasting. It’s not just by an external agent. You know, you can’t really, can’t cure an internal problem with an external solution. You have to go inside and find out, what is making me perceive this way. It’s like you and I looking at each other and you looking at me and going, ‘Oh, that fellow is tall, and he’s frowning, so he’s probably angry with me.’ And then you find out tomorrow that I have a migraine. I had a migraine yesterday. I wasn’t angry at all. So when you grow up with these kinds of sensitivities, it’s hard not to read in. And what we’re learning in this workbook, essentially, is to slow down and actually learn what is the truth. Empathy is truth oriented. It’s subjective. It doesn’t assume anything. It waits to find out what the facts actually are.
Dr. Z: Ok. So in the workplace too, the key is going to be not judging and approaching situations with like, sympathy, or just from looking at it from, you know, the outside in. But more or less going and asking some questions and trying to really figure out the whole situation before you pass judgment onto that situations and maybe get upset with it, more or less.
Arthur: Yes, exactly. I mean, the 3 keys to expressing empathy is: ask open-ended questions, to slow down, because empathy slows things down so that emotions can be tempered with thoughtful reflection, and to avoid snap judgments, just like you mentioned. Because empathy does not categorize people based on past experience, but sees human beings as always changing and evolving. You know, whenever I hear a couple say, ‘Oh, I know him like the back of my hand, or I know her like the back of my hand,’ I think that’s dangerous. Because then we stop listening. And people change and grow. You know, you may have been a democrat 20 years ago, and now you’re a republican. Or, you may have had one view of a certain issue and now you’ve changed. Or maybe you’ve changed your eating habits, or your exercise habits, or your view of exercise or health care. So, we are evolving human beings and when you assume that you’ve got it all down – and I think that happens in a lot of long-term relationships – and it actually can destroy the spirit of relationships and can certainly destroy the spirit of love. Because once a person feels like they are being categorized from ten years ago, they don’t feel like they are living in the present. And living in the present is where our energy comes from.
Dr. Z: Very interesting. So what are some of the tips and pointers you can give so that people can really start implementing this right away. Like, I know that we’ve discussed all of like, what you need to do. But how can somebody really, today, start living a better life through the solutions that you offer in your book?
Arthur: Well first of all, most importantly, Nick, is to realize that perception is the key to reducing stress. So you have to learn about where the biases are and the way you perceive from the conditioning that you’ve evolved from early childhood. And the key questions you want to follow and try to discipline yourself. And these hints are all in the chapter on empathic listening. Is again, ask open-ended questions. Make sure you’re telling yourself to slow down. Avoid snap judgments. Pay attention to your body and the other person’s, because empathy is an integrated mind-body response. You know, thoughts interact with thoughts and feelings in an empathic, nervous system response so, our nervous systems talk to each other. It’s like we have a remote control in our hands. And we know that we can produce calming neurochemicals by the way we talk and listen to each other. Or we can produce stress and cortisol by the way we talk and interact with each other. So talk and pay attention to your body and the other person’s physical reactions. And learn from the past. We need to understand our past so that our theories and old patterns do not interfere with understanding and perceiving. If you are unaware of your own biases from the past, your ability to perceive accurately will definitely be compromised. For instance, if you have a fear of anger because your father had a short temper, you may be overly sensitive to people you encounter who are passionate but not angry. So every time somebody raises their voice with passion, you’re going to interpret it as anger. So you have to unlearn that bias. And when you’re listening to people, let the story unfold. Every person’s story needs to proceed at its own pace. With empathy we can judge with surprising accuracy how fast or slow the other person needs to go because timing is everything. And if you are calm inside, you kind of know when to intervene. When not to. When to let a story unfold, or when it’s reaching its conclusion.
Dr. Z: Ok. Excellent. Excellent advice. And then, in your book, you have little, like, worksheets, or exercises that you can do in order to help you with this as well, correct?
Arthur: Yes, there’s exercises at the end of every chapter. I encourage people to keep a journal. And I also have questionnaires that I ask people to take in the beginning of the book. There’s a stress questionnaire, there’s an empathy questionnaire, there’s a performance addiction questionnaire. And then I ask you to take them again at the end of the book to see how you’ve improved and to see where you need to continue to focus to improve. And also there’s a take action recommendation at the end of each chapter and action that you need to take and with someone else that you’re close to, so that you can evolve in an interpersonal way. Because you know, change happens between people, not when we’re on our own, because again, we’re too subjective so I believe that in order to change, we need to take action that changes an active process, so there’s advice on how to do that at the end of each chapter as well.
Dr. Z: Ok. Now, when people are journalizing, is there a certain style or format that you suggest in order to help specifically reduce stress?
Arthur: Well, there are particular questions at the end of each chapter, Nick, that focus on stress reduction. First, identifying the cognitive distortions that you may be using. Asking questions that I ask people to write about in terms of what you perceived in the stories that I related from my own experiences with clients and so forth, and I tell some personal stories as well. And so it’s very directed. You’re given a structure to focus on but also then you have to do some work on your own.
Dr. Z: Ok. Excellent. Well, awesome and we thank you for coming onto the show and sharing this advice with us. I certainly could always use a little stress reduction in my life and I think that everybody can. And I know that my clients specifically need it as well. So we certainly appreciate you coming on and sharing this with us, because it’s gonna change some lives out there. So, if you haven’t, if you are a listener and haven’t read the book yet, I would highly suggest it because it’s going to help you, it’s going to help you get solutions to the stress that you are facing in your life. So that you for coming onto the show Dr. Arthur. And we really appreciate it.
Dr. Arthur: Thank you very much Nick. And if people want to know more about my work they can go to my website balanceyoursuccess.com.
Dr. Z: Excellent. Thanks again.
Dr. Arthur: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.