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Personal Directions

The Doctor's Consultation 

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Personal Directions:  Stress is different things to different people

By Christina Dodd,

This week I’d like to share some thoughts on stress that I have found, as quite often even though we know a certain amount about stress because we all suffer from it to some degree, it is always a good idea to get the facts as well.

Sean … writes: “Much research has been conducted into stress over the last hundred years. Some of the theories behind it are now settled and accepted; others are still being researched and debated. During this time, there seems to have been something approaching open warfare between competing theories and definitions: Views have been passionately held and aggressively defended.

What complicates this is that intuitively we all feel that we know what stress is, as it is something we have all experienced. A definition should therefore be obvious… except that it is not.

Definitions

Hans Selye was one of the founding fathers of stress research. His view in 1956 was that “stress is not necessarily something bad – it all depends on how you take it. The stress of exhilarating, creative successful work is beneficial, while that of failure, humiliation or infection is detrimental.” Selye believed that the biochemical effects of stress would be experienced irrespective of whether the situation was positive or negative.

Since then, a great deal of further research has been conducted, and ideas have moved on. Stress is now viewed as a “bad thing”, with a range of harmful biochemical and long-term effects. These effects have rarely been observed in positive situations.

The most commonly accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S Lazarus) is that stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”

This is the main definition, although we also recognize that there is an intertwined instinctive stress response to unexpected events. The stress response inside us is therefore part instinct and part to do with the way we think.

Fight-or-Flight

Some of the early research on stress (conducted by Walter Cannon in 1932) established the existence of the well-known “fight-or-flight” response. His work showed that when an organism experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it quickly releases hormones that help it to survive.

In humans, as in other animals, these hormones help us to run faster and fight harder. They increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They divert blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss if we are damaged. As well as this, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All of this significantly improves our ability to survive life-threatening events.

Not only life-threatening events trigger this reaction: We experience it almost any time we come across something unexpected or something that frustrates our goals. When the threat is small, our response is small and we often do not notice it among the many other distractions of a stressful situation.

Unfortunately, this mobilization of the body for survival also has negative consequences. In this state, we are excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This actually reduces our ability to work effectively with other people. With trembling and a pounding heart, we can find it difficult to execute precise, controlled skills. The intensity of our focus on survival interferes with our ability to make fine judgments by drawing information from many sources. We find ourselves more accident-prone and less able to make good decisions.

There are very few situations in modern working life where this response is useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach. In the short term, we need to keep this fight-or-flight response under control to be effective in our jobs. In the long term we need to keep it under control to avoid problems of poor health and burnout.

Stress is different things to different people. To a mountaineer it is the challenge of pushing physical resources to the limit by striving to achieve a demanding goal. To the homeward bound motorist it can be the hassles of heavy traffic and obnoxious exhaust fumes. To the student it can be exam pressure.

Most people respond to the word stress in negative ways. They see it as a destructive, debilitating force. However, not all stress is negative. The word eustress has been coined to describe positive stress. Eustress results from exhilarating experiences. It is the type of stress you are likely to experience when you inherit a large amount of money or receive an unexpected promotion or reward. Eustress is the stress of winning and achieving.

Negative stress is distress. It is the stress of losing, failing, overworking and not coping. Distress affects people in a negative often harmful manner.

We all experience distress from time to time. It is a normal, unavoidable part of living.”

Perhaps you are experiencing intense stress right now. Maybe you have a challenging job with a punishing workload, intense demands and over-tight deadlines. Or perhaps your boss or clients just keep piling on the pressure. Maybe problems with your coworkers or your team are making your life a misery, or perhaps you are just not getting the support you need. Or maybe you are increasingly exhausted as the things you enjoy about your job are submerged in a relentless flood of humdrum demands.

Manage both the sources and symptoms of stress and beat job stress starting now!

Our Stress Management MasterClass shows you how to tackle these problems at root. Where you have some control over the situation, it helps you to target the causes of stress quickly and effectively. Where you have no control, it shows you how to build robust buffers against stress. You’ll learn how to cope with intense pressure, win back control of your workload, improve working relationships, and live a happier, more relaxed life.

If you would like to contact me about our Stress Management Program or indeed any of our business and personal skills programs, then please email me at Christina.dodd @asiatrainingassociates.com

Until next time, have a great week!


The Doctor's Consultation:  Irritable Bowel Syndrome and how to pacify it

by Dr. Iain Corness

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS since we like acronyms, is an interesting condition. It is not a disease, and in fact tests for abnormalities come back reported as ‘negative’. Does this mean that IBS isn’t really in the bowel, but all ‘in the brain’?

Unfortunately, there is a school of thought in medicine that says that if all the tests come back negative, the condition is not real, only imagined. This is totally wrong. There are many conditions for which we did not know (or had not developed) the right tests. Until the last couple of decades, we did not have a definitive test for HIV - but the people had the ailment, even though we couldn’t identify it. We doctors must never forget to treat the patient, not the test results. (I thank my eldest son, Dr. Jonathan, for that sage little homily.)

Getting back to IBS, I repeat that it is not a disease, but can be a very debilitating condition, characterized by some of the following (but not necessarily all) symptoms: cramping pain in the stomach area, painful diarrhoea or constipation (now that’s confusing), mucus in the stool, swollen or bloated belly, increased gas and the feeling that you are unable to totally empty your bowel.

If IBS is not a disease, what is it? It is a functional disorder, which means that the bowel doesn’t work as it should. What appears to happen is that the nerves (called Auerbach’s Plexus from memory) and the muscles of the bowel are extra-sensitive. For example, the muscles may contract too much when you eat. These contractions can cause cramping and diarrhoea or rapid bowel movement during, or shortly after, a meal. Or the nerves can be overly sensitive to the dilating of the bowel (because of gas, for example). Cramping or pain can be the result.

Any condition that does not have some nice finger-pointing test result is then too often put into the ‘psychosomatic’ pigeonhole. “It’s caused by stress,” say the non-medical ‘experts’. In actual fact, emotional stress will not cause anyone to develop IBS. However, if you already have IBS, stress can trigger the symptoms, just as it can for a myriad of medical conditions. Stress does not cause the problem, but it can make it appear worse. In fact, the bowel can overreact to all sorts of things, including food, exercise, and hormones (women with IBS have more problems around the time of their menses).

Food and drinks that tend to cause symptoms include milk products, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, and fatty items. In some cases, even eating a large meal will trigger symptoms.

Another complicating factor is that the symptoms of IBS can also mimic other gastro-intestinal problems, which is why in the ‘work-up’ there may be a barium enema or lower GI (gastro-intestinal) series. Barium is a thick liquid that makes the bowel show up on X-ray. Another examination is an Endoscopy. This is where the doctor inserts the ‘black snake’ into your bowel and can look through the small camera on the tip.

Although there is no ‘magic bullet’ to cure someone of IBS, there is treatment that will help. This includes dietary changes, anti-spasmodic medicine and stress relief if you are a highly stressed person. As a starter, fibre (found in bran, bread, cereal, beans, fruit, and vegetables) reduces IBS symptoms - especially constipation, because it makes stool soft and easier to pass, but you have to identify the ‘triggers’. (And it ain’t Roy Rogers!)


Agony Column

Dear Hillary,
Can nothing be done about the song taew drivers? For a tourist city they give the place a bad name with their stand-over tactics and demands for fares much greater than should be the case. No wonder the foreign tourists look for taxis, but unless they have their wits about them they will again be quoted exorbitant fares, rather than using the meters. For a real fun time, try a tuk-tuk which will attempt to take you straight to the nearest jewelry shop that pays for their fuel. Until our city fathers meet the song taew monopoly head on and produce a real public transport system, this will always be a third world tourist destination.
“Where you go?”

Dear “Where you go?”
Unfortunately you are quite correct, my Petal. The song taews which do not have any fixed or marked destination will always be a turn-off for tourists, as the majority of the drivers do not speak another language. Why would you expect them to get on transport with unmarked destinations? Perhaps it is time for the TAT to get involved and issue ‘tourist bus’ licenses for drivers who meet a minimum standard in communication. Hillary has given up with the song taews, taxis and tuk-tuks, and uses motorcycle taxis when possible (still none in Chiang Mai). They appear to be a friendlier bunch and will heed the “cha-cha” (slowly) instructions. You do have to barter first, but that’s part of the fun of living in the ‘third world’.
Dear Hillary,
This is a very embarrassing problem, so you will forgive me if I don’t attach my real name. I have suffered from night-time wind for many years. My mother even tells me I had it when a child. Living on my own it is not too much of a problem as I can let one rip whenever I like, but I have recently taken up with a lovely young lady and it is obvious that she would be willing to spend the night with me. It is me that is holding back, as I don’t want her to hear the Charge of the Light Brigade and be put off by the musical items that my bottom can produce.
Flatulent

Dear Flatulent,
You have my sympathies, as opposed to my symphonies. You have several choices, however, Flatulent my dear. You can opt to remain celibate and join the clergy, but your flatulent fits might be misunderstood as music to some cleric’s ears. You can train yourself to be able to play the Charge of the Light Brigade, and make money from your musical bottom. A French entertainer did just that. Called Le Petomaine he could extinguish a candle at one metre. You can have a look at your diet and avoid milk products and green beans and see if that helps. Finally, you can always get the young lady concerned to ‘burp’ you before settling down for the night. That is what your mother would have done.
Dear Hillary,
Every day I see these Thai girls sitting sideways on the rear of some motorcycle and wonder where did this custom come from? China adopted bicycles, but Thailand seems to have adopted the motorcycle. Do you know why this is so, and when did the Thai girls start to ride pillion in this strange way? I must say I have never seen one fall off, but I suppose they must. Any answers are appreciated.
Pillion Pete

Dear Pillion Pete,
An interesting observation. China, I believe, adopted pedal power because of financial reasons, while the Thais have always been better off and adopted the gasoline engine for boats, cars, trucks and personal transport (motorcycles) very early in the history of the gasoline engine. The Thailand infrastructure was also well developed early, so the itinerant motorcyclist could always find a gas station to get his or her fuel. However, the art of riding sideways came long before the nasty two strokes from Japan (smelly motorcycles and karaoke bars were Japan’s revenge after the war, I am sure) as Thai women have always been very aware of their femininity. Figure hugging sarongs and skirts are not new. They were wearing them over 100 years ago, and try slinging your leg over a buffalo in a tight skirt, Pillion Pete my Petal. No, you can’t, so they sat side-saddle on the buffaloes. Sitting side-saddle on a motorcycle was a very natural progression, otherwise the skirt would have to be hoisted around the waist to get on. Something you men wouldn’t mind, but something the naturally shy Thai woman would not countenance. Take a look at the clothing the girls are wearing. Tight skirts means side-saddle, while jeans means sitting astride the nasty, smelly device. As far as your question, “Do they fall off?” the simple answer is yes they do, but not because they lost their balance. They only fall off when the rider (or the person nominally in control of the machine) loses balance, and down they go, including the two girls sitting opposite each other, but still side-saddle. Thank you for a ‘real’ question for once!


Camera Class:  Action stations for Still Life photography

by Harry Flashman

One of the most amazingly creative and satisfying aspects of photography can be Still Life shooting. The ability to position and light a subject to produce a pleasing result can fill up an entire day. In fact, the pros can take a couple of days to get a still life shot just right. That’s right. A couple of days! No exaggeration.

You see, there are so many aspects to be covered in still life photography. It is not just a case of placing the subject on a sheet of paper and pushing the button. Still life photography teaches you every important aspect of the artistic side of photography, as well as honing up your basic photographic skills.

The first good thing about still life shots is the subject doesn’t complain and tell you to hurry up and “Is my mascara smudged?” You can also just pick up the subject and move it in any direction to suit the shot. You don’t have to ask for permission. Oh yes, there are many advantages in having a silent subject!

Let us begin with lighting. The secret to all still life shots is to have two light sources. This can be daylight plus flash, two flashes, electric lights, daylight and a mirror - but you need two. One to basically light the subject and the other to light the background.

Lighting the background isolates the subject from the background and makes your subject the “hero” in the shot.

The other secret in the lighting is to produce a diffused light source. With un-diffused light, you will get far too many distracting shadows, which with small tabletop objects can ruin the overall effect. You can diffuse your lighting by shining it through some scrim cloth, transparent net curtain material or through some frosted plexiglass - the sort of material they have over fluoro lights, for example.

The next important item in still life photography is your own eye. You will find there are even books on the subject, but what you have to do is to look at your tabletop and arrange the items in a manner that is pleasing to your eye. Do you want them overlapping, or at some distance from each other? Generally there is one dominant item - bring it to the foreground and then arrange the supporting items after that. Some overlap generally works well.

Having got that far and you are now pleased with the composition, you then have to look through your camera. Help! It doesn’t look the same as it did with the naked eye! What’s gone wrong? It is because of the differences between the lens and your eye’s focal length. You now have to look through the camera and adjust the tabletop items to produce the pleasing composition you saw with your own eye. Yes, this takes time, and now you can begin to see why the pros take so long!

After you have the composition to your satisfaction - you have to light it. This is where daylight or tungsten light becomes easier than flash - at least with the sun’s (filtered) rays or diffused tungsten you can see what you are going to get. (In the pro studio, the flash units have tungsten “modelling” lights so that you can get the idea of how the flash will illuminate the subject, before popping the shutter.)

Generally, I light the background first, then bring in the foreground (subject) lighting, carefully noting “spill” of one light source into the area of the other. Again, this can take hours! In fact, you can change the whole look of a table-top scene just with the balance of lighting used.

Remember too, that the exposure settings used in the camera depend upon the foreground lighting (not the background), and for most situations (but not all) the background can be brighter than the foreground, to “wash” it out a little. But again this is experimentation.

No, still life photography is not easy, even though it sounds straightforward. Perhaps it is easier to help the model fix her mascara after all!


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

By Dr. Byte, Citec Asia

My absence from these pages hasn’t meant that I haven’t been busy researching and working hard. In my last column, I advised that Alta Vista and AlltheWeb are about to be deceased. In this week’s column, I want to share some easier ways to deal with your web based (and also POP3) e-mail. I receive many enquiries and complaints about e-mail performance, spam and internet connections. The answer to your e-mail frustrations may be answered below.

Q. Dear Dr Byte

I am really fed up with my Hotmail e-mail account. When I started using Hotmail (circa 1996 for those of us oldies who can remember that far back), I was one of only a few. I was also a happy ICQ user back in those heady days.

But since then, Microsoft has bought both companies and now Hotmail is arguably the world’s largest free e-mail server and ICQ, well ICQ has grown the same way. I’m not knocking Microsoft for some good business decisions, but from my point of view, always having log in problems and competing with millions of others for 3mb of space for my e-mail is a pain.

Can you suggest any other ways to manage my e-mail? Surely there are some choices that will allow me to continue to use Hotmail, or must I head down the track of opening an account with Loxinfo, KSC or similar ISP?

Frustrated and irritable

Koh Samui

A. Dear frustrated,

There are easier ways to deal with Hotmail or Yahoo Mail. These nifty little applications will fetch mail from just about all possible sites for you to read, reply and can as spam. You shouldn’t be repeatedly and laboriously logging into the web site where you get your e-mail from.

POP3 boxes are both the traditional and arguably the best way to receive your email. You download incoming messages into software on your computer, such as Outlook, Eudora and so on. You read and answer the messages there, and the program automatically sends back your replies.

Normally, people seem to log in to their Internet provider and download every message on their server, spam, viruses and marketing gibberish right along with the mail.

Or they log in laboriously to their Hotmail or Yahoo, Thai.com or other account, waiting for the huge time lag as they click on this message to read and probably not answer, then delete it and do it again for the next message, over and over whether it’s nasty come-ons for sex sites that Hotmail employees seem to love, or legitimate email.

These applications sit between you and that POP3 process. You can see copies of your mail quickly and temporarily. Typically, you get to dump the spam, advertising and - in almost all cases - recognise and delete viruses and worms as well. You can also write quick replies to very urgent or very brief email.

Mailmoa is a quick way to see and deal with the fluff and stuff in your mailbox, discard the garbage, whip off quick answers to the frivolous or emergency email. Then you can download your email or log in and deal with the weighty email.

There is even an address book.

Mailmoa is a system-tray based e-mail notification utility that supports unlimited accounts (both POP3 and some popular web-based accounts, including Hotmail .com, Lycos.com, E-mail. com, Mail.com, Usa.com) and shows all the mail content for all the different accounts fast without mouse clicking (called the ‘Quick View’). Mailmoa features a spam filtering function. It uses a pre-programmed set of filters, as well as spammers’ e-mail addresses that you add to a database.

You can download this free application from http://www.moazon.com/english/index.htm and this gets 4 out of 5 stars (and they offer Mailmoa in the following languages: Chinese GB, Catalan, Brazilian Portuguese, German, Spanish, French, Italian and of-course English).

There is another neat little application called ePrompter and this is an email monitor that checks, presents and allows you to write quick answers to email at your Internet provider, Hotmail, Yahoo and a few other webmail places. ePrompter automatically and simultaneously checks and retrieves your email messages from up to sixteen password protected email accounts such as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Earthlink, Email.com, iName, Juno, Lycos, Mail.com, Mindspring, MSN, Netscape, POP3, OneBox, Rediffmail, Switchboard, USA.net and hundreds of other email domains.

You can download a free version from http://www .eprompter.com/ and if you like the program, make a donation. This application gets a 3 out of 5 stars.

POP3 Easy runs in your system tray (the area next to the clock on your computer). With just a few configuration settings, POP3 Easy will automatically check your mail, including your Hotmail or Yahoo account, as often as you like. When you’ve got new email you’ll be reported which account has new email. You will see the sender, the subject, the date and time and the size of all the messages. When new e-mail arrives, a flashing icon appears in your system tray.

POP3 Easy monitors an unlimited number of POP3 mailboxes and Hotmail and Yahoo email. It can check unlimited numbers of email accounts. You can customize the email notification and check your email accounts at any time you want. It connects you automatically to Hotmail or Yahoo email accounts inbox. You can see all your new emails from all your accounts in one window. Retrieve e-mail behind a firewall. It’s free and it’s easy. It is far less talented than Mailmoa but POP3 Easy can monitor your mailboxes and lets you know when you have new mail, just like Mailmoa. But it reads and displays only basic information about each incoming message, at which point you have to make a yes-no decision: Delete it or leave it.

This can be extremely useful considering you’re probably getting 60 to 80 spams a day by now. Many of these are easily recognisable by sender or subject line or both. E-mail offering to give you a loan for a retirement home if you sign up for bigger extension is better discarded immediately and not granted the respect of being downloaded to your PC and then trashed. And anyone who has had a Hotmail account for a few days is already familiar with the sort of message that asks the once entertaining and now tiresome, even disgusting question, “Are you looking for hot hunks?’’ Click-gone, with POP3Easy.

You can download POP3 easy from http://www.adera .be/en/products/pop3easy .cfm and this application also gets 3 stars out of 5.

Dr Byte appears in Chiang Mai Mail every 2 weeks and if you have any questions or suggestions you would like to make, you can contact me at Dr Byte, Chiangmai Mail.