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Newsletter of the Society for Technical Communication, San Francisco Chapter
October/November 2004

August 2004 Meeting -- Developing a Healthy Response to Stress
Presented By Richard Pinneau
Reviwed by Alison Gemmell

Dr. Richard Pinneau, a national stress management and wellness consultant for WellPath Resources, LLC, took us on a stress-reduction journey during our August 18th San Francisco Chapter STC meeting.

"Do you hear that bell ringing?" said Pinneau. We all held our breaths while listening for the bell. "We often don't know we're holding our breath," said Pinneau. "But holding your breath under severe stress is one of most damaging things you can do. It agitates your brain waves and decreases your circulation." In Pinneau's experience, deep breathing is the fastest method to produce a sensation of relaxation. "Stress in inevitable," said Pinneau. "But distress is optional."

Rate Your Stress Levels 0 to 10

Pinneau asked our members to list typical symptoms of stress. Then, at the beginning of his presentation he asked us to assign stress levels to each of our symptoms. At the end of his presentation, he asked us to reassess those stress levels. Zero meant no stress, 10 meant "dial 9-1-1." Pinneau's stress assessment list included the following signs of stress:

Practice Breathing

"Slow, soothe, and deepen your breaths," said Pinneau. "If you breathe from your abdomen instead of your middle rib or chest area, you'll increase your circulation. Normal breathing is about 15 breaths per minute. Slowing that down to 1 or 2 breaths per minute is the fastest way to drop adrenalin levels and feel less stressed."

Pinneau invited us to practice a deep breathing exercise with him:

  1. Sit upright in a chair with your feet on the floor; get comfortable.
  2. Rest your arms on your legs, face your palms up, and stretch your shoulders back to loosen them up.
  3. Exhale all the air from your lungs.
  4. Breathe in a deep, abdominal breath for 5 slow counts.
  5. Hold the breath for another 5 counts. Drop your shoulders as you hold the breath.
  6. Exhale for a final 5 counts.
  7. Breath normally for several breaths, keeping your mind focused on the breathing.
  8. Repeat steps 3 through 7 as many times as needed to feel less stressed.

After practicing our breathing with Pinneau, we found we were less tired, less worried, and feeling less pain.

Attach the Breathing Response to Stress Triggers

To combat stress symptoms, Pinneau recommended identifying our stress triggers and practicing deep breathing as a response to those triggers. "Deep, slow breathing is the fastest tool to reduce discomfort in 30 to 60 seconds. In our society, our self-imposed expectations sometimes sound like 'More, Faster, Higher, Harder.'" A member of the audience asked, "How do I make sure I'll respond the right way in a stressful situation? How do I make sure I don't revert to old habits?" "Practice this technique when you're not under stress," said Pinneau. "Find your stress trigger and change your response. Break your routine." Pinneau practiced deep breathing while driving in North Carolina commuter traffic. Eventually he noticed that his automatic response to a green street light was not a stressful, hurry-up-and-get-there response, but a relaxed, deep breathing response.

"Try putting a gold dot or a 'Breathe' sign on your telephone to trigger a deep breathing response," said Pinneau. "Attach something fuzzy or something that feels different on the phone so that when the phone rings, it will trigger you to take the following steps:

"You'll find that when you say 'hello' people will hear a more relaxed, even, deeper voice."

Try Key Stress Management Tips

Pinneau provided a quick list of stress management tips at the end of his presentation. The tips included:

For those of us experiencing increased stress in our work and personal lives, these tips can help us intervene with our minds and substitute healthy responses to stress triggers. More suggestions for reducing stress are available at Pinneau's web site,

Alison Gemmell is a senior technical writer with a chemical engineering degree. As an engineer, Alison helps companies clean up polluted sites and comply with air, water, and hazardous waste regulations. As a technical communicator, Alison improves communication within a company and with external customers by researching and writing proposals, project plans, specifications, training manuals, user guides, policies and procedures, and operation and maintenance manuals.

Copyright © 2004 by the Society for Technical Communication, San Francisco Chapter ( This article may be reprinted in another STC publication under the provisions of the chapter's copyright policy.

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