Saturday, November 21, 2015

Just feel it [period]

We lost our dog Q (short for "Questionable Lady") a few weeks ago. Our poor girl suffered a stroke—which I hear is rare for dogs. She seemed to recover for a few weeks afterward, but then she developed a complication that left her unable to eat. As all pet owners understand, even though we wanted very much to prevent her from suffering, it was very hard to say good-bye.

In the days that followed, there were moments of pain when we were reminded of Q: seeing her folded up cage, reaching for two leashes instead of one, and so on. Also, there were doubts. Occasionally, I wondered if I'd gotten her care soon enough after her stroke. Was there anything else I could have done? Did we make the right decision to let her go when we did?

One time while I was taking a nap, I remembered how Q liked to curl up in a ball behind my knees as I was sleeping on my side. In an attempt to comfort myself, I imagined her snuggled in there right at that moment. It was an attempt to feel as if she was still with us, in part. I did feel some relief, and I smiled.

The next time I took a nap, I tried to imagine Q's presence again, and...well...it didn't work. It didn't comfort me. My mind became unsettled, and it bounced from attempting to invoke pleasant memories of her to second guessing our recent decisions. 

Two things occurred to me then. The first is that this was a reminder of how I over relied on fantasy to comfort myself when I was a child growing up with my alcoholic father in a very chaotic, unpredictable home. It was my main method for feeling in control and having some power.

When I played basketball in the back yard, I was playing against Larry Bird in the NCAA finals. When I hit the tennis ball against the brick wall of the elementary school for hours at a time, I was hitting a passing shot against Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe to win Wimbledon. I drew my own comics. I pretended I was a rock star as I sang along with my favorite songs. 


It took me well into adulthood to use less fantasy and to use better, more mature ways to feel competent and secure. 

The second thing that occurred to me was that I was mentally scrambling, trying to find a way not to feel hurt about Q's passing. So, instead of staying stuck up in my head, I took a few deep breaths, and I made a gentle request of myself: Quiet down and simply FEEL. Just "miss her," OK? Nothing more, nothing less.

Just miss her.

Once I calmed myself and just sat with my feeling, it was more manageable. She's gone. I can't undo or redo the past. I feel sad. But it's OK. I'll manage just fine.

Since then, a wave of sadness will wash over me from time to time, but it doesn't last long. We did our very best to be humane and to prevent Q's suffering; now I was doing my best to avoid any unnecessary suffering of my own.

I'm very thankful for the time she spent with us. RIP, Q!



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Muscle building for older guys

Let me lead with a disclaimer: I'm not a personal trainer. Use this post as "food for thought," and run all ideas past a fitness professional and your doctor before making decisions about any rigorous exercise routine.

I share this information because it works for me and because clients have asked me to share it.

First, I've found that the most important thing is to start off with easy, light lifting and work up gradually. That way, over time, I came to understand what my 54 year-old body can tolerate. For example, I found out that I tolerate 2 weight lifting sessions a week; more than that, and I feel too tired, achy, and foggy headed. I also found that, if I go more than one week without lifting, I needed to work back into my routine slowly, starting with the lowest weights. (Several times when coming back from a longer layoff often due to a vacation, I pulled a muscle or tweaked my rotator cuff.) Finally, I need at least 2 days of rest in between weight-lifting days to recover, but 3 days work better.

Second, I recently aggravated some elbow tendinitis when I decided to use some twisting motions on a few dumb bell lifts (military and and chest). I saw some younger men doing these motions, presumably to work more muscles, particularly in the forearm. However, a few weeks after I started using these motions, I developed an achy elbow. So, for older weight lifters, I recommend not going below a 90 degree angle with your elbows when doing presses and keeping your wrist angled in the same direction, if possible, during the entire lift. In summary, the less twisting at the wrist and elbow, the better. 

Third, I found that my body can't tolerate most high-intensity techniques. (For example, when I pyramid, I pyramid down, not up. Also, I lift heavy weights slowly.) Following from that principle, I use a planned weight lifting technique called Periodization. This technique was developed in the Eastern Bloc countries in the late 80s for their Olympic weight lifters. The basic idea is to move from lower weights and higher repetitions to higher weights and lower repetitions.

So, start by dividing your workouts by body part. I have three weight-lifting workouts:
  1. Biceps, triceps, and forearms
  2. Shoulders, neck (traps), and back
  3. Legs, calves, and chest 
On one day of lifting, do one category (for example, biceps, triceps, and forearms). On your next lifting day, do the next category (shoulders, neck, and back). I do three sets but periodize only the first set, and I use mostly free weights. Pick a few exercises that leave you plenty of room to increase the weight over time (I plan two exercises for each body part, and I fill the rest of my routine with a few alternative exercises). So, I periodize a total of 6 exercises. Write down your lifting regime in a notebook, and bring your notebook to the gym with you.

Let's take a look at a possible schedule for a triceps pull-down (rope) exercise:
  • 15 repetitions at 40 lbs
  • 12 repetitions at 45 lbs
  • 10 repetitions at 50 lbs
  • 8 repetitions at 55 lbs
  • 6 repetitions at 60 lbs
Before scheduling your weights, make sure that you're fairly certain that these weights and repetitions are easily do-able. You can always move up quickly if they are way too easy. When you are finished, write down how many repetitions you managed to do. When you reach the weight for 6 repetitions, see if you can go past that and do more.

So, do one body-part category on every weight-lifting day, and increase the degree of difficult when you cycle back to a given body part. For example:
  1. During your arms routines, do 15 triceps rope-pull-down repetitions at 40 lbs for your first set. (Do what you can for the second and third sets.)
  2. Lift for your shoulders, neck, and back.
  3. Lift for your legs, calves, and chest.
  4. During your next arms routine, do 12 repetitions at 45 lbs.
This way, each body part gets plenty of time to recover, and you're increasing your weights gradually. Also, in a given week, you'll be lifting "heavy" on one body part and "lighter" on another, which overall taxes your body less.

If you find that you successfully lifted the heaviest weight only 6 times, then schedule your next period and increase all the weights by 5 lbs, as follows: 
  • 15 repetitions at 45 lbs
  • 12 repetitions at 50 lbs
  • 10 repetitions at 55 lbs
  • 8 repetitions at 60 lbs
  • 6 repetitions at 65 lbs
If you were able to do more than 6 repetitions on the heaviest weight, increase by more weight accordingly. For example, if you lifted the heaviest weight 10 times, then, on your next schedule might look like this instead:
  • 15 repetitions at 50
  • 12 repetitions at 55
  • 10 repetitions at 60 (because you were able to do this last time)
  • 8 repetitions at 65
  • 6 repetitions at 70 
Finally, nutrition matters. Probably the most important thing to do is to make sure that you're taking in enough protein. Once you've gotten your planned lifting in place, it's time to apply the formula: take in 75% of your lean (non fat) weight daily in grams of protein. 

So, I currently weigh approximately 215 lbs. I figure that my lean weight is probably close to 185 to 190 lbs. My protein intake should be approximately 140 grams of protein a day. A chicken breast is between 20 and 25 grams of protein. That's a lot of daily protein!

Here are specific nutrition tips:
  • I use a reduced cholesterol, whey-based protein that I get at a fitness nutrition store. (it was recommended that I not use soy-based protein, given its tendency to increase estrogen.) I usually drink two full-serving shakes a day, which give me 120 to 140 grams of protein. The rest I get in my regular meals.
  • Before every workout, unless I've eaten a meal recently, I eat something with some carbohydrates. I like eating a Kashi bar, which includes whole grains, some protein, and no high fructose corn syrup.
  • During every workout, I drink an energy drink that contains some Creatine.
  • I take daily Creatine supplements in capsule form (available from a fitness nutrition store).
  • I take an arginine based supplement to boost energy on the day I lift weights (available from a fitness nutrition store).
  • I take a daily supplement called Androbolix to boost my ability to build muscle (available from a fitness nutrition store).
Again, this is what works for me. Consult with your doctor and personal trainer to get expert consultation on what would be best for your nutritional needs and workout regime.

Also, as I mentioned in my recent update about my Belly Reduction Program, I take a break from all weight lifting and supplements during the first week of the month, and I use that as an aerobics-only week to reduce fat.

That's it! I hope you found some or all of this helpful. 

 

Update on my Belly Reduction Program

Last year, I wrote several reports about my own personal-growth project: to hit the gym, watch my nutrition, build some muscle, and lose some weight off my belly. (I also do meditative exercises along with my elliptical workouts.) I thought I would use this post to give you a project update. 

First, it's been more than a year-and-a-half since I began my project. I'm very close to being down two pants sizes, people have noticed that I look trimmer and more toned, and I've felt an increase in energy. Even though I used to have back problems that resulted in spasms occasionally, I haven't had spasms in six months or so. I've made good progress!

Second, let me share a couple of adjustments I made during the past year that made a big difference in my rate of success:
  • I've lost weight off my belly very gradually for the past 20 months, and it's required patience. Yes, I could have lost a lot more weight much quicker if I'd gone on a crash diet. However, I would have lost muscle, and weight lost to a crash diet often comes right back (and then some). I've been trying to focus instead on the concept of "lifestyle change."
  • Feeling as if I wasn't making progress fast enough, I hired a personal trainer for two 1-hour sessions, so he could consult with me and provide core-building exercises. I highly recommend getting professional advice like this. (I didn't realize that crunches are highly discouraged these days in favor of planking. Good to know!)
  • I had been struggling with a recurring rotator-cuff problem, and my personal trainer helped me resolve it quickly. (For lat pull downs, pull the bar down in front of your face and not behind your head. Be careful not to go beyond 90 degrees when doing bench or shoulder presses.)
  • I found a really convenient, effective snack that kills hunger for up to an hour or two: a small handful of peanuts and one appetite suppressing candy (I like "Fit Chews" from Arbonne, though they are somewhat expensive).
  • I've added a high-intensity bit at the end of every elliptical workout. I set the resistance to a "medium" setting (for beginners, start with a low setting and work your way up). I then do a four-minute exercise that involves alternating between going as fast as I can for 20 seconds and then going slowly for 10 seconds. So, I cycle through these routines eight times in the four-minute exercise. I've found that adding some high-intensity aerobics increased the rate of my progress.
  • I've added treadmill jogging and cycling one day a week, just to mix things up a little bit and to keep my body guessing. I was sure to include hamstring and calve stretches before jogging, and I increased speed and distance very gradually. On the one hand, treadmill running burns calories quickly; on the other hand, jogging can be rough on the knees of older folks. It's perfectly acceptable to avoid all jogging and to stick to the low-impact machines.
  • Because gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time can be very tricky, I needed a tactic other than "burn a lot of calories and don't eat junky foods" to get significant progress. (There are actually blog postings on the Internet asking whether it's even possible to do both at the same time, with some experts suggesting "not worth trying.") The key is patience, and the next bullet presents a modification to my routine that made a world of difference in my rate of success.
  • During the first week of every month, I go on a mini-diet. I stop weight lifting, I come off all supplements (including protein shakes), and I do 3 to 4 sessions of high-calorie-burning aerobics during that week. For nutrition, I eliminate or significantly reduce all starchy carbs (bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes) at meals, I eliminate all snacks (except for the peanuts/candy snack mentioned in a previous bullet), and I am stricter about eliminating fried and fatty foods. (Being happy with the results, I tried to do this diet for two weeks in a row, but I didn't fare as well. One week works beautifully. Two weeks created the typical deprivation cravings that you get from crash diets. I don't recommend doing it for more than a week.)
So, as mentioned, I like to emphasize to my clients that all of us—me included—put effort into personal-growth projects. I coach people to do it, and I do it for myself.

Also, my Belly Reduction Program is a great example of calling upon patience, using trial and error, being willing to receive coaching from people with more expertise, and understanding that major projects unfold step by step over time. 

I'll give you another report if I discover something interesting or when I get down to that second lower waist size (aiming to go from 36" to 34"). 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Focus on making your employees happy

Recently, I recalled a kind thing that a boss once said, and I was stuck by the intense joy and smile it brought to my face today, eight years later.

For 14 years, I worked two part-time jobs: one as a Life & Career Coach and one as a software technical writer. During that time, I'd gradually reduced my tech-writing hours as I transitioned to my new career.

When my Life & Career Coaching clients consider working two jobs, I share my experiences. One of the Pros of my computer job involved holding onto benefits, which included pension savings. One of the Cons is that my managers frequently had to justify my presence to newly hired administrators (Why are we paying that high salary to the guy who isn't here every day?). My bosses often said, Just trust us, leave him alone, until the new hires could feel reassured by the quality of my work.

During the first half of 2007, I took a leave of absence because of a herniated disk in my back and the resulting surgery. At the same time, my start-up company had significantly increased its staffing and HR policies in anticipation of a corporate buy-out. As a result, after my surgery, I returned to many new faces, some new rules, and a more formal work environment.

Sometime during first few weeks back, one of the newly hired Bean Counters sent an email and asked me to verify my weekly hours. Given my hectic re-entry and the intensity of trying to get back up to speed with my work, I didn't give the question as much thought as I should have. I thought it would be easier to come in just two days a week instead of trying to squeeze in another half day, so I answered "16" (two eight-hour days). 

Well, in the day or two after answering, I began to see form letters informing me that my benefits were being cut. Without bothering to wander 20 yards down the Cube Farm to talk to me, the Bean Counter simply began hacking away. After exchanging a few emails with him, it became clear that this was all happening because I'd dipped below 20 hours a week.  

Ooops!  

Factoring in my 401K and insurances, I was instantly on board with coming into work for that extra half day. So, I sent an email to my manager, he sent a note to the Bean Counter and to me about reinstating my 20-hour work week, and he prefaced everything by saying, Let's make Gerry happy.

To this day, that line makes me smile. Let's make Gerry happy! At that time, it also made me want to work very, very hard for him. It would be a few more weeks before I was recovered enough from surgery to be able to work significant overtime, but I was ready to "show him some love" by doing some excellent work.

*          *          *

Notice that my manager didn't explicitly focus on compensation, problem solving, resolving an "issue," facilitating better communication, motivating me, reciting policy, or performance coaching. Instead, he briefly-yet-powerfully invoked corporate culture, reminding us that—as we worked really hardwe should also "have each other's back" emotionally, caring about whether we were happy. It's about taking a little bit of time to generate that feeling in your exchanges with a coworker.

When I first became a supervisor, I received a week of management training, and I still remember several points made during that week. When discussing how to reward employees' performance, the instructor emphasized that different approaches make different people happy. Some like the latest new hardware gadget, yet that would be meaningless to other people. Some like the office with the window. Some love a small accommodation for child care. Still others are about the raises or the formal title. Or maybe it's about being placed on a particular project team and being able to do a certain kind of work.

Part of excellent management is understanding that motivation and making someone happy intersect, but they aren't the same thing. Motivation is about a manager generating employee performance; creating joy is about rewarding performance in a way that fosters SELF motivation.

When I was a manager, one of the biggest "bang for the buck" rewards programs involved me doing some detective work about an employee's tastes, writing a Thank You card for a very specific bit of good performance, and popping a $25 gift certificate for a product or service that that person would enjoy into the card: music for a music fan, a movie gift certificate if she liked films, a bookstore gift card for others. 

That really made people smile! But you have to take some time to get to know them to know how to create that moment.

My tech-writing manager knew how to do that, and I smile about it to this day. Thank you, Dave!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Are we failing to see what's there?

I do some meditative exercises while I work out on the elliptical machine at the gym. Generally, I try to stay mindfully in touch with how my body is feeling instead of distracting myself by watching TV, listening to music, or losing myself in thought. 

These past few weeks, I had a few interesting experiences I'd like to share.

*          *          *

One of my meditative exercises involves visually scanning the room and noticing details: colors of the paint, cobwebs in one corner near the ceiling, charts, text on the machines, exit signs, what's currently on the screen of the three TVs across from me on the wall, other people working out in the room.

Perhaps the most important part of the exercise is to feel content noticing small, sensual details without giving in to a desire for more entertainment. Just breathe, sweat, move, and feel. Simply look and see. Just hear the sounds of the machines. Focus on, accept, and appreciate only those things.

When glancing around the room, I often notice announcements written on a whiteboard hanging high on the wall. I like to notice the different colors of dry markers used to write the messages, and the board often includes drawings and decorations. 

On this particular day, they had removed the whiteboard, probably to change the announcement. As I glanced about the room, I noticed feeling frustrated when my eyesight would land on the blank wall where the sign used to be, and I quickly looked elsewhere for something more interesting. I really missed that whiteboard!

It must have taken me the better part of an hour before I realized that, in my irritation about what WASN'T hanging on the wall, I was failing to notice what WAS there. In frustration, my eyes had been skipping over it without really taking it in. 

So, I returned my attention to the blank space on the wall. I noticed the two wooden supports into which the whiteboard slides. I saw smudge marks normally covered by the board, some shadows, and different shades of color on the painted wall. Once I relaxed and focused on that area of the wall, I actually found enough detail to occupy myself for a minute, which is a long time for a mindfulness exercise.

*          *          *
Another day at the gym: same exercise, but the whiteboard was up, displaying several announcements. During most of the hour I spent on the elliptical, my eyes moved across the contents of the whiteboard several times, and I thought I'd reasonably captured its content. There were various colors of lettering, some paper leaves decorating one corner, some squiggles and asterisks and underlining for emphasis.

OK, I've got it!

When my eyes would return to the board, I'd briefly notice the same set of characteristics: the colors, the leaves, the decorative squiggles and underlines. However, toward the end of the hour, as I glanced at the familiar whiteboard once again, I was startled to notice something new. For one line of words, the writer had drawn a small square where any lines in the letters intersected. The effect was like seeing rivets on the letters. Nice.

At this point, the distinctive decoration really seemed to pop. I wondered how I'd missed it the first, ohhh, twenty times I'd scanned the board!

*          *          *

On the one hand, these examples are trivial. They were just mental exercises. On the other hand, my failure to notice small details made me wonder what bigger things I might be missing in my life.

As it was with the missing whiteboard, my awareness might lapse because life isn't giving me what I expect, my mind so attached to what I think should be there that I fail to see what's right in front of me. Or I might miss details because I've convinced myself that I've gotten it all, and there's nothing left to notice or learn. Or maybe I'm just moving too fast to absorb details, or perhaps I'm distracted by other thoughts and agendas.

Could I be missing important details in my marriage? My job? The way I treat other people?

I'm reminded of the mindfulness concept of being present. How present are you being in your own life? What are you missing?


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Don't be so sure...about ANYTHING!

You may have heard some variation of You can't learn anything if you already know everything. Well, I had an amusing, slightly embarrassing thing happen to me that illustrated this point.

Back in mid-May, I noticed that my car wasn't cooling down very much when I was using the air conditioner; it was blowing slightly warm air. This was odd, given that I'd purchased the new car a year-and-a-half ago, and you wouldn't think that the air conditioner would have problems already. I thought to myself that it was probably just low on Freon. I was due to bring the car in for an oil change anyway, so I'd have them look at the air conditioner then.

So, I bring in the car for an unscheduled visit to my dealer's Service Department, and I told them about the air conditioning problem. They say that they can do the oil change, but that the air conditioner situation often requires that they run more diagnostics; I'd have to make an appointment for another day to get that checked. 

Feeling a bit disgruntled, I put it off for another few weeks. That being said, Baltimore summers are hot and humid, and it wasn't long before the heat drove me to make another appointment. Dropping the car off, the attendant looked concerned when I said I'd wait in the lounge until they were done. He told me that air conditioning situations could run hours. I sighed, raised my eyebrows, and told him that I'd still like to wait for it.

Settling into the lounge, I set up my laptop, plugged it in, got some caffeine, and began to do some work. After only 10 minutes or so, the smiling attendant approached, and asked me to step outside with him; he wanted to show me something.

In a very cheerful, professional tone, the attendant began to explain to me how that red-and-blue hotter/colder dial on the dashboard worked. Within seconds it occurred to me what I'd done. The air conditioner worked fine. I'd been driving around for a month with the heat partially turned on. DOH!

Before all these "air conditioning problems" began, we had an unseasonably cool late-Spring day, and I'd turned the heat on a little bit, just enough to put out slightly warm air. After a few weeks, when I needed the air conditioner, I turned it on, and it blew lukewarm. Given that I knew...I KNEW...what the problem was, there was no need to check the temperature dial. It didn't even OCCUR to me to do so.

I began to chortle loudly at what I'd done. The attendant tried to "make me feel better about it" (what do you want to bet he'd seen this before), but I assured him that it was OK to laugh at my foolishness. Oy!

So, in general, life often goes smoother if we're a little less certain about things. :-)

 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Escape the trap of "should"

I read this wonderful article today about stress. It contains some very helpful perspectives that center around the idea that we should manage stress better, not try to eliminate it.

It reminded me of how a recent uneventful workday suddenly overwhelmed me and what I learned as a result.

So, let me tell you about how it all went down. My workday had started off simple and easy. I actually had no Life & Career Coaching clients scheduled, when typical days could include meetings off-and-on from 9 am until 8 pm. So, I pretty much had a free day!

Although, I did have two non-client-related meetings, a plan to hit the gym, and an evening phone meeting and doctor's appointment lined up. There was still plenty of time to get all that done, and, in terms of work days, this should have been very light lifting.

During my late-morning meeting, I noticed three calls go to voicemail. Two were potential new-business clients, and one was from a current client. Given that it's important to close new business as soon as possible, it was at this point that I began to feel a bit of pressure to return those phone calls.

However, my meeting ran longer than expected—clear through the lunch hour; this is where my focus drifted. I was extremely hungry, and I felt pressured to get through lunch ASAP so as to get to those calls. 

It was then that I noticed that my website's formatting looked messed up on my smartphone (But it was working fine last week!). I can't get new business while my website is down, so, while I was eating, I rushed through an attempt to re-code and fix the problem (multi-tasking), which took an extra, unscheduled 45 minutes. 

After fixing the website, at this point, I felt frazzled. Eating meals late will throw me off emotionally. Multi-tasking stresses me. On the one hand, you may be thinking that what I was facing was trivial, and you'd be right. On the other hand, notice how trivial ways of being delayed or thrown off schedule create stress that makes it hard to function well.

The pressure I felt to get everything done by the end of the day suddenly felt unmanageable. My mind started racing and scurrying like this: I could make the phone calls. But I don't want to make the phone calls. I'm not good on the phone when I'm in a mood like this. Well, I could skip the gym, and then I'd have plenty of time to get things done. But the gym helps me to keep an even keel; it's important to take care of myself. And I can't move the evening meetings, they're both very, very important! The phone meeting in particular is about a VIP client, and it took me three months to get this doctor's appointment. I don't see a way to out! Arrrggghhh!

I felt trapped. 

As I retreated to the bathroom to take a break and do my business, it occurred to me that I know emotion management, I TEACH this stuff. It was time to apply the skills and approaches to myself.

So, I took some deep breaths, and I did my best to clear my mind. Then, I asked myself to answer this question honestly: Of all the things you COULD do with the rest of your day, what would you LIKE to do? What are you WILLING to do? I followed that with a few more deep breaths, kept my mind quiet and clear, and I waited for the answer to occur to me.

As I continued to slow down, relax, and clear my mind, the answer presented itself fairly quickly, and it felt easy and clear: The evening meetings can't be moved, so I'll do them. I want to go to the gym. Time permitting, I'll answer the call from my current client after my evening phone meeting, and I'll respond to the other two calls first thing tomorrow morning. 

Ahhhhhh! It all felt do-able again.

Later in the day, given that I had to spend some boring time in a my doctor's waiting room, I did a quick review of a document for a client using my tablet, and I emailed her comments before the meeting began.

No problem! What a difference emotionally from how I'd felt about it all at lunch.

*          *          *

Reflecting on how it all went down, several things occur to me.

Most of my unpleasant stress was caused by the strong feeling that I "should" do everything. That word never literally crossed my mind, but that's how I was behaving. As if I had no choice, as if everything had to get done, as if it was up to me to push my way through it all regardless of how I felt.

When I shifted into the perspective that I could do what I wanted to do or what I was willing to do, I felt more in control, the "trapped" feeling went away, and I quickly felt sooo much better. After feeling better and more relaxed, I was better able to get work done.

It occurred to me that, in my 20's, these moments of overwhelm or upset would often snowball into a week of "being in a mood." Decades later, after learning many emotion-management skills, this kind of one-hour-freak-out experience is as bad as it usually gets. Even though I'm talking about trivial events kicking up stress, that's quite an improvement, and it greatly affects the overall quality of my daily life. Handling the little things well really matters.

Finally, as I went about the rest of my day, I noticed that there was no down time until I arrived home at 8 pm. That being said, even though I was a bit tired from being very active and busy, I didn't feel bad emotionally. It doesn't feel bad to chip away at a large pile of work if you feel as if you're doing what you want to do and making reasonable progress. I think that's a good example of the kind of "good" stress discussed in the Can Stress Help Students article, the kind that focuses, motivates, and assists goal completion.