Category Archives: Stress Solutions

Are you one of those people who routinely over commits yourself?

If you are one of us who says “Yes” every time someone asks if you want to do something, then you are your own worst enemy. A primary cause of stress is feeling the pressure of time. The more we try to cram into a day, the more we become aware of how time can fly by or how much longer it takes to do something than we thought it would. Continue reading

Stress Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia

Chronic stress has become not only a #1 health risk , but also a major way of life for too many of us. If you are honest with yourself, the risk of dementia is more frightening than a heart attack. We can survive a heart attack but once dementia sets in, there is no escape – to date. The important link for all us neuroscientists is how anxiety, fear, and stress affect the brain. Continue reading

Two New Studies on Stress May Surprise

Stress is contagious. Research from St. Louis University suggests that other people’s anxiety and behavior may be harmful to your health. The negative effects of stress, such as increased levels of cortisol, can be triggered by merely observing another person who is acting stressed. Empathy – usually thought of as a good attribute – can be a drain if you watch someone else get negative feedback. Continue reading

Reducing the Room’s Temperature can Increase the Quality of Your Sleep

You probably know how important good sleep is to your overall health. Not only getting enough sleep but the QUALITY of your sleep is the key factor in your protection against many diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A 2010 study published in the Annals of Epidemiology showed that regularly getting less than six hours of sleep per night can lead to a higher risk of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For their study, researchers asked participants to fill out questionnaires about their health and sleep patterns. The researchers analyzed six years’ worth of data from just under 1,500 participants, all between the ages of 35 and 79. They identified several ways to improve the quality of sleep. One of the most surprising findings was the effects of room temperature on the quality of sleep.

It is best to sleep cool. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to sleep when it gets too hot? That’s because the core temperature of your body needs to be cool in order for you to sleep well. The optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer than that, and your body may not be able to cool as much as it needs to for truly restful sleep. Sleeping cool may even help relieve insomnia.

A body of research is finding that regulating sleep temperature may bring some relief to sufferers of insomnia. According to Dr. Cameron Van den Heuvel, a research fellow involved in a 2009 study of body temperature and sleep performed by the University of South Australia’s Centre for Sleep Research: “Temperature regulation is a significant factor in each of the two types of insomnia. The difference is when the insomnia occurs. People with sleep onset insomnia have difficulty initiating sleep at the beginning of the night, taking two to four hours each night in the worst cases; while people with sleep maintenance insomnia fall asleep easily but have trouble staying asleep, waking up multiple times during the night… In both types of insomnia, sleep is not restful and sufferers are tired during the day.”

Studies of sleep onset insomniacs show that they have consistently warmer core body temperature immediately before initiating sleep, when compared with normal healthy adults. This results in a state of heightened arousal that prevents them from falling asleep when they go to bed, probably because they have to wait for their bodies to lose the heat that’s keeping them awake. We’re only talking about a half to one degree but that small temperature change can result in significant differences in arousal between insomniacs and people without sleeping problems.”

If you are slow to fall asleep at night, try cooling down your room.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

Tips for Reducing Stress

Anyone who has ever suffered from chronic or moderately severe acute stress knows that you feel it physically just as much as you feel it mentally. And, it is accepted that one’s overall health can impact stress levels, both negatively and positively. In keeping with the focus on the positive, here are a couple of diet tips for reducing stress.

  1. Keep a healthy, balanced diet. A good rule of thumb is to eat for your heart. When you’re experiencing stress, your heart is experiencing it right along with you, which means that over time it can actually put your heart at risk. Keep your heart in good shape by eating a lowered fat diet with plenty of lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. This will help lower your blood pressure, which will help keep your heart from thumping hard when you start to feel stress.
  1. Eat to actually reduce stress. When stressed, your body produces stress hormones, like cortisol, which increases sugar in the bloodstream. This is what makes us crave unhealthy food when we’re stressed. However, giving your body simple carbohydrates like candy and white bread only gives your body a quick burst of sugars, so any good effects won’t last. That’s why you need to focus on complex carbohydrates with lots of fiber, like whole grains and sweet potatoes. The carbohydrates in those foods will prompt your brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone that relaxes us, but the nutrients and positive effects will stay with you much longer.
  1. Reduce caffeine intake and increase water intake. Too much caffeine can start a vicious cycle. The more you ingest caffeine, the more you feel you need to ingest caffeine. Coffee will give you a quick boost, but the fatigue will catch up, which causes you to drink even more coffee, even though that fatigue or an inability to focus is a signal that your body needs rest. Excessive caffeine consumption can actually lead to lapses in concentration and a decrease in our overall ability to be effective. So the work becomes harder because we’re less efficient. Caffeine is a substance that naturally increases blood pressure anyway, so you pile that on top of the effects of stress, and that’s a lot of strain for your heart.
  1. Most of us drink too little water. It is a known fact that we lose cognitive efficiency as our body becomes more dehydrated. Being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills (Adan, J Am Coll Nutr, 2012). The research data on this topic can be somewhat contradictory but everyone knows drinking water is good for you. For example, if the mild dehydration is due to physical exercise, that is actually good for long-term and working memory. There is also evidence that executive functions are better preserved. And, drinking more water helps keep our weight down.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, Oct 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Stress As Positive – 2

Last month we started a review of recent research that suggests that stress has some positive benefits. Dr. Kelly McGonigal, Stanford psychologist, is researching this topic for a new book she is writing. McGonigal’s approach is to promote the idea that the harmful consequences of stress may simply be a consequence of our perception that it is bad for our health. Among the studies discussed last month were the U of Wisconsin study of 29,000 respondents and a larger epidemiological study of nearly 186 million. In general people who reported high levels of stress but who felt it had little impact on their health were amongst the least likely to die as compared to other participants in the study.

In a prospective study, Dr. Michael Poulin of the University of Buffalo interviewed 850 people (34 to 93) living in Detroit, asking about major stressful events in the last year and how much time they spent in the last year actively helping others. Obituaries and death records were then tracked over the next 5 years. Dr. Poulin’s team found that every major stress event increased an individual’s risk of death by 30%. But high rates of helping others reduced the stress-induced mortality risk. So, the authors concluded that helping others is a possible antidote to the negative effects of stress.

Looking more directly at how stress can be positive, a 2013 study out of UC Berkeley showed that moderate stress can lead to cell growth in a rat’s brain learning centers. Adult rats were stressed by being immobilized in a small space for 3 hours. Two weeks later, the rats were given a fear-conditioning test. The immobilized rats showed an increased level of stress hormone corticosterone (rate equivalent to cortisol in humans) as well as an increased growth of neural stem cells in the hippocampus.

To put the information into better context: these studies do not really prove that stress is positive. They do show the benefits of doing things to manage one’s stress, such as helping others and how that can lead to positive benefits that can counter the negative effects of a major stressful life event. Some of the studies, such as the 2013 UC Berkeley study, are defining “stress” slightly differently from the host of studies that relate the health dangers of stress. The big difference is those studies that associate stress with health risk are looking at chronically high levels of stress not a 2 or 3 hour learning session, which is considered mildly stressful because any thinking increases cortisol. But, since we cannot go around all the time without thinking, it seems best to think of mild stress as a positive and chronic stress as harmful as what you need to manage by balancing it with relaxation, exercise, sleep, meditation, and many good works for others.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, September 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Stress as Positive

Recent research suggests that stress has some positive benefits. This should not be a surprise if you realize that a big part of being human is having a nervous system that allows us to use and manage our stress. After all, would we even be able to exist without a “flight or fight” reaction? Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford University psychologist who translates academic research into practical strategies for health, is looking at the “upside of stress.” Her example, however, of how stress benefits daredevils like aerialist Nik Wallenda and Evel Knievel, may go a bit too far in the opposite direction.

In his career, Evel attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps between 1965 and 1980. He suffered more than 433 bone fractures his career. Knievel died of pulmonary disease in Clearwater, Florida, aged 69. I am not sure that adrenalin junkies are good examples of perceiving stress positively. On the other hand, we are all familiar with the inverted U relationship between anxiety and performance where too little and too much anxiety interferes with performance but some anxiety (or in this case – stress) can be helpful.

McGonigal’s approach is to promote the idea that the harmful consequences of stress may simply be a consequence of our perception that it is bad for our health. McGonigal reviewed several studies that suggested stress may actually be correlated with longevity – if a person does not view it as a negative. Researchers at the U. of Wisconsin in Madison asked 29,000 people to rate their level of stress over the past year and to rate how much (a little, moderate amount, or a lot) they believed this stress influenced their health. Public death records were reviewed for the next 8 years to see how many of the subjects died. People who reported high levels of stress and who believed stress had a lot of impact on their health had a 43% increased risk of death. Those who reported high levels of stress but who felt it had little impact on their health were amongst the least likely to die as compared to other participants in the study.

Another study looked at the perception that stress affects health and its relation to mortality. 33.7% of nearly 186 million Americans believe that stress affects their health a lot. Those people who reported a lot of stress and a belief in the high impact of stress on their health had a 43% increased risk of premature death according to Keller et al (Health Psychol. 2012 Sept; 31(5):677-84).

Next month, we will look at other studies that suggest it is better to view stress as “mostly harmless” like the entry for Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, August 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

How Does Stress Affect Blood Pressure?

Many people believe that stress and high blood pressure are directly linked. However, this is a popular myth since blood pressure is not ‘nervous tension.’ Actually, it is more correct to say that stress can only cause temporary rises in blood pressure. Stress does not cause hypertension. Once the stressful situation has passed, blood pressure will return to whatever is ‘normal’ for that individual. And, conversely, if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), this does not mean you are stressed or overly anxious. You could be perfectly calm and still have hypertension. On the other hand, it is true that chronic stress can have an impact on hypertension. However, we really do not know why or how much stress actually contributes to hypertension.

Just because stress is not directly related to hypertension does not mean you can dismiss the importance of reducing stress if you are suffering from diagnosed hypertension. Particularly if your blood pressure is difficult to control, you should pay attention to the chronic stressors in your life and try to reduce them.

Even simple changes in your daily schedule can have a positive impact on your health and well-being. For example, adding a daily walk in the fresh air in the morning before work or in the evening after work can dissipate built up stress. New research indicates that taking up yoga can lower your blood pressure. Exercise in general can help reduce stress and manage weight, and being active will certainly help reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym, in fact here are some ways to quickly and easily incorporate more exercise into your day

  • Walk or bicycle rather than take the car to work
  • Take the stairs rather than the escalator or elevator • If you travel by bus get off a stop early and walk the rest of the way
  • Cycle short journeys rather than take the car
  • Walk a bit further every day with the dog
  • Get out of the office at lunchtime and have a walk

 

By far the most effective way to reduce blood pressure AND manage chronic stress is breathing. This is so easy. Five to 10 minutes of measured slow breaths where you breathe in to a shorter count and breathe out with pursed lips to a longer count is guaranteed to take you out of sympathetic distress and engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Add music to anything you do and double your benefit. This is a good time for a Relaxation Break.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, July 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

What Really Matters?

One of the most intriguing findings of the 2014 study by the American Psychological Association on America’s stress is that overall Americans rate their stress as 4.9 on a 10-point scale where 1 is “little or no stress.” This rating is down from the 2007 level of 6.2. Despite the fact that the 2014 study shows a decrease in perceived stress, the reported stress levels remain higher than is considered healthy. Even more surprising, however, is the finding that 42% of the adults who reported in the study say that they are not doing enough to manage their stress. Twenty percent said that they are not engaging in any stress reduction strategies or behaviors at all.

The people who responded to the study reported the primary sources of stress as: money (64%), work (60%), the economy (49%), family responsibilities (47%) and personal health concerns (46%). The most frequently reported symptoms of stress included being or feeling irritable or angry (37%), feeling nervous or anxious (35%), having a lack of motivation (34%), fatigue (32%), feeling overwhelmed (32%), and being depressed or sad (32%).

Unfortunately, the study does not point out the obvious – that the sources of stress that are the most frequently cited in the 2014 study – money and work – are also among the main reasons that many people feel that they do not have enough time in the day to reduce stress because they are too busy working to make enough money.

In short, these facts and figures as well as my own experience working with people from all walks of life show that too many of us believe we have no choice. We do not have the time to find time for ourselves. And, too many of us have come to simply accept that we live in a frenetic, hassled society. The old beliefs about the early bird getting that worm and you only get what you earn are deeply ingrained. How many professionals do you know who feel somewhat guilty when they take a little much needed time off to recreate? Are you one of those who feels like you are supposed to be super busy to be successful? Have you ever refused work because you need to spend some time taking better care of you? Are you impressed by colleagues who have their fingers in many pies and are super-achievers?

If you are, please consider taking stock of what really matters to you. Is success more important than your health, happiness, and family or friends? Take a careful look at your schedule, your lifestyle. Work some relaxation activities and breaks into your schedule. It is important to make time, not find time. It is typical for younger people to believe that there is always tomorrow and you can take time for yourself when you get ahead. All too often the stress catches up in the form of having trouble falling asleep, shutting off the mind, health problems creep in, and you begin to see those tell-tale signs of premature aging. Do yourself a favor. Look at what is most important to you and adjust your lifestyle to match.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, June 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Still not Finding Time to De-Stress?

Are you still not finding the time each day to reduce your stress? If so, which of these reasons best fits you?

  • I don’t believe in the value of relaxing or de-stressing at least once a day.
  • I just forget to do it even though I agree it is important.
  • The day gets by me and I still haven’t stopped what I am doing to take a break.
  • I know it is important but tomorrow is another day.

 

If your main reason is that you forget or just cannot find the time to take a de-stress break, then let’s talk seriously about how to fix that. Here are a few hints.

  • Set an alarm on your smart phone to remind you to take a 5- minute break at least once a day.
  • Set it for that time in the day that you are usually getting tired. • 5 minutes can be enough, if you do it daily and more than once a day (if you can).
  • Like any habit, it takes practice and repetition for a couple of weeks to set it up so that it becomes more automatic.

 

What are the best ways to spend that one or two 5-minute rest breaks? There are always a few things that happen in a normal day that are empty time. By empty, I mean what you are doing in that period of time is usually waiting for something or doing something that does not require much of your attention. Several things immediately jump to mind for working people.

  • Usually when you turn on your computer (particularly if you are a PC type), there is a several-minute wait as it boots up and then installs things it thought about during the rest break.
  • We all have to use the bathroom a couple of times a day. This is a good time to stay an extra couple of minutes (behind closed doors) and do some focused breathing. Empty your mind, kind of like when you push in the clutch and let the car coast.
  • Relax with the Rainbow Shower where after a few breaths, you imagine a rainbow over your head and imagine the rainbow passing through your body from the head to the feet – first with red light, then orange, yellow, green, blue, lapis, violet, and white.
  • Not your thing? Then, sit and close your eyes and listen with your mind’s ear or sing or hum a little tune.
  • If you can do a little stretching after the mindful breathing, that would be even better.

 

I know you do not have to be a rocket scientist to come up with this stuff. But, those Rocket Scientist guys are some of the biggest offenders. They can die young from stress-related illness. We are all busy. And, the busiest people are usually the ones who can find or make the time to take better care of their mind and body. Short breaks during a workday are the best way to keep the stress down. Remember, the key to de-stressing is to disengage your mind; stop thinking for a few minutes, feel a positive emotion – smile to yourself. You did it!

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, May 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Meditation: It IS What You Think

Years ago when first learning to meditate, I saw a T-shirt I liked with this logo on it. That slogan says it all. As psychologists, we know the importance of monitoring our thoughts and how interrelated thinking and feeling really are. A major cause of stress and one of the most important stress solutions has to do with our thoughts and our thinking. Turns out that Stress IS what you think, too. So here we have a Zen moment; both a stressed state of mind and a calm focused state of mind are related to our thinking.

The mind is an amazing thing. To a large extent, the negative consequences of stress are directly due to a busy mind. You do not have to be physically busy to have a busy mind. Most professionals would say they spend the day thinking and they might agree that thinking all day – without lifting a single shovel – is fatiguing.

If you are almost always thinking and worrying over a problem or you continue to dwell on the events of the day even after they are over, that is a chronic issue and your cortisol levels are likely to remain high. Cortisol levels do not drop until your mind calms and becomes quiet or still. So the longer you remain mentally active, even if you are lying in bed or sitting in an easy chair, the longer your high levels of cortisol will remain. And, that leads to an exhausting list of bad things, physically, mentally and emotionally. Let’s just say it does not lead to longevity and happiness.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a great antidote to stress caused by too busy a mind. In the past, meditation seemed more strange or alien to the Western mind. But, with the gradual advance of information about different forms of meditation and the acceptance of meditation as having value, it has actually become easier to learn and to include in your daily practice. Sanskrit words and chanting are no longer required. The rapid spread of Mindfulness is an excellent example. This technique takes minutes to learn and very little more to perfect. It is so simple that it is recommended for children and found helpful with children who are having problems with attention and/or with behavior. The book, Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents) by Eline Snell, (2013) was featured at a 2014 LPA workshop by Dr. Michelle Moore. This book comes with a CD that has a number of great 5-minute Mindfulness exercises. I have recommended this book to many of my patients, old and young. It is inexpensive and easy to use. I recommend it for everyone who needs to learn this simple meditation technique.

Mindfulness is growing in popularity across the country. It is recommended for so many different reasons:

  • stress relief and pain relief
  • taking mental breaks during a busy day • assistance falling asleep
  • combat depression and/or anxiety

 

Do yourself a favor: Give Mindfulness a try.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, April 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Children Suffer from Stress, Too

Just like all adults, children suffer from stress, too. Often it happens that the stresses experienced by children seem insignificant to adults. Or, worse, the parent may completely miss the fact that the child is stressed. Childhood stress can be caused by any situation that requires the child to adapt or change to a new situation. Change often produces anxiety because we don’t always know what to expect in the changed situation. You don’t have to be grown up to fear the unknown.

Stress can even be caused by positive changes, such as starting a new activity, but it is most commonly linked with negative changes such as divorce, illness or death in the family. But, because children have few previous experiences from which to learn, even situations that require small changes can have an enormous impact on a child’s feelings of safety and security.

Some parenting styles and parent expectations can be very stressful. Children want to please their parents. I know that seems like a “no- brainer.” However, those among you who treat children might now think that that everyone knows that. I have heard parents complain about their children in terms that make it sound like they believe the child is going out of his or her way to upset or defy them. And, before you object, of course some children can reach a point where they become oppositional. Usually that happens only after the child becomes resistant to being over-controlled.

Children with learning problems are often seriously stressed. They know they are not meeting their parents’ or teachers’ expectations for school success. They feel stupid and like a failure. Unfortunately, the main “job” that our children have is to succeed in school. Children learn how to respond to stress by what they have seen and experienced in the past. If the adults in their social environment are not good at dealing with stress, they are not likely to be either. Another major factor to consider is that a poor ability to deal with stress can be passed from the mother to the child during the prenatal months if the mother is very anxious or chronically stressed (Andrews, 2012).

Children probably will not recognize that they are stressed. Parents may suspect stress if the child has experienced a stressful situation and begins to have physical or emotional symptoms, or both. Some behaviors or symptoms to look for can include, changes in eating habits, new onset of headaches, changes in sleep pattern (nightmares, bedwetting, middle of the night awakening, resistance to going to sleep), upset stomach or vague stomach symptoms, anxiety, worries, inability to relax, fears that are either new or return (of being alone, of the dark, of strangers or new situations), clinging to you, and easy tears. Aggressive, stubborn or oppositional behaviors are also possible signs of stress in children.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, March 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

What is Your Sleep IQ?

Not only is a good night’s sleep one of the most valuable things you can do for your health and longevity, but also getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to erasing the day’s accumulated stress. Sleep IQ can refer to a measure of how well you rest and includes the number of hours of restful sleep versus the number of hours of restless sleep or time out of bed each night. This definition of Sleep IQ also includes how long it takes you to fall asleep, your average heart rate and your average number of breaths per minute.

A different definition of Sleep IQ refers to how much you know about how to get a good night’s sleep. Many clinicians make a point of asking clients about their sleep and ability to rest. Some psychologists actually work with their clients on sleep hygiene. The following Sleep IQ Quiz is offered to refresh us all on some of the important misconceptions about sleep and how to get the best night’s sleep.

True or False?

  1. Sleep deprivation can make you fat.
  2. You can compensate for a night of bad sleep by hitting the snooze button and sleeping a little late in the morning.
  3. We can make up for lost sleep by going to bed extra early another night.
  4. Most people don’t need a full 8 hours of sleep each night.
  5. Sleeping pills mask sleep problems and do not resolve the underlying cause of insomnia.
  6. A typical cause of trouble falling asleep is when your mind just won’t stop talking.
  7. A little alcohol can help you fall asleep and sleep well.
  8. If you can’t fall asleep within 30-45 minutes, stick it out a little longer.
  9. Often just thinking about sleep affects your ability to fall asleep.
  10. Sleeping just one hour less a night can prevent you from learning or functioning normally.

[Answers: 1-T, 2-F, 3-F, 4-F, 5-T, 6-T, 7-F, 8-F, 9-T, 10-T]

If you scored 9 or 10 out of 10, you are a “sleep genius.” Congratulations and don’t forget to get your full 8 hours of sleep.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, February 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Passing Stress on to the Next Generation

“Pass the salt. Pass the rolls. But, please don’t pass the stress.”

As a clinician, you will surely have the opportunity from time to time to counsel young women who are pregnant or who are hoping to get pregnant. Or, you may be a young psychologist looking to start or increase your own family. In the first case, you can offer information to your client about how chronic stress can harm their developing baby. Or, you can profit from knowing the value of managing stress – especially during pregnancy.

Last month we reviewed new research on how chronic stress can cause premature aging and illness because the constant overproduction of cortisol reduces the supply of the body’s telomerase and that prevents the cell from reversing the effects of stress on telomere length. This is the mechanism by which chronic stress can harm your DNA. However, there is more; another pathway by which stress impacts the body at the cellular level happens in the developing baby of a chronically stressed mom. Thus, the “transgenerational transmission of risks” has to be taken into account in planning ways to improve public health.

Dr. Sonja Entringer and colleagues published a study showing the higher the mom’s anxiety during the prenatal period, the shorter the baby’s telomere length. Now a great deal of research has been published on prenatal stress and anxiety and how it affects the child for the rest of his or her life. Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (Andrews, 2012) reviews the most important studies. The effects are not simply on health (such as premature birth and low birth weight, asthma and digestive problems). Serious consequences include the child’s reduced ability to cope with stress. The developing child of a chronically stressed mother is also more likely to have problems with attention and behavior (ADD/ADHD). Other related problems include learning problems, lower IQ, higher incidence of anxiety and depression, and even an increased risk of autism.

Not only are the newborn’s telomeres affected by the mom’s stress, but also the mom’s chronically high levels of cortisol may trigger changes in the developing fetal brain. The cortisol levels in the mother’s blood are noted by the fetus’s brain. The brain of the fetus begins to consider the higher cortisol levels as “normal.” According to this theory, the brain then decides that it does not need as many stress-hormone receptors in the developing hippocampus. The end result is that more cortisol will remain in the child’s blood whenever stressed and the child’s H-P-A axis has been changed or dysregulated.

The bottom line is that we are living in a world of ever increasing stress because of the constant change in which we live. Our world is changing daily and we are so aware of it because of the nearly instant TV, cell phone and internet coverage for major events. Everyone or nearly everyone has access to multiple sources of information. People now accept this level of stress as “normal.” Certainly, we all have the right to decide for ourselves how much stress for which we are willing take the consequences. But, now that we see the consequences are being passed to future generations, I believe it is critical to start implementing known strategies and solutions to manage stress better. And, in our role as clinicians, we need to get the word out.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, January 2015

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).

Chronic Stress Can Harm Your DNA

Most everyone over 30 is concerned with aging and age-related illnesses, like cancer and heart disease. The role of stress and cortisol in aging and chronic illness is now well established. But how increased cortisol is linked to early aging has not been clear…until very recently. Scientists at the U. of California, San Francisco have been working for a decade on the links in this chain. And, the answer is: short telomeres.

Telomeres function like a cap whose job it is to protect the end of the chromosome where the genes lie. Each time the cell divides, a bit of the telomere is cut off (instead of the gene). Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a molecular biologist now at UCSF, won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her discovery of how chromosomes and genes are protected. Over time, with repeated reproduction, the telomere gets shorter. As the telomere becomes shorter, the organism begins to age and irregularities creep into the reproduction process. Some cancers may be due to these irregularities. Dr. Blackburn’s discovery was that the telomeres are actually replenished by an enzyme, telomerase reverse transcriptase.

The bad news, however, is that stress and excess cortisol damage the body’s supply of telomerase. So chronic stress can cause premature aging and illness because the constant overproduction of cortisol reduces the supply of telomerase and that prevents the cell from reversing the effects of stress. Telomere length (TL) can now be measured. However, if you are the President of the US, one does not need fancy tests to measure your TL. Stress is not the only way that telomeres become short too soon. Some people have the bad luck to be born with shorter telomeres. Others earn shorter telomeres in advance of their years by their life style choices. And, some have been exposed to early life adversities, which lead to shorter TLs over time.

The same scientists that discovered telomerase have been working on finding solutions to the harmful effects of chronic stress on DNA. In 2010, Dr. Puterman and colleagues demonstrated that moderate to vigorous physical exercise can buffer the effect of chronic stress on TL. Subjects took the Perceived Stress Scale and were divided into sedentary (not exercising) versus the active group (those getting the CDC recommended amount of daily exercise). The likelihood of having short versus long telomeres was calculated as a function of stress and exercise group, covarying age, BMI, and education. There was a significant moderating effect of exercise. Non- exercisers with even a one unit increase on the Perceived Stress Scale showed a 15-fold increase in the odds of having short telomeres, whereas for the exercisers, perceived stress was unrelated to telomere length. The conclusion is that “vigorous physical activity” (increased HR, sweating, +/or rapid breathing) appears to protect people experiencing high stress.

The USDA recommends that adults (18 to 64) do at least 2 hours, 30 minutes each week of moderate physical activity (brisk walking, dancing) OR 1 hour, 15 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a vigorous level (running, walking fast uphill, cycling). Being active 5 hours or more a week can provide even more health benefits. It is recommended that the physical activity be spread out over at least 3 days a week and that each activity should last at least 10 minutes at a time. Strengthening exercises are also recommended, like sit ups, weights, at least 2 days a week to maintain memory.

In sum, as you age, it is essential to protect your telomere length by a minimum of 25 minutes at least 3 days a week of vigorous exercise. Next month we will look at how the damage of chronic stress to DNA can be inherited or transferred to the next generation.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, December 2014

Dr. Susan Andrews, Clinical Neuropsychologist, is currently Clinical Assistant Professor, LSU Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine and Psychiatry, engaged in a Phase III study on HBOT and Persistent PostConcussion Syndrome. In addition to private clinical practice, Dr. Andrews is an award-winning author of Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms (2013).