Category Archives: Stress Solutions

What do Obesity, Chronic High Stress, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Hypertension, and Depression have in common?

If you guessed Sleep Deprivation, my hat’s off to you.

While there is no “magic number” of hours that we should sleep, it is now firmly established that you cannot lose weight if you do not sleep a solid 7-8 hours a night. Research says the average American misses 200-300 hours of needed sleep each year. This is known as a sleep debt.

Studies suggest that healthy adults have a basal sleep need of seven to
eight hours every night. Where things get complicated is the interaction between the basal need and sleep debt. For instance, you might meet your basal sleep need on any single night or a few nights in a row, but still have an unresolved sleep debt that may make you feel more sleepy and less alert at times, particularly in conjunction with circadian dips, those times in the 24-hour cycle when we are biologically programmed to be more sleepy and less alert, such as overnight hours and mid-afternoon.

Cortisol is not the only factor that inhibits weight loss but it is a big one. Some physicians are willing to flatly state that you cannot lose weight if you do not get to bed early and get a solid 7 or 8 hours.

What getting a good night’s sleep can do for you:

  • A good night’s sleep has a positive effect on your blood pressure, meaning that for most of us it goes down at night. If your hours of sleep are interrupted or too short, your blood pressure may never fall low enough.
  • Insulin resistance is reduced by good sleep. Dr. Michael Breus, a psychologist and sleep specialist, emphasizes the fact that even short- term sleep loss (being awake for approximately 36 hours) can cause blood glucose levels to be higher than normal.
  • A routine schedule for sleeping will help your body keep its internal biological clock running smoothly. You will be more alert, with good reaction time and physical ability, in other words, less accident- prone.

How psychologists can help

Many psychologists are focusing on sleep habits in the patients they are treating. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looking at adults with insomnia, found that more than 85% of the study sample who completed 3 or more sleep-focused treatment sessions were able to nod off faster and stay asleep longer. A 6- month follow-up revealed that those patients who had 3 or more sessions spent significantly less money on health care and had fewer doctor visits – compared to the 6 months before their therapy sessions focused on sleep habits. The weekly therapy sessions included relaxation exercises and education on topics such as activities to avoid doing 2 hours before bedtime (like exercise, heavy meals, and smoking). The APA magazine, Good Practice, (Spring/Summer 2014) offers an informative short article on tips to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, September 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).

Is Your Treadmill Keeping You From Losing Weight?

That’s right! Your treadmill could be contributing to your trouble losing weight. Of course, many factors can be blamed for failure to lose weight; however, until recently your treadmill was not one of them. Exercise was always considered essential to weight loss. That is still true but the type and length of exercise may need to be revised.

The reason your treadmill is getting bad press relates to stress and the overproduction of cortisol. New research has discovered that long jogs or exercise sessions on the treadmill can actually increase cortisol. And, increased cortisol works against weight loss. Excess cortisol stops your body from burning fat for energy. Without a good way of burning fat for energy, losing weight becomes an uphill battle.

Working long hours without taking breaks, sleeping less time than you personally need, and thinking and worrying all the time are major causes of the overproduction of cortisol. The last thing most of us want is to exercise 20 or 30 minutes on our treadmill thinking we are helping ourselves to lose weight only to find out that we have burned relatively few calories and that we have produced more cortisol.

Actually, the relationships between exercise and cortisol and weight loss are tricky. There is not one simple answer for all. Cortisol is released in response to stress. If you are not in shape and just beginning an exercise program, even walking at a 20- minutes-per-mile pace can cause you to release extra cortisol. However, as your exercise training progresses, that 20-minutes- per-mile pace may not be as stressful and thus, you will not release as much cortisol. But, if you exercise until you use up your body’s glycogen stores, then you will cause an added release of cortisol to use as fuel. More is not always better. Short bursts of intense exercise may be better for weight loss without adding cortisol.

More Good News About the Benefits of Exercise

The training effect of exercise is not limited to improving your body’s physical reaction to stress. People who are active and exercise on a regular basis show a significantly lower cortisol response to an emotional crisis when compared to sedentary controls. Dr. Rimmele and colleagues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland have published a number of recent studies on how exercise training reduces salivary cortisol and cardiac stress indicators, such as heart rate. The surprising finding of Dr. Rimmele’s study – and a good take-home message for psychologists working with clients who are easily upset and/or who have some social anxiety – is that physical exercise also reduces salivary cortisol when a person is stressed in social or emotional situations. So don’t give away that treadmill after all, just use it wisely.

In the next Stress Solutions Column, we look at how important sleep is in losing weight.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, August 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).

10 Stress-Free Minutes a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

It is true that most of us cannot avoid stress, especially if we want to continue to be an active participant in the world. Stress goes with the territory of juggling a career, a family, and a social life. Most of us understand only too well the dangers of continuing to schedule full days, of adding new projects to an already overlong list, and still trying to find some time for ourselves at the end of the day. We routinely overbook ourselves. Some of us have the grace to promise to do better next week and might even believe that we can make it up later. But, can we? Chronic stress is now linked to so many problems related to illness, chronic health problems, anxiety, loss of memory, and reduced longevity that it would take the rest of this column to simply list all the ways it affects our lives. We know, for example, that the things we think about and dwell on can have a direct effect on how much cortisol, or stress hormone, is produced in our body. Keeping the cortisol down has become a new goal for the health conscious.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis have just published findings from a long-term study, called the Shamatha Project, that studied how meditation influences the brain and mental health. The article published in the journal Health Psychology reports that meditation, and particularly mindfulness training, helps lower stress and cortisol levels, which in turn can help you lose excess weight and avoid developing “cortisol belly.”

Manage Your Stress…Not the Other Way Around

It’s time to draw a line in the sand and start reducing stress and cortisol. What I am proposing is not perfect, but it is a start that you can build on. If you keep waiting until you have the time, or until you can do it “right,” it could be too late. Stop letting your calendar manage you. Don’t “try” to do better. As Yoda says, “Do or Do Not!”

Begin Your 10 Stress-Free Minutes Today

You might think that 10 minutes a day is not much help. But it is. A few minutes goes a long way toward recharging your energy and breaking up your resistance to taking breaks. You can gradually add more mental “down time” and physical relaxation to each day. Get started by making yourself push away from your desk or daily routine for 10 minutes. Take this break with the intention of taking a brief mental holiday; give your mind a rest. Why not begin with 10 minutes of Mindfulness? Or, spend 10 minutes in focused breathing (with longer exhale). Add some music or put your feet up, close your eyes and direct your favorite piece of music. Remind yourself to do this daily by putting the reminder into your smart phone.

And, by the way, those of you who work with stressed-out clients, I have found that many seriously stressed patients are so overwhelmed that they cannot even begin to think about how they can reduce their stress. The above suggestion that they start with just 10 minutes a day has helped many people start adding relief to their day. Once they begin, the time can be gradually increased. Psychology tells us that making a conscious choice with commitment is a powerful tool. Do as I say AND as I do.

Watch for more tips and hints in the next 10 Stress-Free Minutes Column. Next, we look at how stress affects diet and weight loss.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, July 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).