Category Archives: Stress Solutions

Let’s Review…

To date, The Psychology Times has published 4 Stress Solutions columns. Let’s review where we have been.

In July 2014, the topic was “10 Stress-Free Minutes a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.” The main theme was that chronic stress is clearly linked to many health problems like obesity, emotional issues like anxiety, and cognitive changes such as memory problems. Even though as psychologists we know this, tell our patients about stress, and offer many suggestions to help them reduce stress, oddly enough, we do a poor job of following our own advice. July’s article suggested that we should all “draw a line in the sand” and start reducing our excess cortisol by doing something at least 10 minutes every day to reduce the effects of stress on our own bodies. I suggested the Mindfulness training and/or some focused breathing with music each day.

August 2014 was titled, “Is Your Treadmill Keeping You From Losing Weight?” Even exercise can produce more cortisol when we stress our systems by overexercising. The increased cortisol can then keep us from losing weight. Short bursts of high intensity exercise is recommended to use up the body’s glycogen stores without over- releasing cortisol. The benefit of regular exercise is that your body’s response to exercise improves with regular practice and that over time, regular exercisers deal better with social stress and emotional situations.

September’s column, “What do Obesity, Chronic High Stress, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Hypertension, and Depression have in common?,” addressed sleep deprivation and how sleep deprivation can keep you from losing weight. Sleep deprivation is a major stressor on the body and is related to reduced alertness, concentration, and memory efficiency. Good sleep is related to normalized blood pressure, lower morning blood glucose levels, and normal physical reactions to stress and activity. Many psychologists are focusing on sleep habits in their treatment sessions.

Last month’s topic was “Salmon and Sardines for Stress Reduction.” Eating fish rich in Omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids has been shown to counteract the detrimental effects of mental stress on your heart. 9 grams of fish and/or fish oil supplements a day is recommended. Oily fish are species of fish that contain significant amounts of oil throughout their body tissues and in their belly cavity. Examples of oily fish include salmon, trout, sardines, kipper, eel, and herring. The benefits of eating such fish during pregnancy have been shown to carry over to the offspring in the form of reduced behavioral and attention problems.

Hopefully this mini-review will remind us all to get good sleep nightly, set up a regular exercise regimen, make ourselves take at least 10 minutes a day to reduce the body’s load of cortisol, and to eat oily fish at least twice a week or take Omega 3 supplements to reduce the effects of stress on our hearts. Coming up we will examine the effects of stress on our memory.

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, November 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).

Salmon and Sardines for Stress Reduction

Benefits attributed to eating oily fish are mounting. Eating fish is now credited with combating depression, reducing the symptoms of arthritis, reducing the risk of heart disease, protecting vision, and most recently with reducing stress and improving working memory. Of course, this is due to oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, being very rich in omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids and protein. White fish have fatty acids too but not as much.

A study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology shows that fatty fish oils can “counteract the detrimental effects of mental stress (read that: the fight or flight reaction) on your heart.” The study, led by Jason Carter of Michigan Technological University, revealed that people who took 9 grams of fish oil supplements a day for over a month experienced less mental stress in measurements of cardiovascular health, including heart rate and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) compared to those who took 9 grams a day of olive oil instead.

Oily fish are species of fish that contain significant amounts of oil throughout their body tissues and in their belly cavity. In contrast, whitefish only contain oil in their liver – and much less of it than oily fish. Other examples of oily fish include trout, sardines, kipper, eel, and herring.

The American Heart Association recommends that people eat at least two servings of fish every week. The National Health Service of the United Kingdom also advises people to eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish.

It has been known since the famous Avon, England study of all the pregnant women in that city during one year in the 90’s that women who do not eat fish during pregnancy are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety at that time. The University of Bristol longitudinal study suggested that eating fish during pregnancy could help reduce stress levels, which – in turn – has the effect of reducing behavioral and attention problems in the offspring of oily fish eating mums.

My favorite study involved London cabbies, a stressed group who can always use some working memory improvement. The BBC reported on a small group of 10 cabbies who agreed to eat 4 portions of oily fish a week for 12 weeks. They were tested before and after the 12 weeks to see what affect the increased intake of oily fish had on their stress levels and memory.

At the end of the 12 weeks it was found that cabbies were better able to deal with stressful situations and their visualization-based memory had also improved significantly, something Omega 3 is believed to help with. As a group, their stress hormone as a whole was down by 22% and their anti-stress hormone up by 12%.

Since the study included only ten participants and had no control group the results are only suggestive. However, the cabbies could be heard to exclaim: “So long and thanks for all the fish…”

Stress Solutions

by Susan Andrews, PhD

The Psychology Times, October 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).

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).