Category Archives: Stress Solutions

Stress Solutions

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Exercise Reduces Stress and
Lengthens Your Life

The first thing that drops out of your schedule when work bears down is exercise.
And, once it is out of your daily routine, it may be days or weeks before you notice
it is missing. I don’t know about you but during this 6-month period of isolation or
quarantine, I have completely loss my exercise routine. It started with our health
clubs closing. Yet, this has been a very stressful period. We need to redouble our
efforts to put exercise back into our schedules.

The importance of aerobic exercise was brought back to mind when I saw this
article in Psychoneuroendocrinology (2018). Dr. Eli Puterman is a professor in the
University of British Columbia’s school of kinesiology and lead author of the
article. The study was focused on showing how aerobic exercise can reduce
stress in family caregivers; however, the results generalize to all of us. In fact, a
much earlier paper on exercise and the length of “telomeres” was done at U. of
California. The bottom line is that Puterman’s study proved that exercising at least
3 times a week for about ½ hour over a 6-month period can slow down cellular
aging, which was measured by telomere length.

Telomeres are regions at the end of chromosomes that are active during cell
division. Simply put, telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes. Telomere
length is one of the most commonly used markers of aging. Telomerase is the
enzyme that adds DNA to the ends of the chromosome. Exercise can induce
apparent telomere growth or lengthening. That translates into longer life and/or a
more healthy and active life.

Dr. Puterman’s study design took a group of 68 men and women who were
inactive and stressed caretakers of a family member with dementia. They
randomly assigned the subjects to a supervised aerobic exercise intervention
group vs a waitlist control group for 24 weeks. The exercise routine was 40
minutes of exercise 3 – 5 times per week or 120 minutes/week of aerobic
exercise. The waitlist control group did not change anything in their usual activity
schedule.

The two groups did not significantly differ in telomerase activity across time, but
they had significantly different telomere length changes across time. Of course,
the exercise group also charted significant body mass index reduction and
increased cardiovascular fitness. Oh, and they reported a significant decrease in
perceived stress levels.

Aerobic exercise is also known as cardio. It includes brisk walking, running,
cycling, hiking, dancing, swimming, and kick boxing. (I added that last to make
sure you were awake.) If your choice of aerobic exercise is walking, you need to
step up the pace and also the length of time you walk. The key is to get your heart
rate up. You should notice your breathing, but you should still be able to carry on
a conversation. An Australian study indicated that walking briskly for 30 minutes
five days a week can improve aerobic fitness. But even walking for 10 minutes
three times a day is as beneficial as walking for 30 minutes one time a day.

Happy Trails to each of you during this Pandemic. Stay healthy.

––––––––––
Puterman, Eli, Weiss, Jordan, Lin, Jue, et al. Aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres and reduces stress in family caregivers: A randomized controlled trial – Curt Richter Award Paper 2018. (2018). Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98, p.245-252

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One Simple FDA Approved,
Non-Drug Therapy
That Reduces Stress AND
Blood Pressure

RESPeRATE is actually the first medical device that has been
clinically proven to lower blood pressure AND stress. And, if
you don’t have high blood pressure, it is still a very effective
and easy to use method to reduce your cortisol levels and
relieve tension due to stress.

What is RESPeRATE? It is a small device that was originally
designed for pilots and other people that needed to reduce their
blood pressure but could not afford to take medication because
of their job or other health issues. This gadget is like a
“breathing coach” because all the work of reducing stress and
blood pressure is done by helping you reduce and calm your
breathing such that you spend 5 to 10 minutes a day (or more)
in slow gentle breathing.

RESPeRATE does the work of matching your breathing and
then gradually slowing it down and lengthening your
respirations until you get into a “therapeutic range.” Once you
reach that range, it keeps you there with a soft chiming to
signal intake of air and exhalation

The kit contains the RESPeRATE device, an elastic belt that
goes around your diaphragm and plugs into the device, and
earphones to allow you to hear the gentle tones that signal the
timing of your breathing. The cost is minimal, and the company
allows for it to be purchased in 3 easy installments.

Many of our patients promise that they will practice breathing
techniques for relaxation, but we all know how easy it is for
such promises to be put off until tomorrow. RESPeRATE helps
with the routine of doing the breathing exercise and it is a
pleasant 10 minutes that can easily become a habit. The same
benefit can be gained by the “doctor” who prescribes the
method.

It is fair to say that breathing is one of the most important
exercises one can do for your health – physical and mental.
The research indicates that daily use for 3 to 4 weeks is all it
takes to significantly reduce blood pressure. The stress
reduction and improved sleep are “side-effects.” Check out the
website for more information on how to order and for
information on the “Clinical Proof.” www.resperate.com

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Tapping Reduces Cortisol by 43%

That is what Dr. Peta Stapleton on Bond University in Australia found when she replicated Dawson Church’s 2012 cortisol study. In the original study, Church et al examined salivary cortisol levels in 83 subjects who were randomly assigned to either an emotional freedom technique (EFT) group, a psychotherapy group (SL for Sympathetic Listening) or a no treatment group (NT). The EFT group had a 50-minute session of tapping with a certified EFT coach. The NT group waited 50 minutes in the waiting room and the SL group had a 50-minute session with a licensed therapist. Cortisol was assayed just before and 30 minutes after an intervention. Emotional distress was assessed using the Symptom Assessment-45 to measure the subject’s level of anxiety and depression. The EFT group measured a significant decrease (p<0.03) in mean cortisol level (-24.39%) compared to a decrease of -14.25% in the SI group and -14.44% in the NT group.

Dr. Stapleton replicated the original Church study almost exactly. However, her results were even more dramatic. The EFT group reduced cortisol after 1 hour of EFT by 43%. There were 53 subjects in this study randomly assigned to one of the three groups. The Symptom Assessment-45 was again used to assess psychological distress. Salivary cortisol assessment was performed 30 minutes before the intervention and 30 minutes after.

Cortisol is considered to be an important biological marker of stress. EFT or acupoint stimulation is shown to be an effective method to reduce stress-related cortisol in a person. In an experimental situation, this is “interesting” and often that is all that happens with a reader who has an interest in stress reduction. In a real life situation, however, where someone has a history of not dealing well with stress, finding a short, easy to apply method that reliably reduces the amount of cortisol circulating in their body, the importance cannot be over-stated.

Creating a list of people who have a history of “not dealing well with stress” is an important first step. These are people who for some reason tend to hold the stress producing situation in their minds and continue to think about it, such as people who are more likely to have anxiety disorders like GAD or PTSD. The list should also include people who because of their physical condition, such as being pregnant, do not want to maintain high levels of cortisol in their blood.

An important second step as clinicians is for us to introduce them to various techniques to help them reduce their stress related cortisol. The Tapping Solution is possibly NOT the best technique. That remains to be seen. However, it is surely experimentally proven to reliably reduce cortisol and it is easy to do.

It might make a good tool for your therapy box if you see and treat people with anxiety.

––––––––––––––––––––

Stapleton, P., Crighton, G., Sabot, D., and O’Neill, H.M. (2020). Reexamining the effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Psychol Trauma.doi: 10.1037/tra0000563 (epub ahead of print.)

Church, Dawson, Yount, G., and Brooks, A.J. (2012). The effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. J Nerv Ment Dis., 10, 891-6.

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Sleep – More Important
Than Ever

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 midafternoon.

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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

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More on The Tapping Solution:
A Basis in Ancient Chinese Medicine

Tapping evolved out of work that Dr. Roger Callahan, a psychologist treating a
woman with a severe water phobia, developed in 1979. Dr. Callahan had been
studying meridian points at the time he was treating this woman. Since he had
been making no progress with her, he hit upon an idea of tapping on the
endpoint of the stomach meridian as the client said that whenever she thought
about water, she got a “terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach.”

Meridians are the basis of the Chinese medicine system of acupuncture. They
are defined as energy channels that run thru the body and carry the “qi” energy
to the organs and other systems. Each meridian is associated with a different
organ system. The map of the meridians is known and easy to find even though
no one has ever actually measured or proven the existence of them as far as I
know. Nonetheless, the meridian system is hundreds of years old and to this
date Chinese medicine relies on it. The meridians are mostly named for the
organ system they feed or energize, like the Stomach Meridian, the Gall Bladder
Meridian, and so on. The Stomach Meridian ends at a point just below the eye.
Dr. Callahan asked his client to tap on that spot with her fingertips and after a
few minutes, her horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach was gone and the
story is that it never came back.

Dr. Callahan had a student named Gary Craig who worked out a way of making
tapping easier. Craig created a single sequence of tapping which became
known as EFT, Emotional Freedom Techniques. The EFT sequence was
designed to hit all major meridian endpoints and thus was more of a general
solution to whatever was the problem. The EFT sequence starts tapping on the
hand, moves to the eyebrow, under the eye, under the nose, the chin, the
collarbone and the side of the rib cage. It ends at the top of the head.

Since stress and its near-relation, anxiety, affect our organs and many aspects
of our nervous system, it stands to reason that it would reduce stress and
anxiety. One thing about a system like the Tapping Solution that may put some
therapists off is that it seems on first look to be fairly mechanistic. However, that
may not be fair. The current evolution of the Tapping Solution has grown
substantially and now there is a large literature including studies which deserve
a review.

In short, research over the past 10 to 20 years has shown that one can
measurably decrease limbic system (amygdala, hippocampus) activity by
stimulating selected meridian acupoints. PET and fMRI brain scans show the
amygdala calming when acupoints are stimulated. Studies have also shown
reduced cortisol levels when tapping is done during a stress response. In fact,
the level of cortisol reduction has been labeled “dramatic and unprecedented.”

The growth of this technique among others is now in an area of psychology
called, Energy Psychology. Evidence is coming from many countries now that
suggests that Tapping is not only fast and effective, but also the effects are
lasting. The discussion of this technique is broaching on a concept that is
making a lot of news: you CAN change Your brain.

J. Fang et al. “The Salient Characteristics of the Central Effects of Acupuncture Needling: LimbicParalimbic-Neocortical Network Modulation.” Human Brain Mapping 30, no. 4 (April 2009): 1196-
1206.

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The Tapping Solution To Release Stress and Find Balance

Years ago when working with very anxious infants and toddlers, I discovered a good calming technique was to pat or tap the child’s back gently in a continuous pattern. The child would calm and finally go to sleep. Actually, moms have been doing that for centuries. I taught clients with high anxiety little children to do that as a means of calming the child. It always worked but I never thought of it as a technique that could be used with older children and even adults.

Recently, an old friend who had become highly anxious after a head injury attended a seminar on the Tapping Solution and referred me to it. I am excited to learn about it and that there is a theory behind how it works to balance the nervous system. And, to make it even more available, Nick Ortner and his siblings developed an App called Tapping Solution App. During this superstressful period of Covid-19 they have been offering a special for the healthcare workers, including mental health care workers, and first responders. The special is a 6-month free access to the premium version of their Tapping Solution App. The basic app and a few of the tapping meditations are free.

An example of a basic tapping meditation works like this. You download the app on your smart phone. You start the anxiety tapping meditation which begins with music and a way of measuring your anxiety before starting the tapping. The meditation is 9+ minutes long and begins with a nice deep breath in. The phone shows you where to start tapping on your body (side of hand). The app guides you with a positive statement to repeat to yourself as you tap.

The app tells you where to shift to the next place to tap. Each place of tapping is done for a few seconds before moving to the next spot. The places to tap are lit up with a blinking star. There are approximately 10 or more places on your hand, face, head, collar bone, under the arm to tap. As the app continues, you are asked to think about what makes you anxious or stressed as you tap. If you are in a group or more public place, earphones will make you unobtrusive as you use the app.

There are over 100 tapping meditations on a wide variety of topics to choose from. Basic topics include Releasing Stress, Releasing Anxiety, Releasing Fear, and Releasing Grief. Now, they have added specific tapping meditations for Covid 19. There is a really valuable one entitled Quiet My Racing Mind, which is a major cause of anxiety. Some of the meditations are in Spanish as well

There are over 100 tapping meditations on a wide variety of topics to choose from. Basic topics include Releasing Stress, Releasing Anxiety, Releasing Fear, and Releasing Grief. Now, they have added specific tapping meditations for Covid 19. There is a really valuable one entitled Quiet My Racing Mind, which is a major cause of anxiety. Some of the meditations are in Spanish as well

Normally, the use of the app costs about $50 a year, paid monthly or annually. However, the current offer of 6 months free for healthcare workers is a great deal. To explore further, you can order Nick Ortner’s book, The Tapping Solution, at Amazon.

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A Map for Dealing with the Uncertainly, Chaos, and Change

More trying times than this one is hard to imagine. Most of us remember Katrina. The last pandemic was the Spanish Flu in 1918 and none of us remember that. It is cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history killing between 20 and 40 million people in about 2 years, more people than were killed in WWI or in 4 years of the Bubonic Plague. We were not helpless then and we did survive it. It did come to an end. And, we know so much more now than we did then. We have more tools with which to fight now

A key ingredient in this bitter stew we are all in is Uncertainty. Uncertainty is the Mother of Fear. And, fear gives birth to anxiety. The rules for how we are supposed to live and conduct business change daily. We are frankly being bludgeoned 24 hours a day with fear producing information over the TV and internet. Friends, family, colleagues, patients and clients are calling, texting, emailing to express their fears about the Unknown. No rules govern this global crisis, least of all how long it will last. Or, who will survive?

Everything about our way of life is threatened. People are afraid of dying should they test positive for Covid-19 – or maybe people they love will die. People are afraid they might not be able to pay their bills, might lose their home, or lose their job. They fear a shortage of provisions that they need to survive. The isolation, loneliness, is even harder to manage for many.

Over fifty percent of the American population are estimated to have significant worry and anxiety and most everyone would agree that they are stressed. We face a distinct danger of not staying emotionally healthy if we are unable to manage our fears and Cont next pg stress. There is danger to our immune system if the stress and anxiety are allowed to blossom and grow unchecked. In a nutshell, stress weakens your immune system. This new virus is particularly dangerous to those with a weakened immune system because of a reduced ability of the system to fight off antigens. And, cortisol suppresses the production of both Tlymphocytes and antibodies, which leaves body more vulnerable.

Of course, it is important during this period to use all the stress reduction techniques you have in your toolbox. On a daily basis, get good sleep, eat more natural foods, monitor your thoughts, take time for things like meditation and exercise. However, the epic scale of this coronavirus calls for more. Major chaos calls for significant and conscious change. Reducing the impact of the Covid-19 requires a new map, one that plumbs the depth of what matters to us. All over the world, people are being asked to shelter at home or to quarantine yourself if you have been exposed. Use this time as an opportunity to pause, push in the clutch, and reevaluate how you are living your life. Think about more deep questions, like what matters most to you. During your shelter at home days, consider taking one or two days to completely disrupt your schedule and routine, like doing a retreat in your own living space.

What would that look like? Take off your professional psychologist’s hat and clear your schedule or list of your usual routine. Maybe you do this with a significant other who is socially isolating with you. This is a time to dream about what changes you would like to see in the world. Possibly the coronavirus pandemic is presenting us with an opportunity to make major change. Maybe you do your dreaming and pondering alone and later connect by phone or internet with a small support group to discuss your thoughts and share your dreams and visions with others.

Consider what this virus might mean, might symbolize about our world. Many of our philosophers have commented on how compassion is growing more and more absent in the world. Oh, not everyone lacks compassion, but it is in short supply. Turf wars still light up the skies with new and better ways to kill each other. We notice the turbulence, but in this busy world, we rarely stop to feel compassion for those who are involved. So many people who are in pain need our compassion. We all have patients or clients that are more anxious and fearful than ever.

How might Covid-19 change our world? Don’t just focus on the negatives and the fears when considering this question. Of course, the negatives will come up first. Write them down and then look beyond. What good things might come from Covid-19? A friend sent a copy of a letter from Dr. Jean Houston to me, which is currently trending on the internet. Jean Houston earned Ph.D.’s in both psychology and religion. She is a writer, lecturer, a leader in the Human Potential movement, and was a close friend of Margaret Mead. Her letter beautifully describes one future that possibly is growing out from the Covid-19 chaos. That change could be increased compassion among the peoples in the world. Dr. Houston wrote: “All of my life I have been dedicated to encouraging the potential that every person carries within them. I’ve taught about our innate depths, our possibilities, and our purpose. Now, however, it’s time to live out the promise that we all carry, to become noble, kind and compassionate people. This week on television, I witnessed the best and most fearful sides of our natures. On the one hand, I saw violent videos of shoppers fighting over toilet paper, and also experienced indiscriminate generosity while shopping at my local Costco.”

Dr. Houston is not alone in what she reported. We have all witnessed firsthand or heard on the news of the juxtaposition of the best and the most feared sides of human nature coming out in this crisis. The fights over toilet paper are in direct contrast to the kindness and caring shared by people waiting in line. Restaurants turning into soup kitchens and being willing to feed hungry people in the area is happening in urban areas. Generous donations by famous people, like Drew Breese for food for those who have lost their livelihood during this crisis.

In the past, I have personally witnessed an entire bus load of 5 o’clock commuters in NYC yelling at the driver to wait and to reopen the bus door to let in one person so that they could escape the foul weather. Is it possible that Covid-19 will bring more of that kindness and compassion to the world? I believe that if we spend some of our retreat time contemplating how we can each show more compassion in our own communities, that our own burdens will become lighter.

So, what else could you think about when you take time to retreat? Spend time contemplating what really matters to you. We are all different and there is no “correct” list. But, maybe try to write down things that really matter to you and then try to pick out those that are most important to your growth and well-being.

Another important thing you can do is to spend some time thinking about your beliefs. Too many people are falling into the trap of believing all the negative things that are on the news. Make it a point to monitor and limit the amount of time you spend watching network news or searching the internet. Search out your destructive and negative beliefs. Change them to include the positive information that is less publicized. For example, here is some positive information. Most cases are not that serious and now there are over 100,000 full recoveries worldwide. China and South Korea are reporting a huge drop in new cases as a result of their tough restrictions. The Covid-19 death rate is actually lower than WHO estimated. Research and experimentation to find drugs and treatment for this new virus is making good progress and that should reduce the number of deaths. This would help bring back sanity. Apple stores are reopening in China; other stores are expected to follow. Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center has developed a test that can give results in 2 hours, not days. A pharmaceutical giant announced a test that will take 7 minutes and the FDA gave permission for it to be mass produced and distributed.

Along the same lines, take control of your thoughts. Practice some of what we all preach: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – we know how to argue and challenge the logic of our fears. Monitor your thinking so that you can stop worrying about things over which you have no control and no voice. Stop worrying and change what you are thinking about. If you cannot do that without help, then pick up a funny or exciting book, or watch a Disney movie, or experiment with the magic of your imagination. Decide upon a project that is long been on your list and start working on it. This is an opportunity to make new choices and find new directions. Activate your imagination, dream and explore those dreams and visions in your mind. Consider these next weeks like an unexpected vacation and use it to work on things you have on your “to do list.” Or, take this time to play and make sure you keep humor in your thoughts. Watch cat videos on YouTube; they are guaranteed to make you laugh.

Have you ever pondered this mystery? “Somehow things always seem to work out.” Look back in your own life and find a time when you were sure things would end badly but they magically seemed to work out. Or, recall similar stories from your clients. I remember one client who was sure they were going to lose their home after Katrina. But, in the end, they wound up with an even better one.

I know we are all feeling the pain of disrupted work and career, the drama of possible critical supply shortages, the boredom of staying home and socially distant from others. Keep in your mind that it is what you think about and what you do that determines your mental and emotional health. Recently a friend met me for coffee wearing a tshirt that read: “If you can be anything, be kind.”

Jean Houston closed her letter with these words:

“Take all the precautions that are recommended and at the same time, be bold in your love, and constant in your faith that together we will pass through this challenging time. On the other side of it, we will look back and realize that we were part of an epic time in history when caring triumphed over fear, and goodness prevailed!”

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The Zen of Balance

The Zen of Balance of which I write relates to our ever-present list of things we have to DO versus making some time to just BE. To illustrate the importance of balancing the Do’s and the Be’s in life, meet Stacy (a fictional character). Stacy is the kind of person who does not have a good sense of how stressed she is, and she did not do much to change her busy schedule even when she was warned about needing more time for relaxation. Her attitudes about work and career keep her feeling overwhelmed and responsible on the one hand and conflicted on the other hand because she frequently reads about how long-term stress can affect your health. This is a mental tug-a-war that many career-focused people have a hard time resolving.

Stacy is a good example of how we can get worn down by our attempts to live up to all of our responsibilities to family, work or education, and friends (and still enjoy a social life). Like so many of today’s bright young people, she wants to balance her personal life and her career. Her story, however, indicates that she may not be managing as well as she thinks.

As a lawyer, Stacy has always prided herself on being logical rather than emotional. She uses her cell phone and computer to manage her exercise routine, keep up with her business responsibilities, and watch her diet to manage her weight. Recently, Stacy added a yoga exercise class as a way of relaxing. Adding more to her daily to-do list, though, stretched her even more each day. Thank goodness, Stacy thought, for the modern electronic world at our fingertips. Stacy’s plan was to stay in touch with the office even when she went to yoga class, by using her cell phone. She set her email on her phone to notify her of important “can’t wait” messages. She completely missed the concerned looks that the yoga teacher gave her whenever her phone would ring, and she would excuse herself to go outside the classroom to take the call. Despite her best intentions to relax, Stacy cut her relaxation exercises short to attend to business. Even more problematic was that Stacy could not bring herself to take mental breaks from thinking about what she needed to do next and about business details and issues.

We all generate lists of what we want to get done today or this week. And, don’t we all run out of day (time) before we run out of the things on our todo list? Time is a funny thing; if you want time to do a thing, you have to MAKE that time. The point is that one thing that few of us make time for is time to spend each day just Being.

Just Being means a making a short period of time, maybe as little as 5 or 10 minutes, in which you find a quiet, peaceful environment, assume a gentle and safe position (so that you will not be concerned or thinking about your body), and clear your mind of all thoughts. Try to push away thoughts of what you will do when finished or next. Focus on listening, being aware of the environment around you. Or, focus on listening to your breathing. Try to make time every day to spend a few minutes just being.

In a lot of ways, Being can lead to enlightenment. Buddha is thought to have said: “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” Maybe spending a few minutes in a state of Being will make chopping wood and carrying water a bit more palliative.

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by Susan Andrews, PhD

Living Long and Stress Free

Longevity is living a long life. Longevity is often considered in relationship to the current life expectancy, which has markedly increased in the past 100 years. More and more comments and articles are now focusing on ways to live longer (and hopefully happier). Surely, there are many critical factors that contribute to the length of one’s life; however, many factors are beyond our control. A major factor over which we have little or no control is genetics. On the other hand, one of the factors that repeatedly earn mention in such lists is avoiding stress in your life. And, that is something that we can take control of. 

Recently I saw this article (healthline.com) on 13 Habits to a long life. Other lists of “ways to increase your longevity” are shorter, maybe listing 6 or 7 factors or habits, and some list are longer. A common element besides reducing stress that always figures prominently has to do with food, what you choose to eat, how much you eat, and whether or not you are overweight. This particular article put much emphasis on food choices. For example, almost one-half of the “13 Habits” were about food and drink, including eating nuts, turmeric, vegetables and leafy greens, avoiding too much alcohol but recommending caffeine, and avoiding overeating. 

Of course, exercise and physical activity are on everyone’s list as a means of maintaining good health and reducing cardiovascular problems. Moderation is always mentioned for alcohol but Avoiding is the usual term used for smoking and recreational drugs. Not mentioned on this particular “13 Habits” list was that people who avoid taking too many medications tend to be healthier and live longer. A good night’s sleep is also listed as important in longevity. 

Often bringing up the rear there will be the suggestion that “avoiding stress” leads to greater longevity. Truly, it is a lot easier to add turmeric to your diet than it is to avoid stress. Stress is not a large rock or boulder in the road. In truth, it is probably not possible to avoid stress in today’s life. In fact, it is not even desirable to live a stress-free life if you could figure out how to do it. 

A much more helpful habit is to learn how to reduce the stress that you accumulate by living. The best method is to become aware of accumulated stress and how you and your body have responded to the challenges of the day. Then you can plan what you need to do and how much you need to do to reduce the day’s accumulation. I rarely see this point made and even if it is made, it is not elaborated so that the average person will walk away knowing how to manage stress. Different methods of stress reduction work best for each of us. Some favor types of meditation. Others do much better in the gym with exercise to help let go of or use up the builtup cortisol and other stress-related hormones with increased activity. Music – either listening or playing an instrument – is an excellent method. Walks in nature and visits with friends and family are also good ways to reduce built-up stress. 

But, all of these suggestions miss an important point which is how important a positive frame of mind is to longevity. The key to understanding whether a potentially stressful event will have a negative versus neutral versus a positive outcome is what the person thinks about the event. People who have the wonderful ability to see the silver lining or to recognize a positive outcome instead of a negative one might be called “Polyanna” by some, but they are also more likely to live a less stressful life. 

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Stress Solutions

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby Susan Andrews, PhD

Train Students in Mindfulness to  Reduce Stress and Improve Grades

For any of Louisiana’s Psychology graduate students or their advisors or our community-minded practicing clinicians looking for a project that will improve Louisiana’s schools and quality of education, I recommend training students from kindergarten to graduate level in Mindfulness. Many are now familiar with the technique called Mindfulness. It is easy to learn and easy to teach – even for young people. I am devoting this month’s column to an idea for the new year that holds great promise for making a difference in our future – the promise of increasing consciousness for ourselves, our community, the world.  

Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain. And, when you regularly devote as little as 5 or 10 minutes daily to breathing and becoming mindful of your surroundings, amazing things can happen. The following is one of many published articles on the value of teaching students.

One hundred 6th grade students received Mindfulness training each day of the school week for eight weeks in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research study designed to determine more of the benefits of practicing mindfulness. The students were compared to a peer control group who spent the same amount of time studying computer coding. After 8 weeks, it was found that the students who received Mindfulness training experienced lower stress levels, less depression and improved academic performance, compared to their controls. The MIT researchers surveyed 2,000 students in grades 5 through 8th and found that those who showed more mindfulness tended to have better grades and test scores. They also had fewer absences and statistically significantly less suspensions.

Many resources now exist to learn mindfulness and even to learn how to teach others. I am reminded that many moons ago now, LPA invited a young woman to speak on Mindfulness and she recommended a book available through Amazon called, Sitting Still Like a Frog, by Eline Snel. I have since recommended that many of my young clients (especially those with attention problems) buy this book. It is $12 and available at Amazon. But, the real prize is the CD that comes with the book and includes 10 or more short mindfulness meditations. Kids love it as do their parents.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year.
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Stress Solutions

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby Susan Andrews, PhD

Take the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Wellness Survey

When we stumble onto something really valuable, I believe it is worth sharing. The Good Housekeeping Wellness Lab has developed a survey about what stresses you, your habits and how habits and behaviors and beliefs can affect your overall health and wellness. The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete online and asks you to consider your responses based upon the past 6 months. They acknowledge that they are going to try to gain insights and share them with their business partners and sponsors. So, you are being warned that your information is not going to be treated confidentially. 

If you are okay with these conditions, then I invite you to take the survey and print off a copy of the results for your records. The survey can be found at this address:  https://www.surveyanalytics.com/a/TakeSurvey?tt=Zt XSnH1aK8U%3D

I took the survey. The first part is beliefs about yourself and your life and friends and work that range from stressful to happy and successful. The second part are questions about health and lifestyle habits. These questions include food and drink preferences and recreational habits. This is a thorough survey in that they also ask about programs and ways you promote your wellness, like exercising in a gym and fitness classes, or meditation.

The feedback is organized into four sections:  how stressed you feel, how well you are coping, your health habits and your overall health. It boils down to a score about how you are feeling about your life. Then, it asks if there are areas you are concerned about or want to improve. The survey offers a score on your Perceived Stress. It also rates your coping skills and resiliency. The last two sections are your beliefs about your overall health and health habits.

It is a great personal exercise and a good way to approach the new year 2020 and our annual exercise of making resolutions for our life and behavior.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Holiday Season.
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Stress Solutions

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby Susan Andrews, PhD

Stress Inhibits Spatial Perception

For years, stress was considered to contribute mostly to psychosomatic-type illnesses. Then, slowly the research began to accumulate that indicates stress is not simply one of those “mental” or “emotional” problems. Stress is making headlines now in ways that really seems to contribute to what we now call the mind-body connection. Stress has even been shown to be passed from one generation to the next by the mechanism of a chronically non-stress resilient woman who is pregnant. Her unborn child will come into the world as not as able to recover easily in stressful situations as children whose moms are less stressed and possibly more stress-resilient. Cortisol has been tagged as one of the mechanisms responsible for how stress  can have lasting effects on the body.

Today, I am reporting on research(1) conducted at the Collaborative Research Center 874 at the Ruhr-UniversitaetBochum showing that stress can interfere with how we see and interpret visual-spatial information. Neuroscientists at the Collaborative Research Center 874 compared the findings of stressed participants to unstressed (the control group) participants in how stress affected their perception of scenes and faces (complex spatial information).

Earlier work out of the Collaborative Research Center 874 was able to show how the release of the stress hormone cortisol can influence long-term memory in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is also involved in the perception of scenes. Discrimination of faces was included in the study as faces are processed in the adjacent region of the temporal lobes.

The cold-pressor test was used to stress young men by having them immerse one of their hands in ice water for up to three minutes while being obviously filmed by a female researcher. This is a well-known method of establishing stress in research.

The stressed participants did less well in the discrimination of complex scenes than the non- stressed participants. However, there was no effect of the stress-induced cortisol on the participants’ ability to discriminate faces. This was the predicted outcome of the study. They reasoned that stress affects the hippocampus in the area of memory and complex spatial perception, but stress/cortisol does not also affect the workings of the adjacent temporal lobe at least as regards the perception of faces.

Further research was planned to look into the activity patterns of the hippocampus when it is under stress using MRI technology.

1 M. Paul, R, K. Lech, J. Scheil, A.M. Dierolf, B.Suchan, O.T. Wolf. Acute Stress influences
the discrimination of complex scenes and complex faces in young healthy men.
Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2016: 66: 125

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Stress Solutions

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby Susan Andrews, PhD

New Evidence That May Help Prevent the Lasting Effects of Early Life Stress

This was a very new topic 10 years ago. Today, however, it is a research area that is receiving much more activity. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ position paper acknowledged that the period of time from conception through early childhood is critical. They include prenatal stress in their definition of toxic stress and say that children exposed to early stressful conditions are more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers, manage stress poorly, and tangle with the law.1

A November 2018 Science Daily article titled, “Studies highlight lasting effects of early life stress on the genome, gut, and brain”, starts with a summary statement: “The new research suggests novel approaches to combat the effects of such stress, such as inhibiting stress hormone production or resetting populations of immune cells in the brain.”

In 2012, many articles existed that spoke to the dangers of high levels of stress in pregnant mothers but at that time, the main measures were cortisol production during stress and an understanding that some women (and men) were less able to reduce the effects of stress on their bodies than others. Longitudinal research done in Avon, England had followed pregnant moms and then their offspring until the children became adolescents. Those studies showed strong correlations between highly/chronically stressed mothers (measured by their own ratings) and the propensity of their children to deal less well with stress.

A subsample of 74 of the Avon children at age 10 years old were asked to collect samples of saliva first thing in the morning and at three other times during the day. The samples were collected for three days. Dr. Thomas O’Connor and the study team examined the children’s levels of cortisol and found that the mothers’ levels of prenatal anxiety, some 10 years earlier, predicted the children’s higher morning and afternoon cortisol levels. In other words, the higher the mother’s cortisol levels when she was pregnant, the higher the child’s cortisol levels 10 years later. This study is cited as providing evidence that prenatal anxiety might have lasting effects on the HPA axis functioning in the child and that the child’s HPA axis is affected by the mother’s high cortisol levels during pregnancy.2

What has been more or less missing was a mechanism that made the link between the pregnant mother’s higher cortisol and the child’s higher cortisol levels 10 years later. It is now emerging that there is not one link but many. For example, stress during pregnancy can alter gut bacteria, which can reduce critical nutrients reaching fetuses brains. Even more exciting is that researchers in Tel Aviv University have used cutting-edge genetic research and brain imaging technologies to produce a personal profile of resilience to stress. Their findings hope to lead to a future blood test that would facilitate preventive measures for people with Low Resilience to stress. This could potentially reduce the damaging health consequences and keep us from passing low stress resilience from generation to generation.

1 Jack P. Shonkoff; Andrew S. Garner; and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health; Committee on Early Childhood, Adoptions, and Dependent Care; and Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, “The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress,” Pediatrics 129 (2012): e232–46. 
2 Thomas. G O’Connor, Yoav Ben-Shlomo, Jonathan Heron, Jean Golding, Diana Adams, and Vivette Glover, “Prenatal Anxiety Predicts Individual Differences in Cortisol in Pre-Adolescent Children,” Biological Psychiatry 58 (2005): 211–17

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Stress Solutions

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby Susan Andrews, PhD

Using Aromatherapy to Reduce Stress

Among the countless ways to reduce stress, Aromatherapy has been growing in appreciation as a viable and easy to use method. Aromatherapy has been around for approximately 6,000 years. The history of aromatherapy is believed to have begun with the burning of fragrant woods, leaves, needles, and tree gums in ancient times. Some oils were used by the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks in cosmetics and in perfumes. The Oracle of Delphi is supposed to have entered a semiconscious state from the aroma of gases coming up from a fissure in the rock under the Temple of Apollo. No one is quite sure what the aroma was composed of, but information provided today in Delphi states that leaves were burned. There is now evidence that the gases were actually toxic hydrocarbon and the Oracle often died. The practice of aromatherapy today is much less toxic and as we learn more about different essential oils that are now extracted from the roots, leaves, and blossoms of certain plants and trees, we find that aromatherapy can be used as a complementary or alternative therapy for stress, anxiety and pain. Aromatherapy is often used in connection with massage therapy, yoga and meditation. The exciting thing is that research is now revealing that smelling certain aromas sends signals to your brain that can affect your moods, emotions, and even physical health. Some scents or oils rubbed into the skin can boost your immune system and ease anxiety. There are receptors in the olfactory bulb that connect with the limbic system and the amygdala. Topical application of certain oils has an antibacterial and even antiinflammatory effect of the body. The research that I have reviewed seems to miss an important connection to certain memories. Many a smell is associated with old memories, some wonderfully relaxing and even comforting. Some may even have the ability to alarm or stress a person due to a connection to a past negative incident.

Where are those neural connections are stored?

Cynthia Deng in Yale Scientific (November 2011) explains, “When you smell lemon oil, some molecules dissolve in the mucus lining of the olfactory epithelium on the roof of the nasal cavity. There, the molecules stimulate olfactory receptors. Olfactory sensory neurons carry the signals from the receptors to the olfactory bulb, which filters and begins processing the input signals of the lemon scent. Mitral cells then carry the output signals from the olfactory bulb to the olfactory cortex, which allows you to perceive and recognize the tangy scent of lemon. Interestingly, the mitral cells do not only lead to the olfactory cortex, they also carry the signals from the lemon scent to other areas in the brain’s limbic system. Some mitral cells connect directly to the amygdala, the brain structure involved in emotional learning and memory.”

“The researchers found that Sandalore, a synthetic sandalwood oil used in aromatherapy, perfumes, and skin care products all bound to the receptor, triggering cells to divide and migrate, processes characteristic of skin healing.” Sandalwood is also known to positively affect depression and anxiety. Lavender has positive benefits for many things, helps to induce sleep, headaches, skin burns and relieves stress. It is a main ingredient for mosquito repellents. Topical use is considered safe, but it is not recommended to be ingested.

It is important to learn how to use essential oils in aromatherapy. Books are published on this and there are ways to train in the safe use of oils. The National Association of Holistic Therapy is a good resource for finding aromatherapists that are properly trained or to find out how you can learn more about aromatherapy and include it in your practice or use it for yourself to reduce stress or any number of other benefits.

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Stress Solutions

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby Susan Andrews, PhD

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. And, IF you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, raise your hand high. 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 7 to 8 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 midafternoon.

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.

 

Psychologists can help by exploring the 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). Now, the focus of ways to improve your sleep are adding the need to put your cell phone or other blue light generators down 30 minutes to an hour before bed.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail