Category Archives: Stress Solutions

Stress Solutions

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 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.

Stress Solutions

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  wakening, 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

Stress as a Trigger of Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases are a rare and poorly understood group of diseases, affecting  approximately 5% of Western population. Dr. Betty Diamond defined autoimmune disease in an article in the New England J. of Medicine (2001) as “a clinical syndrome caused by the activation  of T cells or B cells, or both, in the absence of an ongoing infection or other discernible cause.”  Almost all research papers on the topic of etiology start by saying that there is a multifactorial  group of causes, including genetic, hormonal, some environmental and immunological factors.  Despite the known causes, at least 50% of autoimmune diseases can be attributed to “unknown trigger factors.” And, that is where stress as a trigger fits in. Stress can affect immune function  in individual ways. Subjects of many retrospective studies have identified that they experienced  an unusual amount of emotional stress prior to onset of an autoimmune disease.

The bad news is that not only can stress trigger the onset of disease, the autoimmune disease  itself can then cause significant stress in the patient. This sets up a vicious cycle. As the stress  builds up, the major stress hormones are released, in particular, cortisol. The overproduction of cortisol and failure of the nervous system to regularly reduce it leads to immune dysregulation,  which ultimately results in autoimmune disease by the changing of cytokine production.

Cytokines are little proteins that help control the immune system and inflammation response.  Immune dysregulation is when your body can’t tell the difference between healthy cells and the  invaders that should be attacked. In most cases of immune dysregulation, the person is living  with an overactive immune system with joint pain and stiffness.

Since stress is so actively involved as both a trigger and a response to autoimmune disease,  effective treatment of autoimmune disease should thus include stress management and  behavioral intervention to prevent stress-related immune system imbalance. That brings us  back to some thoughts on the role cortisol plays in the autoimmune patient.

Cortisol is essential to the production of steroids. In fact, all steroids are initially derived from cortisol. And, since steroids are often prescribed in the treatment of autoimmune disease, high  levels of cortisol are helpful in reducing the symptoms of autoimmunity. When the levels are  low, however, it is likely to aggravate autoimmune disease symptoms. Addison’s disease is a  rare condition in which your adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol.

Effective treatment of stress in the case of autoimmune disease requires a serious look at the  patient’s life situation in terms of what kind of stressors (psychological, physical, or emotional  stress), how the stress is affecting the body (overproduction or underproduction of stress  hormones), and how that person best reduces daily stress. Then set up a daily routine and  follow it slavishly.

Stress Solutions

Ever sit beneath a tin roof in the rain?

As I sat here listening to the rain hit the roof and trying to think of what to write about, I realized that I was feeling relaxed and peaceful. I love that sound. It is so calming. It is amazing that even imagining yourself sitting beneath a tin roof in the rain can have the same effect as physically  being there. Our imagination is that strong. It can take us on wonderful experiences. And, of  course, imagination is also largely responsible for our fears and anxiety. Let’s focus today on using imagination to create a relaxed, calm state of mind. Imagination can be the key to  becoming more conscious of when we are stressed and knowing  when and how to consciously change that state of mind.

Using your imagination to create a relaxed and focused state of mind is critical to learning how  to consciously reduce stress. This is also a good place to start if you are new to meditation. Our  imagination is extremely powerful and may be the most important of all our faculties. You can  literally sit in a closet and re-live a wonderful experience or imagine something you want to  create.

Why not gift yourself a few minutes of imagining you are sitting beneath a tin roof in the rain.  Or, choose another favorite experience or place and go there for a few minutes. Start by finding a comfortable seat or lying down. Remove unnecessary sounds or just screen those sounds out. Do something to signal to your subconscious mind that you are going to create a relaxed but  attentive state of mind. Once comfortable, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. It  should become a little slower and even. Notice your heartbeat. Don’t worry about trying to slow  it down if it seems fast. It will quieten down in a few moments.

Next, check your body for places where you feel muscle tension and consciously let that go. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly through pursed lips. Now, you are ready to imagine a  beautiful place in Nature. Maybe imagine one you know well but are not there now. Or let your  imagination make up one you have never seen. Choose a place where you feel safe and comfortable. Slowly add the details of color, time of day, sounds of Nature, the smells; the more detail you imagine, the more real the experience becomes. Remember, once you get there, you  do not have to DO anything. Just BE.

 

Stress Solutions

Can Stress Affect the Fetus?

Some stress during pregnancy is normal, just as it is during other times of life. But if stress  becomes constant, the effects on a mother and her unborn baby could be lasting.

When you’re stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode, sending out a burst of cortisol  and other stress hormones. If you can quickly reduce your stress and move on once the source  of the stress reaction has passed, your stress response will recede, and your body will go back  into balance. But the kind of stress that is really damaging is the kind that doesn’t let up. Sadly,  most people struggling with chronic, unrelieved stress do not recognize what is happening to  them. This is the stress that comes from within – from chronic high levels of anxiety and fear, the type  that keeps one awake at night.

In fact, constant stress alters your body’s stress management system, causing it to overreact  and trigger an inflammatory response. For most of us, this may ultimately lead to chronic  inflammatory-based disease. But, in a pregnant woman, the consequences of chronic and unrelieved stress are much more immediate and permanent. This was the main message of my  book, Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms: How Breaking Free From Stress Can Boost Your  Baby’s Potential.

Inflammation during a pregnancy has been linked to poorer pregnancy health, too early  delivery, and subsequent developmental problems in the babies as they mature. There is data  that links that higher chronic stress during pregnancy, particularly in women with poor coping  skills, with lower birth weight and premature delivery. The bad news does not stop there. Often  such moms have babies that are fussy, hard to comfort once they are upset and crying, and  some infants even fail to thrive.

A primary reason that stress reduction during pregnancy was the key point of my book was to  call attention to the dangers of chronic stress on the fetal brain and the ensuing behavioral and  emotional problems of childhood that last into adulthood. The fetal brain responds to maternal  chronic stress by making subtle changes in the development of the brain. These subtle changes  lead to behavioral issues as the baby grows, such as ADD/ADHD, high levels of anxiety, learning differences, and even autism.

Research in this area may still be considered early; however, it has been quietly stacking up in  the background. Why is it still not a major message the OB/GYN talks about to the young  pregnant woman? This is an important way we can help the children of tomorrow. Psychologists and other mental health providers can contribute to the reduction of behavioral issues in children by spreading the word and teaching good coping strategies, particularly to young  women.

Stress Solutions

What do Jazz Fest and Stress Have in Common?

Do you like music? To New Orleanians, Jazz Fest means good music, and lots of it. So, you might  ask what could Jazz Fest and Stress possibly have in common? My answer is “MUSIC!” The reason is that one of the best ways to relax and reduce built-up stress is music.

Why is music such a good way to relax? There are many answers, but the key answer is also the  key to stress. It is simple really. Music is a great way to relax and reduce stress because it can stop you from thinking. And, thinking is the #1 trigger for stress.

Thinking generally produces cortisol. To reduce the buildup of cortisol, you have to stop  thinking. That is why focusing on your breathing, mindfulness, meditation, or exercise are great  stress relievers. Most of the time if you are practicing mindfulness or meditation, you are not  thinking and trying to solve a problem. You are burning cortisol when exercising so maybe it  does not belong in the same group. My point is that music can stop you from thinking.

There are major advantages to using music as your primary means of stress reduction. For one  thing, it is much more fun and pleasant and easy to do than most of the other things you can do to reduce cortisol. Music is usually easy to set up. Any type of music, well – almost – any type of  music will work. It can be playing in the background while working. Then you can take regular  breaks by sitting back and focusing on the music and clearing your mind of whatever you are  working on for a few minutes.

Music uses almost all the brain areas. I’m not sure if this is a fair statement, but music like good  jazz or classical seems to balance the nervous system. The more you can take a moment to pay attention to, focus on the music, the more it will work to relax you.

If at the same time, you  practice a little breathing while listening actively, you will be surprised how much 5 minutes like  that can do for you. You will feel ready to re-attack that stack of files on your desk.

So, how about putting on something you like to listen to, take a few deep breaths and then  maybe move a bit to the rhythm. Shrug those shoulders. Relax your neck and shut your eyes for a minute. When you catch yourself in that big yawn, then you know you were successful. You  reduced the cortisol. I think I will take some of my own advice right now.

Stress Solutions

Acute Stress is Helpful…
Chronic Stress is Harmful

Of course, the key to successful management of stress is recognizing acute stress from chronic  stress. So many things stress us during the average day that it is hard to be aware of when  acute stress becomes chronic stress. Webster defines acute in this context as “characterized by  sudden onset…and lasting a short time.” Webster gives 136 synonyms and antonyms of acute. The word, acute, comes from the Latin word, acutus, meaning sharpened, pointed, having a  violent onset, and less than a 90-degree angle. If your nervous system is healthy, it redresses  itself when the acute stress is over and is better off for the process in many cases.

On the other hand, the meaning of chronic according to Mr. Webster is “continuing for a long  time or returning often.” Of interest, there are only 41 synonyms of the word, chronic. In medical care, an illness that lasts more than 90 days is considered chronic. The Greek root of  chronic is time. The psychological context of chronic stress is more like habitual, returning  often.

The difference between Helpful and Harmful is based on how successful the person is at  managing their stress. If a person is in a chronically stressful situation, good management has  to include frequent breaks during which you can clear your mind, think, and do something  relaxing and happy-making before returning to the stressful situation either in your mind or in  action.

So, there really are two important keys involved in keeping stress from becoming harmful: 1)  Learn how to recognize when you are in stress. 2) Learn how to best manage your stress to  keep it acute (i.e., by taking frequent breaks) and finding things you can do that are relaxing. Or, if your stress primarily comes from your mind and the fact that you have a busy mind and your  mind seldom or never shuts off, then finding a way to clear your mind long enough to reduce  the body’s stress reaction.

Sadly, many of us tend to deny that we are under stress, therefore failing to recognize it. There  are so many triggers and situations that produce the stress hormones, but none are as present  as our mind and thinking. Do you remember those childhood years when an adult might have  said: “What were you thinking?” And, the response was truthfully, “Nothing!”

Well, for most of us, those days are long gone. That is why the technique that is now called,  Mindfulness, is sweeping the world. It is easy to do for anyone and if done often enough it will  produce the desired result of a peaceful, quiet mind. Mindfulness only takes a minute or two to  do and the only thing most people have to do is sit back, close your eyes, focus on your  breathing, and spend a quiet, mindful minute or two. Try it right now. It only takes a minute.  Your To Do List can wait a moment.

Stress Solutions

Some Benefits of Keeping Indoor Plants Around

Nature walks and the beauty of nature have long been identified by philosophers and  researchers alike as a good method to reduce stress. So many of us do not live next to a  beautiful park or serene lake around which to walk or take a meditation break. The next best thing is keeping plants around your workplace.

Plants not only provide an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange, but also, they are natural things of  beauty. Plants capture the carbon dioxide in their environment and release oxygen into the  atmosphere. The process is called photosynthesis. The more carbon dioxide, the better the  plants thrive. A recent study indicates that as global warming increases, plants will actually take  in more carbon dioxide. Science backs up more benefits to keeping indoor plants around you. Indoor plants improve our mental health. And stress reduction just happens to be one of the  ways that indoor plants improve our mental health. Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor  Emeritus at the University of Vermont, has research that shows visual exposure (just seeing  plants) helps reduce stress in only five minutes.

An interesting study conducted at Washington State University (Lohr, et al. 1996. J. Environmental Horticulture) found that the presence of plants in a workplace helped reduce  stress levels of employees. The research was conducted in two computer labs, identical except for the plants present in one lab. The subjects in the lab with plants were 12% faster in reaction  time and their systolic blood pressure was lower (measure of stress). The subjects also reported feeling more attentive when surrounded by plants.

Plants in the same room while working increases a person’s ability to pay attention and stay  focused (J. Environmental Psychology). Flowers are even more impressive. Research at Rutgers  showed an immediate impact on happiness. One hundred percent of the people in the study  immediately responded with a smile.

Even more impressive is that a study published in 2010  that was performed in 101 Michigan high schools strongly supported the positive effects of  nature on students’ performance on standardized test scores. More students were planning to  attend college. The long-term implication for teachers is offer more lessons outside and keep plants in your classrooms. It will pay off in students grades and attention.

So, treat that forgotten Boston fern in the corner of your office or therapy room with a little  more respect! Plants are not just fluff for the decorator; having plants around us is improves  our lives in so many ways.

Stress Solutions

Stress Can Increase Your Risk of Mortality

Researchers at King’s College London examined data on the effects of stress on mortality  (Hotopf, Henderson, & Kuh, 2008). The subjects self-reported their stress levels. The chilling finding was a strong association between higher levels of self-reported stress and all causes of  death. Stress can affect the body in so many different ways that finding the means by which  stress leads to death at earlier ages is complicated.

Nonetheless, one important connection needs to be examined. Research on telomeres may  hold an answer. Telomeres are distinctive structures at the ends of our chromosomes. They are  sections of DNA. The form like a cap, much like a plastic tip on shoelaces, that works to protect  the chromosome. The telomeres allow the chromosomes to be replicated in cell division. Every  time a cell carries out DNA replication, the telomeres are shortened. As we age, telomeres get  shorter. They play a major role in cancer as well as in aging.

Oxidative stress, such as diet, smoking, and stress, make telomeres shorter, too. Many studies  have now demonstrated links between chronic stress and higher oxidative stress. In addition,  the chronic stress is associated with lower telomerase activity and shorter telomere length.  Shorter telomere length is associated with advanced aging of the body. When a telomere gets  too short, after many replications and possibly increased oxidative stress, it reaches a ‘critical  length’ and can no longer be replicated, triggering the cell to die.

Newborn babies usually have long telomeres. Telomeres get shorter as we age. There are ways  that have been found to increase the length of existing telomeres or reduce the shortening  effects of stress. Obviously, avoiding chronic stress is one way to reduce or slow down the  shortening of the telomeres. However, one of the ways that many people choose to deal with  stress has been shown to be highly effective at actually lengthening telomeres. Aerobic exercise  lengthens telomeres and reduces stress according to several studies (Puterman et al,  2018). In the Puterman study, high stress caregivers completed 40 minutes of aerobic exercise  3-5 times a week for 24 weeks.

Aerobic exercise is an excellent way to reduce built-up muscle stiffness from sitting at your  computer all day working. “Working” may not seem like stress to some, but if working means  thinking, then it is definitely stress. At the end of each day, the built up stress should be reduced and aerobic exercise is a good way to do it. Apparently, there is an added benefit of  increasing your chances of living a longer, happier, and more productive life.

Stress Solutions

Healing the Healers: Stress Among Psychotherapists

Surely, there is no real argument that mental health providers have job stress. This topic has been explored in numerous countries, including Great Britain, India, Spain, and Japan, to name a few. The Japanese Occupational Health department even developed a Brief Job Stress Questionnaire. Unfortunately, it is only available in Japanese.

The British studies by the British Psychological Society (BPS) did a study by survey in 2015. The findings were that 46 percent of psychologists surveyed reported that they experienced a depressed mood and 70 percent said that they found their jobs stressful. Many listed over-work as a primary factor in their burnout.

A study from a state in midwestern USA published by Deutsch, CJ in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (1984) surveyed 264 therapists about the amount and sources of their stress. The therapists completed a questionnaire on background
information, their beliefs, and a 36-item stress scale. What they found was that irrational beliefs and attitudes held by mental health providers lie at the center of their reported job stress.

The irrational beliefs uncovered are very interesting and can provide a basis for all psychologists and/or mental health providers to explore their own systems of beliefs. So, to that end, I list a few irrational beliefs for further contemplation.

  1. One should operate at peak efficiency and peak competence with all clients and at all times.
  2. If a client does not get better or terminates prematurely, it is the therapist’s fault for not doing a better job of engaging the client.
  3. A good psychotherapist is not likely to get “burnout” because a good therapist is emotionally well-balanced and can manage their own emotions and stress. So, if the therapist becomes “burned out,” it must mean that that person is not a good therapist and is not well adjusted after all.
  4. It is an embarrassment for a therapist to seek therapy for themselves.

As a mini-self-test, do you agree with any of the above beliefs? And, if you do agree with any of the beliefs, what are you going to do about it? Food for thought

Stress and Your Immune System During the Pandemic

Keeping our immune system strong has always been important. However, it has become critical in this age of a 2-year pandemic. While this pandemic appears to be winding down, who knows what might be waiting in the wings.

When we are stressed, our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced making us more susceptible to infection. How does this happen? The stress hormone, corticosteroid, works to suppress the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes. Corticosteroid  can also increase active immunosuppressive mechanisms, like regulatory T cells. Chronic stress  dysregulates immune function by increasing proinflammatory responses.

There is a big difference between chronic stress and short-term stress. Short-term stress is the  fight-or-flight response lasting minutes to hours. It is a response to an immediate threat. The healthy nervous system will self-regulate by reducing the effects of the fight-or-flight response  as soon as the immediate threat is gone. Research has shown the value of short-term stress as  a way of mobilizing bodily resources and stimulating immune activity. One particular set of studies done at Stanford University School of Medicine by Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar tracked the paths of key immune cells in response to short-term stress in rats. The hormones that were  triggered enhanced the rats’ immune responsiveness during the fight-or-flight response. Their  findings paint a better picture of how our minds influence immune activity.

Chronic stress, or long-term stress, can suppress our immune system. People with weak  immune systems need to pay particular attention to their stress and to ways to systematically reduce it. Signs of a weak immune system include:
Frequent colds or infections
Digestive problems
Delayed wound healing
Skin infections
Fatigue
Blood Disorder or an autoimmune disease

Anxiety and its side-kick, chronic stress, are especially harmful to the immune system. If you  recognize that your nervous system reacts quickly with an anxiety or stress response, it is time  to pay attention to ways to reduce your stress. A busy mind that never stops or a busy schedule or chronic worry all can lead to chronic stress. One of the most effective ways to manage the  problem is to take frequent breaks during the day to stop the mental activity and consequent  cortisol production. As a great teacher once said when asked what is the best way to reduce  stress: “breathe!”

How Long is Your To-Do-List?

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is
the only one you know you have for sure.” Oprah

My mother used to be famous for telling our family: “It’s hard work having a good time.” I was  remembering that as I sat nursing a bump on the head from forgetting to duck under an open  cabinet door while rushing around setting up camp this weekend. At the same time, I was thinking about writing this column and wondering what to write about.

We used to laugh when mom said “it is hard work having a good time” but the more I live life,  the more I realize the truth of it. Life seems to be all about hurrying to DO things. We seem to  try to pack in as much as we can into each day. The more we put into the schedule, the more stressful the day becomes. For one thing, nothing ever goes as quickly or as easily as we plan,  thanks to things like traffic, the weather, the unexpected phone calls or unplanned things we  simply have to deal with. The meeting we planned doesn’t happen because the Zoom connection was bad, or the other person forgot, or they had an emergency or something.

Life in the fast lane. There is an explosion in one part of the world, and it is world news within  the same hour. What precautions do you take to erase some of that stress daily? Or, do you just let it build up until you realize you are exhausted.

How long is your To Do List? The busier we are the more we think we can add to the daily To Do List. After all, we are very fast and efficient at getting things done. Or, at least, that is what we  tell ourselves.

To change this pattern, you have to be conscious of (aware of) so much from minute-to-minute  in your day. Start by becoming aware of not over-booking yourself and not underestimating  how long it takes to do things. That is a tough one for most of us. If you are honest with yourself, you will recognize that you underestimate most everything from how long it takes to  drive to work to how long it takes to write that report. I spent years estimating my drive to the  office from Mandeville to Metairie was 30 minutes. It is and always has been 40 minutes – even  with no traffic or bad weather.

And, most important, I will bet that none of you think about putting a real break into your To- Do-List, a period where you can just BE for a few minutes, breathe, stretch, drink some water,  and STOP THINKING! Why not put the paper down and take a few minutes right now to just BE.

Stress Solutions

Today’s Pregnant Woman Has More to Manage

That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you
cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.
~ Chinese proverb

A friend who was about to become a grandmother for the first time told me of her fears about her daughter’s pregnancy. The doctor was concerned about an early or premature delivery. My  friend confided to me that she was worried that this had something to do with her daughter  being a Type A personality and continuing to work long hours at her job. “Could someone under  that much pressure,” she asked, “expect to have a normal baby?”

My friend wasn’t worried about whether her daughter’s child would have ten fingers and toes,  two eyes and ears, and a nose. She wondered about the baby’s disposition, ability to rest, and  overall health and wellbeing. Intuitively, my friend understood what research is now  confirming:  too much stress during pregnancy, if not properly managed, can affect the baby’s  development in a number of ways. Stress, for example, is now recognized as a primary factor in preterm birth as well as a number of other later childhood problems.

The notion that modern generations are busier and handle more tasks at the same time than  past generations is not only supported by research; it is common sense. While we may not need to plow the fields and do the wash by hand, we are juggling more variables, processing more  information, and facing increasing psychological demands as our society becomes more  technologically advanced. In our fast-paced lives, things change around us rapidly. Change itself is a significant cause of stress because when something in our environment changes, we are  compelled to change our behavior. And changing our behavior can be an emotional event often accompanied by fear, anxiety, and even anger.

One of the things my friends’ daughter did when she became pregnant was to examine lists of  physical and mental symptoms of stress like the one below. This was the first exercise she did  to become more aware of her reactions to the day’s events. These aren’t the only symptoms of  a stressful lifestyle, but hopefully you will find this exercise helpful to help you recognize when  your tension is mounting.

Considering that many people have a misperception of how well they are handling the rising  stress in their lives, how well do you know yourself? Do you find yourself. .?

__ Holding your breath under tension               __ Rapidly shaking your foot while sitting
__ Now and then taking a sudden deep sigh    __ Being very fidgety or irritable
__ Having a racing heart or sweaty palms         __ Jumping to loud or unexpected noises
__ Clenching or wringing your hands                 __ Trembling all over

 

Stress Solutions

Winnie-the-Pooh and Reducing Stress

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back
of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of
coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way,
if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.
– A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Most of us are like my friend, Edward Bear. When the stress gets to be too much,
we might not notice. If we do notice, we might say “rough day” and hopefully take
some action to chill out. In general, however, we often just continue down the
stairway in the same way, bumping our heads on every step. We don’t realize
how stressed we are until we overreact to some minor irritation or oversleep
because we don’t hear the alarm. We can all learn a lesson from that “silly old
bear”: If only we could stop bumping for a moment, we might be able to think
more clearly.

As we ponder what we now know about stress and what it can do, I think you will
agree that it is time for a stress-reduction system that will work with our busy
lifestyles. Here are the key points we have to keep in mind when looking for a
good solution:

• It’s not hard to trigger the release of cortisol in our body. Some people have a
busy schedule and a busy mind, which leads to increased and possibly chronic
levels of cortisol in their systems. Others do not have a busy schedule, but their
busy mind never stops, and that definitely keeps a high level of cortisol in their
body and brain.

• People acknowledge that stress is affecting them more than it did in past years.
Our lifestyle seems to generate stress due to active minds and busy schedules.

• While there are many stress-reduction techniques available in our arsenal, most
people do not use them actively and regularly. Some may not use them at all
even though they recognize how stressed they are.

• One of the most effective ways to manage the problem of stress is to take
frequent breaks during the day to stop the mental activity and consequent cortisol
production.

All these points bring us to this logical conclusion: we need a simple and
immediately available system that makes it easy to tell when we are stressed and
then helps us get our stress levels under control. The system needs to be flexible
enough to account for each day’s special stresses and hassles. Some of us have
lived with high cortisol levels long enough that our body has changed the way it
deals with it. Others of us still have a body and nervous system that works the
way nature intended it to work-like a good seesaw. Some of us live super-stressful lifestyles while others do not. Some of us have learned to moderate our
daily activities to take regular little mental holidays or breaks in our thinking and
work, and others of us have a hard time stopping what we are doing or stopping
the worrying and thinking.

The bottom line: to be effective, a stress-reduction system needs to account for all
these factors, and it needs to be a system you can work with not just by going to
the yoga class after work if there is enough time left in your day. Instead, you
need a system you can work with in the background all day long. Next month we
will talk about such a system.

Stress Solutions

It IS What You Think

I was reminded this week how important our thoughts are. Thinking is the
basis of almost all feeling, and our thoughts are definitely the jumping off
point for building up stress. If we think positive and happy thoughts, we
usually feel happier. Check this scene out, for example. You are motoring
down the highway on a driving vacation; the weather is horrible. You
haven’t been on vacation for a good year and were really looking forward
to a beautiful time. But, it is windy and overcast, raining. Your thoughts get
darker as the frustration of your spoiled hopes roll around in your
thoughts.

Similar scenes are familiar to most of us. In general, people do not
recognize that they begin to feel stressed because of their negative
thoughts. Fear of something bad happening or fear of getting sick is hard
to combat. Getting angry because someone did something that you
disagree with or you are frustrated with a situation can stir up those
feelings and release more cortisol into your system. People can get
trapped in their head with thoughts. The more one stays in their head, the
harder it seems to stop doing it.

Psychologists and other mental health workers see this kind of thing and
related problems all the time. People with high levels of anxiety can reach
a point where they have trouble falling asleep because their minds do not
shut down. The thoughts can become like a dog worrying a bone. Even
people without high levels of anxiety or depression can easily become a
victim of their thinking. And, professionals who spend a lot of time trying to
help other people relax, be less anxious and worried, less depressed, and
so on, fall prey to their less than positive ways of thinking.

Why is it so hard to stop that cycle from negative thoughts to negative
feelings and then the ultimate physiological effects of stress? The first
reason is that most people do not recognize when they are having the
negative thoughts and they certainly fail to understand that they can
change the way they are thinking and therefore feeling. We really are
capable of creating our own reality. And, it all starts with how we think
about what is going on around us.

Once you come to believe you can create your own reality and that you
can master your thoughts by stopping negative thoughts and replacing
them with more positive ones, you become a master over stress.
Learning how to stop and think about more positive things or
reframe your current negative thoughts into more positive ways of
looking at something is the KEY to a longer, happier and more
healthy life.