Tag Archives: dementia

Stress Solutions

Just How Stressed Are We Really About Covid?

There seems to be a lot of talk about the “stress” of this 14 to 15-month long pandemic. And, yes, it has caused a lot of inconvenience. It has forced us to stop doing many of the things that make life fun, like visiting with friends and travelling to see family. And, most of us are bored by having to continue to observe all the safety precautions. However, inconvenience and boredom are not really the same as “stress” that has measurable and observable physiological and emotional effects on our bodies and minds.

One way to describe stress could be that state in which our worries, fears, anxieties or simply thinking (targeted mental activity) causes our bodies to produce cortisol and other stress hormones, which can cause physical damage if that state becomes chronic. In other words, true stress comes from the type of mental activity that activates our Sympathetic Nervous System, in particular the “fight or flight” mechanism. It becomes “stress” when our Autonomic Nervous System’s Parasympathetic Nervous System loses its ability to balance or cancel the Sympathetic Nervous System and put the ANS into a state of rest. That occurs when a person is chronically worrying and/or thinking and rarely engages the Parasympathetic Nervous System to rest or unwind. 

Is that happening to most of us because of Covid? Yes, it is for some but perhaps not for all of the humans in the world. Some people who have lost loved ones or friends are likely experiencing bereavement and grief, maybe even deepening into a depression. Others are experiencing isolation, particularly if they live alone and are trying to remain apart from others for fear of catching the disease. The loneliness and inability to talk about our anxieties and fears with others can mushroom into a true physiological stress reaction. Others may have lost their jobs or found their income cut. Fear for personal safety and worry about finances are definite causes of stress.

The CDC has posted information on the ways that the stress of the pandemic is affecting people’s lives. CDC is recommending that people learn to cope with stress in healthy ways, like taking breaks from watching TV news and iPhone information about the pandemic, much of which is anxiety producing. They recommend reaching out by phone and other means, like Zoom, to talk to friends, family and others. And, most of all, take time to unwind, doing things that work for you, like exercising, meditating, listening to music.

Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you and those around you become more resilient.

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 Solutions

2020: A Year of Stress (Solutions) in Review

And, what a year it has been. I will not bore you with a listing of all the
“stressful” things that have happened this year. Instead, let’s review the
solutions proposed.

In January 2020 the topic was: Train Students in Mindfulness to Reduce
Stress and Improve Grades. Training students, even kindergarten age
students, in Mindfulness is something that holds great promise of making
a difference in our future. 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. As little as 5 or 10
minutes daily attention to breathing and becoming mindful of your
surroundings will reduce student’s stress levels, improve their grades and
result in fewer absences.

February introduced the concept of Living Long and Stress Free. In an
article by healthline on Habits to a long life, stress reduction was only
mentioned after much talk about foods you eat and exercise. However,
recent research publications speak volumes about the links between
stress and dementia and stress and longevity.

March’s topic was The Zen of Balance. It is important to balance your Do
List and your Be Time. Do’s always increase Cortisol. Being reduces it.
Enough said.

April found us in the throes of the virus and having to shut our office doors
and stay at home. I must admit that I found that a wonderful respite but I
know many found it stressful. It was the Uncertainty of what was going to
happen that builds the fear. A friend sent a copy of a letter from Dr. Jean
Houston to me. 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.”

Several months were then spent on the Tapping Solution. Tapping has
research showing it can reduce cortisol by 43%. Tapping was followed by
a focus on Exercise as a good solution for some for reducing the day’s
excess buildup of cortisol. Finally, breathing – either on your own – or by
using a simple machine and program to help you gradually move your
breathing into a therapeutic range. The machine is called Resperate and it
only takes 20 minutes a day.

Wishing everyone a Happy and less Stressful 2021.

Stress Solutions

How to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia

Stress and anxiety have been linked to possible risk of dementia for a number of
years now. Animal and some human studies have examined brain areas affected
by chronic anxiety, fear and stress, using neuroimaging and stress and fear
conditioning with animals. We now know that there is a “see-saw” relationship
between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in which an overactive
amygdala (due to fear, anxiety and chronic stress), is associated with an
underactive PFC (thinking areas of the brain that regulate emotional responses).
Further, chronic stress can cause the hippocampus to atrophy. Since that brain
area is important to long-term memory there is an obvious relationship with
dementia and chronic stress.

While this relationship has been known, clinical practice has not placed much
focus on preventing chronic stress in order to reduce the risk of dementia. An
October 2020 presentation by Dr. David Bennett at the National Academy of
Neuropsychology (NAN) may change that. Dr. Bennett is the Director of Rush
Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rusk University Medical Center in Chicago. Dr.
Bennett spoke about early results of 2 very important longitudinal studies
involving participants of religious orders, called the Religious Orders Study and
the Rush Memory and Aging Project. The Religious Orders Study participants are
1500 older nuns, priests, and brothers without known dementia from across the
US who have agreed to annual clinical evaluation and to brain donation. The
project began in 1993; approximately 375 have developed dementia. Over 600
have developed MCI and over 825 brain autopsies have been performed to date.
The Rush Memory and Aging Project began in 1997 and include 2,200 residents
from the Chicago area who agreed to annual clinical evaluation and to donate
their bodies on death. Of that group to date, 375 developed dementia, 625 have
MCI and 925 autopsies have been performed.

Findings from 2 such large studies are immense and will be coming forward for
many years; however, Dr. Bennett’s talk provided a glimpse into prevention that
neatly fits the subject matter of this column. There is a continuum of cognitive
aging from cognitive decline to MCI to dementia. The brain pathology that relates
to changes in cognition are increasingly clear as the research continues around
the world. However, the Rush studies have made a discovery that will allow
people to better maintain cognitive health in old age.

Much of late life cognitive decline is not due to common neurodegenerative
pathologies (brain atrophy, infarctions, NP, NFT, NIA-Reagan, PHFtau temp, and
amyloid, etc.); only 41 % of the variance is explained. In other words, most brains
of elderly people show common neurodegenerative pathologies even though they
do not always have the same degree of cognitive decline (MCI to dementia). The
question became what else contributes to cognitive decline? All participants
were adjusted for age at baseline and for sex. The following variables were
studied: education, early life instruction in foreign language and music, emotional
neglect in childhood, depression, purpose in life, social isolation, social activity,
social networks (number of children, relatives, friends they saw each month and
felt close enough to talk about private matters or call upon for help), tendency to
avoid harm, avoid new situations, chronic distress, anxiety, size of one’s life
space (from 1 bedroom to travel outside of town), and diet. Those that stood out
as lowering the risk of dementia are well summed up in Dr. Bennett’s final
recommendations on how to build a better brain as we age. (Bennett DA.
Scientific American. Special Collector’s Edition. 2017; Summer: 85-91.)

  1. Pick your parents well! Make sure you get good genes, a good education, a
    second language and music lessons. Avoid emotional neglect.
  2. Engage in regular cognitive and physical activity.
  3. Strengthen and maintain social ties.
  4. Get out and explore new things.
  5. Chillax and be happy.
  6. Avoid people who are downers, especially close family members!
  7. Be conscientious and diligent.
  8. Spend time engaged in activities that are meaningful and goal-directed.
  9. Be heart-healthy: what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.
  10. Eat a MIND diet, (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative
    Delay diet) with fresh fruit and vegetables and fish.
  11. Be lucky!