Tag Archives: stress solutions

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

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

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.


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

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!

Meditation: It IS What You Think

by Susan Andrews, PhD

From The Psychology Times, Vol. 6, No. 4

Years ago when first learning to meditate, I saw a T-shirt I liked with this logo on it. That slogan says it all. As psychologists, we know the importance of monitoring our thoughts and how interrelated thinking and feeling really are. A major cause of stress and one of the most important stress solutions has to do with our thoughts and our thinking. Turns out that Stress IS what you think, too. So here we have a Zen moment; both a stressed state of mind and a calm focused state of mind are related to our thinking.

The mind is an amazing thing. To a large extent, the negative consequences of stress are directly due to a busy mind. You do not have to be physically busy to have a busy mind. Most professionals would say they spend the day thinking and they might agree that thinking all day – without lifting a single shovel – is fatiguing.

If you are almost always thinking and worrying over a problem or you continue to dwell on the events of the day even after they are over, that is a chronic issue and your cortisol levels are likely to remain high. Cortisol levels do not drop until your mind calms and becomes quiet or still. So the longer you remain mentally active, even if you are lying in bed or sitting in an easy chair, the longer your high levels of cortisol will remain. And, that leads to an exhausting list of bad things, physically, mentally and emotionally. Let’s just say it does not lead to longevity and happiness.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a great antidote to stress caused by too busy a mind. In the past, meditation seemed more strange or alien to the Western mind. But, with the gradual advance of information about different forms of meditation and the acceptance of meditation as having value, it has actually become easier to learn and to include in your daily practice. Sanskrit words and chanting are no longer required. The rapid spread of Mindfulness is an excellent example. This technique takes minutes to learn and very little more to perfect. It is so simple that it is recommended for children and found helpful with children who are having problems with attention and/or with behavior. The book, Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents) by Eline Snell, (2013) was featured at a 2014 LPA workshop by Dr. Michelle Moore. This book comes with a CD that has a number of great 5-minute Mindfulness exercises. I have recommended this book to many of my patients, old and young. It is inexpensive and easy to use. I recommend it for everyone who needs to learn this simple meditation technique.

Mindfulness is growing in popularity across the country. It is recommended for so many different reasons:

  • stress relief and pain relief
  • taking mental breaks during a busy day
  • assistance falling asleep
  • combat depression and/or anxiety

Do yourself a favor: Give Mindfulness a try.