How to beat Stress UA-107671369-1

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Reduce

Stress

For

Mental Health

This reprint of information is not offered as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. However, it is common knowledge that the application of this information is useful to supplement traditional medicine, increasing health & well-being, increasing quality of life,  and reducing medical costs. Credit for this post goes to helpguide.org.
helpguide.org  which is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.
  Stress Management

 How to Reduce, prevent, and Cope with Stress

  It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will   never be more hours in the day, and your career and family responsibilities will always be        demanding. But you have more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that     you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management. Managing stress is all    about taking charge: of your thoughts, emotions, schedule, and the way you deal with problems.



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In This Article:
  • Identify sources of stress
  • Look at how you cope with stress
  • Avoid unnecessary stress
  • Alter the situation
  • Adapt to the stressor
  • Accept the things you can’t change
  • Make time for fun and relaxation
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle

Identify the sources of stress in your life

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.

To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:

  • Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”).
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?

Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

 
Start a stress journal


A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:

  • What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure).
  • How you felt, both physically and emotionally.
  • How you acted in response.
  • What you did to make yourself feel better.
     

Look at how you currently cope with stress

Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.

Unhealthy ways of coping with stress

These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:

  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Sleeping too much
  • Procrastinating
  • Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
  • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)

Learning healthier ways to manage stress

If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.

Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.

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How to Reduce Stress

       Dealing with Stressful Situations: The 4 A's
 
  1. Avoid the Stressor 
  2. Alter to the Stressor
  3. Adapt the Stressor
  4. Accept the Stressor      


Stress management strategy 
#1: Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it's not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate. 
  • Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
  • Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
  • Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
  • Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
  • Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

Stress management strategy 
 #2: Alter the situation

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

  • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
  • Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
  • Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

Stress management strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

  • Re-frame problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
  • Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
  • Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.

Adjusting Your Attitude

How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.

Stress management strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change

Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.

  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
  • Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
  • Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
  • Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments.Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.

Stress management strategy #5: Make time for fun and relaxation

Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.

Healthy ways to relax and recharge

  • Go for a walk.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Call a good friend.
  • Sweat out tension with a good workout.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Take a long bath.
  • Light scented candles.
  • Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Work in your garden.
  • Get a massage.
  • Curl up with a good book.
  • Listen to music.
  • Watch a comedy.


Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

  • Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
  • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

Stress management strategy #6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle

You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.

  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
  • Get enough sleepAdequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
  • Stress Management & Relief - You may feel there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have more control over stress than you might think. Stress management is all about taking charge: of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. No matter how stressful your life seems, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.
                                                                                               Check out these links

                                 Helpguide’s Free Toolkit               Resources & References

 

Stress Management & Relief

Relaxation Techniques By practicing techniques that activate your body’s relaxation response you can effectively combat stress and ease tension.

Quick Stress Relief Identify your own stress responses and learn how to quickly and effectively reduce stress in the middle of any challenging situation.

How to Stop Worrying You can break the habit of chronic worrying by training your brain to stay calm and overcome persistent doubts and fears.

The Many Faces of Stress by Harvard Health Publications Learn more about stress challenges that you can learn to cope with.

Don't forget to click on the links for additional information

Helpguide’s Free Toolkit

If you feel too overwhelmed to put these tips into practice, repair what may be the source of the problem–an inability to stop worrying or manage overwhelming stress and emotions. Take advantage of Helpguide's free Bring Your Life Into Balance mindfulness toolkit. This resource can help you learn to manage deeper, older and more complex sources of stress.

Resources & References

General information about managing and coping with stress

Managing Stress: A Guide for College Students – Offers a total wellness lifestyle plan for managing, reducing, and coping with stress. (University Health Center, University of Georgia)

Stress Management: How Do You React During Stressful Situations? – Evaluate the way you react to stress and learn how to transform your negative responses. (Mayo Clinic)

Stress Management for Parents – Stress management suggestions for stressed-out parents, including fifty-two proven stress reducers. (Child Development Institute)

Stress management strategies

Assert Yourself – Self-help modules designed to help you reduce stress, depression, and anxiety by improving your assertiveness. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)

Put Off Procrastinating – Work your way through a self-help series on how to stop procrastination problems. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)

What Are Some Specific Stress Reduction Methods? – Simple stress reduction suggestions, including diet, exercise, and cognitive-behavioral techniques. (University of Maryland Medical Center)

Exercise Fuels the Brain's Stress Buffers – Explains how regular exercise helps reduce and manage stress levels. (American Psychological Association)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Robert Segal, M.A. Last updated: July 2012.


                  

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Effects of Chronic Stress on the Brain



The hormone “cortisol” increases when we experience chronic stress. Cortisol affects many brain functions which put you as risk of many mood disorders and other mental health challenges.

We hope to learn the following about chronic stress:

       o The hazards of chronic stress and cortisol

       o Ways chronic stress influences brain health and function

       o How chronic stress impacts happiness and mental well-being

       o 6 simple steps to help a chronically stressed brain

Most of us face stress every day; chronic stress is a killer. 90% of all our doctor visits are for stress-related health complaints. Chronic stress makes us more vulnerable to every illness, from cancer to the common cold. Non-stop elevations of stress hormones not only impact our brain but also makes our body sick, as well.

The Dangers of Chronic Stress and Cortisol

There are various kinds of stress — acute stress, chronic stress and positive stress — and, despite what we might think, not all stress is bad for us.

Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Positive stress or eustress (also called good stress) is when we perceive a stressful situation as an opportunity that will lead to a good outcome. This positive expectation is in contrast to negative stress or distress when we perceive a stressor as a threat that will have a poor outcome. Once the threat has passed, our levels of stress hormones return to normal with no long-lasting effects.

Some degree of acute stress is even considered desirable as it primes our brain for peak performance. Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as-needed basis in moments of extreme excitement. They help us think and move fast in an emergency. In the right situation, they can save our life. They don’t linger in the body, dissipating as quickly as they were created. Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through our system all day long, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. This stress hormone has been called “public enemy #1.”  Excess cortisol leads to a host of physical health problems including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Chronic stress takes a toll on adrenal glands, leaving us feeling wired but tired. Cortisol also takes an equally high toll on our brain.

The Effects of Chronic Stress on Your Brain

Some of these brain-related stress symptoms will be obvious, like memory loss, brain fog, anxiety, and worry. But most of these effects of stress on our brain are “behind the scenes.” When stress becomes chronic, it changes our brain’s function and even its structure down to the level of your DNA. We don’t notice they’re happening but you will notice the side effects … eventually. Here are 12 ways chronic stress impacts your brain health and mental well-being along with simple steps we can take to counteract the damage.

12 ways chronic stress influences brain health and function

1. Stress creates free radicals that kill brain cells.


Cortisol creates a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate creates free radicals — unattached oxygen molecules — that attack brain cells much in the same way that oxygen attacks metal, causing it to rust. Free radicals punch holes in the brain cell walls, causing them to rupture and die. Stress also indirectly contributes to other lifestyle habits that create more free radicals. If stress causes us to lose sleep, eat junk food, drink too much alcohol, or smoke cigarettes to relax, these are contributing to our free radical load.

2. Chronic stress makes you forgetful and emotional
.


One of the first signs of stress  we may notice is m
emory problems. Misplaced keys and forgotten appointments have you scrambling, further adding to your stress. If we find all this stress is making us more emotional too, there’s a physiological reason for this. Studies show that when we're stressed, electrical signals in the brain associated with factual memories weaken while areas in the brain associated with emotions strengthen. 

3. Stress creates a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety.


Stress builds up an area of our brain called the amygdala. This is our brain’s fear center. Stress increases the size, activity level and number of neural connections in this part of our brain. This makes us more fearful, causing a vicious cycle of even more fear and stress. 



4. Stress halts the production of new brain cells.


Every day we lose brain cells, but every day we have the opportunity to create new ones. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that’s integral in keeping existing brain cells healthy and stimulating new brain cell formation. It can be thought of as fertilizer for the brain. BDNF can offset the negative effects of stress on the brain. But cortisol halts the production of BDNF resulting in fewer new brain cells being formed. Lowered levels of BDNF are associated with brain-related conditions including depression, OCD, schizophrenia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Stress depletes critical brain chemicals causing depression.


Our brain cells communicate with each other via chemicals called neurotransmitters. Levels of critical neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and dopamine are lowered by chronic stress. Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can leave you depressed and more prone to addictions. Serotonin is called the “happy molecule.” It plays a large role in mood, learning, appetite control, and sleep. Women low in serotonin are prone to depression, anxiety, and binge eating. Men, on the other hand, are more prone to alcoholism, ADHD, and impulse control disorders. Dopamine is the “motivation molecule.” It’s in charge of your pleasure-reward system. Too little dopamine can leave you unfocused, unmotivated, lethargic, and depressed. People low in this brain chemical often use caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and illicit drugs to temporarily boost their dopamine levels. Serotonin-based depression is accompanied by anxiety and irritability, while dopamine-based depression expresses itself as lethargy and lack of enjoyment of life.

6. Stress puts you at greater risk for mental illnesses of all kinds.


The root cause of most mental illnesses is better understood now than just a decade ago. Recent research has discovered physical differences in the brains of people with brain inflammation caused by diet or stress. Their ratio of the brain’s white matter to gray matter is higher. Stress predisposes you to developing a variety of mental illnesses including anxiety and panic disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, drug addiction and alcoholism.

7. Stress makes you stupid.


Stress can cause your brain to seize up at the worst possible times — exams, job interviews, and public speaking come to mind. This is actually a survival mechanism. If you’re faced with a life and death situation, instinct and training overwhelm rational thought and reasoning. This might keep you from being eaten by a tiger, but in modern life this is rarely helpful. Stress impairs your memory and makes you bad at making decisions. It negatively impacts every cognitive function.

8. Chronic stress shrinks your brain.


Stress can measurably shrink your brain. Cortisol can kill, shrink, and stop the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that stores memories. The hippocampus is critical for learning, memory and emotional regulation, as well as shutting off the stress response after a stressful event is over. Stress also shrinks the prefrontal cortex. This negatively affects decision making, working memory, and control of impulsive behavior.


9. Stress lets toxins into your brain.
 
Your brain is highly sensitive to toxins of every kind. The blood-brain barrier is a group of highly specialized cells that acts as your brain’s gatekeeper. This semi-permeable filter protects your brain from harmful substances while letting needed nutrients in. Stress makes the blood-brain barrier more permeable, in effect making it leaky. This lets things into the brain that you don’t want in there, such as pathogens, heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxins. Having a leaky blood-brain barrier is associated with brain cancer, brain infections, and multiple sclerosis.

10. Chronic stress increases your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

One effect of stress on the brain is that it increases your risk for Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is the #1 health fear of older American adults. It is now the sixth leading cause of death. One in three US seniors will die with Alzheimer’s, and it’s the most expensive disease in the country. Common sense advice includes eating a healthy diet low in sugar and high in brain-healthy fats, getting physical exercise, not smoking, staying mentally active, avoiding toxic metal exposure, and minimizing stress. It’s been found that stress, particularly stress that occurs in midlife, increases risk of Alzheimer’s. Anxiety, jealousy and moodiness in middle age doubles your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol contributes to dementia in the elderly and hastens its progression.

11. Stress causes brain cells to commit suicide.

Stress causes premature aging on a cellular level, causing cells in both our body and brain to self-destruct.  Scientists understand how this happens, buy looking at a part of our chromosomes called telomeres. Telomeres are protective end-caps on our chromosomes like the plastic tips on shoelaces. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get a little shorter. When they reach a critically shortened length, they tell the cell to stop dividing, acting as a built-in suicide switch. Stress causes shortened telomeres which leads to atrophy of brain cells. 

12. Chronic stress contributes to brain inflammation and depression.

Did you know that the brain has its own immune system. Special immune cells called microglia protect the brain and spinal cord from infections and toxins. Mmicroglial cells have no on or off switch, so once it is activated, it creates inflammation until it dies. Chronic stress often activates our microglia,  producing brain inflammation. We once thought that serotonin was linked to depression, however, scientists now understand that brain inflammation is the root cause of depression instead.  




 

                                                                                           Mental Health Advocacy Inc.



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