“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Or is it?
Yes, the holiday season can be magical — with all of its dazzling displays of lights, parades, festive parties and fun family gatherings. But it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year, when Christmas shopping is unfinished, budgets get blown and out-of-town guests overstay their welcome.
Furman University Associate Professor of Psychology Cinnamon Stetler says it’s unrealistic to think you can eliminate all holiday stress.
“If you don’t have any stress, you’re not really engaging with life,” she says. “You should try to keep stress to a minimum, but it will not be something you can eliminate entirely.”
The key to managing stress is to recognize it and work to minimize it so it doesn’t overwhelm, according to Stetler.
Here are five ways to cope with holiday stress. Continue reading
No matter how much you exercise, you can’t outrun your fork. If you are eating too much, you may be doing serious damage to yourself. Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter offers the following ideas.
These tips may help to curb overeating:
–Focus on NUTRITIONAL quality of food. Highly-processed foods may be more likely to trigger craving and overeating.
–Avoid distractions. Focus on the food you’re eating and slow down to increase odds of recognizing when you’ve had enough.
–Don’t get too hungry. It may be harder to control food intake and choices when the body’s systems are all screaming for food.
–Address stress. Look for ways to cut down on exposure to stressful situations. Try stress-reducing techniques such as meditation and exercise to cut down on stress eating.
–Avoid temptation. Fill your pantry with healthy choices that you enjoy, not highly-palatable highly-processed junk food.
–Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied.
–Get enough Sleep. Ensure you get at least seven hours a night.
–Support policy change. Government and industry policy changes can improve access to healthy choices and make portions smaller.
Research from the lab of Mark Alkema, PhD, professor of neurobiology, sheds light on how the “flight-or-flight” response impairs long-term organism health. The study, conducted in the nematode worm, C. elegans, a common research model, was published in Nature.
When humans perceive a dangerous or stressful situation, the body releases stress hormones such as adrenalin. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, increases blood flow to the brain and muscles, and stimulates the body to make sugar to use for fuel. The rush of adrenaline triggers the “fight-or-flight” response which gives the person the ability to escape a predator or respond to a threat. Continue reading
People generally think of stress and anxiety as negative concepts, but while both stress and anxiety can reach unhealthy levels, psychologists have long known that both are unavoidable — and that they often play a helpful, not harmful, role in our daily lives, according to a presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
“Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious. Unfortunately, by the time someone reaches out to a professional for help, stress and anxiety have already built to unhealthy levels,” said Lisa Damour, PhD, a private-practice psychologist who presented at the meeting. Damour also writes a regular column for The New York Times and is author of the book “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.” Continue reading
I have written repeatedly that walking is the Cinderella of the exercise world – totally unappreciated. Now comes this wonderful study from the University of Michigan about how a 20 minute walk in contact with nature actually lowers your stress levels.
Regular readers know that I am a big fan of walking. I call it the Cinderella of the exercise world because it is so unappreciated. If you want to learn a lot more about the benefits of walking – after you watch this less than five minute video – check out my Page – Why you should walk more.
This is perfectly in line with our mantra of eat less; move more; live longer. Besides all the health benefits of exercise on the brain and body, Harvard Health Publishing says that it also reduces stress.
How does exercise reduce stress, and can exercise really be relaxing?
Rest and relaxation. It’s such a common expression that it has become a cliche. And although rest really can be relaxing, the pat phrase causes many men to overlook the fact that exercise can also be relaxing. It’s true for most forms of physical activity as well as for specific relaxation exercises.
Exercise is a form of physical stress. Can physical stress relieve mental stress? Alexander Pope thought so: “Strength of mind is exercise, not rest.” Plato agreed: “Exercise would cure a guilty conscience.” You’ll think so, too — if you learn to apply the physical stress of exercise in a controlled, graded fashion.
How exercise reduces stress
Aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart. You may not agree at first; indeed, the first steps are the hardest, and in the beginning, exercise will be more work than fun. But as you get into shape, you’ll begin to tolerate exercise, then enjoy it, and finally depend on it. Continue reading
One of my favorite songs as a kid in the 1940’s was “Don’t fence me in.”
Here are some of the lyrics:
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in
It appears I still feel that way, particularly when it comes to exercise. Working out in the health club really turns me off.
A new report reveals that exposure to green space reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.
Populations with higher levels of green space exposure are also more likely to report good overall health – according to global data involving more than 290 million people. Continue reading
I have written numerous times about using deep breathing to combat stress. Turns out that a recent study from Brigham Young University says that exercise helps to combat negative effects of stress.
The study, newly published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, finds that running mitigates the negative impacts chronic stress has on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” said study senior author Jeff Edwards, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.
“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” Edwards said. “Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”
To see the paper online, click here. Ten undergraduate BYU students served as co-authors on the paper, included David Marriott, who began the project for his undergraduate honor’s thesis. First author Roxanne Miller graduated in December with her Ph.D. and the research was part of her dissertation.
“Even though we will never be able to completely remove stress from our lives, it is nice to know that we can go out and do cardiovascular exercise for 20 minutes a day to help keep the stress from overwhelming our brains,” Miller said.
To read further on the benefits of exercise and the brain check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits).
A hundred years ago, it seems, I dated a woman who taught yoga. While we were dating I did yoga every day. After we parted, I still practiced daily yoga for some years. While I still do yoga from time to time, one aspect I have carried into my daily life is breath control. I can honestly say that I use it to calm myself at some point every day of my life. I also employ it at night when I finally crawl under the covers. I am quick to sleep. Herewith Harvard Medical School on relaxation techiques.
The term “fight or flight” is also known as the stress response. It’s what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges. But trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems.
Health problems are one result. A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them. One way is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response. The first step is learning to breathe deeply.
Deep breathing benefits Continue reading
Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Now, it seems that our bodies are taking it upon themselves to extend our life span.
Research shows a collection of small adaptations in stress activated proteins, accumulated over millennia of human history, could help to explain our increased natural defenses and longer lifespan.
Publishing in Nature Communications, the team of collaborators from the UK, France and Finland and lead by researchers at Newcastle University, UK explain the importance of a protein called p62.
Many cells in our body, such as those which make up our brain need to last us a lifetime. To do this our cells have developed ways of protecting themselves. One way is through a process called autophagy, which literally means self-eating, where damaged components are collected together and removed from the cell.
This is very important as accumulation of damage in cells has been linked to several diseases including dementia.
Lead author, Dr Viktor Korolchuk from Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing explains: “As we age, we accumulate damage in our cells and so it is thought that activating autophagy could help us treat older people suffering from dementia. In order to be able to do this we need to understand how we can induce this cell cleaning.”
Group of older mature people lifting weights in the gym
Here is a really useful summary of successful aging guidelines.
Our Better Health
What is the secret to longevity, and why do some people attain it while others don’t? Is it sheer luck, or are there some key factors at play here? Are we all born with the same potential to live a long and healthy life or is that determined solely by genetics?
Interestingly, it seems as though people living in specific regions of the world tend to live longer than those living elsewhere. So, what is it about these specific regions that offer people a chance to live a full life? This was the question that National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner wanted to answer.
Through his research, Buettner identified five geographic locations where people have been observed to live the longest. He has identified these regions as “Blue Zones,” and found that even though these zones differ widely geographically, the diets and lifestyles of their residents share much in common.
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I have written numerous posts on the brain, stress and relaxation. This study seems to be an amalgam of them all. If you want to read further on any of them, punch the word into the S E A R C H box at the right and have at it. There is a lot of information available.
- A pattern of brain activity that occurs during psychological stress may predict bodily reactions, such as surges in our blood pressure, that increase risk for cardiovascular disease.
- People who have exaggerated responses to stressors, like large rises in blood pressure or heart rate, are at greater risk of developing hypertension and premature death from cardiovascular disease, researchers say.
The brain may have a distinctive activity pattern during stressful events that predicts bodily reactions, such as rises in blood pressure that increase risk for cardiovascular disease, according to new proof-of-concept research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Continue reading
Dealing with stress seemed like a daily occurrence back when I was in the working world. These days, being retired, it’s a different story. I know that many of you are still working and deal with severe stresses on a regular basis. For that reason, I have written numerous posts on the subject. I offer some examples at the bottom of this post.
Here is Harvard taking a positive look at stress:
Changing your mindset doesn’t mean taking a Pollyanna view of the world. The key isn’t to deny stress, but to recognize and acknowledge it — and then to find the upside, because a full-throttle fight-or-flight response is not the only possible reaction to stress (at least when the stress does not involve a potentially life-threatening situation).
In people with a more stress-hardy mindset, the stress response is often tempered by the challenge response, which accounts for the so-called excite-and-delight experience that some people have in stressful situations, such as skydiving. Like the typical stress response, the challenge response also affects the cardiovascular system, but instead of constricting blood vessels and ramping up inflammation in anticipation of wounds, it allows for maximum blood flow, much like exercise. The balance of hormones is different, too, including more DHEA. Continue reading
Stress is like some kind of shark that has gotten into our private swimming pool and threatens to ruin our otherwise perfect day. I have written about it numerous times. At the bottom of this post, I list some of my favorites.
Here is what Harvard has to say.
Stress in adults, especially older adults, has many causes. You may experience it as a result of managing chronic illness, losing a spouse, being a caregiver, or adjusting to changes due to finances, retirement, or separation from friends and family. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do for stress relief.
Tailor the treatment
The type of stress relief that works best depends on what someone is experiencing. For example, if insomnia is a considerable source of stress in adults, a special type of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to treat insomnia, called CBT-i, may help. It aims to correct ingrained patterns of self-defeating behavior and negative thoughts that can rob you of sufficient amounts of sleep. In fact, the American College of Physicians now recommends CBT-i over medications as the first-line treatment for insomnia.
If disability is a source of stress, changes in your home may help you live more independently. Turn to your doctor, a geriatrician, an occupational therapist, or a staff member at your local council on aging for guidance. Continue reading
This is so nice to learn, both on its own and in connection with nature itself for me. As I have written more than once one of my great pleasures riding my bike on the Chicago Lakefront is being out in nature.
Our Better Health
The study compared TV show genres to see which makes people happiest.
Watching nature documentaries — like being out in nature itself — can help you feel happier.
The survey of 7,500 people around the world found they felt happier after viewing clips from BBC nature documentaries.
The study compared watching the documentary to the news or a popular drama show.
People reported that after viewing the nature documentary they felt more:
- and curiosity.
At the same time it reduced feelings of anger, tiredness and stress.
Professor Dacher Keltner, who teamed up with the BBC for the study, said:
“I have long believed that nature and viewing sublime and beautiful nature in painting, film and video shifts how we look at the world, and humbles us, brings into focus our core goals, diminishes the petty voice of the self and strengthens our nervous system.
When the BBC…
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