“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
Blood pressure is like what Mark Twain said about the weather, “Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.” Well almost. I have found that blood pressure is one of those subjects that is widely and wildly misunderstood. I used to think it was like grey hair on old people. Everybody has it. I was dead wrong.
Few assumptions are more dangerous than this one: If you have high blood pressure, you know it.
Doctors refer to high blood pressure, or hypertension, as a silent killer because it rarely produces warning signs.
“When symptoms do occur, such as headache, nosebleeds or blurry vision, high blood pressure may have already reached severe and possibly life-threatening levels,” says Daniel Pohlman, MD, a primary care doctor at Rush University Medical Center. 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
Eat less; move more; live longer is the many-times repeated mantra of this blog. Now, it seems that eating less is particularly relevant when we experience stress.
Australian researchers have discovered a new molecular pathway in the brain that triggers more weight gain in times of stress.
It’s no secret that overindulging on high-calorie foods can be detrimental to health, but it turns out that under stress, watching what you eat may be even more important. Continue reading
I have been writing about the dangers and damage of stress on the body for nearly the entire nine years of producing this blog. Check out my Page – How to Deal with Stress for more details.
Adults who report high levels of stress and who also had stressful childhoods are most likely to show hormone patterns associated with negative health outcomes, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
One of the ways that our brain responds to daily stressors is by releasing a hormone called cortisol — typically, our cortisol levels peak in the morning and gradually decline throughout the day. But sometimes this system can become dysregulated, resulting in a flatter cortisol pattern that is associated with negative health outcomes. Continue reading
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.
I just ran across this newly-published set of guidelines for helping seniors succeed in retaining their mental function and well-being as they age. As a senior myself who has a family with a history of Alzheimer’s and dementia I found it to be on point with my own situation.
The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars, and policy experts from around the world who are working in areas of brain health related to human cognition. The GCBH focuses on brain health relating to people’s ability to think and reason as they age, including aspects of memory, perception and judgment.
We believe the following suggestions will increase the chances for people to experience or optimize mental well-being. If you are already engaging in these healthy activities, continue to do so, and consider trying something new as well.
1. Take the time to develop and strengthen relationships with family and friends. For more about the brain health benefits of strong social ties, see the GCBH report, The Brain and Social Connectedness: GCBH Recommendations on Social Engagement and Brain Health.
Foll disclosure: I don’t loathe it, but I wouldn’t go out on Black Friday shopping with your money. I do know folks who get up at Midnight and plunge right in. The following is what Neuroscience News has to say about Black Friday shopping.
Summary: Researchers consider why some people enjoy the thrill of Black Friday shopping, and why others don’t. Enjoyment of the social aspects of shopping may determine whether you are a fan of the day, or not. Source: The Conversation.
If the thought of taking part in the annual ritual of Black Friday gives you cold chills rather than a rush of excitement, you’re not alone. For every avid bargain hunter who plans for the day as if training for a marathon, there’s someone else who stays home, secure in the knowledge that no one will trample them, shove them or invade their personal space just to get this season’s hottest deals.
NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from The Conversation news release.
It’s not just a lack of appreciation for bargains that drives this disconnect. Psychology research indicates that several factors determine which side of the shop-‘til-you-drop divide you land on. Some people just aren’t wired to enjoy the more social aspects of shopping.
What you prioritize plays in
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
People with moderate to severe mid-life anxiety may face a greater risk of dementia in later life, suggests an analysis of the available published evidence led by University College London (UCL) and University of Southampton researchers and published in BMJ Open. But as yet, it’s not clear whether treatment for anxiety could curb dementia risk, say the researchers.
“We need more research to find out what impact anxiety treatment might have on dementia risk – whether that’s through pharmacological intervention, or talking therapies or treatments based on mindfulness or meditation, which are known to help reduce anxiety,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry).
A mounting body of evidence suggests that mental illness may be associated with dementia in older age, but it’s not clear if it represents initial (prodromal) symptoms before fully fledged disease or acts as an independent risk factor. 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.”