How To Survive & Thrive – Even When You're Stressed

Stressed

Ways to thrive when our stressed

Stress can be destructive. Even brain-damaging.  Although women in United States are less likely to experience most severe traumatic events, women are also more vulnerable to everyday stress—mothers, for example, are 5 times as likely as fathers to rate their stress at the highest level, says the American Psychological Association.

Fortunately, experts are learning that coping, and even prevention, are highly effective tactics to combat the entire spectrum of stress-related conditions, from worrying to extreme anxiety disorders. are highly effective. Here’s what new PTSD science can teach all of us about outsmarting stress.

So, how can you learn to deal…better?

Women meditating1. Strengthen Your Mind With Meditation

Mindfulness meditation works wonders to boost stress resilience, say experts from the University of Pennsylvania who are using the practice with military personnel. “We teach them to focus on the present moment instead of catastrophizing about the future,” says Amishi Jha, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. After 8 weeks of meditation training, Marines became less reactive to stressors—plus they were more alert and exhibited better memory.

What This Means: Take short mindfulness breaks

“Even I get too busy to meditate,” says Jha. “Then I remember the Marines in the study calling my colleague while they were deployed to ask for mindfulness pointers, and I think, If they can do it in a war zone, I can do it in my office!” Try this technique Marines use anywhere: Sit upright, focus on your breath, and pay attention to a physical sensation, such as the feel of air in your nostrils. When your mind wanders, notice the disruption, then return your attention to that simple sensation. Jha herself now meditates 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day.

2. Learn To Recognize What Stress Feels Like For You

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—which helps you recognize and change knee-jerk reactions to stress triggers—is one of the most effective methods of managing PTSD. In the military, such training can include a technique called “exposure therapy,” in which soldiers relive disturbing past experiences in small doses with a therapist until the memories become less overwhelming. Along the same lines, doctors have achieved promising results by asking patients who developed PTSD following an illness to imagine a relapse.

Such intense visualizations should be undertaken only with a licensed professional, but “practicing” feeling stressed can help anyone cope day to day, says Elizabeth Carll, PhD, a trauma specialist on Long Island, NY. “If you learn to recognize how your body feels when anxiety starts, it’s easier to intervene and calm yourself.”

What this means: Imagine a moment of tension…and learn to mentally deal with it

Fortify yourself against anxiety by trying an at-home exercise, says Susan Fletcher, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Plano, TX. Picture yourself in a stressful place, such as your commute, and imagine the tension you feel. Write out the realities of the situation: If I don’t leave by 7:30, I’ll be late. On the other hand, I’ll be in traffic about 60 minutes, so I can listen to a book on disc. This lets you feel the stress and know it’s not debilitating, and helps you devise solutions. If you want to try formal CBT, which encompasses a range of methods, you can find a certified practitioner through the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (nacbt.org).

3. Find Extra Resilience Through Exercise

Researchers are learning that exercise doesn’t just soothe stress, it also fortifies brain cells so they’re less vulnerable to anxiety in the future. Neuroscientists at Princeton University recently discovered that neurons created in the brains of rats that run regularly are less stress-sensitive than those in rats that don’t exercise.

While all exercise adds to your resilience, PTSD experts find that outdoor activities are particularly beneficial—especially cycling, says Melissa Puckett, a recreation therapist at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System in California. “It’s so effective because of the fresh air and the fact that it can be a group activity,” she says. “We’ve seen people who were once afraid to leave the house make tremendous strides.”

What this means: Sweat it out

Break from the gym and try something outdoorsy, like hiking or a simple walk. Even 5 minutes outside—especially if spent near water, like a fountain or stream—is enough for a mental boost, found a 2010 study from the University of Essex in England.

4. Adopt A Pet

New research shows that owning an animal is an even more powerful way to cultivate calm than previously thought. An astonishing 82% of PTSD patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms, and 40% were able to decrease their medications, in an ongoing study at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The specially trained pooches can sense before their owners do when a panic attack is coming, and then give them a nudge to start some preemptive deep breathing. “While we don’t yet understand why, we know the dogs’ presence affects serotonin levels and the immune system,” says lead study researcher Craig Love, PhD. “The animals are so helpful, one soldier named her dog Paxil.”

What this means: Your pet is a stress-reliever on four (or two) legs…so bond with them. Pets can reduce stress by building extra playtime into the day, says Love. If you don’t own a pet, offer to take a neighbor’s dog for an after-dinner walk or cat-sit for a friend—even short outings provide enough “pet exposure” to lessen anxiety.

4. Seriously…You Need To Get Your Sleep

Sleep suppresses stress hormones, such as cortisol, and spurs the release of others, like DHEA, which plays a key role in resilience and protecting the body from stress. Yale University researchers tracked the hormone levels of a group of elite Special Forces soldiers who operate in treacherous underwater conditions and confirmed that higher DHEA levels predicted which divers were most stress hardy. Among women with PTSD, those with higher levels of DHEA have fewer negative moods, other Yale researchers found.

What this means: Do a stress-assess check every night

To boost DHEA naturally, get more sleep. Before you set your alarm, take stock of your stress status, says Fletcher. The more demanding your days, the more sleep you need to handle them. If the recommended 7 to 8 hours isn’t possible, at least plan for an early night or two during a rough week or, if nothing else, a weekend nap. “And get anything that reminds you of work—laundry, your laptop—out of your bedroom,” Fletcher adds. “It’s psychologically noisy.”

How to recognize signs of Stress

Stress Relief

Stress Relief

(BlackDoctor.org) — We all know that stress takes a toll on your mind and your body. It shakes up your nerves, it puts you on edge and can cause unwanted side effects, such as sexual problems, insomnia, even hair loss.

When most of us think of the physical effects of stress, our minds jump to common complaints like headaches and upset stomachs. Stress, however, can influence many aspects of physical and mental health, ranging from teeth and skin to memory and concentration skills — even how well we sleep. The good news is while these problems may seem serious, stress relief can make real improvements on your overall health and well-being.

Hair Loss

Some amount of hair loss is normal — strands fall out over time and get replaced by new ones. However, when you’re under physical or emotional stress, the normal shedding of 100 or so hairs a day can speed up to the point where half to three-quarters of your hair can fall out. Known as telogen effluvium, this diffuse and often stress-induced hair loss may not happen right away. In fact, it may take weeks or months after the stressful event for the hair to actually shed. Fortunately, after six to eight months, this type of hair loss often improves.

Forgetfulness

We all have our moments of not being able to find our car keys, but research shows that the more stress we are under, the more frequent these mental lapses may become. In fact, not only can long-term stress (over a period of weeks or months) disrupt communication between brain cells, but even several hours of acute stress can affect the brain’s ability to store information and create solid memories. For many people, frequent bouts of forgetfulness can lead to fears about Alzheimer’s disease. But before jumping to conclusions, take a step back and consider whether any chronic stress in your life may be playing a role in memory issues.

Dental Health

Regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups — most of us are well-versed in what it takes to keep our teeth healthy. But how many of us realize that the effects of stress can impact dental health? During the day and even while sleeping, people under stress may clench their teeth or grind them back and forth against one another. This action, called bruxism, can not only wear down and damage your teeth, but may also cause temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ), leading to severe jaw and neck pain.

Skin Problems

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, our internal thoughts and feelings can actually affect our external appearance. This is particularly true when it comes to stress. One of the effects of stress is skin that’s more sensitive to irritants. Stress can worsen pre-existing conditions including rosacea, psoriasis, and acne, as well as dehydrate the skin, permitting allergens, bacteria, and pollutants to irritate it.

Substance Abuse

For individuals struggling with alcohol or drugs, stress can wreak havoc on efforts to remain substance-free. Even for people who have abstained for a long time, stress can play a significant role in sudden relapses. Interestingly, not only can stress in adulthood contribute to substance abuse, but experiencing a severe psychosocial stressor during childhood can also increase your risk for drug or alcohol abuse as an adult.

Sexual Problems

The effects of stress can extend to the bedroom. Most men may experience erectile dysfunction from time to time, but when it happens frequently, its underlying cause should be investigated. Causes of erectile dysfunction can include diabetes, high blood pressure, side effects of certain medications, and chronic stress. Stress can also contribute to a loss of sexual desire in both women and men.

Concentration

Bad news for stressed-out students cramming for exams — it turns out that being under pressure can affect how well our brains work. Specifically, one small study showed that medical students studying for board exams had more trouble focusing their attention than others who were not stressed. The good news? A month after the stressful period was over, the stressed group’s mental skills returned to normal.

Reduced Immunity

Excessive stress and anxiety can lead to reduced immunity and an increased chance of getting sick. This link between stress and the body’s ability to fight disease may go all the way back to childhood. Researchers have found that adolescents who were abused or experienced other, intensely stressful situations as children were less able to ward off certain infections even years later. It’s crucial to keep daily stress under control as much as possible to offset past stress and encourage good health in the present.

Insomnia

Few things are as frustrating as lying awake in bed, unable to sleep. While insomnia can stem from a variety of sources, one major one to consider is stress. Stress can cause a number of sleep-related issues including trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and poor-quality sleep. Try to get stress relief through regular exercise, focusing on relaxing more, and spending time with loved ones.
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