One Week Toward Less Stress-Day 7

So far, in our weeklong look at increasing our stress resilience we have examined:

Step #1 Get Outside

Step #2 Get Some Exercise

Step #3 Get Enough Sleep

Step #4 Reach Out and Call Someone

Step #5 Play!

Step #6 Turn on the Music!

As we near the end of the week I’m struggling to choose our last step! Not because I can’t come up with one. Actually just the opposite…There are so many possibilities! We could examine the positive affects of a healthy diet, meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices, yoga, mindfulness practices, journaling, massage and other physical touch, just to name a few. Anything that engages your senses has the potential to reduce your stress as it calms your limbic system, the part of your brain that controls emotion. But since I have to choose just one more I’m going to pick one of my personal favorites:

Step #7 Spend Time with Animals

It’s estimated that 67% of US households have a pet, so obviously many of us already know how pets can increase the quality of our lives. But perhaps you take for granted, or haven’t realized the benefit that owning a pet can have on your mental health. Healthy social connections, including those with pets, play an important role in good mental health. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (stress hormones) and elevate oxytocin and dopamine (feel-good brain chemicals)!

Here are just some of the mental health benefits that pets may provide:

  • Having pets, such as a dog, increases the opportunity to get outside and exercise…and we already looked at why that is important ( See Days 1 and 2).
  • Walking a dog also reduces isolation. Have you noticed how folks are more likely to start up a conversation with you when you’re walking your dog than when you’re walking alone? 
  • Having a pet increases the likelihood that folks have a daily routine with purpose and rewards.
  • Pets can reduce loneliness by increasing companionship. This is especially true for the elderly and for those living alone.
  • Pets may help reduce anxiety and stress. Stroking or sitting with a pet can help us relax.
  • Animals live in the moment and being with them helps us do the same!

Now if you don’t already have a pet I am not encouraging you to rush out and find one today! Choosing the right pet for your household is crucial. Having a pet is a commitment to the lifetime of the animal and nothing to be taken on without careful consideration. It’s a big responsibility that comes with a commitment of time and financial resources. But if the time is right for you and your family it may be something to carefully consider. And if you already have a pet, consider spending more time with it! Increasing the time spent together may have physical and mental health benefits, including increasing your resilience when stressed!

Dog, Walk, Animal, Human, Trust, Nature, Away

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One Week Toward Less Stress -Day 6

We are nearing the end of our week of putting into place regular habits that help increase our resiliency in dealing with stress! So far we have taken these steps:

Step #1 Get Outside

Step #2 Get Some Exercise

Step #3 Get Enough Sleep

Step #4 Reach Out and Touch Call Someone!

Step #5 Play!

Today we add Step #6 Turn on the Music!

There are many benefits to listening to music. Cheerful music can make us feel happy, alert, and energetic. It does this partly because music connects with our limbic system, the part of the brain that controls feelings and emotions. Listening to music releases endorphins (our feel good chemicals) and so we experience fewer negative effects of stress. It can provide benefits such as:

  • Decreasing anxiety
  • Lifting mood
  • Improving concentration and memory
  • Boosting our immune system
  • Reducing pain and increasing healing
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Improving sleep
  • Increasing our effort during exercise

Music can be used while we do our regular activities so it takes no extra time! Allow music instead of TV or news to be the backdrop for your daily life and watch how it impacts your mood! While you’re getting ready in the morning, driving to work (if you are these days) cooking, cleaning, eating, going to bed at night… turn on the music to counteract the stress you may be experiencing these days.

So make a playlist! Crank up the tunes and have a dance party in your kitchen!

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One Week Toward Less Stress- Day 5

We are on Day 5 of our plan to reduce, or at least better manage our stress in a week! So far we have looked at…

Step #1 Get Outside

Step#2 Get Some Exercise

Step #3 Get Enough Sleep

Step#4 Reach Out and Touch Call Someone

Today we look at STEP #5 PLAY!

We all know the importance of play in the lives of children, but after we become adults and take on the accompanying responsibilities, we often stop playing. That’s unfortunate because adults deserve the joy that comes along with play too! Play triggers endorphins which are the chemicals in our bodies that naturally make us feel good and therefore produces many life enhancing benefits including:

  • Improves overall sense of well being
  • Lifts mood and wards off depression
  • Boosts energy and productivity
  • Increases resilience
  • Fuels creativity and cognitive health
  • Improves problem solving
  • Lowers risk of developing age related diseases
  • Helps us live in the moment
  • Makes us feel happier
  • Improves relationships
  • Is fun!

So what constitutes play? Play is anything you want to do and aren’t being forced to do. What feels like play to one person may not feel like play to someone else. Here are some examples of play for adults:

  1. Board games, card games, puzzles
  2. Telling jokes 
  3. Playing a musical instrument
  4. Throwing a football with your kids
  5. Bike riding
  6. Playing a sport or exercising
  7. Gardening
  8. Photography
  9. Throwing a frisbee with your dog
  10. Making art

Add your own ideas to the list!

When was the last time you played? Start today!  It just may improve your ability to cope with stress and bring you more joy!

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One Week Toward Less Stress- Day 4

In our effort to reduce our stress during this trying time we have so far taken 3 steps in that positive direction…

Step #1 Get Outside

Step #2 Get Some Exercise

Step #3 Get Enough Sleep

Today we look at Step #4 Reach out and touch call someone!

Research continues to show that one significant difference between very happy people and less happy people is good relationships. Social connection is a fundamental human need. Even as far back as 1954 when Maslow developed his hierarchy of human needs he called “love and belongingness” one of his five important needs for psychological growth and development. Humans are wired from birth to connect. Ask any new mother what happens in her body when her infant cries. Her body produces oxytocin as a signal for her to bond with her baby. Oxytocin is also released when we hold hands, hug, and engage in other physical touch, including petting an animal!

Strong social relationships have a positive impact on our physical and mental health, including:

  • Boosting our immune system
  • Increasing our self esteem and empathy
  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Decreasing feelings of loneliness
  • Regulating emotions

Research shows that a lack of human connection can be more harmful to our health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure! With the current need for social distancing due to COVID19 it is really important that we make concerted effort to stay socially connected. So how to we do this and maintain appropriate, safe social distancing? Here are some ideas…

  • Reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to recently…Call, Facetime, Zoom. It may not feel the same as seeing them in person but it is definitely better than not connecting at all!
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
  • Ask for help when needed and/or offer help to others, i.e. Do you have an elderly neighbor that needs someone to do her errands during the pandemic?
  • Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Some volunteer work can still be done in a safe manner.
  • Walk your dog in your neighborhood. Dogs often bring people together!

Frequently when we feel stressed our tendency is to want to isolate, stay in bed, or in our pajamas all day binging on Netflix. But that will not make us feel better. In fact, it will likely make us feel worse!

Is there someone you haven’t spoken to in quite a while? Reach out today! You will both likely feel the benefit from the connection.

 

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One Week Toward Less Stress-Day 3

Over the past few days we have been examining ways to reduce the stress many of us are feeling these days. So far we have considered…

Step #1 Get Outside!

Step #2 Get Some Exercise!

Today we consider Step #3 Get Enough Sleep!

Somehow, as a culture, we have come to value sleep deprivation! As if being able to function on minimal sleep is a badge of honor…a sign that we are being super productive. It’s not! This view has come at a serious price to our physical and mental health. We will be more productive and clearer thinking if we get adequate sleep. Sleep is our brain’s fuel, our mind’s time to rest and recharge!

Lack of sleep may contribute to:

  • Increased levels of cortisol (stress hormones) leading to increased stress and an inability to relax
  • Increased symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Poorer outcomes for treatment of depression
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased impulsivity
  • Increased negative thinking
  • Poorer decision making and problem solving
  • Increased behavior problems in children

How much sleep do we need? The CDC recommends:

  • Adults  7-9 hrs/night
  • Teenagers 8-10 hrs/24 hrs
  • School Age Children  8-12 hrs/24hrs

So how do we do this?

  1. Prioritize getting a good night’s sleep for yourself and your family. Plan your schedule around it instead of going to bed after everything else is done!
  2. Get up in the morning and go to bed about the same time every day.
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Keep your bedroom dark and free of distractions.
  5. Discontinue use of screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  6. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but increases the likelihood that you will wake up after a few hours.
  7. Limit napping to 20-30 minutes/day
  8. Avoid caffeine in late afternoon.

A good night’s sleep helps foster clear thinking and emotional resilience, couldn’t we all use more of that right now?!

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One Week Toward Less Stress- Day 2

Yesterday we began looking at ways to decrease or at least manage our recent increased levels of stress.  Step #1 was to GET OUTSIDE! Today we look at our next step…

STEP #2 GET SOME EXERCISE

Studies continue to show the benefits of regular exercise for improved mental health. In fact, the research shows that for mild to moderate depression, exercise is as effective as antidepressants. A Harvard study found that running 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Even 30-45 minutes of exercise three times per week can help improve mood and relieve stress. Here are  some of the benefits you can derive from exercise:

  • Reduced anxiety, depression, and negative mood
  • An increased sense of well being
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Increased energy
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Stress relief
  • Improved relaxation

And if you get your exercise outdoors, as we discussed yesterday, you can get the extra benefits from being out in nature and sunshine!  I caution you not to set your initial exercise goals too high. Often folks will say “On Monday I’m going to start my exercise routine by running 3 miles/day!” But then Monday comes around and 3 miles seems like a burden instead of fun so they don’t do anything! Set reasonable goals that you’re more likely to achieve and then move from there. So instead of having an initial goal of running 3 miles, perhaps you’d be better served to set your goal as walking for 15 minutes to start, or taking a bike ride in the neighborhood with your kids, or walking your dog leisurely on the greenway.   And then build from that. You will stick with it longer if you’re actually enjoying it! Which of course, is the whole idea! So GET MOVING today and have fun!

 

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One Week Toward Less Stress

There’s a lot of stress in our world right now! From the effects of the pandemic to the 2020 presidential election, many of us are feeling more tension than ever. For the next week I will introduce one step we can all take each day to reduce or at least more effectively manage this stress…

Step #1 TODAY GET OUTSIDE

Put down the phone, computer, and cut off the 24 hour news channel and walk out your front door. In our part of the country right now the weather is lovely and perfect for spending time outdoors. You’ll reap these benefits:

  • Improved attention, cognition, and memory
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Spending 20-30 minutes outdoors in nature can significantly reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones).
  • Improved sleep
  • More emotional stability
  • Exposure to natural light has shown to improve mood.
  • Being in nature allows our brains to switch off!
  • Calming nature sounds or outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and cortisol.
  • Focusing on the outdoor space such as trees or other plants helps distract your mind from your negative thoughts!

So get outside today and help your body, mind, and spirit rejuvenate!

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Nurturing Resiliency, Not Fragility

Our community is beginning our fifth month of dealing with COVID-19. It has been a very challenging few months for most folks and especially those with young families. Parents have juggled working from home while providing their own childcare and homeschooling their kids. And summer has brought its own challenges. How do we keep the kids entertained when we continue to try and social distance appropriately? And how to we keep them from staring at screens all day? Tension between teenagers and their parents is often high as adolescents, especially the extroverted, social ones, want to reconnect with their friends and are not especially motivated to follow the mask wearing and 6-feet-apart guidelines. Adolescents, whose developmental task is to figure out “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” are temporarily stuck , not able to work through these questions in the context of their very important social structure.

And now everyone has to begin planning for the new school year that will begin in about a month. Our community will be doing remote learning but other nearby communities are planning to do in-person school and trying to figure out how to do that as safely as possible, which will require mask wearing and trying to keep kids 6 feet apart. Either plan is fraught with challenges. The folks who want to keep kids home believe that having them in school is not safe and that wearing masks, staying apart, and perhaps having plexiglass partitions is traumatic for children. Other folks believe that having kids continue staying socially disconnected is traumatic.

My belief is that our culture has become too flippant with the notion of trauma. We toss that word around as if it is a common, everyday occurrence and it is not. Trauma is felt when an overwhelming amount of stress exceeds our ability to cope, leaving us feeling helpless. It’s really important to see that challenge and trauma are not the same thing! All of us are experiencing significant challenges, but most of us and our children are not experiencing trauma. Let’s don’t make this awful situation worse by making up a story that all our kids are being traumatized if they are not. Certainly there are some who are and I don’t want to minimize those experiences…if families have lost loved ones, are dealing with very ill family members, have abusive homes that they can’t leave, have anxiety disorders, are first responders, etc. These families need support and definitely need professional help. But the vast majority of us are experiencing challenge and stress and we can handle it with healthy coping skills!

Times are definitely hard. But we can do hard things! And that is the message we need to be sending our kids. “Yes. This is awful.” “Yes. It really sucks that you can’t go hang out with your friends in the same way you normally do. But it’s not forever and I know you can handle it!”

When my father was 18 years old he and all his friends went off to fight in WWII. We’re asking our 18 year olds to wear a mask and sit 6 feet apart from their friends! Let’s keep this in perspective! Let’s teach our kids how to be resilient, not fragile. Let’s be that example to them. We don’t need to deny our feelings. We can express our frustrations and allow them to do the same. And then we concentrate on what we can control, make a plan, and move forward, focusing on what we can still do not on what we can’t do. Let’s teach our kids that they can handle challenges and that we have confidence in their abilities to do so. Let’s nurture their resilience, not their fragility.

If you need help putting this into action in your family I am here to help.

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Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  This is an opportunity to discuss a topic that most of us find very uncomfortable but that is a huge health concern in our country…Suicide. We don’t yet have information about how the current pandemic may be affecting these statistics. The most current information is from studies done in 2017. Here is some information that may be helpful:

Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017…

  • Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the US and the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-34, second only to accidents.
  • In 2017 there were twice as many suicides in the US as there were homicides.
  • Firearms were the most common method used in suicide deaths.
  • While females attempt suicide more often (and most often by overdose), males are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide.
  • The suicide rate was 1.5 times greater for Veterans than for non -Veteran adults over age 18.

Some Risk Factors

  • Depression, substance abuse or other mental disorders.
  • Chronic pain
  • A previous suicide attempt or a family history of suicide
  • Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior
  • Family violence
  • Recent release from prison
  • Having firearms in the home

Possible Signs and Symptoms

  • Talk of wanting to die, feeling hopeless, great shame, feeling trapped
  • Talk of being a burden to others
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Giving away important possessions

How to Help

  • ASK them if they’re considering killing themselves. This is very hard to do but you must ask. Do not worry that asking will put the idea in their mind if they’re not already considering it. Studies show it will not. It actually may be what will keep them from attempting.
  • Ask if they have a plan and do what you can to keep them safe by removing access to firearms or other possible methods.
  • Help them get professional help. Suicidal thoughts or actions should never be ignored.

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE  1-800-273-8255

CRISIS TEXT LINE      Text HELLO to 741741

VETERANS CRISIS LINE 1-800-273-8255 Press 1

 

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What Are You Learning to Value During the Pandemic?

The Covid 19 pandemic has been horrific. So many have been ill, lost their lives, their loved ones, their jobs. It has been surreal. We have all tried to make the best of it. What I am heartened to hear from so many families is that amidst the challenges of juggling home schooling, working from home, and stay at home orders they are learning to appreciate some parts of their current situation. Many are saying they are enjoying eating meals as a family again, taking walks together, playing games, and doing puzzles, and having family movie nights. The rushing to sporting events and extra curricular activities has stopped…And it feels good! So what does that mean? Could it mean that there are parts of life during this pandemic that your family wants to keep in place when the crisis is over? That maybe the endless rushing to do unimportant things can end? I encourage you and your family to sit down together BEFORE the crisis is over and talk about what has been challenging, but also what you have all found valuable and want to keep in place afterwards. Write it down so you can revisit it later because when the immediate crisis is over and folks go back to work and school and sports we will all be pressured to return to our old ways of being…to rushing and shopping, and eating out instead of cooking together, etc. We are going to have to be very intentional about what we want to keep in place, otherwise we will be convinced that we need to return to all those old ways of living and we’ll forget the valuable lessons we have learned during this time.

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