The Top Sources of Stress

Most of us are living with more stress than we would like on an ongoing basis and this can be devastating for our health and our happiness. Dealing with stress should always be a top priority then but this can be difficult seeing as it’s often not clear precisely where all our stress is coming from.

It might sound absurd to think you can be stressed and not know why but in fact this is often the case. In fact, it’s not uncommon to take a while to even realize you are stressed in the first place!

Here we will look at some of the most common sources of stress that can impact on your happiness and your health – often without you even realizing it. We will include both the ‘big’ stressors that take a serious toll on our wellbeing as well as the smaller, niggling factors that can serve to exacerbate these matters and undermine our attempts to overcome this stress.

The Stressful Life Events Rating Scale

There’s no way you can discuss the top sources of stress without addressing the ‘Stressful Life Events Rating Scale’. This scale was created by psychologists Holmes and Rahe as a hierarchy of big life events that impact greatly on our stress levels. This list includes some of the most stressful events that we are likely to go through and rates each one on a scale of 0-100 in terms of stress.

The list is as follows:

  • Death of a spouse (100)
  • Divorce (73)
  • Marital separation (65)
  • Imprisonment (63)
  • Death of a close family member (63)
  • Personal injury or illness (53)
  • Marriage (50)
  • Dismissal from work (47)
  • Marital reconciliation (45)
  • Retirement (45)
  • Change in health of a family member (44)
  • Pregnancy (40)
  • Sexual difficulties (39)
  • Gain a new family member (39)
  • Business readjustment (39)
  • Change in financial state (38)
  • Death of a close friend (37)
  • Change to different line of work (36)
  • Change in frequency of arguments (35)
  • Major mortgage (32)
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan (30)
  • Change in responsibilities at work (29)
  • Child leaving home (29)
  • Trouble with in-laws (29)
  • Outstanding personal achievement (28)
  • Spouse starts or stops work (26)
  • Beginning or ending school (26)
  • Change in living conditions (25)
  • Revision of personal habits (24)
  • Trouble with boss (23)
  • Change in working hours or conditions (20)
  • Change in residence (20)
  • Change in schools (20)
  • Change in recreation (19)
  • Change in church activities (19)
  • Change in social activities (18)
  • Minor mortgage or loan (17)
  • Change in sleeping habits (16)
  • Change in number of family reunions (15)
  • Change in eating habits (15)
  • Vacation (13)
  • Christmas (12)
  • Minor violation of law (11)

Holmes and Rahe then go on to state that a total score of 300+ would put you at high risk of illness, whereas 150-299 puts you at moderate risk.

Now, it’s important to recognize that this list is somewhat old, having been introduced in 1967. Today, many people would debate the validity of many of these points. The list was created by assessing over 5,000 medical records and interviewing patients but in reality the results seem somewhat arbitrary and vague. Most of us would probably agree that ‘moving home’ should be higher on this list, whereas something like ‘personal injury or illness’ could cover a wide range of different things. A broken arm is not as stressful as being diagnosed with cancer for instance. Likewise the amount of stress caused by something like ‘sexual difficulties’, ‘retirement’ or ‘trouble with boss’ would depend very much on the individual’s perception regarding the importance of those things and their coping strategies.

Nevertheless, this list does cover a wide range of different sources of stress and is often still referred to for that reason. If you are going through any of these things – or a number of these things – then there is a good chance that they could be contributing to your stress.

Sources of Chronic Stress

Another limitation of the Stressful Life Events Rating Scale is the fact that it focuses on life events rather than ongoing and chronic sources of stress. These might include things such as:

  • Debt
  • Relationship difficulties/dissatisfaction with being single
  • Arguments with friends, colleagues, family members
  • Dissatisfaction with work
  • Antagonism at work/school/home
  • Dissatisfaction with home
  • Bad weather
  • Chronic pain
  • Low self esteem
  • Uncertainty regarding a major life choice
  • Plans to leave work/a relationship
  • Lack of free-time
  • Constant noise
  • Long commutes to work
  • Difficulty sleeping

All these things can have the effect of grating on us and causing us to feel a little more anxious and annoyed on top of the stressful life events that we have to deal with.

Niggling Sources of Stress

Similarly, there are many much small sources of stress that can nevertheless end up being the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ over the long term. These include:

  • Noise (a busy road/dripping tap/ringing ears)
  • Heat
  • Itchiness or soreness (even something as minor as a spot or keys in your pocket that dig into your leg)
  • Blocked nose/cold
  • An untidy house
  • E-mails from unhappy clients/colleagues/employers
  • Pest calls
  • Indecision on what to eat/what to wear/what to do

Again, all these things and many more can be enough to wear you down and when enough of them coalesce, or they occur at the same time as bigger stressful events/sources of chronic stress, they can make it more and more difficult to cope.

Unfortunately, many of the bigger sources of stress such as deaths in the family are unavoidable. But while we can’t change these things, what we can do is to remove those smaller sources of stress that make everything else much worse. Keep your home tidy (or hire a maid), turn off your phone occasionally, invest in some air conditioning and create a system for what to wear at the start of each week and you’ll have just a little more energy and resolve to deal with the big things that life throws at you!

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Psychological Stress – It’s All in the Mind

Too often we overlook the critical role that our psychology plays in our health and our physiology. When people tell us that our wellbeing and performance are very much a result of our mental state, we might dismiss them as being ‘hippies’ or as just reading too much self-help. But really the control that our mental state has over our physiology is something that cannot be overstated and this is particularly true when it comes to psychological stress. Our mental state very directly and strongly influences our physical wellbeing. Read on to see how…

How Psychological Stress Transforms Your Body

Think about the fight-or-flight response – this is an example of psychological stress completely transforming your physiology. When you’re in a confrontation or about to go up on stage, you will find your heart rate increases, you start to feel sick and anxious and you even begin shaking uncontrollably. You might not know it but right now your blood is also becoming thicker and more likely to clot if you get injured, your muscles are tensing and getting stronger and even your senses are becoming more acute.

And what’s causing all this? Is it an illness or something you ate? No – it’s simply the situation you’re in.

But really even that isn’t directly what’s causing the problem. Because you know that if you weren’t afraid of public speaking, you wouldn’t be getting that same reaction. In other words: it’s not the situation that is causing your body’s response but rather it’s your own appraisal of the situation. It’s your belief that you’re in danger that is causing the stress response and triggering such profound changes in your body.

Getting Ahold of Psychological Stress

What this should tell you then, is that you really do have control over your body’s response to stress – and to everything else for that matter. All stress is ‘psychological stress’ and that means that if you can teach yourself to stay calm in a crisis and to work efficiently through your to-do list, you can prevent yourself from getting stressed.

Just as you could probably imagine yourself into a stressed fight-or-flight state, so too can you think yourself out of one.

To do this you need to learn to reflect on your own thought patterns and to learn the kinds of thoughts that work you into a state. At the same time you need to question these assumptions and thoughts and to replace them with more positive ideas that will help you to relax and to cope.

This is ‘cognitive restructuring’ which is a tool from cognitive behavioral therapy. If you can exercise mental discipline and learn to control your perception of events, you can combat psychological stress and you can ensure you are always in the optimal state to tackle whatever life throws at you.

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Managing Anxiety – Powerful Tips for the Anxious

If you have an anxious personality and regularly find yourself combating the effects of stress, then you’ll likely find that this can have a profound impact on an incredibly broad range of areas of life. Anxiety impacts on your mood, it damages your productivity, it places a strain on your health and it makes you feel rotten. Combating anxiety would not only help you in all these areas but it would also make you happier, more confident, more healthy, more full of energy and more likely to succeed in your career and relationships.

Unfortunately, some of us are more prone to anxiety than others however and if you’re someone who struggles with this regularly then you probably won’t be able to just ‘turn it off’.

Thus you need to find ways of managing anxiety. This means recognizing your triggers, learning how to deal with it and also organizing your life in such a way as to reduce the incidence of anxiety in the first place.

To see how you can do this, read on and we’ll look at some of the most effective strategies.

The Best Methods of Managing Anxiety

Reduce Unnecessary Stressors

The first thing you can do to start effectively managing stress is to look at all the things that are currently contributing to your stress levels on a regular basis and what you can do to fight them.

One example of this is to close ‘open loops’. An open loop is anything ‘ongoing’ anxiety that you’re avoiding dealing with. For instance, if you’ve been invited out by your friends and you know you need to say no but you’ve put off responding then this can be an ‘open loop’. Likewise, you might need to respond to a message from your bank but find yourself putting it off.

While you might have chosen to deal with any of these things later, you will find that they still make themselves known by lurking in the back of our mind and causing you anxiety. The sooner you make a decision/deal with them, the sooner you will be able to genuinely forget about them.

This is really an example of stress management – of managing the things that are causing you stress in such a way as to reduce their impact on you. This means planning ahead, knowing yourself and remembering that a little discomfort now can save you a lot of restless nights going ahead.

Remove Small Irritations

Likewise, there are other small irritations that you might find impact on your ability to relax. These can include things like untidy rooms in your house or even things like a label digging into your back in your clothes.

You might not think that something as minor as a label in an item of clothing could possibly cause that much stress. In reality though, it’s crucial to remember that this niggling irritation and discomfort will be with you for the entirety of the day and during every other stressful event. The same might go for a dripping tap.

While some things might remain out of your control, the smaller factors can often be addressed relatively quickly, simply and effectively.

Learn How to Combat Stress

Sometimes anxiety isn’t going to go away and that’s why many stress management techniques involve combating the symptoms directly.

One of the most effective ways to combat anxiety is simply by taking deep breaths. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system associated with our ‘rest and digest’ mental state. If you can engage this through effective breathing exercises you will find that your heart rate immediately drops.

Likewise, you can also use cognitive behavioral therapy in order to reduce anxiety. Remember: anxiety isn’t actually caused by what happens around us as much as it is caused by our interpretation of what happens around us. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches us to re-evaluate what’s happening so that we can react in a more measured and constructive way.

Take Time Out

Sometimes the best form of stress management is simply to take a break. Many of us will resist taking time off due to stress because we would ‘rather deal with it’ or because we don’t want to be seen to be week. In fact though, taking time out is not only important for your health when you’re very stressed but can also increase your chances of being able to effectively problem solve when you return. The best ways to take time out include going on holiday or having short breaks, or even just getting a massage.

And really, every evening or weekend should provide you with a break from work related stress, so find ways to make your time off more relaxing and book yourself some extended leave when things get a bit much. This kind of stress management isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re taking a strategic approach to solving problem and will benefit you greatly in the long haul!

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Stress Relief Activities – How to Combat Stress With Science!

Nobody enjoys being stressed. When we are stressed it can be incredibly difficult to relax, we tend to feel uncomfortable and fidgety and we’re more likely to struggle with negative thoughts. In short, being stressed means that we view everything through a slightly grey lens that can take the sheen off of life and hamper our enjoyment of it.

But stress isn’t just unpleasant, it’s also actually very bad for you. Stress increases blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate and more, it makes you more likely to gain weight, it is bad for your skin and hair, it damages your sleep and it suppresses your immune system leaving you more susceptible to infection and disease.

In short then, stress is a serious problem and something you should aim to deal with as soon as possible if you are struggling with it. Read on and we’ll look at some of the best stress relief activities to help you relax after a hard day or when your nerves are getting the better of you. It will help you to enjoy life more and it will do a world of good for your general health!

Top Stress Relief Activities

Light Some Scented Candles

To start out with an easy one, aromatherapy has been shown to be an effective stress management in a number of studies (1). It’s passive too, so there’s no reason that you can’t use it at the same time as watching a comedy or stroking a pet – which we’ll get to…

Get a Massage

This might well seem obvious but getting a massage is one of the most effective ways to combat stress and also to help relax muscle (2). It can also increase your production of nitric oxide and even the expression of mitochondria leading to enhanced physical performance. In other words, everyone should be getting regular massages!

If you live with your partner, then try making a pact to exchange short, regular massages and both of you will enjoy impressive health benefits. If not, consider paying for one as it’s probably a worthwhile way to spend your money. You could also try using a massage chair which will relax your muscles, though you won’t benefit from the ‘human touch’ element which likely has a lot to do with the neurochemical response.

Go for a Walk

Going for a walk is a great way to help combat stress (3). The reason for this is that you will be engaging in an activity that is repetitive and doesn’t require a lot of focus, thereby allowing your brain to fall back into its more relaxed state. Essentially this means engaging the ‘default mode network’ which is our ‘daydreaming’ state.

The positive effects of going for a walk will be even more pronounced if you choose a scenic area, especially one with lots of natural greenery. The reason for this is that seeing natural environments has been shown to help induce a sense of calm and to even aid creativity as a result!

Meditation and Deep Breathing

Meditation is one of the most popular stress relief activities. It’s all about learning to clear your mind or reflect on your thoughts – in either case you will be exercise mental discipline in order to overcome the potential urge to worry yourself by thinking about negative things.

Those who are highly experienced in meditation will exhibit brainwaves similar to the early stages of sleep (low alpha/theta waves).

Even if you do not right away manage to illicit these kinds of changes however, any form of meditation that involves breathing exercises will have immediate benefits and help you to feel calmer and more at-ease. This is because deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘rest and digest’ state. This is the polar opposite to fight or flight and is a highly restorative state for your body.

Yoga

Yoga also incorporates deep breathing techniques as well as stretching. Stretching can help us to relax our muscles and this can in turn can combat some of the tension caused by stress.

Laughter

Laughter triggers the release of many ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that work counter to cortisol and other stress hormones (4). It can also boost immune function which can combat one of the main negative impacts of stress. Put simply: laughing makes us feel good, so hang out with some friends who help you to cheer up, or watch a funny film. The best thing about most stress relief activities is that they’re actually things we enjoy!

Giving

Altruism – that is doing something to help others without expecting reward – can also trigger the release of a number of ‘natural antidepressants’ which together create what we know as ‘the helper’s high’. In fact, even the anticipation of doing some good can help to create this effect.

Next time you’re feeling very stressed then, try just sending a friend a nice message or buying something for your partner. You might just find it’s the tonic you were looking for!

Stroking a Pet

Stroking a pet has similarly been shown to trigger the release of feel good hormones and to help slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure (5). This is a very therapeutic activity and they like it too!

Exercise

Most people know that exercise produces endorphins. This is what’s known as the ‘runner’s high’ and it’s yet again one of the best stress relief activities. It’s also just generally good for you and it’s a great opportunity to think and to take out some frustration.

Hugging

Hugging can also reduce blood pressure and stress. As can kissing. If you’re feeling down, just getting a hug from your partner is not only comforting but will trigger the release of endorphins. Of course if you don’t have a partner around, then a hug from a friend or family member will also do the trick!

Sex

As you might have guessed, it also goes to follow that having sex would have even more impressive anti-stress benefits – as well as many other health benefits!

Art

If you’ve ever spent a long time painting an art project, then you’ll know just how easy it is to get lost in what you’re doing. When you are really concentrating on art in this way, it can be highly therapeutic and even almost meditative. Research also backs up the idea that it can help to combat stress-related symptoms (6).

Any of these things can help with stress relief but so too can many others. Stress is a very personal thing, so try engaging in any of the things you enjoy and tackling it in multiple ways and see what works best for you!

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Cortisol Stress and Eustress – How to Harness the Power of Your Stress for Good!

Cortisol is widely considered to be the ‘stress hormone’ and is one of the big underlying factors that make chronic stress so dangerous.

Stress itself is actually the result of multiple hormones and neurotransmitters that are released in response to what your body and mind perceive as some kind of threat. Whether this is a direct physical threat, or a more abstract ongoing source of concern does not matter as far as your body is concerned. Either way, you will experience an increase in adrenaline, cortisol, glutamate and dopamine that will cause you to become focused, that will cause your muscles to tense, that will make your blood more likely to clot (in case of injury), that will make your senses become heightened and that will redirect more blood and oxygen to your muscles and brain versus others organs.

All these changes are highly adaptive as short-term responses to danger but over the long term they can begin to take a serious strain on the body.

While it’s unlikely to adrenaline to remain heightened to such a degree in cases of chronic stress – which is responsible for the heart palpitations and tremors we associate with confrontations or with public speaking – increased cortisol is common in those with ‘ongoing stress’.

Health Effects of Elevated Cortisol

And if you are someone who experiences elevated cortisol stress, then this can have serious implications for your health.

Cortisol can increase the risk of chronic depression and other mental illness and can also reduce life expectancy. At the same time it also increases blood pressure and heart rate and can impair memory and other mental functions. It is commonly linked with insomnia as well as conditions like TMJ and irritable bowel syndrome.

Likewise, cortisol stress can wreak havoc on your diet and any attempts at weight loss. That’s because cortisol increases lipogenesis – the storage of glucose as fat – as well as increasing cravings and encouraging ‘snacking’.

Cortisol Isn’t All Bad Though!

A common mistake here though is to think of cortisol as a ‘bad’ hormone and as ‘the enemy’. In fact, there is no such thing and any hormone or neurotransmitter produced by the body has both positive and negative impacts.

Cortisol for instance is also necessary for ‘eustress’. Eustress is perhaps best described as being a desirable form of stress – the kind of stress that motivates us to work harder and to avoid procrastination. Without any stress for instance, you might not be so inclined to study for an exam – a little eustress is required in order to motivate you in this context.

Likewise, cortisol is also necessary in order to help you wake up in the mornings. Cortisol levels are naturally heightened in the morning and this is what helps to bring our brains alive after being dormant during sleep. Here it works against melatonin to help rouse us from sleep and is actually necessary to combat ‘sleep inertia’. It’s for this reason that bright light can actually be very effective at helping you to wake up.

Managing Cortisol Stress

With all this in mind, how do you go about managing cortisol stress and making sure that you are maximizing the positive effects while minimizing the negative aspects?

Often this will come down mainly to mental discipline and the ability to switch your focus ‘on’ or ‘off’ from a given task. There is an art to being able to engage your full focus and eustress while performing important tasks, but also being able to ‘switch off’ afterwards when you go home to relax. Therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation can help you to train this ability.

Meanwhile, there are also a number of things you can do in order to reduce your levels of cortisol stress. These include engaging in regular physical activity, laughing, listening to music and socializing, all of which can help to encourage the production of neurotransmitters that can act as counterpoints to the cortisol.

Most important though is simply to recognize that cortisol and stress are tools that can be harnessed to improve your creativity, wakefulness and alertness. The key is to being able to engage them when they can be useful and to switch off the rest of the time.

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Physical Effects of Stress on the Body

If you have ever been highly stressed, then you will no doubt be aware of just how much of a toll it can take on you both mentally and physically. Stress is not only very unpleasant in terms of the effect it has on your mood; it is also a serious health concern that can have drastic negative impacts on your wellbeing and which greatly increases your chances of becoming ill.

Here we will look at the physical effects of stress on the body and specifically what changes occur as a result of it.

How Stress Impacts the Body

To understand the physical effects of stress on the body, it is important to understand its role in our evolutionary history. When we were still hunter-gatherers living in the wild, we would often encounter scenarios that posed immediate and serious threats to our lives – whether that was the presence of a predator, an antagonistic competitor or a natural disaster.

In any of these cases, we would then experience a surge of hormones and neurotransmitters in what is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Specifically, this neurochemical cocktail would include:

  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine/Adrenaline
  • Cortisol
  • Anandamide
  • Acetylcholine
  • Glutamate

All of these chemicals then serve the purpose of preparing us for combat/flight/injury via a number of physiological changes that increase our strength, speed and focus.

Sounds great, right? Well it is! In this condition we would stand a vastly improved chance of surviving an attack or outrunning a forest fire.

The only problem is that today, ‘stressors’ don’t tend to include predators and fires. Instead, stressors are chronic situations that tend to linger on our minds for extended periods of time. They are things like angry bosses, financial problems, relationship difficulties and large workloads – things that just don’t go away.

This then means that we end up living with the physical effects of stress for longer durations and thus get ‘worn down’ by them. Stress is a useful survival tool only in the short term.

What Are the Effects of Stress on the Body?

So if you are living with chronic stress, that means that you are living with numerous physiological changes that can potentially do a lot of damage over the long term.

Here are some of the effects of stress:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Skin problems caused by hormonal changes
  • Suppression of the immune system and resulting susceptibility to infection
  • Muscle stimulation leading to ‘stiffness’ and soreness
  • Possibly an increased chance of developing diabetes due to elevated blood sugar and insulin
  • Food cravings and fat storage due to increased cortisol
  • Insomnia and poor sleep due to increased mental activity
  • Headaches, possibly caused by tension
  • Impaired memory due to cortisol levels and interference to normal neurotransmission
  • Hair loss
  • Tiredness/exhaustion caused by adrenal fatigue
  • Heartburn and digestion problems owing to blood and resources being directed away from the digestive system
  • Irritable bowel syndrome/irregular bowel movements/stomach ulcers
  • Impaired creativity owing to the role of focus vs lateral thinking
  • Eventual reduction in brain tissue
  • ‘Hypersensitivity’ to pain caused by increased excitability of neurons
  • Loss of sex appeal – studies show that we are less attracted to those with higher levels of stress hormones
  • TMJ or ‘temporomandibular joint disorder’ – grinding of the teeth and resultant jaw pain
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Accelerated ageing due to the shortening of ‘telomeres’ at the ends of chromosomes

As you can see then, the physical effects of stress on the body in the long term are highly negative and varied and can severely impact on health and quality of life.

While an increased heart rate, sensitivity and muscle tension is just what you need in a crunch – it’s not something that you should carry with you on a regular basis. If you are dealing with chronic stress then, you should make it an absolute priority to address and overcome this as soon as possible.

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How Cocaine Affects the Brain

Cocaine is one of the most widely used recreational drugs as well as one of the most highly dangerous and addictive. As with all drugs, the effects of cocaine are the result of its actions on the brain and modulation of neurotransmitters which in turn cause numerous subjective feelings and experiences. Understanding the way that cocaine affects the brain can help you to avoid potential addiction as well as enabling you to help others who might be abusing the highly destructive substance.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine comes from the coca plant and is created by turning the leaves into a powder. This powder can then be snorted for its effects, though in some cases it will be mixed with a base such as baking soda in order to give it a hard texture. In this form it is known as ‘crack’ or sometimes ‘rocks’ and can be smoked in a pipe. Crack cocaine is preferred by some as it allows the substance to reach the brain and take effect much more quickly – acting after 8 seconds as opposed to 10 minutes.

Cocaine exerts its effects specifically by acting on a part of the brain called the ‘ventral tegmental’ which is an area that is highly implicated in reward and motivation. Here it works to block the ‘reuptake’ of the neurotransmitter dopamine primarily via the dopamine transporters, but it also has similar effects on serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters once again are associated with reward, motivation, pleasure and alertness, and so this is how cocaine causes its effects.

Cocaine can also be referred to by a number of ‘street’ names and these include:

  • Crack
  • All-American Drug
  • Blow
  • Dream
  • Aunt Nora
  • Foo-foo Dust
  • Candy

Effects and Symptoms

In the short term then, cocaine causes the effects that are associated with above mentioned neurotransmitters and brain region. That means feelings of euphoria and pleasure as well as lots of energy, alertness and focus. It also suppresses appetite.

After about ten minutes however these effects wear off and the amount of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin all plummet leaving the user with a ‘crash’ or ‘come down’. This then leads to the opposite effects which include depression, lethargy, malaise and hunger/food cravings.

When used in higher amounts cocaine can also increase blood pressure and heart rate and cause users to grind their teeth. It can also lead to something unusual called ‘delusional parasitosis’ which is the feeling that they are covered in lots of tiny ‘bugs’ on or under the surface of their skin. This in turn can lead to incessant scratching and itching potentially causing sores and scratches on the skin.

When snorted, cocaine can damage the nose over time and cause nosebleeds in the short term. When smoked as crack, cocaine can also cause damage to the lungs. Over long durations cocaine can cause severe depression as a result of damage to the dopamine receptors in the brain.

Tolerance and Dependence

Addiction is a serious issue with cocaine which is highly psychologically and chemically addictive. This is due to the changes that cocaine causes in the brain by altering levels of dopamine receptors. Due to the sudden increase in dopamine that cocaine causes in the brain, adaptation occurs in order to help account for this by decreasing the number of dopamine receptors. In turn this then means that dopamine loses its potency in the brain and that more is needed to feel its full effects.

As a result, those who use cocaine will quickly find that the effects start to be less pronounced and that they thus need to have larger doses more often in order to enjoy the same effects. This is ‘tolerance’. At the same time, stopping using cocaine results in withdrawal symptoms as a result of ‘dependence’. Basically, when the addicted user stops using cocaine they are no longer getting the amount of dopamine activity they need in order to feel ‘normal’ and thus they experience withdrawal symptoms. Those include:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Malaise
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Slow movements
  • Insatiable hunger

Treatment

If you or someone you know is showing signs of cocaine addiction then it is highly important to get immediate medical attention to help them overcome this affliction. Cocaine addiction mostly revolves around the tapering of cocaine use in order to gradually help them overcome their addiction without suffering severe side effects.

Meanwhile cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to try and treat their addiction while at the same time addressing the underlying psychological issues that might have led to the addiction in the first place. It’s also important to consider that many cases of cocaine addiction go hand in hand with addictions to other substances such as marijuana or barbiturates (which addicts can use to ‘cushion the crash’ on the comedown from cocaine use). These might also require treatment.

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Can a Health Tracker Really Help Your Sleep?

Jawbone UPI’ve been using the Jawbone UP now for a few days and have been gradually monitoring my sleep patterns with it. The device has been telling me precisely how long I’ve been spending sleeping, as well as how long I’ve spent in deep sleep or light sleep. It has also shown me how many times I’ve woken up and has been keeping track of all this information so I can see patterns over time.

I’m not alone in this current trend. It seems at the moment like just about everyone is jumping on the health tracking bandwagon and tracking sleep is a fun place to start. The question is… does it work? Can wearing a fitness band really improve your sleep and your health? Whether or not it provides accurate information, can it actually help you to improve your behavior and thus your health?

Benefits of Sleep Tracking

I have the first generation Jawbone UP and for that reason it doesn’t provide all that much detailed information compared with some devices. The new Microsoft Band and Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit both give you a heart rate reading which means you can see how your heart rate has fluctuated during your sleep as well. At least you can with the Microsoft Band – the Gear Fit needs you to turn the heart rate monitor on and it doesn’t use this information to add anything extra to its sleep tracking. The MB though uses a combination of heart rate and gyroscope in order to tell you not just whether you’ve been in light or deep sleep but also whether you’ve been in stage 1 or stage 2 sleep. Of course a few reviewers have questioned just how useful these devices are for measuring heart rate accurately and personally I’m most interested in the upcoming Jawbone UP3 which uses bio-impedance to measure the heart rate more accurately and efficiently (rather than using an optical system) and which can also measure skin temperature and hydration as a result.

But really you don’t need anything fancy to start benefiting from sleep tracking software. As long as you can see how long you’ve been in deep sleep you can tell how well you’re sleeping. This in turn then has two important impacts:

  1. It allows you to start looking for correlations and lets you do mini self-experiments. For instance, as most fitness trackers include pedometers (if not all), you can use them to see how far you’ve walked and how this correlated with how well you’ve slept. Likewise, you can see whether taking a hot shower before you go to bed improves your sleep, or whether eating a big meal just before bed damages it. Once you start to identify patterns and correlations, you can then take the best actions to promote great sleep and gradually see it get better.
  2. It motivates you to do better. If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘that which is recorded, improves’, then you’ll have an idea of how this can lead to much better behavior surrounding your sleep ritual. At the same time, being able to see gradual improvements and knowing that you’ll get numerical proof of your hard work both also encourage you to make the effort. In short this is a great way to motivate yourself to take action and that’s reason enough for many of us. Most fitness trackers also have a social element which lets you support your friends and which motivates those of a competitive disposition (I wouldn’t know anything about that…).

Silent Alarms

The Jawbone UP and some other trackers also have another cool feature that can improve your sleep – and that’s the option of a smart alarm.

For starters, the alarm on any smartwatch/fitness band works by vibrating on your wrist instead of making noise. This in turn has the advantage of allowing those who sleep in bed with their partners to create their own waking and sleeping ritual without disturbing one another. This is highly useful if you need to wake up early – or if you want to go running before you get ready for work.

Better yet though, devices like the Jawbone UP have a ‘smart alarm’ feature. This works by monitoring your movement in the night and whether you’re in deep or light sleep and then vibrates to wake you only when you’re in the lighter stages of sleep. In turn that prevents you from being woken when you’re in your heaviest and deepest sleep. Of course it makes sure you’re awake for the time you need to be but it also wakes you at a point when you will be the closest to waking anyway. In theory this should mean you’re able to jump up out of bed with much more energy and experience less ‘sleep inertia’.

Does it work? Yes and no. On the one hand you are likely to feel a bit more awake when it goes off (though it seems to miss the mark on occasion) but ‘jump up out of bed’ is definitely a little strong for describing what happens next. And knowing that you can get 10-20 minutes more sleep potentially is still often difficult to ignore.

Overall, sleep trackers are informative and if nothing else they encourage you to keep improving. This is really where their value lies and in that regard it’s pretty hard to fault them. And they’re only going to get better as they gain more sensors and features… watch this space!

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How to Use Mind Maps and Other Tools to Enhance Your Thinking and Recall

The human brain is truly incredible in its ability to conceptualize, organize and store information. So powerful is the human brain in fact, that Albert Einstein was able to come up with a working model of the universe that would fundamentally change the way we think about physics using nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper.

But while the human brain is powerful, it is also limited in its capabilities. Our ‘working memory’ for instance – which is our capacity for storing information that we are ‘currently working with’ – is limited to roughly 7 +/- 2 (meaning 5-9) ‘bits’ of information – whereas our long term memory is subject to being lost or distorted and is by no means completely reliable.

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It’s for this reason that we have developed numerous tools and systems that we can use to ‘extend’ the capabilities of our brains and to get more done. Using a pen and pencil, or perhaps a computer, there are numerous different systems that can be employed in order to help us organize our thoughts, visualize them and recall them. Here we will look at some of the best systems that have been developed by businesses, psychologists, memory masters and productivity gurus so you can start using them to learn and retain more information in your own life.

Mind Maps

Mind maps are diagrams of ideas and concepts that are all related under the same subject heading. These images start with a single word or picture that represents the central concept and from there will then have lines or tendrils radiating outwards to show all of the ideas that exist under that subject.

For instance then, if you were learning German nouns, then the central word might be ‘common German nouns’ and the categories coming out from that might be ‘furniture’, ‘animals’, ‘food’, ‘tools’. From here you would then have further lines radiating out from those words showing the individual nouns. Color coding and images can then further aid in making the words stand out more and be easier to identify.

What makes mind maps so effective, is that they organize information using a similar structure to the way your brain organizes information. In other words, they use an interconnected ‘web-like’ system, which mirrors the way that neurons interlink in the brain. This means that you get to see the individual terms alongside related topics and in turn can ‘jog your memory’ when you’re remembering the layout of your map and allow you to store the information logically in your own mind.

Mind maps aren’t just useful for learning a new topic though, they can also be useful for ideation. The generation of new ideas is largely thought to be the result of seeing connections between existing concepts that had previously been missed and by using mind maps to write down all your thoughts and the way they interlink, you can potentially encourage this. Create your mind map, then try drawing lines between items that wouldn’t normally be ‘linked’.

Likewise, you can also use mind maps for problem solving as they let you put all your thoughts on one page, you can use them for outlining articles, you can use them for note taking and you can use them for inspiring creative design decisions.

Mood Boards

A mood board is essentially a collage that you create in order to get ideas for a creative project. Say you were designing a website for instance but didn’t have any idea of the color palette you wanted to use, what you wanted your logo to look like or what the layout should be. In this case, you could then browse other websites and take screenshots of those pages you like the looks of in order to create a mood board filled with inspirational images. Then you could additionally add images of interior room designs, natural scenes or magazine covers – anything that you feel has elements you like the looks of.

From here, you would then be generating a collection of inspiration and when you take a step back from it to look at the page as a whole, you should see a design ‘direction’ begin to emerge. By combining all the elements you find inspiring, you can then create something new that will put you on track for your own web design. Alternatively, you can show this mood board to a professional designer who will then have an idea for the kind of things you’re going for. Mood boards are perfect for expressing abstract, creative concepts and also work well for interior design, wedding planning and more.

Flow Charts

Flow charts are designed similarly to mind maps but with one major difference – they are directional and intended to be read in a certain way.

Essentially what a flow chart allows you to do is to create a guide to aid decision making that can guide you or someone else through the right decisions in a variety of situations. Flow charts can aid your memory and automate processes so that you don’t need to think about them. When using them in this capacity they can work in a similar manner to a checklist, making sure that you don’t forget anything important. They can also aid decision making.

This will use a branching system with each branch representing the answer to a hypothetical question. A flow chart that explains how to choose the best workout program for instance might start by asking if you want to lose weight or build muscle primarily. Answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would then lead you to one of two different questions, each of which would have more optional answers.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are relatively new tools compared to the other items on this list and require a computer or smartphone/tablet of some form in order to work. Nevertheless though, they are incredibly flexible and powerful and should not be underestimated.

Spreadsheets are effectively tables, except the individual ‘cells’ are ‘dynamic’ meaning that they can change depending on the content of the other cells. The most simplistic example of this might be to have one cell contain the sum of a column which could be used to calculate how long a series of tasks will take, or how much a selection of purchases will cost.

In more complicated examples though, they can provide much more useful information and save you a lot of time doing complex math. If you were planning a wedding for instance, you could create a spreadsheet that told you the overall price of catering dependent on the number of people you invited, the menu options you provided and the amount of alcohol. This could contain complex equations to work out how many tables you would need per person and thus how many bottles of wine you would need if your aim was to provide four bottles per table.

Spreadsheets require an investment of time up-front to create but once you have done this, you will be able to save countless hours. They are perfect for budgets, for expense sheets, for diet plans and for schedules.

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Coping With Stress and Homesickness at University/College

UniHomesickness is the feeling of depression or despondency caused by being leaving or being separated from home.

Homesickness is very common and affects most people throughout life but there are a few situations where it becomes especially common. Leaving home and your family, often for the first time for a prolonged period, to start a new life at university can trigger homesickness for instance – however much you may be enjoying studying and meeting new people. For many people, homesickness at university can be fleeting, evaporating once lectures begin and friends are made. For others, homesickness can come later or can remain for a long time.

The Symptoms of Homesickness

Often homesickness can feel mild; it may be a feeling of sadness that cannot be shifted or an unsettled feeling in the stomach. Sometimes however the symptoms can feel more overwhelming, depending on how serious the bout of homesickness is. Homesickness can cause headache or stomach aches, feelings of dizziness or nausea. Leaving home can cause people to become unhappy and despondent. They may feel nervous or withdrawn from social situations, a difficult position to be in when trying to make new friends. They may appear emotional or more irritable than normal. Additionally they may have difficulty concentrating on work or social situations.

How to Cope With Homesickness

Often homesickness is quick and can pass swiftly, leaving you able to settle into your new university home. However, sometimes it is more difficult to shake off feelings of homesickness. It is important to take time out to focus on helping yourself feel better. Luckily, while there is not a cure for homesickness, there are many ways to support yourself.

If you are feeling homesick:

Don’t Blame Yourself: Don’t be hard on yourself. Many people feel homesick after leaving home for the first time. Be realistic and do not put too much pressure on yourself.

Familiarize Yourself With Your New Surroundings: When you move to university this will normally mean moving to a new town or city as well and often this in itself can be jarring. Rather than staying in your room, make sure you take time to explore the area. More importantly, try doing ‘normal’ things like going shopping for food or doing your laundry. As you do this, the new surrounds will become a part of your habits and this will make the new location feel much more homely as a result.

Talk With Friends: Talk about how you feel. Many of your course mates and hall mates will be in the same position as you and may also be feeling low or more emotional than normal. Most people will have experienced homesickness before and will be able to help you talk through your feelings. Alternatively your personal tutor may be able to advise you.

Look After Yourself: Support yourself physically. Ensure you look after yourself by eating, drinking and sleeping a sufficient amount. Feeling tired and hungry will make your symptoms feel more unbearable. While it is often tempting to let your hair down and drown your sorrows, it is advisable to avoid excess alcohol consumption if you are struggling with sadness; this can negatively affect your body both physically and emotionally. Look after your health and you will feel better.

Keep Busy: Plan events to look forward to. If you are feeling low and despondent it pays to distract yourself with fun or exciting events. A night out with friends, a trip to the cinema or your favorite meal for dinner can help to brighten up your day.

Visiting Home: Plan a trip home. Taking a weekend to go return to your home will give you the opportunity to see your family and friends. It is important to give yourself enough time to settle into a new home and make new friends; returning home every weekend will prevent you from fully settling into your new home. Give yourself a couple of weeks to settle in before returning to see your family and taking some time away from university though and don’t rely on going home too often. While you visiting home can address symptoms in the short term, you still need to make sure that you give yourself time to adapt to your new way of life or you may never get used to the idea of becoming a student. The idea is to get to the point where university itself feels like home but this might mean dealing with some ‘withdrawal’ symptoms from your old home. Taper yourself off of home comforts just as you might taper yourself off of a drug addiction.

Reminders and ‘Anchors': Give yourself plenty of reminders of home. You may wish to take your furniture or decorations with you to university to help you settle into your new room more quickly. Framing pictures of your family and friends will help you to feel close to them.

On-Site Support: Speak to your personal tutor, your university counselling service or your GP if your feelings of homesickness do not improve. They will be able to discuss your feelings and symptoms and advise you on where to find support.

It is common to feel homesick when leaving home to start university. It can feel overwhelming but the important thing is to hang in there and to focus on the good. At the end of it you’ll have made some of the best friends of your life and enjoyed some of the best experiences. And more importantly, you’ll have developed the skills you need to adapt to new situations as needed.

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