Inflammation, Depression and Brain Fog

We all know that having inflammation is bad news. Inflammation in our joints due to injuries or of any other kind is all considered a big problem and there are many illnesses that can cause this response too. But did you know it can also impact on your brain? And it’s pretty much as bad as it sounds…

Inflammation appears to have a profound effect on the brain and is something many people may be struggling with and which might actually lie at the root of some types of depression as well as brain fog. Read on and we’ll take an in-depth look at inflammation’s effect in the brain and how it can negatively affect our mental health.

What Is Inflammation in the Brain?

If you have ever had a cold, then you will likely have noticed that it can affect you psychologically as well as physically. Chances are that you will find yourself feeling listless, easily distracted, miserable and quite possibly depressed.

Of course this is partly because you’re likely bored and frustrated with being ill. At the same time though, it will also be a result of the immune system’s effects on your brain directly.

Whenever the body comes under attack from illness, it will respond by generating an ‘inflammatory response’. This is regulated by the release of cytokines – messengers that can be either pro- or anti-inflammatory.

These cytokines can then have a number of impacts on the brain. For instance, they have been shown to alter the levels of certain neurotransmitters including dopamine, tryptophan and serotonin (1). Cytokines activate the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) which degrades serotonin – a ‘happiness hormone’. This may well be one mechanism through which inflammation may lead to depression.

It also appears that inflammation in the brain can increase ‘excitability’ by ‘upregulating’ glutamatergic activity (glutamine being the main excitatory neurotransmitter) and by ‘downregulating’ GABAergic synapses (GABA being the main inhibitory neurotransmitter) (2).

Inflammation in the brain also seems to lead to mitochondrial break down. Your mitochondria are the ‘energy plants’ of your cells (including the neurons) and this means that inflammation may lead to less mental energy (3). All these factors contribute to depression and brain fog and to what is known as ‘sickness behavior’.

As well as being a response to infection, inflammation in the brain can also be caused by oxidative stress or by psychological stress. It’s also possible that inflammation and thus ‘brain fog and depression’ could be compounded by allergies – some claim that a ‘lectin sensitivity’ is one of the most common allergies leading to brain inflammation. A lack of good sleep could also lead to inflammation and thus brain fog (4).

Evidence and Research

The connection between inflammation, brain fog and depression is something that researchers only just starting to explore. Preliminary studies suggest there may be a strong link in many cases though.

In one study, researchers used Zoloft to treat depression. They found that this could decrease their pro-inflammatory cytokines and increase their anti-inflammatory cytokines and that this was effective in treating the depression to an extent (5). Meanwhile, the use of blood thinners such as aspirin have also been found to be effective in treating depression (6).

One treatment for hepatitis C is the administration of interferons. These interferons however also trigger inflammatory responses and this could explain why 20-30% of patients using this treatment are at risk of depression (7).

Taking Action Against Inflammation

All these studies suggest a strong link between inflammation and depression and this could well be an interesting angle to explore further. If you are suffering with depression or brain fog of your own, then you might consider trying to reduce that inflammation yourself – either through the use of aspirins and ibuprofen, or perhaps through vasodilators likes garlic which can have a similar effect by widening the blood vessels. Vanilla may also be a helpful home remedy to try as it contains vanilloids which, like capsaicin, can reduce inflammation.

But let’s not get carried away here. Just because some cases of depression and brain fog seem to be triggered/controlled by inflammation, that does not mean that all cases are. Inflammation is a normal response to infection but it does not generally occur on its own unless something has gone wrong. Case in point: your knee gets inflamed when you bang it, but rarely will it be inflamed for no reason at all!

Many websites are jumping on this bandwagon and recommending that people consume vast quantities of vanilla and capsaicin and aspirin to enjoy ‘optimum performance’. In reality though, most of us probably have no need for such treatments as our brains probably aren’t inflamed.

How do you know if your brain is inflamed? You don’t! But if you aren’t experiencing severe brain fog or depression, then chances are it’s not and so you don’t need to start treating it. On the other hand though, if you are suffering with these types of mental health complaints, then this is one more avenue to consider pursuing in your treatment of them. It certainly can’t hurt to try using some anti-inflammatory treatments if you are suffering with depression. And it is certainly an interesting topic to watch develop!

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A Practical Guide to Living With Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can be a devastating thing to experience and can take the joy out of much of life. Not only that but being low in confidence can also actually sabotage our success in multiple areas life: preventing us from taking chances or putting ourselves forward.

‘Curing’ low self-esteem is not easy though and takes time in the best case scenario. Fortunately there are steps you can take to make it a bit easier to deal with.

What Is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the beliefs that you hold about yourself. These include who you are, what you are capable of and all of the good and bad things about you; and then how you judge yourself on this basis. Your self-esteem can vary depending on your emotions and your experiences. Good self-esteem comes from seeing yourself in a strong and positive way.

Low self-esteem indicates that you have a low opinion about yourself. A low self-esteem can manifest itself in many different ways. You may focus on the things that you do badly rather than the things that you do well. You may struggle to name good things about yourself and just focus on your bad side. Low self-esteem can be brief or it may be a long-term problem and can feel very upsetting or detrimental.

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem can be triggered by many different factors; often it stems from more than one cause. Those experiencing low self-esteem tend to report different triggers that upset them and often the causes can become interwoven.

Low Self-Esteem

Common causes of low self-esteem include:

  • Life events, such as bereavement, the break-up of a relationship or illness
  • Negative relationships with other people, including relationships that attack your self-worth
  • Past life events, such as bullying or damaging childhood experiences
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Loneliness, limited contact with others or difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Discrimination
  • The development of negative thought patterns

There also appears to be a genetic component to self-esteem which may make one more susceptible to these environmental factors.

Low self-esteem can have very negative consequences. Negative thought patterns about yourself may become routine which can cause feelings of depression and worsen over time. Having a low opinion of your abilities can lead to difficulties at work or in your hobbies. You may feel unworthy to associate with your friends or colleagues. Low self-esteem can also prevent you from moving forwards with your life, such as applying for new jobs and starting new relationships.

In serious cases a long term negative opinion of yourself may even lead to negative coping behaviors (such as drug dependency and alcoholism) and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and paranoia.

How to Prevent Low Self-Esteem

Long term low self-esteem can feel difficult to prevent; when negative thought patterns are so ingrained it can be difficult to know where to start to improve your feelings. However there are many ways to combat low self-esteem.

Identify Triggers

When you start to feel the effects of low self-esteem try to focus on what caused your low emotions on a case-by-case basis. Often the causes of low self-esteem can become tangled together unconsciously. Try to spend time assessing what it was that triggered your dip in emotions. It may be a relationship or an experience at work. It may be that an experience reminded you of another situation. It may even be that you made a mistake. It is only when you realize what is causing your low self-esteem that you can start to prevent it.

This is similar to the process known as ‘mindfulness’ in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Acknowledge When You Feel Low

If your negative self-esteem is always bubbling away under the surface it can feel normal to be upset or depressed. Instead when you start to feel low make a note of it and acknowledge how you feel. This can help you to identify what it is that is causing you to feel low. It can also give you an opportunity to challenge your negative behavior. Remember: it is not ‘okay’ to feel like this.

When you start to feel low, challenge yourself as to why you are feeling down. Defend yourself from slipping into a low mood. Ask yourself whether the situation you are in is worth your change in mood. When you are aware that a situation is changing your mood in such a dramatic way it can be easier to challenge this.

This is known as ‘thought challenging’ in cognitive behavioral therapy.

You might also take this opportunity to make positive steps to cheer yourself back up or to inflate your own esteem again.

Focus on the Positives

Reminding yourself of your positive attributes can often be easier said than done, particularly when your self-esteem is low. However it is important to remind yourself about your good qualities as these can often be overlooked in favor of your negative sides. If you are feeling low try to think of three good things about yourself. If this is difficult, ask a close friend or family member to support you in this – perhaps just by calling up for a chat. Recalling your good characteristics at a low moment can help to return you to a more balanced frame of mind. You can also keep a log of positive things people have said about you. Repeat these to yourself often as ‘positive affirmations’ – or even leave them on post-it notes around your house as reminders!

Do Things That You Enjoy

Breaking the cycle of low self-esteem can also be done by treating yourself or organizing things to look forward to. Having a small treat, such as a nice meal or relaxed moment, can help to return you to a happier, more positive, state of mind. It can also help you to feel that you have more control over life. Likewise arranging enjoyable events, such as a party, an outing or a holiday, can break the normal cycle of life and help to give you something positive to look forward to.

Remember, our thoughts are often controlled at least to an extent by neurotransmitters. Doing things we enjoy can alter these neurotransmitters helping us to think much more clearly and to overcome a pattern of negative thoughts.

Look After Yourself

Low self-esteem can also be raised by taking time to look after yourself. Ensure that you get plenty of sleep. Exercise can help to put you into a more positive frame of mind, as can eating a balanced healthy diet. When your body is feeling stable and supported your mind will start to follow the same track, helping you to combat your low self-esteem. Again this all helps to support healthy neurochemistry and brain function. Remember: healthy body, healthy mind!

If none of this helps then make sure you speak to a health professional and consider getting therapy. This can help a great deal and in turn have positive effects in many aspects of your life.

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Stress and Pregnancy – Advice for Men

Articles on stress and pregnancy will typically focus only on the women and any advice for men will tend to say things like ‘just suck it up’. The woman is the one who is going through the intense physical and mental changes and who mustn’t be made stressed and so the guy should just do everything he can to keep her happy at all times… right? If the guys think they deserve sympathy, then they should try carrying an extra nine pounds around with them.

And other comments of that nature…

Only for a guy who is perhaps dealing with a depressed wife, the fear of being an imminent father and the strain of doing all the work around the house on top of his normal job, this advice isn’t particularly helpful.

This lack of help or advice for men can actually be highly destructive and lead to a lot of problems for the man, the woman and the unborn child.

Why Pregnancy Is Challenging for Men

What’s important to recognize is that stress is a big problem for men during a pregnancy too. Men who struggle with feelings of stress shouldn’t feel guilty for not being tougher and they should recognize that they are facing a valid issue of their own.

Not only can it be very difficult to live with a partner who is irrational and perhaps even spiteful (different women will react differently to hormonal changes) but you’ll also have to take on much more responsibility and work and deal with the emotional impact of becoming a father. Many men will do everything they can to help their partners, meaning that they do all the chores around the house, give up their favorite activities and generally put their partner first in every way. This then means their evenings – which maybe used to be the time they would relax after a stressful day’s work – is now spent doing chores.

Stress Management Tips for Men

With this in mind, stress and pregnancy are also a very real challenge for men. The following advice can help many men who are struggling to manage stress during their partner’s pregnancy.

Come Up With a Routine

If you’re struggling under the weight of your new chores, try coming up with a routine to help. You might have to make a few compromises but if you’re strategic you should be able to fit a food shop and house clean in around your normal activities and there may still be some tasks that your partner can do that are low-stress and not too physical.

Looking After Yourself

Make sure that you take some time to look after your mental health too – as apart from anything else your mental state will be contagious and affect your partner’s. Take time off of work if you need it, avoid taking on more stress or more responsibilities (talk to your boss if necessary) and look after your health as an absolute priority.

Put Yourself First Occasionally

Likewise, while you should do everything you can to help your partner – this shouldn’t come at the expense of your own happiness. If you are constantly passive and apologetic you may find that you actually frustrate her more.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can never agree with your partner or do anything to upset her. You should give her the benefit of the doubt a little more regularly and try to be the ‘bigger man’ on more occasions but remember she may not always be thinking rationally. If she is struggling with her hormonal changes then nothing you can do is going to keep her completely calm and you shouldn’t beat yourself up every time she gets a little bit annoyed (it would take a lot for this to lead to damage to the baby). Be fair, compassionate and kind but don’t think that means you have to constantly bury your head in the sand. If she’s being unreasonable – tell her.

Take Breaks

Finally, make certain that you are taking lots of breaks from the constant stress you might be experiencing. It may be that you can’t get the calm and respite you need at home in which case you should find another way to ‘blow off steam’ away from your partner. This could mean going to the gym twice a week (preferably one with a sauna) or it could mean just going out with friends for a drink every now and then. Don’t ‘abandon’ your partner by any means but do consider that both of you might benefit from a little time apart.

You can also consider taking a break together. A ‘babymoon’ is the name of a holiday that a pregnant couple go on in order to get some alone time prior to the birth of their child. This can be a great way to remove the other sources of stress and to concentrate on being together and enjoying each other’s company.

The trick to a successful babymoon is to go at a time when you’ll really appreciate the break but not so late that the mother will struggle to enjoy herself. Likewise, you should make sure that you aren’t travelling too far as this can be difficult during pregnancy.

Conclusion

Overall then, there are several things that guys can do to help when they are facing stress and pregnancy. Most important of all though is to acknowledge when you’re struggling and to find ways to manage that stress. While the woman should of course take priority during a pregnancy, your mental health is also important and if you don’t look after yourself then you’ll find it actually affects her as well.

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A Guide to Stress During Pregnancy – Causes, Issues and Management

Being pregnant is a very exciting and happy time for any couple and especially the first time you go through it together. While the prospect of having a child together is a wonderful one though, it can also place a fair amount of strain on you both and cause quite a lot of stress.

And what makes matters more difficult, is the fact that stress can actually have a number of negative effects on pregnancy and potentially be harmful for the child. In this article we will look at the causes of stress during pregnancy, how this can affect the birth and what you can do to combat it.

What Causes Stress During Pregnancy?

Psychological and Practical Causes

Stress during pregnancy is common for a wide variety of reasons. For starters, it is a stressful prospect knowing that you’re going to become a parent. As mentioned, it is also a very exciting thought – but that doesn’t mean you aren’t likely to both be a little scared. Having a child will completely change both your lives, your routines and more, it will place you under a great financial strain and it is an incredibly important responsibility for you both to take on. Likewise, both of you are going to have your doubts and your concerns and that alone can cause significant stress during pregnancy. This can be even harder in some situations, for example where you may be a single parent, or where you hadn’t planned for the baby.

What’s also hard to predict is the way that being pregnant can cause any number of other stressful situations. You might for example have your parents trying to influence decisions about where you live, or how you raise the baby. You might have disagreements with one another about how to name them. You might be worried about how it will impact on your career…

All these things can create more stress and can even lead to you arguing more as a couple. This is especially upsetting as we often imagine a pregnancy to be an unequivocally ‘happy’ event and thus can feel like we’re failing if that’s not the case. In reality, being pregnant is much like a wedding or even Christmas: far more complicated and stressful than most people realize.

Smoking

Smoking is seriously unhealthy for a fetus and thus it is crucial that any smokers take this opportunity to stop. Unfortunately though, quitting smoking in itself is likely to cause a lot of stress as the mother has to combat withdrawal symptoms and cravings and so this can commonly contribute to stress during pregnancy.

If you have time prior to becoming pregnant, bear this in mind and try to quit before you start trying for a baby. This will also prevent you from slipping and finding yourself outside sneaking in a quick cigarette.

Otherwise, just be aware that this is likely to be yet another factor you have to contend with.

Physical and Biological Causes

Pregnancy is well known for causing mood swings and depression and part of the reason for this is that it can increase levels of something known as ‘corticotrophin-releasing hormone’ or ‘CRH’. This is often referred to as the ‘master stress hormone’ because it regulates the release of all other stress hormones. The more CRH you produce, the more you will experience heightened levels of other glucocorticoid hormones like cortisol.

During pregnancy, levels of this hormone can increase hugely. Fortunately, throughout the majority of the pregnancy women will also produce more CRH-binding protein which negates the most severe effects of these hormones. In the last weeks of pregnancy however this can change as the binding proteins diminish. Likewise, cortisol levels also appear to climb during the second trimester and by the last weeks prior to birth will have risen to two or three times the normal level. These hormonal changes appear to be regulated by the placenta which ‘takes over’ control of CRH production. The precise reason for this isn’t known but it is believed to help the fetus in various ways. For instance, during the first days, CRH can help to suppress the mother’s immune system which prevents it from attacking the fetus. Later on, cortisol appears to aid with the development of the child’s brain. It has even been suggested that cortisol may ‘prep’ the woman’s brain for motherhood by increasing her alertness and attentiveness.

Stress during pregnancy then is actually an important part of the process and not entirely a ‘negative’ thing. The problem occurs when these naturally circulating levels of stress are impacted by other causes of stress ultimately resulting in potential damage to the fetus and other issues.

Risks of Stress During Pregnancy

While elevated levels of stress during pregnancy are normal and even positive then, this can also be dangerous for the fetus in some cases.

High levels of cortisol increase the likelihood of miscarriage as well as preeclampsia (hypertension induced by pregnancy), mental disability, premature birth and development delays post birth. The risk of intrauterine infection and of low birth rate.

Stress hormones like epinephrine etc. can cause the blood vessels to contract which may include blood flow to the baby if it affects the umbilical cord. This in turn prevents the baby from getting the nutrition it needs. Meanwhile, the hormonal and neurochemical changes in the woman’s body change the environment that the baby is raised in and the environment that they adapt to.

For the mother, increased levels of stress during pregnancy can also have negative effects on her health. Stress makes us more prone to illness, it places strain on the heart, it reduces the quality and quantity of sleep and it increases the chances of developing depression or other mental health disorders. Subsequently, this also increases the likelihood of postnatal depression.

How to Combat Stress During Pregnancy

Stress during pregnancy is very difficult to avoid. Hormonal and physical changes leave the mother more susceptible to stress, while practical and emotional challenges increase the likelihood of stress further. The combination runs the very real risk of causing damage to the fetus or compromising the baby’s health.

For all these reasons, it’s important to acknowledge the potential risk of stress and to ensure you have a strategy for minimizing its effect and for handling the symptoms.

Here are some ways you can do that:

Take a Babymoon

You’ve heard of a honeymoon but how about a babymoon? Essentially the idea of this is to give you the opportunity to have some time alone as a couple prior to the birth of the new baby. This is your last chance to enjoy being alone together, so a babymoon lets you celebrate that with one last ‘hurrah’.

At the same time, a babymoon also gives you a break from all the other sources of stress that might be exacerbating existing pregnancy stress.

Take Time Off of Work

Many women will work through their stress and pregnancy in order to ensure they are able to get maternity leave. While this makes a lot of sense, if you’re already very stressed then it can make matters worse and become very difficult.

A solution is to take time off because of your stress. Mental health issues are a perfectly valid reason to get sick leave and it’s crucial that you put your health and the baby’s health first. While you might think you can ‘power through’ you’ll actually find that this ends up being a decision you later regret.

Indulge

While you might already have money stress, this isn’t the time to cut back on nice food and to make life harder for yourself. Likewise, spending a little extra cash on a weekly massage, yoga lessons or trip to the spa can help a great deal both mentally and physically. Find a class or treatment that appeals to you and consider it a savvy investment.

Maintain Your Health

Maintaining optimum health is incredibly important for the health of your baby but it can also help to combat the symptoms of depression and stress. Make sure that you eat a healthy and nutritious diet, that you get plenty of fresh air and exercise and that you do everything you can to make your sleep comfortable and restorative.

Plan and Budget

You can overcome many of the stresses associated with becoming a parent with planning and preparation. Making sure you know your budget can handle the arrival of a new child, educating yourself on how to raise a baby and having contingency plans should anything go wrong can all help you to feel less at the mercy of fate.

Meanwhile, you should also plan for the pregnancy itself and make sure you’re ready to handle the challenges. Think ahead about things that might cause you stress and how you can avoid them. Did you know that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year? To make sure you avoid that being the case then, why not minimize it by going on holiday for Christmas? Likewise, if you know life is going to get particularly stressful at work for a certain time, make sure that you avoid adding to that stress in any way in your home life. Try to anticipate any stress as best you can and then counter it before it becomes a big problem.

Don’t Stress About Stress

Ironically, one of the biggest reasons that couples get stressed during pregnancy is often that they are so concerned at the thought of becoming stressed.

In other words, because they know that stress can be bad for the fetus, they will then view stress as something that absolutely has to be avoided at all costs. Thus any argument, any money problems or any setback can seem much more serious and much more stressful.

It should be easy to see that this is counterproductive. Instead then, recognize that some stress is inevitable and that it can’t all be avoided. Don’t beat yourself up for becoming stressed or you’ll just exacerbate those feelings. The likelihood of a few arguments leading to problems with the baby are very slim so you don’t need to be constantly ‘walking on egg shells’. We would have survived much worse in the wild!

See Your Doctor

That said, give your stress the respect it deserves. Recognize that severe, chronic stress during pregnancy can be a big problem and if you find that you are really struggling – see your doctor.

Conclusions

This was an in-depth look at the role of stress during pregnancy and how you can manage it. Essentially, the take-home message is that stress during pregnancy is somewhat inevitable and even healthy. You shouldn’t get too upset at every little incident or worry that any argument is going to lead to severe developmental problems for your unborn child.

That said, stress can be a real and severe problem if it is preventing you from being happy, if it seems to be causing depression or if it is impacting on your health. In this case it’s crucial to put your health and happiness first which may mean taking time off of work or seeing a doctor.

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Residual Stress and Why it May be Ruining Your Sense of Wellbeing

The term ‘residual stress’ is often used to describe a phenomenon in manufacturing that results in a solid material continuing to be affected by stress even once the original cause of stress has been removed. For instance, due to temperature gradients, structural changes or deformations.

This term also serves a useful purpose however in describing something that a lot of us experience.

Have you ever felt a little bit stressed but not quite sure why? Like you’re anxious for no reason, or for a reason you’ve forgotten. This may well be residual stress.

What Is Residual Stress?

When you’re stressed, your body goes through an awful lot. Basically what happens is that you are put into the ‘fight or flight’ response which is characterized by neurotransmitters and hormones like norepinephrine/adrenaline, dopamine, cortisol and others. These all ‘amp you up’ and send blood and oxygen to your muscles and away from your immune system and digestion. Your body starts to use up more energy and you shake and panic.

This process is designed to make us more likely to survive in the case of an attack or a natural disaster. What it’s not designed for is work pressure, angry bosses or financial strain. This is where chronic stress can come in – when you don’t get a break from the ‘stressor’ that is causing you so much unhappiness and thus you remain ‘on’ for too long. As a result you experience adrenal fatigue, you become susceptible to illness and eventually you even start to experience depression.

Say you now shoot your boss in the head, or he mysteriously falls down a lift shaft… surely you should feel better now, right? Well not necessarily – for although your boss is now gone, you will still have the residual stress to deal with and the recovery.

It’s a little like having someone punch you in the leg repeatedly for days. Even once they stop, you’re still going to have a painful bruise for at least a while. When you’ve been chronically stressed for a long time it’s almost like your soul is bruised…

What Causes Residual Stress

Specifically then, what does your body go through once the source of stress is gone but you still feel rotten?

For one, you have the fact that you’ll still be on ‘high alert’. All those stress hormones are still in your system – they can only get flushed out so quickly – and so they should be because there’s always some risk the stressor will come back. Thus you might no longer be stressed about the specific thing that set you off any more but you’re still likely to be a little wired and a little anxious. All of your senses will be slightly heightened and everything will seem a little more intense. You may also face adrenal fatigue (meaning your adrenal glands are worn out from going full pelt) which can lead to exhaustion while your slightly imbalanced neurotransmitters can leave you feeling low and a little depressed.

Likewise, your body has been taking a beating for a while now with so much adrenaline pumping through your body and everything going towards your brain and heart. And while your immune system can get ‘suppressed’ during some kinds of stress, other types of chronic stress can actually enforce it. What this then means is that when your body switches off and you go into ‘rest and digest’ mode finally (the opposite of fight or flight) you often get ill. This is what is sometimes referred to as ‘leisure sickness’. It’s why teachers will tend to get sick in the holidays. A common symptom of leisure sickness and of residual stress is migraine so look out for that.

For all these reasons, residual stress can mean you continue to feel less than 100% even when the cause of your initial anxiety is long behind you.

How to Deal With Residual Stress

So what do you do? How can you handle feeling the ‘come down’ from stress effectively?

The first thing to do is to realize that you aren’t likely to feel better immediately at the end of the deadline so don’t plan anything big to start the next day. Acknowledge residual stress as a problem and plan around it.

Normally this might mean taking some holiday or just going out for drinks to ‘blow off some steam’. Note though that you don’t want to be completely comatose following your stressful work because you might leave yourself prone to leisure sickness.

Better yet: try to avoid getting yourself so badly stressed in the first place. Reprioritize your life if you find yourself feeling this way regularly and ensure you are taking lots of regular breaks so that you never feel the cumulative effects of months’ worth of stress.

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How to De-Stress – Simple Steps to Find Calm When You Need It

Experiencing distress? Then you need to de-stress!

Stress is a serious problem and something that can affect us negatively in many ways; often without us even realizing it. If you find your stress levels increasing, then it is highly important that you know how to take some time out and how to de-stress effectively. In this post, we’ll look at the steps you need to take to effectively get yourself back to performing optimally and feeling calm.

Follow this strategy and you can go from a bundle of anxious nerves to a state of complete calm and relaxation…

Take a Time-Out

First and most importantly, you need to take some time out. This means taking a step back from whatever it is you’re doing – and especially if that thing is what’s causing you stress.

If you want to know how to de-stress then this is the single most important step. Stress is your body being ‘fired up’ in response to challenge or perceived threat. In other words, you need to take the time out in order to let yourself return to your baseline.

The problem is that when we’re stressed, we tend to feel motivated to work harder so as to address the stress. If you’re stressed because you need to finish a project in a short amount of time, the last thing you’ll often want to do is to take a breather to have a nice bath for half an hour.

This then is where you need to realize that actually, taking time out is probably better for your performance overall. Stress impairs your memory, it negatively affects decision making and it eventually leads to burnout. Taking the time to actively look into how to de-stress will lead to you working better and for longer. Don’t be a hero – play the long game.

Set a Timer

It’s no good to just take time out of whatever it is you’re doing physically. What’s actually even more important is that you take the time out mentally meaning that you stop thinking about whatever it is that’s causing you stress and instead be present and in the moment to allow yourself to relax.

If you find you lack the discipline to do this, or you’re worried about taking time out of whatever it is you’re doing, then setting yourself a timer or a time limit can be a very effective way to overcome this issue. For instance, if you’re currently studying for an exam, then you might decide that you can only afford to take 20 minutes out. That’s fine – as long as you make sure that during those 20 minutes you completely switch off.

The timer allows you to do this because you know that in 20 minutes, you’ll be able to go back to what you’re doing. In the meantime though, you won’t be constantly checking the clock or worrying that you should get back to what you’re doing.

Relax Physically

This guide to how to de-stress is open to interpretation and is flexible to meet your specific preferences. That is to say, the precise way you de-stress is up to you as long as what you’re doing ticks all the right boxes.

For instance, it can be very helpful to do something that will help to physically relax and calm you. When you’re stressed, this causes a flood of hormones and neurotransmitters that trigger changes in the body. Among other things, this can lead to you becoming more tense as your muscles contract slightly. Your breathing will meanwhile become shallower and you might even find yourself shaking slightly as your blood sugar level is sent into disarray.

There are various ways you can help your body to relax itself then and thus to counteract some of these physical symptoms. At the same time, this can then also send further feedback to the body as you are essentially communicating that it’s ‘okay’ to relax. Help the muscles to relax and you will calm down your whole body.

Some examples of things that are physically relaxing include:

  • Taking a warm bath which is fantastic for relaxing the muscles (a scented bubble bath can also help a great deal)
  • Getting a massage (either professionally or from a loved one)
  • Hitting a sauna, hot tub or steam room
  • Sun bathing
  • Simply lying back and closing your eyes
  • Going for a relaxing walk somewhere scenic
  • Practicing yoga which incorporates relaxed breathing and stretching
  • Sitting in a massage chair

Be Present and Breathe

Simply taking a warm bath isn’t enough though if you really want to know how to de-stress. At the same time, you need to let yourself really feel the full benefit of that relaxing bath by being present in the moment and controlling your breathing.

Breathing slowly and deeply will instantly engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which is there to help us completely relax when we are going into our ‘rest and digest mode’ (the opposite of fight or flight). This will counteract many of the effects of fight or flight helping your muscles to relax and your mind to feel calmer.

At the same time, remember that you have set that timer and that for at least these 20 minutes or so there is nothing to worry about. Feel the warm water relax your muscles as you bath, or the sun and cool air on your face as you go for your walk and enjoy the scenery. Banish all stressful thoughts from your mind and just let the relaxing setting replenish you.

Activities for Relaxing Mentally

If you struggle to relax mentally on your own, then it may help to use something that can force you into a more relaxed state. This is one of the most useful secrets for how to de-stress.

A good example would be to read a book. Reading books is fantastic for calming yourself mentally because it requires your full attention and your inner monologue. In other words, when you’re reading a novel it’s actually impossible to be simultaneously worrying about work.

In this way, reading a good book can almost be ‘hypnotic’ and often when we finish reading we will find ourselves almost feeling as though we’ve woken up from a dream.

Other activities can be similarly all-encompassing. Drawing or painting is a fantastic tool if you want to know how to de-stress and you’ll find that while your hands do the drawing your mind is often free to wonder absently – hours can easily pass while you’re drawing without you even being aware.

Some people will prefer to read a magazine, to do some knitting or even to practice a dance routine. As long as it requires focus, you’ll find it’s an effective way to take your mind off of things that are causing you anxiety.

Note: things that should be avoided when you’re trying to de-stress include the television and computer games. Screens emit an unnatural light that the brain can mistake for bright sunlight and which actually triggers the release of stress hormone. Likewise, the loud noises and constantly changing colors make it very hard to unwind. Computer games and TV are not inherently bad for you but if you’re looking at how to de-stress, they are not the solution.

Set the Scene

So now you’re relaxing in the bath with a good book and you’ve given yourself 20 minutes off. To make the absolute most of this time, make sure that you also prevent anyone from disturbing you (that means turning off the phone and telling family/friends not to knock) and that you set the scene to be relaxing in other ways for instance by setting the lighting correctly.

Candles are often associated with relaxation and that’s because of both the smell and the flickering light that can be almost hypnotic at times. Candles are also very effective because they produce a low-level light that’s similar to ‘evening’ light and which suppresses the release of stress-causing cortisol.

Listening to relaxing music can also help you to unwind as it gives you something external to concentrate on and often helps to ‘entrain’ your body to feel more at ease.

Finally, getting yourself something to eat or drink that you would consider comfort food can also help. Eating food we enjoy triggers the release of ‘feel good’ hormones which act as natural antidepressants and it improves our mood. Try to avoid caffeine which will only excite you further but otherwise the sky is the limit – something like a warm milk or a yogurt can be particularly effective though.

Knowing When to De-Stress

There are other ways to de-stress but if you want to feel ‘recharged’ then following this strategy is one of the very most effective methods. Exercise and socializing both help to reduce stress hormones and neurochemicals but sometimes you just can’t beat taking some time out to indulge yourself and to force yourself to forget about all your worries.

Once you know how to de-stress this way, it’s important to make sure that you do it regularly. Bear in mind that many of these methods can be used even at work – setting a timer for ten minutes and going for a walk while breathing calmly and snacking on something comforting is something you can do anywhere.

Knowing that you can take a time out like this whenever life seems to be getting on top of you can be a great way to better handle your stress and to ensure that you are putting your health first and ultimately managing your mental and physical energy levels for better overall productivity.

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Top 11 Stress Facts

Stress is something that most of us are familiar and unfortunately there are very few people who don’t encounter it on at least a semi-regular basis. Stress in fact is one of the key challenges of modern living and one of the things that can most impact on our happiness and wellbeing. It can prevent us from relaxing on our time off, it can cause us to make silly mistakes and it seriously undermines our health. When it’s allowed to continue it can eventually lead to depression and other serious mental health disorders.

StressConsider stress then to be ‘the enemy’… and you know what they say: ‘know thy enemy’. When it comes to stress, knowledge certainly is power and the more you understand about this complex phenomenon, the better your chances will be of managing the symptoms and maybe even defeating it once and for all.

Read on then and we will look at some of the top stress facts that you may be unaware of and that could prove useful in the battle against anxiety and stress.

1. There Are Different Types of Stress

We often use the word ‘stress’ as an umbrella term for all kinds of anxiety. Actually though, it’s important to realize that the word stress can in fact be referring to all manner of different things.

One of the main ways to categorize stress is as either ‘chronic’ or ‘acute’ stress. Acute stress is stress that comes on very suddenly and lasts only for a brief window of time – it is the stress you feel when working towards a deadline for instance or when you suddenly realize you left the stove on at home.

Chronic stress on the other hand is stress that is ongoing and that is less easy to put to an end. For instance, chronic stress might be occupational stress caused by not enjoying your job or not liking your boss. This is chronic stress because it isn’t ‘going anywhere’ and is going to continue for a long period of time most likely. It’s this type of stress that is most likely to have negative health consequences.

2. Not All Stress Is Bad

Another important way to differentiate types of stress is to remember that not all stress is bad. ‘Eustress’ is the term used for stress that actually has positive benefits beyond the negative effects.

How can stress be a positive thing? A good example is taking an exam scenario. While you don’t want to be too stressed such that it impacts on your health and wellbeing, you also need a little bit of stress simply in order to feel motivated. It’s stress and the thought of failing that actually encourages us to knuckle down and do our revision and if we didn’t feel it at all, we’d end up not bothering and ultimately failing. There is a fine line to be walked here.

The idea that not all stress is bad is one of the lesser known stress facts but when you realize this it will help you to embrace stress in the right circumstances and thus use it more to your advantage.

3. Stress Improves Your Physical Performance

Were we in our natural setting, then all stress would have been eustress. There was no such thing as having an angry boss when we were cavemen so any source of stress would have been something we could address. Likewise, most stress would have been acute in nature.

And here then is where the true value of stress can be seen. As actually, when you’re stressed you’ll find your muscles become more powerful, your focus is enhanced and your reflexes improve. One of the most amazing stress facts is that it even causes your blood to clot slightly, which is to prevent you from bleeding out in the case of an injury.

Stress might not feel pleasant – especially when it’s chronic and abstract – but in fact that is your body going into an overdrive ‘performance’ mode.

4. Stress Can Cause Hair Loss but Not Make You Go Grey

Get your stress facts straight! Most research suggests that stress can’t turn your hair grey (which some experts still debate however), but on the other hand it can increase hair loss. Telogen effluvium is the technical term for hair loss and it has been shown to occur three months after an acutely stressful event.

5. The Most Stressed People Are…

If you’re a surgeon living in New York, you’re likely going to be one of the most stressed people in the world.

This is according to surveys that suggest the most stressful cities in the US to be Chicago, LA and New York and the most stressful jobs to be pilot, photojournalist, real estate agent and advertising account executive.

What are the least stressful jobs? Those would be dietitian, astronomer, systems analyst and software engineer. Time for a career change?

6. The Number One Cause of Stress…

Can you guess what the number one cause of stress is? It’s money. Something that most of us can associate with to some degree!

7. Stress Can Cause Fat and Acne

Stress can cause acne by raising levels of sebum (which makes skin oily) and weight gain via cortisol levels. This is an example of how stress facts can help you to manage symptoms – if you struggle with either then consider that stress might be the cause.

But did you know that stress can also cause fat cells to inflate? This is what researchers call ‘diseased fat’ and as you might guess from the name, it’s not good!

8. Stress Comes From Latin

The root is actually found in the word ‘stringere’ which means ‘to draw light’. Appropriate, seeing as stress feels like it saps all the light out of life a lot of the time.

9. Stress Is Responsible for 30% of Fertility Issues

Potentially anyway. That’s because stress causes erectile dysfunction and lowered sperm count in men, as well as causing the fallopian tubes and uterus to spasm, affecting implantation. Stress also changes the hormonal and neurochemical makeup of a woman’s body which impacts on the maturation and release of the egg.

Once the mother is pregnant, the problems continue: stress can increase the chances of pre-term labor, intrauterine infection and more.

10. Stress Can Impact Your Brain Power

Stress can cause your neurons to shrink and die – which in turn could lead to impaired cognitive ability. Meanwhile, stress can also make the ‘blood brain barrier’ more permeable meaning that more potentially harmful substances can pass through and affect it.

Post-traumatic stress in infants meanwhile can actually alter the structure of the brain – shrinking the hippocampus which is normally associated with memory. This could be an example of Freud’s ‘repression’ in action!

Stress also increases headaches while hyper-arousal leads to insomnia.

11. ‘Acoustic Stress’ Can Kill You!

Acoustic stress is stress caused specifically by loud noises. A burst of loud noise can trigger something called ‘Long QT Syndrome’ (or LQTS) which is a disorder of the electrical systems of the heart. This is believed to be responsible for up to 3,000 deaths a year!

At the same time, low-level noises and even noises below the frequency of human hearing can also elevate stress levels.

So there you go, a ton of stress facts that you possibly weren’t aware of! As is plain to see, stress is a highly complicated and multi-faceted problem and should be treated as such.

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Three Effective Meditation Techniques for Stress

Stress is something that can seriously undermine your quality of life and it’s very important not to underestimate the significant impact it can have on pretty much every aspect of your wellbeing.

That’s why it’s so important if you are experiencing any kind of stress, to make sure that you find ways to manage it and to get it back under control.

One of the very most popular and the very most effective tools for doing this is to use meditation. That said though, there are a number of different meditation techniques for stress and the best option is going to depend largely on what type of stress you’re facing, how you personally deal with it and your general disposition to begin with.

Here we will look at three of the most popular and successful meditation techniques for stress and at how they work.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the most commonly applied meditation techniques for stress and is a big part of cognitive behavioral therapy.

The idea of mindfulness is something a little different to what you might usually associate with meditation. Often with meditation we think of trying to ‘clear our minds’ of all thoughts so that we can enter a state of completely emptiness.

That is not the objective with mindfulness – in fact it’s pretty much the opposite of what you do.

Instead, mindfulness is about letting your thoughts ‘happen’ but taking a step back from them. This way you simply observe the contents of your own thoughts for subsequent reflection.

The reason that this is one of the best meditation technique is that it gives you a peak into your own mind and into the kinds of things that are causing you stress.

Most likely, you’ll find that you are thinking about work, about how your partner is going to leave you or about how you don’t have enough money. All these thoughts can lead to stress but you need to be aware of them in order to start making a positive change and in order to start combating them.

Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental meditation on the other hand is a type of meditation that is more similar to what we generally picture. Here the practitioner will sit comfortably for 20 minutes and close their eyes, normally while repeating a mantra (any noise or word that you repeat over and over again).

The objective here is then to ‘transcend’ your normal thoughts to the point where you’re able to get respite from them – and hopefully then return to your usual routine feeling well rested and recovered as a result.

Eventually this can become a skill that you can use whenever you need to get a break from everything going on around you and studies seem to suggest that these types of meditation techniques for stress are very effective at triggering more relaxed brain states.

Note however that transcendental meditation is not easy and it can take a fair amount of work at first. Getting your thoughts to ‘go quiet’ is often a real struggle and ironically this can be a source of stress in itself! This is a strategy that requires a little hard work and dedication then.

Visualization

Meditation

The great thing about meditation is that it doesn’t have to follow any set rules. That is to say that when you meditate, you are simply being disciplined with your own mind with the aim of improving your mental wellbeing. That could mean something as simple as telling yourself not to think about whatever is making you stressed, or examining a flower with meditative focus so that you end up shutting out everything else happening around you.

Visualization is simply the process of closing your eyes and imagining you are somewhere else. One of the most popular stress management techniques of this nature is to then go to a ‘happy place’ which is an imaginary (or remembered) environment that makes you feel completely at ease. For many people this will be a beach or an open field and by focusing on all your senses and paying attention to the details you can often bring these places very much to life for some real respite.

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How to Deal With Anger Effectively

All of us deal with anger differently. Some of us like to squeeze a stress ball, others of us will go and hit the weights, others will put our faces into a pillow and scream.

But while it’s your prerogative to deal with anger any way you see fit – as long as you aren’t hurting anyone or putting yourself in any danger – it’s crucial to realize that not every method of dealing with rage is going to be equally as effective. In fact, if you don’t know how to deal with anger properly, you may actually be making yourself worse.

Read on to learn how to deal with anger and how not to.

How to Deal With Anger in a Few Steps

#1 Remove yourself from the situation

The first and most important thing to do if you’re feeling worked up and angry is to remove yourself from the situation. When we are very angry, we lose our ability to make sound long-term decisions and this can often lead to impulsive behavior that gets us into trouble.

What’s more, being around something that makes you angry is only likely to make you angrier.

So if you are able to, then excuse yourself to another room or just generally go and take a time out.

#2 Breathe

Breathing deeply and slowly is a very useful tool for calming down whether you want to know how to deal with anger or stress. That’s because slow breathing will engage your parasympathetic nervous system and your ‘rest and digest’ state which is the polar opposite of your ‘fight or flight’ mode. Essentially this puts you in a state of calm where your body is more interested in making repairs than looking for a fight.

#3 Avoid catharsis

It has long been believed by many people that the best way to deal with anger is to hit something. It makes sense, right? Hitting something is probably what you feel like you want to do, so hitting a punching bag or something else innocuous should let you ‘vent off steam’, right?

Unfortunately no: this is essentially a misunderstanding of how anger works. It is incorrect to think of anger as an emotion that you’re ‘filled up with’ and that can thus be let out like air out of a balloon.

Instead, your anger is more like a fire that gets bigger. And every time you hit something or you shout at someone or you rant about your situation you are adding fuel to that fire. Essentially you’re telling your body ‘the fight is still on’ and thus it will further increase your aggression.

#4 Let it go

Instead then you need to give yourself signals that it’s okay to relax and you need to flood yourself with the contrary neurotransmitters like serotonin and oxytocin. The first way to do this is to ‘let go’ of whatever is causing you frustration. This simply means acknowledging that whatever you do to try and vent your rage will only make it worse and thus you would be much better off just letting it float away. If your anger is at someone else, then ‘letting go’ is the best way to ‘win’. If you want to know how to deal with anger well, then this is the most important tip.

Unfortunately it’s often easier said than done to just ‘let go’ of anger when you’re truly riled. That’s why those struggling with long-term anger would often do well to see a cognitive behavioral therapist who will be able to show them how to change the way they think about anger and the way they react to it.

#5 Relax, laugh and go for a walk

To help yourself get the thing (that makes you angry) off your mind, it’s a good idea to go for a walk, to hang out with friends, to relax or to watch a funny film. These activities all trigger states of calm and release ‘feel good’ hormones that help to suppress anger and stress.

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Try These Fantastic Biofeedback Stress Management Strategies

Nobody should have to live with severe stress. If you are struggling with serious stress on a regular basis then you need to recognize that this will be severely undermining your happiness and wellness to a similar extent as an illness might.

Stress drains us of energy and enthusiasm, it prevents us from sleeping, it leaves us open to disease and it generally makes life grey. If you are stressed most of the time, then you need to find effective stress management strategies or you need to change your circumstances. Continuing as you are simply shouldn’t be an option.

Fortunately there are a wide range of different stress management techniques available, many of which can be very effective for the right patient. In this post we are going to look at one kind in particular that can work in a variety of situations: biofeedback.

What Is Biofeedback?

Heart rate monitorBiofeedback is essentially a fancy term for self-tracking but it is usually used in a more medical context and especially with relation to psychological illness.

Measuring your heart rate, writing down how you feel, monitoring your sleep and more are all examples of biofeedback. What makes different types of biofeedback valuable as stress management techniques though, is that they let you see the effect that various changes you apply to your lifestyle might be having on your health.

Here your heart rate is a particularly useful metric because your heart rate tends to correlate with your stress levels – the more stressed you are, the more your heart rate increases and this makes it very helpful indeed.

Likewise, writing down how you feel can also be very useful in the treatment of stress (this is ‘qualitative data’ as opposed to ‘quantitative’). For instance, you may endeavor every morning to write down whether you feel calm or stressed on a scale of 1-10.

Using Your Data

So why collect this data?

One simple reason is that it allows you to look for trends and correlations (as any good businessman will know). So for instance, if your anxiety level has been rated as ‘8/10′ every morning for the last year but suddenly it drops to 6/10 for a week, you might start looking for what’s changed in your life that might be making you feel better. This way you can then begin to design your life to be more conducive to good moods and to combating stress.

Likewise, biofeedback allows you to monitor the effectiveness of a new treatment or strategy. So if you have just started meditation, then you can see whether your stress scores improve around that time or not. If you use your heart rate to monitor your stress while you meditate then you can literally see the benefits of your meditation as you do it and you can get immediate feedback as to when it’s working and when it’s not.

Another useful reason to use biofeedback stress management techniques is that it can allow you to learn to become more in tune with your own body. In other words, because you’ll always be able to put a number on how stressed you are, you will start to learn how each level of stress feels.

This way you’ll then learn innately to avoid things that make you more stressed as well as to steer yourself towards calming activities.

If you’re interested then, try strapping on a heart rate monitor and using it to keep an eye on your pulse – or just start writing down how you feel every morning. You may well find that this is one of the most effective stress management techniques out there.

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