Stress: The need-to-know series | Part 3: 10 trusty remedies

Stress: The need-to-know series | Part 3: 10 trusty remedies

Stress: the danger lies in lack of understanding and mismanagement. “Okay, so I don’t understand stress and mismanage it – what do I do now?” You deserve to be comfortable, so how ’bout we review some trusty remedies in this final piece of our need-to-know series on stress…

Our friend opened his eyes last week when he learned about the stress response system, and now his head is up. He’s decided to focus upon looking for stress remedies and he’s willing to work hard on blending them into his life.

Well, it’s time to wrap-up our three-part need-to-know stress series. And what could be better than some trusty remedies to frost the cake?

Let’s get rolling with the quotation I shared in Part 1 from Dr. Hans Selye, one of the early pioneers of stress research: “It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it.” It’s so important to remember that.

Though we can minimize the quantity and intensity of our stressors, we’ll never be totally stress-free. That’s why Selye’s observation is so crucial to survival. Yes, freedom can only be found in managing how we react to our stressors.

So it all comes down to what we do with the input of what could become a stressor when it hits our senses.

Trusty remedies prerequisites

Heading into our trusty remedies, you need to become very familiar with two things. We’ll call them prerequisites…

  1. How our stress response system works, as detailed in Part 2
  2. The relaxation response, developed by Dr. Herbert Benson
what is the relaxation response

Absolutely need-to-know – and practice

I think Dr. Herbert Benson merits a bit of a bio. Dr. Benson is a Mind Body Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and Director Emeritus and found of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

Benson pioneered mind/body research in the 1960s, focusing upon stress. Along the way, he developed the relaxation response: the ability of the body to induce decreased activity of muscles and organs. In essence, it allows voluntary management of the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary life-sustaining functions such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate. and the fight/flight response. Prior to Benson, voluntary control over the autonomic nervous system was believed to be impossible.

Make sure you read and absorb Dr. Benson’s quotation in the image.

10 trusty remedies

Well alright, the table’s been set and we’re ready for our 10 trusty remedies for stress. And I want you to know they come from personal experience and insight…

  1. Accept that stress isn’t the villain, well, you are – if you don’t think, feel, and act in the role of decision-maker for, and manager of, your mind and body.
  2. Come up with a solid visual of the flow of the stress response system. You need to be able to actually see the physiological goings-on as a stressor begins to impact how you’re functioning. How else are you going to intervene?
  3. Know your major stressors and understand how they work in and on your body.
  4. Learn and practice the relaxation response. Call on it prior to or during stressful circumstances.
  5. Knowing the stress response begins with the amygdala’s threat interpretation, work on modifying the amygdala’s take. Cognitive restructuring is just one technique.
  6. Do all you can to side-step your major stressors. I understand, sometimes you can’t. So prepare for what may occur by knowing the techniques you’ll use to manage.
  7. Anger – often hidden – can make stress management difficult. Evaluate where you are with anger, and if you believe there’s an issue, address it.
  8. Make sure you’re consistently getting a quality night’s sleep. You can’t blow this off.
  9. Bring exercise and a healthy diet into your life. Supplements may help as well.
  10. Monitor the amount of time you’re spending in your head, and learn how to take a break. Things like spiritual practice, social activities, creative endeavors, exercise, and lending a hand to others can be of assistance.

So what do you think? Perhaps you already carry a few trusty remedies in your back pocket. And maybe you’ll come up with more.

Point is, if you’re serious about knocking down stress, you have to be proactive and work hard at it. In time, it’ll get easier.

That wraps the series

That’s going to do it for our need-to-know stress series. We learned about what stress is and its history, our stress response system, and some trusty remedies.

In closing, I want you to think about sitting in your favorite restaurant – with a screaming child at the next table. Your stress response system has been ignited and you’ve become agitated. But don’t blame the child and supervising adult. Interpretation and management are all on you.

That’s just how it works.

Be sure to read the first two parts of the series: Stress: The need-to-know series   Stress: The need-to-know series | Part 2: The stress response

And don’t even think about not checking-out the hundreds of Chipur articles waiting to assist you.

Dr. Herbert Benson image and quotation: AZ Quotes

Stress: The need-to-know series | Part 3: 10 trusty remedies

Stress: The need-to-know series | Part 2: The stress response

Stress maims, and can kill. The danger lurks in the shadows waiting to strike. And anyone is unfair game. Does the threat motivate you to learn all you can about how stress impacts your life? Well, let’s continue with our need-to-know series…

Our friend has gained insight into how stress is destroying his life, and he’s ready to open his eyes and do something about it. He’s begun to bone-up on stress and now wants to learn how it works in and on his body. This article will get him rolling.

We started our need-to-know series on stress last week. In that piece, we got into defining details and history, using the Centre for Studies on Human Stress as our info source.

Here in Part 2 we’re going to delve into how stress works in the body – the stress response. Our info source this go-round is Harvard Health Publishing.

You know, when my mood and anxiety disorder symptoms first presented some forty-five years ago, I made it my business to learn all I could about what was happening to me. Given the danger – the threat – stress poses, that’s just what we’re going to do here.

Let’s get busy…

The stress response

Triggered by a seemingly endless number of environmental, mental, emotional, and physical stressors – which vary on a per case basis – the stress response begins in the brain. Actually, one could make the case it begins with our eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue. After all, the stress response needs sensual input to work with.

stress response

Stress response anatomy

Okay, sensual input has hit and the information is sent to the amygdala, key in emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the data. If it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.

Now, the hypothalamus is rather a command center because it communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary life-sustaining functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure.

The autonomic nervous system has two components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight/flight response so we have the energy to respond to perceived threats. The parasympathetic nervous system is all about “rest and digest,” calming the body after the threat is in the rear-view mirror.

Possessing the distress signal sent by the amygdala, the hypothalamus lights up the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. And the adrenals start pumping the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) into the bloodstream.

As a result, on comes increased heart rate in an effort to force blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Yep, our pulse and blood pressure increase. And then we begin to breathe more rapidly to amp-up oxygen supply. The extra oxygen is sent to the brain to maximize alertness – sight, hearing, and other senses becoming sharper.

But there’s more. Epinephrine triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites. They flow into the bloodstream, supplying energy to the body.

A large part of the wonder of all this is it happens with such lightning speed. So quickly that we aren’t aware it’s going down, except for the sensations it generates. I mean, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus light the fireworks before the brain’s visual centers have had a chance to fully process what’s happening. And that’s why we can, for instance, jump out of the path of an oncoming car before we think about what we’re doing.

what is the hpa axis

The HPA axis

Well, as the initial onslaught of epinephrine subsides, the hypothalamus activates the second component of the stress response system: the HPA axis – hypothalamus, pituitary gland, adrenal glands.

The HPA axis relies upon a series of hormonal signals to keep the sympathetic nervous system – the fight/flight hammer – pounding away. If the brain continues to think danger exists, the hypothalamus will release corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which heads to the pituitary gland – triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

ACTH travels to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol. Hence, the body keeps cranking away on high alert.

When the threat is perceived to have passed, cortisol levels fall. And the parasympathetic nervous system dampens the stress response.

Seriously, what kind of fascinating and miraculous goings-on are these?

The danger of chronic stress response activation

What we just reviewed involves the hard work of so much anatomy and physiology. I got tired and stressed-out just writing about it.

We have to keep in mind that the stress response system was designed to get us through a good number of emergencies. However, repeated activation of the stress response system, which has become second nature to lots of folks who frequent Chipur – including me, takes a massive toll on the body.

Thing is, many end up with an automatic – unconscious – stress response. I mean, it’s about habitual activation. And you know that has to be a health nightmare.

As we consider the stress-illness connection, would it surprise you that 50-80% of the complaints brought to a physician are stress related? .Just a few of the issues research suggests: increased blood pressure, formation of artery-clogging deposits, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, obesity, infertility, brain changes that contribute to anxiety, depression, and mania, substance abuse and other compulsive behaviors.

So as marvelously protective as our stress response system is, it can turn on us – if we let it. We can’t allow that to happen.

That handles Part 2

Stress maims, and can kill. And now we know how the body responds to it. That’s incredibly important if we’re to pull the danger from the shadows to confront and minimize the threat – making it fair game.

We can do it. No, we have to do it.

Well, our stress learning foundation is becoming rock-solid. Come on back next week for Part 3, as we review how to effectively manage stress.

Don’t you dare miss it.

If you haven’t already, be sure to read Part 1 of the series. And take the time to peruse the hundreds of need-to-know Chipur mood and anxiety disorder-related titles.

brain image: Harvard Health Publishing  HPA axis image: ResearchGate

Stress: The need-to-know series | Part 3: 10 trusty remedies

Stress: The need-to-know series

Stress: just one more portion of the human condition. I suppose for some it’s that simple. But if you’re struggling with a mood or anxiety disorder, stress can be public enemy number one. When it comes to protecting ourselves from danger, it’s incumbent upon us to learn all we can about the threat. Hence, our need-to-know series…

Our friend isn’t meditating. No, he’s stressed to the max and doing all he can to keep it together. His current stress load is hard enough to deal with, but he’s also been wrestling with depressive episodes and generalized anxiety. I feel for the guy. And I know he doesn’t have to fall into the deepest, darkest abyss.

Stress abounds these days. And though I highlighted those trying to manage a mood or anxiety disorder as we opened, stress is clobbering most everyone. Goofy and treacherous times, indeed.

Be that as it may, I for one don’t care to slice and dice it. I mean, I know how and why stress hits me. I’d rather invest my personal resources in deeply understanding and managing the phenomenon.

Well, the current stressful state of many internal and external worlds is what led me to what I thought was the topic for just this week’s piece. But when I dug-in, I realized one article wasn’t going to do stress justice. So we’re going to do a series with three installments. We’ll handle defining details of stress, and its history, this week. And we’ll review the dynamics of the stress response in Part 2 and how to best manage stress in Part 3.

With the exception of the definition of stress we’re about to get into, the information for this article came from the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS). As they share their purpose on their well worth visiting website: “…dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of Canadians by empowering individuals with scientifically grounded information on the effects of stress on the brain and body.”

Lots of bright people involved with that organization.

What is stress?

What better way to get things rolling than to define our subject matter? Within our context, I like these two perspectives on stress from Merriam-Webster…

  • a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation
  • a state resulting from a stress – especially: one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium

Aside from your personal experience, think those nail it down?

But there’s much more. Did you know stress has a fascinating history? Let’s take a look…

The history of stress

what is the stress reaction

“It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it.”  Hans Selye

János Hugo Bruno “Hans” Selye, a 20th century Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist, is considered to be one of the pioneers of stress research.

It was Selye who came up with the term “stress,” which he borrowed from the world of physics. As you may know, in physics, stress is the force that produces strain on a physical body. For instance, bending a piece of metal until it snaps occurs because of the stress – force – exerted upon it.

It was after completing his medical training in the 1920s that Selye began using the term stress. He chose it because he noticed that no matter the diagnosis of his hospitalized patients, they had one thing in common: they all looked sick. And he surmised it was because they were all under physical stress.

Selye suggested that stress was a non-specific strain on the body caused by irregularities in normal body functioning. He went on to submit that this kind of stress releases stress hormones. Selye called this the “general adaptation syndrome” and proposed it had three stages…

  1. Alarm reaction: The immediate response to a stressor, featuring our fight/flight response. It steals energy from other systems, increasing our vulnerability to illness.
  2. Resistance: If alarm reactions continue, the body begins to get used to being stressed. The adaptation isn’t good for our health, since our energy becomes concentrated on stress reactions.
  3. Exhaustion: The final stage after long-term stress exposure. Stress resistance is gradually reduced, which sabotages our immune system, rendering it ineffective. According to Selye, on come unpleasantries such as heart attacks and severe infection because of reduced illness resistance.

Selye ended-up simplifying his terminology by referring to the syndrome as the “stress response.”

By the way, are you beginning to see the danger – threat – stress poses – and why we need to come to grips with it?

Stress research and debate

Well, Selye believed that stress impacted health. And he was right. However, the scientific minds of the day weren’t in 100% agreement with his physiological view of stress as a non-specific phenomenon.

And many physicians, psychologists, and researchers wondered about psychological stress. They believed things like personal loss, work problems, and general frustration generated boatloads of it.

Just one example of pursuing the realities of psychological stress is physician John Mason’s work. He conducted an experiment in which two groups of monkeys were deprived of food for a brief period of time. Group one monkeys were alone. Group two monkeys watched others receive food.

Now, both groups of monkeys were under the physical stress of hunger, but the monkeys that were able to see others eat showed higher stress hormone levels. Mason was able, then, to show that psychological stress was as powerful as physical stress in terms of lighting-up the body’s stress response.

Interesting – another bridge to be crossed in the early stress research years was the notion that we all may experience and respond to stress in the same way. Hmmm.

Let’s just say that over time all sorts of experiments were conducted. The bottom-line? Although the types of stressors resulting in the release and troubling elevation of stress hormones are different for everyone, there are common situational elements. How ’bout this for an acronym: N.U.T.S…

  • Novelty
  • Unpredictability
  • Threat to the ego
  • Sense of control

Ring true?

That wraps Part 1

So stress – just one more portion of the human condition that just happens to be beating a drum in the lives of many these days. Of course, that includes those of us already doing our level best to cope with a mood or anxiety disorder.

You know, I’ve always believed – and always will – that the more we learn about emotional/mental danger, the easier it is to confront and neutralize threats. So it is with stress. Again, we have to come to grips with it.

Hoping to see you back for Part 2, as we delve into the dynamics of our stress response.

Hey, be sure to visit the Centre for Studies on Human Stress site. Lots to learn from lots of smart people.

Hans Selye image:

For many more need-to-knows about the mood and anxiety disorders, review the hundreds of Chipur titles.

11 gems of perspective and hope

11 gems of perspective and hope

It’s hard. And you’re tired. Living with a mood or anxiety disorder can envelop you in bitter cold and darkness. Are you afraid you’ll never again be warm, nor see the light of day? Take heart, here are 11 gems of perspective and hope…

As much as you hate what’s going on, and it frightens you, it has a purpose. And it’s up to you to find it…

Life is particularly challenging these days, isn’t it? Let’s see, the winter blues, COVID-19, weather-related disasters, and our personal disappointments and annoyances.

I imagine most everyone feels the strain. But for many who are already doing all they can to manage a mood or anxiety disorder, it’s crisis time.

You can do it

Perhaps like you, I’ve experienced moments of massive despair. Times when I felt as though I was fragmenting into so many tiny pieces. Worse yet, having no clue as to where the will and strength to move forward would come from.

I was on the mat and the count had hit nine. There were days I could barely see through the darkness of derealization, depersonalization, teeth-grinding anxiety, snake’s belly mood, alcohol, and all but lost hope.

Well, I’ve always pulled myself up before the count of 10. And I say it time and again, if I can do it, there’s no reason in the world you can’t. If you think that isn’t true, hit the contact link above and state your case.

11 gems of perspective and hope

is there reason for hope

“Never easy, but always worth it.”

You know, when I present such gems to you, I don’t take it lightly. I really do spend a ton of time putting them together. And even when I think I’ve gotten things just right, I continue to review and edit as needed.

And keep in mind, what you’re about to read comes from two personal points of view: a decades long manager of my own mood and anxiety disorders and a mental health professional. And I pay just as much heed to what I write as I hope you will.

If you’re in crisis mode and believe your mood or anxiety disorder has permanently nailed you this time around, here are 11 gems of perspective and hope…

  1. You are a human being, and by design you’re not intended to be miserable. You may not be cured, but you’ll recover.
  2. Your circumstances have to be the result of specific physical phenomena and life events. You can manage the fallout. Your situation, then, is not hopeless.
  3. Keep moving forward, even if it’s an inch at a time.
  4. A brain that’s wired differently doesn’t equate to anatomical or physiological disasters.
  5. Catch a chuckle or two as often as possible. Even laugh at yourself. After all, some of the things we think and do are pretty funny.
  6. As much as you hate what’s going on, and it frightens you, it has a purpose. And it’s up to you to find it. If you can’t just now, finding it down the road is all the more reason to carry-on.
  7. So many of the things you believe are happening to you are based in catastrophizing.
  8. You were feeling just fine at one point in your life. But things evolve and change for reasons only you can determine and understand. Make it your business to do so.
  9. Don’t long to be the way you used to be. Why search for the living among the dead?
  10. Accept your circumstances, unavoidable suffering, and recovery potential. Be okay with never being symptom-free, always having your defaults and leanings. Don’t strive for cessation. Learn to manage them after the fact.
  11. Hope and forward motion may not seem like much to go on; however, at times they may be all you have. Make them count.

Back in the days when I was wide-eyed lost and knew next to nothing about what was going on, I’d have given anything to read those gems.

No doubts

I know it’s hard living with a mood or anxiety disorder. And I know you’re tired. But if you’re in the midst of bitter cold and darkness, don’t ever think you’ll never emerge.

Turn to these 11 gems of perspective and hope whenever you’re in need. Always keep in mind that I wrote them because I get it. Don’t doubt them.

Most of all, don’t doubt yourself.

Looking for more inspiration? Check-out my eBook, Feelings & Rhymes Through Treacherous Times.

More about the mood and anxiety disorders? Peruse the Chipur titles.

Just moved: 9 personal insights that SCREAM for my attention

Just moved: 9 personal insights that SCREAM for my attention

They’re brutal, those stressful life events. Getting married, financial woes, starting a new job, significant others exiting your life. Oh, and moving – which I just did. Dang, the personal insights that scream for my attention. Guess it’s time to get to work…

The volume and frequency of the screams were sufficient to convince me to give them my attention. And productive endeavors always come down to personal choice.

Okay, take a look at the image above. Would you agree it’s about way more than boxes – moving? I mean, sure, it’s about the stressful immediate. But it’s also about what was and what’s to come. It’s about vulnerabilities and personal insight.

Two weeks into the process, I’m in my new digs. But there’s still a lot of work to do – on numerous fronts.

The important, the good, the right – the move

To keep this piece from coming off like a self-piteous whine session, you need to know I really wanted to move – 350 miles, out-of-state, U-Haul, solo. See, I promised my daughter and grandchildren I’d relocate to their neck of the woods within a year after turning 65. And by a matter of days, I pulled it off – commitment kept.

But just because something’s important, good, and right doesn’t mean there aren’t great difficulties – challenges – before, during, and after. And, of course, so it goes with this life event.

It’s my belief that we all can become a little lazy when it comes to discovering and addressing our emotional and mental eccentricities and vulnerabilities. And sometimes the screaming for attention of personal insights will only occur in the midst of a stressful life event.

So we have to strike while the iron’s hot.

Those 9 personal insights

am i mentally ill

“Man, those screaming personal insights really do deserve my attention.”

In the weeks leading up to the move, during, and now, I’ve heard and felt the screaming of personal insights. Simply, it’s the detection of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that don’t make a lot of sense and generate conflict and discomfort.

The volume and frequency of the screams were sufficient to convince me to give them my attention. And productive endeavors always come down to personal choice.

Now, completely resolving each of the following – and I’m sure I could come up with more – isn’t necessarily the immediate goal. I say it time and again: the first step toward ultimate resolution is the identification and acknowledgement of issues. And we’re often surprised as to how much relief we experience just by doing that.

Okay, that screaming personal insight…

  1. A project has to be completed now. It’s silly and impossible, but there I was thinking the entire move had to be wrapped-up right now.
  2. In completing a project, there’s no time for breaks. And working from getting out of bed to hitting the sack is no big deal. After all, the project has to be completed now. Funny, when I was a boy my grandmother said I went at everything like I was trying to kill a snake. She was right – still is.
  3. Clutter and disorganization can’t be tolerated. In my case it makes for a ridiculous rush job because, for instance, I won’t “destroy” the bookshelves – living area ambiance – by boxing-up the books until the very last minute.
  4. Change is threatening and difficult. Sure, it’s often good and necessary, but specific types of change, like moving, can sock me in the gut.
  5. I need a reliable and comfortable home. Without one, I’m pretty much lost and out of it.
  6. Doing what I want to do when I want to do it, including being alone, is a must at all times.
  7. If I’m not getting enough, or quality, sleep, I’m in for some nasty anxiety and mood symptoms. There are no exceptions.
  8. Having to complete projects now, working long hours with very few breaks, leads to overstimulation. And overstimulation doesn’t bring me or others my best self. Yet, I’ll continue to work like a fool.
  9. I have this uncanny knack of attaching current stressful events to similar ones in the past. And it can become sadly overwhelming. Several times during this move I felt the spirit of a traumatic family move when I was 14. I fought the feelings – but why?

Whacky stuff, right? But the fact is, I really want to work through them – their accuracy and necessity in my life.

By the way, did any of them ring a bell? And it doesn’t have to have been within the context of a move.

Time to move on

Yep, they’re brutal, those stressful life events. But knowing we can learn so much about ourselves as we navigate through them can provide tons of motivation and inspiration.

Do you have personal insights that are screaming for your attention? Make the decision to answer the call and put some work in. I mean, you can’t just ignore them.

Believe me, they’re not going to – poof – up and leave.

Hey, if you’re looking to get into more personal insight, perusing hundreds of Chipur titles will get you there.