scary – spiders, snakes, heights, stomach flu, zombies, root canals…
SCARY – Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart Attacks, Cancer
Big difference between the two groups, as far as I’m concerned. Here’s something else that’s frightening – stress greatly increases your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. An eye-opening new study was recently published in the journal Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System found that people who have a lot of stress in their life are more than twice as likely to suffer from cognitive impairment at some point down the road.
While this is certainly startling and even alarming news, it’s also encouraging in a sense. We are always looking for ways to decrease our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, after all. What these researchers have done is provided us a way to do just that. By implementing stress-relieving changes in our lives, we can take a giant step in preventing cognitive decline.
Mindy Katz, co-author of the study, puts it this way: “Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs,” she said. “These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual’s cognitive decline.”
While having a new strategy is encouraging, it will take work. That’s why I want to start looking more closely at stress and anxiety on Out of Bounds, as well as my self help blog Self Help Daily.
Assess Your Level of Stress
First of all, you need to know the enemy before you handle the enemy. How much stress do you have in your life? Asking the following questions can help get your thoughts pointed in the right direction:
- Do you have an especially stressful job? I say especially stressful because you could make a case for all jobs being stressful. One way to look at it is this: Do you feel more stressed about your job than you enjoy it? Does the thought of your job cause your muscles to tense? If so, you certainly need to find ways to alleviate work-related stress.
- Do find yourself unable to handle stress as well as you once handled it?
- Do you tend to get stressed out for other people and their lives as well as your own?
- Do you feel stress at home?
- Does watching the news cause you to feel stress?
- Do you feel stress and anxiety when you’re on social media websites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram..)
When it comes to “handling” stress, some people are able to handle it better when they’re younger. They reach a certain age and wonder why things that used to rate (on a scale of 1-10) a 4 now blow right past 10. Fluctuating hormones, vitamin deficiencies, fluctuating testosterone levels, interrupted sleep cycles – all of these can contribute to whether you handle stress or it handles you.
If you feel an unusual amount of stress at home or work, do your best to get to the root of the problem. If you’re aiming for perfection among humans , here’s a reality check…. it ain’t going to happen! We all (make that ALL) have good traits and bad traits, strengths and weaknesses. There are things we each do well and things we each fail at miserably. Instead of focusing on other people’s shortcomings or what you perceive as “not good enough,” look at their strengths. Doing so doesn’t “let them win” or “approve” of everything about them. Focusing on the good benefits YOU, not THEM.
You are the one allowing their imperfections to transform into stress in your life. I don’t know about you, but that makes me think of willingly drinking poison. Aren’t we all smarter than that?
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
Here’s something I figured out long ago that has always served me well when I feel tempted to feel anxious about someone else’s idiosyncrasies or behavior: Many times what we perceive as someone’s weakest trait is actually a springboard to their greatest trait. If that doesn’t beg for an example nothing does, so here goes:
- Often an individual who is a Type A will drive us Type Bs nuts with their busyness. We find ourselves thinking and possibly even saying, “Sit down. Be still. For the love of all that’s peaceful and quiet, stay out of stuff.” But here’s the thing – they get stuff done. They flat out get stuff done and come through for us almost every single time. They may seem super-charged to us most of the time, but we usually benefit from the results.
- Type Bs often infuriate Type As with our low-key way of approaching each day. To them, I’m certain we sometimes look like we’re asleep at the wheel even when we’re what we consider “wide awake” and very much on point. One thing for a Type A to realize is this – the more rooted into a Type B personality an individual is, the less stress-inducing they will be. A “solid” Type B doesn’t nag, yell, complain, or pick at people. This type of personality is generally easy-going and while that may irritate a Type A at times, they would do themselves a world of good to look at it from that standpoint.
The bottom line is we’re all different and to try to change another person’s personality isn’t just fundamentally wrong, it’s fundamentally……. well… dumb.
Learn to Let Go
When it comes to dealing with stress in any area of your life, you’ll do yourself (and your health) a world of good if you learn to let go of things you cannot control. How your adult son wears his hair, the gossiping co-worker, the receptionist’s Iron Man tattoo, your boss’ glowing inadequacies, traffic, your daughter-in-law’s horrifying cooking…. there’s a really cute saying that goes, “Not my monkey, not my circus.”
This saying may be the best thing to snap you back into “your lane” when you venture into someone else’s. The saying is light-hearted and fun which can further serve to put a smile on your face.
That always looks and feels much better than a scowl.
If social media, in general, causes you to feel anxious or stressful, here are a few suggestions:
- Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If, for example, being on Facebook or Twitter cause you to feel angry (come on, let’s be honest, there are a lot of infuriating people out there!), ask yourself if the good outweighs the bad. Instagram and Pinterest are IDEAL for people who get stressed out by social media. Why? Fewer expressed opinions. If you feel that there is enough “good” derived from the news and/or social media to counter the negative effects, find a way to cope with what you don’t like.
- When it comes to social media, a lot of it is simply unfollowing the wrong people and following the right ones! If you follow “negative Nannies” or people who express opinions vastly different from your own… unfollow them asap. I’ve found that this one thing alone makes the experience SO MUCH sweeter. Search our similar-minded people who are good-natured and fun to follow. They’ll impact your experience greatly.
- Many people get “anxious” when they post something controversial or extremely opinionated. If this is the case, for you, stick to posting about cats, recipes, coffee, baseball.. avoid politics and news.
If watching the news causes stress and anxiety (Heavens, how could it not?), maybe you could start reading a newspaper instead. When your get your news from a newspaper, you can choose what you want to read about and what you don’t. With news on television, goodness knows they’ll force the most unGodly events down your throat imaginable.
“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” – Winnie the Pooh
A Few Ways to De-Stress and Reduce Anxiety:
- Pets are incredible in just about every conceivable way. They’re like little family members that we choose for ourselves. Not only do they provide companionship and entertainment, they give us something to focus on rather than ourselves. Whether it’s a cat, dog, fish, chinchilla, hamster, turtle, horse, or (if you’re braver than me) reptile – a pet is my personal favorite way to escape from perceived stress.
- Researchers say that the act of chewing gum reduces stress and anxiety. They don’t know whether it’s the increased blood flow to your brain, the simple repetitive act, or the scent of the gum, itself. Probably a combination of all. It’s a simple enough thing to implement into your day, whatever the reason behind its effectiveness.
- Go outdoors. Being in the great outdoors – with its sights, scents, and sounds – brings about a sense of calm. Whether you walk around your yard bundled up in winter or half-dressed in summer, the effects are often all that’s needed to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Breathe. During stressful times, we all but forget to breathe sometimes! Right after I lost my mother to an unexpected illness, I was reading an article about deep breathing. The author wrote something to the effect of, “Pay attention to your breathing right now..” I did and realized that I was actually holding my breath! Not only was I not inhaling fresh oxygen in, followed by a cleansing release – I was shutting off the entrance and the exit. Try to pay close attention to your breathing over the coming days – you might just notice that you’re doing the same thing. Breathe deeply… it feels wonderful!
- Try to stay positive. Yes, there are bills to pay, hideous news on a daily basis, and often seemingly endless problems to deal with. But focusing on them only increases their potential to harm you. It worsens their bite. Proactively deal with the things you can deal with, let go of the ones beyond your control (remember to mind your own circus monkeys!), and always look for reasons to smile. If the only thing you can think of right now to smile about is that baseball will be back in summer… by gosh, focus on that!
- Get active. There’s something therapeutic about activity. Clean the house, take a 15 minute walk, wash your car, or hope on the exercise bike. It doesn’t matter what you do, only that you do.
- A picture is worth a thousand positive words. Find a picture of a relaxing scene and keep it close by. Generally speaking, a place or thing is preferable to a person because people often come with too many thoughts. “I wonder what she’s doing right now… I wonder what he meant when he said such-and-such…” A peaceful setting, a beautiful painting, or a picture of candles are great places to start. Use one as your phone or computer’s background, keep it in your phone’s photo album, or frame it and set it on your desk. Find something that makes you feel relaxed – you’ll know it when you see it.
- Put a sock in it! Kidding, of course. Well, half-kidding. When we engage in negative talk and endless complaining, we’re basically spreading germs. We’re causing just as much potential harm as if we’d sneezed all over a roomful of people. Here’s the thing, though, this negative talk hurts the speaker more than the listeners. Think about someone you know who is uncommonly negative. They don’t like any restaurant – and if they did, by gosh, it’s too expensive, They don’t like any topic of conversation you bring up. They don’t like any of their co-workers and they aren’t sure about 90 percent of their own family. How fun are they to be around?! It feels almost toxic to be in their presence, doesn’t it? Now think about this: What if YOU ARE THEM? You wouldn’t be able to escape yourself anywhere you went. Heck, you even keep the same sleep schedule! When you give voice to negative and critical thoughts, you are reinforcing them – whether you are saying them aloud to others or silently to yourself.
- Air it out! On the flip side of the point above, try spreading positivity, optimism, and general goodwill. If you’ve been a Negative Nancy for sometime, you may catch people off-guard until they grow accustomed to the new you, but you’ll surely get some amusement from their expressions. Focus on the positive aspects of life and see where it takes you.
I will have more articles coming hot and heavy on the subject of stress and anxiety. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so I hope you’ll check back regularly.
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
Make each moment count double,
~ Joi (“Joy”)