End stress before stress ends you (yes, you can end stress)

The stress many of you are under is intense.  It’s partly due to the economy but for many, stress has been a way of life for a long time.  It will eventually catch up with you if don’t attend to it.  So, if stress has been a problem in your life, I invite you to get real about it – right here, right now – by committing yourself to ending stress in 2012 before stress ends you in 2013 or the year after.  Make no mistake, how well you live and how long you live depend on understanding stress better than you have and ultimately learning how to end it.

  • Stress is a very poor quality of life.  As it takes over, it leads to psychological, social and spiritual deprivation.
  • Brain malfunctions caused by a build-up of stress hormones  undercut your ability to sustain peak performance.
  • Worse still, stress can prematurely age you, shortening your life span by a decade or more.

Stress isn’t something you should do something about someday.  

You need to relate to it today.

But don’t stress; ending stress is simpler than you might imagine. Increasingly, research in neuroscience shows that accentuating practical positive principles in your daily life literally builds the brain structure that extinguishes stress reactions.

So let’s start right here by taking a basic first step, which is checking to see if a  problem exists for you.  The bolded sentences listed below, when put together, form a typical stress profile.  Read it and see if this profile  sounds like you.  Be honest with yourself.  At the end of this post, I’ll provide a practice plan for ending stress that you can download.

The Stress Profile: Is this you?

I get less and less pleasure from activities that I used to enjoy.  Stress hormones interfere with the brain chemistry that generates pleasure and motivation.[1]  Eventually, it can lead to depression.

I have trouble making decisions. Even a single episode of uncontrollable stress can impair decision-making for several days, rendering us unable to reliably identify the larger of two rewards.[2]  Moreover, the greater the stress the greater the likelihood we’ll choose risky alternatives or make premature decisions. [3]

My memory and concentration are not as good as they used to be. Acute psychological stress reduces working memory and depletes executive function networks,[4]  leading to memory lapses, attention deficit and the inability to sustain peak performance. 

Simple things feel burdensome or difficult to accomplish. Stress hormones can elevate dopamine levels in the brain.  Cognitive performance declines when dopamine levels become too high[5]  and the brain locks into performing the same unproductive efforts over and over. Work becomes a rut.  [6]

I’m more impatient, more on edge, and more easily frustrated or annoyed.  I worry to a greater degree than before.  Stress is closely associated with anxiety.  When we worry over a problem or imagine a threat, the brain’s fear center activates fight, flight or freeze. In the process, the brain’s mood set point switches to negative emotion.

I criticize and argue with my significant other more and ruminate on the flaws in our relationship.  The greater the stress the more reactive we’ll be to the normal ups and downs at home.[7]  The more we’ll argue, criticize, blame and withhold affection.  Stress also lowers our sex drive.

I’ve also become less social. I find myself wishing that people would stop bothering me, including friends and family.   People tend to isolate when they are chronically stressed. Social isolation increases our inability to deal with stress.[8]

I eat more to cope with my emotional state. Stress hormone effect appetite.  About two-thirds of us become hyperphagic (eat more) and the rest hypophagic (eat less).[9]  

My use of alcohol and tobacco has increased in part to relieve stress.  Stress hormones trigger more substance abuse[10] and cause a greater chance of relapse in recovering alcoholics.[11]

I experience fatigued most days and at times become exhausted.  Neurobiological explanation:  During a stressful day, the brain’s stress response system is turned-on almost non-stop, expending so much energy that we become fatigued to the point of exhaustion.[12]

I’m having difficulty getting to sleep because I can’t quiet down.  Lots of stress in our day means stress hormones in our bloodstream. Stress hormones decrease the total amount of sleep we get and compromise the quality of whatever sleep we end up getting.[13]

I feel less confident about my ability to handle my personal problems. How could anyone feel confident in their ability to handle problems when their brain is malfunctioning to the degree described above?

You Can End Stress to Live the Good Life   

If, by and large, the profile reflects the state of things with you, commit to doing something about it.  You can start by downloading the preliminary plan I’ve provided (free).  Click here to download the plan.

Commit yourself to practicing the five steps in the plan for the next three weeks.  It takes 21 days to break a bad habit and, believe it or not, stress is a habit of mind that locks you into thinking and believing anxious, pessimistic and worried thoughts, the vast majority of which (as you’ll see) are not even true.

You can return to this blog site next month, where I’ll post a second three-week plan for you to follow.


 

Footnotes

[1] Nemerov, C.B., The Neurobiology of Depression, Scientific American (1998), 278, 42-49

[2] University of Washington (2008, November 18). Stress Hinders Rats’ Decision-making Abilities. ScienceDaily.

[3] Wesley E. Sime, MPH/PhD, “Stress Management: A Review of Principles,” Health and Human Performance at the University of Nebraska (1997):

[4] Qin S, Hermans E, et al.  Acute psychological stress reduces working memory-related activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Jul 1;66(1):25-32.

[5] Vijayraghavan S, Wang M, Birnbaum SG, Williams GV, Arnsten AFT. Inverted-U dopamine D1 receptor actions on prefrontal neurons engaged in working memory. Nature Neuroscience. 2007 February 4; Accelerated online publication.

[6] Kontogiannis, T. and Kossiavelou, Z. (1999) ”Stress and team performance: principles and challenges for intelligent decision aids‘, Safety Science, December, Vol. 33, Issue 3, pp.103oe128.

[7] Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2009). Stress and reactivity to daily relationship experiences: How stress hinders adaptive processes in marriage. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 435-450.

[8] Olga Lechky, Social Isolation Can Be Major Factor If Patients Are Unable To Deal With Stress, Medical Practice, Canadian Medical Association Journal (1996), 154 (4)

[9]   Sapolsky, Robert M. (2004-09-15). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Third Edition: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping – Now Revised and Updated (p. 72). Macmillan.

[10]            Sapolsky, Robert M. (2004-09-15). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Third Edition: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping – Now Revised and Updated (p. 347). Macmillan.

[11] University of Liverpool (2010, September 23). Stress hormone impacts on alcohol recovery. ScienceDaily.

[12] Ibid, p. 63

[13] Ibid, p. 236

 

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