Stress And Your Body–The brain-body connection.

Outline of a human body. How does your stress affect your body?
Stress affects your body

We tend to think of stress as a mental health phenomenon, but stress affects both our brain and and our body. In fact chronic stress can affect most systems in the body.

Stress often begins in our brain. While stress can also occur when we have an unusual assault to our body, for the purpose of this article we will be talking about how the brain modulates stress and affects your overall health.

The role of the brain in our stress response.

When stress occurs, let’s say a chronic worry about a situation in your life, it can upset the balance in your brain and body. The central nervous system (CNS) maintains the “fight or flight” response which can protect us from threats. When a threat occurs it starts the ball rolling by sending distress messages to the adrenal glands which then pump out adrenaline and cortisol to the body which tell us to fight or flee.

This is great if we meet up with a tiger or are trying to escape a burning building giving us the power and resolve we need to deal with that situation. But for the most part we are not presented with these types of threats. More commonly we are faced with stress related to traffic, the washing machine breaking down, or relationship strain.

The body responds the same regardless the stressor.

The body doesn’t discriminate between the types of threats and jumps to action in the same way whether it is a tiger attack or a washing machine break down. These hormones (adrenaline and cortisone) impact all parts of the body causing all kinds of symptoms such as insomnia, upset stomach, increased blood pressure, constipation, diarrhea, loss of sex drive, impotence to name a few. Healthline has a great article you can read more about each body system here.

These symptoms left unattended can snowball creating a lot more stress for you. Take a moment to consider what tends to happen for you.

So what can we do?

The first step is to notice what is happening. Most of us aren’t dealing with a lot of life and death stressors. Much of the time we stress ourselves out because of the story we tell ourselves about what is happening. And often we are inaccurate in our assessments.

Assess the situation

Taking time to stop, look, and assess what is going on in your life. And notice what symptoms are occurring for you. Are you a person with chronic headaches? Do you get diarrhea or constipation when you have a big event coming up? The symptoms will be different for each of us, but we can approach them similarly.

It’s often helpful to ask yourself: What am I stressed about?

Once you have the answer you can ask yourself progressive questions about that. Such as:

  • Why does this stress me?
  • What do I imagine will happen if this stressful thing continues?
  • What part of it is within my control?
  • What one piece if changed would alleviate some of the stress?
  • What can I do right now that can help me feel better?

It can be revealing how much we can worry over things we have little to now control over OR which take up so little of our life story that if we choose to move on from would have much less impact on our lives. You can probably pick out which of those things are true for you. Keeping in mind that for each of us these will be different.

Example of how to move through the process.

Here’s an example from my own life.

I take piano lessons and as such I have a lesson once a week. For my last lesson I was running late. I had lost track of time and left my home much later than usual. My initial thought was “oh crap this is bad” and I started to feel tense in my muscles and was likely driving a little too fast. At the first stop light I was like “great, now I am going to be really late.” And the muscles tensed more.

Using the above questions I worked through the stress.

  • I was stressed because “if I am late the teacher will be angry.”
  • That part is outside my control.
  • I also asked “has the teacher ever been angry with you?”
    • “no” “so why are you stressing?”
  • Realizing that the teacher has never been angry you is helpful.
  • One thing you can do now is take a deep breath and focus on your driving.

And guess what? My muscles relaxed. I was able to focus on driving to the lesson. And on top of all that–I was actually on time, exactly on time. So all that initial distress was for nothing.

So what about stress and the body?

When you start becoming more observant you will be able to address the issues that stress you out. That in turn will start to have a positive effect on your symptoms. In the example above my muscles relaxed when I started to drill down on the stressor of running late. While it will be different for everyone how long it takes to resolve your symptoms many may start to recede almost immediately. Review the posts on sleep and eating if these are in your symptom profile.

How likely are you to use this strategy the next time you notice stress affecting your body?

Leave your answer in the comments. And if you try it swing back and let us know your outcome.

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Over Scheduling Increases Stress.

Endless line of stacked rocks representing stress and overs scheduling.
Sometimes it seems as if our tasks will never end

We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to stress. In an effort to “cram it all in” we end up missing out on the joy of our lives. Over scheduling ourselves can increase our stress significantly. It’s also a tough habit to kick. But reining in the tendency to fall into the over scheduling habit will yield huge benefits down the road.

Over scheduling ourselves is more than just a thing people say, it shows up in our behavior as well. When you overdo you rob yourself of precious sleep, leisure time, and time to devote to optimal self care. Which increases the stress you feel. Striving to get just one more (insert your favorite widget or task here) done ends up being a cycle that seems like it will never end. Choosing to stress ourselves can have huge impacts on our ability to stay present and engaged in our lives. Life is too short to wade through it only half present.

Manoush Zomorodi devoted an entire book–Bored and Brilliant: How spacing out can unlock your most productive and creative self-– to dealing with a kind of over scheduling that takes the form of the addiction to devices and the internet sweeping our society. She shows how our tendency to “never be bored” or have a second unfilled is actually hurting us in ways we are only starting to recognize. You can find her book here. (I give this link only as a help to you, I am not receiving any monies from Amazon or Manoush.)

What can we do?

How do we step away, say no to things we may really want in order to have a more peaceful life? One step at a time. The habits you have today are not going to be changed overnight, but to be sure they can be changed.

Become more aware.

The first step in this process is to become more aware of what you are doing. I like diagrams. I think they are very illuminating. Sit down and write a list of all the things you’d like get done on the average day. Make it an exhaustive list.

Now sit down and consider the following

  • How many hours a day must you work?
  • How many hours of sleep do you need a day?
  • Do you have other people depending on you?
  • Do you have others who take care of repetitive life tasks for you?

If you are like me you have to work and likely those shifts are at least 8 hours. Ideally most adult people require about 8 house to be at their best. Yes, I know many people are not sleeping that amount. That’s likely why many people are in sleep debt, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Unless you live on Venus you have a 24 hour day. Given the information above that gives you just 8 hours to do all the life stuff apart from work and sleep. Grab your list. what is the likelihood that you will be able to get it all completed? You’re going to have to make some choices.

Pleasing versus planning

Take a look at your list. How many of the things on the list are things you might not really want to do, but are doing just to please someone else? I’m not saying that pleasing others is a bad thing, but if you are burning the candle at both ends to make other people happy you may find you are increasing your stress. Since we are talking about reducing stress looking at your habits is a great starting place. If you are a people pleaser it is often easy to say “yes” to requests before thinking about what that “yes” means to your schedule. I know this has been true for me.

So what now?

Once you are aware of it, you can begin to change it. That said if you start saying no to everything others want you to do you may find you are not only stressed, but lonely as well. Change is imperative and can be accomplished more easily than we sometimes believe.

Look

Look at your list and jot down how long each one of those items takes for you to do. You might be surprised that you are trying to pack a lot into your day and this could be increasing your stress.

  • Take a good hard look at those items
    • What are they?
    • Who do they benefit?
    • How likely are you to get them done today?
  • Determine for yourself which are the non-negotiable things on the list.
    • Things that if you don’t do them you will sacrifice a big chunk of your happiness.
    • Taking care of your kids.
    • Spending quality time with your partner.

Ask Yourself

Ask yourself the following questions about each item.

  • How much does getting this done affect my life?
  • Will someone else be harmed if I don’t do this?
  • What sacrifice do I need to make to do this?
  • Is sacrificing something to get this done worth it in the scope of my life?
  • Do I need help?

Put it on the Clock

Empty clock face to plot your activities. To determine the amount of stress you may be under.
Plot all the activities you have for the day.


When you start to put in all the activities you have on your list PLUS work and sleep hours, you may start to see a problem. It may be at this point that you will being to loosen your grip on all you want to cram in. You may even start to consider asking for help.

Round pie graph. Plotting activities to show how much time in the day. Helps to determine stress levels.

That one 33% wedge of the pie is often much too small to cram all the things we want to get accomplished done. At this point we are tempted to start doubling up on activities and not really being present for either.

STOP, Look, and chose a different approach. Start scheduling yourself more realistically and dare to be truly present in your activities. I think you’ll find you are much less stressed and much happier to boot.

You can review 5 Minute Stress Management here.

What strategies work best for you?

Relationships and Stress: It’s about you.

Tree with swollen trunk. Sometimes we feel out of sorts when our relationships are out of sync.
When relationships having you feeling yucky.

Relationships come in many forms, work relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships to name a few. When one of these is out of balance we can feel our stress increase.

Knowing your specific needs within relationships will help to guide you in keeping all of your relationships healthy.

First it’s a good idea to determine who, what, why, and where. Well not exactly in that order. Start by considering WHAT you want from various relationships. Then consider WHO you want to provide those aspects. Keeping in mind that no one person can fulfill all your relationship needs. Look also at WHY those aspects are important to you. And WHERE does this relationship most impact you (home, work, social?).

Start with an exercise

In this exercise you map out the various relationships in your life to determine the number and closeness of the various relationships in your life.

Start by taking a blank piece of paper and draw 4 concentric circles like this:

circle exercise

In the middle circle you put yourself. Then consider all the relationships in your life and start to place them in the circles based on how close they are to you and how much trust you have in them.

Types of Relationships

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts, Uncles, Cousins
  • Co-workers
  • Friendships
  • Pets
  • People you see routinely, but don’t necessarily do things with.
  • Lover, partner, husband, wife

Just doing the exercise may help you to consider who you find most trustworthy and who you find difficult to trust. Also consider the last time you had a conflict with each of the individuals on your map.

When relationships are out of sync what can you do?

Remember the only parts within your control are your parts.

When you begin to identify that one of your relationships is out of sync. Sit down and start to look at what the issues seem to be coming up most often between you and that person. Look at the earlier post 5 minute stress management to determine what is within your control and what belongs to others. Once you figure out what is coming from your side of the relationship you can start to make changes.

By looking at your overall stress management you will begin to see some recurring themes in your thoughts. Check those thoughts and correct any that are distorted. By correcting those distortions you may be able to alleviate a lot of the stress you feel, by simply thinking more clearly.

If difficulties remain after you have completed this step then it may be time to talk to the other person. By talking to the other person about what is stressing you and why you may find information on the issue you haven’t considered which can help your stress levels decrease. Review the earlier post thoughts, feelings, and behaviors here.

Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you!

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Stress and Thoughts, Feelings & Behaviors.

How are thoughts, feelings, and behaviors connected? According to the Beck Institute something called The Cognitive Triad consists of our thoughts of self, our thoughts of the world around us, and our beliefs about the future. (Check out a good definition by AlleyDog.) While Beck was originally focused on depression the concept transfers to all areas of life. The type of thoughts we have related to each of these areas can modulate our feelings and drive our behavior. Because inaccurate thinking can lead to increased stress levels, it’s a good idea to take a look at your thinking from time to time. Often when we are feeling stressed there is something out of balance.

While all thoughts and behavior are not problematic, if we get caught up in negative self talk about ourselves and the world around us our stress levels can rise often causing low mood states. Which leads to more stress.

Getting good at identifying where our thinking is inaccurate can actually decrease the amount of stress we feel. Because thoughts and behaviors influence one another, looking at behaviors can help us identify problems that can increase our stress.

Consider your behavior the last time you felt a high amount of stress.

  • Did you ignore the issues adding to your stress?
    • OR
  • Did you tackle the problems directly?
Each of those choices leads to a decidedly different outcome.

Identifying the types of behaviors you tend to engage in can help you to better manage your stress because it gives you a target for change.

Similarly we can look at our thinking.

How accurate are your thoughts during stressful times? Getting caught up in cycles of thinking that are unhelpful and inaccurate tend to increase stress levels.

Some of the common distorted thinking patterns are:

  • Minimization: downplaying positive events
  • Overgeneralization: Making a sweeping conclusion based on a single piece of evidence.
  • Personalization: Attributing negative thoughts or situations solely to oneself.
  • Magnification: Exaggerating the significance of a single undesirable event.
  • Selective abstraction: drawing conclusions based on just one of many elements of a situation.
  • Arbitrary inference: drawing conclusions from insufficient or no evidence.

Learning to challenge these types of distorted thinking patterns can help to decrease your stress.

A few questions that can help you challenge your thoughts and create more accurate thinking are:

  • If my best friend or family member had this thought what would I tell them?
  • Do I think about this differently when I am not stressed?
  • Would this thought stand up in a court of law?
  • Is there any evidence that shows this thought is not true?
  • How is this line of thinking helping me?

What about feelings?

Feelings change when we change our thoughts and behaviors. Consider that feelings are neither right nor wrong, good or bad, it’s the behavior that tend to cause the problems. Start tuning into your feelings and see what they can tell you about what is going on inside yourself. Correcting distorted thoughts can help you feel more and stress less.

Give it a try and see what you think!

Check out the information in the first couple of posts: 5 minute stress management and effective stress management makes you a better you.

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Thanks for dropping by and have a great day–Lynda

Managing work stress more effectively.

Managing work stress can seem more difficult because the stakes are high. Most of us will have to work at some point in our lives. Applying some simple concepts can go a long way to helping you decrease your work stress.

Work stress can feel like we are on a carousel that just keeps going as we feel more and more stressed. We just want to get off and relax.

Work is something that most of us have to do to live our lives as comfortably as we can. For many work can take on a life of its own creating a high level of stress which can drain you of energy. If you are feeling stressed at work you are not alone. According to The American Institute for Stress about 65% of workers experience stress in the workplace.

Taking hold of work stress is different for everyone depending on the type of job. Those with jobs that offer the most autonomy tend to have less stress overall. Because when work stresses rise those with higher levels of autonomy have the ability make decisions to offset stresses.

When you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety due to work stress sit down and ask yourself a few questions:
  • Am I sleeping well?
  • When was the last time I exercised?
  • Do I eat well and regularly?

If these areas are not well managed visit previous posts for sleep, exercise, and eating.

Once those areas have been addressed move on to the following questions:

  • Are you over functioning on the job?
  • Can you better balance to chores of the job with the less stressful aspects?
  • Is it feasible for you to decrease your number of work hours?
  • Is this job the right one for you?
  • Can you better set limits on the number of hours you work?

Work/Life Balance

Often we get into a rut and just make assumptions about how our work must go. Asking the above questions can help you start to pinpoint which aspects of work are most stressful for you.

Functioning within the demands of the job to better manage work stress.

Ask yourself am I stressed because I am giving more than the job demands? If the answer is yes, is this something that you can cut back on? We often train others to believe that we are ready to give a 110% all the time. That’s okay if you’re happy with it, but if the result is just higher stress levels, you may want to consider pulling back a bit.

Finding better balance to decrease stress.

Most jobs are a mix of things we enjoy and parts that are drudgery. Are you focusing all your energies on the chore aspects of the job and not getting around to the more joyful aspects? If so you may want to look at how you can organize your job to have a better balance between the two.

Can you decrease hours?

Many times we assume that we must work full time. If you continue at a job for a number of years you may be able to cut back on your hours. This option isn’t for everyone. If you are able to decrease your work hours, you may find that your stress levels also go down.

Limiting your time to decrease work stress.

While we are talking about hours. Ask yourself if you are one of the people who can work for long hours and not realize how much time you are putting in. If so you be subjected to stress from family and friends who wonder why they aren’t getting more of your time. If this is you start looking at how you can limit your time, still getting all your work completed, but also being able to spend quality time with friends and family or just doing leisure activities at home.

Optimizing paid time off

Since we opened the door to discussion of time away from work, another good question to ask is, Am I optimizing my vacation time (or Paid time off)? If you work a job in which you get paid time off for vacation then optimizing that feature of your job can also reduce your stress.

When I started my career in nursing I made the decision that once I had accumulated a set number of vacation hours that I would begin taking time away from work. I didn’t have to go anywhere special, but this self imposed rule meant I must take time off work. After accumulating vacation time I thought was sufficient (which took about a year) I started taking at least 1 week away from work every 3-4 months. That was 22 years ago and I still maintain that regimen and find that it helps me manage my stress fairly well.

If your job doesn’t have paid time off, you may consider starting a vacation bank account in which you save money to pay bills when you want to be away from work. This also works out well if you have a sudden illness that takes you off the job for an extended period.

Right Job?

And lastly ask if the job you are doing is the right one for you. If not how can you start to make a shift so that you are moving into a job that better fits you? This may take time and require you to investigate other options and maybe even try some things out prior to quitting your current job. Finding a job that is a good fit for you can decrease your stress significantly.

Once you have a better idea of which aspects of your work you find stressful you will then be able to use the 5 step method to determining how to change things to bring your stress under control. You can revisit the 5 step method in Stress-101 here.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Have a great day–Lynda

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Stress management and exercise. A dynamic duo!

Stress management and exercise go well together. You may be saying, “but Lynda I am already stressed out how the heck can I fit more like exercise into my day?”

My response…

Stress management is not about simply ‘fitting it all in’, but rather fitting the right things, in the right amounts into each day. –Lynda

If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” 

Hippocrates

Before starting any exercise regimen please consult your healthcare provider.

How do stress management and exercise go together? According to the folks over at Harvard health exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline while also increasing beneficial chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins help you to feel less pain and increase your mood. Check out the full article here.

So what is the right amount of exercise? Well it will be different for everyone based on ability as well as current level of activity, but essentially for good health we are talking about 20 minutes each day as a minimum.

In fact the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate activity OR 75 minutes per week of intense activity OR a blend of the two. They have great examples of what constitutes each over at their site. Check it out here.

If you are not currently meeting this guideline set by the American Heart Association don’t despair. You can start exercising for less time at lower intensity and gradually increase your efforts over time.

The key is to stick with it.

I usually recommend choosing a start date and then assessing where you are physically. AHA defines moderate exercise as 2.5 mile an hour walking pace (24 minutes per mile) or biking less than 10 miles per hour (about a mile every 6.5 minutes).

Carve out a 30 minute period of time and find a treadmill (or a sidewalk) or bicycle (stationary or regular) and take a stroll or a ride. Then…
  • Start a stop watch (or just note the time) and begin walking or peddling.
  • Tune into your breathing.
    • When you notice your breathing increase in effort, but you can still comfortably talk, that’s moderate exercise.
    • If you start to huff and puff and can no longer speak a sentence that is vigorous exercise and you’ll want to slow it down a bit.
  • Once you’ve reached your limit write town how long you were at it.

Be honest with yourself and remember self judgement is your foe. The purpose of this is to assess where you are not give yourself a lot of grief over not being further along. It’s hard to get anywhere when someone is standing in your way telling you that you’re a failure. Most of the time that voice is our own slowing us down and increasing our stress.

Once you have the information on your current ability you can start to increase up to the recommendation over time.
  • Let’s say that you can comfortably walk at a moderate pace for about 10 minutes.
  • Do it daily until it’s a habit and it begins to feel easy. This should happen in about a week.
  • Then start increasing the time by about 10 percent of the total each week.
  • By week 8 you should be able to comfortably do the exercise for about 20 minutes.

Start to notice the effects of regular exercise on your overall stress levels. Are you…

  • Sleeping better?
  • Has your appetite come under better control?
  • Are you less easily irritated?

Most will notice a decrease in the amount of stress they feel day to day over time. But to notice it, you need to tune in and listen to what your mind and body are telling you.

Let me know what you discover.

Have a great day–Lynda

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Stress Management and eating habits, an intersection.

Managing stress by looking at your eating habits may seem odd. However, when you consider how much time you spend obtaining, preparing, and eating food it starts to come into focus. And that’s before considering how the foods you choose impact your brain and body.

Let’s face it the standard American diet needs some re-evaluation. Plates of food like the one above are tasty and easy to find, but they rack up the calories, fast! And truth be told the foods above are not even among the worst many are consuming.

Most of use really like these kinds of foods, but to achieve optimal health these meals need to be limited. You can dive into exercise and rack up hours of sweat, but even for avid exercisers these kind of meals can be problematic. The hard to swallow truth is that most people can eat beyond any exercise program.

“Garbage in garbage out”  ~George Fuechsel

Stress and Food?

I started thinking about the intersection of eating habits and stress more after watching Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film Supersize Me. The goal of the film was to show the deleterious effects of eating fast food every day on the body. Morgan set a plan to eat fast food three times a day (specifically McDonald’s) for thirty days. If he was asked if he wanted to “super size it” he had to say yes. He also set as part of the challenge to eat around the menu (he couldn’t just eat the same thing every day).

Where the stress shows up.

What got my attention wasn’t just the significant amount of weight gained during the filming, but that he talked about how his mood was awful and he felt physically ill much of the time. He talked about feeling lethargic, irritable, and depressed. After a meal he would perk up for a bit only to crash a few hours later. More concerning was the change in lab work he had done prior to starting experiment which showed significant increase in cholesterol and indications of fatty liver when repeated at the end. All in just 30 days of eating a fast food diet.

What can you do?

That food can influence your emotions is really gaining traction. Check out an article from Harvard health here.

So it’s kind of a no brainer (pun intended) that eating a lot of processed foods won’t help you manage your stress better. Of course when we are stressed we often reach for easy and fast options.

Eating is just one aspect of stress management. Don’t forget to review other aspects to stress management here..

Stress and eating.

No matter how effective our stress management, we will all have those days when we can’t catch our breath and that’s where spending a little time looking at how eating and stress may intersect for you can be helpful.

  • Consider how eating and stress intersect for you.
  • Eat regularly.
  • Weed out the junk from the cupboards.
  • Pre-pack snack bags or even whole meals.
  • Say no to the easy option and go with the slightly more difficult one.

Consider how eating (or not eating) may be adding to your stress.

  • Do you arrive home at the end of a stressful day and have less energy to make more healthful meals and then grab the easiest option?
  • Do you feel stressed because you go all day without eating and subsequently arrive home stressed and hungry?
  • Do you take the time to shop for healthful foods or are you loading up on quick convenience options?

Eat regularly.

Look at your eating habits. As a counselor I am often struck by how poorly people can treat their bodies. I often hear about the habit of not eating until very late in the day. It’s hard to feel at your best if your body is struggling to find the fuel to keep you going. Fad diets aside, the demands of your brain may require more frequent eating.

Weed out the Junk!

Imagine heading to your pantry and finding only healthy options rather than bags of chips and sweets! Weeding out the junk in your cupboards leaves you with less temptation when you have that stressful day. This translates into fewer food binges that can leave you feeling Blah!

Pre-packing meals and snacks.

Pre-packing meals and snacks to grab when you are on the go will help you stay on track even when you are experiencing increased stressors. While this requires a bit more effort once you are in the habit it can reduce the stress that can come when feeling hungry and not having access to healthful food options.

Just say NO!

Saying no to the easy options will help build the mental muscle to stick with your convictions and may also help keep stress levels lower. Of course planning ahead and having healthful options on hand will help this occur a bit less often.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

What about my burger fix?

I am not saying that all fast, fun, quick, foods are off the table. But there is value in knowing what you are taking in and making that a clear choice rather than feeling backed into the vending machine only to make the fast and convenient impulse that leaves you feeling worse.

Notice I have not talked much about weight. Nutrition is important no matter what you weigh. That said decreasing your stress by choosing to eat more whole foods and stepping away from processed foods as much as possible could lead to weight loss.

You might also find that what you start to think of as “fast food” starts to look a little different.

Try looking at your habits and making a change or two and let me know what you think!

Have a great day–Lynda

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Stress Reduction by Sleeping Better!

Sleeping stress free cat!
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Robert Frost

Sleeping well is an important part of stress management. It’s a no brainer that having a high level of stressors can interfere with sleep. So while we focus on sleep let us not forget that we must also look to our other stressors and work to manage them as well. Don’t forget to review the steps in the previous section Stress-Management here. That said getting in the habit of sleeping well could greatly reduce the stress you feel while awake and your ability to manage any stresses that do come up.

So what constitutes good sleep?

We often focus on the hours of consecutive sleep as one measure. February 2015 the National Sleep Foundation changed the sleep ranges for many categories of humans.

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

Check out the full article here.

For the purposes of this article we will focus on the young adult through older adult ages.

First determine if you are getting enough sleep. Track your sleep on paper by writing down when you go to bed and when you wake as well as estimating how long it takes to fall asleep and any interruptions to your sleep through the night. You could also use one of the fitness trackers on the market to track your sleep.

If you find you are not getting enough sleep take a look at your habits around sleep. Are you…

  • Getting to bed at approximately the same time each day?
  • Rising at the approximately the same time each day?
  • Using your bed only for sleep and sex?
  • Turning off the television and stepping away from screens at least one hour before bedtime?

These are important components to having the best shot at a good night of sleep. Changing schedules from day to day can wreak havoc on sleep quality. Having a good routine is a must. Another important component is not using your bed as the command center for your life. Your brain needs to know that the bed is for certain activities which allows it to relax when bedtime rolls around. Things like solving the problems of the world and watching television or using computers cause the brain to become more stimulated which interferes with sleep. The blue and green pixels from television and other screens also suppresses melatonin (a sleep promoting hormone) which naturally rises as bedtime approaches.

Doing those things and still not sleeping well? Start looking at your daytime habits. Are you…

  • Getting at least 30-60 minutes of natural light?
  • Avoiding stimulants like caffeine at least 5 hours prior to bedtime and nicotine at least 1 hour prior to bed?
  • Getting 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise during the day?
  • Avoiding intense exercise within 4 hours of bedtime?

Natural Light

Exposure to natural light (sunlight) in the early part of the day helps to reset the circadian rhythm which helps make you more alert during the day and sets you up for better sleep at night.

Stimulants

Stimulants used through the day and into the late afternoon and evening can interfere with sleep. If you don’t experience sleep difficulties no worries, but if you are struggling with sleep cutting off the supply of caffeine to your brain earlier in the day may be helpful. If you are a heavy caffeine user it is best to taper your use over time as cutting off the supply suddenly could cause a major headache.

Exercise

Exercise helps the body in multiple ways, but can also help improve your sleep. According to the folks over at hopkinsmedicine.org “30 minutes of moderate exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night.” And moderate exercise isn’t marathoning or olympic style speed stuff. The moderate zone is when you are noticing the effort, are breathing heavier, but can still talk and hold a conversation (but can’t sing), and you notice you are sweating a bit after 10 or so minutes of effort.aking one or more of these changes is a benefit to your sleep and helps to decrease stress during your waking hours.

Give it a try

Make one or more of these changes and decide for yourself if they help improve your sleep and help decrease stress during your waking hours.

Have a great day–Lynda

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Effective Stress Management Makes You A Better You

O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small

Old Breton Prayer

There are times when stress overwhelms us and we find ourselves floundering. We may struggle to effectively manage stress. But if we can consider that a journey of many miles can be undertaken with even the smallest of vessels we can set our sights on finding a way to better manage our stresses.

In the last section we discussed 5 steps to identifying what you may be finding stressful and preparing for change.
  • Consider the sources of your stress.
  • Write down all those life situations you find stressful.
  • Determine how much control you have over each.
  • Prepare for change.
  • Apply stress management strategies to help better manage those stressful aspects of your life.
Stress tricks your brain.

Remember that good old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”? Well, it turns out that’s not quite true. While words are not likely to break your bones, words–whether from others or from ourselves– can be quite damaging.

Stress management is possible, but oftentimes we get too caught up in the story of our stress and start doling out blame. One of the chief recipients of that blame is usually ourselves. The “I should have” and “when will I learn?” comments only serve to stress us more.

What to do?

The first bit of advice I generally give when helping individuals one on one is: “Limit the amount of time you spend engaging in self judgement.” While we all need to be able to accurately identify where we can do better, spending a lot of time chastising ourselves for the situation we find ourself in does not drive the boat forward. It simply keeps us floundering in a sea of stress.

Let’s begin.

Grab the list you made in the last section.

  • Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper creating two columns.
  • Label the columns
    • “within my control”
    • “not in my control.”
  • Enter each of the things on the list into one of the two columns.

Next

  • Look at what you placed in the “within my control” column and rank them from most important to least important.
  • Look at each item and consider what part of your life they fall into.
    • Work
    • Home life
    • Health
    • Social
  • For each item ask the following questions:
    • Why is this important to me?
    • What do I find stressful about this?
    • What will be different if I effectively eliminate this stressor?
    • Do I think about this differently at different times?
    • What needs to change?
  • Determine which item you want to work on first.
    • While we often want to work on things in order of priority sometimes working on something less important first helps to build skills and momentum that we can apply with greater efficacy to the more important items.

Now that you’ve determined a good starting place, look more closely at each item and ask a few questions about it.

  • Where does it come from?
  • Are there different ways to think about this?
  • If my best friend had this issue what would I tell them?
  • What about this situation makes it stressful?
  • What steps do I need to take to alleviate this stressor?

Often just answering these questions about your stressor will start to move it a bit. Taking action on those identified steps will carry you the rest of the way most of the time.

In the next segments we will dive a bit deeper into the various areas of life that many people find stressful and look at more strategies for managing stress.

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Welcome to The Stress Nest

This is a blog dedicated to stress management.

Thanks for dropping by.

While stress management is a term that can mean many things, it is my hope that I can boil it all down and present easy to follow methods that you can try out in your own life.

Within these pages we will look at what stress is and how we can better manage stress to reach goals or just plain relax. You might wonder how stress can be “managed”, don’t we just want to rid ourselves of stress and be done with it? Well the simple answer is…Yes…..and…NO. While stress is often seen as something bad we just want to get rid of, we also need stress in our lives to help motivate us to reach our goals. That’s right stress–in the right amounts– can actually help us! But overdo it and you can be stressed out and your productivity will suffer.

You may have dropped by because you are overwhelmed with stress and wanting to find a way to decrease the stress in your life so you can be more productive and happier. Or you may just have been intreaged by the name. Whatever the reason, WELCOME!

Prepare for a journey that just may change your life for the better.

Why should you listen to me? Good question.

For the past 15 years I have been helping people to look at their lives and make changes that actually improve their lives. As a nurse practitioner in the mental health field I have years of experience in helping people to identify what is stressing them and set goals to address those areas and alleviate the negative impacts of stress while holding on to the beneficial aspects.

Take some time to look around. I’m glad you decided to come by.

I plan to provide new content weekly since I am still working a regular job. I am hoping to tailor material based on feedback so please feel free to leave comments.

Have a great day –Lynda

Note: This site is not intended as a replacement for formal mental health treatment. If you believe you have issues more than what this site can address please contact a local mental health professional.

Thank you for dropping by The Stress Nest. Please leave suggestions in the comment section.