Stress Relief Is Just a Phone Call Away

I just read about a study done on stress and girls 7 to 12 years old. (Stay with me here; this could be helpful to you.) It seems that seeing or just talking to their mothers helped lower their stress.

In the study, the girls were given something stressful to do. Then one-third met with their mothers and got hugs and soothing words, another third talked to their mothers on the phone, and the last group watched a movie. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, came down quickly in both sets of girls who had contact with their mothers but remained higher than normal in the control group throughout the experiment. In addition, oxytocin, a brain chemical that helps us feel good, rose sharply in the girls who interacted with their mothers but did nothing at all in the control group.

So what does this mean for you if you are not so young (or a girl, for that matter)? Well, the researchers seemed to think that the effects might hold across the board for young and old, male and female. In other words, if you had to give a presentation to the board, or just got yelled at by your boss, or something equally stressful, try calling Mom.

And, while I’m all for hugs, it seems that you don’t need them to get help with your stress level. So if you live in Boise and Mom has retired to Boca Raton, a phone call will still do the trick here.

All right, I know all mothers are not created equal. If yours is not the comforting sort but more of the keep-your-back-to-the-wall-at-all-times sort, don’t look to her to help you de-stress. Try someone else in your life: a Dad who is good at listening, an aunt who thinks you are the bee’s knees, or a spouse who can comfort instead of lecture. The closer the relationship, I’m guessing, the better the result.

Whoever you choose, you might want to let them know you don’t want them to do a post-mortem on what happened. You just want a kindly shoulder to cry on. Or someone just to tell you it’ll be alright. The clearer you are, the more likely you will get what you need.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.

The Link Between Stress, Anxiety and Depression

I’ve been assuming that there is a link between stress, anxiety and depression for years now, recommending that strategies to counter an anxiety disorder be used to fight depression, that approaches to lessen depression can work on anxiety, and that all of these strategies should be tried on plain old stress. This has been based not just on my personal observation in the therapy room of the apparent connection between these three, but also the observations of various academics, my fellow therapists and the statistics that show anxiety and depression occurring¬† at the same time.

Finally, researchers have found some real evidence of a biological link between stress, anxiety and depression. The lead researcher, Stephen Ferguson, believes that the connection in the brain that they found explains how stress and anxiety can lead to depression. They are also hopeful that a molecule inhibitor they developed will lead to new and better drugs to treat anxiety and depression.

Of course, if you’re stressed, anxious or depressed, you aren’t going to want to wait for the drug companies to develop the new drugs. Get started doing some of the things now that help bring down the symptoms, like exercise, eating right and getting together with your friends and family. (Of course, if the problem seems overwhelming, get in to see your doctor or a therapist to get some extra help.)

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.

Meaningful Conversations May Improve Your Mood

I just read an article about some research that both confirmed what I knew and added a twist. First the confirmation: happier people spent 25 percent less time alone and 70 percent more time talking than unhappier people in the study. I have long preached the importance of spending time with the good people in your life. The twist in this research is that the happier people were having more substantive conversations than the unhappier folk, whose conversations were described as “trivial small talk.” That was news to me.

While the research shows a correlation between the two types of conversations and the subjects’ relative well-being, I didn’t see that it proved that meaningful conversations cause happiness, or that small talk causes unhappiness. Perhaps happy people go out and have deep conversations on the meaning of life with their friends while unhappy people can only muster the strength to comment on the weather. Still, it might be worth trying to have some more meaningful conversations to see if that helps your mood.

And don’t forget, unhappier people spent more time alone not having any conversations at all! I suspect that it is better to have shallow conversations with people in your life than to have no conversations at all while sitting on your couch watching reruns of “Friends.”

Why am I mentioning this in a blog about stress? I’m making some assumptions here. First, clinical anxiety and depression often appear together. Second, many of the same things that can help you bring down depression — like exercise, eating right, and socializing — can also help you bring down anxiety. If having meaningful conversations actually helps you feel happier, then it may also help you feel less anxious. And, finally, if you are only stressed, not clinically anxious, then one change (like having deeper conversations) might have a powerful effect on your stress.

That’s a lot of assumptions. Still, different approaches help different people lower their stress. This one may just be the perfect fix for your stress. If not, you can always try another.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be holding you back.

For a Healthier Heart, Just Be Happy

In case you didn’t have enough incentive to bring your stress down already, researchers have just announced that the most anxious and depressed people have the highest risk of heart disease. So, if you want a healthy heart, follow the immortal words of the song: “Don’t worry; be happy.”

Of course, this is always easier said than done. Many experts will tell you (including some in the BBC article I read about the study) your general attitude, positive or otherwise, is ingrained.

I don’t know about changing your general attitude — or your personality, as some would say — but I do know that there are a number of steps you can take to improve your response to the stresses in your life. You can exercise regularly. You can eat more of the healthier foods and fewer of the starchy and sweet foods. You can spend more time face-to-face with good people in your life. You can practice meditation or relaxation exercises like deep breathing (unless you have asthma). You could try tapping, which is also known as EFT. (Check out my Quick Start Guide for a very short introduction to tapping.) Heck, just go for a walk — a change of scenery can bring down your stress on a bad day.

So even if some of those experts are right and you can’t completely change from being a dyed-in-the-wool, stressed-out pessimist to a starry-eyed, happy-go-lucky optimist, you can at least try to move a little further towards the relaxed end of the spectrum. What do you have to lose except some stress?

The lead researcher on the study, Dr. Karina Davidson, said it very well.¬† “Essentially spending a few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health and may improve your physical health as well.”

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about the stresses that might be holding you back.

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Family and Friends — To Keep or Not to Keep

On Thanksgiving, the LA Times ran an article by two professors — one from Harvard Medical School, the other from UC San Diego — touting the importance of keeping everyone in your social network of friends and family, even those who are demanding or get you angry.

As evidence, the professors point out that, while a study they did in 2007 found that people with overweight friends were more likely to gain weight than those with normal weight friends, they also found that those people who got rid of their fat friends gained more weight than those who kept their heftier friends. They also noted out that those who stay connected are more likely to be happy, pointing to an interesting statistic:

“Each happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%, while each unhappy friend decreases it by only 7%. So the virtue of staying connected lies in playing the averages. It’s true that the best-connected individuals at the center of the social network are more likely to “catch” an unhappy wave spreading through the network, but they are even more likely to catch a happy wave.
As a result, the people who stay connected are significantly happier than people who don’t. In the battle between the happy waves and sad waves, happiness wins.”

Finally, they noted that family and friends share things with each other like gifts, information, and kind gestures. All this leads them to their conclusion that “We need our connections, good and bad. Every one of them.”

Well, yes and no. I’m a big fan of social networks. One of the first things I recommend to anxious and/or depressed therapy clients is that they spend more face-to-face time with family and friends. If they don’t have many connections, maybe because they just moved to a new town, we talk about ways to meet other people with similar interests. If they are really stuck, I’ll get them started by sending them off to a cafe where they can at least see other people and have a little interaction. Social isolation is very stressful. Social interaction can bring stress down and raise a person’s mood.

But there is a caveat: it has to be good, or at least neutral, social interaction. When you have a toxic relationship, you negate the benefits of having the relationship. I’ve had clients for whom a dinner spent with their “best friend” always left them stressed out and miserable for the whole week. Dumping such “friends” opened the door to getting to know people who became real friends, improving my clients’ moods and their lives significantly.

Now I’m not recommending that you disown your brother or ditch a friend the first — or second, or third, or fiftieth — time you have a fight. Disagreements, bad days, annoying habits, they can happen in any relationship. You need to take a big picture view of what goes on between the two of you. If you get along okay with someone generally, keep them in your social network. However, anyone who brings you down regularly or has you questioning your worth whenever you are with them is not someone to spend time with. Avoid them. And if you feel like those are the only people you ever meet or make friends with, consider talking with a therapist about changing your expectations about how others can treat you. You may have been stuck in a pattern that kept attracting the wrong people into your life, but that pattern can be changed.

Here’s the second caveat: you need people in your social network. So if you decide that you really have to to stop getting together with your old high school friend or limit calls and visits to your sister, you need to spend more time with other people in your life. Seek out the ones who make you feel good about yourself, even when they challenge you. Go out for coffee. Schedule a game of squash. Host a dinner party. Do whatever suits you, but make time for it in your busy week. It will help lower your stress overall.

What if all the positive people in your life live in another state, or you have too few people like that around to spend time with, or you don’t have anyone like that in your life at all? Then it’s time to make more friends. Join something, like a sport, or a book club, or an alumni group. Go to a friendly church, mosque, or temple. Volunteer for a good cause where you will be working with other people. Any activity can do the trick so long as you actually spend time meeting and talking to other people over time. That’s the easiest way to start new friendships.

Get started.

Please e-mail me at nancy@unblockresults.com to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about how we might work together on what’s blocking you.