Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ways to be happier and less stressed....

Thursday, 8-21-2014

Medical News Today had two articles recently that listed doable ways to feel better and less stressed.

And, an article on Linkedin found that there were ways to lower stress that increased your ability to control what you do and be more effective at work!

No surprise, there is a good bit of overlap between them.  But I’ve listed each of them here with my comments and experience in using them.

1.  The first one had the information that doing things that help you feel good and focusing your mind on them and doing other things that boost the resulting dopamine helps you feel better.

Doing these two things gives you more of a feeling and the reality of having more resources to deal with the stresses and threats in your life.

a)  Periodically make plans and take actions that you expect will or might have good outcomes.

Anticipating good outcomes triggers good feelings.  So do this often.  (This tends to release the feel good neurotransmitter, dopamine.)

And, people who do this and try the actions often solve the problems and remove the stresses too!

b)   Take enough tyrosine, two 500 mg capsules first thing each morning seems to work, and eat well enough protein foods overall.  This was found to increase average levels of dopamine; and a study by the military found their people who did this were more resilient and able to deal with stress than those who did not!

c)  Watch for and be thankful for every time things go better than expected.  So do this often. 

Recently I read of a study that found people who did this in writing once a day cut their cortisol, an indicator of stress levels and a cause of adding belly fat by 23%.

(I finally did this myself today.

I wrote the big reasons I have to be thankful in a Word document.

Now, starting today, I list things going well today with the date and did a save as with the date.

That way I can review the big things and my last entry even if I’m too rushed to do more.

Some days that will have to be very brief or I may only have time to read the last entry.

But if I just open it almost every day, read the previous entries, and enter new things when I can, I think this will work!

Using the feel better routine, list reasons I am Thankful -- at least daily, and getting enough good sleep do the double of better performance AND less belly fat!

“Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.

[I find I know what I have to be thankful for and can easily write it down but had NOT yet made a daily habit of it.

That much cortisol reduction might help me lose an inch or two of belly fat!]

2.  I’ve listed the article from Linkedin and bolded some parts:

[My comments are in these kind of brakets.]

(That way as Linkedin did, I’ll give the author some positive exposure.)

How Successful People Stay Calm  August 05, 2014

The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.

If you follow our newsletter, you’ve read some startling research summaries that explore the havoc stress can wreak on one’s physical and mental health (such as the Yale study, which found that prolonged stress causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control).

The tricky thing about stress (and the anxiety that comes with it) is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state.

In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless.

(Here a chart shows boredom, interest, excitement, optimum performance, a bit anxious, stressed, very anxious, and meltdown as a spectrum.)  
[So you want some stress, work to be mostly in the middle of that spectrum and have the more stressful stuff be intermittent with forced rest breaks if needed or add resources or help or manage a successful task to dial down the level at times.]

....research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress. But it also reinforces how important it is to keep stress under control. 

The study, led by post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby, found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. 

However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. 
As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.

“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” Kirby says. For animals, intermittent stress is the bulk of what they experience, in the form of physical threats in their immediate environment. Long ago, this was also the case for humans. As the human brain evolved and increased in complexity, we’ve developed the ability to worry and perseverate on events, which creates frequent experiences of prolonged stress.
Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance. Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is subjective and under your control. 
Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged.
While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that successful people employ when faced with stress, what follows are ten of the best. Some of these strategies may seem obvious, but the real challenge lies in recognizing when you need to use them and having the wherewithal to actually do so in spite of your stress.

1.  They Appreciate What They Have
Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. 
Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.

2. They Avoid Asking “What If?”
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Calm people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go.

[This is where knowing Chess is so helpful.  To stay safe, you need to do some what if thinking.  Then if something could be damaging and may be likely or could be a horrible, below the water line kind of damage even if unlikely --  You do NOT say OMG, I couldn't handle that and stress over it, you say given that threat, 
I'll make this play to avoid it; 
and I'll make that one to minimize or recover from the damage if it happens.  
Then take action or mentally file it and go on to the next useful or enjoyable thing to do. 

Next!     is a great self-talk word when you get that done because you get more done and stop the worry and stress immediately once you get that far.  (Clint Eastwood as a director consistently produces movies on time and often under budget by knowing to say Next! at the right times!)

The worst case is to go to the OMG version and keep repeating it. Because doing that makes you ineffective, the stress continuous, and wears you out -- and can often cause depression.]

3. They Stay Positive
Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free. 
You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. 
When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. 
When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. 
In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. 
If you can't think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps you’re looking forward to an exciting event that you can focus your attention on. 
The point here is that you must have something positive that you're ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.

[If earlier in the day or later the day before, you did a things I'm grateful or Thankful for list, you already have that ready to go.  This may be how it cuts stress.]
4. They Disconnect

Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. 
{Reading something you once enjoyed or by the same author or good sex or putting on music you like can do the double of the stress break AND it recharges you.  Doing a chore you do well with your hands is also a great way to do this.  Getting vigorous exercise you have to focus on to do is protective in part because it does this.]
When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. 
Forcing yourself offline and even—gulp!—turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels.
Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend? Choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule. If you’re worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, first try doing it at times when you’re unlikely to be contacted—maybe Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with it, and as your coworkers begin to accept the time you spend offline, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.

[Reading a favorite and upbeat book that ends with the good guys winning may be a bit “politically incorrect” these days. But research found it lifts stress and restores your brain’s supply of positive neurotransmitters and revives your will power and self control when you began at a burned out level initially.]

5. They Limit Their Caffeine Intake
Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. The stress that caffeine creates is far from intermittent, as its long half-life ensures that it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body.

[This like, stress itself, is a balancing act.  Drinking tea and green tea are great for this once you have some coffee because you can take action to feel more awake right away each day but get the caffeine in small enough doses after that to help you avoid overdoing caffeine.
Too much caffeine also harms sleep. And it causes the feeling of anxiety adding to any legitimate worry a physical feeling of panic you have to deal with on top of dealing with the actual threat!]
6. They Sleep
I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Stressful projects often make you feel as if you have no time to sleep, but taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.

[Getting more than 6 hours of sleep and having a life is extremely challenging.  
But if you do vigorous morning exercise, wind down a bit in the last hour before bed, have a decent place to sleep -- DARK, cool, and quiet, eat right, almost always sleep the same core 6 hours and get up at or very close to the exact same time each day, that helps. Adding blue light or intense blue light once you get up and turning it off a hour before bed also can work well.  (Fixing sleep apnea if any is critical if you have it.)]

7. They Squash Negative Self-Talk
[Using the precise, scientific, and careful style of an engineer or a scientist as the "optimistic" people do when things do go wrong or might go wrong is critical.
People who don't, routinely stress about things that are NOT facts or may be temporary.
If it's not real or need not stay real, harming your ability to think and wearing yourself down over it is a total and avoidable loss!]
A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. 
Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. 
When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, your inner voice says, “It's time to stop and write them down.” 
Literally stop what you're doing and write down what you're thinking. 
Once you've taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.
You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. 
Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.
8. They Reframe Their Perspective
Stress and worry are fueled by our own skewed perception of events. It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses, and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. 
You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. 
So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. 
If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. 
If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out,” then you need to reframe the situation. 
A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just some things—not everything—and the scope of these stressors will look much more limited than it initially appeared.
9. They Breathe
The easiest way to make stress intermittent lies in something that you have to do everyday anyway: breathing. The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back. When you’re feeling stressed, take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing. Close the door, put away all other distractions, and just sit in a chair and breathe. The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on your breathing, which will prevent your mind from wandering. Think about how it feels to breathe in and out. This sounds simple, but it’s hard to do for more than a minute or two. It’s all right if you get sidetracked by another thought; this is sure to happen at the beginning, and you just need to bring your focus back to your breathing. If staying focused on your breathing proves to be a real struggle, try counting each breath in and out until you get to 20, and then start again from 1. Don’t worry if you lose count; you can always just start over.
This task may seem too easy or even a little silly, but you’ll be surprised by how calm you feel afterward and how much easier it is to let go of distracting thoughts that otherwise seem to have lodged permanently inside your brain.

[You don’t always have time to be fancy with this or spend a lot of time on it. 

But, there IS a hard wired instant fix!  If you remember to use it when you need it, it simply turns off stress close to 100 % if only for a minute or two.  Yawning has been  proven to do this.  If you yawn and do an arm stretch it boosts the effect.  You can even stand up, stretch, and yawn for even more of an effect.

So, if you feel as if you MUST have a stress break when the threat is still there, remember to YAWN.  It helps!  And it’s so hard wired, newborn babies have it already!]

10.  They Use Their Support System
It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your stress and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:     Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world's leading provider of emotional intelligence tests, emotional intelligence training, and emotional intelligence certification, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

3.  Then there was this article on Medical News Today with how well college students can use very similar techniques:

University of Cincinnati research on perceived happiness shows that many college students are stressed out and aren't coping.

This is despite the fact that there are simple ways for students to relieve stress and feel happier, says Keith King, professor and coordinator of UC's Health Promotion and Education Program. The trouble is, they don't use them enough.

"We have a whole array of different stress-management techniques college students can use and that we teach, but they're not using them. 

That contributes to their stress levels, which contributes to their unhappiness," King says.

The research led by King, "A Study of Stress, Social Support, and Perceived Happiness Among College Students," was recently published in the Journal of Happiness & Well-Being, an online international peer-reviewed journal.

King says many simple and effective techniques exist for managing stress. He suggests a few immediate and long-term methods for soothing frayed nerves.


Stop, pause and breathe: "In the moment when you're stressed, you need to slow down, you pause, you take some deep breaths. Maybe you count backwards from 10. Those types of things calm everything down and slow it down." [Yawning and stretching are the fastest, effective way to do this.]

See the bigger picture: "Try to see the bigger picture. Is what you're experiencing really that big of a deal or not?"

Contact a friend: "Everyone has phones on them. Call your buddy and let him know what's going on so you can express those feelings and get them off you as quickly as possible."


Diet and exercise: "People who eat healthy and exercise tend to have lower stress levels. Exercise allows for some of that negative energy to get burned off. Eating healthy helps individuals avoid feeling weighted down."

Daily "me time": "Take time out of the day that's your time. It could be just 10 minutes. Go outside and walk, just enjoy something for you. If you hate exercising, then do something you enjoy. That's paramount."

Remember to H.A.L.T.:

 "Make sure you're not Hungry,  [Eat something that is OK to eat but turns off that much hunger.]

 you're not Angry, [Decide it's too little to stress over and leave it.  Or make constructive plans to do.]

 you're not Lonely   [Call somebody or email somebody.  Best is to give THEM good news.]

and you're not Tired.  [Call somebody; get brief exercise; drink coffee or tea; take a nap.]

If you can take care of those four things, you're significantly more likely to be unstressed."

King and fellow UC researchers Ashley Merianos, Rebecca Vidourek and Meha Singh based their study on an anonymous, voluntary survey taken by 498 students assessing their overall happiness and stress level. 

Results showed that students who reported low perceived happiness felt higher stress levels and lower emotional closeness to others. Many reported they felt stressed but weren't doing anything about it: 61 percent reported having high stress and 72 percent reported low frequency in using stress-management techniques.

King notes that people tend to over-complicate their lives and to ignore the potential benefit a five-minute walk outside or a quick water break could have on their emotional state. Just because these techniques are simple, he says, doesn't mean they are ineffective.

"It's not rocket science, but the reality of it is a lot of people aren't doing the positive to get happy. 

People don't really know or they think some of the basics to happiness that we suggest are too fluffy. They're not. They're research-supported. Do these things and you'll feel happier," King says.

It's something he says everyone could benefit from.

"This study is looking at college students, but it is generalizable to all people. We recommend the students take this information and share it with their families. Let them know if they want to be happier, they need to focus on reducing their stress and get some social support and care."”

 May you remember and use the techniques here that will help you the most.

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