Tag Archives: Stress Management

6 Essential Tips to Develop a Stress Management Strategy


By Brigitte Cutshall

Were you aware that chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of health issues?  Heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents. Chronic stress can affect your brain, raise your blood pressure, and reduces your immunity and ability to heal.

At least 75% of doctor office visits are for stress-related complaints stemming from job stress.  It’s a $1 trillion per year “under the radar” health epidemic according to Peter Schnall, author of Unhealthy Work.

The cost to treat those with chronic diseases (from stress) is about 75% of the national health expenditures per the CDC. Chronic diseases cause 7 out of 10 deaths each year – but are preventable and treatable.

Chronic stress not only affects the physical aspects of your life such as health or general energy level, but it can affect job performance and personal relationships. For this reason, every person needs a stress management strategy, a way to focus on personal empowerment and feelings of “loss of control” in check.

Dealing with cancer twice and a brain tumor diagnosis confirmed that I can’t take anything for granted.  I want to be there for my family, watch my kids grow up and thrive. This reality made me stop, take a step back and evaluate my life, intentions and overall goals. Developing a stress management strategy was important. My curiosity also led me to become a certified health coach and health advocate.

Here are 6 essential tips I recommend to help you develop a stress management strategy: Continue reading

Weekly Health Tip: Stress and the Brain





The human body responds to stress with a powerful fight-or-flight reaction. Hormones surge through the body, causing the heart to pump faster and sending extra supplies of energy into the bloodstream. For much of human history, this emergency response system was useful: It enabled people to survive immediate physical threats like an attack from a wild animal. But today, the stress in most people’s lives comes from the more psychological and seemingly endless pressures of modern life. Daily challenges like a long commute or a difficult boss can turn on the stress hormones—and because these conditions don’t go away, the hormones don’t shut off.  Instead of helping you survive, this kind of stress response can actually make you sick.  


Chronic stress can harm the body in several ways. The stress hormone cortisol, for instance, has been linked to an increase in fat around organs, known as visceral fat. The accumulation of visceral fat is dangerous since these fat cells actively secrete hormones that can disrupt the functioning of the liver, pancreas and brain, causing problems such as insulin resistanceinflammation, and metabolic syndromeChronic exposure to other stress hormones can also weaken the immune system and even change the structure of chromosomes. 


How Stress Affects the Brain Recent research suggests that chronic stress takes a toll on the brain, too. Studies on mice show that stress-related hormones alter physical structures in the brain in ways that could affect memory, learning, and mood. Some of these changes involve dendrites, tiny branch-like structures on nerve cells that send and receive signals. Several studies have shown that stress hormones can shrink dendrites and as a result, information doesn’t get relayed across nerve cells. When the cell damage occurs in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, it can impact memory and learning. 


If stress makes you feel anxious, damage to dendrites might be part of the cause. A 2011 study found that rats whose dendrites had eroded due to stress had higher levels of anxiety. More research is needed to determine the exact effect of stress hormones on people’s brains, but one study of adults with post-traumatic stress disorder suggests that the stress hormone cortisol may actually shrink the size of the hippocampus. Researchers are still trying to determine if this is because of the hormone’s toxic effect on neurons or if there is a genetic component—or if both are involved.  


Another part of the brain that seems to be affected by stress is the amygdala—the part of the brain that regulates fear and other emotions. A 2003 study found that in mice under stress, the amygdala grew larger while the dendrites in the hippocampus shrank. Researchers believe that together, these two effects may cause an increase in anxiety. They think that as amygdala grows in size, you may experience more anxiety and fear. (The amygdala is known to become bigger and more active in people who are depressed.) But because the hippocampus cells involved in memory are shrinking and not transmitting information effectively, you can’t connect the feelings of fear to memories of real events. You’re left with a lot of generalized anxiety.  


Tips on Coping With Stress If this news about stress and the brain is giving you a headache—or stressing you out in other ways—relax. The good news is that you can learn healthy ways to cope with stress that will protect your brain—and the rest of your body—from stress’s negative effects.  

Not everyone is equally vulnerable to stress. Genetics play a role in how a person’s body reacts. Your past experiences can affect your response, too. If you lived through a lot of stressful situations growing up, you may be more sensitive to stress as an adult. Try to notice your own reactions to stress. Do you stay calm when pressures mount, or can you feel your pulse increase just thinking about a stressful situation? Once you become aware of what sets off your body’s fight or flight response, you can use these tips to try to change your response to stress. 


1. Resolve the stressful situation if you can. You may not have much control over many of the sources of stress in your life, but if there is a something you can do to resolve a stressful situation, do it! Talk to friends about what you can do to change a bad situation, and consider getting help from a conflict resolution expert if necessary.    


2. Spend time with loved ones and cultivate healthy friendships. Research shows that a good social support network has definite mental health benefits. It can keep you from feeling lonely, isolated, or inadequate and if you feel good about yourself, you can deal with stress better. Friends and loved ones can be a good source of advice and suggest new ways of handling problems. But they can also be an excellent distraction from what’s bothering you. If your network of friends is small, think about volunteering, joining an outdoor activities group, or trying an online meet-up group to make new friends. 


3. Do an activity you like. Part of being stressed out is feeling that you never have enough time. So adding more activities to your schedule might seem like the last thing you need. But if you make even a little bit of time for an activity you really enjoy, the payoff can be huge: You feel calmer and happier and can deal with work and other demands better. Whether it’s playing music, doing a craft, or working on your car, do something that absorbs and relaxes you. 


4. Try relaxation techniques. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help slow your breathing and heart rate and focus your mind inward, away from whatever is causing you stress. 


5. Exercise regularly. Whether it’s walking outside with a friend or taking an exercise class at the gym, getting active can help you relax and help turn off your body’s stress response. 


6. Get plenty of sleepWhen you’re well rested, you can approach stressful situations more calmly. 


7. Eat a healthy diet. Stress is tough enough on your body, so help it out by feeding it fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat protein


8. Appreciate what’s good in your life. It sounds corny, but focusing your thoughts on positive parts of your life instead of the stress-ridden areas can be good for your physical health. Research shows that positive emotions helped people recover their normal heart rate more quickly after it was raised during exertion. 


9. Laugh! Researchers are still investigating the precise effects of laughter on stress hormones, but some findings suggest that it has a stress-relief effect on heart rate, respiratory rate, and muscle tension. Your own research has probably convinced you that laughing makes you feel better. 


10. Seek professional counseling if necessary.  Extreme chronic stress is no laughing matter. Enlist the help of a professional if you think you are at risk for serious health effects.  


Learn more about stress and stress management 




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Tap Into the Power of Color

Color has a powerful sensory appeal and many respond to different shades without even realizing it. Researchers of integrative medicine study the impact of color on stress, relationships, productivity, eating and healing. Understanding what different colors transmit can improve communication or mood. Basically, we don’t rationalize color like we do words. We react to color. Therefore color can help us decode a situation. For example, Research from the University of Rochester as published in the Journal Emotion claims that red intensifies responses making people react more forcefully and quickly. Perhaps, a red kitchen or place setting revs up the appetite as well.

Red, acting as an intensifier, makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. When you see someone flushed, that person could be angry or ashamed making him more likely to attack. Another study pointed out that wearing red is more likely attract a mate. While red might be stimulating, it can also sap your energy levels with distraction, anxiety and worry.  In earlier color research exposure to red has proven counterproductive for skilled motor and mental tasks: athletes competing against an opponent wearing red are more likely to lose and students exposed to red before a test perform worse.

Color your world

Change your colors periodically to explore or reveal different components of your personality to others. For example, if you always wear black, which suggests mystery, perhaps you might wear a different color to make a more open statement about yourself – or vice versa. Here are some colors and the kind of energy they are known to emit. See what works for you because you might have a personal history with a particular color – like good things happen when you wear a blue shirt – and that would be more meaningful to you than any research study.

* Orange is the color of cheerfulness
* Blue is calming and soothing
* Yellow is intellectually stimulating
* Green is healing
* Brown is earthy and rooting
* Silver is spiritual
* Purple is regal and powerful

So, if you want to transmit empowerment at the office, try wearing something purple. If you want to give yourself a healing message, look at green.


8 Professional Tips for Handling Extreme Stress

Someone else’s stress is relatively easy for me to relieve. However, this week when I personally felt overwhelmed, helping two of my kids move out while juggling my other duties, along with a guest on my radio show who failed to show up, I felt the cumulative effect of stress both physically and emotionally. With allergy season here like tree pollen at record levels, restoring balance had to be the subject of my life story or else succumb to the symptoms of stress.

Symptoms of stress: rapid shallow breathing, various aches and pains, aggravated existing conditions, distraction, waking up in the middle of the night, fatigue, negativity, irritability, inattentive listening and anger leading to more conflicts.

Here is how I reset my own natural rhythm:

* Awareness – Take a personal inventory of symptoms to identify the pattern. For me I was being an over-doer. I unplugged a few people who were plugged into my energy socket. I have a right to my authentic life. Their emergencies do not have to be my emergencies. If I were not around, they would find another way.

* Healthy balanced meals and snacks along with adequate water intake – To be balanced you have to eat and drink balanced.  I made sure to drink a great inflammatory, 2 cups of green tea daily. During times of stress I tend to eat more colorful fruits and vegetables to maximize nutrients which are quickly depleted.

* Outdoor walks – Reset your natural rhythm by taking your five senses outdoorsI walk off stress hormones and relax my mind which is overloaded by technology by taking a neighborhood stroll – no matter how tired I feel.

* Create a daily time and space for a technology free zone – no wristwatch, emails, googling, ipods or phones.  I could feel my breathing and heart rate relax. I was rebooting my system.

* Change verbiage from negative to positive – Don’t let the words, “frazzled,” or “crazy busy” trip off your tongue.  Instead I complimented myself liberally on what I had already accomplished.

* Accept yourself and others – when my radio guest did not show up, I had no time to feel angry or sorry for myself. I had to solve a problem and think fast. So, I became the guest, “Debbie Mandel interviewing Debbie Mandel.”  Just that morning a woman confided how disappointed she was in her brother, a physician, who did not help her with two parents both in different cardiac rehabs. I told her story on air, along with how to reframe her brother’s invisibility, so that she could release her resentment. After all, the anger would not help her parents recover from their individual heart surgeries. Most likely, this specific radio show would help other caregivers in similar situations!

* Regarding allergy season, make peace with the flowers and trees – getting along with nature instead of perceiving it as the enemy: Less stress, fewer allergy symptoms for the general population who do not have life-threatening allergic reactions. I threw away my allergy meds a decade ago and am living proof of balanced living reducing inflammation.

* Vacation – Every day I schedule time for spontaneity and joy in the form of mini-vacations.  They make me more creative and actually help me to accomplish things more efficiently. They are a rehearsal for bigger vacations.


The Mind Can Either Heal Or Harm Your Body

The placebo effect proves the power of mind. If you believe in a “magical” pill or treatment, most of the time you will improve. However, you might be surprised to learn that the contrasting dark side is also true, referred to as the nocebo response.  In other words, when you are taking a sugar pill, you could experience the bad side effects related to the pill you believe you are taking according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter (May 2011).

 Placebo and nocebo are flip sides. Placebo means, “I will please,” and nocebo means, “I will harm.”  The mind, like the 17thcentury poet John Milton said, can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven.  It turns out from double blind studies that our expectations about a medication or procedure could shape our experience. Consequently, how a doctor speaks to us can affect how the body will respond to the treatment. Even the color of a pill, our associations with that color – like blue symbolizing calm and red symbolizing energy, can trigger a specific response.

TV commercials know all about the placebo effect when they paint idyllic images of happy patients taking all sorts of medications and undergoing surgeries. They tap into the power of suggestion: You can feel happily relieved like these patients. In contrast, the nocebo effect is a little more complicated and less understood.

The nocebo effect might be due to stress hormones like cortisol which get activated by anxiety, sadness, disappointment or bad memories.  It would be great if physicians were diplomatic, but many are too stressed to have a warm bedside manner and can use upsetting words. It would be great if the releases patients have to sign or the medications patients get filled don’t have a list of all the terrible things which could go wrong, but legally one needs to be informed.

Therefore to direct your mind to a positive outcome:

* Give yourself a positive suggestion. It’s like hypnotizing yourself. Imagine a successful outcome the way athletes do before a competition. People who do this consistently on a regular basis especially before surgery say that they need less anesthesia and experience less pain afterwards.

* Transform an old negative memory into a positive one. For example, parents are adept at giving their child’s nightmare a happier conclusion, transforming terror into security. Dr. Bernie Siegel advised his cancer patients receiving radiation therapy to image it as “golden rays of healing.” This way patients flow with the healing process instead of fighting it.

* Act the role of an empowered patient. Don’t allow yourself to be objectified or spoken about in third person. If you feel your doctor is abrupt, disrespectful or negative, get another opinion. Your physician’s negative approach could actualize a nocebo.

Now apply the placebo/nocebo effect to the non-medical potential accomplishments of your life. Might your belief system be getting in the way of achieving your goals? What would you do if you believed you could not fail?


Dealing with Stress: Three Essential Areas to Address to Cope Well

Stress is pervasive in our lives. Therefore it is not a question of how to avoid stress, but rather how to deal with stress. Stress does not diminish as you grow older. It simply takes on different forms. Here are two examples. The high school juniors I teach are stressed because academically, this is the year that will determine which college they will enter in 2012. They also need to bolster their school resume and try to maintain and juggle impossible schedules of academics, sport, music, drama, publications and extra curricula clubs and activities with at least having one community service component. Stress cuts into their sleep, and downtime is fast becoming an endangered activity for teens, if it is not already one. 

At the other end of the spectrum are the elderly. Some like my mother, in her mid-eighties suffered a stroke, has been fortunate to receive excellent medical care and lived in an assisted living facility where she was well cared for. Her stress was caused by her inability to communicate, as she would like to, due to her stroke-induced brain damage. Her frailty (she was in a wheel chair), the loss of control of every aspect of her life, as well as her sense of impending death all added to her increasing stress.  

The vast majority of elderly people are not so fortunate and spend their last years in poverty, deprivation and with a frustrated acceptance of their reduced quality of life. This causes them and their loved ones enormous stress. 

We live in stressful times. Recent college graduates, as well as middle-aged workers who have been laid off struggle to find jobs and some way to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. We are stressed about war in Afghanistan, upheavals in the Middle East, climate change, and how and when will the struggling world economy recover.

On the personal level relationships of all kinds (and loneliness) can be stressful, as well as coping with chronic illnesses, such as obesity, resisting the lure of body image promotions, and living with changing life expectations as the American pie shrinks. And the list goes on.

 There are proven and effective ways to deal with stress and incorporating them into your day can make a huge difference in your ability to function.

Physical – eat right, exercise, try to get enough sleep, build in recreation and downtime. Take a yoga class, and learn how to meditate. Breathe deeply. Try to bring your full awareness—mind and body—to each part of your life.

Emotional – make the effort to stay connected with family and friends. If you live alone consider acquiring a pet. Prioritize a list of what satisfies you emotionally—music, movies, bowling, carpentry—and make the time to treat yourself and indulge in what gives you pleasure. Be alive to the moment and in the moment. Challenge yourself by joining a community center or taking that saxophone or sky diving lesson you have always wanted.

Psychological—don’t try to push through the commitments you have regardless of your health. Take a day off when you feel sick, learn that tomorrow is another day and you will have time to complete your tasks. Seek a balance between home life, work or school life, and your time for your private self, life. Balance, harmony, temperance are keys to finding and sharing happiness and lessening stress.

Remind yourself that this is the one life you have to live. Be passionate. Your life is happening now; this is not a rehearsal. As the American poet Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Tell yourself, and tell me too.

Stress comes too, as the years flow on, from knowing what opportunities you have let slip away. Wake up now to your life. Wake up to your self. Be open enough to embrace life, brave enough to deal with stress, and recover some of the magic in life you enjoyed as a child before the strains of living slowly drain your life force.

An accomplished author, teacher and presenter, Janet Levine is an expert on applying spiritual practices to practical purposes for everyday life such as coping with stress, achieving balance and happiness, and parenting. Some of these ideas are given fictional form in her latest book, “Leela’s Gift.” Learn more about her work at www.janetlevine.com.


7 Small But Deadly Relationship Enders

The major deal breakers for many relationships like infidelity, secret spending which empties the savings account and abuse (physical or emotional) are common knowledge. However, there are small-sized habits which can insidiously chip away and ruin a relationship without you realizing the damage until it’s too late – like termites chewing up the wood beams of your home. Wouldn’t you like to be able to identify the subtleties of relationship damage when you are best able to treat them?

 Here are 7 surprising relationship TERMITES and what to do about them: 

  •  Behaving like an “only child” which means a lack of team spirit, like one person bears the brunt of most responsibilities instead of divvying it up equitably. Many case studies show that women are the typical over-doers especially when they work outside the home: The house and children become their eminent domain.  Make sure to schedule specific chores with the person’s name attached to them on a visible, hanging calendar which won’t be missed – like the fridge door.
  • Excess humility where one partner is humble and suppresses his or her needs to keep the peace. For example, your partner chides you or interrogates you like a school boy or school girl – “How much did you spend on those shoes and do you really need another pair?”  You make excuses or try to hide new purchases under old ones. This inevitably leads to a simmering resentment. Stand up for yourself truthfully!
  •   A fragile sense of self, for example, not liking your body. This means more inhibited sex and a lack of self-confidence spilling over into other arenas. It takes a lot of energy for your significant other to prop you up all the time. Find an activity like exercise or a creative hobby which stimulates personal empowerment.
  •   Repetitive arguing along with being a “history teacher” triggers a “what’s the use of trying to please or change for this person?” Try complimenting what your partner does right – even if it is not how you would do it– to show appreciation.
  • Sarcastic humor takes a bite out of the relationship. Try humor which does not put down your partner. However, if your partner uses self-deprecating humor, this is okay because it emanates from him or her and serves as a coping mechanism.
  • Overriding the signs of personal stress by not taking care of yourself will lead to a toxic spill. Many people don’t realize how personal stress erodes one’s true, spontaneous personality unleashing irritability, fatigue, pessimism and negativity which are absorbed by your nearest and dearest. This is why when you do for yourself, you really do for others.
  •   Your home has become a theatre where great dramas are enacted. Take it down a notch. Maybe, you should try staging comedies.


Transform Your Life by Writing Your Eulogy

Professionals who write celebrity obituaries tend to write them years before a star passes on, the way Liz Taylor’s was written a decade before her death. Then when the time comes, the obituary is updated. This prompted me to consider how I, an ordinary person, can write my own eulogy now while I am healthy, so that my words, my thoughts, my buried treasure could be revealed by the person who knows me best – ME.  As an added benefit, I would probably become a better person hoping to live up to the image I revealed to posterity. I might even find a new purpose in life. Finding one’s purpose is linked to greater happiness and well-being adding more life to one’s years.

Have you ever attended a funeral of a close friend or relative, listened to the eulogy and felt as though no one really got to the core, the essence of the person? Sure, she was a “great homemaker and cooked up a storm,” or he was a “businessman who made many charitable contributions,” or she was a “radiologist who could spot a tumor almost intuitively” – might not this be merely the tip of the iceberg?

Writing your own eulogy, a speech in praise of yourself in third person, is a great stress-management tool because:

* You identify and own your unique contributions instead of suppressing them. This leads to greater personal empowerment.

* Revisiting your life, you distance yourself and look at the big picture to re-appreciate your life. Most people tend to focus on the dark spot, like a stain on a shirt, without seeing the whole context of a white shirt.

* Therapeutically, you can have your say and unburden your heart with greater freedom. You will clean out the mental clutter which sometimes leads to a relief of physical aches and pains.

* You can thank people who have physically helped you, supported you emotionally, or loved you unconditionally – those in your life who need to hear the words.

* After writing your eulogy and leaving inspiring words as a legacy, you might change your life architecture to live up to your words, be able to write better words or become all that you are meant to be.

Writing in third person about the self, using one’s first and last name, helps provide additional perspective to either let things go or reframe something with a more positive spin.  Many people whom I coach in stress-management and in writing confide that they are “terrible writers” or have “nothing interesting to say.” Often one doesn’t really think deeply until he or she puts it down in writing to see it in black and white. I have helped hundreds of people brainstorm their personal essays to uncover the big idea and/or served as an editor guiding them through the process to make their words count.  The end result was liberating and often surprising.

  For more info on stress-management and therapeutic writing visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com


Benefits Of Healthy Skin

Want to enjoy the great benefits of healthy skin? Maintain optimal health? Feel beautiful, younger, and in control? Then you should not under estimate the incredible benefits of healthy skin. The benefits of healthy skin are numerous. Healthy skin will boost your self-esteem resulting in positive changes in you. Act now and soon you will be experiencing the benefits of healthy skin! All it takes is just a little effort and commitment on your part to start seeing the benefits of healthy skin! A youthful glow is a reflection of good health!

Surface disorders are the first warning signs of poor health or serious illness and should not be overlooked. Consult your physician when changes in the epidermis occur.
It is not difficult to achieve the benefits of healthy skin!

Not everyone, or every problem is alike. The basics will help you develop a regimen and help you select the most appropriate products for your type. Soon after, you will begin to see improvements and begin enjoying the benefits of healthy skin. Some of the benefits of healthy skin are:

    * Diminished fine lines and wrinkles
    * Improved firmness
    * Uniform pigment or color
    * Efficient first line of defense against diseases
    * Delay or preclude the need of surgical rejuvenation
    * Improved self-esteem
    * Good health
    * Improved sense of touch

Clear Your Emotional Closet and Recapitulate

     Although there are different definitions for the word recapitulation, for our purposes here of clearing up emotional clutter, it is a core Toltec technique used to heal emotional stresses. On a deeper level, it is used to reclaim energy and return one to balance. I believe there are different levels or ways to practice recapitulation, just like there are different levels of consciousness (ex. deep sleep vs restful awareness). The level I’d like to introduce here, is an easy morning and evening practice you can do before you go to bed, and then again before you get out of bed. The purpose of this practice will be to reduce the accumulation of stress and over thinking that can occur during the course of a day, which can increase more over time, if your stress remains unresolved. Since many active people avoid meditating because they can’t stand the idea of "doing nothing" (even though turning off for a while can be of great benefit) this practice of recapitulating is a short, simple, and active way of clearing away the burdens that stressful emotions place on your mind. 

     This form of recapitulation was taught to me years ago by Deepak Chopra and I’ve found it to be very simple and effective. Over the years I may have adopted some of my own habits, but in this practice there is an activity you do just before you go to sleep and then again as soon as you wake up. 


Practice before bed:  Sit or lie quietly and close your eyes.  Experience all that happened during your day from the moment you woke up until this moment now.  See the whole of today flashing by like scenery as you would in a movie.  Continue this for about 5 minutes, attempting to experience these flashing images with as much detail as possible without struggling to remember everything. Do not pause on thoughts or judgements of these events, just keep the movie reel of your day going right up until the moment you got into bed. Once your movie brings you to the present moment it is in this moment that you are to formulate an intention. Think of an intention as something ten times more important as a goal and so vivid that you can almost experience it with all of your senses.  It is specific, and not unlike a goal, it is something you seek to accomplish. Intentions are markers of how things should be if you had the intended outcome as well as your feelings afterward;  it is not a label. Once you formed your intention, witness it happening in your dreams tonight.

Practice when you wake up:  As soon as you wake up, recapitulate any dreams you may have had using the same techniques as you did before going to bed, except now it is with your dreams. If you do not remember your dreams, take the 5 minutes to re-visualize your intention, and then begin your day. By connecting your mornings and evenings with 5 minutes of recapitulation, you will naturally become more conscious and aware of the person you want to be.  This is a major helping step in eventually becoming the person of your dreams.


Place a great amount of your ATTENTION on your INTENTION.


The more attention you place on something, the more energy you bring to it.


By Erik Fredrickson



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