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How to handle the stress in your life

Being able to manage stress is critical since it can weaken the immune system, raise cholesterol levels, accelerate hardening of the arteries, disrupt the digestive system, and lead to overeating and obesity. And according to Tiffany Chow, in her book, The memory clinic, it can also increase the risk of developing dementia.

When you’re under stress, you don’t think clearly. You could find yourself in the state of panic, getting more stressed by the minute. But once you have calmed down and feel in control once again, things go back to normal.

The source of our emotions is believed to be the amygdala, two small almond shaped regions of the brain. It’s our “fire alarm” that signals danger both real and perceived. It really can’t tell the difference between a life-threatening emergency or simply the need to get to a meeting before it starts.

When you feel stressed, you don’t have to immediately start deep breathing or meditating. You merely have to take control of the situation. This involves looking at the stressful situation objectively and determining how critical it really is. For instance, if you can’t find the agenda you received for the morning’s meeting, is it really going to matter? You could probably share a copy with someone else or even take a quick snapshot of someone else’s copy with your iPhone.

Once you know that you can deal with the situation, and you calm down, it’s amazing how often you will then remember where you placed the original agenda in question.

That sudden feeling of panic when you can’t remember something or feel unprepared for a presentation or think you may be late for an appointment cannot be prevented. It’s a product of your automatic nervous system, which regulates the release of adrenaline, blood pressure, heart rate, hand temperature and other physiological changes. It’s an automatic response to a perceived danger, real or otherwise. Don’t expect the part of your brain that pushes the panic button to distinguish between a slight concern and a major crisis. That’s not its job. You have to activate another part of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex to take on that task.

You have to use your brain’s executive centre in the prefrontal cortex to pay attention to the alarm, think it through clearly, focus on what is really important and take any necessary action. You don’t relieve stress by taking deep breaths and telling yourself to calm down, you have to pay attention to the signal, and take control of the situation.

The opposite of stress is not being relaxed calm or half-asleep, it is the feeling of being in control. You’re in control when you feel that you are able to handle whatever life happens to throw at you at the time.

There is such a thing as building stress tolerance. That’s one of the brain-based executive skills discussed in my ebook, Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, published by Bookboon.com.

To build stress tolerance, make sure you schedule adequate leisure time, build quality relationships with others, laugh often and keep healthy and physically fit. Get plenty of sleep, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Meditation or mindfulness can also help you change the way you perceive potentially stressful situations. A Newsweek special issue, Your Body (October, 2014) suggested that taking 15 minutes a day for silent meditation can help lower stress levels and prevent it from increasing in the first place. Studies have shown that even taking a few deep breaths can lower cortisol levels. And it helps to maintain a positive attitude

Don’t be a slave to your cell phone. According to the Newsweek article referenced above, studies show that taking three or four hours each day away from the Internet and digital communication is not only a healthy distraction, but also a partial antidote to stress.

And believe it or not, orderliness seems to help as well. UCLA researchers discovered that the sight of clutter can induce the production of stress hormones. So be sure to organize both your working and living environments.

The secret to handling stress is to take charge. You do that with your mind – the real you.

 

 

 

 

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22 ways to get more sleep

If you haven’t heard or read something on the importance of sleep within the last month or so, you haven’t been paying much attention to the media. Magazine articles, blogs, books, newsletters, newspapers, TV specials and radio reports have all covered some of the consequences of inadequate sleep. I have even written an eBook on the importance of sleep from a time management perspective titled Sleep: A time management strategy, published by Bookboon.com.

I have already written past blog articles covering many of the consequences of inadequate sleep – everything from stress and obesity to diabetes and premature aging. So I decided to summarize in this article all the ways you may be able to gain more sleep – and I am referring to actual sleep time, not the amount of time spent in bed. If you get less than 6 hours actual sleep a night, you’re in trouble.

 Make sleep a priority. It’s as important as exercise and diet.

  1. Make your environment as comfortable as possible for sleep. This may involve a softer pillow, comfortable mattress and even the habit of wearing socks to bed or having relaxation tapes or classical music playing in the background.
  2. Determine your required sleep time and add about a half hour to allow time for getting to sleep and getting up during the night.
  3. Never go to bed earlier than your normal bedtime. If you are not sleepy, don’t go to bed until you are.
  4. Stick to a routine. Where possible go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. It helps regulate the body clock. When people try to catch up on sleep on the weekend the quality of the extended sleep is quite low.
  5. Don’t go to bed during the day if you’re sleepy; take a power nap instead.
  6. Skip the caffeine. Avoid coffee or other caffeine drinks at least six hours before bedtime. It can actually stay in your system for 12 hours. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes as well.
  7. Go light on dinner. Heavy meals keep the digestive system working and delays of sleepiness. It’s best to have a heavier lunch and lighter dinner.
  8. Use your bed for sleeping. It’s not a good idea to use your bed for watching TV, checking your e-mail, working on your laptop or other activities not associated with sleeping or resting.
  9. Control technology. Turn off your computers, laptops, smart phones, iPad’s and other electronic gadgets at least two hours before bedtime.
  10. Exercise daily. It’s best to exercise earlier in the day but avoid strenuous exercise at least two hours before bedtime. You may feel tired immediately after exercising but over the course of the day people who exercise actually have more energy.
  11. Keep the bedroom cool. Scientific evidence indicates that 65°F to 68°F is the ideal temperature for sleep.
  12. Keep in the dark. Light inhibits the production of melatonin, the body’s sleeping pill, so you might even turn off the night light.
  13. Don`t be a clock-watcher in bed. If necessary face the alarm clock the other way so you won`t be tempted or disturbed by the fluorescent screen.
  14. Crash early. The optimal bedtime is between 10 PM and midnight. It is generally recommended that you go to bed by 11 p.m.
  15. Have a transition routine. Have a half hour or more of relaxation away from the bright lights and work activities. This could be light reading, walking, yoga or a warm bath.
  16. Researchers at Wesleyan University found that sniffing lavender oil before bedtime increased slow-wave sleep, the deepest form of slumber, by 22 participants in study participants.
  17. Don’t linger in bed when the alarm clock goes off. More time in bed than needed increases the time that you’re awake in bed and produces poor quality sleep.
  18. Avoid shift work if possible. Working rotating shifts or in a regular sleep schedule weakens the circadian clock that regulates sleep. Even varying it by an hour is the equivalent of traveling across one time zone.
  19. If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed. Don’t spend too much time trying to sleep; it reduces the sleep drive.
  20. Make your bed. Terry Small reported in one of his bulletins that the National Sleep Foundation found that those people who make their beds tend to sleep more soundly than those who don’t.
  21. Organize your day, and go to bed with an uncluttered mind and the knowledge that you have the next day planned.

There are probably others. Experiment a little until you find something that works for you. And never regret the time needed to get a good night’s sleep. It’s an investment in your health, increased productivity and longevity.

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Be smart when using your smartphone.

Years ago we were warned about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. One recent article reported that about one quarter of car accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting and talking on the phone while driving.

Then it became obvious that the increase in screen use and digital technology in general was impacting our ability to focus. People were becoming more easily distracted, ADHD symptoms appeared to be increasing, some of us were becoming addicted to email and/or the Internet, and evidence seemed to suggest we are becoming less empathetic, more shallow in our thinking, and more open to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.

Soon there were indications of physical problems emerging as a result of overuse of digital technology as well. The first of these to become evident was carpal tunnel syndrome and many of us have already made adjustments with the way we use our mouse, position the hand, and support our wrist.

But research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine, and reported in the Toronto Star, November 24, 2014, indicates that bending your neck over a smart phone for hours a day could lead to early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. And smartphone users spend an average of 2 to 4 hours a day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking the social media sites.  

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, according to an article by Adam Popescu in the January 25, 2018 issue of the New York Times. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle according to Kenneth Hanrai’s research mentioned earlier.

Since posture is known to affect mood, behavior, personal energy and memory in addition to the physiological impact mentioned above, the way we are tethered to our smartphones can cause even more problems.

Adam Popescu, introduces the antisocial aspect of smartphones in his article by asking us to observe how much time passes the next time we’re sitting among a group of friends before someone grabs their phone to look at it. This antisocial behavior is bound to negatively impact friendships as well as the effectiveness of communications. And yet, according to the Pew Research Center, 75% of Americans feel their use of a smartphone doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting.

This denial is even more disturbing. I shudder to think of the negative impact this could have on important business meetings or family life.

We’re at the point where over half the world’s population owns a smartphone and the Internet has surpassed the 4 billion mark. And many of us are quick to adopt a new technology, regardless of its merit, for fear of being left behind.

It’s more important than ever that we control the use of our smartphone – or any other electronic device – so that it remains a useful tool to increase efficiency and does not become an addiction that negatively impacts our physical, emotional and mental well-being.