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What is evening stress and why should we beware of it?

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When we experience stress, it can often lead to a series of hormones being released in the body. New studies have suggested that we actually have a vulnerability to stress as the day progresses. Our body may actually react more strongly to acute psychological stress in the evening compared to stress that we might experience in the morning.

Studies conducted by Japan’s Hokkaido University are suggesting that even with normal work hours and sleeping habits, we react differently to acute psychological stress later on into the evening. In a study conducted on 27 healthy young volunteers as they went about their normal routine, it was determined that hypersonic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis changes occurred, leading to different responses for acute stress as the day progressed.

The HPA axis connects directly to the central nervous system and endocrine system in the body. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that gets released every few hours when the HPA gets activated due to a stressful event. Stressful events will directly provide us with energy and activate a fight-or-flight response. The circadian clock within our body can actually work to maximize these responses and make sure that a fight-or-flight response can get supercharged during specific hours of the day.

Throughout the experience, the research team worked to measure the cortisol levels in volunteers at their baseline when they first woke up. Volunteers were divided into two groups where one group was exposed to stress in the morning and another group was exposed to stress in the evening, around 10 hours after they’d been awake.

Volunteers that were taking the test in the evening continued to experience a much higher heart rate than individuals that were taking the test in the morning. It seemed as though the participants that were exposed to stress in the morning had a much easier time activating their HPA axis within the sympathetic nervous system. Individuals that were exposed to stress in the evening experienced a vulnerability in preventing extreme stress within their system.

The largest issue with evening stress now that we know we are susceptible to it and that it can prevent sleep. When we get worked up before it’s time for our bodies to go to sleep, it often leads to fits of insomnia and issues when it comes to sleeping. As we know that our biological clock can have a large effect on our ability to manage stress, the more time that we continue to change our city and rhythm and go without sleep, the worse our reaction to stress can be.

If you have ever felt extremely frazzled as a result of several days of not sleeping, you have likely experienced this connection in action yourself. Recognizing that we can be more susceptible to stress in the evening can help us prepare our schedules accordingly. If you have some stressful activities planned for the day, it could be a wise idea to schedule these actions for the morning where your body can be better equipped to handle the extra stress.

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The Benefits of Art Therapy

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When we think back to some of our earliest days in school, often some of the most memorable experiences we have come with crafting. As children, many of us enjoy coloring, painting, drawing and other crafts and it turns out that getting back to this childhood activity can have some powerful results in therapy. Art therapy has been used as a therapeutic tool for adults in pain management. This is a form of psychotherapy that can help you to modify responses to physical and emotional problems that are related to pain.

Art therapy is used in conjunction with pain medication, but it can work as a combined effect reducing pain experiences and prescription doses. Through better symptom management it’s possible to reduce the occurrence of anxiety and stress as well as lead to a faster recovery. Art therapy is working to reduce recovery times and manage symptoms appropriately.

Art therapy works by helping people that suffer from regular chronic pain. Art therapy can be used to lower pain medication prescriptions and move mental focus away from any painful stimulus through a distraction. Art therapy also alters mood so that pain does not directly control and emotional state through stress or anxiety.

The exercise works by helping people focused in the present moment and identify their emotional responses. The expressions that people get to relate in art can help them to identify a strength and self-image as well as recognize conflicting emotions by visualizing them. A behavioral change can also occur as a result of the confidence boost from the artistic expression and creation process.

In a study conducted by The Arts of Psychotherapy over 200 people were hospitalized for medical issues after surgery. Having these individuals participate in art therapy for 50 minutes drastically improves the moods of patients as well as their levels of anxiety and pain.

Art therapy is different from a traditional art class, an art therapist manages the creative process and explores the way that art relates to pain. Therapy can consist of individuals focusing on making a piece of art that relates to how their pain looks on that day. Creating and then processing this art can help individuals to explore their symptoms and encourage them to share more about their mood.

You don’t need to have any artistic talent in order to see benefits from art therapy. Many forms of artistic expression including woodworking, ceramics, mixed-media and more can help you to access the same results. Sessions in art therapy typically last 30 to 60 minutes. These sessions are often one-on-one in the early stages and can eventually become a group support activity for people to relate their experiences to others.

If you are interested in finding an art therapist in your area, there is an extensive directory of art therapists through the American Art Therapy Association. Board-certified art therapists have achieved a Masters degree approved by this association and completed a qualifier of clinical experience in the field.

The sources for this article are:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/arts-and-health/201608/why-art-therapy-works
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/art-therapy-another-way-to-help-manage-pain-2018071214243

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Easy Ways to Reduce Stress

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Have you ever been extremely overwhelmed with everyday components of life? Maybe work is starting to feel too stressful? Or do personal relationships seem too much to handle? Here are some easy ways to combat your stress and feel in control of your life. Following these tips will help you lead a more peaceful yet productive lifestyle.

1. Set goals based off of how much time it would take to fulfill a task

Before starting on any task, be sure to plan out how much time the task will take. Consider jotting down a schedule for the day, and try to stick to those allocated times for each of your tasks. Even if you cannot commit to all of the fixed times, tell yourself that you will get through at least 25% of what you had originally planned. Once you accomplish that consistently, then try to accomplish 50% of your tasks. By following this, you will avoid burnout and will feel in control of the tasks at hand.

2. Go outside

While this may seem simplistic, going outside and getting exposure to fresh air have been proven to reduce stress. In particular, there is a technique called forest ‘bathing’ that is defined as the practice of spending time in a wooded area is good for one’s mind, body and spirit. Participants of this technique were found to have lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol. Even if you are not near a forest, going outside and being present in nature will help you establish tranquility in your life.

3. Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system by partaking in breathing exercises

The autonomic nervous system is sometimes known as the involuntary nervous system. It controls several bodily systems even without any conscious direction, and two of its 2 branches are the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it releases a feeling of calmness and relaxation in your mind as well as body. On the other hand, the sympathetic nervous system is known to trigger the “fight or flight” response when there is a potential threat.

These two systems work together, but in times of intense stress, they can get out of balance. When one feels anxious or stressed for long periods of times, the sympathetic nervous system overpowers the parasympathetic.

Therefore, by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, the balance will be restored. You can do this by breathing through your diaphragm, practicing mindfulness, and surrounding yourself in a positive environment.

4. No multitasking.

Though multitasking may create an illusion of getting things done faster, it actually drains the glucose fuel needed by the brain. This decreases the efficiency of brain activity and makes us feel more tired in the long run. Instead of multitasking, try to really focus on one activity and space it out with breaks or snacks. This will help the mind feel calm, productive, and at its best.

Sources:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/turning-straw-gold/201109/4-tips-slowing-down-reduce-stress
  2. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/how-nature-can-solve-life-s-most-challenging-problems-ncna749361

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Good Stress?

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The restless feeling during final exams or anxiousness of speaking to your boss can all induce various levels of stress. Stress can be beneficial at times, but however, it is a crucial factor for survival. The “good” stress is known as acute stress, but “bad” stress is chronic stress that could be detrimental to one’s health.

Acute vs. Chronic Stress

The hormone called cortisol determines stress. It controls blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, maintain memory formulation, and reduces inflammation. Increased cortisol release due to excessive stress would lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, mood swings, and blood sugar imbalances.

However, with just the right level of stress, experts say it is a burst of energy that could advise better choices and meet daily challenges. This factor is critical for survival that acts as a flight-or-fight response, such as the indication to dodge a car that is coming towards you. Studies have shown that individuals who have moderate levels of stress before surgery recovered faster than individuals having high or low levels of stress, alongside other health benefits. With a completely stress-free life, the thought of pain could be too intense and the body would not be prepared psychologically.

Too much stress is adversely affecting a person’s health.  It could lead to headaches, irritability, change in appetite, sickness, and increased anger or anxiousness than usual. Chronic stress not only affects your head but the entire body and eventually induces health problems. It becomes more severe when people use alcohol or tobacco to relieve stress, as these tend to keep the body in a more stressed state instead.  

Assess Bad Stress to Good

Specific practices such as meditation and yoga can help to mediate stress levels. Other ways to reduce stress could be merely by avoiding substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Proper sleep hours and straightforward practices such as managing time and tracking stress could improve one’s health! It’s important to know your own body, and the amount of pressure you can handle. So when you feel strenuous, take a deep breath, and handle the situation calmly without adversely affecting your body.

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