Learning to Handle Stress Better: Is Your Cup Half-Full or Half-Empty?
A new joint US and Canadian study has found that optimistic people have a better biological response to stress than pessimists. The “stress hormone” cortisol tends to be more stable in those with more positive personalities than those with negative personalities. The simple conclusion from that is that optimism helps you handle stress better. In particular, the new study found that pessimists tend to have a higher stress baseline than optimists and that they generally have trouble regulating their sympathetic nervous system when they go through stressful experiences.
Previous research has shown that optimists are more likely than pessimists to adjust successfully to stressful life circumstances and maintain their physical health. The new study finds that pessimists have an inability to look on the bright side and on days where they experience higher than average stress, they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down whilst optimists, by contrast, are better in stabilizing their cortisol levels.
A cortisol level is a blood test that measures the amount of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. Cortisol, is considered by some health experts, as public health enemy number one because scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels can interfere with learning and memory, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, and also increase the risk for mental illness, depression, and lower life expectancy.
Studies In Stress Management
In the new study, for six years, the researchers tracked 135 older adults (all older than 60 years old), and collected five saliva samples daily from each subject (to monitor cortisol levels). The study participants were asked to report on the level of stress they perceived in their day-to-day lives, and identify themselves along a continuum as optimists or pessimists. Each person’s stress levels were then measured against their own average and self-identified along a continuum. Measuring the stress levels against participants’ own average provided a real-world picture of how individuals handle stress better because individuals can become accustomed to the typical amount of stress in their lives.
Five saliva samples were collected from the study participants throughout the day: at awakening, 30 min after awakening, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and bedtime. The exact time of day of each sample collected was recorded by the study participants and the saliva samples were stored in the participants? home refrigerators until they were returned to the lab 2?3 days after collection was completed for cortisol analysis. A total of 7,815 cortisol saliva samples were ultimately collected from the 135 study participants (96.48% of possible samples).
Technical Aspects of Stress
The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response is a term used to describe the process that our bodies use to identify and react to stressors, internal and external. This process takes root at the base of our brains in the hypothalamus from which it signals the pituitary glands and finally the adrenal glands. There are several connections which are made to ensure the body?s survival in times of stress and danger.
Let?s take a moment to focus on self-inflicted or internal stressors. There are certain things that are out of our control which also tend to cause us stress. It is vital that we don?t dwell on things we can?t control because they can cause us to experience long periods of stress. This is where the optimistic mindset comes in. When you can maintain a positive mindset, you will experience lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Earlier we referenced cortisol as being a player with negative outcomes when related to stress. This hormone is manufactured by the adrenal glands which are located on top of the kidneys. It?s fine and quite necessary for cortisol to be released during stressful times as it is one of the key factors that prepares our body for intensive physical activity at a moment’s notice. One of the negative things that can happen because of excess stress levels is that the adrenal glands cannot produce enough cortisol because of Adrenal Fatigue. Once this happens there is only one direction that things normally go and that is towards Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Learning how to handle stress better is key.
AFS does not mean that things are hopeless, that is far from the case. There are many things you can do to help yourself recover from adrenal fatigue and an important technique is maintaining a positive mindset. Despite those of us who may suffer from clinical depression and other ailments, mindset is something that we can all work on which will promote a more healthy stress response and bring us closer to optimum wellness.
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) occurs as a result of an overstressed body that can no longer function properly. There is currently no medical testing for the ailment, and it often goes misdiagnosed and untreated. There are many signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The most common ones are:
- Feelings of extreme fatigue that do not diminish with a good night’s sleep
- Inability to fall asleep despite fatigue
- Restless nights
- Heart palpitations when stressed
- Low blood pressure
- Lack of a sex drive
- Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
- Foggy thinking
- Inability to cope with stressful situations
If you believe you may suffer from AFS, it is important to seek out help as soon as possible from a knowledgeable specialist who can lead you in the right direction. Adrenal fatigue is a degenerative condition in which the body eventually shuts down without proper care. One of the keys to recovery lies in learning how to handle stress better.
How to Handle Stress Better
Learning how to manage stress is important for everyone. Coping with stress is vital for recovering adrenal health and regaining balance in the body’s hormone levels. There are many ways to handle stress better:
- Avoid Stimulants. Eliminate and avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and sugar as much as possible. They are all stimulants and will increase your levels of stress. There is a misconception that alcohol is a depressant, but that is only true if it is taken in large quantities. In small doses, alcohol acts as a stimulant. Choose water, herbal teas, and diluted all-natural juices for hydration. Steer clear of refined sugars as they can cause energy crashes. And energy depletion in an already over-fatigued and stressed body can be very dangerous.
- Eat a Healthy and Well-Balanced Diet. Nutrition is a very important way to handle stress better and heal the adrenals. The adrenal glands need important vitamins and minerals to regain strength and begin operating efficiently again. Following an AFS diet rich in fresh vegetables, healthy proteins, and low sugars can offer great meal solutions to sufferers.
- Physical Activity. Exercise has been found to metabolize excess stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to bring a more relaxed, calm state of mind and help you handle stress better. Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can also improve sleep quality, which many AFS sufferers have problems with.
- Create Good Sleep Patterns. Creating a good sleep regime is a great way to handle stress better. Do not rely on sleep medications, as there are many natural ways to get better sleep. First, train yourself to go to bed at the same time every night so your brain develops a pattern. For those suffering from AFS, it is recommended that you go to sleep by 10 pm. Second, maximize relaxation before bedtime, dim lights, play soft music, use a diffuser with lavender oils, and avoid caffeine during the evening. Many people find comfort in warm baths and reading books.
- Make Meditation and Adrenal Breathing a Practice. There are many ways to meditate, and all are amazing techniques to help you handle stress better. It is best to find which method brings you the best results. Deep breathing, yoga, walking, and self-hypnosis are all ways to focus your mind within while removing yourself mentally from your stressors. They also help prepare you to be more relaxed and better equipped to handle any upcoming stressors that may arise. Try to make meditation part of your everyday life. Adrenal breathing can increase the action of the parasympathetic system, which is the calming system that counteracts the sympathetic fight or flight system.
- Learn to Say No. Managing your life is an important skill to have. Taking on too many responsibilities with not enough time to do them in is a huge stressor. To handle stress better, prioritize your tasks, say no when needed, and delegate responsibilities to others. Destressing your life is a priority to regain and maintain optimal wellness.
Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue is a serious ailment, but with proper care, guidance and learning how to handle stress better, sufferers can be more equipped to manage their lives and shorten their healing process. Stress is the cause of adrenal fatigue. Learning how to handle stress better will have a tremendous effect on the body’s ability to regain its health.
© Copyright 2014 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
What are the best techniques to handle stress better?
Learning methods on how to handle stress better not only helps with adrenal fatigue, but aids in overall wellness. There are many ways to cope with stress including deep breathing, exercise, nutrition, and meditation. It is important to find the method that works best for you.