Tag Archives: Reducing

Improved Mental Health Tied to Quitting Smoking

In a new study from Washington University, researchers find that quitting smoking does more than improve physical health as stopping the habit also improves mental health.

Typically, health professionals who treat people with psychiatric problems often overlook their patients’ smoking habits, assuming it’s best to tackle depression, anxiety, or substance abuse problems first.

However, the new study shows that people who struggle with mood problems, or addiction can safely quit smoking and that kicking the habit is associated with improved mental health.

The study is published online in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes if necessary,” said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Ph.D.

“The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment.”

In the study, Cavazos-Rehg discovered that quitting, or significantly cutting back on cigarette smoking was linked to improved mental health outcomes.

Specifically, quitting altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked daily was associated with lower risk for mood disorders like depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.

“We don’t know if their mental health improves first and then they are more motivated to quit smoking or if quitting smoking leads to an improvement in mental health,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“But either way, our findings show a strong link between quitting and a better psychiatric outlook.”

Naturally, the serious health risks associated with smoking make it important for doctors to work with their patients to quit, regardless of other psychiatric problems.

“About half of all smokers die from emphysema, cancer, or other problems related to smoking, so we need to remember that as complicated as it can be to treat mental health issues, smoking cigarettes also causes very serious illnesses that can lead to death,” she said.

Researchers analyzed questionnaires gathered as part of the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

This survey was administered in the early 2000’s and just under 35,000 people were surveyed. As part of the study, participants answered questions about drinking, smoking, and mental health in two interviews conducted three years apart.

The researchers focused on data from 4,800 daily smokers. Those who had an addiction or other psychiatric problems at the time of the first survey were less likely to have those same problems three years later if they had quit smoking.

And those who hadn’t had psychiatric problems at the initial survey were less likely to develop those problems later if they already had quit.

At the time of the first interview, about 40 percent of daily smokers suffered mood or anxiety disorders or had a history of these problems. In addition, about 50 percent of daily smokers had alcohol problems, and some 24 percent had drug problems.

Forty-two percent of those who had continued smoking during the years between the two surveys suffered mood disorders, compared with 29 percent of those who quit smoking.

Alcohol problems affected 18 percent of those who had quit smoking versus 28 percent who had continued smoking.

And drug abuse problems affected only 5 percent of those who had quit smoking compared with 16 percent of those who had continued smoking.

“We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems,” Cavazos-Rehg said.

“When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too.”

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Stress & Schizophrenia: How To Help Your Loved One & Yourself?

A common cause of relapse in schizophrenia is “difficulty managing high levels of stress,” according to Susan Gingerich, MSW, a psychotherapist who works with individuals with schizophrenia and their families.

Learning to manage stress isn’t just important for preventing relapse; it’s also important because stress is an inevitable part of facing new challenges and working to accomplish personal goals — “what recovery is all about,” write Gingerich and clinical psychologist Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D, in their book The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia.

Learning to navigate stress healthfully is key for family and friends, too. Having a loved one with schizophrenia can be stressful. Taking care of yourself enhances your well-being and daily functioning. And it means you’re in a better, healthier place to help your loved one.

In their comprehensive book, Mueser and Gingerich share excellent tips for helping your loved one and yourself cope with stress (along with valuable information on schizophrenia and how you can support your loved one).

Here are those suggestions and insights on managing and alleviating stress.

Recognizing Stress Signs

What one person finds enjoyable, another can find stressful. In the same way, how people respond to stress will differ. For instance, one person might exhibit changes in mood, such as becoming depressed and anxious, while another person will show physical signs, such as experiencing headaches and a heightened heart rate.

So it’s important to talk to your loved about their individual signs of stress. Talk about your personal signs, as well. Create separate lists for each of your reactions to stress.

Reducing Sources of Stress
The authors suggest thinking about what situations were stressful for your loved one in the past. Then try to avoid that situation or modify it. If your loved one had a tough time at Thanksgiving last year, it might help to shorten their stay or not go next year.

It’s also helpful to support your loved one in creating a stimulating environment with reasonable expectations. For instance, rather than attend a day program three times a week, one man preferred volunteering twice a week delivering meals to housebound seniors.

Plus, it’s important that you take care of yourself. Eat nutrient-rich foods, get enough sleep, participate in physical activities and engage in fun hobbies. Help your loved one identify what kinds of activities they’d like to do, too.

As the authors point out, because of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, individuals can have a hard time thinking of enjoyable activities. Talk with them about the activities they’ve enjoyed in the past.

Be sure to give yourself and your loved one credit. (Being self-critical just spikes your stress.)

Mueser and Gingerich note how one father acknowledges the positive things that happen on a daily basis: “I’m proud of how persistent my daughter has been in pursuing her art career in spite of the many difficulties she’s encountered. We both have a lot to learn about coping with this illness, but we’ve also come a long way.”

Learning to Cope with Stress

Emphasize the importance of your loved one communicating with others when they’re feeling stressed, since “these feelings can be an early warning sign of relapse,” according to the authors. Make sure you, too, are able to turn to individuals who understand your situation.

Have family meetings to talk openly about the stressor and brainstorm potential solutions. Learn to use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization (such as imagining a serene beach scene).

Self-defeating thoughts only bolster stress for both of you. Try to practice positive self-talk and teach your loved one to do the same.

Mueser and Gingerich share the example of a father helping his daughter reframe her hospitalization, which made her feel like a failure: “I’m sorry you had to go through that, but I’m proud of you for getting help when you needed it and for being so strong in dealing with this illness. You’re a survivor.”

Don’t underestimate the power of humor. Try to find the lighter side of a stressful situation, according to the authors. It’s not always – or usually – easy, but it helps with stress. Plus, you and your loved one can enjoy a funny film or sitcom to lessen stress.

For some people, religious services and prayer can be very helpful. For others being in nature may feel like a spiritual experience and shrink stress.

Again, regular exercise — around three times a week — that you enjoy is important for both of you. Journaling can provide a great source of stress relief. “Many people with schizophrenia say that writing down what they experience, think, and feel is an important outlet.”

See if your loved one is interested in listening to music or making music themselves, such as singing or taking lessons; visiting art exhibits or creating their own art; playing games with family and friends, and pursuing other hobbies.

As the authors emphasize, people with schizophrenia are “more sensitive to the effects of stress because it can trigger symptom relapses and rehospitalizations.” Helping your loved one deal with stress in a healthy way helps them pursue their personal goals and improves their life.

Plus, working together to develop healthy coping strategies can strengthen your relationship and gives you plenty of opportunities for savoring quality time.

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10 Practical Ways To Handle Stress

Stress is inevitable. It walks in and out of our lives on a regular basis. And it can easily walk all over us unless we take action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize and cope with stress. Here are 10 ideas for handling stress without causing more strain and hassle.

1. Figure out where the stress is coming from.

Oftentimes, when we’re stressed, it seems like a big mess with stressors appearing from every angle. We start to feel like we’re playing a game of dodgeball, ducking and darting so we don’t get smacked by a barrage of balls. We take a defensive position, and not a good one at that.

Instead of feeling like you’re flailing day to day, identify what you’re actually stressed about. Is it a specific project at work, an upcoming exam, a dispute with your boss, a heap of laundry, a fight with your family?

By getting specific and pinpointing the stressors in your life, you’re one step closer to getting organized and taking action.

2. Consider what you can control—and work on that.

While you can’t control what your boss does, what your in-laws say or the sour state of the economy, you can control how you react, how you accomplish work, how you spend your time and what you spend your money on.

The worst thing for stress is trying to take control over uncontrollable things. Because when you inevitably fail — since it’s beyond your control — you only get more stressed out and feel helpless. So after you’ve thought through what’s stressing you out, identify the stressors that you can control, and determine the best ways to take action.

Take the example of a work project. If the scope is stressing you out, talk it over with your supervisor or break the project down into step-wise tasks and deadlines.

Stress can be paralyzing. Doing what’s within your power moves you forward and is empowering and invigorating.

3. Do what you love.

It’s so much easier to manage pockets of stress when the rest of your life is filled with activities you love. Even if your job is stress central, you can find one hobby or two that enrich your world. What are you passionate about? If you’re not sure, experiment with a variety of activities to find something that’s especially meaningful and fulfilling.

4. Manage your time well.

One of the biggest stressors for many people is the lack of time. Their to-do list expands while time flies. How often have you wished for more hours in the day or heard others lament their lack of time? But you’ve got more time than you think, as Laura Vanderkam writes in her aptly titled book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

We all have the same 168 hours, and yet there are plenty of people who are dedicated parents and full-time employees and who get at least seven hours of sleep a night and lead fulfilling lives.

5. Create a toolbox of techniques.

One stress-shrinking strategy won’t work for all your problems. For instance, while deep breathing is helpful when you’re stuck in traffic or hanging at home, it might not rescue you during a business meeting.

Because stress is complex, “What we need is a toolbox that’s full of techniques that we can fit and choose for the stressor in the present moment,” said Richard Blonna, Ed.D, a nationally certified coach and counselor and author of Stress Less, Live More: How Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Can Help You Live a Busy Yet Balanced Life.

6. Pick off the negotiable tasks from your plate.

Review your daily and weekly activities to see what you can pick off your plate. As Vanderkam asks in her book: “Do your kids really love their extracurricular activities or are they doing them to please you? Are you volunteering for too many causes and so stealing time from the ones where you could make the most impact? Does your whole department really need to meet once per week or have that daily conference call?”

Blonna suggested asking these questions: “Do [my activities] mesh with my goals and values? Am I doing things that give my life meaning? Am I doing the right amount of things?”

Reducing your stack of negotiable tasks can greatly reduce your stress.

7. Are you leaving yourself extra vulnerable to stress?

Whether you perceive something as a stressor depends in part on your current state of mind and body. That is, as Blonna said, “Each transaction we’re involved in takes place in a very specific context that’s affected by our health, sleep, psychoactive substances, whether we’ve had breakfast [that day] and [whether we’re] physically fit.”

So if you’re not getting sufficient sleep or physical activity during the week, you may be leaving yourself extra susceptible to stress. When you’re sleep-deprived, sedentary and filled to the brim with coffee, even the smallest stressors can have a huge impact.

8. Preserve good boundaries.

If you’re a people-pleaser, saying no feels like you’re abandoning someone, have become a terrible person or are throwing all civility out the window. But of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, those few seconds of discomfort are well worth avoiding the stress of taking on an extra activity or doing something that doesn’t contribute value to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed about productive, happy people is that they’re very protective of their time and having their boundaries crossed. But not to worry: Building boundaries is a skill you can learn.

9. Realize there’s a difference between worrying and caring.

Sometimes, our mindset can boost stress, so a small issue mushroom into a pile of problems. We continue worrying, somehow thinking that this is a productive — or at least inevitable — response to stress. But we mistake worry for action.

Clinical psychologist Chad LeJeune, Ph.D., talks about the idea of worrying versus caring in his book, The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Worrying is an attempt to exert control over the future by thinking about it, whereas caring is taking action. When we are caring for someone or something, we do the things that support or advance the best interests of the person or thing that we care about.

LeJeune uses the simple example of houseplants. He writes: “If you are away from home for a week, you can worry about your houseplants every single day and still return home to find them brown and wilted. Worrying is not watering.”

Similarly, fretting about your finances does nothing but get you worked up (and likely prevent you from taking action). Caring about your finances, however, means creating a budget, paying bills on time, using coupons and reducing how often you dine out.

Just this small shift in mindset from worrying to caring can help you adjust your reaction to stress. To see this distinction between worrying and caring, try this activity where you can list responses for each one. For example:

Worrying about your health involves…

Caring about your health involves…

Worrying about your career involves…

Caring about your career involves…

10. Embrace mistakes—or at least don’t drown in perfectionism.

Another mindset that can exacerbate stress is perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free and essentially spending your days walking on eggshells is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Talk about putting pressure on yourself! And as we all know but tend to forget: Perfectionism is impossible and not human, anyway.

As the researcher, Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth and it’s not self-improvement.”

Nothing good can come from perfectionism. Brown writes: “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life-paralysis [‘all the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect’].”

Plus, mistake-mistaking can lead to growth. To overcome perfectionism, Brown suggests becoming more compassionate toward yourself. I couldn’t agree more.

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Overcoming Stress With A Healthy Lifestyle. Applying These Tools To Your Life.

Overcoming Stress With A Healthy Lifestyle.
Applying These Tools To Your Life.

These tools help you to reduce the stress you experience by adopting a healthy lifestyle. They will, however, only do you any good if you use them!

To make these tools part of your life, do the following:

  • Are you getting enough sleep? If you are not, make sure that you do – you will feel much more alive, you will improve your concentration and you will be more effective at work.
  • Think about when you last went on vacation. If this was a long time ago, you may be feeling run down or over-stretched. Book a relaxing vacation somewhere nice. Ensure that you have prepared properly for it so that you do not have to take your mobile phone or laptop. Relax.
  • Take vacations regularly. Keep fresh and alert by using all of your vacation time each year.
  • Make sure that you make time for rest during the week. Find something that you enjoy doing that helps you to relax.
  • Think about the chemicals you consume. Do you need to improve your diet, cut down on caffeine or alcohol, or give up smoking? If so, do it.
  • If you are not exercising regularly, then get a medical check-up and start. Join a gym, sports club or something similar. Find a sport or fitness regime that you enjoy, and get into the habit of exercising regularly.
  • Make sure that your living and working environments are pleasant, and that your life is well organized. If your working environment or commute is unpleasant, consider moving job or home.
  • List the stresses that you are currently experiencing. If there are stresses that seem particularly overwhelming, ask yourself if there are people within your network who could help. If appropriate, ask for their help.
  • Make sure that you make time to socialize with your friends and co-workers. Make appropriate time to help people within your network if they need your help.
  • Set aside some time to try meditation as ways to relax. Choose the technique or the mixture of techniques that you find most useful.
  • If you are currently experiencing a lot of stress, make time to use your chosen technique on a daily basis.
  • Make time in your schedule for things you enjoy – these should go some way to balancing the unpleasantness of any stress you are experiencing.

Warning:

Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

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