Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The recent APA "Stress Survey" told us what we already know:

-Roughly 75% of people accept stress as a fact of life, it can make you sick, and they are aware of strategies they can incorporate into their lives that will help them manage stress.

-An equal number experienced mental and physical symptoms in the last month as a result of stress.

-Most people attack stress with negative behaviors like smoking,drinking, or eating and sedentary reading or listening to music, although healthier, do not utilize the body's ability to burn off stress.

-The desire to "feel better" is the number one motivator for people to change, yet only 1/3 said they would "probably" change if confronted with a chronic condition as result of stress.

See http://www.apa.org/releases/stressproblem.html for summary of the study.

Basically, what we have here is the number one contributor to people's health outcome being totally understood and recognized, but people are not willing to modify behavior, which takes effort and perseverance, to reduce and manage their stress to cure or prevent these inevitable problems from occurring.

Why is this? Probably because behavior change is so hard to do and bad behaviors are so easy, available, and relatively cheap. They help you escape and "feel good" temporarily. Exercising, eating right, and practising cognitive change and relaxation exercises takes too much time, effort, and has a delayed gratification effect. The "magic pill" does not exist and never will.
IBM just announced they will pay $150 to each of their 128,000 employees who sign up a child to take a 12 week on-line exercise/diet course. This is a "pain avoidance" strategy since they can save hundreds of millions in health insurance claims if these people change their behavior.

The future lies with the people who can make the tough transition to a regular stress management regimen. They will not only feel better, but will look better, and their bodies will last longer and function better.

When do we start? Come see us at http://www.stress-less.com/.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Losses Increase Stress More Than Gains Reduce It

Evidently, losing something is more distressing than gaining something is relieving. A recent study by researchers from Kent State University, Akron City Hospital, and Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine investigated the impact of resource losses and gains in pregnant women. 

The study looked at gains and losses in terms of resources, which were defined as things that people value or that act as a way of obtaining what they value. The participants completed questionnaires during and after their pregnancy. 

The main finding was that postpartum anger and depression appeared to be influenced more by resource losses than they were by resource gains.

Source: Wells, J. D., Hobfoll, S. E., & Lavin, J. (1999). When it rains, it pours: The greater impact of resource loss compared to gain on psychological distress. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1172-1182.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Meditation and Stress

Meditation training has been shown to reduce stress for secondary school teachers

Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University have recently published a study that demonstrates the effectiveness of meditation in reducing stress for secondary school teachers. Participants in the study were student teachers from a university teaching credential program. The participants learned the RISE program, which combines meditation and cognitive appraisal tools to produce deeper relaxation. Compared to a group of participants who did not learn the RISE program, the group of participants that did learn the RISE program had less symptoms of stress.

One part of the RISE program, meditation, involves focussing on a sound and passively disregarding distracting thoughts or sensations. While meditating, participants simply noted other thoughts or sensations when they arose and returned their attention right back to the sound. Mediation was carried out during times that were set aside by the participants specifically for that purpose.

Another part of the RISE program is cognitive appraisal tools. Cognitive appraisal is just a fancy term for how people think about or interpret things. Participants used three tools to help them make cognitive appraisals that help to reduce stress: silently repeating a certain word or phrase (a mantra), slowing down their actions, and focusing their attention on one thing at a time.

(If you are interested, Stress Less has several products to help you with meditation. Click on the following items for more information: Meditation Video, Mindfulness Meditation Program, Stress Less "Tranquil Meditation" Tape, Zabuton Mat, Zafu Pillow & Mat.)

Source: Winzelberg, A. J., & Luskin, F. M. (1999). The effect of a [sic] meditation training in stress levels in secondary school teachers. Stress Medicine, 15, 69-77.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Pet Massage

Massaging your pets can provide stress relief for you and your pets

We have known for a long time that massage can be very beneficial. In particular, getting a massage can help people relieve their stress. What many people do not realize, however, is that massaging their pets can be stress relieving too, not only for them but also for their pets. Research has show that petting a dog reduces the heart rate of the person and the dog. Research also has shown that it prevents the elevation of blood cortisol levels in the pet, an indicator of stress.

According to Amy Marder, VMD, massages can be very calming and soothing for pets and their owners. Dr. Marder is a clinical assistant professor at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and the vice president of Behavioral Medicine and Companion Animal Services at the ASPCA Headquarters in New York City. She urges that if you decide to try using massage on your pets, you should first have your pets examined by a veterinarian. A veterinarian would be able to help you find the right places to massage on your pets, so you do not hurt them and they do not bite or scratch you in return.

Several different kinds of massages can be used. Regardless of the type of massage, however, Dr. Marder emphasizes that you should always let yourself be guided by your pet's reactions, paying particular attention to the eyes. You should also never force massage on pets. When they are done, they are done.

If you are interested in learning how to massage your pets, one book that Dr. Marder recommends is The Healing Touch: The Proven Massage Program for Cats and Dogs by Michael W. Fox, DSc, PhD. (For you convenience, this book is available through Stress Less. Please click here for more information.)

Source: Marder, A. (1999). Healthy pet. Prevention, 51(8), 165-166, 168, 170-171.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Social Support and Stress in Women With Breast Cancer

As research typically shows, in a recent study by researchers from Stanford University and Yale University, increased social support predicted decreased psychological distress. Of particular interest, however, was the prediction of social support from psychological distress and the relations between these two variables over time.

Women with breast cancer and their partners completed questionnaires at the time of surgery and 3 and 13 months afterward. The participants indicated that both social support and psychological distress seemed to decrease over time, and the difference between the patients' and their partners' judgments of the amount of social support available increased over time. Furthermore, although increased social support predicted decreased psychological distress, the relation between these two variables was circular. Psychological distress also predicted social support. The more psychological distress patients experienced, the less social support they received from their partners.

The findings from this study suggest that, although social support may reduce psychological distress, psychological distress itself may inhibit the likelihood of even receiving it in the first place.

Source: Moyer, A., & Salovey, P. (1999). Predictors of social support and psychological distress in women with breast cancer. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 177-191.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Cognitive Styles and Depression

Negative thinking patterns increase vulnerability to depression

According to a recent review of research by researchers from Temple University and the University of Wisconsin, purely biological explanations for depression are insufficient. The finding that negative cognitive styles, which are basically patterns of thought that are typically negative in nature (e.g., pessimism), increase the risk of becoming depressed is the first demonstration of a psychological vulnerability for depression.

Unlike biological explanations, cognitive explanations for depressions focus on individual differences in responses to stressful events. According to hopelessness theory, people who think of negative events as though they persist over time and relate to other aspects of themselves, blow the consequences of the events out of proportion, and see the events as evidence of personal flaws are more likely to become depressed. Similarly, according to Beck's theory of depression, people have a certain types of dysfunctional attitudes, such as believing that their self-worth depends on being perfect or on approval from others, are more likely to become depressed.

The studies that have been conducted to test the predictions made by these and other related theories have provided considerable support for these notions. More generally, the findings from these studies suggest that the way in which people think may influence their mental and physical health.

Source: Alloy, L. B., Abramson, L. Y., & Francis, E. L. (1999) Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 128-132.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Strategies for Improving Mental Control in Depression

Recent research has shown that trying to mentally "run away" from unwanted thoughts (i.e., thought suppression) can actually make them more of a problem. People who are depressed are bombarded with what is often an overwhelming slew of negative thoughts that they would like to get rid of. How can people who are depressed take care of such thoughts without ending up making them worse in the process?

In a recent review, researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Texas at San Antonio offer several strategies for improving mental control over such thoughts. They conclude that the most effective strategies involve preventing or changing the natural tendency for people who are depressed to seek out thoughts that signal mental control failure. 

One effective strategy is to change the goal of mental control from trying not to think about unwelcome thoughts (e.g., trying not to think about being sad) to trying to think about welcome thoughts (e.g. trying to think about being happy). 

A second effective strategy is to challenge unwanted thoughts using techniques that can be learned through cognitive therapy. 

A third effective strategy is to use acceptance-based methods, which essentially involve allowing oneself to experience both positive and negative aspects of concepts in the absence of any attempts to modify them, evaluate them, or get red of them.

Source: Beevers, C. G., Wenzlaff, R. M., Hayes, A. M., & Scott, W. D. (1999). Depression and the ironic effects of thought suppression: Therapeutic strategies for improving mental control. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 133-148.