Julia Louis-Dreyfus 1.13.1961

Posts Tagged ‘cognitive functioning’

Stress Reduction Tip #2: Breathing

10.25.13

Who knew that something so simple could reduce stress?!

 

Yes, we are talking about breathing. Let’s face it, many of us Menopaused Minds are so frazzled because we’re often carrying a lot of stress around with us. Not only is stress unpleasant, but it can really take a toll on our bodies and minds. In fact, recent research has found that high levels of stress in middle age can increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease. From the ordinary daily stressors (managing your hectic schedule, refereeing kid’s fights, work demands, etc.) to life’s whoppers (aging parents, divorce, unemployment, etc.), being stressed has become the new normal for so many of us. The great news is that we are doing something every day, every minute, without even thinking, that can help moderate your body’s response to life’s challenges.

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Breathing has been scientifically proven to be an effective stress reducer. But not just any breathing, we’re talking about deep breathing. Why is that? Our bodies’ stress responses are hardwired physiological reactions that served to protect us back in the early days of humans. Stress is what told us that we were in danger–usually in danger of not having enough food or the danger in becoming something else’s food. The body has two opposing systems that regulate our basic bodily functions (like breathing, organ function, etc.): sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When we’re in danger, the sympathetic nervous systems kicks in and we go into fight/flight/freeze mode to survive. Our hearts race, certain “non-essential” organ systems shut down  and blood rushes to our muscles in preparation to run away. Once the danger is no longer a threat, our parasympathetic system starts up and basically calms the body down, slows our heart rate, cues the shutdown systems to go back online, etc.

 

The fight/flight/freeze mode was okay when it was short lived – when we needed it because we were being chased by a lion. The problem is that now our stress tends to be more chronic. So, we end up being stuck with our sympathetic nervous system in overdrive. Our body gets tired and glitchy. We get sick more, our energy drops, we’re more irritable, and we even have a harder time losing weight, either from eating more to cope with stress or due to the body holding onto fat b/c of the perceived threat to survival!

 

So, how is breathing going to help? When we engage in deep, slow breathing, we actually cue our parasympathetic system that we’re not in life threatening danger and we can chill out.  Your breathing is strongly tied to our heart rate. Ever notice how when you get worked up about something, either fear or anger, your heart rate picks up, and your breathing becomes faster. So, deep breathing helps slow down the heart, muscle tension eases, pain can even decrease, blood pressure goes down, and mental alertness increases, and even the pH of our blood changes. The amazing thing about all of this is that you can get results even with doing as little as 3 or 5 minutes of deep breathing!

 

Want to try it?

Here’s a very basic example of a 3 minute breathing practice :

(adapted from Breathing, Stretching, Relaxing Program, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System–yes, veterans are doing this and they love it!)

 

Sit upright and gently maintain a natural spine alignment with your hands resting comfortably on your lap.

 

Either close your eyes or gaze at something on the wall or floor.

 

Breathe normally and just notice your breath. Notice how the air feels sweeping into and out of your nose. Notice how your body moves with each breath. Notice the pace of your breath, the length of each inhale and exhale. Your mind might wander. If it does, just bring your attention back to your breath.

 

Start to breath more deeply, from deep down in your abdomen. Count your inhale and exhale length and try to get them to match. Once they’re in sync, try breathing this way three times.

 

The key to stimulating that parasympathic response is to spend some time breathing out longer than you breath in. For example, you can practice by counting your breath rate, say 1, 2, 3, 4 in, and 1, 2, 3, 4 out, a few times. Then do 1, 2, 3, 4, in, and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 out, a few times. You can work your way up to a count of 8 out and then back down to 4.

 

Here are more resources on breathing exercises and guided practices:

UCLA Mindfulness Research Center
Dr. Weil Guided Breathing Exercises
6 Breathing Exercises to Relax  in 10 min or Less (TIME)

 

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Stress Reduction Tip #1: It’s the Thoughts (& Actions) That Count With Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

5.18.12

Our first stress reduction tip is brought to us by Daryaneh Badaly, a doctoral student, psychotherapist, and researcher at the University of Southern California (USC). She has worked in the Departments of Psychology and Neurology at USC, as well as at the Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital in Los Angeles, California.


Does this scenario sound familiar?

 

“Hi, Carrie. Were you able to finish Mr. McGuire’s report? The doctors need it for feedback.”

 

Oh my gosh! Was I supposed to be working on the McGuire report?!? I haven’t even finished with last week’s reports.

I’m too slow, I should be faster. I’ll bet that if I were younger I’d be sharper, quicker, and more able to focus. I don’t even know where I put the McGuire test results. Did I even test McGuire? I can’t even remember McGuire! If I say that I don’t remember testing McGuire, the doctor will just think I have finally lost it. He’ll stop referring patients to me and start complaining about me to the other doctors. And, then, gradually I’ll lose my practice.  Then, I’ll have to dip into the college fund to pay the mortgage. It’ll be my fault that the kids can’t go to college.  Argh!! I should have been putting more money in the college fund. I fail at being a mother.


“I don’t have those results. Are you sure that I tested McGuire?”

 

“Oh, you’re right. You don’t test him until next week.”

 

Carrie’s benign encounter with a co-worker stressed her out.  When her heart finally stopped racing, she felt exhausted and drained so (naturally) she dug out that bag of mini Snickers bars.

 

When watching someone else, it’s easy to see how anxiety is truly in the eye of the beholder. It’s not necessarily an event or a situation that causes anxiety, but rather our perception of the event – our thoughts and feelings that the event triggers.  Stress and anxiety are most often the product of us “should-ing” all over ourselves. Thinking that you should be working harder, doing better, or looking better can add up overtime resulting in high (and potentially fatal) levels of stress.  Of course, we need to learn to manage our stress. But how do we do it?  How do we turn off those worries when the hot flashes wake you up at 4am?

 

Through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), you can learn tools and techniques to help you manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Although this can be done on your own, most people benefit from working with a therapist who can take an objective view of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If a therapist isn’t an option, chat it out with a friend (but keep in mind this won’t be totally objective). Many research studies have shown that CBT can effectively reduce stress, as well as anxiety, depression, and even menopause symptoms.

 

So, what’s CBT… really?


 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is one approach to stress reduction. It focuses on the interaction between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The great thing about CBT is that making a change in any one of these three areas can elicit changes in the others. For example, changing the way you think about a situation can change how your feel and behave in that situation or others like it. When Carrie began thinking that she’s a bad mother, she could stop herself and reevaluate this thought. Is this really true? Isn’t there proof that she’s not a terrible mother? This can make her feel less anxious or disappointed in herself. It could also lead her to figure out a different way to manage her time. Changing a behavior, like Carrie taking a walk instead of downing that chocolate, could lead to more positive emotions and feelings about herself, especially since exercise can help your mood improve. Then her thoughts become less negative, and so on.

 

CBT is a form of psychotherapy, BUT it’s not like psychoanalysis, which can take years involves digging around into negative childhood experiences. CBT is different…

 

It’s usually limited to 12 to 16 sessions.

 

It’s goal-oriented and problem-focused, and emphasizes learning a variety of new skills.

 

Sessions are structured, and homework assignments are given between sessions so skills can be practiced in real-world situations.

 

 

The CBT approach typically focuses on teaching you how to:

 

Identify troubling situations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In treatment, Carrie might be asked to log each time during the day during which she felt stressed, note where she was and what she was doing at the time, and record her thoughts. (You can use your handy spiral notebook for this!).

 

Manage your thoughts. Techniques such as “thought stopping” and “thought substitution” can help to keep negative thoughts from spiraling out-of-control.

 

Reevaluate the probability of a negative event actually happening. Carrie’s therapist might ask her to her to review the probability that doctors would stop referring patients to her.

 

Put things into perspective. Carrie’s therapist might also ask: “So what would happen if you had to cut back your practice?” Yes, this sounds scary but deep down, do you think you can survive this? Our bet is that the answer is yes.

 

Engage in relaxation techniques. For example, deep breathing exercises can dramatically diminish the physical side effects of stress (e.g., headaches and heart racing). Or, by taking a short walk after her encounter at work, Carrie might have been able to avoid those Snickers bars.

 

Reward yourself.


How do you find a therapist who offers CBT?


Finding a therapist can sometimes be tricky and may require some detective work on your part. A good place to start is asking for a referral from your primary care physician or specialist. This is probably the most common approach to therapist hunting, but keep in mind that your physician may just have a name of someone s/he met at a cocktail party, so there’s no quality guarantee here. Personal recommendations are probably better. Then there’s always your health insurance provider list, which will take some trial and error to find a good match for you, but it’s not impossible. Once you get a name, do some research. A simple Google search can get you a therapists training history. Once you make contact, ask about the therapist’s general therapeutic approach and if s/he does CBT. (We’ll have a post coming up with more tips on finding a therapist, so stay tuned!)

 

Read more about cognitive-behavioral therapy:


Online:

Mayo Clinic: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

These resources are designed to provide background on what cognitive-behavioral therapy is, whom the treatment might be helpful for, and what you might expect from therapy sessions.


In Print:

The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns

Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky


Both of these books can be used alone or in conjunction with psychotherapy. They provide clear instructions for identifying and tracking your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, changing the thoughts that contribute to problems, and taking action to improve daily living and relationships.


How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain: Not Saying We Told You So

4.20.12

 

More news about how exercise is so great for your brain!

 

Check out this week’s New York Times Magazine for a great piece on how exercise can actually make you smarter! Yes, even for those of us with Menopaused Minds!


Coming Soon: Stress Reduction Techniques

3.5.12

Okay,  okay, stress is BAD! Bad for the body and bad for the brain – I get it!  But I’m busy! Don’t lecture me about doing yoga or meditating – it just increases my stress. And what is this new kind of meditation everyone is talking about – Mindfulness? I’m suppose to relieve my stress by focusing on the moment? Unless the moment includes a momentous margarita it’s not gonna happen. Hmm, Margarita Mindfulness – now that sounds promising.

 

Last night I ranted to Lina (my blog partner and psychotherapist) about this new form of Mindfulness Meditation and her response was simple: maybe it’s not for me. Each person has to find their own stress-reduction method.  What works for one person can drive another one batty.

 

But stress reduction IS important and it’s important to find one that works for you, or at least give some news methods a shot. We’ll be starting a series of posts on a variety of stress reduction techniques and we encourage you to find one you like. We’ll talk about exercise, yoga, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, old fashion meditation, and of course, the new hot topic, Mindfulness.  We’ll also talk about ways to motivate yourself to reduce your stress and preserve your menopause mind.

 

Meanwhile, if you have any stress-reduction tips (that don’t include food, tequila or anything illegal) let us know.

 

 

Vitamin D & Menopause: Put a Lil’ Sunshine in Your Life

2.6.12

 

Here comes the sun…doo dooo, doo doo. Okay, depending on where you live, this may not be happening anytime soon.

 

If the sunlight is scarce or it’s too cold to go outside in your neck of the woods, you might not be getting enough vitamin D.  Unfortunately, rates of vitamin D deficiency are particularly high amongst post-menopausal women. What’s the big deal, right? Well, not only does vitamin D play a critical role in the absorption of calcium, low levels of it  have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, and breast cancer, as well as lower cognitive functioning and slower information processing speed. Yikes! We’d say that’s a pretty big deal.

 

Lengthy sunbathing is frowned upon for a variety of reasons (for example, skin cancer and, eh hem, wrinkles) and anyway, who really wants to get into a bikini?  But the problem is that our major source of vitamin D is from sunlight on exposed skin – skin without sunscreen.   It’s recommended that we be out in the sun for at least 15 minutes, three to four times a week.  If you can’t get this much sunlight, vitamin D is also available in some fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna.

 

 

As mentioned in Science Daily (1/10/12) low vitamin D levels are so prevalent in Europe (50 to 70% of the population) that the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) has recommended that post-menopausal women take supplements.  They’re so concerned about this vitamin D deficiency epidemic that they’re calling upon the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the issue.

 

Here, closer to home, the North American Menopause Society recommends a daily intake of 800-1,000 IU either through 15 minutes of sun exposure daily (again, without a sunscreen), diet, or supplementation. So if the sun is shining – get out there and enjoy it. It’s good for you…and your mind!


What do the Super Bowl and Menopause have in common? Madonna!

2.5.12

 

We’re not your typical Super Bowl fans. But this Sunday, there’s something you may want to witness…Madonna, at age 53, will be performing during the halftime show!  We hear pom poms will be involved so this may be your chance for 12 minutes of aerobic exercise.

 

Aerobic exercise is just about the best thing you can do to maintain that memory muscle… it’s no wonder Madonna still remembers all of those lyrics and choreography.


If this isn’t proof that life’s not over when you hit menopause, we don’t know what is!