Shuteye and Sleep Hygiene: The Truth About Why You Keep Waking up at 3 a.m.

If you find yourself waking regularly during the night, flag it with your GP so they can consider any possible underlying causes.’ Photo by Kubkoo / Getty Images.

You land in your body with a start, or else it slowly comes into groggy focus: either way it’s night-time, but you are now awake. Why? Alice Gregory, a psychology professor at Goldsmiths, University of London and the author of Nodding Off, says it’s quite normal to wake up during the night.

After dropping off, we move through different stages of sleep, a cycle that takes the average adult about 90 minutes to complete and speeds up towards morning.

“The night is also punctuated by brief awakenings,” says Gregory. “Typically, people return to sleep without realising that they had ever been awake.” But sometimes we might at least be more aware of it, or pulled entirely awake. Reasons range from the fairly obvious (being too hot or cold, needing the loo, having a nightmare, a crying baby) to the medical (disordered breathing such as sleep apnea, or nocturia: excessive night-time urination).

Waking up during the night does not necessarily mean you have insomnia, which, says Gregory, is diagnosed alongside other criteria such as the frequency of this occurrence and how long it has been happening. “If you find yourself waking regularly during the night, certainly flag this with your GP so they can consider any possible underlying causes.”

Still, sleep deprivation takes its own toll, from irritability and reduced focus in the short term, to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. If you do find yourself regularly waking up without any apparent reason – what can you do about it?

“It’s a misconception that we sleep the night through – nobody ever does,” says the sleep coach Katie Fischer. Waking as much as five or seven times a night is not necessarily a cause for concern – the most important thing is how you feel when you get up. “In the morning, do you feel refreshed, or groggy and unable to function, 30 minutes after waking?”

If there is nothing to suggest an underlying medical issue, Fischer will look at the bigger picture with a patient. “It’s really important to know if they have children. Do they have a partner who snores, or works shifts?” she says. “They might not have their own sleep issues but they might be sleeping next to someone who does.”

Lifestyle changes can make a big difference, even for people suffering from sleep apnoea (although that should be treated by a specialist). It is hackneyed to point the finger at caffeine, but people tend to underestimate how long its effects can last – Fischer says to stop consuming it by 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Water intake during the day is also a factor: “Even going to bed mildly dehydrated can disrupt our sleep.”

Similarly, although people commonly turn to alcohol to help them fall asleep – Fischer says one in 10 use it as a sleep aid – it has a disruptive effect beyond the initial crash, causing spikes in blood sugar and cortisol levels. Diet can function in the same way, with “anti-sleep foods” that are high in sugar or cause flatulence or heartburn (such as broccoli and cabbage).

A “pro-sleep” bedtime snack is a small amount of complex carbohydrates and protein, such as wholegrain cereal with milk, or toast with peanut butter, says Fischer. An “anti-inflammatory” diet favouring fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds and healthy fats (and limiting processed foods, red meats and alcohol) has been shown to improve sleep apnea.

As for exercise, although being active during the day aids sleep, anything strenuous is to be avoided before bedtime. A lot of advice for preventing night-time “awakenings” falls under the umbrella of what has come to be known as “good sleep hygiene”: restrict the bedroom to sleep and sex, ban screens emitting blue light, keep to regular bedtimes and so on.

Our bedrooms – even our beds – have come to double as home cinemas, offices, “a dining room, maybe,” says the sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor. “You would be amazed at how significant that is for sleep. You’re training to associate your bed with wakefulness.” For that reason, if you do struggle to fall back asleep on waking up during the night, the advice is to get up for a bit. “Don’t just lie there – it’s counterproductive.”

So, too, is looking at the clock, especially if it doubles as your phone. “As soon as your brain has registered that it’s 2 a.m., you convince yourself that that’s your lot,” says Taylor. Such worry loops might be waking you up in the first place.

For many of us, bedtime might be our first opportunity of the day to be alone with our thoughts, she says. “It’s connected to waking in the night because, if we haven’t had any processing time during the day, it’s the first time we stop and just be.” Managing stress and anxiety during waking hours and learning how to relax body and mind are key to a good night’s sleep – but ironically, fixating on getting your full eight hours can make it harder to achieve. “You get this awful self-fulfilling prophecy that’s quite hard to break,” says Fischer.

A mindset change may be what’s needed. “People might have this belief that they are a ‘bad sleeper’ and there is nothing that they can do about it. Sometimes it’s about changing people’s perceptions of what good sleep looks like.” Taylor says she “really cannot bear” fitness trackers, which monitor sleep, for focusing people’s minds on often inaccurate data. It is wrong to assume that you must sleep through the night, every night, she says. “We all have blips in our sleep – it’s never going to be that you sleep brilliantly all the time.”

But accepting that – even as you lie awake, hours before dawn – might be the first step towards it.

By: Elle Hunt The Guardian

Source: Shuteye and Sleep Hygiene: The Truth About Why You Keep Waking up at 3 a.m.

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Related contents:

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Stress Eating? Here’s How To Train Your Brain To Crave Healthy Foods

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Stress can make us eat more and gain belly fat. But you can also retrain your brain to crave healthier food when you're stressed.(Linnea Bullion For The Washington Post)

Concerns about inflation, the economy, the lingering effects of the pandemic and other global crises have caused stress levels in the United States to surge to new highs. For some people, that stress is showing up on the scale.

There are many biological mechanisms that explain why stress and anxiety can cause people to pack on unwanted pounds. In some cases, gaining weight can itself become a source of stress and stigma that fuels further weight gain.

While we can’t eliminate every major source of stress in our lives, we can control — to some extent — the impact it has on our bodies. Scientists have found that there are ways to alleviate stress and retrain your brain to improve your diet and prevent stress-induced weight gain.

How stress promotes belly fat

Our bodies evolved to secrete the stress hormone cortisol when our brain senses danger. Cortisol elevates your heart rate, blood pressure and blood-sugar levels. In the short term, cortisol protects you from immediate threats by sending your body into fight-or-flight mode. But when your job, finances and other circumstances ratchet up your stress levels on a regular basis, it can lead to chronic cortisol elevation.

One side effect of cortisol is that it promotes body fat, especially belly and visceral fat, which is a particularly toxic kind of fat that surrounds internal organs. Studies show that people with higher cortisol levels tend to have a higher body mass index.

If you constantly grapple with stress, it can send signals to your body to accumulate fat, said A. Janet Tomiyama, the head of the Dieting, Stress and Health Lab at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“Even if you don’t change a single thing that you eat, the fact that you are stressed is going to promote fat deposition,” said Tomiyama, who has studied the mechanisms behind stress and obesity.

Why a stressed brain makes you eat more

In laboratory studies, scientists have found that administering synthetic versions of cortisol to people causes them to eat substantially more calories than people who are given a placebo. That’s in part because cortisol reduces your brain’s sensitivity to leptin, also known as the satiety hormone, which regulates your appetite and makes you feel full.

In one study of department store workers, people ate more sugar, saturated fat and overall calories when they had to work long, demanding shifts compared with when they worked less stressful shifts with lighter workloads.

Even stress from activities we enjoy can lead to overeating. In one study, researchers followed ardent football fans in different cities. They found that fans whose NFL teams lost on Sunday consumed more calories and saturated fat the next day. Fans whose teams won ate less food and saturated fat the following day. The scientists found similar results when they looked at the dietary patterns of French soccer fans.

Chocolate, candy, ice cream and other comfort foods alleviate stress in part through their effects on the brain. They activate reward regions such as the nucleus accumbens, flooding them with dopamine, the hormone that promotes pleasure, and other neurotransmitters.

Some people find that in stressful situations their appetites plummet. Scientists are not quite sure why stress leads some people to the cookie jar and not others, but weight appears to play a role. Some studies suggest that insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, which is more common in people with obesity, may spur changes in brain activity that intensify food cravings in response to stress.

How to retrain your brain to combat stress eating

While you can’t always reduce the stress in your life, you can retrain your brain to want better foods when you’re stress eating.

In a study published last year, Tomiyama and her colleagues recruited 100 adults with elevated stress levels and split them into two groups. Everyone was trained to do a daily, six-minute stress reduction exercise called progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing your muscles from toes to head. You can find an example of it here. This deep relaxation technique has been shown in studies to reduce stress and anxiety.

But members of one group were assigned to eat a serving of fresh fruit such as sliced pineapple, honeydew and pears, about five minutes into each of their daily progressive muscle relaxation sessions. After one week of this, the researchers found that eating just the fruit alone made the participants feel less stressed and put them in a better mood. By pairing the fruit with a relaxation exercise, their brains began to view the fruit as something that reduced their stress levels — essentially turning the fruit into comfort food.

“Anytime two things happen at the same time your mind creates a connection between them,” Tomiyama said. “By pairing relaxation and fruit together, your mind starts to see them as the same thing. After a while, you won’t even need to do the six minutes of relaxation: All you’ll need to do is eat the fruit, and you’ll get that same relaxation benefit.”

Tomiyama offered a few tips for those who want to try this.

  • Choose a type of fruit that you don’t eat often, such as star fruit, kiwi or mango. If fresh versions of these fruits are too expensive or inconvenient, use frozen fruit.
  • Try this exercise at different times of day and at different locations in your home or office. If you always do this at your kitchen table, it will only work at your kitchen table.
  • At times when you are feeling stressed or anxious, reach for your “comfort fruit” instead of a bag of potato chips.

“This is a way to hack your comfort eating habit for good,” Tomiyama said.

Source: Stress eating? Here’s how to train your brain to crave healthy foods. – The Washington Post

Critics by:  Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Foods can help tame stress in several ways. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal, boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can cut levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time. A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stress by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Do you know which foods are stress busters?

All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which take longer to digest. Good choices include whole-grain breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals, including old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs can also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Dietitians usually recommend steering clear of simple carbs, which include sweets and soda. But in a pinch, these foods can hit the spot. They’re digested quickly, leading to a spike in serotonin. Still, it doesn’t last long, and simple carbs can also spike blood sugar, There are better options. So don’t make these a stress-relieving habit; you should limit them.

Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study of people with high blood pressure, blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful task.

Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach helps you stock back up on magnesium. Don’t like spinach? Other green, leafy vegetables are good magnesium sources. Or try some cooked soybeans or a fillet of salmon, also high in magnesium.

To keep stress in check, make friends with naturally fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and may help protect against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For a healthysupply of feel-good omega-3s, aim to eat at least 3.5 ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.

Drinking black tea may help you recover from stressful events more quickly. One study compared people who drank 4 cups of tea daily for 6 weeks with people who drank another beverage. The tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after stressful situations.

Pistachios, as well as other nuts and seeds, are good sources of healthy fats. Eating a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries, make diabetes less likely, and protect you against the effects of stress. Don’t overdo it, though: Nuts are rich in calories.

One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure is to get enough potassium, and half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. A little bit of guacamole, made from avocado, might be a good choice when stress has you craving a high-fat treat. Avocados are high in fat and calories, though, so watch your portion size.

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Burnout Is Real. Here’s How To Spot It and Recover

When people ask me why I became a writer, I have plenty of reasons to list: Words bring me joy. I ask questions constantly. And when I hear a good story, I’ll repeat it again and again until my friends get tired of hearing it. But in July of 2021, these responses started to feel hollow.

I was burned out. “I feel like I sprained my brain,” I told my friend over the phone. When I wasn’t working, I felt fine; when I tried to use my head, it felt like putting weight on a bum ankle.

I know I’m not alone. At this moment, when work is isolating some people at home while putting others in danger, burnout seems particularly rampant. In a survey of 1,500 workers from Indeed in March 2021, 53 percent said they were burned out—up by nearly 10 percent from the previous year. Another survey of nearly 21,000 healthcare workers published that May in The Lancet found similar rates.

I wanted to regain my curiosity and the joy I find in language as soon as possible, so I reached out to scientists to find out what, exactly, was happening in my body—and what I could do to make it better.

Burnout is a phenomenon so old, they made a sin out of it, according to Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales. Once called “acedia,” the eighth cardinal sin described a state of listlessness, apathy, and torpor observed in fourth century monks. “They would wake up one day and say ‘the sky is no longer blue,’” Parker said. These monks would stop getting pleasure out of life and would lose their faith in God.

They were more than just tired. They had forgotten the meaning of all that they did. And that pretty much describes burnout. The response to chronic stress goes beyond exhaustion; sufferers also experience a loss of idealism and feel like they’re bad at whatever they do. Those are the three prongs identified by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the assessment most often used by psychologists to evaluate such mental fatigue.

And all that angst isn’t just in your head—it’s very much a physical phenomenon, rooted in the body’s stress-response system. Scientists studying the syndrome are particularly interested in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, also called the HPA axis. When we’re faced with a threat—say, a bear chasing us, or the prospect of responding to an ambiguously stern-sounding email—the HPA axis releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps the body run from whatever is threatening it; it raises our heart rate and helps our body harvest energy from glucose.

Cortisol also decreases activity in systems you don’t need when your life is in immediate danger, like the reproductive and immune systems. When the hypothalamus, a structure in the brain that acts like the control room for the HPA axis, detects high levels of cortisol in the blood, it’s supposed to say “okay, my work is done here,” and shut the stress response down.

Researchers can capture a snapshot of how the stress-response system is functioning with a test called the dexamethasone challenge. Dexamethasone is a drug that tells the hypothalamus to suppress the stress-response system. Given a dose of it, a healthy person should start producing less cortisol. But multiple studies have found that people with burnout have an altered response to the drug. Some studies find that those individuals don’t react to dexamethasone much, if at all—they continue pumping out more cortisol regardless.

Other research finds that people with burnout have an exaggerated response to the drug—they suppress cortisol more than the healthy controls do. Researchers hypothesize that these two seemingly contradictory findings represent two stages: burning out, and being burnt out.

“During the burning-out phase, the system is in overdrive,” Parker said. When stress is chronic, cortisol levels in the body keep going up, but the system doesn’t shut itself down. The burnt-out phase begins when that system is tapped out, says Renzo Bianchi, a psychologist at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. “Your stress response gets so exhausted that you stop producing cortisol at high levels,” Bianchi said.

Cortisol may stress us out, but we also need the hormone to survive. It’s quite literally what gets us up in the morning. So when people enter this “burnt out” phase, they feel tired and cynical. They lose drive. They might even experience cognitive impairment and memory changes.

These symptoms might sound similar to clinical depression. But according to some scientists, including Christina Maslach of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, burnout and depression are not at all the same.

Burnout is a syndrome that may cause a person to become depressed; depression might predispose a person to burnout. But ultimately, burnout is distinct in that work is always at its root. People often feel better as soon as they’re able to get away from the cause of their stress, Parker said. That’s not usually the case with depression.

That distinction is important to make, because by treating burnout as an illness—like depression or an anxiety disorder—we risk offering the wrong solutions, Maslach said. You can’t self-care away your burnout, she added. It’s not so much about the individual as it is the situation they’re in. You have to remove the cause of your stress, and that often requires structural changes in the workplace.

That was disappointing for me to hear. When I reached out for expert advice, I’d already spent several of the preceding months focused on getting more sleep, running more often, and trying to take short vacations. All of these habits support good mental health, and might even offer short-term relief, Bianchi says—but they don’t get at the root cause of burnout. You can take all the time off you need, he says, but without identifying the root causes of your stress, you’ll eventually return to the same place.

In scientific literature that investigates risk factors for burnout, six come up again and again, according to a review co-authored by Maslach and published in the 2016 book Stress: Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior. There’s workload, the amount of autonomy you have, and fairness in the workplace. Then there’s reward—how much your work is recognized and compensated—and workplace community, or the social support you receive from colleagues or clients. Finally, values and meaning: whether or not the work you’re doing syncs up with your ideals.

Employers have the power to prevent burnout by creating a fair and supportive workplace, Maslach says—one where people feel like they have autonomy and are able to cope with their workload. But people with burnout may need to troubleshoot which factors are negatively impacting them so they know how to take action on their own. For some people, Maslach says, curing burnout might necessitate moving organizations or switching fields entirely.

That wasn’t my route. Instead, I worked through Maslach’s six risk factors like a checklist. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that my work load itself wasn’t the main problem; instead, I realized that it had been a long time since I’d thought about what had initially excited me about journalism—talking to scientists, love for the craft of writing itself, the thrill of finding a new story—in other words, my values.

I created spreadsheets of topics that intrigued me, scientists I loved speaking to, and projects I had long put on the back-burner. Then, I brainstormed ways to make time for them, blocking off chunks of time for tasks like going down internet rabbit holes in search of stories.

While I expected the answer to involve loads of rest, curing my own personal case of burnout turned out to be a lot of work. But it was worth it. Three months after starting this research, words excite me again. I’m back to annoying my friends with facts about frogs and physics. And several times a week, without fail, I spend an afternoon in the coffee shop around the corner to work on my personal creative projects.

Nine months ago, before my burnout began, I told a friend “I feel like I have the best job in the world.” By getting to the root of my stress, I’ve managed to get that feeling back again.

By: Isobel Whitcomb

Isobel Whitcomb is a freelance health and environmental journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Passionate about covering the intersection of science and the human experience, they cover everything from wildfire to chronic pain. Her work in Popular Science focuses on exploring the wellness industry and debunking health misinformation.

Source: Burnout Is Real. Here’s How to Spot It—and Recover.

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How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

If you’ve been stressed out and ignoring it—isn’t everyone stressed right now?— it could be time to do something about it. That’s because even though you may be basically healthy, tension is doing its stealthy damage. The latest evidence? Researchers have linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol to brain shrinkage and impaired memory in healthy middle-aged adults. And get this: The effect was more pronounced in women than in men.

This research underscores an important point. Though stress affects your whole body, ground zero is your brain. It’s not just the effects of cortisol—it’s that teeth-grinders like traffic jams, personal snubs, and financial worries are perceived and interpreted by your gray matter. Fortunately, research focused on the brain is pointing to new, more effective ways to reduce your tension.

But first, let’s drill down and see how and why your brain’s natural reactions make you more vulnerable to the zings and arrows of tension.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Aspects of the brain’s design that served us well thousands of years ago now make us susceptible to negative emotions and mental fatigue, both of which ratchet up our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. Although our brains have evolved over time, “the speed of life today is the main stressor—it’s much faster than our brain’s ability to adapt,” he says.

And that means we often end up with too little time and too few resources to address what life throws at us each day, which adds to a diminishing sense of control over our lives. Perceived lack of control has been shown to be a huge source of stress.

In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood describes a number of traps that frequently ensnare our brains. Three of the most challenging:

Focus Problems

When giant predators roamed Earth, a scanning, outward-
directed focus served us well—but today that focus is directed inward. Now, 80 percent of the time, our minds are wandering, stuck in an unfocused state even if we’re not aware of it.

Studies have found that this state makes us less happy, and the unhappier we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts pile up. It’s like having a huge set of open files on your computer, Dr. Sood says, only they’re in your brain, distracting you and demanding attention. Our tech dependence, a source of constant distraction, adds to our inability to focus.

Fear

Our survival depends on the ability of the brain (mostly the amygdala) to detect physical and emotional threats. Moments or events that elicit fear raise our heart rate, which the brain stores as information that might protect us from future danger. This so-called negativity bias makes us prone to paying more attention to bad news than to good. We readily remember bad things that happen to us because our brains also release hormones that strengthen those specific memories, and this further embeds them in our minds. The result? More stress.

Fatigue

While a number of body organs (e.g., the heart and the kidneys) can keep going like the Energizer bunny, the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs rest. The more boring and intense an activity is, the faster your brain will grow tired—and that can happen in as little as four minutes or as much as an hour or two.

You can tell when your brain is fatigued (it has to signal this indirectly, since it has no pain receptors) because your eyes feel tired and stuff happens—you start making errors, become inefficient, lose your willpower, or see a dip in your mood. Brain fatigue leads to stress, and stress leads to fatigue, in a continuous closed loop.

Why Stress Hits Women Harder Than Men

Stress almost seems to have it out for women. In an annual survey by the American Psychological Association, women have repeatedly reported higher levels of tension than men and sometimes even more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms, including headache, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.

What’s more, midlife women have been found to experience more stressful events than both men and women of any other age, reports an ongoing study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. Stress overload may even lead to chronic disease: Long-term pressures at home and work plus stress from traumatic events almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women, according to a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco. Women are also more prone to stress-induced mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the why of it: A triple whammy makes women uniquely vulnerable to strain and pressure, says Dr. Sood. First, women’s brains make them more sensitive than men to stressors and a perceived lack of control. The limbic areas of women’s brains, which help control emotions and memories, are highly active, making them remember hurts and slights more readily. Stewing over these and having difficulty letting them go strengthens the brain circuits of those negative emotions—another example of the negativity bias at work—which also increases women’s stress.

In addition, the multiple demands of parenting and being in charge of the well-being of the household mean that women’s focus tends to be more diffuse. And an unfocused brain, as noted earlier, is another source of stress. A mom’s protective radar is always up for her kids too, which makes her sense a threat more quickly, and she’s more likely than her husband to get stuck and dwell on it, says Dr. Sood.

What Men Don’t Always Get

The differences in how men and women experience tension don’t play out in isolation, of course. They affect how husbands and wives, friends, and work colleagues experience and interpret the world—and yes, often the result is conflict. If you’re a woman, think of a time you had an upsetting disagreement with your boss.

When you vented to your husband about it—how your boss looked at you, what she said, how you responded, how you felt, what she said next—maybe you saw his eyes glaze over, and maybe he said, “It’s over now; why don’t you just let it go and talk to her tomorrow?” Which made you feel hurt, angry, and dismissed—and depending on which feeling was uppermost, you either escalated the conversation into an argument or retreated to mull it over.

New studies are looking at how the genders process stress in the moment and coming up with reasons for the disconnect. Recently, using fMRI to measure brain activity, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented parts of men’s brains were actively engaged, while women’s brains were busy visualizing and also cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.

In the second part of the study, when men and women were experiencing intense anxiety, brain regions that were active in women were inactive in men. This suggests that women tend to get caught up in processing their stress, turning it over and over in their minds and reimagining it, says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center.

“Women cope by talking about being anxious and describing their emotions and stressors,” she says. This could put them at risk for ruminating about the issues. Men seem not to access that cognitive-processing part of their brains and “are more likely to quickly think about doing something, taking an action, as opposed to expressing their distress verbally. It’s just the difference in the way we’re wired.”

That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is stressed, whereas men might offer advice or something tangible like money or physical help. Ironically, what both genders want is emotional support when they’re tense, says Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. So men and women who are stressed out prefer to get support from women.

Bridging the Gender Stress Gap

Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what’s stressful. The result: When people are really tense, their partners aren’t necessarily motivated to offer support if they think, If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t consider it that big a deal. So how do you get the response you want when you need it?

Ask your partner to just listen

“That’s number one—listening to and validating the other person’s feelings,” says Sinha. “So even just saying ‘You’re really frustrated by this’ in a nonjudgmental way is validating and will ease someone’s anxiety.”

Explain that you feel defensive when he dismisses your experience

“When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who’s stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it’s true and that they have a right to feel that way,” says Priem. “You might say, ‘I’m really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you’re making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you’d be more responsive to the fact that I’m upset, even if you don’t understand it.’”

Treat yourself with compassion

“Women tend to be more self-critical about not being able to control their emotions,” says Sinha. So they may see a partner’s comment as judgmental even when he didn’t mean it that way. If that’s the case, forgive yourself and let it go—and hug it out, which can reduce tension and boost positive feelings.

Learning to negotiate conflicts is a big step in easing pressures. Also important: figuring out strategies to deal with the distractions, fears, and fatigue your brain naturally accumulates (see below for four smart ones). These can help you take stress in stride, with a terrific payoff: better health and greater happiness, plus a more resilient brain.

How to Control Stress and Calm Your Brain

To keep stress in check, you should of course be eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to improve your mood, emotions, and cognition. But those are just the basics—and they’re not always easy to accomplish, especially when life is throwing lots of tension your way. Dr. Sood has advice that can up your stress-reducing game, based on the successful resilience program he runs at the Mayo Clinic. Here, four of his brain-focused, research-based strategies that work in just minutes a day.

Give your brain some RUM

That stands for Rest, Uplifting emotions, and Motivation. You need all three to help energize your brain and head off fatigue. So when you’re engaged in a task, take three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner, if you start getting fidgety) and pause for RUM.

How-to: Get up from your computer, or stop what you’re doing, and look at photos of your kids or of your favorite vacation spot, read inspiring quotes, text or call a friend, or watch a happy short video. Choose an activity that makes you feel good and is motivating.

Begin a morning gratitude practice

Take control of your brain before it gets hijacked by the day’s concerns and greet the morning in a happier, more connected frame of mind. (Check out these simple ways to practice gratitude.)

How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thinking of some people who care about you and silently send them your gratitude. Another reason it’s a good idea: A recent study found that anticipating a stressful day when you first wake up affects your working memory later that day—even if nothing stressful actually happens. (Working memory is what helps you learn things and retain them even when you’re distracted.)

Be mindfully present

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but not everyone can sit still, looking inward, for 20-plus minutes. Good news for the fidgety: Research has shown that focusing your attention outward engages the same brain network, so you can get similar stress-easing benefits by consciously giving the world your attention.

How-to: Challenge yourself to be curious and notice details—the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the pattern of your boss’s necktie, which flowers are blooming in your neighborhood. Curiosity feeds the brain’s reward network, which makes you feel good; it also augments memory and learning.

Focus on kindness

Even the nicest among us are quick to judge others, especially if they’re different from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).

How-to: To calm the amygdala, focus on two things when you’re feeling judgy about someone: that every person is special, and that everyone has struggles. Start a practice of sending silent good wishes to people you pass on the street or in the halls at work. The benefits for you: Your oxy­tocin, the hormone of connectedness, rises; your heart rate slows; and you feel more benevolent. All of which makes you healthier and happier.

By: Jenny Cook

Source: How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder—and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

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Water Really Can Provide Some Relief From Anxiety and Help Us See The Glass Half Full

Many Australians can feel overwhelmed at some stage of their life with feelings of tension, nervousness and fear for the worst. A staggering 3.2 million Australians have an anxiety-related condition, with the largest increases over recent years witnessed in those between the ages of 15–24 years.

The growing field of nutritional psychiatry focuses on the effects of foods and drinks on our mental health. Despite water constituting 60–80% of the human body, it is often overlooked as a significant nutrient. A recent tweet by federal health authorities suggesting water could help reduce anxiety was received with some online scepticism.

In fact, the evidence shows water and hydration can play a role in preventing and managing the symptoms of anxiety.

A well-oiled machine

We all enjoy the cooling sensation a cold drink of water provides on a sweltering summer day. Our bodies are masterfully programmed to let us know when it’s time to rehydrate. We may be nourishing our brain too.

Several years ago, a group of researchers undertook a review that focused on the various ways hydration impacts health. The results were promising.

Overall, negative emotions such as anger, hostility, confusion and tension as well as fatigue were found to increase with dehydration. One trial induced mild dehydration and found increased reports of tension or anxiety and fatigue in participants.

Researchers have also found people who usually drink lots of water feel less calm, less content, and more tense when their water intake drops. When researchers increased the participants’ water intake, people in the study felt more happiness, no matter how much water they normally drank.

Another large study found people who drink five cups or more of water per day were at lower risk of depression and anxiety. In comparison, drinking less than two cups per day doubles the risk. This link was less noticeable for anxiety alone (although feelings of depression and anxiety often influence each other).

More recently, researchers found water with electrolytes may prevent anxiety more than plain water, but it was noted that the placebo effect may explain this connection as study participants were aware when they were given the electrolyte drink.

The link between dehydration and anxiety is also observed in children, who are a group at risk of dehydration. Dehydration might also affect how well we sleep. Poor sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

Water on the brain?

Almost every bodily function relies on water. Because 75% of brain tissue is water, dehydration reduces energy production in the brain and can change brain structure, causing the brain to slow down and not function properly.

At the molecular level, if water levels are too low, our brain cells cannot function properly, with the brain showing signs of working harder to complete tasks.

Our cells recognise a state of dehydration as a threat to survival, leading to a state of anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between brain cells) that stabilises our mood and regulates emotions. During dehydration, we struggle to get the chemicals required to produce serotonin into our brain.

Being just half a litre dehydrated may also increase the stress hormone cortisol, which has been associated with a range of mental disorders, including anxiety.

So, based on what is currently known and emerging evidence, the government health communication provides some good advice. Addressing lifestyle factors including your water intake in the context of your overall diet, physical activity levels, and sleep are important foundations that can support a person’s mental health. And there is evidence to suggest dehydration can affect our mood.

But it’s important to note there are a wide range of factors that affect an individual’s level of anxiety. No single thing is likely to be responsible for completely resolving those feelings. This is particularly true in people experiencing significant anxiety, where simply drinking more water is unlikely to be helpful on its own.

By:

Dr Nikolaj Travica has a Bachelor in Psychology and Psychophysiology and an Honours degree in Science, majoring in Psychology. Nikolaj Completed his PhD at the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University, which examined the relationship between vitamin C and cognitive function in healthy adults and post-operative patients.

Source: Water really can provide some relief from anxiety and help us see the glass half full

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Critics:

The key to re-balancing a deficit of fluids is to drink eight glasses of fresh water daily. However You have to spread this intake of water throughout the day and not drink it all in one go. Otherwise you don’t give your body a chance to absorb it and the excess will just pass through your body.

Sip your water throughout the day for maximum absorption. When you are aware that dehydration is a factor that contributes to anxiety and nervousness you start to pay much greater attention to how much you are drinking daily. Personally, I have found that not only does regular intake of water ward off any subtle feelings of anxiety, but it is also incredibly useful for building stamina and avoiding fatigue.

Increasing the amount of fresh water you drink to eight glasses a day is a very easy step to incorporate into your daily routine and can have such a huge impact on the speed of your recovery from anxiety. The easiest way to ensure you are getting enough is to make it easy for yourself by having water placed in strategic locations.

That might mean having bottled water in the car , at your desk or any place you spend time Beside the TV or computer) . If you place it in positions that are visible you will be reminded ot drink it. If the water is out of sight it quickly goes out of mind. With all new habits you want to form you have to make it easy for yourself or else you will drop it after a few days. So most of the effort you have to make is just ensuring there is water around you and that the bottles stay full. The drinking part is easy.

More contents:

How to swap meat for nutritious alternatives – and why it’s a good thing to do

The insect brain: we froze ants and beetles to learn how they remember their way home

Hoarding: people with ADHD are more likely to have problems – new research

Transgender youth on puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones have lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, a new study finds

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