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  • Stress management strategy #4

    Accept the things you can’t change

    Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.

    • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
    • Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
    • Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
    • Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.

    There as many ways to reduce stress as there are stars. I use and recommend that people engage a variety of healthy coping and preemptive stress reducing techniques.

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  • Stress management strategy #3

    Adapt to the stressor

    If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.

    • Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
    • Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
    • Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
    • Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.

    There as many ways to reduce stress as there are stars. I use and recommend that people engage a variety of healthy coping and preemptive stress reducing techniques.

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  • Stress management strategy #2

    Alter the situation

    If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

    • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
    • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
    • Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
    • Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

    There as many ways to reduce stress as there are stars. I use and recommend that people engage a variety of healthy coping and preemptive stress reducing techniques.

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  • Stress management strategy #1

    Avoid unnecessary stress

    Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.

    • Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
    • Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely. 
    • Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
    • Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
    • Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

    There as many ways to reduce stress as there are stars. I use and recommend that people engage a variety of healthy coping and preemptive stress reducing techniques.

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  • Addiction Hijacks the Brain

    You’ve probably heard of the brain’s reward network. It’s activated by basic needs — including food, water and sex — and releases a surge of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine when those needs are met. But it can also be hijacked by drugs, which lead to a greater dopamine release than those basic needs.

    But the reward network isn’t the only brain network altered by drug use. A new review concluded that drug addiction affects six main brain networks: the reward, habit, salience, executive, memory and self-directed networks.

    In 2016, a total of 20.1 million people ages 12 and older in the U.S. had a substance-use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey on drug use. And drug addiction, regardless of the substance used, had surprisingly similar effects on the addicted brain, said the review, published in the journal Neuron.

    The review looked at more than 100 studies and review papers on drug addiction, all of which studied a type of brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

    More than half of the studies out there look at the effects of drug use on the reward network, said Anna Zilverstand, lead author of the new review and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

    “Because we showed that the effects are very distributed across the six different networks … [we can conclude that] an approach that only looks at one of these networks isn’t really justified,” Zilverstand told Live Science. “This [finding] will hopefully lead other researchers to look beyond the reward network.”

    For example, the memory network is pretty much ignored in research on substance-use disorders, Zilverstand said. This network allows humans to learn non-habit-based things, such as a new physics concept or a history lesson. Some research has suggested that in people with substance-use disorders, stress shifts the person’s learning and memory away from the memory network to the habit network, which drives automatic behavior, such as seeking and taking drugs.

    Another less-studied network is the self-directed network, which is involved in self-awareness and self-reflection, the review said. In people with addictions, this network has been associated with increasing craving.

    Two other networks are involved in substance-use disorders: The executive network is normally responsible for goal-maintaining and execution, but drugs can alter this network as well, reducing a person’s ability to inhibit their actions. The salience network picks up important cues in a person’s environment and redirects the individual’s attention to them. (In people with drug addiction, attention is redirected toward drugs, increasing craving and drug-seeking.)

    Which comes first, the brain activity or the drug use?

    “For me, the most surprising [finding] was how consistent the effects were across addictions,” Zilverstand said. What’s more, “the fact that the effects are quite independent of the specific drug use points to them being something general that might actually precede drug use rather than be a consequence of drug use.”

    Zilverstand said she hopes that more studies will look at whether some people have abnormal brain activity in these six networks naturally and if that activity just gets exacerbated if they begin drug use. It’s important to know if some of these traits precede drug use; if that’s the case, it might be possible to identify people who are prone to addiction and intervene before an addiction begins, she said.

    Some research has pointed toward this possibility already. For example, studies have shown that some people have “difficulties … inhibiting impulsiveness before drug use,” Zilverstand said. “Some of these impairments precede drug use, and they may become worse with more drug use, but they exist before the problem escalates.”

    The good news, however, is that activity in four of these networks — executive, reward, memory and salience — moves back toward “normal” once drug use ends. “We know that four of the networks (partially — not fully) recover but not yet what happens to the other two networks,” Zilverstand said in an email.

    Zilverstand added that she’s particularly excited about an ongoing study called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which is tracking 10,000 children across the U.S. from around ages 9 or 10 to age 20 (the children are now around 13). Some of these individuals will inevitably become addicted to drugs, most likely marijuana or alcohol, Zilverstand said.

    “We’ll be able to see if the effects that we found [in the review] exist in youth who have not yet abused drugs,” she said, and she predicted that researchers will be able to find a lot of the effects identified in the review in the six brain networks.

    The authors noted that because some regions of the brain are very small — for example, the amygdala, which is found toward the center of the brain — the studies can’t identify strong signals from those areas on brain scans. So, it’s possible that drugs affect additional networks in the brain that are hidden because of the limitations of our technologies, Zilverstand said.

    “We don’t want to conclude that [those effects] don’t exist,” she said.

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