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Wellness Wednesday: Sometimes all You Need to Do is Breathe

 

Breathing exercises offer an extremely simple, effective, and convenient way to relieve stress and reverse your stress response, reducing the negative effects of chronic stress. There are definite benefits of breathing exercises. While simple diaphragmic breathing can provide relaxation and stress relief, there are several different types of breathing exercises to try, each with its own twist. Here are several breathing exercises, some of which are commonly recommended, some of which are unique, and all of which can each offer help in managing stress. This is an easy exercise that only takes a few minutes. Here’s how.

Mindful Diaphragmic Breathing

Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start to notice your breath. Before you begin to alter it, pay attention to the pace and depth. Are you taking deep breaths or shallow ones? Are you breathing quickly or slowly? (Becoming aware of your breathing can help you to become more mindful of your body’s response to stress, and can help you to notice when you need to deliberately relax your breathing.)

Counted Breathing

Counting your breaths can be helpful, both for pacing and as a form of meditation. This technique helps with pacing–it enables you to elongate your breath and stretch out your exhales. There are a few ways to do this.

As you inhale, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth, then breathe through your nose and slowly count down from five; on the exhale, let the air escape through your mouth and count back up to eight. Then repeat. This helps you to really empty your lungs and relax into each breath.

A variation of this is known as “4-7-8 breathing,” and is recommended by wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil. With this option, you inhale for a count of four, wait for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. This allows you to pause between breaths and really slow things down.
You may also find your own pace. Experiment with whatever ratio feels comfortable to you, and see if it helps you to feel relaxed. The act of counting as you breathe still helps you to maintain a steady pace and keep your mind on your breath and the present moment, so it is still more effective than simply breathing regularly and unconsciously.

Visualization Breathing: Inflating the Balloon

Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you inhale, imagine that your abdomen is inflating with air like a balloon. As you exhale, imagine that the air is escaping the balloon slowly. Remember, you do not have to force the air out; it simply escapes on its own, in its own time. You may want to imagine the balloon as your favorite color, or that you are floating higher in the sky with each breath if this is relaxing for you. Regardless, the “inflating balloon” visualization can help you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm rather than engaging in shallow breathing that can come from stress.

Visualization Breathing: Releasing Your Stress

Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and start diaphragmic breathing. As you inhale, imagine that all the stress in your body is coming from your extremities and into your chest. Then, as you exhale, imagine that the stress is leaving your body through your breath and dissipating right in front of you. Slowly, deliberately repeat the process. After several breaths, you should feel your stress begin to subside.

Deep, Cleansing Breath

Sometimes all you need to release stress from your shoulders, back, or the rest of your body is a few big, cleansing breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and take in as much air as you comfortably can. Then release it, and really focus on emptying your lungs. (Many people hold air in their lungs after an exhale, so emptying your lungs on a deep exhale can help you to get more fresh oxygen into them.) Repeat this breathing exercise for a few breaths and release the tension in your back, your shoulders, and anywhere else it tends to reside.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This breathing exercise variation has been practiced for thousands of years as a form of meditative breathing. As you inhale, place your finger over your right nostril and only breathe through your left. On the exhale, switch nostrils and only breathe through your right. You can breathe at whatever pace is comfortable for you, either a 5-8 ratio, a 4-7-8 ratio or whatever pace feels most relaxing for you (see “counted breathing,” above).

 

Cite: VerywellMind.com
 

What happens to your brain when you binge-watch a TV series?

Is catching up on “This is Us” on your weekend to-do list? Here’s what you need to know.

 

 

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You sit yourself down in front of the TV after a long day at work, and decide to start watching that new show everyone’s been talking about. Cut to midnight and you’ve crushed half a season — and find yourself tempted to stay up to watch just one more episode, even though you know you’ll be paying for it at work the next morning.

It happens to the best of us. Thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, we’re granted access to several hundred show options that we can watch all in one sitting — for a monthly fee that shakes out to less than a week’s worth of lattes.  What a time to be alive, right?

And we’re taking full advantage of that access. According to a survey done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends around 2.7 hours watching TV per day, which adds up to almost 20 hours per week in total.

As for the amount of binge watching we’re doing, a Netflix survey found that 61 percent of users regularly watch between 2-6 episodes of a show in one sitting. A more recent study found that most Netflix members choose to binge-watch their way through a series versus taking their time — finishing an entire season in one week, on average (shows that fall in the Sci-Fi, horror and thriller categories are the most likely to be binged).

In fact, according to Nielsen, 361,000 people watched all nine episodes of season 2 of ‘Stranger Things,’ on the first day it was released.

Of course, we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t feel good. In fact, the Netflix survey also found that 73 percent of participants reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. But if you spent last weekend watching season two of “Stranger Things” in its entirety, you may have found yourself feeling exhausted by the end of it — and downright depressed that you’re out of episodes to watch.

A Netflix survey found that 61 percent of users regularly watch between 2-6 episodes of a show in one sitting.

There are a handful of reasons that binge-watching gives us such a high — and then leaves us emotionally spent on the couch. Here’s a look at what happens to our brain when we settle in for a marathon, and how to watch responsibly.

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON BINGE WATCHING

When binge watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high.

Watching episode after episode of a show feels good — but why is that? Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist, says it’s due to the chemicals being released in our brain. “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge watching, your brain produces dopamine,” she explains. “This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When binge watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine.”

According to Dr. Carr, the process we experience while binge watching is the same one that occurs when a drug or other type of addiction begins. “The neuronal pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as an addiction to binge watching,” Carr explains. “Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.”

Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.

Spending so much time immersed in the lives of the characters portrayed on a show is also fueling our binge watching experience. “Our brains code all experiences, be it watched on TV, experienced live, read in a book or imagined, as ‘real’ memories,” explains Gayani DeSilva, M.D., a psychiatrist at Laguna Family Health Center in California. “So when watching a TV program, the areas of the brain that are activated are the same as when experiencing a live event. We get drawn into story lines, become attached to characters and truly care about outcomes of conflicts.”

According to Dr. DeSilva, there are a handful of different forms of character involvement that contribute to the bond we form with the characters, which ultimately make us more likely to binge watch a show in its entirety.

“‘Identification’ is when we see a character in a show that we see ourselves in,” she explains. “‘Modern Family,’ for example, offers identification for the individual who is an adoptive parent, a gay husband, the father of a gay couple, the daughter of a father who marries a much younger woman, etc. The show is so popular because of its multiple avenues for identification. ‘Wishful identification,’ is where plots and characters offer opportunity for fantasy and immersion in the world the viewer wishes they lived in (ex. ‘Gossip Girl,’ ‘America’s Next Top Model’). Also, the identification with power, prestige and success makes it pleasurable to keep watching. ‘Parasocial interaction’ is a one-way relationship where the viewer feels a close connection to an actor or character in the TV show.”

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that you and your favorite character would totally be friends in real life, you’ve likely experienced this type of involvement. Another type of character involvement is “perceived similarity, where we enjoy the experience of ‘I know what that feels like,’ because it’s affirming and familiar, and may also allow the viewer increased self-esteem when seeing qualities valued in another story.” For example, you’re drawn to shows with a strong female lead because you often take on that role at work or in your social groups.

BINGE WATCHING CAN BE A STRESS RELIEVER

The act of binge watching offers us a temporary escape from our day-to-day grind, which can act as a helpful stress management tool, says Dr. John Mayer, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand. “We are all bombarded with stress from everyday living, and with the nature of today’s world where information floods us constantly,” Dr. Mayer says. “It is hard to shut our minds down and tune out the stress and pressures. A binge can work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts. Binge watching can set up a great boundary where troubles are kept at bay.”

A binge can work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts.

Binge watching can also help foster relationships with others who have been watching the same show as you. “It does give you something to talk about with other people,” says Dr. Ariane Machin, PhD, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. “Cue the ‘This Is Us’ phenomenon and feeling left out if you didn’t know what was going on! Binge watching can make us feel a part of a community with those that have also watched it, where we can connect over an in-depth discussion of a show.”

Watching a show that features a character or scenario that ties into your day-to-day routine can also end up having a positive impact on your real life. “Binge watching can be healthy if your favorite character is also a virtual role model for you,” says Carr, “or, if the content of the show gives you exposure to a career you are interested in. Although most characters and scenes are exaggerated for dramatic effect, it can be a good teaching lesson and case study. For example, if a shy person wants to become more assertive, remembering how a strong character on the show behaves can give the shy person a vivid example of how to advocate for herself or try something new. Or, if experiencing a personal crisis, remembering how a favorite character or TV role model solved a problem can give the binge watcher new, creative or bolder solutions.”

THE LET DOWN: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE BINGE IS OVER

Have you ever felt sad after finishing a series? Mayer says that when we finish binge watching a series, we actually mourn the loss. “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing,” he says. “We call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.”

In a study done by the University of Toledo, 142 out of 408 participants identified themselves as binge-watchers. This group reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. But in examining the habits that come with binge-watching, it’s not hard to see why it would start to impact our mental health. For starters, if you’re not doing it with a roommate or partner, binge-watching can quickly become isolating.

When we disconnect from humans and over-connect to TV at the cost of human connection, eventually we will ‘starve to death’ emotionally.

“When we substitute TV for human relations we disconnect from our human nature and substitute for [the] virtual,” says Dr. Judy Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of the Psychological Healing Center in Sherman Oaks, CA. “We are wired to connect, and when we disconnect from humans and over-connect to TV at the cost of human connection, eventually we will ‘starve to death’ emotionally. Real relationships and the work of life is more difficult, but at the end of the day more enriching, growth producing and connecting.”

If you find yourself choosing a night in with Netflix over seeing friends and family, it’s a sign that this habit is headed into harmful territory. (A word of warning to those of us who decided to stay in and binge watch “Stranger Things” instead of heading to that Halloween party.)

HOW TO BINGE-WATCH RESPONSIBLY

The key to reaping the benefits of binge-watching without suffering from the negative repercussions is to set parameters for the time you spend with your television — which can be tough to do when you’re faced with cliff hangers that might be resolved if you just stay up forone more episode. “In addition to pleasure, we often binge-watch to obtain psychological closure from the previous episode,” says Carr. “However, because each new episode leaves you with more questions, you can engage in healthy binge-watching by setting a predetermined end time for the binge. For example, commit to saying, ‘after three hours, I’m going to stop watching this show for the night.”

If setting a time limit cuts you off at a point in your binge where it’s hard to stop (and makes it too easy to tell yourself just ten more minutes), Carr suggests committing to a set number of episodes at the onset instead. “Try identifying a specific number of episodes to watch, then watching only the first half of the episode you have designated as your stopping point,” she says. “Usually, questions from the previous episode will be answered by this half-way mark and you will have enough psychological closure to feel comfortable turning off the TV.”

Also, make sure that you’re balancing your binge with other activities. “After binge-watching, go out with friends or do something fun,” says Carr. “By creating an additional source of pleasure, you will be less likely to become addicted to or binge watch the show. Increase your physical exercise activity or join an adult athletic league. By increasing your heart rate and stimulating your body, you can give yourself a more effective and longer-term experience of fun and excitement.”

Article cite: NBC News. by Danielle Page / Nov.04.2017 

How Stress Affects Your Health

How Does Stress Affect Your Health?

Stress. We’ve all felt it. Sometimes stress can be a positive force, motivating you to perform well at your piano recital or job interview. But often — like when you’re stuck in traffic — it’s a negative force. If you experience stress over a prolonged period of time, it could become chronic — unless you take action.

A natural reaction

Have you ever found yourself with sweaty hands on a first date or felt your heart pound during a scary movie? Then you know you can feel stress in both your mind and body.

This automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors as a way to protect them from predators and other threats. Faced with danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding the body with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, boost your energy and prepare you to deal with the problem.

These days, you’re not likely to face the threat of being eaten. But you probably do confront multiple challenges every day, such as meeting deadlines, paying bills and juggling childcare that make your body react the same way. As a result, your body’s natural alarm system — the “fight or flight” response — may be stuck in the on position. And that can have serious consequences for your health.

Pressure points

Even short-lived, minor stress can have an impact. You might get a stomach-ache before you have to give a presentation, for example. More major acute stress, whether caused by a fight with your spouse or an event like an earthquake or terrorist attack, can have an even bigger impact.

Multiple studies have shown that these sudden emotional stresses — especially anger — can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias and even sudden death.1 Although this happens mostly in people who already have heart disease, some people don’t know they have a problem until acute stress causes a heart attack or something worse.

Chronic stress

When stress starts interfering with your ability to live a normal life for an extended period, it becomes even more dangerous. The longer the stress lasts, the worse it is for both your mind and body. You might feel fatigued, unable to concentrate or irritable for no good reason, for example. But chronic stress causes wear and tear on your body, too.

Stress can make existing problems worse. In one study, for example, about half the participants saw improvements in chronic headaches after learning how to stop the stress-producing habit of “catastrophizing,” or constantly thinking negative thoughts about their pain.

Chronic stress may also cause disease, either because of changes in your body or the overeating, smoking and other bad habits people use to cope with stress. Job strain — high demands coupled with low decision-making latitude — is associated with increased risk of coronary disease, for example.

Other forms of chronic stress, such as depression and low levels of social support, have also been implicated in increased cardiovascular risk. And once you’re sick, stress can also make it harder to recover. One analysis of past studies, for instance, suggests that cardiac patients with so-called “Type D” personalities — characterized by chronic distress — face higher risks of bad outcomes.

What you can do

Reducing your stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term.

In one study, researchers examined the association between “positive affect” — feelings like happiness, joy, contentment and enthusiasm — and the development of coronary heart disease over a decade. They found that for every one-point increase in positive affect on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease dropped by 22 percent.

While the study doesn’t prove that increasing positive affect decreases cardiovascular risks, the researchers recommend boosting your positive affect by making a little time for enjoyable activities every day.

Other strategies for reducing stress include:

  • Identify what’s causing stress. Monitor your state of mind throughout the day.
  • If you feel stressed, write down the cause, your thoughts and your mood. Once you know what’s bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. That might mean setting more reasonable expectations for yourself and others or asking for help with household responsibilities, job assignments or other tasks.
  • List all your commitments, assess your priorities and then eliminate any tasks that are not absolutely essential.
  • Build strong relationships. 
  • Walk away when you’re angry. Before you react, take time to regroup by counting to 10. Then reconsider. Walking or other physical activities can also help you work off steam. Plus, exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood-booster. Commit to a daily walk or other form of exercise — a small step that can make a big difference in reducing stress levels.

Rest your mind. 

According to APA’s 2012 Stress in America survey , stress keeps more than 40 percent of adults lying awake at night. To help ensure you get the recommended seven or eight hours of shut-eye, cut back on caffeine, remove distractions such as television or computers from your bedroom and go to bed at the same time each night.

Research shows that activities like yoga and relaxation exercises not only help reduce stress, but also boost immune functioning.

Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional who can help you learn how to manage stress effectively. He or she can help you identify situations or behaviors that contribute to your chronic stress and then develop an action plan for changing them.

 

Cite:  American Psychological Association’s Practice Directorate 2013