Assignment 22: Taking time to have fun and relax

Something that I am working on is recognizing what makes me smile, happy, relax, and what I consider fun in a holistic/healthy way. It is so easy to forget to have nurturing/healthy fun when there are so many things to take care of. My stress management technique that I have used, but I often forget when stressed, is to make time for fun and relaxation. This is also called nurturing ones’ self, as it is mentioned in the article Stress Management, How to Reduce, prevent, and Cope with Stress. Some of the ways that I can relax and recharge that I enjoy are: going for a walk, seeing the view of the woods, and hearing the birds on my way through nature; using the bicycle at the gym with music or TV on; taking a long bath with bubbles and different scents; lighting scented candles around my place to allow myself to take deep breaths and enjoy the soothing/calming smells; listening to music that allows me to think about something else other than my stress; watching a comedy movie which helps me lower my stress and relaxes me; and smelling the roses is something I’m also working on. I like seeing the colors of roses, but I haven’t really liked the idea of smelling roses because I think is going to make me sneeze, when is probably not.
Below is a video about taking time to smell the roses:

I am a Type A personality so I have to schedule fun/relaxing time in my agenda, which at times can be stressful in it of itself because then I feel like I have to also plan what I will do. So at times I have to remind myself that not everything has to be planned in life and that I need to take more breaks and enjoy the ride. This is something that I need to work on because I see taking breaks as a waste of time in which could be used in a more productive way to take care of things/errands instead. Making time to have fun and relax would be an effective stress management technique because by doing a fun activity like exercising (such as walking): “[it] enhances your mood and blunts the stress-response only for a few hours to a day after the exercise session” (Sapolsky, 2004, p. 401). Another activity is “meditation [when done in a sustained basis] seems to be pretty good for your health, decreasing glucocorticoid levels, sympathetic tone, and all the bad stuff that too much of either can cause” (Sapolsky, 2004, p. 402). Once I’m done with classes and exams will be my time to have fun and relax, so I look forward to that.


Depression: drugs, psychotherapy, or physical activity?

Depression, such an intriguing and puzzling subject since there are drugs that increase serotonin and some other drugs that decrease serotonin, both of which help patients feel better.  Not being able to do things due to loss of pleasure or life energy is something we all deal with during distressing times.  Being able to come back to “ourselves” and be happy or enjoy life again is what the center of the issue is; but people that have used antidepressants have said that these drugs put them in a “neutral state” per se, where they don’t feel that much sadness or excitement.  Then is that really solving the problem?  Do we, as a society, rather be walking around in a neutral state than expressing our emotions of sadness or happiness, which is part of what makes as humans?  Are we really allowing artificial intelligence express human emotions more than what we, humans, are expressing?

Since drugs are changing our chemistry, what about just using our resources, as people, to help us recover?  Psychotherapy is a great resource.  From personal experience, psychotherapy has greatly helped me in understanding my past, my present, and my future.  This has allowed me to see the world with “different eyes” and has provided me with tools to use in the future to overcome traumatic events.

Below is a video about: Evidence-Based Psychotherapy Treatment Planning for Depression

Also R-MC Professor’s Lambert’s book on Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power is a remarkable resource to better understand this topic.

The book’s description mentions that: “Today’s young adults are up to ten times more likely to experience depression than their grandparents were. Could it be that in our increasingly automated world, the reduced physical effort needed to accomplish anything may somehow interfere with our level of happiness and subsequent responses to stress? Neuroscientist Kelly Lambert finds compelling evidence that having to work hard for rewards significantly improves mood and prevents depression… Whereas most therapies emphasize the importance of mental activity, Lambert reminds us of the importance of physical activity in establishing control in a fast-paced culture that is focused more on the prospect of immediate gratification than savoring the fruits of our labor.”

Health Benefits of Sex

When Professor Franssen mentioned that we were going to do research on how sex affects our stressful lives it felt uncomfortable to hear that in class.  After reading and learning the benefits of a healthy sex life it made sense that is an important topic to talk about.  On the WebMD website the following caught my attention:  “Joy Davidson, PhD, a New York psychologist and sex therapist. ‘Of course, sex is everywhere in the media,’ she says. ‘But the idea that we are vital, sexual creatures is still looked at in some cases with disgust or in other cases a bit of embarrassment. So to really take a look at how our sexuality adds to our life and enhances our life and our health, both physical and psychological, is eye-opening for many people.’”  Here I have included some links to the full article about the topic.

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex

1. Relieves Stress – lower blood pressure.
2. Boosts Immunity – “Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections.”
3. Burns Calories – “Thirty minutes of sex burns 85 calories or more.”
4. Improves Cardiovascular Health – “In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, scientists found frequency of sex was not associated with stroke in the 914 men they followed for 20 years.”
5. Boosts Self-Esteem – Gina Ogden, PhD, a sex therapist and marriage and family therapist in Cambridge, Mass., says: “Great sex begins with self-esteem, and it raises it. If the sex is loving, connected, and what you want, it raises it.”
6. Improves Intimacy – Increase of oxytocin hormone (helps us bond and trust).
7. Reduces Pain – As oxytocin increases so do endorphins, which decrease pain.
8. Reduces Prostate Cancer Risk – “Frequent ejaculations, especially in 20-something men, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer later in life, Australian researchers reported in the British Journal of Urology International.”
9. Strengthens Pelvic Floor Muscles – “For women, doing a few pelvic floor muscle exercises known as Kegels during sex offers a couple of benefits. You will enjoy more pleasure, and you’ll also strengthen the area and help to minimize the risk of incontinence later in life.”
10. Helps You Sleep Better – “The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, according to research.”

Our Love Scents:


Under the stress and pain chapter Sapolsky brought up fibromyalgia which he had not in his book’s last edition.   “This is the mysterious syndrome of people having markedly reduced pain tolerance and multiple tender spots throughout the body, often paralyzing extents of pain, and no one can find anything wrong—no pinched nerve, no arthritis, no inflammation” (Sapolsky, p. 200).  So since there is no physical signs of what’s causing the pain I wonder how much of it is possibly the pain receptors in the brain that are over reactive, or maybe just creating an illusionary painful symptom and it becoming a reality making it more of a psychological matter. I look forward to Professor Franssen discussing it in class.

Pain (warning of bodily dangers)

It’s unusual to think of pain in a positive light as a warning of bodily dangers because I’m used to seeing pain as a negative thing for which I need to take pills to make me feel better.  When reading Sapolsky’s chapter 9 on Stress and Pain the following sentence caught my attention: “Pain is useful to the extent that it motivates us to modify our behaviors in order to reduce whatever insult is causing the pain, because invariably that insult is damaging our tissues” (p. 187).  But we are now so used to getting a pill to fix the “problem” of pain when we are actually adding more issues to the real problem behind the pain.  Lately I’ve been having lots of headaches because of my lack of sleep due to many worries so I’ve been trying to stay away from pills and instead tried to rest and relax in order to sleep well.  I’m sure I’m not the only one with lack of sleep, headaches, and worries so I hope the video helps to bring a smile.

Frequent Intermittent Stressors

With spring break right around the corner (a class away from it for me) thinking about stress makes me realize how frequent intermittent stressors are part of my daily routine as a college student. Waking up early to make sure I make it on time to my 8:10 am class; driving to classes hoping to get a parking spot in front of Copley; attending classes hoping I performed well on my graded assignments; then figuring out what needs to be done next, keeps my body in high alert to make sure I do what I’m supposed to be doing; which in turn decreases my appetite and then when I get home at night I’m so hungry that I eat more than I should and not so healthy. Sapolsky mentions on page 75 that a “big reason why most of us become hyperphagic during stress is our westernized human capacity to have intermittent psychological stressors throughout the day.” This semester I have three classes in a row which leaves me little room for lunch so sometimes I eat during class (something I don’t like doing because I’m not able to fully focus on my food nor the lecture). As Sapolsky says, during stressful days I become hyperphagic once I get home to make me feel better after a hectic day. I am learning the importance of finding serenity throughout a stressful day.

A break for a week from my constant turn on of my HPA Axis (hypothalamus – CRH – pituitary gland – ACTH – adrenal gland – glucocorticoids) will be really distressing since I’ll be able to relax and not have constant worries or stressors coming at me. Being able to sleep in and not have to worry about getting to class on time is something that I really need because I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and my body is telling me that I can’t continue like this anymore. I’m a type A personality so I get easily stressed and anxious about getting things done and doing them well. This is something that concerns me because I want to be calmer and more relaxed throughout my day even though I may have many things to do. I’ve been reading about how deep breathing throughout the day can help with stress so here is a video:

Being in your 30s = cardiovascular problems?

It’s alarming to think that by thirties people might have some kind of cardiovascular problem due to stress or eating habits: “Given our Western diets, people are probably just starting to form atherosclerotic plaques in their thirties…” (Sapolosky, p. 54).  As young college students in our 20s, we must take this very seriously and realize that what we are eating now and how we are responding to life’s changes will affect us in our later years.  The question is: are we willing to change our eating habits and physical activity in order to have a healthier body for the rest of our lives?  Or do we rather keep eating fast foods and not getting exercise at the expense of our health, which will lead us to visiting the doctor more often and in general be unsatisfied with our earlier life choices?

“Mysterious cases still occur, however, of seemingly healthy thirty-year-olds, victims of sudden cardiac death, who show little evidence of atherosclerosis on autopsy” (Sapolosky, p. 50).  This brought the memory of a family friend who died about two years ago from a heart attack in his mid-thirties.  I was so shocked to hear about this because even though he was a bit overweight, he was generally a calm person who was always smiling and laid back.

It’s interesting to read that when the ovaries of a high-ranking female were removed “she was no longer protected from atherosclerosis” (Sapolosky, p. 53).  For us women, due to the stressors of working outside the home and maintaining a stable family (if kids are part of it) among others, our estrogen levels are being affected which in turn affect our atherosclerotic plaque leading to cardiovascular problems.  “Stress causes a decline in estrogen levels…The laboratory studies suggest that estrogen protects against the formation of atherosclerosis, rather than reverses atherosclerosis that is already there” (Sapolosky, pp. 53-54).  So, as women we need to focus on lowering our stress levels and how we perceive the stressors of life’s changes in order to protect ourselves and live healthier and more happy/satisfied lives.

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