- Ricka Robb Kohnstamm
What evidence-based role did one special fly play this past week?
Who could have imagined that a single fly would get more attention on Twitter than either of the vice presidential candidates? Actually, it makes total sense, given that the nation is struggling with unrelenting anxiety.
The goal of anxiety is to alert us to threat, but unrelenting anxiety causes extreme discomfort, as well as getting us ready to fight the monster coming towards us, run like crazy to escape from the monster chasing us, or lie down and play dead. All of that running and escaping takes a toll on our physical and mental health.
It is increasingly understood that chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation can play a critical role in the development of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases, depression, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, and cancers.
So, as I mentioned last week (and it bears repeating), getting a handle on chronic stress is not a "nice to do". It's a "have to do".
Here are three more evidence-based tools to add to your toolkit...
Useful distraction The famous fly was a useful distraction from what was really happening, and that is exactly why it reduced anxiety (momentarily) for many people. Concentrating on one thing allows our brain to take a short break from concentrating on something else. All sorts of things can be useful distractions, including noticing sunlight sifting through the changing leaves, listening to a beautiful music, helping the lost spider find her way back outside. "The model posits that both self-distraction and reappraisal attenuate emotional reactions through replacement of emotional by neutral mental contents..." Kalisch, R., Wiech, K., Herrmann, K., et al. (2006, Aug). Neural Correlates of Self-distraction from Anxiety and a Process Model of Cognitive Emotion Regulation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 18(8): 1266-1276. Notice and appreciate distractions.
Appreciate your pet Pets are a wonderful way to get extra snuggles, be motivated to take extra walks, and they often provide a casual way to broaden social interaction, all evidence-based tools to lower anxiety. "To date, a wealth of research has shown that pet ownership and therapy dog exposure can have tremendous beneficial effects for persons of all ages." Fiocco, A., Hunse, A. (2017, July). The Buffer Effect of Therapy Dog Exposure on Stress Reactivity in Undergraduate Students International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14(7) Me? I prefer cats. They do the job very nicely.
Get creative Pick up your favorite way to be creative or start a new one... dance, clay, knitting, painting, working with water color pencils, photography, writing. The list is endless. "In total, stress was significantly reduced in 30 out of 37 included studies (81.1%). Eleven out of twelve (91.7%) included studies on CATs found a significant stress reduction. Nineteen out of 25 (76%) included studies on mere arts interventions found a significant reduction in their stress measurement." Martin, L., Oepen, R., Bauer, K., et. al. (2018 February). Creative Arts Interventions for Stress Management and Prevention—A Systematic Review. Behavioral Sciences. 8(2): 28. I will be ordering knitting needles and beautiful yarn today.
Stress reduction is serious business and this is a good time to add more tools to your toolbox.
It is good to remember that I can choose, even in the face of huge stressors, to control chronic stress through healthy behaviors. My actions, aligned with my values, supports my optimal health.