All stress is not bad. We need some stress in order to accomplish anything in life. However, it is important to find the right balance in our lives and make time to relax and rest.
Too Much Stress is Dangerous
According to Kathy McCaleb, a researcher with Cognitive Care Solutions, too much stress can affect all aspects of our life, including our work, play, family relationships, friendships and home life. It can cause both mental and physical reactions, including the ones listed below. In particular, you want to notice that one of the mental reactions can be various types of dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease.
Mental Reactions to Stress
Lack of Focus
Dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease
Physical Reactions to Stress
Blood Pressure changes
Immune system decline
Reduced energy level or fatigue
Weight changes (either weight loss or weight gain)
Increases in the brain proteins associated with Alzheimer's Disease
Relaxation Can Reduce Your Dementia Risk
If stress can cause some or all of the problems listed above, including Alzheimer's Disease, then learning how to relax and how to practice mindfulness can diminish your risk of developing this common form of dementia. Below are a few of the ways to learn to relax, improve your overall health and, particularly, protect your brain health:
Use imagery to take the focus off distractions
Practice deep breathing
Try sequentially tightening and relaxing your muscles
Many people believe they do not have the time to meditate or that they cannot empty their mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recently, I read an article about the most basic elements of simple meditation. It can be done anywhere, even in public, in the time it takes you to breath once or twice. All you need to do is mentally think slowly of the word "inhale" while you breath in, then think slowly of the word "exhale" as you breath out. While you are thinking those words, you are emptying your mind, just for a moment, of everything else. At the same time, you are calmly breathing and bringing oxygen into your lungs. It is as simple as that. "Inhale" .... "Exhale" .... repeat.
Practice Mindfulness by Appreciating the Simple
The key to mindfulness is learning to enjoy the simple things in life. You do this when you:
Focus on the present, not the future or past
Enjoy the ordinary ... a meal, shower, or beautiful morning
Get a massage
Try yoga, Tai Chi or other forms of gentle exercise
Get a pet and spend time with it
Invest time in your healthy relationships
Avoid toxic relationships
Practice saying "no"
Fight depression; it is not a normal sign of aging
Use Technology to Fight Stress
One of our daughters, a special education teacher, recently purchased the newest version of the Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker. The other day it vibrated and when she looked at the screen it indicated she was getting stressed. The screen said, "Breath with Me." Great reminder. We do not know what the exact technology it uses to determine that someone is getting stressed and needs to breath, but it is a useful piece of technology. I am sure there are other fitness trackers which will pick up the same clues and help you know when to relax.
Use whatever technology you have at your disposal to help you reduce your stress, whether it is a fitness tracker, calendar on your phone, your favorite music, or even the ability to simply turn off your phone and other technology periodically and enjoy the people who surround you.
Helpful Websites on Stress and Brain Health
If you are having difficulty reducing your stress or you are uncertain how to deal with your stress in healthy ways, the following articles may help you:
www.healthybrains.org The Cleveland Clinic, "10 Everyday Stressors and How to Conquer Them" by Kate Hanley, April 4, 2012 (www.msmindbody.com)
www.psychologytoday.com "How Deep Relaxation Affects Brain Chemistry" March 31, 2015
www.SharpBrains.com "Relaxing for Your Brain's Sake" by Alvaro Fernandez, March 20, 2008
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