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How Stress Can Improve Your Well-Being

How Stress Can Improve Your Well-Being

Everyone experiences stress. It’s a ubiquitous part of modern life. We stress over our jobs, our families, our social lives, our education, our health, our finances – the list could go on and on. It seems that everyone is on a never-ending quest to eliminate stress from their lives. Would a completely stress-free life be a good thing? Surprisingly, the answer is no – some stress is good stress.

Good stress or eustress is temporary worry and tension that accompanies challenging situations or activities which remain within our abilities to handle. Think of a series of concentric circles, like a target. The first is your “comfort zone” – here there’s no stress because you are fully confident that you can succeed at anything that crops up. Now imagine another circle beyond the first, which represents your “capability zone” – you’re out of your comfort zone, so you’ll experience stress, but expectations of what you can manage are realistic. Beyond your capability zone is where you experience negative stress or distress – so far out of your comfort zone that your abilities no longer match what’s needed to face a particular challenge. The limits for each of these zones are different for everyone. Where public speaking or riding a roller coaster might be fun activities that create a buzz of excitement for one person, they may be terrors for someone else, who would be overwhelmed with distress if they attempted them.

The key is finding that sweet spot where you can step out of your comfort zone in order to feel the satisfaction of successfully learning a new skill or overcoming a challenge without slipping into negative stress.

Eustress has a number of benefits, particularly for well-being in general:

  • It’s motivating and energizing.
  • It feels exciting and creates a sense of satisfaction.
  • It drives improvements in abilities by pushing us to learn.
  • It helps to create confidence and self-esteem.
  • It builds resilience.

On the other hand, the effects of distress are harmful, especially when experienced chronically. Negative stress:

  • Decreases our ability to focus and get things done.
  • Make us more susceptible to both mental and physical illnesses.
  • Can cause physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, muscle pains, and both sleep and digestive problems.
  • Can make us more likely to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.

Stress is not inherently bad, but in order to take advantage of maximizing eustress in your life, there are three key behaviors to strive for.

  1. Perspective – whether a particular stressor falls in your capability zone or beyond can be influenced by your perspective of the situation. Many things that cause us stress we perceive as threats. But, instead, if we’re able to think of some of these “threats” as challenges to overcome and learn from, we can convert distress into eustress.
  2. Limitations – be aware of your limits and stand up for them. Knowing the bounds of your comfort and capability zones enables you to say no to tasks and activities that will cause you negative stress.
  3. Balance – maintaining balance among the stressors in your life is key. It’s nearly impossible to live without any stress in our lives. And even though eustress is “good stress,” you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to relax and recharge free of stress – sometimes it’s more than okay to stay in your “comfort zone.”

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Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain

Written by: Jon Hamilton
Orginally published by: NPR Morning Edition

Why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says.

It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.

But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.

“Whether it’s rough-and-tumble play or two kids deciding to build a sand castle together, the kids themselves have to negotiate, well, what are we going to do in this game? What are the rules we are going to follow?” Pellis says. The brain builds new circuits in the prefrontal cortex to help it navigate these complex social interactions, he says.

Learning From Animals

Much of what scientists know about this process comes from research on animal species that engage in social play. This includes cats, dogs and most other mammals. But Pellis says he has also seen play in some birds, including young magpies that “grab one another and start wrestling on the ground like they were puppies or dogs.”

For a long time, researchers thought this sort of rough-and-tumble play might be a way for young animals to develop skills like hunting or fighting. But studies in the past decade or so suggest that’s not the case. Adult cats, for example, have no trouble killing a mouse even if they are deprived of play as kittens.

So researchers like Jaak Panksepp at Washington State University have come to believe play has a very different purpose: “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways,” Panksepp says.

Panksepp has studied this process in rats, which love to play and even produce a distinctive sound he has labeled “rat laughter.” When the rats are young, play appears to initiate lasting changes in areas of the brain used for thinking and processing social interactions, Panskepp says.

The changes involve switching certain genes on and off. “We found that play activates the whole neocortex,” he says. “And we found that of the 1,200 genes that we measured, about one-third of them were significantly changed simply by having a half-hour of play.”

Of course, this doesn’t prove that play affects human brains the same way. But there are good reasons to believe it does, Pellis says.

For one thing, he says, play behavior is remarkably similar across species. Rats, monkeys and children all abide by similar rules that require participants to take turns, play fair and not inflict pain. Play also helps both people and animals become more adept socially, Pellis says.

And in people, he says, an added bonus is that the skills associated with play ultimately lead to better grades. In one study, researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.

Another hint that play matters, Pellis says, is that “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

NBA Finalizes Expanded Mental Health Program, Adds Licensed Psychiatrists

Orginally Published by: Sports Illustrated

The NBA announced an expanded set of mental health policies for 2019-20 on Wednesday, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick.

The league office reportedly issued a memo to all 30 teams, announcing the following measures required by each team for the upcoming season.

  • All teams must have at least one mental health professional on retainer. Each professional must have “experience in assessing and treating clinical mental health issues.”
  • Each organization must “identify a licensed psychiatrist” available to help manage any mental health concerns.
  • All teams must, “enact a written action plan for mental health emergencies.”
  • All 30 teams need to attend a “health and wellness meeting” in Chicago in September.

The NBA’s changes come after a slate of players revealed their battles with mental health both before and during their time in the league. Kevin Love and Keyon Dooling wrote personal essays on the matter for The Player’s Tribune. DeMar DeRozan discussed his own battle with depression with the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith.

Commissioner Adam Silver discussed the league’s emphasis on mental health in February.

“When I meet with (NBA players who have expressed concern on this front), what strikes me is that they’re truly unhappy,’’ Silver said at the Sloan Conference in Boston. “A lot of these young men are generally unhappy.”


10 Common Misconceptions Surrounding Workplace Mental Health

The Stigma Surrounding Workplace Mental Illness And Psychotherapy: 10 Common Misconceptions

Written by: Bryan Robinson
published by Forbes
Sep 13, 2019

A lot has been written about mental health in the workplace and the risks of sharing a mental illness with coworkers or employers. September is National Suicide Prevention Month–an important time to address the unfortunate, widespread stigma that still exists about mental health and psychotherapy in America. Studies show that when everyone thrives in the organization, the organization thrives. But much more needs to be done to educate employers and employees about mental health wellness and suicide prevention.

Some experts go so far to advise you to be careful about what you tell your boss because it could cost you your job. Yet when you’re facing a difficult emotional crisis, your employer’s understanding and support is a huge relief, especially if you’re having trouble functioning at your usual standard. Companies and employees alike harbor misguided notions about what really goes on in a practicing psychotherapist’s office, many of which come from novels or television. Psychotherapists are often portrayed as incompetent hacks, more disturbed than their clients. Some scenes are good, some bad and others downright comical. There are numerous myths about psychotherapy that continue to show up in the written word, on the screen and in the workplace. Here are ten of the most common ones:

  1. People who go for psychotherapy are weak, mentally ill, or crazy. Untrue. Nowadays if you seek treatment, it’s viewed as a sign of resourcefulness. The average therapy client struggles with many of the same problems we all struggle with on a daily basis: relationships, self-doubt, confidence, self-esteem, work/life stress, life transitions, depression and anxiety. The preferred designation for the person in therapy is “client,” not “patient,” for that very reason. Over my twenty-five years of experience, I’ve often said that the folks I treat in therapy are mentally healthier than some people walking the streets who fear the stigma of mental health counseling.
  2. Therapists sit behind desks taking notes while you lie on a couch. This is rarely the case. Trained clinicians know that the arrangement and distance between them and the client are critical for a safe and workable therapeutic alliance. Psychological or physical separation from the client can create subtle authority and intimidation and an inability on the client’s part to fully connect and disclose information pertinent to treatment. The typical therapeutic setting is much like your living room where both parties sit in comfortable chairs without barriers between them. Good therapists often ask if the distance is comfortable and refrain from taking notes until after the session so they can be present with clients.
  3. Psychotherapists and clients become best friends. There is no basis in the myth often seen in literature that you pay a psychotherapist to be nice to you and care for you. The therapeutic relationship is a psychologically intimate but strictly professional one. It’s the therapist’s absolute commitment and requirement of ethics and law that the relationship be limited to counseling sessions and necessary email, phone or text contacts. Clinicians who break the boundary between a professional relationship and friendship can lose their licenses for such infractions. The client’s name and personal story are strictly confidential. In an episode of the TV series The Sopranos, a serious ethical lapse occurred when one therapist revealed the name of another therapist’s client across a crowded table at a dinner party full of clinicians. Around the country the next day, the episode outraged clients and therapists because of this egregious ethical violation. Some fans even lost faith in their ability to maintain “belief” in the television program.
  4. Psychotherapy is mostly talk therapy. Therapy isn’t passive. Scenes in novels and TV shows where therapists just listen to clients vent, nod their heads in approval, and mirror back the same words are stereotypes. So are those cases in fiction where therapists interpret clients’ experiences for them instead of eliciting a client’s own interpretations. With today’s cutting-edge therapies, clinicians are trained in experiential and therapist-led modalities that engage both parties in an interactive collaborative process based on dialogue and the client’s active engagement in joint problem solving. Together psychotherapists and clients identify problems, set goals, and monitor progress sometimes with homework and reading assignments as part of the process.
  5. Psychotherapists have ready-made solutions for all of life’s problems. What is important in establishing the therapist-client alliance is not what the therapist thinks is important to bring about change but what the client thinks is important. A good therapist tailors treatment sessions around the needs of clients instead of plugging clients into ready-made formulas. In so doing, clinicians listen not just to the content of the story but for deeper themes and patterns that undergird the stories. This allows the professional to mirror feedback based on these emerging themes and patterns that can facilitate change, not just the repetitive words and phrases that clients supply.
  6. Psychotherapists blame a client’s problem on their upbringing. Despite the theatric antics of Dr. Phil, a well-trained therapist doesn’t blame or shame. They don’t blame clients or their parents. They bring an objective, bird’s-eye perspective to help clients see the water they’re swimming in, so they can take responsibility for their lives. Professional therapists never admonish, blame or shame clients into change.
  7. Psychotherapists can prescribe medication. This is a common myth. The term “psychotherapist” is a broad umbrella that includes licensed social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed practicing counselors, and licensed psychologists. Although this practice has changed in some states, generally speaking psychotherapists are trained in the skill of helping clients work through their problems. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who usually limit their practices to prescribing and monitoring psychotropic medications while working with psychotherapists who conduct the actual therapy.
  8. Psychotherapy can solve problems in one or two sittings. While convenient for the novel or television show to have a character “fixed” in a session or two, it doesn’t work that way in real life. The average session is around fifty-to-sixty minutes and the first session is basically an intake and getting acquainted session. To get to the heart of a problem, psychotherapy takes many more sessions over time. On the flip side, as in the Sopranos, psychotherapy rarely takes six or seven years. Generally speaking, something’s not working when a client works with the same therapist for excessively long periods of time. The average therapy course is three to four months.
  9. Psychotherapists believe that the personality is cemented by age five. The belief that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks is perhaps the biggest myth of all. When you read a novel in which a therapist says that personality is fixed by age five, it’s laughable and the story loses credibility. Neuroscientists have shown that the brain is malleable, and new MRI technology allows us to see this change. Some of the latest psychotherapy techniques utilize treatment based on neuroplasticity—the creation of new neural pathways in the brain and thus the potential for new beliefs and behaviors throughout life from womb to tomb.
  10. Psychotherapists make clients feel immediately better after each session. This scenario might be convenient for a storyline, but nothing is further from the truth. Clients are not cars, and therapists aren’t mechanics. Clients are active participants while therapists help them face and uncover whatever is bothering them. That process takes time and can be initially difficult and painful. Having feelings stirred up is part of the therapeutic process. When psychotherapists describe the healing trajectory, we often say sometimes things get worse before they get better. But skilled therapists are trained on how to lead clients through the storm into the calm.If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Contact Mental Health America at to find resources closest to you or call 1-800-273-8255, a 24 hour crisis center. You can also call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 at the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline. Trained crisis workers will listen to you and direct you to the resources you need. In an emergency, call 911 or contact a local hospital or mental health facility.


How To Begin A Conversation About Suicide

Before talking with someone you are concerned about, have suicide crisis resources available, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), or numbers and addresses of local crisis lines or treatment centers.

Mention what signs prompted you to ask about how they are feeling. Mention the warning signs that prompted you to ask the person about how they are feeling, the words used, or behavior displayed (signs make it more difficult to deny that something is wrong).

Ask the Question. Ask directly about suicide. Ask the question in such a way that is natural and flows over the course of the conversation. Ask the question in a way that gives you a “yes” or “no” answer. Don’t wait to ask the question when the person is halfway out the door. Asking directly and using the word “suicide” establishes that you and the at-risk person are talking about the same thing, and lets them know you are not afraid to talk about it.

Ask:”Are you thinking about killing yourself?”


“Are you thinking about ending your life?”

How NOT to Ask the Question”You’re not thinking about killing yourself, are you?”

Do not ask the question as though you are looking for a “no” answer. Asking the question in this manner tells the person that although you assume they are suicidal, you want and will accept a denial.

Validate the Person’ Experience:

Talk openly. Don’t panic. Be willing to listen and allow emotional expression. Recognize that the situation is serious. Don’t pass judgment. Reassure that help is available. Don’t promise secrecy. Don’t leave the person alone.

Get HelpShare available resources with the person.

Be willing to make the call, or take part in the call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at 1-800-273-8255 (Talk). The toll-free confidential Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.Let the person know that you are willing to go with them to see a professional when they are ready.

If you feel the situation is critical, take the person the closest Emergency Room or call 9-1-1.

Do not put yourself in danger; if at any time during the process you are concerned about your own safety, or that the person may harm others, call 9-1-1.Never negotiate with a person who has a gun, call 9-1-1 and leave the area. If the person has done harm to him or herself in any way, call 9-1-1.