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    Sleep Better, Stress Less

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    How is sleep related to stress?

    Just as eating right has an effect on your physical and mental well-being, so does sleeping right. Think about the last time you didn’t get enough sleep.  How did it make you feel? Happy? Stress-free? Probably not.

    Instead, you may have experienced some degree of the following:

    • Daytime tiredness/fatigue
    • Concentration problems
    • Impaired memory retention
    • Irritability
    • Depression
    • Lowered immunity
    • Increased appetite
    • Risk of injury

    Each of these factors alone may not be enough to stress you out, but given several of them over a period of time, your stress levels are going to rocket sky-high. Another way that stress and sleep are related is that stress can actually prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep and/or sleeping enough. If you’re laying in bed worried about all the things you’ll have to do tomorrow, chances are you won’t be sleeping very much or very well. As a result, you wake up tired and even more stressed out than before – and the vicious cycle continues.

    How does sleep reduce stress?

    Many people are under the false impression that when you sleep, your mind and body are both doing nothing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While you sleep, your body is doing all sorts of things that your mind isn’t aware of, including healing, consolidating memory, recharging, growing and regenerating cells and discharging emotions (even stressful ones) through dreams. Needless to say, sleeping is definitely not a waste of time. If anything, it can be the most productive thing you do all day.

    In addition, when you get a good night’s sleep, you tend to be more productive and alert the next day. Sleeping less in order to accomplish more while you’re awake may actually hurt you in the long run. Most adults need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep a night to be healthy; growing teenagers need even more. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to train yourself to function normally with 1-2 fewer hours of sleep per night than you actually need, so when you don’t sleep enough, your body knows it. It’ll start to accumulate sleep debt. This means that if you go a couple nights with very little sleep and sleep an average number of hours the following night, your body will still be tired. Why is this a bad thing? When you lack sleep, your immune system suffers; your mind starts drawing blanks at the most inopportune moments and you’re back to square one: stressed out.

    When Sleep (or lack thereof) and Stress Collide

    When I was in college, I worked a night job that required me to stay up from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. several nights of the week. Often I would have class in the mornings, so instead of sleeping in-between work and class I decided to stay up all night instead. Bad idea. Not only did I have a hard time concentrating in class, but hours later, I didn’t remember half the things the professor talked about.

    Not sleeping enough affects memory; during sleep, your brain consolidates everything you’ve experienced during the day so that you can better retain it in the long-term. I wasn’t sleeping enough, and my mind knew it. Not only was I cranky and miserable in class, but I zoned through the rest of the day – through meals, meetings, and often another night of work – like a regular zombie. I found trouble enjoying the things I used to enjoy, such as watching a movie or hanging out with a friend, simply because I was so sleep-deprived. I started missing deadlines and forgetting simple tasks. Did this stress me out? You bet. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure went way up during those horrendous months of sleep-deprivation, and I got sick a lot easier too.

    The lesson from all this? Get sleep. Your mind and body will love you for it. So will your stress radar.

    Develop Better Sleeping Habits

    What if you can’t sleep because you’re stressed? Here are some tips for getting healthier sleep and reducing stress:

    • Identify and challenge stress-producing thoughts around sleep. Are you having trouble sleeping because you’re worried about all the work you’ll have to do the next day? Don’t. Instead, take a deep breath and relax. Rewrite that thought in your head. Instead of thinking “I have to sleep now; otherwise I’ll be a train wreck tomorrow!” tell yourself, “Even if I lose some sleep tonight, I’ll still be okay. I can get through tomorrow.” If thinking about certain things is preventing you from falling asleep, try writing it down. Make a to-do list for the following day so you stop worrying that you’ll forget.
    • Make your bed a tranquil place. Your bed should be associated with relaxation and sleep, not a place where you constantly feel stressed out or worried. Avoid doing work on your bed. Instead, do stress-relieving activities such as reading a book or listening to some tranquil music.
    • Establish a sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day, including weekends. This helps your body better adjust to your circadian rhythm. It also makes it easier to get the correct amount of sleep that you need.
    • Do light exercise during the day. Doing exercise right before bedtime isn’t a good idea; exercise pumps up your endorphins (adrenaline) and makes you stay awake. But studies have shown that mild exercise during the day – such as a light jog or some yoga – will help with insomnia.
    • If you still can’t sleep, don’t stress. If you find yourself laying in bed wide-awake after fifteen minutes, don’t push yourself. Avoid tossing and turning in frustration or mindlessly counting sheep (unless this actually relaxes you). Instead, sip some warm milk or herbal tea and think about pleasant things. Don’t freak yourself out about not being able to sleep; this will hardly relax you. If you really can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing. Give yourself at least fifteen minutes of downtime before going back to bed.

    Advantages and Disadvanteges of Anti Depressants

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    The treatment of depression takes many forms and there is no single cure for everyone.  The treatment prescribed by a doctor will differ depending on the circumstances of the individual.  Anti-depressants are often prescribed to alleviate the most severe symptoms and allow the patient to begin effective counselling.  Anti-depressants are a group of drugs with the sole purpose of treating depression.  They are not meant to be taken by people that are merely unhappy.  Although often described as ‘happy pills,’ this is a gross distortion of what they do.

    It is thought that anti-depressants can often be shared around friends, particularly Prozac.  This can be dangerous and only doctors or psychiatric nurses should be prescribing this medication.  For those not clinically depressed, they will have no effect on the mood but will still lead to many of the side effects.  One major disadvantage of using anti-depressants is the time they take to be effective.  There will likely be a two week delay before they have any influence on mood.

    There has been a recent controversy in North America regarding the safety of anti-depressants.  A small percentage of people can develop suicidal thoughts when prescribed certain types of medication.  The drugs involved in these feelings belong to a class of anti-depressant known as SSRIs which work by using the chemical serotonin, found in the brain.  Symptoms include increased aggressiveness, anxiety and insomnia; however, studies have shown that less than 5% of people suffer these effects.

    While the new anti-depressants have significantly fewer side-effects than older types, such as tricyclic or MAOIs, all of the medications being prescribed presently, can have side effects.  As well as sudden and extreme mood swings, the effects can also include interference with sexual performance, sleep disturbance and weight gain.  There is also a significant risk of serious side effects when anti-depressants are taken with other medications.  This makes it vital that people go to a medical professional for help and not ‘borrow’ medication from friends.

    Recent studies have shown that taking anti-depressants may have serious side effects for the minority of pregnant women.  Anti-depressants taken in the first trimester are now thought to increase the chances of babies being born with heart defects.  Medication taken later in a pregnancy can lead to breathing and feeding problems as well as an increased chance of seizures.  However, the consequences of not taking anti-depressants through pregnancy must also be taken into consideration.  Severe depression in pregnant women can increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse and eating disorders.  All of these factors must be balanced when making the decision to continue taking depression medication throughout a pregnancy.

    Around a third of people who take anti-depressants will experience significant withdrawals.  Symptoms of withdrawal include flu-like symptoms, anxiety, dizziness and vivid dreams and nightmares.  While taking anti-depressants for a period of time will help many, for most it will only temporarily alleviate symptoms of depression.  It is important that the underlying causes are dealt with as well.  For severe depression, not taking anti-depressants may stop people from being receptive to counselling.  While simply taking the medication alone will not cure depression, employing other strategies alongside depression drugs will deliver results.  Activities such as regular exercise, counselling, personal coping strategies and talking through feelings with loved ones will vastly improve the chances of beating the illness.

    17 Tips for Depression Recovery

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    This may be a lengthy post but after doing some research recently I wanted to share these tips as reminder of how you can help yourself or someone else deal with the effects of depression. Just because you’re in a blue mood doesn’t mean you have to stay that way and you can work your way back from being blue to being you again by being active and eating a healthy diet. The following simple and easy tips can help you deal with depression while taking things one day at a time.

    1. If you have a pet they can be a good form of therapy by playing with them. It also helps that you are caring for something outside of yourself so when it comes to giving or caring for others it can help you feel better.

    2. You can never go wrong with a healthy diet of fruits, veggies, and whole grains to help improve your emotional, physical, and mental health. If you haven’t been eating as well as you should this is a good opportunity to change your diet.

    3. While eating a healthy diet helps your overall health you may want to look into foods that can boost your mood. Some studies show that foods containing omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12 can ease moods associated with depression.

    4. For snacking try low-fat carbs such popcorn, graham crackers, or a baked potato and low-fat carbs are a good source of fiber. Keep in mind that serotonin levels in the brain can be improved which help your sense of well-being.

    5. Many love drinking coffee but it helps to limit your intake of caffeine. Caffeine can increase anxiety levels and too much result in nervousness and jittering. You may be surprised at how it improves your mood when cutting back and this includes limiting soda, chocolate, and tea. For some it helps them get a better nights rest.

    6. Have you noticed any aches or pains in your muscles or joints? It could be associated with your depression and any discomforts of that nature should be treated. If over the counter medicines aren’t doing the trick you may need to visit your doctor for treatment options.

    7. Exercising helps and for some works better than antidepressants. Even mild exercise can help improve your mood so go for a brisk walk around the block with a friend and continue slowly adding regular exercise into your routine.

    8. Do exercises that you enjoy and this can be practically anything including your favorite sport such as basketball or football. Maybe you a hobby such as gardening but whatever the activity make sure it is something you can have fun with and look forward to doing.

    9. Doing exercise can be fun in the company of others. Joining a group or gym can be a supportive venture in staying fit while keeping things fun. Having friends to exercise with can help give you the motivation to keep at it!

    10. Sometimes with depression people tend to be more comfortable in the dark especially with seasonal effective disorder (SAD). Getting more natural light into your surroundings can help boost your mood. You may even want to look into light therapy.

    11. Be creative by exploring your personal talents or try your hand at something new. There are many ways to be creative such as writing, kitting, music, and painting. Being creative allows you to be free!

    12. Take time out for yourself to relax either with your favorite activity or listen to soothing music. Even enjoy the sights of nature at the park can be relaxing. Taking time out helps you can control and settle your mind to think and reflect. A nice hot bath or even a nap sounds relaxing.

    13. Volunteering with charity or helping others can not only help you get active but you gain a sense of purpose. Doing things for others can certainly help you feel good.

    14. Keep friends and family close to you especially if they want to help you. They can be you biggest support system for dealing with depression and it feels good to have someone you can talk to that will listen because they care.

    15. It helps to develop good sleep habits and those with depression know that sleep habits vary. Some who are depressed sleep too much or don’t sleep enough but as you recover it helps to have a set schedule.

    16. Alcohol and drugs should be avoid since many interfere with antidepressants and potentially make your depression symptoms worst.

    17. Whatever treatment options you have for depression make sure to follow through thoroughly. Discuss concerns and ask questions to your doctor. Don’t stop or change something without consent and it helps to keep yourself informed about depression by doing research to learn more about this mental illness to gain a better understanding and stay informed of updates.

    Parenting: The Dreaded “F” Word

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    That’s right folks. Food. It’s something that most people enjoy, but it’s also the bain of many parents of picky & stubborn eaters. In an ideal world, the thought of food and families would conjure up rosy and wholesome images of smiling parents and children eating lovingly-prepared food around the table together. For many parents, this image is far from accurate. Unfortunately, the dreaded f-word has the potential to turn many parents into frothing-at-the-mouth, snake-haired shadows of themselves…and imbues many children with all the stubbornness of 100 mules.

    Sometimes, of course, children are going to be stubborn just because they can. At times like this, plate after plate of their favourite foods will be greeted with firmly closed lips and a nose in the air every time. I maintain though, that encouraging your child(ren) to try new things and have an adventurous palate does make things easier in the long run.

    Don’t Pass Your Dislikes Onto Your Child

    All of us have foods that we absolutely hate. On an aside note, for me these are (in no particular order) – tinned fish/meat, tinned asparagus, dried fruit, bananas, licorice and mushrooms. I’m not going to stop my kids eating these things though, just because I don’t like them. Even more importantly, I make a point of not being demonstrative in my hatred of these foods, and carrying on about how awful they smell and/or taste. This is because, as we all know, children are great copiers. If they see you, or someone else they look up to, saying certain things or acting a certain way, it’s a sure bet they’ll do the same thing at some point.

    Mix It Up

    You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to make food interesting for your kids, and if they never get used to having the same thing prepared the same way every time there’s less chance of them becoming fussy about it. Use the same ingredients prepared different ways; use different sauces; if your children are old enough, once or twice a week put all the food on the table in bowls with tongs and let them help themselves.

    Broaden Your Own Horizons

    If you want your children to be happy to try new things, you have to as well. You don’t have to be overly adventurous, of course; it’s more a case of keeping an open mind about trying new things rather than greeting them with suspicion.

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