A Closer Look at 3 Different Types of Stress

Emotions can be confusing. They come all at once, or not at all. They can seem completely reasonable or completely out of place. Emotions are certainly an essential aspect of human beings, but do they have to be so messy? With so many other things to worry about, it’s easy to feel a desire for more control over our inner selves. The first step to dominating our inner selves is understanding, and that is what this article is all about.

In this article, stress is the emotional target that will be broken down and investigated. By dismantling stress into component parts, and by carefully defining these, our hope is that people suffering from stress (everyone?) might get a better handle on their lives. After all, Spire is all about helping you gain understanding and control over the sometimes stormy world of your inner self – after all, knowledge is power.

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This article will be breaking down stress into three different types, explaining what each is and how it can affect you, and how you can deal with each type. By being able to identify the type of stress you are feeling, you will be better able to manage stress over all.

Type 1: Acute Stress

Of all the different types of stress, acute stress is considered the most common among the general population. You have most likely experienced it many times. This form of stress is deemed acute because it is usually short-lived and specific. When it comes to acute stress, the cause of the stress is often immediately apparent. Acute stress will be triggered by an imminent emotional or physical threat, such as demands on your schedule or the pressure that comes from being in an upsetting situation.

In most situations, small doses of acute stress are normal and can even feel a little exciting. For example, if you are handed a major project at work to get done by the end of the day, you may feel a little exhilarated as you watch the seconds on the clock count down and feel the rush of stress pushing you to get done. However, stress can also be psychologically and physically disturbing, especially if you experience many bouts of acute stress in your daily life.

Common Symptoms of Acute Stress

●      Tension headaches

●      Muscular tension, such as in the back, neck, or jaw

●      Emotional distress, such as feeling agitated, anxious, or depressed

●      Stomach irritation, such as heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea

●      Sweating, especially your palms, underarms, or forehead

●      Rapid heart rate

●      Elevated blood pressure

●      Shortness of breath

Treatment of Acute Stress

Acute stress is highly recognizable by most people because its trigger is immediately apparent and therefore easy to point out. You may have problems with your significant other, be involved in an auto accident, or even wake up feeling stressed because you have a long list of things to get done that day. Most of the time, the symptoms you experience with acute stress will be brief and easily manageable.

The key to acute stress management is learning how to control your emotional response to stress itself. It’s not about trying to stop the stress, as it comes on too quickly to prevent for occurring, and ultimately well-managed stress is healthy and helps us be more effective in our day to day. Instead, it’s about managing your psychological responses to the acute stress you are experiencing. For some people, that will mean stepping away for a minute and doing breathing exercises or yoga, but for others, it may mean channeling the stress into energy and motivation to deal with the trigger at hand and move past the stressful experience quickly.

Type 2: Episodic Acute Stress

While a certain level of acute stress is normal, for some people, acute stress becomes almost a regular facet of life. If you are constantly feeling the pressure because your life hands you too many overwhelming situations or you constantly feel like you are one step away from absolute disaster, you could be dealing with what is known as episodic acute stress. Even though episodic acute stress is most often created by taking on too much at one time and doing things yourself that put you in repeated stressful situations, the symptoms can be just as alarming, and this ongoing stressful lifestyle can lead to physical and psychological problems.

Symptoms of Episodic Acute Stress

●          Constant feelings of being on edge

●          Struggling with persistent anxiety, ill-temperament, and easy to anger

●          Having a great deal of nervous energy in your day-to-day life

●          Chronic fatigue or difficulty sleeping

●          Migraines and tension headaches that happen on a regular basis

●          Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and elevated blood pressure

●          Personal relationship problems

●          Depression

●          Higher risk of heart disease

Treatment of Episodic Acute Stress

Treatment of episodic acute stress can be a tricky thing because many people who struggle with this form of stress are not aware that something is wrong. You may become so used to living your life in fast-forward and dealing with everyday stress that you just assume the notion of “that’s just the way life is.” However, to protect your health, treatment is incredibly important.

Long-term episodic stress can put you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and mental illnesses. Most often, treatment for episodic acute stress is not a one-and-done thing, but rather a multi-faceted lifestyle adjustment. Treatment can involve instruction on stress management, but also educating a patient on things like time management and responsibility delegation.

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Type 3: Chronic Stress

 While acute and episodic stress can be fleeting, chronic stress is most persistent. This is the type of stress that usually comes from life situations like an unhealthy relationship, living in long-term poverty, or any other miserable situation. Chronic stress usually sets in when you can’t see any way out of a stressful situation, so you stop trying to find a solution to your problems and choose to deal with the emotional turmoil instead.

People who suffer from chronic stress are most at risk for developing medical conditions related to the long-term problem and can be at higher risk of attempting suicide. The biggest problem with chronic stress is that some people can get so familiar with this lifestyle that they sometimes don’t even recognize that there is still a problem. Some people who are dealing with chronic stress don’t realize there is an issue until physical symptoms start to show up and their doctor brings up the idea that chronic stress could be a factor in their health condition.

Health and Safety Risks of Chronic Stress

People who struggle with chronic stress can face a lot of health issues. This is partially because those dealing with chronic stress often don’t take care of themselves and may partake in behaviors that are unhealthy, such as overeating or smoking.

●          Lung disease

●          Cardiovascular disease

●          Hypertension

●          Drug and alcohol dependence

●          Some types of cancer

●          Suicide

●          Accidents

●          Significant weight gain or weight loss

Treatment of Chronic Stress

Treatment of chronic stress most often involves therapy with a licensed psychologist to help you learn how to effectively deal with the stress you face in your life. In many cases, people have spent so long dealing with a chronic stress trigger in their lives that it takes a lot of therapy for them to see where the stress problem stems from, making the problem that much which makes the problem that much harder to resolve.

In some situations, chronic stress treatment can involve medicinal treatments to combat the symptoms of being stressed. While this does not get rid of the stress itself, it can help you better control your emotional and physical reactions to the problems you are facing.

Regardless of the stress that is plaguing your life, Spire is there to help you manage it properly. Spire helps you identify when you are stressed, and armed with the information in this post, you can be better equipped to dealing with the stress at hand. Since Spire tracks your wellness information over time, Spire makes it easy to identity if you are afflicted with chronic stress, and need to make some more drastic lifestyle changes.

Managing stress can become a source of stress in and of itself. This is especially true when you are confused about why you are stressed and why it happens the times it does. When a clearer idea of stress is developed, a clearer plan can be created to deal with it.

The 17 Best Foods to Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting a good night’s rest is desirable, yet elusive, for many of us as we live our lives in this stressful world. It seems almost impossible to drift off to sleep when we’ve had an 8+ hour workday, taken care of home and family, plus squeezed in a gym session. After constantly being “on” all day, it can be incredibly tempting  to pick up your phone and browse the internet for entertainment instead of diving into a much-needed rest. And then, somehow, all the regret in the world experienced when waking up groggy the next day won’t stay your hand the following night when your head hits the pillow.

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Sleep is an integral part of life, but it’s often the first thing that gets the cut when time is short and stress is high. If you are feeling like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to donate 7-9 hours to resting at night, then time management and prioritization is where you need to start. However, if you’re still having trouble drifting off in the evening after making the time, you need to take extra steps to ensure you always get good, restful sleep.

Good sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. With kids, parents often develop bedtime routines that help the little ones successfully to sleep. This might mean bedtime stories, dimming the lights, or tucking the kids into bed. Given that this typically goes on for several years, it’s a bit odd that adults think they can just shake the day off and fall asleep properly without a solid bedtime routine in place.

The first step to regaining your sleep health is to ensure that you achieve a restful state. That means reintroducing the sleep routine in your life. Taking at least one hour before bedtime to relax, read a book, put down the electronics, and start getting settled in bed.

But things don’t have to stop there.

You can take steps (or bites) throughout the day to ensure that your upcoming snoozefest will be productive. Your diet plays a central role in your most aspects of general health, and when it comes to your ability to sleep, what you eat is no less important.

So here at Spire we’ve put together a list of the best foods that contain substances sure to bring you rest. During the day, consider incorporating these sleep-inducing foods into your meals and snacks.

1. Walnuts: Walnuts are known for being great additions to banana bread or for noshing, but they are also a great food to help you sleep. This is because they contain melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate and induce sleep. They are also a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps your body make its own melatonin.

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2. Fish: Most types of fish are high in Vitamin B6, which helps to promote sleep through its role in producing serotonin, which has a modest mood-regulating effect that can improve the quality of your sleep. Serotonin then helps to synthesize melatonin, which, as mentioned above, regulates and induces sleep. Tuna and salmon are particularly good sources of Vitamin B6.

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3. Oatmeal: Complex carbohydrates break down slowly, which helps to prevent the sugar spikes and crashes that can interfere with your sleep. Oatmeal also helps to create melatonin, so eating a small bowl just a few hours before bedtime could not only help you fall asleep faster, but also sleep more soundly through the night. Be sure to stay away from simple carbs though; these will spike your blood sugar, which will make it harder to fall asleep, as well as make your sleep restless once you finally manage to get there.

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4. Poultry: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is vital to the synthesis of serotonin, and it can only be obtained by what you eat and drink. Turkey is the champion source of tryptophan, but chicken has plenty as well.

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5. Peanut Butter on Whole Grain Crackers: It turns out that one of the best ways to produce tryptophan is to combine complex carbohydrates with protein. Half a chicken or turkey sandwich made with whole grain bread makes an excellent late dinner, but if you’ve eaten early and just need a light snack, then a little peanut butter on whole grain crackers could do the trick.

peanuts 1771672 6406. Cheese: If you are experiencing difficulties sleeping the whole night through, you should definitely add dairy products to your diet. Calcium and magnesium deficiencies can cause you to wake after just a few hours and then not let you get back to sleep. Cheese, yogurt, or even the proverbial warm glass of milk can help you achieve a full night of high-quality rest, which could provide all the energy you need to get through a full day.

cheese 2368695 6407. Bananas: As many people are aware, bananas are high in potassium. What you may not realize, however, is that they are also high in magnesium. Since magnesium is one of the best natural muscle relaxers, which can help you sleep better, bananas make an excellent snack for reluctant insomniacs.

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8. Eggs: Have breakfast for dinner. Eggs contain tryptophan, which explains why you may become drowsy after eating breakfast sometimes. Have an omelet in the evening instead and see if that offers any improvement in the quality of your sleep that night.

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9. Honey: Orexin is a neuropeptide that keeps you alert, which is definitely not what you want if you are having problems sleeping. Honey helps to lower levels of orexin so that a busy brain won’t keep you awake. A small teaspoon of honey added to a glass of milk will give you double benefits. However, if you aren’t a milk person, adding it to a cup of herbal tea will still have the same effect of lowering orexin levels.

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10. Whole Grains: Not only do whole grains have magnesium, which will help to prevent you from waking up during the night, but they also stimulate insulin production. Excellent sources of whole grains include quinoa, buckwheat, oatmeal, brown or wild rice and – surprise! – popcorn.

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11. Sunflower Seeds: Not only do sunflower seeds increase serotonin levels because of the magnesium they contain; they also contain tryptophan. The same is true of pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. The unsalted versions will be healthier for those watching their sodium intake.

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12. Sweet Potatoes: Potassium is such an effective natural muscle relaxant that it can prevent you from getting cramps and charley horses. Sweet potatoes are also a complex carbohydrate, so you reap all those benefits as well. You just need to be careful not to eat too big a portion too close to bedtime, as even complex carbs will increase your blood sugar. Baking them is the healthiest option, so half a baked sweet potato should be enough to keep you feeling full and provide numerous sleep-inducing benefits for a full night’s rest.

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13. Cereal and Milk: Combining a small bowl of high-quality whole-grain cereal, such as Shredded Wheat, with a little milk will give you a combination of foods that will assist in your efforts to sleep well in two ways. You get all the advantages of complex carbs plus the beneficial qualities of calcium-rich milk. Together, they are filling enough so that hunger will not keep you awake.

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14. Prunes: There are a whole host of melatonin-producing ingredients in prunes: magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B6, just to name a few. Up to 30 minutes before bedtime, you can eat them by themselves, combine them with trail mix, or spread them on whole grain toast.

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15. Pistachios: For a trifecta of sleep inducing properties, pistachios provide magnesium, vitamin B6, and protein. Although all of these will help you to have a great night’s sleep, you don’t want to try for too much of a good thing. If you exceed an ounce of nuts by too much, the result will be too many calories, which can keep you awake.

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16. Cantaloupe: A lot of people freely admit they don’t drink enough water. Yet, it’s not commonly known that even mild dehydration can have a significantly negative impact on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep for multiple reasons. One of the most important reasons is that it can lead to melatonin deficiency. Eating melon and other watery fruits such as pears, oranges, and apples, can make up a bit for not drinking enough water.

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17. Kale: Kale is high in both potassium and calcium, each of which has its own properties beneficial to sleep. Of course, many people would balk at munching on kale by itself as a bedtime snack, but adding a little turkey and maybe even some nuts or watery fruit slices could make a tasty sleep snack.

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This long list should get your started. But it’s worth mentioning a few foods that you should absolutely stay away from when it comes to sleeping better. As part of a sleep-supportive diet, you should avoid:

  • Coffee. Limit your caffeine intake and stop it entirely after noon. It may be affecting your sleep quality more than your realize, and you won’t know until you try reducing or eliminating it from your diet.
  • Alcohol: Even though alcohol has the reputation of putting you into a drowsy rest, the truth is that it is detrimental to your sleep quality. Research shows that alcohol may cause you to wake up during the night, greatly impacting your restfulness and energy the next day. 
  • Spicy foods: Spicy foods before bedtime can give you indigestion that makes it nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep. However, even if you eat spicy foods without discomfort, they are still linked with more time spent awake during the night and taking longer to fall asleep.

Before signing off to go to sleep, it’s important to remember that sleep quality has a lot to do with your general stress and anxiety levels during the day as well. It doesn’t matter how closely you are following your routine or how religiously you eat sleep-inducing foods if you are too riled up to relax at the end of the day. Use Spire to help keep stress in check so that you have both the energy and mental space to incorporate healthy changes in your life, including sleep-inducing changes.

Do You Promise To Love, Honor, Cherish & Inhale Till Breath Do You Part?

There’s something called Breath Immersion for Couples and it’s supposed to strengthen your relationship. In fact, there are conferences where you can go with your sweetheart and do nothing but practice respiration. Together. Really. As in TEAMWORK..

Read more

Breath & Spire: A Few Key Questions

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time.  Heck, you could say I did my Ph.D. on this post.

When we started work on Spire, our goal was to give people feedback about something that influenced life as much as – if not more than – fitness: their state of mind. Yes, like other activity trackers, Spire accurately tracks physical activity and fitness. But unlike other trackers, Spire records an additional metric: breathing patterns. This is because your breathing patterns both reflect and influence your state of mind.

And, as it turns out, it’s this additional metric, breathing, that has really caught people’s attention… and curiosity.

Why consider breathing?

How does breathing relate to state of mind?

What’s the science behind this?

Why consider breathing?

Many of us don’t consider how important our breath is. Yet, when you think about it, you probably have some experiential understanding of the role breath plays in your daily life.

Perhaps you’ve felt short of breath. During a math test, or an asthma attack.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how tranquil your breath can be. While out fishing in the early morning, or sitting by a campfire.

Perhaps you’ve felt your chest constricted or find yourself sighing regularly. While writing email, or sitting in traffic.

These are all real experiences that show the diverse repertoire of the breath. Imagine what it’s doing when you’re not paying attention. Imagine if you could notice your breath in these situations, and how this might change your day, your dinner, or your life.

How does breathing relate to state of mind?

When you feel stressed, your body’s ancient defense mechanisms are activated and becomes prepared for “fight or flight” – to run, to attack, or to do something that requires high physical activity. One thing that happens during this response is that your breathing becomes rapid and shallow.

In short doses, this can be useful. But this is email, not a lion attack! Imagine how many times during your day you feel tense or overwhelmed. Then, consider what it does to your breath.

So, what can you do about this? For one, you can transform your perception of stress from ‘threatening’ to ‘challenging’ – challenging you to perform at your best. Simply re-framing stress can change the way your body deals with it, though we don’t understand exactly how that happens or how to do it consistently.

In addition to changing your perception of stress, you can literally control it. But how can you affect your brain like that? Funny you should ask…

Unlike other physiological functions, the breath is under both autonomic and conscious control. This means the breath is not just ‘happening’ in the background – it’s a lever. A way in. The gas pedal and the brakes for your brain and body.

It’s important to know there is no “correct” way to breathe. Just like there’s no “correct” state of mind. Stress isn’t bad! It’s part of life and, let’s be honest, we often enjoy it! To an extent. Chronic stress is a problem because we often don’t even realize it’s happening. That isn’t just sad, it compromises our immune system because the body is so frequently kept vigilant.

What’s the science behind this?

Why do we have the phrase “take a deep breath” in so many languages?  Why have scientists and poets been writing about the breath for thousands of years? Because the slow, calm, breath does three things:

Vagus_nervesFirst, it changes the carbon dioxide level in the bloodstream. This is important because the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear) is very sensitive to carbon dioxide (detected as pH). When you take that deep breath, your blood becomes less acidic, assuring your amygdala that you are, indeed, not at threat of drowning and that all is well.

Second, it lengthens the exhale, lifting the gas pedal on the brain. During exhale, the gates blocking the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve, are lifted. This signifies to the brain that the coast is clear to “rest and digest.”

Finally, consciously taking a breath is the simplest action you can take to bring a wandering, anxious mind to the present moment. This is the key to understanding why concentration techniques start with focus on the breath.

We now see how the breath (1) reflects your state of mind and (2) influences it.

Now Is the Time

There is something even more valuable than our time, our attention. One minute of genuine, focused attention can be worth dozens of minutes of being distracted.

Today, more than ever, a healthy, focused, and balanced state of mind is paramount. It dictates how we work, the decisions we make, and even how we communicate. It helps us achieve goals in a world of distraction. Don’t let your life slip by. Get to know your breath, watch it change, then listen to what it brings up for you.

Stay Tuned for Updates

What would your life look like with less rushing, more space, and more balance? How would it change the way you eat, live, or love?

In future posts, I’ll be diving into the details about our breath and state of mind. Just a sampling of the topics I hope to cover, would be: the four components of each breath and what they tell us; why yoga refers to the breath so much; how breath relates to meditation… and to endurance and athletics, and even to communication and sex.

I look forward to discussing with you. Until next time!

Neema

P.S. The studies underlying the regulation of state of mind by respiration – summarized at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagal_tone and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvagal_Theory – were spear-headed by Spire’s scientific advisor, Dr. Stephen Porges.

References:
  • Crum, AJ, Salovey, P, Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Apr;104(4):716-33.
  • Porges, Stephen W., Doussard-Roosevelt, Jane A., Maiti, Ajit K. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion.
  • West, John B. (2008). Respiratory Physiology: The Essentials. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Yasuma F et al. (Feb 2004). “Respiratory sinus arrhythmia: why does the heartbeat synchronize with respiratory rhythm?”. Chest 125 (2): 683–90.
  • Ziemann AE, Allen JE, Dahdaleh NS, Drebot II, Coryell MW, Wunsch AM, Lynch CM, Faraci FM, Howard MA, Welsh MJ, Wemmie JA. (2009). The amygdala is a chemosensor that detects carbon dioxide and acidosis to elicit fear behavior. Cell. 2009 Nov 25; 139(5):1012-21.
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