Tag: Stress

Discrimination and Health Part II: People of Color

Last week, I talked about how discrimination faced in healthcare settings can impact LGBTQ+ individuals’ attitudes towards healthcare, and how facing discrimination in everyday life can negatively impact their health outcomes. People of color (PoC) in the U.S., including immigrants, refugees, and Indigenous Peoples, face this double-barreled oppression as well.

Of course, one way racism affects health is through the broad structures that have placed many PoC groups at disadvantaged positions, intersecting with poverty – one study found that almost 100,000 black people die prematurely each year who would not die were there no racial disparities in health.

But discrimination itself, even on an individual level, can impact the health and healthcare experiences of PoC. Microaggressions, or everyday interactions rooted in racism, are a daily stressor for PoC, and these stressors can lead to premature illness and mortality.

Of course, this discrimination doesn’t just happen in daily interactions, but also in medical settings, which rightfully leads to mistrust and under-use of healthcare for PoC. Language and cultural barriers faced by immigrants can have similar effects.

Because race, socioeconomic status, and health are so intertwined, it may never be possible to know what levels of discrimination have the greatest ultimate effects on health outcomes. But we know they all have at least some, which should be enough to demand action.

Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12042611






Get out that grocery list

Last week, we dove into nutrients that may help the body reduce stress and anxiety. Many of those nutrients were B vitamins! Now let’s take a look at some of the food sources naturally high in vitamins B1, 6, 9, and 12.

Vitamin B1

Vegetables: green peas, asparagus, spinach, acorn squash

Nuts: macadamia, pistachio

Seeds: sunflower, flax, sesame

Fish: trout, salmon, tuna

Pork: lean cuts (loin, tenderloin, chops)

Beans: edamame, navy, pink, black, mung

Vitamin B6

Fruit: dried prunes, dried apricots, raisins, bananas, avocados (I know—technically a fruit!)

Nuts: pistachio

Seeds: sunflower

Fish: tuna, salmon, halibut, swordfish, herring

Meat: lean pork, lean beef, turkey, chicken

Vitamin B9

Legumes: lentils, black eyed peas, mung, pinto, chickpeas, pink, lima, black, navy, kidney

Vegetables: spinach, turnip greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce, broccoli

Fruit: avocado, mango, pomegranate, papaya, oranges

Vitamin B12

Shellfish: clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, crab, lobster, crayfish, shrimp

Fish: salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, trout, striped bass

Meat: liver, beef steak

Dairy: milk, yogurt, swiss cheese

With finals coming up, do what you can for your body to not “B” stressed!




Breathe in… breathe out…

Feeling anxious or stressed? Consider diaphragmatic or “deep breathing” exercises! Deep breathing can be a helpful technique for relaxing both mind and body, as well as stress and anxiety management. It can even improve our energy levels!

With deep breathing, we are able to consciously control our breathing, lower our blood pressure and heart rate, and relax our muscles. During normal breathing, we typically breathe shallow breaths using our chest and not our bellies. However, with deep breathing, we breathe with our bellies, taking in slow, deep breaths.

One key muscle involved in the process of deep breathing is our diaphragm, located between our chest and abdomen. When we inhale, we contract our diaphragm, expanding our abdomen, which then pushes air into our lungs. We then exhale, relaxing our diaphragm, and air is pushed out of our lungs.

Interested in trying deep breathing? Click here for a step-by-step guide!

Happy stress relief!


Diaphragmatic Breathing [PDF file]. (2016, September). Retrieved from https://www.uncmedicalcenter.org/app/files/public/196/pdf-medctr-rehab-diaphbreathing.pdf

Patel, S. (N.d.) Retrieved from http://www.chopra.com/articles/breathing-for-life-the-mind-body-healing-benefits-of-pranayama#sm.00019xogqb4t2eoex3f1a17fb6wn4

Rakal, D. (2016). Learning Deep Breathing. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/learning-deep-breathing/

Wong, C. (2017, April 30). Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/how-to-breathe-with-your-belly-89853


Can helping others help YOU?

Eating well, exercising, no smoking, meaningful social connections. You probably know all of these are essential components to living a healthy life. But did you know that giving support – being the shoulder to cry on, showing up with your friend’s favorite food after a hard day – may also play a large role in well-being?

A study recently published in Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that it is providing support – not being on the receiving end – that may be contributing to the stress-buffering effects of a strong social network. While both giving and receiving social support are associated with better psychosocial outcomes, our brains may benefit more from giving. The research team determined this by observing people’s brain activity during a stressful math task. Overall, people who provided more social support had patterns of brain activity indicative of lower stress (if you want to get specific, there was reduced blood flow to the dACC, anterior insula, and amygdala). Moreover, these people had increased blood flow to areas associated with rewards during a prosocial (donating money) task.

However, it’s possible that people who give more social support are in more privileged positions (of power, of money, of resources, etc.), so they – no surprise – are less affected by stressful math tasks. Regardless, providing support helps strengthen our social ties and brings us closer together, even if the direct act of providing support isn’t the cause. So what do you think… is bringing your pal chicken soup after a hard day good for your health, or is it just good for your friendship? Let me know in the comments!

This post is part of the Psy-Friday series; every Friday Zan talks about findings in psychology, and how knowing the mind can influence health and well-being.

(Image credit: “Giving Hands and Red Pushpin” by Artotem / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Power Through with Podcasts

Many of us abandon exercise routines and healthful diets during the holidays due to an influx of holiday gatherings, an abundance of tasty treats, and cooler weather, although I’m happy to say not in North Carolina this year. It’s difficult to squeeze a workout between school, work, and parties.

However, finding a couple of podcasts you enjoy listening to while working out can be motivation to put on those running shoes or get to the gym. The key is to finding several podcasts you look forward to listening to each day or week and make a rule to only listen to them while you exercise, thus incentivizing your workouts. You may want to listen to a health podcast as a reminder of why you aheadphonesre exercising, but other topics are great too—they just have to be interesting to you. If you can’t exercise without music, there are some great podcasts that utilize tempo for sustained endurance workouts like running or biking (Podrunner).

My favorite apps for downloading free podcasts are Player FM for android and Overcast for iOS. So find something you like and make
listening to your podcast not only your time to exercise, but also a little time for self-care. Have a happy and healthy holidays.

Lower Your Stress This Holiday Season

Managing gift and travel expenses, navigating crazy crowds, and preparing big family meals all on top of other year-round stressors can make the holidays a stressful time for many. While the holidays are meant to be a vacation, they tend to be more of a busy time for most. This holiday season, keep in mind that this stress can have a long-lasting impact on your body and your mind. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce holiday stress and enjoy the season more.

1. Lower your expectations. Relieve yourself of some of the holiday pressure and forget about perfection. Having high expectations will lead to bigger disappointment if something goes wrong, so stay realistic, and if something goes wrong, don’t be afraid to take a deep breath and say “oh well.”

2. Leave time for yourself. Between all the planning, shopping, and cooking, it can be easy to forget about leaving yourself some down-time to relax. This year, schedule at least a half hour of time dedicated to yourself. Go for a walk, get a massage, or just mediate. It will make all of the difference.

3. Set a budget. If money is tight, the holiday season can be especially stressful, as it can add on a lot of extra expenses. Make sure to set a budget for gifts, food, and decorations and stick to it in order to avoid monetary stress. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, make sure to book your travel in advance to get the best prices.

4. Stay healthy. Even though the holidays are busy, don’t abandon all healthy habits until the new year. Make sure to get enough sleep, incorporate physical activity into each day, and don’t overindulge. Maintaining these healthy habits will help you better manage the holiday stress.

Overall, remember that the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, and a time of reconnecting with loved ones. Stay in the moment, enjoy yourself and take time to appreciate the small things. Happy Holidays!

3 Simple Ways to Manage Stress During Exams

It’s the middle of the semester and students are guzzling caffeine, pulling all-nighters, and camping out in the library just to get through exams. While midterms can be a crucial and stressful time for many, it’s important to remember that sometimes overworking yourself can lead to counter-productive results. (which in turn, causes more stress)

Believe it or not, there are actually many things you can do to reduce your stress and still be successful on exams. Here are three simple and easy ways to change your study habits for the better:

  • Get organized- You finally get to the library and pull out your study guide, and you start to shuffle through the piles of paper in your backpack for your notes. An hour later, you realize you’ve wasted more time looking for the information to study, than actually studying. This is just one of the reasons why getting and staying organized is the key to a successful semester (and a successful life). Organize your notes, keep an agenda, write things down, plan ahead, make to-do lists; all of these things will make a big difference and save you both time and stress when it comes to exams.
  • Take breaks- While it may seem like there’s not enough hours in the day to get everything done, studying non-stop for ten hours will take a toll on you. Try to study for 45 minutes and then take a 15 minute break. Take a walk outside, listen to some music, meditate, stretch; let the information sink in. You’ll feel much more ready to start again and you’ll be less tempted to give in to distractions when you actually are studying.

If you ever need a little extra motivation, just remember: only eight more weeks until Christmas Break!

Biting the Boredom Away, One Nail At A Time

Nail biting is a bad habit that’s often associated with stress and anxiety. But in a world where nearly everyone has packed schedules and tight deadlines, why do only some us resort to this unhygienic act to relieve daily tension?

Actually, researchers at the University of Montreal suggest the habit is more likely linked to a person’s desire for perfectionism. Those who are impatient, easily frustrated or bored are also more likely to engage in body-focused behaviors, such as skin picking, excessive eyebrow tweezing, or — you guessed it — nail biting.

The study, published in The Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, found that perfectionist individuals have a more difficult time relaxing and performing tasks at a normal pace, and are often abnormally dissatisfied when their plans fall through. Being alone for as little as five minutes can trigger the need to engage in some actionable activity. Literally at one’s fingertips, fingernails are often targeted because of their accessibility.

The good news is that habits like nail biting and skin picking aren’t typically detrimental to one’s health unless the behavior is so severe it begins to interfere with daily life. Of course, the area under the fingernails can harbor germs, so nail gnawing can result in unwanted bacteria entering the body, leading to possible gastrointestinal problems down the road.

For nail biters wanting to break their annoying habit, researchers suggest replacing the act with a more positive competing action, such as exercising, attending social gatherings, or simply avoiding situations where you’re likely to become bored.

Pro-sanity Sundays: Pets are good for you

Therapy dog Whiskey graciously assists JOMC Assistant Dean Chris Roush in taking a break from a blizzard of winter finals.

Therapy dog Whiskey graciously assists JOMC Senior Associate Dean Chris Roush in taking a break from a blizzard of winter finals. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Willen Brown via Facebook.

Final exams are imminent at universities all across the country. Stress levels are skyrocketing, so students are turning to… pets.

At the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Park Library is scheduled to be a stress relief center on Wednesday, April 29 and Friday, May 1. On those days, Park Library Director Stephanie Willen Brown is bringing in therapy pets Archie, Ike, Whiskey, Topaz, Cadi and Brady to help stressed humans relax.

A Pennsylvania State University study published in October 2014 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people encountering a friendly dog had drops in cortisol (a hormone humans produce under stress) and heart rate. The dog effect was stronger even than among people paired with their human friends.

So if finals have you feeling a little frazzled, check out the Park Library’s therapy pet schedule and come commune with some representatives of the animal kingdom. A little fur is good for what ails you!

The Battle Within: PTSD alters the body’s response to stress

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can arise in people after they have experienced a traumatic event, such as being in combat or suffering physical or sexual abuse. It can be a debilitating psychological condition, as symptoms – which include intrusive flashbacks of the trauma, chronic hyperarousal, and avoidance behaviors – greatly decrease a patient’s quality of life. But how does this illness actually affect the body during stress?

To answer this question, researchers used an experimental technique called the Trier Social Stress Test. In this study, currently in press at Psychoneuroendocrinology, both healthy females and those with PTSD completed the task. Participants were asked to prepare a speech, deliver it in front of a panel of stoic judges, and then perform mental arithmetic out loud, being careful not to make any mistakes. This task might seem nightmarish to many readers, but it is frequently used as a reliable way to induce stress. While all PTSD participants reported much greater psychological distress than their healthy counterparts, some of these patients’ biological stress responses – as measured by cortisol levels – were actually lower than normal throughout the task.

Why is it that PTSD would cause blunted cortisol release in some patients but not others? Although the authors’ data could not provide any definitive answers, the study suggests that there may be a subtype of PTSD patients in which stress hormones are particularly dysfunctional. This subgroup had overall greater symptom severity and different patterns of cortisol-related gene expression. Knowledge of distinct PTSD subgroups may help inform individually-tailored pharmacotherapy treatments – eventually giving patients a better chance not just to survive, but to thrive as well.