Stress, quite literally, rots us from within. The chronic stress that is accepted as part of living in our modern world is, among other adverse effects, destructive to our cognitive function, and raises our risk of dementia. One of the primary stressors is the belief that we can effectively multitask our way through life – driving, drinking our coffee, talking on the phone, yelling at the guy who just cut in front of us and planning an upcoming meeting. Yet, research tells us that we cannot effectively process several things at once and make up to 40% more mistakes than if we tackled one thing at a time. Furthermore, when we’re faced with a million decisions of seemingly equal priority, we’re left with a paralyzing stress. How can we get it all accomplished? This article provides insight on how to reduce your overall stress and have a happier retirement.
Think Sequentially (Just One Task at a Time) – Set aside time to tackle a single task. Put everything else out of your mind; put a “do not disturb” sign on the door if you have to. By focusing on one task at a time, we are once again returning to a sense of mindfulness and being in this moment.
The Effects of Stress and Depression on Memory
Within the memory area of our brains – the hippocampus – new cells appear. However, not all survive because stress and depression decrease neurogenesis. The hippocampus, in fact, is one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, bringing into question just how large a role depression and stress are in the development of the disease.
Sadly, we as humans, are the only mammals (as far as we know) capable of self-inducing the stress producing “fight-or-flight” mechanism with our thoughts. Moreover, we are capable of sustaining that state of hyper-response, even when there’s no real immediate danger. In other words, we can get ourselves worked up over a missed deadline and trigger the same bodily responses as if we were suddenly trapped in a cage with an angry lion. Furthermore, we can maintain that level of stress for days … weeks … months … even years after the threat is gone.
Learn to Spot a Threat – Rather than let your thoughts become the driver of your emotions (and then of your physiology), observe your mind as it begins to get wound up with worry and negativity.
Just observing your thoughts and mind puts you back in control so that those thoughts do not trigger the stress response, cause you to “lose it,” or cause you to be removed from this important moment. Don’t judge your mind, just observe. Wow, look how my mind is getting itself all out of joint over this thing. This reminds you that you are not your mind, and that you can control what and how you think.
Find Ways to Keep the Enemy at Bay – Once you’ve spotted that threat, whatever it might be, you have a decision to make. Will you accept it, change it, or walk away?
We choose our battles. Some are worth fighting, some aren’t. Is the stress small enough where you can accept the situation as is – such as a difference of opinion? Or, is it something bigger, such as a never-ending pile of work that you need to begin delegating to someone else? Or, is it something so big that for your physical and emotional health, you must walk away? Only you can make these decisions, and doing so will result in your being less stressed; your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for it!
By learning new things and keeping your mind engaged, managing the self-induced stress response and by keeping stress monsters at bay, your brain can continue to function at high levels for a lifetime. Live long; Live well!
By: Roger Landry, MD, MPH