Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Depression Seminar Session 6

Coping With Stress

"Stress is the trash of modern life - we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life." Gnarly Karly

Stress in life is inevitable--it's what 21st Century people live with. It is so ironic that we, with all the conveniences and the technology so readily available, and the wealth flowing, that stress has never been higher in any other century. It is in epidemic proportion. It contributes and speeds up most all of the major illnesses, including depression. So to be able to cope with stress is tantamount to our survival in society.

One-half of depression patients are unable to cope with stress, thus making it one of the four hits qualifying for the development of major depression. (Congratulations, you have the necessary number of hits, making you a qualifier for major misery!) So how does one cope with stress? It helps to understand a little bit more about the brain.

The Pineal gland is in the brain. It is only the size of a kernel of corn, yet it controls so much. It produces a chemical called epithalamin, which catalyzes a process that slows down the aging process, and even increases lifespan. It works with other chemicals in our bodies to create this effect. The end product produced is melatonin, a hormone that peaks during nighttime hours. It is sometimes called "the hormone of darkness". Melatonin protects against free-radical damage, enhances the immune system, assists in coping with stress, increases the ability to experience pleasure, regulates cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rhythm, and decreases risk for osteoporosis, among many other things. Melatonin levels fall as a person ages but one can maintain melatonin levels by enhancing pineal gland health.

Some things that cut melatonin production significantly are going to bed late, and exposure to blue light and/or regular light after 10 pm. We were referred to a study done at BYU, where students' GPA's were evaluated on individual sleep habits. It was shown that those students who were able to get to bed at around 10 pm had better GPA's than those who did not. Also Dr. Nedley cited his own experience during medical school where classes alone were from 6 am - 6 pm, not including homework, etc. His solution was to be in bed by 9 pm and up at 4 am. The only time he studied were the hours in the morning before class. He did this throughout his medical college years and he ended up with a 4.0 GPA. He attributes his success to his sleep habits.

One can supplement with melatonin and results have been good with short-term use and lower dosage (.3 mgs vs 3 mgs)but studies have not been conclusive about the long-term effects of melatonin supplementation. There are foods that are sources of melatonin among which are: corn, rice, barley, tomatoes, banana, ginger and the highest source - oats.

Lifestyle can also reduce melatonin levels:
  • Not coping with stress
  • caffeine (cuts melatonin production by 1/2)
  • alcohol (cuts melatonin production by up to 41%)
  • tobacco
  • aspirin-like drugs
  • beta and calcium channel blockers
  • anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids
  • vitamin B-12 (3 mg and above/day)
  • anti-depressants
Having said that not coping with stress is a bad thing, there are some forms of stress, if managed, that can actually be OK. First we need to define the different types of stress. Passive stress is the kind of stress that we feel when we are watching something horrific or terrible happening. For instance watching a scary movie puts us in great stress and turmoil and that would be characterized as passive stress. Active stress is the job deadline, the challenge of taking care of your kids, work demands. We were referred to a study in which subjects were exposed to either 12 minutes of watching gruesome surgical procedures or 12 minutes of a challenging test, and afterwards receiving a saliva test. The immune levels of those who took the test actually increased and the immune levels of those who watched the surgical procedures decreased. It all had to do with the kind of stress the subjects were exposed to. Passive stress depletes the bodies reserves. So the good news is that most acute stressors will boost the immune system. It is only when the stress is unusually prolonged or repetitive and passively endured that stress is detrimental. And again, the best thing to deal with all of it is melatonin.

Ways to Increase Melatonin Production:
  • Increase natural light and decrease artificial light where possible
  • sleep in complete darkness
  • eat foods rich in melatonin
  • avoid calcium deficiency - calcium plays a role in the production of melatonin
  • fast once a month for 24 hours. Fasting increases the production of melatonin, especially during the evening hours.
You can also learn to turn harmful passive stress to active stress. First, list the top 10 stressors currently in your life. Try to implement healthy adaptation by finding a way to either limit, avoid or remove the stressor. If that isn't possible, don't ignore it or use escapism. It won't go away and by ignoring it or trying to temporarily escape it may make things even worse.

As always, it is so important to implement a healthy lifestyle. Have an exercise program, get plenty of hydration, sun, fresh air, rest, moderation in all things, and trust in God. Do the things that are so often recommended for us to do, as Christians and LDS people. Do good deeds - it helps us forget ourselves and our pain. Put planning and organization into your life, then don't get hung up on it and let things work themselves out, putting faith in God. Dwell on the good and positive. Practice some form of restorative meditation, prayer being the very best. Finally know that you can cope, that God has given you ability and tools to cope. Trust in God.

"The only time to be anxious is when we are anxiously engaged in good works"

And finally, when the World Trade Center bombings took place, there was a tremendous amount of stress experienced by the survivors. Public figures such as David Letterman, movie stars and sports figures stated that in the grand scheme of things, what they do for a living to influence the public is so trivial and many sports and entertainment events were cancelled during this time. If the very people who facilitate these things are saying this, should we not believe it and limit our time on trivial things?

The more time we spend on helping ourselves and others by implementing wholesome lifestyles and contributing to the good of society, the more prepared we will be when life throws a curve ball at us and we're down for the count. We will have our reserves built up and so if we can't do everything, we know that the preparation we have done in advance has been our salvation.

1 comment:

Sher said...

Hey there. I stopped by because I saw you were following my blog, and I like to get to know the people who are following me.
I just want to say that I love that you are talking about depression. It's a subject that I don't know why people are afraid to discuss. I'm glad you coming out and talking about it, and helping people!
Thank you!