How to Feel Better About Anything When Life Feels More Stressful Than Joyful

How to Feel Better About Anything When Life Feels More Stressful Than Joyful

via Prevention by Arricca Elin SanSone

If the uncertainties of the past year and a half have left you on edge, look no further than your mind. “The amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, is activated within a few seconds to respond to threats,” says Rashi Aggarwal, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “The prefrontal cortex—the logical, thinking part of the brain—takes much longer to react.” By then, your heart is pounding, your blood pressure is rising, and your respiration increases in a fight-or-flight response.

That surge of cortisol and adrenaline was handy when we had to flee hungry tigers. But when we’re not in life-threatening situations and yet our brains repeatedly signal that we are, we run into trouble.

“This type of chronic stress can have physical and psychological effects,” says Neda Gould, Ph.D., director of the Mindfulness Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It’s not as simple as saying stress causes illness, but there’s an association.” Studies show that long-term tension is linked with increased inflammation, which plays a role in conditions like rheumatoid arthritisheart disease, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and depression.

Fortunately, when things around you seem to be unraveling, there are plenty of ways to manage the spinning thoughts in your mind. “The tools are different for all of us at varying times in our lives,” says Dr. Aggarwal. “But you can train your brain to react more constructively to stress.”

Besides the usual routine—eating nutritious foods, connecting with friends, and getting enough sleep—building these skills will keep your mind and body in better balance.

Give your brain a break.

Having emotions repeatedly ramped up is exhausting. “When you’re in overdrive, your brain is constantly seeking ways to stay safe. There’s no respite,” says Luana Marques, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “The more we keep our emotional brain activated, the more anxiety we have.” You have to give your brain time to shut off and recharge during the day.

If the news is what’s ramping you up, try limiting your exposure to news sites and social media. “This is not optional,” says Marques. “You need to know enough to stay informed, but not so much that you’re constantly in fight-or-flight or freeze mode. We want to activate our ‘thinking brain’ by unplugging.”

You don’t have to eliminate media, but reduce your consumption of it: Check the news once or twice a day from one or two sources instead of doomscrolling repeatedly through every outlet. Likewise, set boundaries for social media and shut off unnecessary push notifications.

Getting out of your chair also helps your brain hit the brakes, no matter what is kicking your stress response into high gear. Numerous studies have shown that physical activity releases positive chemicals that have anti-inflammatory and antidepressant effects. Just as a car’s battery recharges through use, your body needs movement to get energized.

“When we feel tired and emotional, we don’t want to do anything. But once you get moving, you feel better,” says Marques. Even a quick walk around the block or a few jumping jacks should help…

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