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Tag: stress

A walk in the woods may help the microbiome and our mood

The microbiome is our own inner forest of beneficial and harmful microbes. Bacteria, yeasts and other types of microscopic organisms live within our gastrointestinal tract and on our other body surfaces. Beneficial bacteria help protect us from less helpful bacteria and yeast and other fungi. The moisture rich air of a forest has been found to have a variety of beneficial nutrients and may even provide some beneficial bacteria. [1]

Moisture rich air also can provide a positive lift for the mood from negatively charged ions. The smell of ozone in the air may be noticeable after a thunder storm or on the beach of a large lake or ocean. In excess ozone can cause headaches but smaller amounts may have a positive affect on the mood. [1]

Other research has found that simply looking at images of nature helped reduce stress levels for the study participants. Walking through urban areas has not been found to have as much stress reduction benefits as a similar amount of time spent walking through a more natural setting. [2]

Decorating indoor and outdoor settings in urban areas with images of nature may provide health benefits for residents and workers and have a positive affect on their mood.  [2]

Some types of indoor plants may provide additional benefits besides stress reduction or lift the mood. Some species of common indoor houseplants also help clean the air of chemicals commonly found in modern environments which may have negative effects on health. Volatile chemicals are released over time from plastics such as vinyl. New carpets and vinyl flooring may release larger amounts of volatile chemicals when they are first installed and continue to release smaller amounts over the years. Formaldehyde is one of the volatile chemicals which has been associated with health risks for adults and children and neurological risks for a developing fetus.

A study by NASA regarding what types of plants might help remove the negative chemicals found in the air of enclosed buildings led to a list of 50 houseplants that are effective at cleaning the air of negative chemicals. The complete list is available in a book and the top ten are listed online. The book goes into more detail about which plants may be better for removing which types of chemicals from the air of enclosed spaces – such as NASA spaceship. [3]

Volatile chemicals that can make an indoor environment more hazardous to breathe and which led to the term “sick building syndrome” include “formaldehyde, Volatile Organic Compounds (benzene and trichloroethylene or TCE), airborne biological pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, pesticides and disinfectants (phenols), and radon.”  [3]

The book by Dr. B.C. Wolverton, the scientist who did the research for NASA, is called “How to Grow Fresh Air – 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office.” It includes more detail about which plants may be better for cleaning which types of chemicals from the air and includes basic guidance on the type of care and ease of care that each species of plant might require to keep it alive. [4]

Caution is needed to not over-water houseplants or to leave them in a poorly drained pot as it may lead to mold. Some types of mold can have negative health risks but the type common to a houseplant are more likely to simply smell musty which can have a negative impact on the air of an enclosed space.

Houseplants which require misting such as ferns may also be increasing the amount negatively charged ions of water in the air which may help promote positive moods for people in the room. Small electronic model waterfalls also can increase the amount of negatively charged water ions in the air. Some types of air purifiers include an ozone generator however they aren’t recommended by the EPA as too much ozone can have negative health consequences. [5]

An early indicator of too much ozone might be a headache. The ozone generating units may be useful for freshening the air of an enclosed space when there are no pets or humans in the room.  Levels of ozone necessary to kill “biological organisms” (such as mold spores perhaps) would also be irritating or harmful for humans to breath for very long, [5], but once the ozone generating machine is turned off the increased levels return to normal after a few hours in my personal experience. I have used one in my home and it could cause obvious increases in ozone smell if turned up to full generating potential and that could lead to a headache for me. At lower power levels the ozone generation did seem to help freshen the air and it did seem to have a positive effect on my mood.

Electricity exists in many forms — in laptops and in a misty morning breeze.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Kelly Tatera, “Scientists Reveal Why “Forest Bathing” or Going to the Beach Boosts Our Well-Being,” Feb. 3, 2016 [1]
  2.  Jared Green, “Research Shows Nature Helps with Stress,” 9/8/2011 [2]
  3. Greg Seaman, “The Top 10 Plants for Removing Indoor Toxins,” May 13, 2009 [3]
  4. B. C. Wolverton, “How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office Paperback,” April 1, 1997  [4]
  5.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ),Ozone Generators that are Sold as Air Cleaners” [5]

People may need people and a sense of purpose for health and happiness

People and other species are social creatures whose survival may have been dependent on being part of a group rather than being isolated. Loneliness has been associated with increased inflammation and a reduced resistance to infection by viral diseases. Genetic changes have been found to occur in isolated individuals that lead to the increased inflammatory response in comparison to individuals who have more social support. Our instincts have developed to trust that being part of a group increases our chance of survival. Having a role that fulfills a valued purpose for the group is associated with an increased sense of happiness.

Fitting into groups well can take social skills that need to be nurtured from birth. Infants learn body language at an early age by interacting with a parent who responds to the baby’s cues. If the baby smiles the mother smiles back and the baby learns to smile more readily. If the baby has a mother that doesn’t notice body language though, then the infant may stop smiling as often. Infants and children depend on their caregivers for everything and try to please with their smiles, eye contact, or baby coos. If the infant isn’t receiving eye contact in return however they may stop trying or are scolded they may learn to look away and to avoid eye contact.

Children ideally need emotional support in order to develop trust in themselves and in others. Parents who have limited skills in understanding and accepting their own emotions may not be able to teach their children what they don’t understand themselves. Children who have some role model in their lives who understands emotional skills may cope better than children who don’t.

The topic is discussed in more detail in the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD, (New Harbinger Pub., Inc., 2015, Oaklnad, CA) [1] (This book is not a twelve step book and is not affiliated with the Adult Children of Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Parents twelve step group.) An excerpt from page 108:

“Why is emotional connection so crucial?

According to neuroscientist Stephen Porges (2011), mammals have evolved a unique coping instinct in which they are calmed by proximity or engagement with others. Instead of just having the involuntary stress reactions of fight, flight, or freeze, like reptiles do, mammals can calm their heart rate and reduce the physical costs of stress by seeking reassuring contact with others of their kind. Certain vagus nerve pathways in mammals have evolved to allow stress hormones and heart rate to be reduced by confronting in such forms as physical closeness, touch, soothing sounds, and even eye contact. These calming effects conserve valuable energy and also create pleasurable social bonds that promote strong groups.

For all mammals, including humans, something magical happens when this desire to seek comfort switches on. The danger might not go away, but individuals can stay relatively calm as long as they feel tied into their herd, pack, or circle of loved ones. Most mammals have stressful lives, but thanks to their instinct for engaging with others, calming comfort and restored energy are just a friendly contact away. This gives mammals a tremendous advantage over other animals when it comes to dealing with stress in an energy-efficient way, since they don’t have to go into fight, flight, or freeze every time they sense a threat.” [1]

So a sense of connection to others can help reduce the negative inflammatory effects of the stress response. Some stress can be healthy to help get us moving to meet whatever challenge has occurred. Stress may become more overwhelming however if the person is isolated or never learned social skills or trust enough to ask for help or seek out help. Children in situations with emotionally immature caregivers may learn that people around them can’t be trusted or that trying doesn’t lead to success so why bother trying — they can learn  a sense of helplessness and hopelessness rather than finding strength from others.

The book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson [1] describes  four different types of emotionally immature caregivers, how growing up with them might affect children and how the children might overcome the lessons they learned later in life as adults who only just discovered that emotions aren’t dangerous things to never be discussed or worse that one might be punished for exhibiting. Some emotionally immature people may feel threatened by strong emotions and may react negatively to children who are simply being children. The child in that situation learns to not trust themselves and may not learn that emotions are normal rather than upsetting or frightening.

Severe childhood trauma can lead to changes in the brain that cause ongoing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A new strategy for treating PTSD has been developed which involves electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve called Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS).  Which the excerpt from the book [1]  suggests is the nerve pathway that naturally is stimulated when social contact is sought during a stressful situation.

Stress and trauma have been too readily available lately. More police officers were shot today in the U.S. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three are injured, one critically, and three officers were killed Sunday morning. The gunman was a former marine who drove there from his home in Missouri. The gunman was killed at the scene. Further information about his possible motives are not known at this time. Whether there were any accomplices is not known but it is believed he was a lone gunman and there has been no further shooting in the area.

My condolences and best wishes to the families, friends, and coworkers of the slain officers, may they rest in peace, and to the community of Baton Rouge

Emotionally immature parents may raise emotionally immature children who grow up to raise their own emotionally immature children. Help break the trauma cycle by reading the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson [1]. Whether you are a parent or a teen or an adult learning more about emotional maturity and immaturity can help understand your own emotions and others. Whatever we grow up with will seem normal to us and as adults we tend to seek out similar relationships to those we were familiar with as children — but sometimes what seems normal to some people isn’t normal for everyone else and there is no need to continue living in abusive situations just because it seemed like a normal part of life as a child.

Lack of emotional skills may increase the risk of acting inappropriately when under severe stress. People need the support of people to help reduce negative effects of stress and increase a sense of connection and purpose. People need to learn emotional skills from people who have emotional skills  — or sometimes from a book. [1]

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

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