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How much do you know about stress?

SUN Columnist

How much do you know about stress and how it affects you?

Take the following, brief quiz, and find out.

1. You always know it when you’re stressed out.

Correct answer: False.

Seems obvious, right? But some people, especially if they’ve been under stress for a long time, don’t realize that a range of symptoms — head, back or neck pain, a racing heart, even maddening forgetfulness — isn’t normal. They think it is just part of life. If this describes you, try to spot patterns by keeping a stress diary for a week or two. Write down any symptoms you feel, as well as what’s happening in your life when you notice them.

2. Someone who’s sad and withdrawn may also be stressed.

Correct answer: True.

Thanks to a mix of genetics, hormones and cultural factors, stress affects everyone in different ways. Many people become agitated, irritable, anxious or fretful — the stress symptoms that most of us know about. But some people shut down, space out, pull inward or even freeze up.

3. All stress — whether short-term or long-term — is bad for you.

Correct answer: True

Some stress is normal and necessary. The stress hormones — adrenaline, cortisol — released by the brain sharpen our attention and can spur us on to take much-needed action. But our bodies weren’t designed to handle high levels of stress hormones day after day, year after year. When these hormones continuously flood the brain, they weaken blood vessels, kill off neurons and even shrink the hippocampus, a known risk factor for late-life Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Stress causes many health problems, and makes others worse.

Correct answer: True.

When you’re under prolonged stress, you may get sick more and you’re at greater risk for a whole host of health issues — including hypertension, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). You’re also more likely to become obese and depressed — two major risk factors for dementia.

5. If you’ve been a high-anxiety person your whole life, there’s not a lot you can do about it now.

Correct answer: False

Stress may be unavoidable, but stress-reduction techniques, coupled with increased exercise and dietary changes, may slow or even reverse the damage caused by the stress of everyday life. A large retrospective study of over 13,000 men and women 40 to 55 years old published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that those who were depressed at midlife were much more likely to develop dementia in late life. But here’s the good news: Those who took steps to reduce their stress had no increased risk for dementia.

6. To get the stress-reducing benefit of exercise, you have to be willing to make major lifestyle changes.

Correct answer: False.

Exercise short-circuits the stress response by triggering the release of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neuropathic factor), which nourishes cell growth, as well as endorphins, brain chemicals that boost feelings of well-being, ease muscle tension and improve sleep. But you don’t have to train for a marathon to reap those benefits. Studies have shown that only 150 minutes a week (that’s 30 to 45 minutes, five times a week) of moderate aerobic exercise will do it. Walking briskly qualifies, so does jogging, swimming, biking, playing with your grandkids or even gardening. (But couch potatoes should start slowly, 10-15 minutes every other day, and check with their doctor first.)

7. Meditation can help you dial down stress.

Correct answer: True.

Practiced regularly, meditation can reduce your stress level. It can also boost feelings of joy and serenity and increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure. There are many different types of meditation, so try several until you find one that feels right for you.

8. If you’re rested, you’ll feel less stressed.

Correct answer: True.

People don’t give sleep the credit it deserves. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sticking to a regular schedule of 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night is essential for easing tension and boosting the emotional stamina needed to deal with stressful situations. Promise yourself you’ll go to bed and wake up about the same time every day. If sleep eludes you, don’t toss and turn. Get up, read a book or listen to music until you start to feel sleepy. Avoid smoking, caffeine or highly acidic foods two to three hours before bedtime, and unplug from all technology — TV, computers and cellphones — at least 30 minutes before lights out.

9. Worrying a lot about little things also wreaks havoc on your mind and body.

Correct answer: True.

Researchers at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, found that dwelling on upsetting events ratchets up levels of inflammation throughout the body, leaving you more susceptible to age-related diseases, including dementia. If this sounds like you, schedule a worry break: Set aside 15 minutes a day to dwell on problems and concerns. When that time is up, though, tell yourself to STOP (or picture a large red stop sign). Or try keeping a “worry” journal for one week. You may be surprised by week’s end how many of the things you lost sleep over never actually happened.

(Courtesy Margery D. Rosen, AARP, July 8, 2013)

You can help address some of the above issues at your very own Senior Center — The Den. Check out the schedule and make time for change.

Random acts of kindness

A woman from Texas by the name of Alice popped in the other day with a duffle bag full of crocheted hats. Alice gets an A-plus in my book; she came in just to give the lovely crocheted hats to other seniors. You rock, Alice; you put smiles on a lot of faces.

Pam Kircher donated her book and video to our library, “Love is the Link,” about a hospice doctor who shares her experience of near-death and dying. Thanks, Pam.

Medicare open enrollment

Do you need help navigating your way through the Medicare ins and outs? Don’t have Internet access? The SHIP program at The Den is here to help, call 264-2167 for an appointment and we’ll help you through it.

Medicare’s “Extra Help” program helps people with limited income to pay for their prescription medications.

Making ends meet should not mean going without your medications. If you have limited income and resources, Medicare’s “Extra Help” program sets it up so this year you might pay no more than $2.60 for each generic drug and $6.50 for each brand name drug. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that more than 2 million people with Medicare may be eligible for the subsidy, but are not currently enrolled to take advantage of these savings. A recent law changed how your income and assets are counted.

The changes that took place in 2010 allowed more people than ever to qualify for “Extra Help.” Even if you were previously turned down for “Extra Help” due to income or resource levels, you should reapply. If you qualify, you will get help paying for Medicare prescription drug coverage premiums, copayments, and deductibles. To qualify, you must make less than $16,755 a year (or $22,695 for married couples). Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some extra help. Your resources must also be limited to $13,070 (or $26,120 for married couples). Resources include bank accounts, stocks, and bonds, but not your house or car.

To learn more about Medicare prescription drug coverage, visit www.medicare.gov, or call our local SHIP office located at the Senior Center, 264-2167. There is no charge for Medicare assistance.

Delivered meals 

Are you struggling to get meals prepared because you are homebound, recovering from surgery or an illness? If so, let us do the cooking. Enjoy Cafe Fox meals delivered to your door. Our hot meal program is available four days a week to those living closer to town, with frozen meals for Thursdays and weekends. Those living farther out of town may be eligible for the frozen meal program. Meals are available to people age 60-plus for a suggested donation of $3 per meal. Give us a call at 264-2167 for further information. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Weekly activities at The Den

Friday, Nov. 15 — 10 a.m. Stitchin’ in the Kitchen; 12:30 p.m. gym walk, Medicare counseling by appointment.

Monday, Nov. 18 —12:30 p.m. Elder Abuse presentation, gym walk, Medicare counseling by appointment.

Tuesday, Nov. 19 — 12:30 p.m. gym walk; 1 p.m. Meditation for Healing, Medicare counseling by appointment.

Wednesday, Nov. 20 — Medicare counseling by appointment.

Thursday, Nov. 21 — Medicare counseling by appointment.

Friday, Nov. 22 — 10 a.m. Stitchin’ in the Kitchen; 12:30 p.m. gym walk.

Cafe Fox menu

All meals include our great salad bar.

Friday, Nov. 15 — Red beans and rice, corn bread, orange wedge, peach cobbler with whipped topping, banana.

Monday, Nov. 18 — Beef enchiladas, cilantro lime rice, Mexicali corn, cinnamon applesauce.

Tuesday, Nov. 19 — Honey BBQ chicken, oven browned potatoes, spinach, fresh apple, bran muffin.

Wednesday, Nov. 20 — Bratwurst and sauerkraut on wheat bun, orange wedge, seasoned green beans, potato salad, banana.

Thursday, Nov. 21 — Closed.

Friday, Nov. 22 — Roast beef and gravy, smashed taters, green beans almandine, whole wheat roll, brownies, ice cream.

Reservations are required by 9 a.m. the morning of the day you would like to dine at Cafe Fox. For your convenience, you can make your reservation up to one week in advance (call 264-2167), on our website at www.archuletacounty.org, at select departments and at the Senior Center.

Suggested donation for older adults age 60 plus is $4, guests $6. Our meal program is partially funded through the Older Americans Act via the San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging, United Way, Archuleta County, Town of Pagosa Springs and other individual donations and grants. These funds help support the cost of the meal which is approximately $12.85. Please note our menu is subject to change. The salad bar opens at 11:30 a.m. with lunch served from noon to 12:30 p.m.

This story was posted on November 14, 2013.