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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Stress

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The connection between mind, body, posture, and stress

Image: Alexander Jawfox/Unsplash

If you’ve ever endured a nerve-racking situation followed by a throbbing noggin, it wouldn’t seem far-fetched to connect one with the other. Nearly one in four adults reports experiencing multiple headaches every year in the United States. The World Health Organization estimates 50% of all adults have at least one headache annually. Though there are over 150 types of headaches, tension headaches are the most common and often triggered by stress. Yet while doctors might agree the two can be linked, they still don’t understand exactly how.

Brian Cole, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush…


Pandemic Reflections

There are several things I don’t want to let go of

Photo: Andy Andrews/Getty Images

I feel scared about the pandemic ending. That feels wrong to write, in light of all the loss, pain, and misery people have endured over the past year. My family and I are extremely lucky, fortunate, and privileged: Our kids go to school part-time, my parents and in-laws are vaccinated, and the husband and I can easily work from home. I’m in an industry that doesn’t qualify as “essential.”

My last professional outing was exactly a year ago: the Hot Pod Summit, where my fellow podcasters and I nervously giggled as we greeted each other with elbow bumps and then…


Your brain responds to stress differently when you’re by yourself

Credit: Justin Paget / Getty Images

This is a modified excerpt from Inside Your Head 🧠, a weekly newsletter exploring why your brain makes you think, feel, and act the way you do, written by me, Elemental’s senior writer and a former brain scientist. Subscribe here so you won’t miss the next one.

This week’s issue is a preview from a series of stories I’m working on called “Your Poor Pandemic Brain” to mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. going into lockdown and what it’s done to our mental health. …


Understanding sympathetic dominance

A sign with the text “Racism is a pandemic”
A sign with the text “Racism is a pandemic”
Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash

My hands trembled at the steering wheel. Going 20 miles per hour over the national speed limit in my patched-up Renault Megane (a French car, for those not familiar) and pushing it to its structural and engineering limits, I struggled to compose myself on the drive back home from the North of England.

“Too urban? I sounded too urban?” The words kept replaying over and over again in my overwrought mind. “What could that even mean?” I mumbled the question to myself, but I knew exactly what it meant.

I’ll be the first to openly admit I’m not the most…


“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. “Everyone telling you, ‘Be of good cheer,’” sings Andy Williams in his 1963 holiday tune. But this holiday season, it might take a little more than a nostalgic song to get into the holiday spirit. For some people, that might be a mug of eggnog or a glass or two of wine. There’s a widespread assumption that alcohol cheers you up and reduces stress. And while it’s true that alcohol is an anesthetic and can blunt the brain and body’s response…


Stressed? Exhausted? Depressed? Here’s a surefire way to clear your head and improve your health.

Photo: massimo colombo/Getty Images

When anxiety sends my heart climbing into my throat, when motivation evaporates, when life makes no sense, I have a proven pick-me-up. I head to the nearest trail for a quick hike or, when time allows, drive to the mountains for a good, long trek. Without fail, the exercise, fresh air, and curative effects of nature itself combine to boost my mental mood and invigorate my body.

It’s not just me. There’s serious science to all this, and the positive effects build over time with repeated outings. …


Different forms of relief — from pain, or from the fretful anticipation wrapped up in a political election — look quite similar in the brain.

Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants

The Greek philosopher Epicurus famously described pleasure as the absence of pain. And, according to some scholars, Epicurus believed that the greatest form of pleasure comes from the abatement of pain — that is, from relief of some form of torment.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to talk about relief right now,” says Jack Nitschke, PhD, a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. …


Conscious breathing, cellular breathing, and other easy techniques to feel calmer

Photo: FatCamera/Getty Images

Air is vital to our survival. But when we find ourselves facing extraordinary levels of stress, as is today’s daily norm, it can be difficult to catch our breath.

Stress can feel suffocating. And eight months into this so-called new normal, individuals and communities are inevitably struggling to hold on to air. A recent poll by the American Psychological Association shows that more than a third of Americans (36%) say the pandemic is having a serious impact on their mental health. Nearly 60% say it is seriously affecting their day-to-day lives and negatively affecting their finances. …


Election Stress Relief

Try this body scan to find a moment of calm — right now

Animations: Yana Pan

To help manage Election Day anxiety, Elemental is bringing you a body scan for stress relief (also known as progressive muscle relaxation therapy; read more about the science behind it here). Read through the guided meditation slowly and carefully, or just press play on the audio above and close your eyes.


Election Stress Relief

Try our body scan to find a moment of calm — right now

Animation: Yana Pan

As we approach Election Day, Elemental is bringing you a progressive body scan for stress relief (also known as progressive muscle relaxation therapy; read more about the science behind it here) Each day, you’ll focus on and relax one part of your body to find a moment of presence and calm. Today, we dial in to the face and top of the head. Find earlier installments here (for the feet), here (for the legs and lower back), here (for the core), here (for the chest), here (for the arms and hands), and here (for the neck and jaw). …

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