Acute and Chronic Stress: Tools to get Relief

Acute and Chronic Stress: Tools to get Relief

Acute and Chronic Stress: Tools to get Relief

Imagine Yourself in this Situation

You are driving to Mass and the traffic light for Ocean Ave has turned green. As you turn onto Ocean Ave, from the corner of your eye you see a young girl riding her bike into the crosswalk. You slam on the brakes and barely avoid hitting her! Your heart is racing, and your hands are sweaty and shaking. Once you park in the St. Pius lot you think about what just happened and get angry at the young girl. However, as you start to recover a bit you now see this as a grace from God that allowed you to prevent a tragic accident. You have just been through a bout of acute stress.

Situational Stress and De-Stressing from it

Most species experience stress and also have systems for “de-stress” . Stress can be physical or emotional, but either type releases a chemical from your brain called acetylcholine, which in turn causes release of adrenaline from your adrenal glands (brain/body connection). This activates the fight/flight response of increased heart rate and increased blood flow. Acute stress in certain situations can be good, since it activates your immune system for fighting infections. However, in the above situation of avoiding hitting the young girl on her bike, we need a way to stop the stress response. The fastest way has been demonstrated to occur when you do a double inhale through your nose followed by a vigorous exhale through pursed lips. Repeating this 4-5 times should bring your stress under control by causing the release of serotonin which induces a feeling of calmness.

Chronic Stress is Different

Chronic stress is a more serious problem. It can last for months or even years. This type of stress has been linked to depression, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and the development of certain types of cancer.

A lack of social connections, not virtual, but in person, stimulates chronic stress and reinforces its longevity. The major instigator is the release of cortisol, a steroid hormone. Bringing chronic stress under control is a more difficult proposition. One route is to try some natural compounds. My sources for this column are listed at the end so you can get more information if you wish. (It’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider to avoid anything that could be counterproductive to any other treatment.)

Another approach for chronic stress is trying meditation and self-awareness. If you are unaware of the thoughts from your mind, they will own you! You cannot stop these negative thoughts so just notice them and move on. This is called self-awareness and the more you practice this type of meditation the better you get. You can ask God and Jesus to help you in this practice. At the end of your day think about the most vivid negative emotion you had that day. Say what you thought out loud and analyze your feelings. Then say: “I am alive and well. I will not waste my time on this thought. Tomorrow I will show love to other people in the name of Jesus”.

Thanks to Dick Niles, one of our leaders for RCIA and Emeritus Professor and former Associate Dean of Biomedical Sciences at the Joan C Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University. The intent of these columns is to provide information about how to improve your life by addressing physical and spiritual situations that might be impeding your peace, happiness and sense of fulfillment. Also, there will be useful tips on achieving academic success for undergrads and grad students at our local Universities.


1. Huberman Lab podcast, March 8, 2021 “Master Stress: Tools for Managing Stress and Anxiety”

2. On Purpose-Jay Shetty podcast, Oct 23, 2020 “Techniques to Cope with Anxiety and Feel More Centered throughout Your Day

3. How to Build a Happy Life Oct 5, 2021 Arthur Brooks “How to be Self-Aware” podcast the neuroscience of emotional management.

Mass and Mingle

Mass and Mingle

Mass and Mingle

Have you caught up with friends, old and new, after Mass at one of our Mass and Mingle events? Each month following one of the Masses, we have some light refreshments and a chance to mingle — building faith and friendship — as a parish community. These events rotate each month, so that each Mass has 3-4 throughout the calendar year. In April, we’ll be gathering after 7:30 Mass in St. Joseph’s Church on the 16th. In May we’ll be outside (weather permitting) of St. Joseph’s after the 5pm Mass on the 21st. Happy Easter Season. He is Risen – there’s so much for us to rejoice about together!
Reminding Ourselves What We’ve Learned

Reminding Ourselves What We’ve Learned

Reminding Ourselves What We’ve Learned

Serving others with Compassion, Kinship, and Tenderness

We heard about a talk that Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ gave at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in New York City earlier this week and it reminded us of Fr. Greg’s talk at Cheverus last May, as part of The Ignatian Year celebration. We remembered that throughout his books and his remarks, Fr. Greg stands firmly and reminds us that there is no “us and them”. There is only us. It’s good to remember and reflect on this truth.

So much of what he shared resonated. Many of the parishioners who attended have read Fr. Greg’s third book, The Whole Language, as a way to go a bit deeper into the idea of clearly centering ourselves on the kind of “oneness” to which Jesus calls us. The kind of oneness that draws us to go to the places where people are excluded – the margins, as it were – not to change people, but to erase the margins that separate us. As Fr. Greg says, “Standing with Jesus in the lowly place, that’s where the joy is.”

“Systems are changed by people. People are changed when they are cherished: He put into words what was in my heart,” wrote one parishioner. As founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world, this has been his life’s work. Ultimately cherishing people who have been traumatized, believing that traumatized people learn about being traumatized – cherished people learn how to cherish others. He shows that we can learn from people what they need to heal.

Distinction Between Exhaustion and Burn-out
Fr. Greg draws a distinction between exhaustion and burn-out as working for others vs. being self-focused. When we burn out, we have made the work about us, rather than other people and God. When it’s all about God and others, we can go on and on, exhausted perhaps, but not burnt-out. As one parishioner relayed, “I took comfort in his distinction between exhaustion and burn out. The first is bone-tired depletion from working for others, the latter has its focus on oneself! Easier to recover from exhaustion and to get back to work.”  Another says it this way, “I guess what made me reflect is that no matter what kind of work you do in life, if one engages in that work as ‘huh’ and ‘wonder’ versus self-absorbed tasks to complete, it is that much more life fulfilling. Meaning, when I go about my work as ‘it’s all about me’ then I will get burnt-out. But, if I make it all about you I can go on and on.”

Compassion, Kinship and Tenderness: Some questions to for personal reflection

Fr. Boyle describes a call to go to the margins and by going to the margins – we create an inclusive society that is potentially transformative – where on the margins have you felt called to respond? How did you respond?

How was this movement transformative for you? If the move to the margins was not transformative, does Fr. G’s writing/speaking give you any new insight?

How do we translate Fr. G’s compassion, sense of kinship, and tenderness to Portland, Maine?

If you’re moved to action, we invite you to consider serving others through a ministry that calls to you. Perhaps the Welcoming Ministry? Social Justice and Peace Commission? Bereavement? Home Visitors? We’d love it!

Acute and Chronic Stress: Tools to get Relief

The Importance of Sleep and How to Achieve It

The Importance of Sleep and How to Achieve It

In addition to the pandemic of COVID19, there is another global epidemic of sleeplessness, with about 2 out of 3 adults sleeping less than 8 hours a night. How much sleep is recommended for young adults and seniors?

The Mayo Clinic recommends 7 or more hours a night. Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults. As you get older, however, your sleeping patterns might change. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly, take longer to start sleeping and sleep for shorter time spans than do younger adults. Older adults also tend to wake up multiple times during the night, for bathroom visits (God, why am I being punished for getting old?).

Sleep quality is just as important as the amount of sleep (a topic for another column). Teenagers (13-19) need 8-10 hours per 24 hour period. Achieving this is linked with better attention, learning, memory, mental and physical health. For adults, getting less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis has been linked to poor health, including weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression.

The wake/sleep cycle very dependent on your circadian clock. This is a master regulator for when a variety of your biological functions are active or suppressed. The Circadian (24h) clock for sleep is governed by the light/dark cycle. The best thing you can do to “set” your circadian clock in the morning is to get outside and look indirectly at the sunrise for at least 5 minutes. The blue light is powerful and will stimulate the release of melatonin 12-16 hours later. This will help you to be more alert and thus more productive when you are awake. At night, when you start to get sleepy, avoid looking at overhead lights and shut down your TV, computer, and cell phone. They all emit blue light which causes breakdown of melatonin.

In general seniors produce less melatonin than younger individuals. So, if you are having trouble falling asleep you might ask your physician whether it would be ok to try melatonin supplements. Also, try spirituality  – using a brief meditation with God thinking about what went well today and how that might strengthen your relationship with the Lord.

This along with some deep breathing (inhale through your nose, hold for 3-4 seconds and exhale through pursed lips for a longer time than it took you to breathe in). This technique will cause the release of serotonin, a hormone associated with calmness which will relax you and help induce sleep.

Naps during the day are ok as long as they do not exceed 90 minutes.

So, in summary your light anchors are sunrise and sunset and no artificial light late at night, especially devices that emit blue light. One suggestion is to shut all devices down 30 min before your bedtime and do some reading (books or magazines, NOT iPads or Kindles) using a floor lamp. Of course, if none of this works and you have chronic insomnia, then you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician for help.

The intent of these columns is to provide information about how to improve your life by addressing physical and spiritual situations that might be impeding your peace, happiness and sense of fulfillment. Also, there will be useful tips on achieving academic success for undergrads and grad students at our local Universities. If you find these columns useful, please let me know through my email address listed below. Perhaps if enough people are interested we might form a self-help group to meet once a month as a start.


Richard M Niles, PhD
Emeritus Professor and former Associate Dean of Biomedical Sciences
Joan C Edwards School of Medicine
Marshall University

Blue Christmas Service

Blue Christmas Service

Blue Christmas Service

We will be celebrating our third annual “Blue Christmas” at 3 PM on Sunday, December 18. This service of prayer will take place at St. Joseph Church, Stevens, Ave, Portland. All are invited and most welcome.

The fast-approaching Christmas season is a time of festivity and good cheer for many people. For others, this time of celebration only makes their struggle more painful. Whether the pain is bereavement, the experience of rejection, or the fact that there are no family or friends waiting to gather, Christmas can be difficult.

We gather in prayer to acknowledge that pain, to accompany and support our brothers and sisters for whom this time is a challenge – and to affirm that God knows that pain and is with us in it.

We invite our friends and neighbors and strangers to be welcomed into a community of prayer and join us in this service of prayers, readings, music, and affirmation of the light of God which does shine in the darkness.

Toward the Common Good – An Evening with Kevin Concannon

Toward the Common Good – An Evening with Kevin Concannon

Toward the Common Good – An Evening with Kevin Concannon

Kevin Concannon will share selected highlights of Maine public policy history over a fifty year period. He will focus on public program changes that were influenced and directed by individual Catholic persons, and several particular Catholic institutions, during a time of major changes brought about by The Great Society and the Second Vatican Council. 

And, beyond Maine geographically, he will discuss significant social policy and law changes, often aligned with Catholic Social Teaching – and much more, all directed at addressing issues and the Common Good.

With Kevin as our tour guide, one who travelled this journey as a participant at levels of influence, whose values and professional competencies reflect his Catholic religion, parental influences, and largely Catholic Education, we’re sure to hear themes of Catholic Social Teaching in context of our own history here in Maine and around the nation. And, we’re sure to hear numerous humorous anecdotes along the way – no tour of history is complete without those!

Want to learn more? Join us on Tuesday, November 15th at 7 pm at the parish hall, 492 Ocean Avenue.
About Kevin Concannon:
Kevin Served as Associate Diocesan Director of Maine’s Catholic Charities agency in the ’60s and early ’70s. He served in various roles in Maine state government over a twenty year period including as Maine Commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Maine Commissioner of Human Services, Oregon State Director of Human Services, Iowa Director of Human Services and Under Secretary of US Department of Agriculture, responsible for US domestic food and nutrition programs.
Trained as a professional social worker, he is a native of Portland and is a graduate of Cheverus High Scholl, St. Francis Xavier University (BA and MSW) with further postgraduate courses at the University of Connecticut.

More about Our Lady of Hope Parish – A Jesuit Ministry:
Comprised of a wide range of members, representing 25 area towns, we’re an intergenerational community inspired by Christ’s love for all people and the Ignatian vision that calls and empowers us to live the Gospel message and find God in all things.

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