Over the past 2 months, we've covered 2 major potential sources of inflammation in the body - sugars/refined carbohydrates and too much physical activity - and this month, I'm going to address a third extremely important source of inflammation - stress. Recent studies demonstrate clearly that too much stress causes far more ill health than we have previously realized, so learning to handle it well is essential - and you can.
Until recently, it was not clear how stress influences disease and health, but now researchers have found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. The effects of psychological stress on the body's ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease. Prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone. That is, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol's regulatory effect. As a result, runaway inflammation is believed to promote the development and progression of many diseases.
I'm sure you're familiar with cortisol's role in the 'fight or flight' response. This immediately increases energy at the expense of processes not required for immediate survival. This is helpful in 'real' emergencies, e.g. running away from a bear. However, today, many of us are chronically stressed by many matters that are not life-or-death, and pumping out cortisol almost constantly can really wreak havoc on our health.
Chronic stress and the resulting inflammation has been linked to:
The good news is that there is a lot we can do to manage stress and reduce it to a healthy level.
Yoga is a form of exercise that has really beneficial effects on stress. There are many different types of yoga and anyone can enjoy its benefits. Tai chi and Qi gong are also highly effective.
Meditation. Meditation is gaining increasing recognition as one of the best things you can do to ensure good health in general and to manage stress in particular. You don't have to be formal about it. The idea is simply to quiet or still your mind - it should be as blank as possible. If you do this for about 15 minutes once or twice a day, you will really benefit. There are many types of mediation - too many to explain here. For an introduction, I suggest reading How to Meditate at http://www.wikihow.com/Meditate.
Be mindful, be present. Take 5 minutes and focus on 1 behaviour with awareness. For example, notice how the air feels on your face when you're walking or how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food. When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, this helps you feel less tense.
Reach out. Talk to close friends, preferably face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what's going on and get a fresh perspective on your situation.
Listen to music. Listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. But you can also blow off steam by cranking it up with more upbeat tunes and/or singing at the top of your lungs!
Laugh! It's true that laughter is the best medicine, for more than recovering from illness - it definitely helps with stress too. It lowers cortisol levels, and boosts endorphins which help improve your mood. Watch a favourite comedy or sitcom, talk with a friend who makes you laugh.
Don't worry, be happy! We need to be aware that our stress levels are not actually due to the situations we find ourselves in, but to our perception of the situations. We have the power to change our perceptions and our beliefs (See our newsletter of November 2012 on the Biology of Belief).
Jack Canfield writes about taking 100% responsibility for ourselves. He gives an equation,
E + R = O
Our response to the event is the only thing over which we have control - total control.
Chew gum. Studies suggest that chewing gum can reduce cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress. Note that you should avoid gum that is sweetened by aspartame because aspartame is a neurotoxin. Xylitol and stevia are the 2 safe sweeteners. Of course, I highly recommend Nature's Sunshine's Xylitol Gum in either spearmint or cinnamon which you can order directly from our office at 613.829.0427.
Hang out with your pet. Dog owners have been shown to be less stressed out, most likely thanks to having a buddy to cuddle (or to take for a walk).
Write it down. Keeping a journal helps with stress-related symptoms. The act of writing out your problems helps to quiet your mind. You also reflect on your issues and may see solutions when you see things in writing.
Keep a gratitude journal. Closely related, it's a really good practice to write down 5 things for which you are grateful at the end of each day. This finishes the day on a positive note and helps with preparing to fall asleep. It also helps to review your list to remind yourself what really matters. It's more effective to write this than just think about it.
If you should find that efforts to relax only make you feel more stressed you may need to talk to a health care provider (see counseling below).
Other stress management techniques
EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique is a simple technique that is easy to learn and easy to do almost anywhere, any time. Briefly, it involves tapping on different meridian points to release energy while you state your problem either mentally or out loud, and your feelings about the problem, until you feel a positive shift, and the problem seems to almost dissolve. It doesn't take long, and once a problem has been resolved this way, the solution is permanent. It has been used successfully on serious disorders such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) in war veterans. It may sound too good to be true, but there is a scientific basis for it, and I recommend reading about it. The best source of information is a book called The Tapping Solution - A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living by Nick Ortner. It's available from Amazon in both paper and ebook versions.
Excess alcohol will not help! It may relax you initially, but you will not be able to sleep as well later. Lack of sleep can aggravate stress and vice versa, so it's best to stay away from that vicious cycle.
Do drink tea - One study found that drinking black tea leads to lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater feelings of relaxation.
Adequate good quality sleep
Nature's Sunshine provides a number of supplements that are very helpful in reducing stress.
Stress Pak /store/#!/~/product/category=5963008&id=25596019 is a 30-day program to provide the right nutrients which are depleted during times of physical and/or emotional stress.
Stress Formula /store/#!/~/product/category=5963008&id=6402647 A vitamin B-complex formula in a base of calming herbs to nutritionally support the nervous system when under stress.
Ramila's Emotional Relief Pack /store/#!/~/product/category=5963009&id=25596040 is a combination of three Chinese herb blends that provide a balanced support of good emotional health.
The 3 herb blends can also be purchased individually.RE-X /store/#!/~/product/id=6402650 is a sedative and tranquilizing formula high in calcium, manganese, selenium, zinc and niacin.
For additional information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic at 613.829.0427 for an appointment. Please continue letting friends and family know about this newsletter. Also on our website, please see back issues of this newsletter, additional information about products, order products, and see information about our Clinic.
The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.
These newsletters will help you make better choices for better health. The choices that you make today can either have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. Begin by choosing better. It is a step toward longevity.