When you’re stressed, so is your thyroid
Everything seems to be going wrong this morning—you’re out of coffee, traffic is bad, and you can feel tension from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Maybe you’re under constant pressure at work or can’t catch a break on your bills. Stress is a part of your life, and when it’s ongoing, it can affect everything—including your thyroid. Learn why this is significant and what you can do to help reduce the effects of stress on this important gland.
Your thyroid: The regulator of body functions
Sitting squarely at the front of your neck is the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped powerhouse of your body’s metabolism. As part of your endocrine system (a collection of glands in the body that produce hormones), the thyroid regulates many body functions including, but not limited to:
Another example of hormonal imbalance is insulin resistance, wherein the body resists insulin production, resulting in increased blood sugar levels. This leads to other associated health problems. Several of these conditions often occur with hypothyroidism (when the thyroid doesn’t make enough of its hormones). The result? Increased products of dysregulated sugar metabolism, which lead to lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood.3 Insulin resistance can also contribute to thyroid enlargement and nodules.4,5
Chronic stress has also been shown to increase the risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid condition.2By affecting the immune system through the nervous and endocrine systems, chronic stress can “flip a switch” and increase the risk of autoimmune thyroid disorders for people who have a genetic predisposition.2
Don’t stress about your thyroid
If you’re concerned about chronic stress and how it may affect your thyroid, ask your healthcare practitioner for more information. He or she is the best person to consult about stress and thyroid health.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
By Whitney Crouch, RDN & Kirti Salunkhe, MD
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as a constellation of events, starting with a stimulus or stressor that causes a reaction in the brain leading to the stress response commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction that can affect many body systems.1 Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life that we all experience at some time or another. Stressors that are acute, or short-lived, are often physical or physiological. Psychological or emotional stress is usually chronic in nature.
The immune system and stress
The immune system is made up of cells, tissues, and organs working together as the body’s defense mechanism to protect us from illness. Scientists say short-term stress (lasting from minutes to a few hours) may be beneficial for our immune health, as it stimulates immune activity and prepares us for possible periods of longer stress—a “fire drill” of sorts. However, chronic stress is actually harmful.2
White blood cells (WBC) are critical for the body’s immune response to foreign invaders. These cells are produced, and stored, in many areas of the body including the spleen, bone marrow, and thymus (a small gland found behind the sternum and between the lungs).3 There are two types of WBCs associated with the immune system: Phagocytes, which actively attack foreign organisms, and lymphocytes, which remind the body to recognize previous invaders and help destroy them.4 The main phagocyte is the neutrophil. Neutrophils primarily fight bacteria and infections. The main lymphocytes are the B lymphocytes or B-cells and T lymphocytes or T-cells. B-cells start out and mature in the bone marrow. T-cells start out in the bone marrow but mature in the thymus. These two cell types are the “special ops” of the immune system and have specific functions. B-cells make antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses and T-cells directly attack invading organisms.4
Acute stress and the immune response
One of the most familiar reactions to acute stress is the “fight-or-flight” response. This physiological reaction usually occurs during an emergency or a fearful mental or physical situation.3 When a threat is perceived, there is a release of hormones to prepare you to either stay and deal with the threat or to run away to safety. It represents choices our ancient ancestors made when faced with dangerous situations. Nowadays, it’s more likely those dangerous situations are ones leading to a wound or infection, but our body reacts the same way.3 During periods of short-term stress, our sympathetic nervous system releases “stress hormones:” epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), as well as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), and cortisol from the adrenal glands.3 These work together to prepare the body for “fight-or-flight” by increasing alertness, focusing the mind, elevating heart and breathing rates, as well as increasing blood flow to skeletal muscles and brain.4
Interestingly, research has shown acute stress activates the immune system. Immune activation is critical to respond to immediate demands of a stressful situation that may lead to a wound or an infection. Acute stress triggers immune cells and stimulates production of proteins known as cytokines. The two major types of cytokines are: pro-inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory cytokines. The pro-inflammatory cytokines process the pain often found with inflammation; the anti-inflammatory cytokines work by controlling, or limiting, the spread of inflammation. Both are necessary for normal healing.3
While acute, or short-term, stress acts as an “immune stimulator,” readying the body’s immune system for an adverse situation, situations involving long-term or chronic stress actually suppress and dysregulate the body’s immune responsiveness, leading to illness and poor outcomes.3
Chronic stress and the immune response
Just as we all have differing genetic and biochemical composition, we also have varying perceptions of stress and individual responses to how we process and cope with it.5
Occasionally, there can be a crossover between the mind and body, as in the “fight-or-flight” response. A mentally stressful situation may require a physical response or action, but what about those psychological or emotional stressors that may be difficult but don’t actually pose any pressing physical dangers? Stressors related to pressures of a work project requiring focused concentration over long days and nights, or the continual emotional drain from a difficult relationship or other similar circumstance?
Studies have shown prolonged mental stress can adversely affect regular lifestyle routines, including decisions we make about sleep, nutritional intake, and exercise and can even persuade us to use poor judgement regarding alcohol and drug intake.5,6 These studies have also shown the adverse effects (acute and chronic) that mental and emotional stress places on physical health and wellbeing and have been directly linked to suppression of the immune system.5 How acute mental stress affects physical health was seen in a recent study of college students during their final exams.7 To understand the link between mental stress and changes in blood biomarkers, researchers took blood samples and administered questionnaires about anxiety and depression to 24 college students during finals week. Baseline values had been established by prior blood draws and questionnaires completed midsemester. When compared to baseline levels, during finals week, there were elevations in pro-inflammatory cytokines along with increased reports of anxiety and stress.7 Other studies have noted increased stress can lead to prolonged wound healing time with reduced levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines and increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines.6
Multiple studies have evaluated the immune response in conditions of long-term and emotional stress. These conditions are similar to those found with caregiving of an ill or elderly relative, experienced after a difficult divorce and have even been reported as related to loneliness.7-9 Findings from these studies showed links between emotional stress and increased risk for viral illness, reemergence of latent viruses (Epstein-Barr, herpes simplex, and cytomegalovirus), and onset of autoimmune disease.5,10,11 Other studies have shown long-term psychological stress was linked to detrimental cardiovascular health12-14 as well as increased risk for immunologic conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, atopic dermatitis, and celiac disease.15-18
Even the most vulnerable members of the population, our children, can be affected by psychological stress that results in a reduced immune response. Investigators evaluated children who had a history of recurrent colds and flu and reported higher levels of psychological stress. The data demonstrated the children had reduced salivary immunoglobulin ratios (IgA/albumin). A reduction in this ratio supports a potential link between reduced immune function with a greater susceptibility to colds and flu.19
Lifestyle approaches to stress management
While the effects of stress can be useful on some occasions, adverse effects of stress can play a role in both acute and chronic illness. While there are a number of strategies that come into play with stress management, evidence supports the benefits of lifestyle modification and improved dietary or nutritional intake as a part of a comprehensive strategy.
Recommended lifestyle modifications:
This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT
Whitney Crouch is a Registered Dietitian who received her undergraduate degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of California, Davis. She has over 10 years of experience across multiple areas of dietetics, specializing in integrative and functional nutrition and food sensitivities. When she’s not creating educational programs or writing about nutrition, she’s spending time with her husband and young son. She’s often found running around the bay near her home with the family’s dog or in the kitchen cooking up new ideas to help her picky eater expand his palate.
Ever feel like your mind is as cluttered as a messy desk? Multiple tasks and responsibilities clamor for your attention, such as caring for children or elderly parents, worry over relationships or financial issues, coupled with the latest news from always-on technology. It can leave your mind feeling like a scrambled egg.
When your mind gets cluttered like this, you are not just momentarily distracted. Your thoughts jump everywhere, and it can be hard to focus on any one thing for more than a few seconds. Productivity suffers, as well as the ability to make good decisions, and you may be tempted to indulge in unhealthy foods or drinks in an attempt to get some short-term relief.
Consider these 10 easy-to-implement, effective, healthful ways to help declutter, calm, and soothe your mind instead.
So start de-cluttering your mind. Pick one of these tips and incorporate it into your life. Then add others as desired. You will love your newfound sense of calm!
According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Yoga Alliance, yoga in America is expanding at an almost exponential pace, with some 37 million people in the U.S. (nearly 1 in 10 Americans!) practicing it on a regular basis. What is behind yoga’s explosive growth and popularity? Why are both men and women of all ages flocking to this ancient practice?
Traditional yoga, which originated in ancient India more than 2,000 years ago, is a complex, rather esoteric system involving eight different “arms” or divisions. These arms include such disciplines as breathing, postures, concentration, meditation, withdrawal of the senses, and other practices, beginning by focusing on the outer world, then turning the focus inward until liberation or enlightenment, known as samadhi, is achieved.
Modern yoga, especially in the West, is almost exclusively focused on the physical postures known as asanas, as well as breathing and concentration. But even this mostly physically focused yoga is much more than just a set of physical poses, and it differs exponentially from simple stretching or other fitness routines. Yoga connects everything, including the movements of your body and the oscillation of your thoughts, to the rhythm of your breath.
Through this connection, your attention is naturally directed inward. And it’s this inward directedness that helps you to become “friends” with your thoughts. Instead of trying to suppress them or judge them or change them, you simply become aware of them and how they change from moment to moment. Gradually, you become more aware, and over time, as your body becomes more flexible, so does your mind.
Ask anyone who practices yoga on a regular basis why they do it, and you’ll get a variety of reasons from “yoga just makes me feel better” to “I like being more flexible.” But as it turns out, there is a plethora of scientific studies to back up yoga’s impressive effects on physical and mental health.
Here are seven powerful reasons, all backed by science, why you should begin your yoga practice today:
If you are anything like the average smartphone user, you spend about five hours per day on your device. In addition, you skim through work emails on vacation and check your social accounts before bed, poring over articles and double-tapping photos on Instagram. Maybe you aren’t aware of it, but the only time you truly unplug is when you’re asleep at night.
It turns out dependence on technology isn’t great for mental health. According to a 2016 University of Illinois study, mobile device addiction is linked to depression and anxiety—specifically when people use devices for escapism or to fill a void.
Removing stress is an effective way to improve well being, but this becomes difficult when people become addicted to the very source of their anxiety.
The good news? Awareness goes a long way, and there are a number of concrete steps you can take to disconnect in today’s connected world. Implement the following tips to unplug, improve your mental health, and ultimately boost your sense of fulfilment.
1. Leave work at work.
Make a point of relaxing after work hours—especially on weekends and vacations. Rather than treating these times like lighter versions of your actual workday, refrain from checking your work email or accepting calls that aren’t urgent when you’re off the clock.
If you feel your boundaries aren’t respected, gently inform your colleagues that constant connectedness can hinder workplace productivity. The 2016 study “Exhausted But Unable to Disconnect” reveals that it’s not only the time workers spend responding to emails after hours, but also the anticipatory stress, or the expectation of having to respond to after-work emails, that is stressing them out.3
Similarly, if you work from home, try to maintain standard work hours. Keep your clients informed of these hours and avoid returning to projects during your off time. A little self-imposed structure will help you disconnect in a big way.
2. Take a social media detox.
Social media use has been linked to issues such as depression and social isolation. According to Brian Primack, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, those who reported spending more than two hours a day on social media had double the likelihood of perceived social isolation than people who spent just half an hour per day on social platforms.4
This is why taking a social media detox can work wonders for your mental health. Either limit your use of social media to just once or twice per day or go cold turkey and take a full week off. Regardless of how you structure your break, the numbers are in your favour.
3. Engage in activities without your phone.
Disconnect by taking up device-free activities such as hiking or yoga. Team sports are another compelling option. Know from the start that you are making a conscious decision to use your phone less frequently and get in shape while you unplug.
For an added challenge, the next time you have the urge to look at your phone during what’s supposed to be a relaxing activity, go without your device. Rather than researching recipes online, grab a cookbook and spend a tech-free evening making dinner. Or if you’re meeting friends for drinks, leave your phone in the glove compartment of your car. In order to truly disconnect, you must get used to being without your device.
4. Disconnect with your loved ones.
Have you ever planned a nice night with your family, only to find that everyone is glued to their phone? Rather than banning devices outright, you and your family can agree to disconnect at specific times. This will make it seem like you’re working together rather than monitoring one another’s technology use.
So on dinner next Thursday, request that everyone go without their phone. Or plan a Sunday evening game night during which all devices must be in another room. Disconnect together in order to connect with one another.
5. Put all devices away before bed.
This is a crucial piece of advice. Do not look at your phone, tablet, or computer screen before bed or you risk compromising the quality of your sleep. A pair of Michigan State University studies indicated that smartphone use keeps workers mentally engaged late at night, which can interfere with their productivity the next day.5
Not only that, but the blue light emissions from digital devices can throw your physiological clock out of whack. If you want to disconnect at night, keep your phone in another room for optimal results. No doubt, it will be waiting for you the next morning.
6. Commit to a daily meditation practice.
Pick a time and place and commit to a routine meditation practice. Embrace the quiet environment, even if sitting still proves a challenge. If you can only spare 10 minutes each day, that’s perfectly fine—your mind and body will thank you for the break, no matter how short.
These tips will help you unplug from your devices and disconnect from the chaos of your daily life. Make a point of taking time to unwind each day. In doing so, you will experience less stress and be more productive in the long term.
Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team
Let’s set a scene. It’s 12:34 AM, and you’ve been lying in bed for about two hours, wide awake. You tell yourself to relax and go to sleep, but it doesn’t happen. Your mind is racing. “What is wrong with me?” you ask yourself. Oh no! You forgot to put the clothes in the dryer. “I guess I’ll just do that first thing in the morning.” The madness continues for another hour before you finally see the back of your eyelids.
Sleep issues plague countless people in the world, and for a variety of reasons. Those may be due to diet, lifestyle, or anxiety, among others. Lack of sleep can lead to health issues including confusion, lethargy, and memory loss.
It’s hard to attack the day when your mind is in a fog. Maybe that’s why the coffee industry is booming?
Personally, I experienced bouts of insomnia throughout my life and usually at the worst time possible. This is not ideal for someone battling Crohn’s disease and driving race cars at 180 mph, but I have some good news! There are a few lifestyle changes you can make to help improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. After tireless research and trial and error, I’ve created a plan to help get myself (and you) back on track.
Functional Medicine was a critical aspect of my ability to obtain healthy, restful sleep. Before working with a medical provider to create a functional lifestyle plan, I was tired, dizzy, sluggish, and worn out! This functional lifestyle optimisation transformed all aspects of my health and daily life.
However, sleep isn’t entirely about nutrition and diet. There are changes you can make to further your ability to get at least 7 ½ hours each night.
Start with adjustments to your nighttime routine. Finish daily chores (dishes, trash, walking the dog, etc.) about two hours before your target sleep time. Next, work on nightly hygiene requirements and clothing. Brush your teeth, take a shower or bath if needed, finish bowel movements, and put on comfortable clothes. Give yourself about an hour to an hour and a half for winding down afterwards.
Limit exposure to artificial light at this point. Too much, and your body will think it’s daytime. Hormones like cortisol will continue to get released, which keeps you up. But remember, cortisol is an essential hormone to help wake you in the morning!
Get your surroundings in order. Make sure your room is dark with no artificial light. Cover up any small illumination from electronic devices (masking tape works well) and install blackout shades over the windows. Your body has various light receptors in the eyes and skin to tell itself it’s time to go to sleep. Keeping the room dark supports that process and promotes the release of hormones, such as melatonin.
If you are easily startled at night by sounds, like me, then creating an atmosphere with continuous background noise or none at all can help tremendously. It’s hard to eliminate noise entirely, so work with various resources like your AC unit, sound machines, or your phone. I use an app on my iPhone that plays constant brown noise to smooth sudden sounds throughout the night.
Temperature also plays a significant role. Keeping the room on the colder side will allow you to enjoy your bed and covers. No one wants to sweat during the night! Usually, you’ll find between 65 to 72 degrees as the perfect temperature. Don’t freeze yourself, though! Make sure you’re comfortable.
Let’s talk about the bed. Humans spend a significant portion of their lives sleeping, so make your bed a sanctuary. I’ve tried various mattresses, and for me, a medium stiffness memory foam mattress is the perfect softness and support for a great night’s sleep. Find one that’s right for you, but make sure it limits your exposure to chemicals.
Recapping. At this point you are physically ready for bed, lights are dimmed or off, the sound is consistent or eliminated, and the temperature is perfect. As you slide into bed, you are ready to relax and calm the mind. You are now set to enter the sleep zone! But how do you get there?
Pick an activity (or multiple) such as reading, meditation, talking to a loved one, or journaling for the next hour. Avoid the TV, phone (yes, that means no Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook…the list goes on), and anything work-related.
Everyone is different, and some things that work for you may not work for someone else. That’s OK! For example, my ideal scenario is meditating and reading. About an hour before my target sleep time of 10 PM, I start with a guided meditation using the Head space app on my iPad.
After meditating, I’ll read for 5 to 45 minutes. Sometimes, I find myself falling asleep only a few minutes after a long day of training or racing. While reading, I make sure to focus on the book and not alternative thoughts. My mind starts to relax, and before I know it, my eyes get heavy. At that point I know it’s time to fall asleep!
Here are a few extra notes:
I know things aren’t always perfect, especially if you travel, have stress, or are burning the candle at both ends. All I can say is that your daily life will be much more productive with proper sleep. You’ll surprise yourself with the amount of work or chores you can accomplish in a short time when your mind and body are functioning at full capacity!
Sleep is a crucial component of a happy, healthy life. Plus, it helps your memory! Your body requires rest to recover and rebuild. It enables you to regain the strength and stamina needed to approach each day with confidence and vigour to achieve your maximum potential.
Lawson Aschenbach is a seven-time professional sports car racing champion. He started racing karts at the age of 8 and went on to win state, national, North American, and four Grand National Championships. In 2005, he finished on the podium in his first sports car race and then burst out onto the scene in 2006, winning the SPEED World Challenge GT Championship in his rookie year. Aschenbach has over 35 professional race wins and currently competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge Series.
Lawson Aschenbach is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.
By Deanna Minich, PhD, CNS
What are you thinking right now?What were you thinking a few minutes ago?
It wouldn’t be a surprise if you couldn’t remember your thoughts. You’re certainly not alone, as most of us are not aware of our thoughts, much less realize their profound impact on our health.
It’s been said that we think something on the order of 50,000 thoughts every day and that most of those thoughts are recycled and negative.1 If we conceive of every thought being powerful enough to change our physiological function as we know from the well-established placebo and nocebo effects, then it would make sense to ensure that we sift through all the mental information that we are feeding ourselves every day, right? Yet, most of us just let thoughts waft in and out without any discretion. For some of us, we might be up to speed on food and food labels, but we aren’t as diligent about “reading our thoughts.”
Similarly, just like eating poor-quality food can lead to unwanted health impacts, so too can thinking poor-quality thoughts take us down a path of possible inflammation and stress, ultimately leading to potential imbalance and illness.
Here’s what the studies tell us about the science of thinking on our health:
About Deanna MinichGuest blogger Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally recognized health expert and author with more than 20 years of experience in nutrition, mind-body health, and functional medicine. Dr. Minich holds Master’s and Doctorate degrees in nutrition and has lectured extensively throughout the world on health topics, teaching patients and health professionals about nutrition. She is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, and a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. Currently, Dr. Minich teaches for the Institute for Functional Medicine and for the graduate program in functional medicine at the University of Western States. Her passion is bringing forth a colorful, whole-self approach to nourishment called Whole Detox and bridging the gaps between science, soul, and art in medicine.
View all posts by Deanna Minich →
Meditation Tips for Beginners—Five Powerful Reasons for Starting a Regular Practice of Meditation | Blog
If someone asked what image comes to mind when you hear the word “meditation,” do you picture an exotic scene with monks in saffron robes, sitting silently within temple walls, eyes closed, and faces serene? Although meditation remains a vital part of many cultures’ religious and spiritual practices, here in the West meditation has recently become, for the most part, separated from its roots and embraced as a stand-alone “mind technology” used to achieve better health, both physical and emotional.
Although it’s difficult to know exactly how many people practice meditation on a regular basis, according to a 2012 survey done by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health, some 18 million U.S. adults practiced meditation in some form, including “…Mantra meditation, Mindfulness meditation, Spiritual meditation, and meditation used as a part of other practices (including yoga, tai chi, and qi gong).”1
A major reason for meditation’s wide acceptance here in North America was the Dalai Lama’s longstanding cooperation with Dr. Richie Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who met the Dalai Lama in 1992 and who has conducted scores of scientific studies on Buddhist monks who were experienced meditators. Some of Dr. Davidson’s early research involved flying monks in from Tibet and Nepal to the university, where they underwent various brain scans and other tests while they were meditating.
Dr. Davidson has been interviewed many times about his research, and he never fails to express his amazement at his team’s findings: Experienced meditators could produce long, sustained bursts of gamma wave brain activity, many times at will. These findings had never been seen in an untrained mind and were so unexpected that at first the scientists thought their equipment had malfunctioned!
Once these findings were made public, the doors were wide open for other researchers to look at meditation’s possible benefits on human health. Since then, numerous studies have been done documenting meditation’s beneficial effects on everything from sleep to stress reduction. Many of these studies have used mindfulness, a form of meditation that has become very popular here in the West. The method is deceptively simple:
Step 1: Take a seatSit in a chair, on a meditation cushion, or even on a park bench. Just make sure you are comfortable. If you are in a chair or on a bench, keep both feet flat on the floor or ground. If you are sitting on a meditation cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. Straighten your upper body so you’re not slouching, but don’t become unnaturally stiff. Let your hands rest on top of your thighs. Allow your gaze to drift downward. You don’t have to close your eyes, but if you want to, that’s okay too.
Step 2: Bring your attention to your breathingSimply observe your breathing, the way the air moves through your nose and down into your lungs and then back out as you exhale, the rhythmic rise and fall of your chest or belly. There is no need to try to stop or control your thoughts. You couldn’t, even if you wanted to!
Step 3: Refocus your mindWhen your mind wanders away from your breathing, as it invariably will, gently bring it back and refocus your attention on your breath. No matter how often this happens, just be with it. Don’t fight it or get mad at yourself. It’s all part of the process. You are not doing anything wrong!
Step 4: Pay attentionWhen you are ready, lift your gaze or open your eyes if you had them closed. Take a moment to notice any sounds, then notice how your body feels and any thoughts or emotions you are experiencing.
That’s all there is to it! The practice itself is very simple. It’s doing it consistently that is the work. And it’s this consistent practice where you will see results. When you are first beginning, it’s probably best to meditate for only a few minutes and then gradually work your way up to 45 minutes to an hour.
So now that you know how to get started with mindfulness meditation practice, let’s look at five of the most powerful, scientifically supported benefits you can get from incorporating this practice into your daily life:
1. Meditation can enhance your immune system.A short-duration mindfulness practice of only eight weeks done in an office setting can significantly enhance your immune functioning. The subjects in this 2003 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine not only had an increase in immune functioning, but also had changes in their brains associated with positive emotions.2
2. Meditation can help ease physical pain.The number of people suffering from chronic painful conditions is staggering. More than 100 million Americans are reported to have chronic pain, and the usual methods of treatment have their own set of problems. Research shows that mindfulness meditation helps relieve pain.3 Plus, meditation, while pleasant, is nonaddictive!
3. Meditation can increase the grey matter in your brain.This is one instance where going grey is a good thing! Research published in 2005 in the journal Neuroreport showed that regular meditation resulted in thickening in areas of the brain associated with sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing.4
4. Meditation can help you age gracefully.Telomeres are molecular structures located at the end of your chromosomes and are involved in the replication of your DNA as well as insuring the stability of your chromosomes. As you age, your telomeres shorten. This shortening can serve as an early indicator of several age-related diseases.
Stress, poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and other factors can serve to shorten your telomeres. Conversely, it has been suggested that a healthy diet, not smoking, and physical exercise can maintain or even increase telomere length.
A 2016 study from the journal Mindfulness reviews the evidence that meditation leads to longer telomere length and also serves to strengthen this evidence by comparing the telomere length of experienced meditators to healthy controls who had never meditated. The meditators had significantly longer telomeres than the controls.5
5. Meditation may help ease depression and anxiety and help reduce stress.A 2014 meta-review article in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that “…evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation programs could help reduce anxiety, depression, and pain in some clinical populations.”6 They recommended that physicians and other clinicians be prepared to speak with their patients about how a meditation program could help to relieve their psychological stress.
There is abundant evidence showing scientific evidence for the health benefits, both physical and emotional, of a regular meditation practice. Almost anyone can do mindfulness meditation, as it requires no special equipment, doesn’t require any particular religious or spiritual orientation, and is simple to do. So take your seat and begin!
We all experience stress from time to time. The release of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, helps you cope with immediate challenges. But when your level of stress becomes chronic or goes beyond what your body can handle, it can compromise your physical, emotional, and mental health—which can make it even harder for you to cope with future stress and stressors.
Did you know you can control how your body reacts to friendly and not-so-friendly stressors? Finding quick and effective “tension tamers” that turn off the alarm response and turn on the relaxation response helps your body return to normal functioning following a stressful event.
Try several of these techniques and find out what works best for you in times of stress. You’ll feel calmer within minutes!
You don’t have to make big changes in your life to reduce your stress level. Just lessen the impact that stressful occurrences can have on you. These quick and simple tips make it easy for you to change your response to stressors and live a more positive, fulfilling life.
For more help with living a lower-stress lifestyle, talk to your healthcare practitioner.
If modern life’s got you feeling frantic, you’re not alone. These days, it seems most of us are living in an almost constant state of ‘on,’ pulled in too many directions at once, pressured from all sides, over-tethered to tech and perpetually behind the eight-ball. Amidst the daily chaos, it can be mind-bogglingly challenging to find the respite that your brain and body so desperately need.
While a vacation by the sea or to the mountains always helps, in between getaways, it’s essential to find other ways to unwind your hyped-up mind, relax your too tense body, and feel more peaceful. How to do that without booking a trip to paradise? In a word: meditation.
Yes, I know, you say you’ll get around to it when you’re less stressed, when the kids graduate college, when the cows come home, yada, yada, yada. But now, actually, when you’re in the middle of the “Stress-nado,” is as good a time as any to start (or re-start) your meditation practice. Not only is meditation an always-accessible, drug-free stress-buster, you’ll also be gifting your heart, brain and gut with system-wide health benefits no prescription drug can touch. Here are a few ideas to inspire your meditation practice and how to get started:
Make meditation your emotional medication.
Meditation cultivates adaptability and resilience and reduces reactivity. A steady practice can help you manage strong emotions and ride the choppy waves of life, be they in the form of an angry teenager, a demanding boss, bumper-to-bumper traffic, or just about anything in between. A regular meditation practice helps create a solid, more chilled-out foundation from which you can never be fully rocked. When you start the day from a calmer place, you’ll be less likely to fly off the handle when life triggers you – and that’s good news for everyone in your life. Think of it this way: meditation is medication without a single downside.
Meditation will help keep your brain healthier, longer.
Meditation also delivers plenty of physiological benefit too. This practice has a remarkably positive influence on keeping chromosomes young; helping to improve focus, attention, memory, processing speed, and creativity; and it may even slow brain aging, counteracting the age-related atrophy that can lead to cognitive decline and conditions like dementia. So, no more excuses, eh?
Meditation will take the edge off anxiety and high blood pressure.
Meditating is also linked to decreased blood pressure and reduced stress and anxiety, which is why a daily practice “primes the pump” for getting a good night’s sleep. You’ll help trigger the release of feel-good endorphins that boost mood, help curb anxiety and tame pain. You’ll also reduce stroke and heart disease risk. Best of all, you don’t need to retreat to a hut in Nepal to reap the enormous benefits of the practice. Regular sitting for as little as ten minutes a day can have positive effects. With practice, as your sessions grow longer, to 20 or 30 minutes or more, all those physiological and psychological benefits will to!
Get into the groove – with as much assistance as you need.
As for learning how to meditate, there are many options available. There are numerous books by established teachers and plenty of YouTube demos – all of which are great for getting your toes wet. But frankly, nothing beats working directly with a live instructor, in real time. Building a relationship with a teacher will help you develop and maintain a lifelong practice, and help keep you engaged and accountable through the peaks and valleys. Remember, meditation is a practice – the more you meditate, the better you’ll get at it, so be patient with yourself and keep practicing. For extra support between sessions with your teacher, you can also incorporate an app into your practice. Among them: Calm; The Mindfulness App; OMG! I Can Meditate! and Stop, Breathe & Think and Smiling Mind to name a few.
Give brain and body a vacation, any time you need to.
When you think meditation, images of ancient holy men in the Lotus position may come to mind. That, understandably, may not exactly be your speed. Feel free to sit with feet folded over your thighs if you like, but you can just as easily settle into a comfortable chair or meditate while standing, walking or lying down. Just shut your eyes (or keep them open, if you prefer) and focus on your breathing for a few moments and that will do the trick. The goal is to to put the brakes on your over-revved system and literally just breathe.
You have the time. Seriously. You do.
I know you’re probably saying, “But doc, there aren’t enough hours in the day!’ and yes, that’s true to a point. But I’m not asking you to put in hours every day. If you do, bravo! For everyone else, it’s about being creative with your time, and committing to a program that fits into the small slivers of time you do have, right now. Down the road, as your practice grows, you can make more time for meditation if you choose. But to begin, feel free to start small with these tips:
1. At the start or end of your day, trade 10 minutes of time-sucking social media, video games or TV for 10 minutes of meditation.
2. Two to three mornings a week, get up a few minutes earlier to meditate upon rising, before the rest of the family wakes up.
3. Meditate in the car before or after the drive, instead of listening to the news or making calls.
4. On the commuter train, put on a pair of noise canceling headphones, and meditate instead of reading email or the headlines.
5. At lunchtime, pop into a local house of worship and enjoy the silence while you meditate.
6. ‘Book a cushion’ at a drop-in meditation studio like MNDFL, for a 30-minute group lunchtime session.