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.
What’s Eating You?
Feeling overly tired, bloated, or achy? When dealing with these often stress-related concerns, there are a few questions you should ask yourself: Am I eating well? Am I getting enough sleep? Do I drink enough water and get enough exercise?
A healthy body handles daily stress better while an unhealthy lifestyle and daily stress can contribute to a deeper issue—chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fighting off potential health threats, but unhealthy lifestyle choices can stunt the resolution of your immune response. In fact, chronic low-grade inflammation is often related to common chronic illnesses. But here’s the good news: There are a few ways you can help resolve your body’s inflammation response—starting today!
1. Ditch That Diet
Unfortunately, many of us do not receive our fair share of nutrients from food. You may feel tired and overworked, and rather than taking the time to prepare a healthy, well-balanced meal, you may often resort to convenient inflammatory trigger foods that are lacking in nutrients: refined starches, high-fat and processed red meats, fried foods, dairy, etc. These may cause an activation of the innate immune system and lead to excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
It’s time to break the cycle by incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your day. A Mediterranean-style diet, for example, typically has a high ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids as compared to saturated fats, and more omega-3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. It’s also rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, which have shown anti-inflammatory effects in observational and intervention studies.
2. Stay Hydrated
This one is obvious. It’s always important to drink enough water throughout the day and ensure you are properly hydrated. Water makes up a large percentage of our bodies to keep all our physiological systems working together smoothly, and it helps flush out toxins and unwanted chemicals we may pick up from the environment.
Tip: Bored with plain water? Add in fresh fruit slices to liven up your H2O. Antioxidant-packed green tea is also great for afternoon sipping.
3. Put Stress to Rest
In our fast-paced modern culture, you may find yourself working too much and not getting enough rest. The initial stress response can be positive, but when left unchecked, it can lead to chronic stress and become pro-inflammatory. This is when getting extra sleep, practising yoga, or taking on leisurely activities you love can make a world of difference.
Catching those Zs at night is especially important because it’s your body’s time to rest and recharge. Lack of sleep can make you feel sluggish, unmotivated, and irritable, which only compounds a stress problem; and increased stress disturbs the quality of your sleep. Research has also linked higher levels of inflammatory proteins to getting fewer hours of sleep at night.
In addition to getting proper rest, taking time to move and exercising are helpful stress relievers, as they release “feel-good” endorphins and can reduce your body’s levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones).
It’s never too late to make positive life changes!Eating a nutrient-rich diet, ensuring proper hydration, and taking time for relaxation, exercise, and healthy sleep habits are some simple ways you can support your body’s best health today.
For the one out of six Americans sleeping less than seven hours per night, a sleep debt may feel “normal.”1 But, similar to a financial debt, the real cost may not be immediately apparent and can be damaging with time.
Sleep debt is costly for your body, even a few nights of insufficient sleep can leave you sleepy, with slower reaction times, foggy thinking, overall decreased performance, and, perhaps, a less than sunny disposition. Less noticeable is the disruption that may happen silently inside of our body: The effects of long-term sleep deprivation can possibly lead to negative health consequences.
Weekend catch-up sleep: does it work?Extra weekend shut-eye is a coveted treasure for the sleep-deprived. While we know it makes us feel better, can those extra hours of sleep reverse the health risks of a sleep-poor Monday-Friday?
Catch-up sleep and weight gain Studies have found a consistent link between sleep deficiency and weight gain—even over a very short time frame.2 In fact, when it comes to weight, every hour of sleep counts—not only for weight gain but also preventing it. In a study of over 2,000 participants, those who slept longer on the weekends, nearly two hours longer on average, had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who didn’t. Further, every extra hour of weekend catch-up sleep was associated with a significantly lower body mass.3
Strategies to help you get—and stay—out of sleep debt, so short-term, catch-up sleep can be helpful for paying back your sleep debt. But it shouldn’t be your only strategy. In addition to eliminating lifestyle-related sleep issues (over scheduling, limiting caffeine and electronics before bed, room temperature and darkness, etc.), you may want to consider dietary supplements that help support relaxation and healthy sleep.*
Some ingredients that can help support rest and relaxation include:
There are a number of specialised formulas that contain the above ingredients which can help you relax and relieve occasional sleeplessness.* Talk to your healthcare practitioner to determine which options are best for your individual needs.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.