HAPPY NEW YEARS dear reader! We’re at the start of a bright new year and decade. May 2020 bring you fulfillment in every area of your life. Recharging your body, mind, and soul, is especially important during the holidays and those times when you are running from task to task. Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Peace, creativity, abundance and excellent health, always.
Physiological stress can be triggered by a multitude of factors. Whatever the stress – trying to find a parking space, getting the kids to school on time, becoming dehydrated or under-nourished – your sympathetic nervous system registers an alarm reaction so that it can respond to the situation with your full attention and energy.
At first, there will be an increase in epinephrine’ and ‘norepinephrine’, ‘adrenal medullary catecholamine hormones which trigger an increase in heart rate and perspiration.
That ‘fight or flight’ alarm response and adrenalin surge are actually there to help. It motivates you to run from danger in a life-or-death situation. In other situations, you won’t register a full alarm state, but perhaps feel motivated to remove yourself from a situation mentally.
Whatever the perceived stress, it’s important to take a step back and identify the difference between good and ‘bad’ stress so that you can better navigate the challenge. If you are really good at it, you’ll eventually enter a state of grace, developing ‘Resilience’ – the positive adaptation to regain or maintain our mental health despite experiencing adversity (Herman et al, 2011, p. 259).
The other side of the picture – chronic stress and burn out – is not graceful at all. It is quite damaging, in fact, and can lead to feelings of loss of control and despair. Prolonged-release of the inflammatory molecules (for example, cytokines IL2, IL6, and TNFα), can lead to insulin resistance, raised triglycerides and hormonal imbalance.
Depending on diet and other factors, it becomes easier to pack fat on around your middle. That’s because glucocorticoids (steroid hormones which help regulate glucose), interfere with carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism and energy storage.
Prolonged, unmanaged stress can also lead to a depressed immune system and a depressed state of mind. There might even be issues with memory, slow wound healing, immune suppression or more serious conditions.
While all of this sounds onerous, the good news is that there are many ways to reset your central nervous system so that you spend less time in ‘Fight-or-Flight’ mode and more time in ‘Recover and Chill’ mode.
Simple de-stressing activities include visiting with good friends, walking in nature, enjoying a wonderful meal with family, having a massage, or relaxing with a good book.
Here are a few other ideas to make 2020 a year of resilience, and better self-care:
- Breathe slowly… and exhale: When stressed, most of us forget to relax and breathe. Taking deep, slow, full breaths helps us to reset our central nervous system. The vagus nerve (a long wandering nerve that runs from your brain to your gut), is activated with every deep breath you take. When you breathe out slowly, your vagus nerve sends a message to your brain and heart. Your heart listens, also slowing and triggering a relaxation response. Sitting where you are right now, relax your shoulders and take a few deep, slow breaths in and out. Push the air right out so that you engage your diaphragm and activate the vagus nerve. How does that feel? You don’t need to count breaths or do weird things with nostrils. Simple is good right now. Just breathe and let it go.
- Practice mindful detachment: When a stressful situation or memory arises, observe it and then let it go. Some people even give a silent thank you to the stress situation and bless it before letting it go. Giving thanks and gratitude for what you learned from the situation, immediately lifts you up into a stronger place, a better place.
- Keep your blood sugar stable: If prolonged stress has already taken its toll and you are experiencing adrenal fatigue and dysregulated or low cortisol, now might not be the time to try out a keto diet, intermittent fasting, or long cardio session.
Instead, nourish yourself and keep things simple. Focus on low-glycemic whole foods (nothing out of a package or tin), lots of fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and a bit of protein at every meal. If this sounds like a Paleo-Mediterranean-style diet, you might be right.
A protein meal within an hour of waking up will help to stabilize low blood sugar and low cortisol. It’s best to avoid starchy, insulin-spiking foods and fruit juices at breakfast.
For best recovery success, (and less stress), make an appointment with a registered health practitioner who can personalize a diet for your unique situation.
- Plan your meals: As much as you can, prepare all of your meals at home and always choose healthy whole foods versus convenience foods. On a piece of paper, write out all your breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for that week. Then place the paper in your wallet or purse so you have it close by. It will become a habit. Then plan, shop, prepare and eat. Also, create an emergency healthy snack bag that you can carry around or leave in the car, to help avoid unhealthy food choices on the run.
- Limit stimulants such as caffeine: When feeling stressed or tired, many of us reach for another cup of coffee. While caffeine can increase the rates of dopamine release, helping us to stay alert, it can also activate the stress axis, triggering glucocorticoid and catecholamine hormones, an increase in blood pressure, not to mention dehydration. All of these actions can alter circadian sleep/wake cycles.
But how does one withdraw from coffee and still stay cheerful? On day one, try drinking your coffee from a cup rather than a mug. The next day, try cutting back to a half cup, and so on. Drink lots of water to help prevent caffeine withdrawal and a liver detox headache. Don’t be surprised if the dark circles under your eyes vanish, your skin is less dry or your eyesight improves because the nerves in your eyes feel more relaxed.
- Do not eat late in the day: If you habitually eat after 8 pm, you delay the peak cortisol level needed to help you jump out of bed in the morning. The result is that you might not feel fully awake until much later in the day. Cortisol is closely linked to your sleep/wake circadian rhythm – it’s generally highest in the morning and then gradually declines throughout the day to prepare you for sleep at night. Cortisol levels start to rise around 3 a.m., while we are still asleep and then continue to rise to the level needed to get us out of bed and onto our feet around 7 a.m.
- Make sleep a good habit: When the stress response is heightened on a regular basis, sleep cycles can be thrown off night after night. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night and try to be in bed and asleep by ten p.m. You’ll make better choices at meal-times and in life when you attain this habit. You’ll also look better and feel more cheerful the next day.
Another good reason to be asleep by ten, is that peak levels of the hormone ‘melatonin’ are excreted by the pineal gland around that time. Melatonin plays many roles – including acting as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and tumour suppressor. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels while it lowers your body’s immune surveillance. When you are under long-term sleep-deprivation, progesterone levels can also drop making it even more difficult to turn on the sleep response.
Common things you might not view as “stressful”, (like the ‘blue’ light from computers, televisions, and cell phones), have the ability to ignite your nervous system, keeping you on high-alert. Make sure you have ‘black-out’ curtains or blinds covering your windows and that you sleep in a fully darkened room. Prioritize your sleep no matter what.
- Listen to music: Listening to music is beautifully distracting. It is an incredibly inexpensive, easy way to relax. Whether you are listening to your favorite song, singing in the shower, chanting to a mantra or prayer, or whistling on the way to work, music instantly inspires and calms young and old alike.
- Do fun things like going for a massage: Fun is good for you. Give yourself time to do those things that recharge your soul. Learn new things—try yoga, Zumba, ballet, a new sport, or read that book you have been putting off. Schedule in time for the things in your life that make you feel fantastic—like getting a new haircut, going for walks in the park, having tea with a friend, or any other activity that lifts your soul. Massage can create an instant sense of calm – especially when performed by a gifted practitioner.
- Exercise Regularly: One of the easiest ways to burn off stress hormones is to move and sweat. Run, dance, jump, ride, swim, stretch, or skip – do something vigorous and lively. Yoga and Pilates are also wonderful activities as they combine movement with a calm environment and slower breathing.
- Walk-in nature or plant your own garden: There is something about digging in the dirt and being around new life that makes us feel… well. But don’t wait until spring to plant.
- Bathe: Soaking in warm water is a wonderful way to de-stress. After digging in the garden, hop into an alkalinizing ‘Alka’ Bath or a magnesium sulfate Epsom salt bath. Functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman M.D. suggests adding 2 cups of Epsom salts, a half-cup of baking soda, and – as long as you do not have sensitive skin – a few drops of organic lavender essential oil to comfortably hot bathwater. The scent of lavender helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol. Soak for 20 minutes and go straight to bed.
- Write in your gratitude journal: Our brains seem to be wired for survival. As long as we stay pessimistic, we do not get burned. Saying thank you for what you already have takes you into a more powerful place. From this more abundant place, you have everything you need, including an abundance of good health.
Think back to a time when you felt great. Ask yourself what you have to do now to get there again. Do you need to give yourself permission to have the night off to rest and recharge? Give yourself what you need. While you are at it… go to that place where you have 100 percent health…. and stay there!