Let's Take it Down a Notch...
We are starting out this year with a short series on practical ways to get and stay healthy, specifically looking through the following four topics:
- Sound Nervous System
Last week, we looked at how stress can impact your nervous system and overall health by exploring the research of Hans Selye MD, specifically the General Adaptive Syndrome (G.A.S.).
This week, we are going to look at some specific ways to de-stress, as outlined in the Harvard Health Publication: Healthbeat.
- Stay Positive
- Find ways to take the edge of your stress
If you want to get it directly, just go to the link above. If you decide to stay with me through the newsletter, I promise to add in some caveats that will help you dial it in even a little better!
By nature, I tend to be a fairly positive person. Looking on the bright side of things comes fairly natural for me - sometimes too much and I can be Pollyanna-ish! However, that may just keep me healthier.
An article published by John Hopkins Medicine showed a reduction in risk of heart disease by 33 percent when you keep a positive outlook on life! As interest in ways to impact health without medication grows, so does the research into how it might work.
The National Institutes of Health Newsletter related a positive outlook in life to lower blood pressure, longer life, healthier weight and blood sugar levels. The authors indicated that different areas of the brain are activated with positive and negative outlooks/thoughts. The areas of the brain activated by positive thoughts were also responsible for lowering stress hormones. In contrast, negative thoughts activated a part of the brain that has been associated with slower recovery and healing times from disease and illness. Turns out, healing really may be an inside job. You may not be a glass half-full person, but even asking yourself "what if" the glass was half-full might just make it so, at least when it comes to your health.
I have written before on meditation, and I have some pretty strong opinions, mostly that I am not a fan of the type where you "empty your mind" and focus on nothingness. You never know who or what might just wander through!
However, there is a school of thought out there that embraces "Mindful Meditation." In a nutshell, this is the practice of slowing down and paying attention to what is going on in the moment, and not worrying about the past or the future.
This has been a part of humanity since probably the time of creation. What is new, however, is the ability to see what part of the brain is activated when someone is engaging this, made possible with a new technology called Functional MRI. They can literally see what part of the brain is most active when people are thinking/focusing on different topics/aspects of life.
Studies have shown that mindful meditation actually changes the architecture of the brain, increasing areas that may boost helpful neurotransmitters levels related to mood and relaxation and, at the same time, reduce activation of the areas of the brain associated with fear anxiety and stress. There is a nice article in the Harvard Health Publishing newsletter on this topic.
So, much like staying positive, taking time out to be mindful and just focus on the moment can actually activate the parts of your brain that keep you healthy and deactivate the parts that make it easier for you to get sick!
Exercise is, by far and away, my favorite go-to in order to de-stress - mostly because it doesn't take a much thinking: just start moving! The other really nice thing about exercise as a tool for stress reduction is that it is not dependent on how good of a shape you are in. You don't have to run a marathon to reap the benefits; for some of us, a walk down the block is plenty to get things headed in the right direction. I like what the Mayo Clinic says about it:
It is meditation in motion!
You get the benefits of meditation, as well as the physical benefits of, well... exercise! When our boys were little and they would be fighting, one of my favorite things to do was send them together on a walk around the block (I didn't make them hold hands, but a few times I was tempted!). They would start out walking looking straight ahead not saying anything. By the time they got back, they would be laughing and joking, and moving a lot closer together, both physically and emotionally.
Years ago, I remember reading an article that said it is almost impossible to walk and argue at the same time. There is just something about movement that seems to unload our brain (probably the same areas as positive thinking and meditation) when we move. Walking is great, but really anything that begins to expend energy is a winner: wall push-ups, chair squats, a few walking lunges, all the way up to your favorite sport! While exercising when you are stressed is good, building it in to your routine is even better. It is like money in the bank!
We actually dedicated a whole blog post to this back in Novemeber, so I won't spend much time on this here, except to say that it is those darn devices that may actually be keeping us from:
- Staying Positive
I know there is probably an app for all of these, but really, people, it wasn't that long ago that we had to do these things without a plug! Try it out, you might really like it!
Find Ways To Take The Edge Off
There are probably as many ways to fight stress as there are ways to cause it. If you aren't ready to embrace the ones listed above, or if you just don't have the energy, that's OK. Find one of your own!
This picture above is one of my favorites: Maisey. While not a "licensed" therapy dog, I am confident that she has saved me from a multitude of mental snaps over the years. Here is a list of 27 different ideas that really don't take much effort at all. I am sure you can find something on here to start with!
Stress really does impact your mind and your body. Start small in working on getting it down and, as you see results, build those habits into your daily life, sort of like a multivitamin. You and your family will be glad you did!
Yours in Health,