Stress: Dealing With It

Chronic StressStress. It’s everywhere. If you live and work on this planet it’s almost impossible to avoid.

Feeling stressed? Me too!

Today I’m writing about how to get rid of stress and suggest some easy ways to get that burden off your back.

To get us in the mood, let’s start with a short, guided meditation and stretch video to help reduce stress. Try it with me and see for yourself. You can do this at home or at your desk at work. (I use my ear buds at work.)

 

Stress:

Now that you’re a believer, lets have a look at stress and how to get rid of it. (By the way, as you get better at becoming relaxed, you can keep your eyes open while watching the waves on the video.)

Stress has been around since the beginning of time. It started as the fight-or-flight response when early humans confronted a life-threatening situation. In that situation, stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are produced. Your blood vessels constrict, blood pressure goes up, pupils dilate, heart rate quickens, and breathing becomes more rapid. The body is preparing itself to do battle or run. This response is essential in times of acute danger. But problems at work, crying kids, traffic, you name it can trigger the same response.

Given the pressures of daily life, chronic stress itself has become a life-threatening situation. It can cause a host of health problems including headaches, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression, increased body weight, high blood pressure and heart disease.

We can’t eliminate the stress. But we can relieve the fight-or-flight response that sends our bodies into danger mode. And we can cultivate a relaxation response over time that will reduce our physiological stress reaction.

So what do we do about chronic stress? How do we get rid of it?

How? Relax. That’s what my first yoga teacher used to say when I was all bent up in the pretzel pose with a grimace on my face. And, like that meditation you just did, it actually worked. Once I was able to relax, I was stress-free even in the pretzel pose.

Seriously, daily conscious relaxation exercises can make real difference in the way your body responds to stress. Dr Herbert Benson coined the phrase “relaxation response” in his book by the same name in 1975.

Since then he and others have conducted numerous studies, including a recent one at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine, that have detailed the body’s intricate positive response to conscious relaxation exercises. In a nutshell, the relaxation response has the opposite effect of fight-or-flight. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system to counteract the effects of stress. You experience a feeling of deep relaxation and well being. And if you practice relaxation regularly you’ll feel better and help yourself avoid those stress related health issues. That’s how we get rid of chronic stress.

Meditation is just one of an almost infinite number of ways to consciously relax. Virtually anything that takes your attention away from your daily grind and makes you concentrate on just one thing can work. Doing the dishes, aerobic exercise, yoga, stretching, golf, playing a musical instrument, casting a fishing rod, playing with a cat, almost anything can work if you pay attention to only that and clear your mind. I’m partial to exercise because I get the benefits of a workout as well as the relaxation. It’s my mantra. It’s what I do to get rid of chronic stress.

Dr. Benson suggests you practice some form of conscious relaxation for 10 to 20 minutes every day to get rid of chronic stress in the long-term.

But what if you’re pressed for time? (Pressed rhymes with stressed.)

Reduce Chronic Stress with this little exercise.

Sometimes you only need a few seconds and you feel a lot better.

Sit down and close your eyes. (If you’re on the street, duck into a doorway, stand and keep your eyes open and one hand on your purse.)

Let your muscles relax. Concentrate on your breathing.

Breathe in and hold your breath for one second, count one one hundred thousand, and breathe out.

Breathe in again a little deeper and hold for two seconds — one one hundred thousand, two one hundred thousand — breathe out.

Breathe in deeper and hold for three, then four, then five seconds.
When you get to around three seconds of breath holding, your stress level should start to drop and your mind should start to clear itself of thoughts.

After five, you should feel pretty good. This works well for me particularly in moments of acute stress.

That one worked too didn’t it. I hope concentrating on reading this helped you reduce your stress and I hope you’ll make conscious relaxation a part of your life.

It’s a lifestyle change that’s easy to make because it feels so good when you do it.

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Workout: Can You Gain Without The Pain?

WorkoutWorkout? Spring has sprung and I’ve been getting those emails for a month or so asking for advice on how to get on and stay on an exercise program. I get questions about commitment, pushing one’s limits, pain, and quick results. I go a little crazy at this time of year because I’m at odds with a very vocal segment of my industry about how to get started on an exercise program. They’re sincere, well-educated trainers, but I don’t think they remember what it felt like to be de-conditioned. They expect beginners to do to much too soon. I’m beginning to think that over-vigorous exercise dulls one’s sense of empathy.

Workout?

I’ve seen it time and time again: determined beginners pushing so hard and either getting hurt and quitting or just quitting because they couldn’t take it any more. If this sounds like you, don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault. We’ve heard no pain no gain all our lives. We’ve watched contestants push themselves to the brink of disaster on television. We’re inundated with infomercial promises of big results in no time. It’s enough to make anyone think ” I’ve got to beat myself senseless immediately so I can hurry up, get fit, have the body of my dreams and live happily ever-after.”

By the way, I’m not against vigorous exercise. On the contrary, I love vigorous exercise. But I wouldn’t have loved it nor would I have been safe doing it as a beginner. In my experience, that approach only works for a few stoic types and sets the rest of us up to fail.

I believe in moderation, easing in, starting with a little and building up to a lot, staying in your comfort zone. You may get to super-vigorous exercise eventually, or maybe you’ll like moderate exercise better. And moderate may be just as good as vigorous, maybe better. Really.
Just so you know this isn’t some favorite rant of mine, there are people, scientists even, who actually agree with me. Here’s study conducted at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health

I think, the best way to get fit and make exercise a part of your life forever is to keep it pleasant. If you haven’t been exercising in a long time, don’t start lifting weights right away. Don’t try to jog or even walk for a half an hour right away. Do something easy. Do something pleasant. If you enjoy it today you’ll want to get up and do it again tomorrow. It’s the pleasure principal. I believe in it. This study published in the Journal of Health Psychology believes it, too

So, how do you get started? I suggest starting by standing up and doing about five minutes of gentle limbering movements. Do the same for a few days in a row. You may be surprised at how good this feels and what a wonderful state of mind these simple, natural movements put you in. You may find yourself exercising longer than five minutes after a few days because you like it. Don’t question it. Simply do it. You may find the more you do it the more you’ll want to do it, and the more you’ll do.

You may want to go for a little walk, then a brisk walk, then a half hour brisk walk. Don’t rush it. It doesn’t matter if it takes a couple of weeks, or a couple of months. Listen to you body. You’re on nobody’s schedule but your own.

Once you’re enjoying a half hour brisk walk most days of the week, try adding light weight training for your major muscle groups a couple of times a week. Increase the weight, number of reps and number of exercise days only when it feels too easy. Build up slowly to weight training about three days a week with a day off in between sessions.

Remember to keep it pleasant. If it’s too intense, it ceases to be fun and there’s a good chance you’ll quit. This approach takes longer. But I’ve found it to be much more sustainable than those quick fix pump you up methods. Most of those intense immersion exercise programs remind me of the guy who beats his head against a brick wall. When asked why on earth he does that, he says: “because it feels so good when I stop”

Ease-in. Invest in your body. It will pay you back in quality of life.

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Can Sleeping Less Equal Weight Gain?

Can Sleeping Less Equal Weight GainCan Sleeping Less Equal Weight Gain

Eating fewer calories, exercising more and still having a hard time getting those extra pounds off? Here’s a question for you: How’s your sleep?

I for one, every time I travel, seem to gain a couple of pounds just when I want to look my best.

I noticed that I tend to sleep less and intermittently when I am on the road. Once I settle again in a place, my sleep gets more regulated and I am able to drop those pounds.

I’ve adjusted my sleep pattern, as I have gotten older to help myself sleep better. The earlier I get up in the morning the better chance I have of getting to sleep that night and staying asleep for a longer period of time. I’m more energized, and when I eat, I eat less and feel more filled.

Can Sleeping Less Equal Weight Gain

It turns out that there are many studies that indicate that sleeping less then 7 hours can increase body weight. One recent study with several pairs of twins, found that the twin who slept more than 9 hours was about half as likely to gain weight as the one that slept only 7.

Sleep deprivation affects your hunger urge. If you sleep less, you feel like eating more and you probably do. That’s because not sleeping increases your body’s level of gherlin, the hunger hormone and decreases leptin the “I’m full” hormone.

A sleep study in Finland with middle-aged adults who had sleep problems found that women had greater sleep related weight gains than men. Though men were also affected. The study indicated that it seems the fewer hours you sleep the more calories you tend to eat the next day.

If you want a good night sleep here’s are some things to consider:

  • Exercise: Don’t exercise too late in the day. So many of us go to the gym after work but it can keep you up at night. Late exercise can prevent the body from making sleep-inducing melatonin for several hours.
  • Caffeine: It can take 6 or more hours to wear off. Having that cup of coffee after dinner, even with a low fat dessert, may not be such a good idea.
  • Alcohol: A couple of drinks with dinner can wake you up in the middle of the night and make it hard to get back to sleep. I have a friend who swears by a glass or two of wine at lunch but never alcohol after 2pm. She says she sleeps like a baby at night. I think if I had a glass or two at lunch, I’d sleep like a baby at 2pm and be up for the night at 5.
  • Stress: And then there is our old buddy stress. We all have some level of stress and how we deal with it can keep us up at night. Getting yourself relaxed in quiet, dark, temperature controlled environment can relieve stress and induce a desire and ability to sleep.

So what’s it going to be, wide awake at 3am or getting that beauty sleep and waking up lighter and brighter on your toes? Learning to get a good night’s sleep is a process.

Can Sleeping Less Equal Weight GainDon’t stress over it, it may keep you up at night.

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Moderation: Bah, Humbug!

Holiday ModerationHoliday Moderation? Really.

It’s starting again. All that advice about how not to gain weight, how to reduce stress and how to stay on your fitness program during the holidays. Well good luck with that. For years I’ve been giving out advice of my own. Moderation I’ve always say, “Just take a little taste of everything”.

Exercise on holiday mornings. Huh? Well, I’m throwing up my hands this year, kind of.
I’m not going to tell you to just take a little taste of pie when you really want to eat the whole piece, nor to bypass that great stuffing that you only eat once a year. Life is short and this behavior is not the culprit anyway. The fact is holidays are a time to embrace life, be social and enjoy activities bordering on the excessive.
And when you come right down to it, it’s not what you do during the holidays, it’s what you do the rest year.

Holiday Moderation Tips:

So, if you really need to hear about holiday moderation in your daily life, here goes.
Know that every pound equals 3500 calories and all calories are not created equal. Some are more nutritious than others and some are downright empty. Try to make healthy food choices, watch your portion size and read your labels.
Get at least a half an hour of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Take a few minutes to do something for yourself, something you like, every day.
For instance, every morning when I get up, I kiss my cat.

If you’re already doing this then you’ve got nothing to worry about this holiday season.
If not, you have my humble suggestion for a New Year’s resolution.

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How Exercise Affects Sleep

Sleep and Exercise

Health experts recommend eight hours of sleep a night for most adults. Yet so many of us get fewer than six-and-a-half hours during the work- week.                                                   We all love a good night’s sleep. But did you know that not getting one not only makes you dull and stressed, it can also make you pack on the pounds.

Too little physical activity is clearly part of why we’re overweight.

But a lack of sleep may make weight loss and weight control more difficult by altering your metabolism. It may also be changing your eating and exercise patterns.

In a Japanese study, children sleeping less than eight hours a night were almost three times as likely to be overweight.

Lack of sleep may change hormone levels and thus influence weight gain. Higher levels of the hormone insulin have been linked to a shortage of sleep.

Because insulin promotes fat storage and controls blood sugar, extra insulin could make weight loss more difficult.

Studies also show that a lack of sleep leads to lower levels of the hormone leptin, which can cause an increased appetite. Sound familiar?

A third hormone affected by too little sleep is cortisol, linked by research to stress. When people feel threatened or stressed, their cortisol levels rise in a “fight or flight” reaction. In one study, people whose cortisol levels rose highest in response to stress had more waistline fat – and fat at the waist is related to the greatest number of risks for heart disease and other ailments.

If you were wondering where this is all going here it is. Results from a Stanford University study show exercise, particularly aerobic exercise in the late afternoon or right after work can turn this all around.

The physical stress of aerobic exercise produces fatigue and a rise in body temperature. A few hours later, your body temperature drops. That coupled with the fatigue from your exercise triggers your brain to induce a deeper, longer sleep.

What time of day you do is as important as doing it. If you exercise too close to bedtime you may be up for hours climbing the walls. Getting a half hour brisk walk is all it takes.If you belong to a Gym, get there and mix it up on the cardio machines.

Or get yourself a good cardio dance video by a certified instructor. In any case quality zzzzzs equals quality of life and may even increase longevity.

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Scary Obesity Study

 

Mirabai Holland Picking Organic Foods at the Sarasota Farmer's Market

Mirabai Holland says “What a wonderful melon!”

Fitness=Longevity. We all know that. But a *scary obesity study proves we’re ignoring the wakeup call. Why will there be a 33 % increase in obesity and a 130% in severe obesity in the next 20 years?

There’s an atmosphere of over indulgence created by the people who want to sell us stuff. More is better. Bigger is a sign of your success. It’s UPSCALE and we’re taking it quite literally. Hey I like stuff, but it’s gone too far. And it’s gotten uncomfortable.

Between the human cost in quality of life and the astronomical predictions for health care costs, a realistic approach to sustainable wellness has to be the next trend.

It’s like global warming. If we don’t do something about it, we’re done for.

The Institute of Medicine recognizes this cultural trend and has come up with some pretty stiff recommendations for government, corporations and individuals. They want to establish guidelines for healthy meals in schools, restaurants and public events. They want corporations to start marketing healthier food to children, and they want us all to exercise daily.

Exercise more, sure. Eat healthier, a no brainer but to actually find the sustainable way to keep doing it and then to instill the people you love around you to do it too goes much deeper.

Here are a couple of things you can start with. Fresh produce, organic if you can afford it. It can get pricey. Read labels. I remember going to the grocery store with my mom a few years before she died. She thought of herself as a gourmet but in the store,

I realized she never read labels. She ate stuff that had high sugar, fat and preservatives in it. I said “Hey Ma, take a look at this tomato sauce you just put in your cart”; it’s got a lot of sugar in it. Empty calories for what? Haven’t you noticed that when you eat stuff with sugar you just want more and more of it. Break the chain of craving. To her credit, she listened and changed about half the things she was eating. Better late than never!

Then there’s exercise.If you are going to exercise be active in a way that brings some joy into your life.

Find a few physical activities that you can do consistently. Just mix it up, walk with a friend and gossip, play a game, dance to music you like, and keep on doing it for the rest of your life.

*http://www.ajpmonline.org/webfiles/images/journals/amepre/AMEPRE_33853-stamped2.pdf

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Invest in Your Fitness Without Breaking The Bank by Mirabai Holland, MFA 2012

Often the first thing to go in tough times is money spent on fitness.

Here are a few ways to keep your exercise resolution without having to ask for a government bailout.

The outdoors belong to everyone. So, getting your daily dose of aerobic exercise in the form of a ½ hour plus brisk walk is a solid zero dollars option. Walking to your favorite music ads Rocky-like inspiration.

  • Walking to work
  • Walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator
  • Walking your dog
  • Walking in place while you watch your favorite television show

These all count too. You don’t have to do a ½ hour all at once.

Every exercise minute counts.

Get a pedometer, (you can get one for under 10 bucks) and count your steps throughout the day. It’s a great incentive to keep walking, and those steps really add up.

On the days when the weather doesn’t cooperate, there are exercise DVDs. Not free, but affordable, I suggest you get at least one DVD for each of the major components of fitness, aerobic/cardio, strength training, and stretching/flexibility. There are literally thousands to choose from and you can buy conveniently online.

Make sure your instructor is certified by a nationally recognized certifying body like ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), ACE (American Council on Exercise), or AFAA, (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America)

Try to find an instructor that shares your approach to fitness.

Many websites offer free clips so you can get an idea of what you’re getting before you buy.

Often the best deals are 3 or 4 packs. So shop around.

Local health clubs and community centers are offering great specials these days. Check out monthly, seasonal and yearly memberships.

Or, you might want to sign up for a class or two a week.

If nothing else, exercise will lift your spirits in between looking at your finances.

Besides, your body is a good investment. It will pay you back in quality of life.

 

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