How To Reduce and Manage Stress—a Key Tool for Healthy Living

Life, by nature, can be unpredictable and, therefore, stressful. If we are lucky, the stress we experience is a short-lived. Too often, however, situations occur that keep us stressed for days, weeks, or even months. This experience of unrelenting stress can cause significant damage to our health, mind and emotions. If you go to the Internet, you’ll find pages and pages of articles and research studies linking stress to ill health.

Stress Creates a Super-highway for Spreading Cancer

Depression and Chronic Stress Accelerate Aging

Moderate to High Stress Leads to Higher Mortality Rate

Mild Stress Linked to Long-Term Disability

Stress Can Control Our Genes

Chronic Stress May Cause Long-Lasting Epigenetic Changes

Chronic Stress Predisposes Brain to Mental Illness

Stress: Yes It Really Can Trigger a Heart Attack

Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity

Clearly if we are interested in staying healthy, stress management should be one of our top priorities.

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Let’s take a look at the mechanisms of the stress response. Stress is described as “any physical, emotional, social, economic or other factor that requires a response to change.” Since it has been said that ” change is the only constant in life”, if stress is associated with change, it can also be considered a constant. Luckily the human body is brilliantly designed to react to stress. It does so by activating the secretion of the hormone cortisol. This initiates a beautiful cascade of physiological responses that allows us to deal with immediate danger or challenge.

When the adrenal gland releases cortisol into the body, the hormone “turns off” many of our normal physiological mechanisms while “turning on” many temporary mechanisms. This is the source of the “fight or flight” response. Ideally once the emergency situation has been resolved, our metabolic functions go back to their normal functioning. But if we are under constant stress the adrenal gland does not get a signal to stop producing cortisol. The long-term production of cortisol can severely compromise our health and permanently alter our metabolic process.

Results of Long-Term Stress

Some of the documented results of long-term stress include:

  1. Weakened immune response leading to heightened vulnerability to infection
  2. Memory loss: excess cortisol can overwhelm the hippocampus and actually cause atrophy. Studies of the elderly have indicated that those with elevated cortisol levels display significant memory loss resulting from hippocampus damage. Luckily the damage incurred is usually reversible.
  3. Shortening of telomeres. The link between memory loss and stress may in some part be due to shortened telmeres. The telomere is the outermost part of the chromosome. As we age, telomeres shorten. Research has shown that oxidative stress and inflammation accelerates this shortening. Shorter telomere length has recently been associated with cortisol levels indicative of exposure to chronic stress. If its telomeres get too short, a cell may die. Shortened telomere length has been associated with risks for dementia and mortality, and may be a marker of biological aging, according to a new study.
  4. An increase in abdominal fat. Researchers at Yale University found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is a key player in a variety of health problems Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
  5. Systemic inflammation. Researchers have found that chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream so that they’re ready to fight infection or trauma — even when there is no infection or trauma to fight. This leads to increased inflammation in the body. Problematically, systemic inflammation is known to cause elevated cortisol levels. Thus chronic stress can create a vicious cycle wherein the cortisol and inflammation basically feed each other. Chronic inflammation has been linked with a range of conditions such as heart disease, depression and even cancer.

Stress-Busters

While we may not be able to eliminate the stress in our lives, we can take measures to give the body the relief from stress that it needs in order to stay healthy.

  1. Decrease consumption of caffeine and alcohol, both of which impact cortisol levels
  2. Go to bed by 10:00. Your body needs sleep. Getting six hours or less over time can significantly increase cortisol levels. It takes a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep to give your body enough time to recover from the stresses of the day before.
  3. Practice a stress reduction technique. Research has shown that the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) can lower cortisol levels. The lowering is even greater in those who practice TM regularly. In fact, the longer people practice TM, the more pronounced is the effect. TM was also found to decrease the time it took for the body return to normal functioning following stressful stimuli. This is significant because high cortisol levels can actually create a self-perpetuating loop by disrupting the delicate feedback balance that tells the brain to stop releasing cortisol.Researchers concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique gives the body a reprieve from experiencing stress, and as a result, the body is able to respond more normally to stress stimuli of short duration.
  4. Schedule a week of Panchakarma treatments. Multiple studies have shown that massage therapy can lower cortisol levels, increase dopamine and serotonin (our happy, feel-good hormones), and lower excitatory hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine. A week of luxurious in-residence treatments can provide a much-needed break from the day-to-day pressures at work and home.

More Stress-Busting Recommendations

  • Get more spinach in your diet.  Spinach has magnesium, which help balance your body’s production of cortisol.
  • Eat more citrus fruits.  Research has shown that citrus fruits like oranges and kiwis have high content of vitamin C, which help slow the production of cortisol.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough healthy omega-3 oils in your diet.  These healthy fats not only inhibit inflammation, but also help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
  • Get some Holy Basil in your diet!  This tasty herb is an adaptogen herb, which is a unique class of healing plants that help reduce the production of stress related hormones.
  • Research has shown that zinc helps inhibit the production of cortisol.  Vegetarians can get zinc from cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans.
  • Good news! Dark chocolate has high levels of anti-oxidants that help decrease inflammation and slow the secretion of cortisol.  Just make sure that it’s at least 70% dark chocolate.

Arming ourselves with an understanding of the stress response and minimizing the impact of stress on our minds and bodies is one of the keys to maintaining balanced health. This is why any responsible health program must include stress reduction techniques. Learn more about Panachkarma treatments and learning the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique at The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

How We Live Determines How We Age

Is more stress in your future? More than likely, yes. Stress is one of America’s leading causes of disease. Chronic stress breaks out physically as headaches, allergies, ulcers and heart disease. Ultimately, stress wears down the immune system, allowing the body to fall prey to disease. Chronic stress can also lead to mental frustration, anxiety, and ultimately, depression. There’s really no way around it: sooner or later, chronic stress will make us ill.

Science has shown us that by reducing stress not only do we remain healthier as we age, memory and mental abilities remain stronger as well. Researchers have learned that stress can actually damage the hippocampus, an area of the brain governing learning and memory. In short, stress can cause brain damage.

Unfortunately, many people deal with stress by adopting behaviors that end up increasing their stress load. Turning to “comfort food”, staying up late to watch TV or read or to catch up on work, drinking caffeinated drinks and energy drinks, relaxing with alcohol… All these “quick fixes” actually end up putting more stress on the body’s systems.

This is why preventive health centers like The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, which incorporate stress reducing techniques and alternative therapy strategies, are becoming more and more important. While most agree that prevention is the future of health, the key question is how to take people from the stage of talking about the importance of diet, meditation, and exercise to the stage of actually doing something about it.

In-residence experiences take away the excuses. They take a person away from habits, distractions, and immediate sources of stress. Out of sight helps you to be out of the minds of your co-workers and even your family. I can’t tell you how often we’ve heard guests exclaim over the unexpected experience of being taken care of — because they are so accustomed to always taking care of others.

At the heart of The Raj programs are the traditional Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments, designed to remove imbalances and impurities from the body and to rejuvenate the mind and body. These therapies detoxify the body, rejuvenate the internal organs, lubricate joints, release toxins, stimulate the body’s lymphatic system, and relax the muscles.

The Raj also offers guests instruction in the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM). The physiological response during TM has been found to be the exact opposite of the body’s stress response. As the mind experiences quieter, subtler levels of the thinking process, the body gains a state of profound rest, much deeper than ordinary relaxation.

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Research has found that the practice of the TM technique results in the normalization of hormone levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular health and brain functioning. The body starts to maintain a more rested, calm and energetic style of functioning even outside of meditation, making us more resilient to stress.

Published research shows that just one year of regular practice of the TM technique can be the antidote to stress and its detrimental effects. Even short-term practitioners of this meditation have, on average, a biological age five years younger than their chronological age. Five years of TM practice results in a biological age 12.5 years younger than the practitioner’s chronological age.

Guests at The Raj participate in daily Yoga classes, learning a simple set of yoga exercises that can be fit into almost any schedule. Yoga has been shown to help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate.

When guests return home from an in-residence experience, they should know how to eat, handle stress and how to live a life that supports health and happiness. Studies on twins have shown that only 20% to 25% of what determines how long we live is genetically determined. This means 75% to 80% must be due to our lifestyle, diet, environment, etc. At The Raj guests adopt an Ayurvedic daily routine; a routine that is in tune with the cycles of nature. Integrating these principles into one’s daily life supports healthy changes in body, mind, and consciousness. The Ayurvedic routine helps to establish balance in one’s constitution, regularizes a person’s biological clock, and aids in the digestion, absorption and assimilation of food, leading to a healthier and more resilient physiology.

Staying healthy makes more sense than trying to cure illness. It is never to early or too late to start a healthy lifestyle. If you find yourself struggling to maintain balance in your life, consider treating yourself to an in-residence experience.

For more information on in-residence programs at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, visit the website:

www.theraj.com

Managing Stress Affects Health, Memory, and Body Weight

Life is full of ups and downs, and some of them can be stressful. If we are lucky, stress is a short-term event. But often situations occur that keep us stressed for days, weeks, or months. This experience of non-stop stress can cause significant damage to our health, mind and emotions. Understanding the mechanisms of our stress response can help us minimize and control the damage.

Stress-und-Hektik-SOMKKU-Shutterstock.com_-1

The medical dictionary describes stress as “any physical, emotional, social, economic or other factor that requires a response to change.” The human body is brilliantly designed to react to stress in order to survive. It does so by activating the secretion of the hormone cortisol. This initiates a cascade of physiological responses.

Cortisol is meant to be a “quick fix”. It turns “off” many of our normal physiological mechanisms while it turns “on” many temporary mechanisms. It is the source of the “fight or flight” response. Ideally after an emergency situation has been resolved our metabolic functions go back to normal.  If we are under constant stress, however, the long-term secretion of cortisol can compromise our health and permanently alter our metabolic process.

Some of the documented results of long-term stress include:

Results of Long-Term Stress

1. Weakened immune response leading to heightened vulnerability to infection

2.  Memory loss: excess cortisol can overwhelm the hippocampus and actually cause atrophy. Studies of the elderly have indicated that those with elevated cortisol levels display significant memory loss resulting from hippocampus damage. Luckily the damage incurred is usually reversible.

3. An increase in abdominal fat. Researchers at Yale University found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is a key player in a variety of health problems Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.

While we may not be able to eliminate the stress in our lives, we can take measures to give the body the relief from stress that it needs in order to stay healthy.

Stress-Busters

1. Decrease consumption of caffeine and alcohol, both of which impact cortisol levels

2. Go to bed by 10:00. Getting six hours or less over time can significantly increase cortisol levels. It takes a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep to give your body enough time to recover from the day’s stresses.

3. Practice a stress reduction technique.

The Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) has been found to lower cortisol levels. The lowering is greater in those who practice TM regularly. The longer people practice TM, the more pronounced is the effect.

TM was also found to decrease the time it took for the body return to normal functioning following stressful stimuli. This is significant because high cortisol levels can actually create a self-perpetuating loop by disrupting the delicate feedback balance that tells the brain to stop releasing cortisol.

Researchers concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique gives the body a reprieve from experiencing stress, and as a result, the body care respond more normally to stress stimuli of short duration.

4. Schedule a week of Panchakarma treatments

Multiple studies have shown that massage therapy can lower cortisol levels, increase dopamine and serotonin (our happy, feel-good hormones), and lower excitatory hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine.

A week of luxurious in-residence treatments can provide a much-needed break from the day-to-day pressures at work and home.

More Stress-Busting Recommendations

  • Get more spinach in your diet.  Spinach has magnesium, which help balance your body’s production of cortisol.
  • Eat more citrus fruits.  Research has shown that citrus fruits like oranges and kiwis have high content of vitamin C, which help slow the production of cortisol.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough healthy omega-3 oils in your diet.  These healthy fats not only inhibit inflammation, but also help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
  • Get some Holy Basil in your diet!  This tasty herb is an adaptogen herb, which is a unique class of healing plants that help reduce the production of stress related hormones.
  • Research has shown that zinc helps inhibit the production of cortisol.  Vegetarians can get zinc from cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans.
  • Good news! Dark chocolate has high levels of anti-oxidants that help decrease inflammation and slow the secretion of cortisol.  Just make sure that it’s at least 70% dark chocolate.

Arming ourselves with an understanding of the stress response and minimizing stress and its impact on our minds and bodies is key to maintaining balanced health. This is why any responsible health program must include stress reduction techniques. Learn more about Panachkarma treatments and learning the Transcendental Meditation technique at The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

Keeping Kids Healthy with Ayurveda

kids-yogaThe traditional medical view is that kids get sick with colds, flu and other common illnesses because their immune system is untested and they have not previously been exposed to viruses. When they do come in contact with viruses and upper respiratory infections, they easily succumb. Later in life, having developed a resistance to these diseases, they do not get sick as often.

Ayurveda has a different view: Children tend to stay healthy and maintain their health if they eat the right foods, get proper rest and have a good routine. This helps the child maintain his or her own resistance and immunity. Teachers have long observed that some children who exposed to viruses and colds never get sick, while other children seem to always pick up the latest bug. While to some extent this is due to the child’s “prakritia” (body type) and inherent resistance, proper rest, diet and routine can help maximize the possibility for children to avoid colds and flues.

In Ayurveda, each of the three doshas—vata, pitta and kapha—are responsible for the expression of various aspects of nature in the body. Kapha is more structural and is responsible for heaviness and solidity. And kapha is responsible for maintaining the structural aspects of the body—muscles, joints, tissues, etc, as well as lubrication.

During our early, growing years, as the physical structure of the body is forming, kapha dosha is more predominant than the other doshas. Kapha is slow, heavy, sticky, firm and strong. And its proper functioning is essential for the ever-strengthening physiology to grow. If kapha becomes imbalances, however, because of its heavy and sticky qualities, it can slow digestion and produce excess mucus in the body. This can lead to colds, ear infections, etc.

DIET

In determining the proper diet for children, Ayurveda takes into consideration the domination of kapha at this time. Excess sweets and cold drinks and food are difficult for the slow digestion of early childhood to handle. Unfortunately these are the very foods that children often ask for: candies, chocolates, pastries, ice cream, cold drinks, cheese and heavily processed foods. They are also the kinds of foods that are easily accessible for busy parents. It is no coincidence that holiday times, beginning with Halloween, Thanksgiving and following through Christmas and Hanukkah, are times when parents often see an increase in colds and sickness in children.

A vegetarian diet is ideal for a young child. It should include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and can provide plenty of protein through a combination of grains, legumes, dairy and nuts.

Mild is healthy for most children, but Ayurveda cautions against serving milk cold. Boiling milk makes it easier to digest (for all ages).

Ideally the main meal should be at lunch, when digestion is stronger. Dinner should not include heavy foods such as cheese, yogurt or meat.

REST

According to Ayurveda, the more rested the physiology, the stronger the immune system will be. This is true for adults as well as kids. When children are tired from staying up late, they become more susceptible to colds and other respiratory illnesses. For greater strength and balanced physiological functioning, children under five should go to bed between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. Children between the ages of five and eight should go to bed by 8:00 p.m. And children between the ages of eight and ten should be in bed by 8:30. This is far earlier than is generally practiced.

ROUTINE

Adopting an ideal Ayurvedic routine for your kids means getting up early in the morning, performing Ayurvedic oil massage before bathing, getting plenty of exercise and learning the Transcendental Meditation technique or the Transcendental Meditation Word of Wisdom for children under the age of ten. These techniques help promote well-being and happiness for a growing child.

Back in 1992 a study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that levels of stress—rather than exposure to a virus—determines which people catch colds. Providing children with a tool to relieve stress at an early age is a gift that will keep them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Of course creating an ideal routine for children means parents creating and participating in that routine themselves. Children are very sensitive and impressionable. They absorb the influences around them. The close relationship between parents and children is reflected in the health of the entire family. Parents must take care of themselves in order to provide maximum care and guidance for their children.

A family consultation with an Ayurveda expert can help parents develop an ideal diet, routines and guidelines their children — and for the entire family. For more information on scheduling a consultation, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

 

 

( Picture of kids doing yoga. Source: Google Advance Image Search.
Creative Commons. The image is used under the terms of Googles Creative Commons rules:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. This photograph and credit do not constitute an endorsement of this blog or products mentioned.)