Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Stressful facts about “Stress”:
~ More than 50% of adult Americans suffer adverse health effects due to stress.
~ Medical researchers estimate that up to 90% of illness and disease is stress-related.
~ Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. ~ Tranquilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for one fourth of all prescriptions written in the U.S. each year
~ Americans spend $11.3 billion per year to cope with stress
What can be added to the discussion on stress, especially now, and knowing all that we know, is that it is up to each and every one of us to find out about it as much as possible in order to save ourselves from its debilitating effects, both short term, as well as long term. Excluding the trauma of living in a war zone, surviving a natural disaster, being a crime victim, or suffering from a horrible accident, most of our stress comes from the makings of our own mind, our perceptions of our experiences that arise out of daily living. What a bizarre thing we humans do to ourselves in the course of going about our daily lives! Whether it’s career/work stress, relationship stress, money stress, aging stress, wedding stress, or vacation stress (!), we are all faced with the task of organizing our response to the stuff of our lives. And that’s what stress really is – not the actual event or situation, but our response to it.
I’m an old man and I’ve had many troubles, most of which never happened. – Mark Twain
Aging and stress
Stress doesn’t just make a person feel older. In a very real sense, it can speed up aging. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that stress can add years to the age of individual immune system cells. The study focused on telomeres, caps on the end of chromosomes. Whenever a cell divides, the telomeres in that cell get a little shorter and a little more time runs off the clock. When the telomere becomes too short, time runs out: The cell can no longer divide or replenish itself. This is a key process of aging, and it’s one of the reasons humans can’t live forever. Researchers checked both the telomeres and the stress levels of 58 healthy premenopausal women. The stunning result: On average, the immune system cells of highly stressed women had aged by an extra 10 years. The study didn’t explain how stress adds years to cells making up the immune system. As the study authors write, “the exact mechanisms that connect the mind to the cell are unknown.” Researchers do have a not very surprising theory, though: Stress hormones could be somehow shortening telomers and cutting the life span of cells.
New Science Regarding Stress:
One of the most original minds working today in the area of physiology and stress, is Dr. Robert Sapolsky. He is a MacArthur fellow, and a professor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Stanford University, and he has an outstanding reputation as a dynamic teacher and lecturer. In addition, he is also an accomplished writer and communicator of science to non-scientists. Every summer since the late ’70s, he has traveled to Kenya to study the stressful lives of baboons, whose competitive, stratified society resembles our own. By linking baboons’ behavior with their health, he has learned that some individuals handle stress better than others. More importantly, he has also seen the profound effect of peace on these animal societies.
But an extraordinary thing has been observed in one of the troops, called the Forest Troop. In his book A Primate’s Memoir, Sapolsky studied the activities and lifestyle of the Forest Troop to explore the relationship between stress and disease. In typical baboon fashion, the males behaved badly, angling either to assume or maintain dominance with higher ranking males or engaging in bloody battles with lower ranking males, which often tried to overthrow the top baboon by striking tentative alliances with fellow underlings. Females were often harassed and attacked. Internecine feuds were routine.
Through a heartbreaking twist of fate, the most aggressive males in the Forest Troop were wiped out. The top ranked males invaded the territory of another troop, which had taken to foraging in an open garbage pit adjacent to a tourist lodge. The Forest Troop aggro males who had so viciously fought for the rights to the garbage dump, contracted bovine tuberculosis from tainted meat that ended up in the dump. Most died between 1983 and 1986, leaving the weak, oldest, and youngest males behind with all the females. The deaths drastically changed the gender composition of the troop, more than doubling the ratio of females to males, and by 1986 troop behavior had changed considerably as well; males were significantly less aggressive. Over time, the males in the Forest Troop also displayed more grooming behavior, an activity that’s decidedly less stressful than fighting.
Analyzing blood samples from the different troops, Dr. Sapolsky found that the Forest Troop males lacked the distinctive physiological markers of stress, such as elevated levels of stress-induced hormones, seen in other troups. For Sapolsky, the challenge is to figure out why these differences exist and to see if there are lessons for humanity: “I can tell you this: physiologically, it doesn’t come cheap being a bastard 24 hours a day.”
What this is supporting, is the very clear link between peaceful, calm behavior both in individuals, as well as society at large, and longer, happier lives. Of course many many philosophers, spiritual leaders, writers, activists, as well as plain old folks, have known about this for millennia. Now it seems, science has irrefutable proof of it.
When it rains, I let it. – 113 year old man in response to a question about the secret of his longevity
Interesting and Inspiring Facts about Stress:
The color blue has a calming effect. It causes the brain to release calming hormones
When hippos are upset, their sweat turns red.
Laughing lowers levels of stress hormones and strengthens the immune system. Six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day. Adults only laugh 15 to 100 times a day.
Stress is manageable, workable, and reversible
Stress Be Gone! What to DO about stress that is not stressful at all:
The important connection between diet and stress cannot be “stressed” enough. If the food you eat is imperative to your overall everyday health, then it may very well save your life in times of stress. Eating high fat, sugary, fried foods, and/or drinking and smoking while experiencing stress, is literally proving to be like playing Russian roulette: it will definitely catch up with you and harm you greatly.
Caffeine: overstimulates the adrenals which are responsible for the hormonal “flight or fight” response in the body.
Alcohol: Spikes sugar levels in blood, bogs down liver function needed for immune system, disturbs sleep patterns, causes depression, reduces ability to judge situations rationally – things feel worse than they really are.
Salt: triggers hypertension; restricted salt intake allows kidneys to remove stress hormones from the bloodstream at a faster rate.
Sugar: Exacerbates mood swings – gets you high, then you crash.
Trans fats: greasy fried foods clog liver function, reduce circulation and raise blood pressure.
Animal foods: High-protein foods elevate brain levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are associated with higher levels of anxiety and stress.
Stock your pantry with these foods to help you stave off stress and enhance your beauty and well being:
Wild Salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids fight depression
Oatmeal: Carbs produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for calm, relaxed feelings. Whole grains and complex carbohydrates are better than sugary carbs.
Walnuts: contain Omega 3s, as well as L-arginine, an amino acid that converts to nitric oxide, a chemical that allows blood vessels to relax.
Dark Chocolate: Feel good chemicals in it are for real: anandamide and phenylethylamine calm the mind and lower blood pressure.
Sweet Potatoes: a great low calorie, starchy food that boosts serotonin levels; also contains beta carotenes, free radical scavenger that protects from sun damage.
Milk/Cheese/Yogurt: High calcium intake reduces PMS symptoms and may even alleviate them altogether.
Blueberries: Number one in antioxidants (supports immune system), and potassium which helps lower blood pressure.
Asparagus/Chickpeas: high in folic acid, which helps stabilize moods. The body converts folic acid into serotonin.
Many plant essences can help to bring on a calm, relaxed state of mind. Aromatherapy is simple to do: just dip a cottonball in the essences and inhale. You can find them on line or at your local health food store. Organic is best, when available.
Essential Oils For Stress-Related Problems
Anger, Anxiety: Basil, bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, geranium, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, ylang-ylang
Depression: Basil, clary sage, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang-ylang
Insomnia: Basil, chamomile, lavender, mandarin, marjoram, melissa, neroli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, thyme, ylang-ylang
Nervous Exhaustion: Basil, cinnamon, citronella, coriander, ginger, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, lavender, lemon grass, peppermint, nutmeg, rosemary, ylang-ylang
Nervous Tension: Basil, bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, palmarosa, rosemary, vetiver, ylang-ylang
Brewing up a soothing cup of tea is a calming, peace-inducing ritual in itself. If you can, find loose leaves, that are organic, but ready made tea bags in various blends of the herbs listed here are just fine.
Mint: Herbs in the mint family, especially spearmint and peppermint, add a refreshing flavor and mild sedative action to herbal teas. They are especially soothing to an upset stomach.
Skullcap: The whole plant can be used as tea to help relieve a variety of symptoms. Skullcap is a relaxing herb that you can use for insomnia, headache, nervous exhaustion, muscle spasms, and the nervous tension and irritability associated with premenstrual syndrome.
Ginseng: The dried roots of ginseng are used in cases of insomnia, nervous exhaustion, and stress.
Chamomile: The delicate apple-like scented flowers of chamomile are useful for people suffering from hyperactivity, indigestion, insomnia, and nausea
Lavender: Its benefits include anxiety, indigestion, irritability, nervous exhaustion and tension headaches
Lemon verbena is used to help alleviate indigestion, insomnia, and nausea.
Linden: The aromatic flowers of this herb help relieve anxiety, headaches, indigestion, and nervous tension.
Passionflower vine: are utilized in teas by persons suffering from anxiety, insomnia, irritability, nervous tension, PMS & menstrual problems, and tension headaches.
Valerian: useful in relieving anxiety, insomnia, and tension. Actual clinical trials show that valerian can help users fall asleep faster and have a deeper, more refreshing night’s sleep.
Catnip has a variety of medicinal uses including insomnia, excitability, palpitations, nervous indigestion, stomach upsets, and digestion-related headaches. Interestingly, although catnip causes quite a bit of excitement in cats, it is believed to have exactly the opposite effect on humans. Catnip tea has a long history of use as a calming brew, to soothe the stomach and quiet the mind.
Vitamin And Mineral Therapy
To help offset some of the damage caused by stress, try the following daily supplements:
200 to 400 milligrams of magnesium,
10 to 100 milligrams of B- complex vitamins and
500 to 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C.
The magnesium blocks the damaging effects of excess adrenaline. Studies have shown the physical damage caused by stress is minimized with B-complex and Vitamin C.
Here are some other things to help prevent stress:
Yoga (try very easy beginner’s classes to really understand why this 3000 year old system of health and wellbeing is so relevant to our modern age)
Mindfulness Meditation (Be Here Now; stress and anxiety come from either dwelling in the past or projecting into the future. The mind that is in the present moment is much more peaceful)
Deep Breathing (deep-breathing-a-day keeps the doctor away)
Guided Imagery (many, many audio cds exist to help you visualize peaceful journeys)
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (first relax your toes, then your ankles, then your shins….)
Massage Therapy (lowers blood pressure and assists in the movement of lymph through the lymph system. Our lymph system carries cellular debris and toxins out of the body.)
Exercise In Nature (long walks, biking, hiking, swimming in the ocean)
Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. – Jane Wagner
Finally, here is one of my favorite remedies for stress (and you may laugh at this, but it really works): Laughter Therapy. A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
§ Stimulate your organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
§ Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
§ Soothe tension and stomachaches. Laughter can also ease digestion and stimulate circulation, which helps reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long haul. Laughter may:
§ Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can impact your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
§ Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
§ Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make difficult situations a little bit easier.
While we are all works in progress, and the most certain thing about life it that it will be filled with uncertainties, there is only one life that we are given. Use it wisely.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. — Chinese Proverb