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STRESS pencil

Helping Older Adults Flex their Stress Resilience Muscles 

We can all agree that stress levels have skyrocketed to an all-time high following the “year of fear.” Older adults with chronic conditions have been the hardest hit since they are most vulnerable to Sars-CoV-2 and severe outcomes. Millions have been struggling with the fear of infection and mortality; inactivity and muscle weakness as well as social distancing and isolation. Helping older adults build stress resilience strategies into daily life is critical to bolster and protect physical, mental and social wellbeing.

Living under chronic stress leads to bad decisions. That’s because the part of the brain called the amygdala is activated when under threat. It is our survival brain with the “fight or flight” response being its signature. This means that blood is flowing to the “reactive” brain and away from the “thinking and planning” part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex.   

This can contribute to poor eating, activity and lifestyle choices. Convenience and processed foods can easily take center stage along with sedentary behaviors and heavier use of drugs and alcohol. This can lead to malnutrition, decreased blood flow and the increased risk and severity of chronic conditions as well as impairing immune function. It is a recipe for dis-ease and higher health risks, particularly in pandemic times.

Chronic stress puts the body into a catabolic state of “breaking down” while also turning down the volume on the body’s anabolic pathways of “building up” (1). The body was designed to live in the parasympathetic state, also known as “rest, digest, heal and repair” mode.  Constantly living in the stress response leads to high levels of cortisol, oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory cytokines (immune messengers). This chemical marinade literally shrinks muscle and brain cells (2).  

Chronic Stress Stinks & Shrinks

What happens when muscle and brain cells atrophy? Sarcopenia and cognitive decline arrive on the scene. This in turn leads to the downward spiral of physical and mental pathology that can include disability, dependency, dementia, an increased risk of falls, fractures and hospitalizations.   

Resilience is a Process

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress,” or “bouncing back” from difficult experiences (3). It is an adaptive process that can be developed. Being “hardy” or resilient is linked with positive outcomes, including improved functional mobility, health and longevity.  

Medical fitness specialists can help older adults build stress resilience by empowering them with education and encouragement. This can be a powerful intervention as it combines education with behavior modification. It includes asking questions while providing clear messaging that reduce fears and clarify health benefits followed by simple actionable steps. The pro-active older adult can choose to practice the strategies that resonate with them.  Being accountable to and encouraged by a trainer knowledgeable about geriatrics can support the process of building resilience to weather “stress storms.” 

Building Stress Resilience

Like health, resilience is multi-dimensional and includes physical, mental and social components. As fitness professionals, we understand that exercise activity is the most powerful intervention to relieve stress because movement positively impacts the health of every cell in the body and brain. After all, who doesn’t feel better after an appropriate workout or walk in the sunshine?!

5 Simple Strategies

Being mindful of breathing, eating and moving are great ways to build stress resilience.  Living in the present moment helps develop awareness, connection and calm. Avoid overwhelm by choosing to practice one small step at a time.

1. Breathe Deeply. Breath connects body and mind. Stress breathing is shallow breathing. By focusing on the depth and pace of breath, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged. Encourage older adults to become aware of tension and overwhelm; to take “Breathing Breaks” while focusing on breathing in and out through the nose. It can be as simple as starting with 3 deep breaths and working up to 30.  

2. Eat Slowly. In order to digest food and absorb nutrients properly, eat seated in a relaxed, calm environment.  Encourage older adults to slow down and focus on chewing food 20-30 times. This supports the mechanical breakdown of food for better digestion. While eating, focus on the food’s aroma, flavor, texture, mouth feel and swallowing. 

3. Tea Time. Take a few minutes to savor a warm cup of herbal tea like lemon balm, lavender or chamomile.  Enjoy the aroma and feeling of warmth in hand and the body. This practice is a wonderful way to wind down at the end of the day or as needed.

4. Gratitude Attitude. Before rising and/or going to bed, think about, say out loud or write down 3 things you are grateful for. Practicing gratitude is linked with boosting happiness, optimism and a sense of greater well-being (3).

5. Move more. Inactivity and sedentary time slows down blood flow, metabolism and immune function. Encourage older adults to break up sedentary time with 5 minutes of movement every hour. Light intensity activity like house cleaning has been shown to reduce the risk of mobility disability by 40%! Simply moving more throughout the day is powerful medicine, especially when paired with a tailored exercise program. 

Today, building stress resilience is absolutely critical for older adult’s functional and cognitive health.  They will be so grateful for your guidance!


Cate Reade, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist and Functional Medicine Practitioner candidate on a mission to improve functional mobility and health span utilizing the power of lifestyle medicine. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. Today, as CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMor™ Mobility Trainer, she develops exercise products and programs that target joint flexibility, strength and balance deficits to help older adults fall less and live more.


References 

  1. Kirwan R et al (2020). Sarcopenia during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions: long-term health effects of short-term muscle loss. Geroscience. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7528158/
  2. Mohammed A & Kunugi H (2021). Screening for Sarcopenia (Physical Frailty) in the COVID-19 Era. Int J Endocrinol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8152925/
  3. MacLeod, S et al (2016). The impact of resilience among older adults. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197457216000689
Stressed Man Working At Desk In Busy Creative Office

Stress: An Easy Exercise To Help You Deal With It!

Stress. It’s everywhere. If you live and work on this planet it’s almost impossible to avoid. In normal times are stressful enough but this past year we have had to share our lives with Covid 19.

Feeling stressed? Me too!

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

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. Once I was able to relax, I was stress-free even in the pretzel pose.

Seriously, daily conscious relaxation exercises can make a 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.

Check out Mirabai’s video below, guiding you through a short Meditation and Stretch to reduce stress that can be done at work or home.


Mirabai Holland MFA, EP-C, CHC is one of the foremost authorities in the health and fitness industry. Her customer top-rated exercise videos for Health issues like Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Heart Disease, Diabetes & more are available on her website, mirabaiholland.com. Join her NEW Online Workout ClubMirabai offers one-on-on Health Coaching on Skype or Phone. Contact her at askmirabai@movingfree.com

brain-thoughts

Harness the Limitless Potential of Your Mind with Meditation

The mind is a powerful tool or weapon that can be used to work for us or against us. Everything begins with a thought. From the moment we wake up until laying our head on the pillow each night, our mind is consumed with thoughts; more than 60,000 a day by the time we reach age 40.

95% of those thoughts occur in the subconscious mind, making us unaware we have them or even what they are most of the time. Thoughts run on autopilot throughout the day unless we do the internal work to become aware of them and shift our thinking.

Awareness is the first step to reprogramming the mind with different thought patterns. Once we begin practicing a mindful lifestyle and becoming aware of the thought patterns that are regularly showing up in our lives, we can then learn and use tools to reprogram the mind to think differently. Think of it like this: the brain is the hardware, and our mind is the software, the software we use daily determines how we think, feel and react or respond to various situations.

The good news is, it is possible to “rewire the brain” a term referred to as neuroplasticity. The latest technology in science reveals that by creating new neural pathways in the brain, we are capable of rewiring neural pathways, creating new neurons that fire together which allows us to think and process differently, thus leading to less reactionary responses and more responding to our external environment.

The question is how do we do this if our mind is on autopilot and we are mostly unaware of our thoughts?

One answer is through the long-practiced method of meditation, a process of refocusing the mind. Meditation is a mental exercise that with practice trains the brain to think and process differently. It is through refocusing the mind to think about one thing and ultimately “no thing” that allows for us to tap into our subconscious mind and create new programming.

Often people say they cannot meditate or can’t calm their monkey mind. That is true for those who do not practice training it to be different. Being mentally fit is a practice that requires exercise, just as muscles do when training in the gym or recovering from a physical ailment. The mind must also be exercised and taught to think and react differently.

There are many different modalities to the practice of meditation, just as there are many workouts in the gym to become physically fit. It’s about exploring the types of modalities and finding one that works for you or your client. Mental resilience is built each time new neural connections are made, each time we go through a challenging time and overcome it, we become more mentally fit thus giving us resilience for the next time we face something hard.

Understanding how the brain works and how it pre-dispositioned to think negatively over positively, allows us to have compassion and patience with ourselves while learning to create a consistent routine of practicing meditation. Discovering the mind/body connection and how they work together also empowers us to be able to choose differently in situations where we become aware we are reacting from autopilot rather than choosing to respond.

In my webinar with MedFit Classroom, we’ll discuss the neuroscience of meditation – how the brain responds to consistent practice, understanding the mind/body connection and how the brain plays a part in producing cortisol the body’s stress hormone, proper breathing techniques to calm the central nervous system, and how to grow your current practice by adding meditation to your wellness toolbox for assisting current clients with their wellness journey.

Meditation is currently a $1 billion industry and is rapidly growing. Learning how to use meditation in your own life, while also learning how to instruct others through science-based, proven modalities expands your revenue offerings as well as helps clients heal faster and live happier lives.

Join me for this webinar to learn how to harness the limitless potential of the mind and an opportunity to teach it to others.


Briana Bragg is the founder of Vacation of the Mind®, a mental wellness company dedicated to helping one million people or more reduce stress, refocus the mind, and lead healthier and happier lifestyles through practical techniques of nature-centered mindfulness and meditation.  Briana is the author of “Journey into Tranquility®”, a meditation teacher training course that utilizes science-based methodologies of nature, meditation, and creative visualization in a three-step process Breathe, Refocus, Journey, curating guided journeys that connect people to nature and stillness. Briana’s dynamic energy and passion are fueled by her devotion to the well-being of others.

Cartoon nose breathing in word

Breathing to Enhance Exercise Intensity and Recovery

For years the standard measure of resistance training was measured in volumes and loads, usually determined by sets and repetitions. Although an apparent effective way to determine success in a workout program, is it the most effective? Is there another way to determine intensity? Or better yet, a way to enhance recovery during a set? These questions are now being investigated. Some of the research is over fifty years old and more prevalent today than when it was originally hypothesized.

The recent rise of books like Breath by James Nestor, the impressive exploits of the self-proclaimed “Iceman” Wim Hof, or even the Biomimicry thinking of Dr. Robert Friedman has started questioning the traditional thinking of exercise performance, health and the immune system.

Conscious breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is not only for yoga and meditation but is a controlling factor in the regulatory governor for resistance training. Instead of counting reps, count breaths. Not any kind of breath, but specific breathing patterns designed for the type of exercise performance desired. For example, if you’re going to perform 12 repetitions of a specific exercise, instead you would do three +patterned breaths that would look something like this: On the first repetition, inhale through your nose (deep into your belly or diaphragmatically), hold your breath on the second repetition, and slowly exhale on the third and fourth repetitions. This allows for more controlled energy in and out!

This breathing style also has its roots in the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence.  The book Nature’s Secret Nutrient by Dr. Robert Friedman puts it in specific terms where the goal is to exhale 1.618 times longer than you inhale. This breathing protocol can be used, and has been used with success, for resistance, cardiovascular, power, and even flexibility training.

According to Patrick McKeown, the author of 7 publications, including The Oxygen Advantage, conscious breathing is the optimal way to create energy and recovery into your body. Here’s why. First when you inhale through your nose, turbinate’s filter and increase the NO3, you humidify the air, and move oxygen more slowly to allow more absorption. NO3 is vaso-dilater which increases the capacity of arteries. When you hold and exhale slowly and controlled, you create an increase of CO2 tolerance, another vaso-dilator, and increase O2 hunger so more oxygen is absorbed. This dilation of arteries leads to more energy to the muscles and faster recovery.

Another key point to conscious breathing is slower minute ventilation. This means less “dead” air space — the space in your nose and trachea that are not used in the transition of O2-CO2. For example, if you breathe 12 times a minute and inhale 6 liters of air, you would only get about 4.1 liters of air in the lungs. But, if you breathe at a rate of 6 breaths a minute you would only have 6 dead spaces with the 6 liters of air taken in, and therefore take in about 5 liters of air. Considerably more efficient!

Diaphragmatic breathing also allows for more oxygen uptake. Eighty percent of the oxygen absorption occurs in the lower half of the lungs. Therefore, if you are breathing shallowly you are doing your body a great disservice!  

With diaphragmatic breathing, you engage all abdominal muscles and create a network that not only moves oxygen and CO2 but creates a stronger, more focused core for activity. Whether running, jumping, lifting, or doing back handsprings, conscious breathing creates the foundation of movement. 

Even posture benefits from conscious breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is greatly hampered if your posture is poor. Allowing an awareness of the most efficient way to breathe increases the likelihood of taking postural corrections and moving in a more anatomically correct manner. Whether exercising, sitting or even sleeping, posture plays a big role in the ability to breathe. Breathe well and you will perform and recover at a whole new level.

These benefits of diaphragmatic breathing not only add to the effectiveness of your workout and make each repetition not only more dynamic but the transition an integral part as well.

Whether it is technology, health concerns, financial issues, relationships, or even weather, we are constantly bombarded by stressors. Individually they are manageable, but together they can become a recipe for disaster.  Exercise is an invaluable way to boost your immune system, energy, and most important overall mental health. Use every technique at your disposal.

The respiratory concerns created with the COVID outbreak have raised awareness of the importance of conscious breathing! Any way we can manage stress, improve the immune system and kickstart the recovery process at the same time is golden. Diaphragmatic breathing is that gold.


Mike Rickett MS, CSCS*D, CSPS*D, RCPT*E is a nationally recognized health and fitness trainer of the trainers, fitness motivator, author, certifier, educator, and the 2017 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year.  He has been a fitness trainer for more than 35 years.  He co-directs with Cheri Lamperes BetterHealthBreathing.com, a conscious breathing educational program focusing on the diaphragmatic technique to enhance overall wellness.  In addition, he also directs the personal training site ApplicationInMotion.com.

yoga-lake

Stress Management and Diabetes

Diabetes, is left uncontrolled, can cause a whole host of health complications such as vision impairment and neuropathy. It is important to adhere to any instructions your doctor has given you to keep blood sugars controlled. Your physician may also educate you on exercise, diet and stress management to keep a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Anyone who suffers from chronic stress may have many health issues later in life. One condition that may arise is diabetes.  Prolonged stress can either cause diabetes or make it tough to obtain normal blood sugars. Blood sugar numbers usually go up and down depending on what you do throughout the day. If you are fasting your numbers should be less than 100 but could be 180 two hours after eating a meal. Most diabetics must monitor their glucose levels on a regular basis.

People who have diabetes may also feel stressed because of their treatment plan. This is also called, “Diabetic Distress”.  Individuals with diabetes have many things they must do to take care of themselves such as: check glucose levels, exercise, cook and eat healthy meals, maintain a certain diet and take medications as prescribed. This new lifestyle can be very stressful for many people who have diabetes.

Along with Diabetic Distress there are the usual stressors that are a part of life. It is important to find ways to control stress throughout your lifespan. If you are newly diagnosed, the first step to reducing stress is to talk to your physician. Your medical team is on your side and can help you find a Diabetes Educator. These individuals host classes to go over any new information and questions you may have.

When controlling stress, you need to find out what works for you personally. Some individuals like to take a walk in the park, others choose to practice meditation or use a combination of many techniques. When you start to try new practices remember that you may have to try each a few times. The body has to get used to approaches. A qualified stress management consultant can help you to create a stress management plan specifically for you.

A great way to incorporate stress management into your daily routine is through meditation. Choose a certain time of day that you know will work for you. Some individuals find it helpful to meditate before getting out of bed in the morning. Others find it works best at the end of the day when they have finished working. Taking a break at work during lunch can be helpful as well. Once you find the time of day that works best choose your space. You want to find a room in your house that is free from distraction. It will also help to turn off all electronics and the television.

When practicing meditation, remember that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Some individuals choose to meditate laying on a mat while others sit or stand. Choose a position that is comfortable for you. When sitting for meditation your knees should be lower than your hips to help sustain the position.

Guided meditation is also a great choice for meditation. A trained instructor will guide you through the meditation to help you reduce stress. Please check out this free guided meditation that you can try at home. Our Soothing Garden meditation may be shared with friends and family as well.


Robyn Caruso is the Founder of The Stress Management Institute for Health and Fitness Professionals. She has 15 years of experience in medical based fitness.

STRESS pencil

A Stress Management Plan for an Aging Population

April is National Stress Awareness Month!

Fortunately today, there are many tools to help individuals cope with stress. The first step is to acknowledge that you are stressed and to know what is stressing you. Once you are aware of your stressors, you need to make a stress management plan to follow. The journey may not be perfect but it is a work in progress. Most individuals aren’t going to know how to develop a plan or where to start. A trained individual such as a certified personal trainer can help to formulate the best plan for each client and make changes as the client achieves each milestone in the process.

As many as 20% of people experience depression in their later years

A stress management prescription is also needed for aging adults since the mind and body become slower to adaptations. The stress response lasts longer and seniors experience different symptoms then younger adults. Some key symptoms can be: crying, overeating, wounds taking longer to heal, heart palpitations, anxiety and depression. As a trainer, you will most likely be working with the client’s doctor who is treating them for these symptoms. There is a myriad of modalities that you can use to help your client drastically reduce their stress levels while they heal. As a fitness professional, incorporating meditation, exercise, yoga, Pilates, and many other techniques can help your client’s symptoms improve mentally and physically. The question is can we do more than telling clients to take a class? The answer to this question is an emphatic yes!

The causes of stress for this population are also different and depend on which decade in life they are in. Some examples are: loneliness, being institutionalized, fear of having enough money for retirement, loss of independence and many other causes. The problem is that many people can’t asses their own stress level and don’t know where to turn for answers. Chronic stress is harmful in many ways, but can be minimized once the individual becomes aware of their stress level and knows there are stress management professionals who can help.

Today, 53% of Baby Boomers are using complementary approaches to try and relieve stress and help with other conditions such as: anxiety, depression, chronic pain, stress, and hypertension. Complementary approaches are not limited to but include; exercise, nutrition, yoga, Pilates and Tai-Chi. Research conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows that meditation can help to relieve symptoms for example chronic pain. As a fitness professional it is important to realize that these modalities must be used in conjunction with conventional medicine.

When training clients, it is important to see them as a whole person through the dimensions of wellness. As people, we have many things going on mentally and physically that are very complex. A stress management plan helps to streamline what can work best for your client and their current needs. The plan can evolve and most likely will depending on what is going on in your client’s life at the time. When you can assess and classify your clients you then know which complimentary approaches will work better for them. This will in turn, will help to keep your client engaged and on track with their goals.


Robyn Caruso is the Founder of The Stress Management Institute for Health and Fitness Professionals. She has 18 years of experience in medical based fitness. Become a Stress Management Exercise Specialist today!

 

Sources:

https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/aging-1/age-health-news-7/aging-and-stress-645997.html

https://www.slideshare.net/soniya302/stress-among-elderly

http://www.elderly.gov.hk/english/healthy_ageing/mental_health/stress.html

https://www.stress.org/seniors/

http://www.providencecare.com

http://www.health.harvard.edu/aging

 

meditation

Meditation for a New Normal

Regardless of how you’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice movement, it’s likely you’ve felt it  in some way. Maybe on a small scale your grocery store trips have become less (or more) frequent. Or maybe you haven’t been able to go to events with friends. Or maybe it’s been further reaching, and your day-to-day work situation is upended. Maybe your financial situation is too. Or maybe you or a family member is sick. And in the past few weeks, glaring racial inequality has caused an awakening to injustice that’s shaken people’s worlds.

There are countless ways 2020 has changed our lives (can you believe we’re only halfway through!?). Amidst the upheaval–  the disruption of routines and habitual ways of thinking also creates an incredible opportunity. For some, this time can be beneficial for introducing practices and habits that can help a person in all aspects of their life. As people spend more time alone, introducing or deepening a meditation practice can be a powerful way to not just survive, but also grow, through this unprecedented time.

Relieve Stress and Improve Health

A new study from researchers at San Diego State University and Florida State University found that in April 2020, during the pandemic, roughly 70% of Americans experienced moderate-to-severe mental distress – triple the rate of 2018. Racial injustice and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are creating the perfect storm for even more severe mental health disparities.

As people attempt to deal with the real and imagined dangers of their current situations and the unrest in the world, many of us can become filled with anxiety, fear, and insecurity. The resulting physiological effects can then negatively impact our physical health. Meditation offers us the opportunity to better deal with disempowering thoughts and emotions that arise, while also improving physical well-being (Note: sometimes beginning a meditation practice while experiencing intense difficulty or trauma can intensify the discomfort and leave us feeling worse than before. It’s important to find a meditation practice that meets you where you are and supports your needs). 

Many meditation apps and in-person studios have responded by making their offerings more widely available online or curating them for certain groups. Los Angeles-based meditation app Headspace is offering free services and guides to help people cope with stress by introducing Headspace for Healthcare Professionals, Headspace for Work, and Headspace for Educators, in addition to teaming up with the Office of New York Governor Cuomo to offer free meditation and mindfulness content for all New Yorkers. Kaiser Permanente announced that it added meditation app Calm to its digital self-care portfolio, so Kaiser Permanente members can access it at no cost.

Guided meditations through apps are wonderful entryways into meditation for many people. However, they’re also an example of the external stimuli which so many of us have become addicted to. Because of this, it’s extremely beneficial to learn a meditation technique with a teacher. With a teacher, you’re better able to create a sustainable practice that evolves with you and doesn’t rely on external tools. They can also help navigate stumbling blocks. It’s important to keep in mind there are many different types of meditation. Similar to “sports” serving as an umbrella term, meditation encompasses different categories that engage and affect your brain differently. Some also require more mental effort and nuanced practice than others. 

Learn more about different meditation categories and physiological effects in the MedFit webinar “The Meditation Landscape”)

Transform Isolation Into Solitude

Regardless of how deeply one’s mental state has been affected during this time, many people have found themselves spending more time alone. And while physical distancing, by nature, is isolating and can take a toll on one’s mental health, being alone and lonely are two different things. During meditation, when we’re alone and become still, our emotions and thoughts rise to the surface. This can be difficult. By developing a meditation practice, we’re able to cultivate a sense of solitude and deepen our relationship with ourselves. Meditation is a powerful gateway into self-acceptance, stillness, and gratitude.

It’s common for weeks, months, years, and even decades to pass by while being engulfed in the busyness of our lives. The demands and responsibilities can seem endless. It may not feel like there’s time or it’s not the best use of our time to meditate. However, meditation is often most beneficial for those who think they don’t have time to meditate.

It’s by creating the space in our day that creates the space in our minds to pause. And through this brief pause we’re able to develop a more finely tuned awareness of ourselves, our thoughts and emotions, our needs, and our behaviors. We also become more aware of what our priorities are and how we can make adjustments in our inner and outer lives to meet our needs. By becoming more aware, we’re able to cultivate the patience, resilience, and compassion to make better choices.

The extended pause or disruption to our day-to-day lives is a powerful time to adopt or deepen a meditation practice. Many of our current habits are linked to cues from our environment and schedule. So when your life changes, it can be a great time to establish new routines because your environment and schedule are changing anyway. It might feel easier to adopt a meditation practice when it’s moving along with a larger transition, especially when it includes more time alone.

Cultivate Compassion and Deepen Communication 

Even though many people are practicing physical distancing for public health reasons, thankfully social interactions with friends and family can continue. Zoom, FaceTime, and even a quick phone call or text can make a big difference in our daily lives. Meditation gives us the opportunity to not only deepen our relationship with ourselves, but also improve our relationships with one another. As we cultivate a deeper sense of peace, happiness, and compassion within, the people around us benefit as well. 

Meditation can help curb stress, which can prevent negative environments that lead to tension between people. By taking responsibility for and curbing your stress you can also benefit your relationships with others. Certain meditations can even help strengthen feelings of connection. Regardless of the physical distance between people, the feeling of connection and belonging can remain strong.

In particular, compassion and loving-kindness meditations can literally train your brain to feel more compassionate and loving. And research shows that empathy and compassion also have tremendous benefits for health and wellbeing — improved happiness, lower inflammation, decreased anxiety and depression, and even a longer life. 

Meditation for a New Normal

Living through a pandemic and racial justice revolution can bring up a wide range of emotions, fears, and challenges. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or deal with it. If you’re looking for a way to use the disruption to change habits and create a meditation practice, remember that the mind, just like a muscle, can be strengthened. While there won’t be an overnight transformation, you can begin to develop the neurological pathways that will help you now and in the future.

As cities and countries begin to reopen, a push toward the old way of doing things and being in the world arises. Be vigilant and strategic about making room for the things you’ve found and cultivated during this time, such as meditation, so they can become part of your new normal. Old habits and patterns can get locked inside of us. Be clear about what you want to bring into this next phase of your life. What did you discover about yourself or life you want to hold onto? Write them down so you have a place you can come back to and remember. Developing a meditation practice isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon – so be patient as you discover what works for you in each phase of your life.


Angela Singer has been studying and practicing meditation and mental wellness for 8 years. Through earning meditation and wellness coaching certifications, she’s created a toolbox of accessible mental wellness workouts for all levels. She is the founder of Traverse Meditation Studio, a boutique, virtual studio.

She teaches her students and clients to unlock their natural intelligence and creativity, reconnect to their flow state, and achieve professional and personal resiliency. Through her research of neuroscience, neuroplasticity, meditation, positive and perceptual psychology, and the mind-body connection, she’s found that human beings can have an immense amount of power over how we experience life. When we develop and practice this superpower daily, it can become a habit that transforms how we live our lives.

Among many other things, meditation and mental wellness workouts have helped her step into her expression as a voice actress, painter, and entrepreneur. It brings her so much joy to share these practices with clients to help them experience more of what they want in life.

stress-emotional-eating

Stop Stress Eating with These 3 Simple Steps

Do you often eat as a reaction to stress, anxiety, and other unwelcome feelings? Do you turn to high-fat, sugary “comfort foods” to cope with negative emotions? Discover why you stress eat in the first place, why it works, and some simple steps for doing some damage control.

Some say it’s “stress eating.” Others call it “self-medicating.” Psychologists describe it as “emotional eating.” Whatever words are used, if you often (over)eat to self-soothe negative feelings such as boredom, stress, anxiety, or anger—in other words, for reasons other than hunger and having a healthy appetite—it’s likely you’re a stress eater. Not only does stress eating increase your odds of overeating, my own original research on overeating reveals that Emotional Eating is the #1 predictor of overeating and becoming overweight or obese.1,2

Here’s what stress eating might look like:

For Ann, stress-related overeating episodes often start after work, especially when she’s on deadline with a large project. First, she visits her local supermarket to buy a bag of potato chips, a pint of her favorite ice cream, and a bar of creamy dark chocolate. Then she heads home, changes into comfortable clothes, and turns on the TV. Settling into bed surrounded by her favorite comfort foods—and sometimes, a glass of red wine—Ann begins what she describes as “zoning out”—eating until she feels calmer—often to the point of falling in and out of sleep well before bedtime.

All the while, Ann remains vaguely anxious and distressed about her workload, and dependent on food to manage her darker moods. And she’s concerned her stress eating is keeping her overweight. At the same time, on a not-quite-conscious level, she senses the chips and chocolate allay her anxiety in some way. And she’s right: High-sugar, high-fat, high-carb food (products) do indeed relieve emotional tension. Here’s why.

The Food-Mood Connection

The idea that the food you eat can actually medicate your mood and vice versa—that your mood may motivate you to make certain food choices—was given the scientific stamp of approval in the 1970s when Judith Wurtman, PhD, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uncovered a fascinating facet of the emotional eating enigma. Call it nutritional neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology, or the study of food and mood, Wurtman launched a new field of nutrition research that has confirmed what many of us know intuitively: what you eat affects your mind and mood, your tendency to pile on pounds, even the quality of your life.

What Wurtman discovered is this: About twenty minutes after you eat a carbohydrate-rich food (such as bread, potatoes, cookies, or cake), your brain releases a naturally occurring substance called serotonin; in turn, you feel more relaxed and calm. Want to feel more perky? Consume a lean, high-protein food such as fish, and the substance that’s released (norepinephrine) lets you feel more awake and energetic (unlike the kick you get from caffeine, you’re not stimulated, just more alert). And certain fats in food end up as endorphins—substances in the brain that produce pleasurable feelings.3 More recent research, specifically on stress eating, reveals that women under stress experience strong sugar cravings that lead to overeating high-carb, high-sugar foods.4

The Food-Mood Syndrome: It Can Be a Vicious Cycle

Here is where the food-mood link really gets interesting. Since Wurtman’s discovery about the food-mood connection, we also know that the sugary, sweet, or crunchy and fried processed food products that emotional eaters most often choose to get a serotonin high actually contribute to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals that can cause your emotions to plummet, leading to a serious case of the doldrums.

In this way, the food-mood syndrome can become a vicious emotional cycle. You’re feeling down, so you reach for, say, a prepackaged brownie. Sure, the brownie’s sugar and white-flour carb content will soothe and calm you, but its high sugar content has a hidden side effect: it actually depletes some nutrients that could help combat depression. In other words, the sweet concoction may somehow soothe your soul, but isn’t it ironic that at the same time, it may also contribute to anxiety, depression, and other unpleasant emotions?

3 Smart Steps to Stop Stress Eating

Want to get the mood-calming, feel-good benefits of serotonin without the vitamin and mood-robbing downside inherent in high-sugar, highly processed foods? Here are three smart, simple, proactive steps you can take to curtail stress-related overeating episodes—without the downside.

Be “B” wise. From dreary doldrums to a deeper depression, various B vitamins—including B1, B2, niacin, folate, and B12—can help you bust the blues. But most B-family relatives are processed out of refined foods, such as white flour. To help defeat depression, “B” wise and consider some especially good B-abundant blues busters found in unprocessed, unrefined grains (oats, millet, brown rice, etc.), fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. Consuming vitamin B–rich greens such as spinach are especially good for overcoming overeating.

Shake the sugar habit. Consuming a lot of refined white sugar both damages and destroys B vitamins in the body; in this way, it contributes to deficiencies. Cut down on, or eliminate sugar from your diet, and depression often lifts—although why this is so isn’t well understood. One theory is that the “high” a person derives from sugar is due to elevated glucose (blood sugar) and feel-good endorphins, which produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria. Conversely, when a diet is low in sugar and high in B vitamins, levels of B vitamins, glucose, and endorphins remain stable, reducing odds of depression.

Sip some tea. Consuming too much alcohol to relax and de-stress can cause the loss of certain B vitamins—and deficiencies of vitamins B6 and niacin, especially, can bring you down. Not only does excessive alcohol consumption reduce the absorption of B vitamins, but it also contributes to protein and mineral deficiencies. The operative words here are “too much” and “excessive,” meaning, the tipping point is different for different people. Consider this: In place of wine to de-stress, try sipping some soothing herbal tea.

Stopping Stress Eating

The science that studies nutrients in the foods we consume, and the way they influence our brain chemistry and emotions, provides a peek into how food and the mind and body work together. By being aware of whether you “feel” like eating to assuage stress or to appease a healthy appetite, each food you choose to eat may be looked at as an opportunity to fine-tune your moods and emotions, while nourishing your body.

In other words, the key to being a success at stopping stress eating is making a commitment to eating for feel-good feelings, when you have a healthy, authentic appetite for food, and when you’re anticipating the pleasure and experience of true mind-body nourishment.

 

Article originally printed on integrativeeating.com. Reprinted with permission from Deborah Kesten. 


Deborah Kesten, M.P.H., is an award-winning author, specializing in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease. Her expertise includes the influence of epigenetics and diet on health, Lifestyle Medicine, and research on the Whole Person Integrative Eating dietary lifestyle to treat overeating, overweight, and obesity. She and her husband, behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, Ph.D., collaborate on research and writing projects. Her latest book, “Whole Person Integrative Eating” was named the “Winner” in the Health category by the 2020 Book Excellence Awards.

 

References:

  1. Larry Scherwitz and Deborah Kesten, “Seven Eating Styles Linked to Overeating, Over- weight, and Obesity,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 1, no. 5 (2005): 342–59.
  2. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, “Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 14, no. 5 (October/November 2015): 42–50.
  3. Judith J. Wurtman, Managing Your Mind and Mood through Food (New York: Rawson Associ- ates, 1986).
  4. Danielle Marques, et al, “Sweet craving and ghrelin and leptin levels in women during stress” Appetite, Vol 80, September 1, 2014, 264-270.