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erasing-fear

Taking Fear from Foe to Friend

Step One: Acknowledge and Accept Fear  

Acknowledging and accepting your fear is the first step toward limiting its power over you. Acknowledgement requires you to admit that you have fears, and acceptance requires you to realize their power. Congratulations, you are human! We all have fears, but the ways they affect our lives depends on the relationship we choose to create with them.  

  • Don’t be a Denier. Deniers bury their fears so deeply that the fears often go unrealized, gaining an unknown power over the Denier. The danger is that at any moment, the Denier may be confronted by their formerly hidden fears, which seem to come out of nowhere, overwhelming the person’s thoughts, decisions, and actions. Just because you  deny them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 
  • Don’t be a Pretender. Pretenders admit their fear, but rely on their ability to vanquish, destroy, eliminate, and ultimately control it. They live under the misguided belief that they can make fears disappear. The problem arises when the fear the Pretender thought was destroyed comes back with a vengeance at an inopportune time. As with the Denier, that re-emerged fear can affect thoughts, decisions, and actions, potentially  placing the person on the pathway to unwittingly forfeit their dreams.  

Once you acknowledge the existence of your fear and learn how to address it productively instead of fighting it, you reclaim some of your power over it.  

Step Two: Find Your Fear’s Origins  

  • Determine where your fear originates and gain a deeper understanding of yourself. Knowing “the why” is a power diffuser. Is your fear based in lack of self-worth, self-love, self-doubt, rejection, or feelings of failure, or trepidation of success? If so, where did  this emotional trigger come from? Examine the negative assumptions you are making  and determine their source. This could be a childhood experience, something someone  said that you internalized, or some other event that created a negative self-assessment, which in turn is creating a fear. Knowledge is power, and it places you on the pathway toward healing.  
  • Take action to heal your fears’ origins. Healing comes through loving yourself and  seeking a deeper and richer understand of your authentic core. In my book, Yes! Commit. Do. Live, I explain, your “passions, loves, talents, gifts, and desires, along with  your character values, all inform and empower you.” These elements form your inner core. So let your fears reveal more of this inner core and show you something important that you may not have recognized. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, a deep dive into your inner core could unearth your talent for storytelling, listening, and  using empathy to connect with others. Nurturing those talents, which are all  components of a great public speaker, would empower you to meet your public  speaking fear. So, use that inner core power to meet and ultimately tame your fears.

Step Three: Focus on the Positive  

  • First, ask yourself what opportunities and adventures are now presented due to the fear  that has arisen. What possibilities for building new talents and skills are now open that were previously closed to you? Write them down and celebrate them as “what can be,” and then start envisioning them as “what is.” For example, that fear of public speaking could be preventing you from experiencing new opportunities in your career, family,  and friendships that could change your life. By focusing on the positive aspects of what  can be and the emotions that flow from that positive outlook, you shift your mindset away from negative thinking.  
  • Second, remember that negative thinking is often at the core of our fears. Without facts or evidence, we allow negative thoughts to paralyze us and convince us that  defeat/disaster is inevitable. By choosing to focus on the positive outcomes we can gain from facing the challenge, we gain power over negative thinking.  

As a state and federal prosecutor, I was afraid at the beginning of every trial. What if I didn’t succeed? What if I made a mistake? However, none of these fears were based on facts. By focusing on creating a positive outcome for the victim and empowering them through the trial  process, I could move forward through my fear. According to Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark  Robert Waldman in Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversations Strategies to Build Trust,  Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy, a single positive or negative word can actually alter our brains. There is neurological power in positive thinking, so the time is now to live in the  positive.  

Step Four: Transform the Feelings  

  • You can use your body’s responses to gain more control of your fears. What happens to you when fear arises? According to MedicalNewsToday, for some people, their limbs shake, their breathing becomes shallow, their mouths get dry, and their hearts race. While these reactions may on the surface seem negative, those physical manifestations  are tied to the excitement of the moment.  
  • Once you are aware of your fear responses, redefine them. Remember, there is power in positive-thought realignment. When I left the practice of law to begin a singing career, during my early musical auditions, I was confronted with the physical manifestations of fear. I had a choice. I could allow those manifestations to derail my singing career, or I could retrain my brain and body to create a new understanding of  what those manifestations represented. I chose the latter—and you can, too. Here’s  how: 

Redefine those manifestations and repeat the new definition continuously until they feel real.  Repeatedly tell yourself this new positive understanding:  

  • My body’s shake is the energy surge that fuels my excitement. 
    • My shallow breathing is my body’s signal to slow down and take in rich oxygen.
    • My rapid heart rate is my body’s preparation on a cellular level to ready me to  step into my excellence.

Visualize your success over your fear and allow the positive emotions that flow from that  success to flood your body, head to toe.  

Find your calm and peace the “DDB” way—engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing. At each fearful moment, use the 5-5-5-5 breathing pattern: Inhale for a count of five, hold for five, exhale for five, and repeat for five. This practice allowed me to stay present and focus on the beauty of the moment.  

Reset those feelings further by recording your successes and focusing on each time you were able to feel the fear and do it anyway. I allowed every positive audition to reinforce my new positive understanding of my body’s response to each exciting opportunity. This process of transference turns negative thinking positive.  

Step 5: Look at Fear as Your Friend and Celebrate It!  

Fear is an extension of ourselves. It moves us. It represents a chance for a beautiful life transition. Fear offers an opportunity for immense growth and introduces us to new and wonderful challenges. It can be a gateway to the most beautiful, exciting opportunities, helping  you to unleash talents and unearth new passions.  

By taking the preceding steps, you are able to tame your fears. Remember, fear is not a villain, so there is no need for an epic battle. Instead, fear requires a relationship with yourself. It is a welcomed companion, a catalyst for change to constantly challenge your status quo. So, the next time you feel fear, ask, “What opportunity lies on the other side?” Challenge yourself to live through it. Do what makes you shake! Do what makes you shy away! It may not  be easy, but it’s essential for continued breakthrough as you journey to your highest state of  excellence.  

When you’re willing to feel the fear and move forward anyway, you position yourself to truly  write your story, live your purpose, elevate your thoughts, visualize your success, and live a life  without regret and with passion, laughter, self-determination, and endless optimism.  

Join Lisa for her webinar, How to Take Your Fears from For to Friend


Lisa Charles is a federal prosecutor turned singer/actress, wellness expert, certified health coach/consultant, and an acclaimed speaker. She served as the Fitness/Wellness Research Coordinator for the Rutgers University Aging & Brain Health Alliance, and is the CEO of Embrace Your Fitness, LLC, and the Author of YES! COMMIT. DO. LIVE.

  • Join my email list at yescoachlisa.com
  • lisa@yescoachlisa.com
  • IG: @lisaembracefitness
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.

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.

Webinar with Briana Bragg

Join Briana for Re-booting the Mind/Body Connection for Empowered Living. This webinar will provide an overview of the mind/body connection with techniques to un-entangle from autopilot, and update our subconscious programming to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life – while teaching your clients to do the same.


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.

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 Kade 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!

 

References

senior-couple-walking

Five Ways to Build Immunity

A strong and healthy immune response can mitigate the effects of an infection. Boosting your immune system is the key to fending off illness when you get it or maybe avoiding it together. The best approach to maintain your immune system is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. 

While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight harmful pathogens or disease-causing organisms. Some of them are below.

Sleep In

Yes! Lack of sleep can make you sick. Sleep deprivation is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness. During sleep, the immune system releases cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Cytokines are also needed to fight against infection, inflammation and ward off stress. Sleep deprivation leads to a reduction in antibodies and cells necessary to fight infection. According to Mayo Clinic, adults should aim to get seven or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to excellent sleep hygiene.

Consume Whole Foods

A healthy diet gives your body the essential nutrients to fight off germs. Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in micro-nutrients and antioxidants. There is a wealth of evidence that suggests that what we eat matters. The antioxidants in plants can help decrease inflammation by battling free radicals. The fiber consumed from plant foods increases your gut microbiome. A robust gut microbiome is essential for a stronger immune system.

Don’t Be Afraid of Healthy Fats

It is vital to consume healthy fats to receive positive advantages for our immune health. Healthy fats help reduce inflammation and fight infections.  Many plant-based foods are rich in fatty acids, linoleic, and alpha-linolenic acid, with an optimal omega-3/omega-6 ratio. Some examples include; hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, dark leafy greens, spinach, arugula, and romaine. Eating healthy fats will provide the body with the energy and essential fatty acids to optimize immune function. 

Get in Moderate Exercise

It’s true that exercise increases your immunity to certain illnesses. Research shows that frequent exercise reduces systemic inflammatory activity and improves aspects of immune function, leading to alterations in an aging immune system’s classical biomarkers. Examples of exercise include 30-minutes a day of brisk walking, hiking, a dance class, and cycling. So, wherever you are, get moving now.

Reduce Stress

According to the Mayo Clinic, the stress hormone cortisol can subdue your immune system. While it might be impractical to let go of stress completely, managing stress in a healthy way is possible. Creating some white space in your day and meditating can help with stress. Meditation lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and reduces anxiety. Watching a funny show or just laughing with friends and family is a great way to relieve stress. 

Our bodies are regularly exposed to invaders and toxins like mutated cells, bacteria, and viruses. We can make changes in our lifestyle to toughen our immune system. Including exercise, consuming a healthy diet, meditating, and practicing good sleep hygiene can go a long way to protect us from illnesses and strengthen our immune system. It might seem a lot to do right off the bat but making small changes can go a long way. Keep adding these lifestyle changes to your routine until they become a habit. Soon you will have a robust immune system to guard you against diseases.


Aesha is the founder and head coach at Tone and Strengthen. She holds a Master’s in Exercise Science from Concordia University and has earned multiple credentials from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Athletics and Fitness Association of America, and other NCCA accredited fitness associations. Aesha is a Master Instructor for MadDogg Athletics, Spinning® program and offers FREE workouts and healthy lifestyle tips on the Tone and Strengthen’s IG page

group meditation session

Choosing Appropriate Music for Mind/Body Classes

When creating mind/body fitness classes, we are never told which type of music is most useful or how to appropriately choose our music. An instructor will usually choose music for the sound that is pleasing to them. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact, music is very subjective to everyone. Not everyone will like the same music that is chosen for the class. Some class participants may ask where you purchased your music, but you cannot please everyone with the music selection. You may be wondering how the brain picks up these frequencies and synchronizes them with its brainwaves. The brain can differentiate each sound frequency as it enters the brain through the ear. You may not know, however, that each frequency has it’s own specific purpose. For example, white noise is commonly used for helping individuals to get to sleep as well as calm the sound of Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears). Once you understand how frequencies work you can choose music that will produce a certain outcome. (National Institutes of Health, 2018)

Music and Stress

According to the University of Nevada, music can be a powerful stress reliever as well as help the mind to be more focused. (4) Choosing the right type of music for each class is critical in helping you to achieve the objective of somatic movement classes. It is known, for example, that faster music can make participants feel upbeat and be better able to concentrate. A slower beat can help you to quiet the mind and your class participant to de-stress. The University of Nevada says that music that is 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat, causing alpha brain waves to initiate. This relates to sound frequencies that are 8-14 hertz or cycles per second. Alpha brainwaves are present when we are relaxed and conscious. Delta brainwaves are dominant at 5 hertz. Stanford University found that certain sounds tend to relax us more; they are Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed instruments, drums, and flutes. There is a song called “Weightless” by Marconi Union, which is said to be the most relaxing song in the world. They ask that you not listen to it while driving in the car. The specific purpose of the song is to help lower the heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and reduce levels of the hormone cortisol. You can play the song on YouTube for a thoroughly relaxing experience and then record how you felt in your journal. It is noted that individuals should listen to this type of music for at least 45 minutes to obtain full benefits. 

Psych Central says that nature sounds are very beneficial in decreasing stress levels because of the external focus it provides. When playing nature sounds for somatic movement classes, you want to use real sounds of nature. Artificial sounds draw the participant into themselves and can have the opposite effect. Listening to nature for 30 to 40 minutes three times a week can profoundly decrease stress and cortisol levels. (5) When choosing music for the Mindful Stretch or NeuRoll Calm™ class, we ask that you use primarily natural sounds mixed with soft music. Isochronic tones can be used as well, depending on the goal of the class you are instructing. (3)

Nature sounds help you to focus internally

Nature and soundscapes are widely used for meditation, but the question is which sounds are best for our group exercise class or small group training sessions. As the instructor, you are setting the objective for each class, and you can choose the music accordingly. Both of these types of music have frequencies or noise colors, and each color can be used to elicit specific meditative responses. The colors are white noise, pink noise, blue noise, grey noise, violet noise, red noise, green noise, and black noise. According to audiology.com, the most common noise colors used in meditation are white noise, pink noise, and brown noise. You can tell the difference in the noises by listening to them one at a time. White noise has a higher frequency and is perceived to be louder than it is; think of a water fountain. Pink noise has a more resonant sound than white noise and has more of a balanced sound; an example would be a calm ocean, and brown noise sounds like a soft rumble like thunder or a rough ocean. (2)

White noise is a collective frequency of all noise and can block out or mask other sounds. Some individuals use a fan, for example, to help them fall asleep at night. White noise is the go-to sound for masking sounds that come from within. Tinnitus sufferers use white noise to mask the constant sounds in their ears. Tinnitus can sound like a heartbeat, swooshing noise, or many other sounds within the ear. Other benefits of white noise are improved concentration and sleep promotion. (2)

Pink noise is a popular alternative to white noise, and some individuals prefer it because of the more gentle, relaxing sound it makes. We recommend changing up the music because not everyone will always like the music you choose. Like white noise, pink noise also includes the whole sound spectrum, but it has a less harsh sound. An example of pink noise is rushing water or heavy rain. Pink noise is also used to block out other sounds and help with improved focus, alleviating headaches, and promoting sleep. (2)

Brown noise was actually discovered by Robert Brown, a botanist in the 1800s, who calls this Brownian Motion. Brown takes the low frequency of pink noise lower, so it sounds like a buzz. Brown noise sounds like rushing water with a low roar. Brown noise is used to help with relaxation or meditation, improved focus, and reading comprehension, as well as sleep promotion. This is also known as Brown noise because the change in sound signal is random.(2)

Noise Color Chart

Adapted from:  Gulf Coast Audiology. “White, Pink or Brown: Which Noise Helps You Sleep Better? – Hearing Aids Hearing Loss: Pascagoula: Biloxi, Mississippi: Gulf Coast Audiology.” Hearing Aids Hearing Loss | Pascagoula | Biloxi, Mississippi | Gulf Coast Audiology, 10 Feb. 2016,

Binaural Beats

Binaural beats are another type of music that can be used by clients at home or whenever they feel stressed. The sound produced is relaxing as long as the hertz or cycles per second are within the right cycle per sound. Individuals usually listen to binaural beats through earphones to achieve the best outcome. Each ear typically has a different frequency than the brain is listening to. The frequency should be no more than 30 hertz apart for the brain to synchronize the soundwave. The only known side effect of binaural beats, when listened to through headphones, is seizures. If anyone chooses to listen to binaural beats on their own with headphones, it is recommended to consult with their physician first. If you are using binaural beats in class, it does not have the same effect. It is relaxing, but the brain can only synchronize the sound and pick up brainwaves through earphones. For now, we know that binaural beats can help with anxiety, memory, mood, creativity, and attention. The different brain waves are Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Delta brainwaves are synchronized with a hertz of 0.1 to 4, Theta brainwaves are noticed at 4 to 8 hertz, Alpha is 8 to 13 hertz, Beta is 13 to 30 hertz, and Gamma is 30 hertz and higher. (1)

Psychology Today says that individuals have decreased cortisol, increases in melatonin, and decreases in DHEA when listening to binaural beats. This therapy is also being looked into as a possible treatment for anxiety and pain reduction. It is essential to stay within the hertz ranges that are provided below. If you go higher than the recommended Herz range, the individual could end up with the opposite effect of what the goal for the class originally was. For example, someone who is looking for stress relief could become anxious instead. Music that pre-mixed already follows these guidelines. (1)

Isochronic Tones 

Isochronic tones are single notes of tones that are spaced evenly to create a rhythmic beat type of sound. You do not need to wear earphones for Isochronic tones to be useful as they are a singular beat, and the brainwaves produced can be measured by an EEG test. Many Isochronic tones are mixed with soft music or nature sounds. According to Healthline, Isochronic tones may promote better quality sleep, focus, and attention, decrease pain, help with declining memory, meditation, and a more positive mood. Isochronic tones follow the same brainwaves as Binaural Beats. It is recommended to use isochronic tones when instructing mind/body classes. (1)

Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tone Brain Waves Chart

Adapted from: Booth, Stephanie. “Brain Health With Binaural Beats”. Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 May 2019.

The music for class should be either natural soundscapes with soothing music blended with it or Isochronic Tones-based, which you can find online. Isochronic tones can be sold as a full album or a single song. We suggest starting the music before class to help calm class participants and prepare them for Mindful Stretch™.  The instructor should also use a natural voice and no microphone. A natural voice helps to elicit the relaxation response and enables participants to connect with you. Keep in mind that breathing from the diaphragm helps instructors not to strain their vocal cords. The volume of the music being played is essential as well. It should be just loud enough that everyone can hear but soft enough that you can safely talk over the music. If you feel that you are straining your voice, lower the music to a level that is comfortable for you. (3)


Robyn Kade is the Founder of The Stress Management Institute for Health and Fitness Professionals. She has 20 years of experience in medical-based fitness. 

 

References

  1. Booth, Stephanie. “Brain Health With Binaural Beats.Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 May 2019,
  2. Gulf Coast Audiology. “White, Pink or Brown: Which Noise Helps You Sleep Better? – Hearing Aids Hearing Loss: Pascagoula: Biloxi, Mississippi: Gulf Coast Audiology.” Hearing Aids Hearing Loss | Pascagoula | Biloxi, Mississippi | Gulf Coast Audiology, 10 Feb. 2016.
  3. Kade, Robyn. Mind/Body Medicine Specialist Manual. 4th ed. / USA, Stress Management Institute for Health and Fitness Professionals, 2020.
  4. University of Nevada Reno. Releasing Stress through the Power of Music, 2020.
  5. Collingwood, J. “The Power of Music To Reduce Stress”. Psych Central, 2020.

 

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