Tag Archive for inflammation

*Inflammation Station Part 2: The Sweet 16 of Stress Reduction

You probably began reading this article because you feel, not just stressed out, but also TRAPPED in that stress. Your life is so packed up, there is no time to edit anything out, change any commitment, or find any space at all to make it to a goddamn yoga class with a mat strapped to your back on a crowded city bus. Or maybe you have too much to do to make the kids are getting their needs met. Or things at work are over the top tight now. You’ll find a way to tae care of yourself as soon as it slows down. But here are some ways to take care of yourself and your stress levels TODAY. NOW. Just pick one from the list and start there. Then  maybe two. Mix it up. Let yourself be healthy.
1.   
Breathing – Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an important meeting, when it occurs to you that you’re actually not breathing? If you look further, you might also notice that your heart rate is above normal and your temperature has risen. Taking deep breaths lowers your blood pressure, delivers oxygen to the far reaches of your body, and relaxes your alarm system into peace.
2.    Exercise – You do not have to be bench pressing Toyotas or climbing Mt. Shasta to reap the incredible rewards of exercise in terms of stress management. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, your body’s own personal Dr. Feelgood chemicals. It also elevates your mood and self-confidence, while improving your sleep and increasing your overall daily energy reserves. Start slow. But start now.
3.    Creativity - When we engage in an act of creation, we can achieve a kind of focus similar to the concentration achieved through a meditation practice. Allowing yourself the time and space to focus on knitting a scarf, spinning a ceramic ewer or crafting a hilarious blog helps you to be present with yourself without tripping out on the future or the past. The act itself slows the pace of things and your body responds by relaxing, counteracting the effects of toxic stress.
4.    Schedule time for Yourself – Your calendar has a ton of things in it. Sally’s birthday dinner, a presentation for the marketing department, a training HR is sending you to attend for a whole weekend,. What it probably doesn’t say is “Wednesday from 2-3:30. Take self for a walk along the water. Read new detective novel on my favorite bench in the park. Go to the fencing class you’ve always wanted to go to.” Prioritize time for yourself at least once a week. Making this commitment actually strengthens your commitments to others, diminishing your overall stress levels of feeling, ironically, overcommitted.
5.    Interspecies Pals – Hang out with your dog Gus. Or your cat Parsnip. Or your fish Thelonius. Being with animals not only provides us comfort, but often it highlights simplicity and strips down the stress we labor under. Food. Shelter. Love. And a nice swim, except maybe for Parsnip.
6.    Sleep Getting a good night’s sleep can improve our concentration, our effectiveness and our energy levels. Try to lay off the liquids 2-3 hours before bed so as not to interrupt your slumber with an insistent bladder. Cut off the caffeine about 7 hours before you turn in. And try to get in bed the same time every night. Keeping yourself consistent with your pillow will begin to ratchet down your stress levels.
7.    Hilarity – Go ahead and laugh your ass off. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the release of endorphins. Laughter also stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
8.    Stretch – Yoga is great for stress. But look, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. It’s ok to hate yoga. Really. You don’t have to tote a little mat around town or invest in Lululemon wardrobes to reap the benefits of stretching. Just go ahead and start your day by doing five minutes of stretching and see how things go. You will be in more alignment, more embodied, and begin your whole day grounded. Literally.
9.    Dance and Sing –You can go out with friends and get lost in the thrill of a great sound system or stay home and get wild with whatever blows your dress up. Abandon and fun in a totally physical sense decrease your stress levels and free you from the tangle of daily irritation
10. Eat a Healthy Diet – Start your day with breakfast. Always. Starting your day with complex carbs, slow digesting fuel, will keep you full and energized for your morning. Keep your diet balanced, your consumption of refined sugars limited, and pile your plate with colorful produce. A balanced diet of whole foods and produce keeps your stress levels down and your blood sugar stable. This results in a more consistent energy and mood throughout the day.
11. Get loud about it – According to a recent study in Great Britain, work-related stress can be relieved by up to one quarter by letting out a good scream. Get primal. Just let it rip.
12. Call a Friend – You don’t have to do it alone. Call someone you trust and air out your stress. Let people go through it with you. The bonds of your relationships will strengthen, you can get it out of your head, and ultimately, you will take solace in human connection, an experience proven to reduce stress.
13. Gratitude – Studies show that cultivating gratitude can be one of the greatest weapons against stress out there. Keep a gratitude list by your bed and each night or morning (whichever suits you best) write down three things you’re grateful for. Everything from your new socks to a stable of wonderful friends. Begin cataloging all the things about life that rule, three at a time each day.
14. Get your Financial House in Order - If looking at finances gives you sharp emotional vertigo, schedule five minutes a day to begin assessing where you are. Just 5. And at the end of five minutes, move on with your life. Engaging yourself slowly and daily will build confidence, shake you quite gently out of denial, and put you on the road to making choices based in reality. Soon five minutes will turn to ten and then fifteen and healthy choices on that front will lead to peace and recovery in other venues.
15. Delegate – Do you hate spending so much time at the laundromat? Drop it off. Does looking for parking make you nuts? Take public transportation or treat yourself to a walk. Does paying bills drive you crazy? Set up automatic payments. I am not saying these are the right answers for you, I am just saying there ARE answers for you and you can take action to strip stressful things from your life.
16. 1979 Time – This is my favorite. Turn off your phone for an hour a day. Walk away from your computer. Close Facebook. Turn off the television. Just one hour a day. Read a poem. Go look at a tree or the sky. They get more and more fascinating if you let them. People really can wait an hour to hear from you or get an email response.

Think of all these things like a Venn diagram with overlapping circles or a fascinating chain reaction of good stuff. If you get a good night’s sleep, you wake with more energy and feel inspired to make yourself some steel cut oats for breakfast. Once that happens your morning is fully fueled and your cravings for sugar and caffeine diminish. Highs and valleys even out and your blood sugar stays healthy throughout your day. You take yourself away from your desk at lunch and sit outside in the sun reading a battered copy of Moby Dick you always meant to get to. That lights your creative spark and you plan a quick picnic dinner for your sweetheart and the two of you enjoy a pleasant evening together with no texting or TV reminding you why you are lucky to have companionship in your life. That leads you to remember other ways your life has delivered gifts like how your dentist told you your teeth look great.

The Domino effect works in both directions. Set yourself up for some serenity today. The world will do its part to offer you stress, so don’t keep helping it out. It’s doing just fine and it completely supports your new plan to give yourself abundance. And so do I.

*The original version of this first appeared in the WONDERFUL blog, MindBodyGreen

Stressed out at Inflammation Station : Part 1

Gus Seinberg: Gay, Jewish Dog.

One of the first things I ever taught Gus Seinberg how to do was spoon. Even when he was a puppy and I toted him around San Francisco in a bike bag, whiling away the hours on the back patio of The Bearded Lady Truckstop Cafe in a vintage slip with platform combat boots, it was never me that invested in him learning how to be a good dog. I’d take his puffy tiny body home and snuggle his back against me and smell the crown of his puppy head whispering to him all the things we’d do together, me and him. Sometimes he’d turn towards me and put his big floppy paws on my chest and just stare at me, his eyeliner and brown eyes pleading for language. We’d nap while I could have been doing something productive: working on a book, printing for a photography show, EXERCISING. But instead I’d watch the butts in the ashtray shift and morph into new heights and stare out the window of the studio apartment waiting for my girlfriend to come teach Gus something useful. Sit. Stay. Back Seat. Off.

This Cafe was Magical

Everything helpful he knows, he learned from her. I really only taught him how to spoon. To this day, if I lie down on any surface he can get to and I toss my arms out perpendicular to my body, he’ll heave his 50 lb body into me, back first, and lie his long face on the pillow by me. It’s one of my favorite things.

But now he’s a big dude and he has paws that don’t flop and they have big black talons on the ends of them. He still turns over and digs his feet into me and sometimes the nails get me. Then I have a weird welt across me, like a protester all risen up against the man, red faced and furious.

That’s inflammation. Not to state the obvious. But when did inflammation get so confusing? Who are these doctors who keep talking about inflammation and how it’s the root of all medical problems? Is my internal landscape a mighty welt? Is the inflammation about organs or tissues os the blood? Will it make me feel bad? Am I literally SWOLLEN? I have gotten the answer to this question through entire books and STILL felt confused. So let’s get super basic.

Inflammation leads to too much time at the hospital.

The first thing is that inflammation has a purpose. When the body is injured, in pain, stressed out or otherwise flummoxed, it responds to the injury and it’s actually trying to heal itself. Whether you’ve been cut or burned or stung or stabbed or whatever, the body has a bunch of cells that tell it something bad has happened. Your brain gets the pain message but the rest of you is busy as well. The site of the injury gets the message to increase blood flow to the injury and that happens by the blood vessels opening up to let more nutrients reach the injury. That’s why the site gets red and hot and puffy. The blood brings plasma and leukocytes, or white blood cells,  to get to work immediately in the healing process. So as all these responses from your immune system take place, not only do they act to help you by giving you a good dose of pain to let you know exactly what the injured piece of your body is capable of and NOT capable of (like, no don’t turn it THAT way!), but under all the red puffy action, there’s clotting and cleaning and repair going on.

So if inflammation is about healing, why all the evil chatter about it being the root of every major disease in the western world? Well, inflammation is supposed to just do its job and get on with it, as the British say. It’s an emergency system.

What does that have to do with being stressed out?
This is stressing me out.

Fight or Flight

Look, our minds and bodies arrived with convenient alarm systems to keep us safe from harm. Until just about 10,000 years ago, we Homo sapiens spent our days simply surviving just to get to the next one. We gathered berries, and whittled wood into sharp points. We tested mushrooms with a high cost of trial and error, stalked game, and sought out water sources. We found shelter and warmth, companionship. At the same time, of course, creatures sought us as their dinner as well, and upon sight of, let’s say, a mountain lion staring us down, our bodies would sound the sirens loud and focused, giving us two famous choices: Fight or Flight.

In this moment, the phenomenal body does some serious acrobatics in its efforts to keep us alive. Our hypothalamus, a powerful gland sitting pretty at the base of our brains, sends in the troops of defense. Using a team of nerves and hormones, these players poke our adrenal glands, just chilling out in a catnap above our kidneys, telling them to get the hell up and deliver us a wallop of hormones featuring the big stars: adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline’s job is to increase our heart rates, and as it does so, elevate our blood pressure and catapult our energy supplies into survival levels. Cortisol, the big cheese of stress hormones, is quite busy with its own tasks, increasing sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, to making extra energy available for thinking in lightning speed fashion (the brain functions solely on the power of glucose). It also increases the availability of substances that repair the body’s tissues, on alert for possible injury.

And if that wasn’t enough, cortisol also acts as a master editor, slicing out nonessential functions that would slow us in a fight-or-flight situation. For instance, it demotes immune system responses and stops paying attention to the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This heightened state is not concerned with your biological clock, your desire for dinner, or for crying out loud, your height.

But what happens to this system when the threat never passes?

The Heart

Modern life in our Western culture doesn’t present us with quite as many mountain lion threats or whittling opportunities as it used to. What it does present us with are continuously stressful situations of the 21st century. Will we lose the home we spent our entire lives working for? Can we retain our job toiling in a cube for 60 hours a week to make endless deadlines? Will our partners stay with us and give us the love we need when they barely remember what we look like? Remaining constantly on edge keeps us in a consistent state that was designed to last for only moments, and our systems begin to break down under the demands of our constant requests for extra troops in the fight. In a healthy body, the body’s stress response system is supposed to be self-regulating. Once we escape from the mountain lion, or the thief in the alley, or the car swerving out in front of us, our levels should return to their happy places, decreasing hormone levels, blood pressure, and adrenaline once the threat to our body has passed. At this point, our digestive system once again begins its digesting (not to mention its manufacturing of serotonin), our reproductive systems return to watching over our abilities to conceive and procreate, and our growth hormones relax into a healthy aging process.

The problem with stress in our lives today is that our minds tell our bodies that we are under constant assault. These systems stay on alert, breeding chronic physical, psychological, and emotional crises that feed each other and reinforce problems. Overloading our bodies with exposure to cortisol and its other stress hormone cronies disrupts almost all of our body’s functions. Constant inflammation. This puts us at increased risk of numerous health problems, including, and unfortunately not limited to:

  • Heart disease
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive tract ailments
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Memory impairment
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

So what are we supposed to do? Good question. Part 2 of the series will cover some stress reduction tips. Until then, just continue appreciating your dog. Especially if he’s as cute as Gus.