By Megan Alice Arterberry
In our modern day world where high stress is the norm, our brains have not yet learned to differentiate a real threat from a perceived threat, so any stress kicks the brain into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. The results? Symptoms that mirror or include anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. This can be devastating and debilitating to deal with, but there are a lot of coping skills that can help us retrain our brains and bodies to react differently.
Meditation is a great tool to use that can be done anywhere by anyone. Studies have shown many benefits, including: decreased blood pressure; increased oxygen to the cells; slowed activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear; and a shift in brain waves from the stress prone right frontal cortex into the calmer left frontal cortex. This literal shift in brain wave activity accounts for the shift in mood that meditators experience.
One of the easiest meditations to do is a Kundalini yoga meditation I call “555”, which usespranayama, or controlled breathing. This meditation can be done in as little as a minute, but anywhere from five to ten minutes is ideal.
- Find a comfortable position for you. Straighten your spine.
- Place your palms upward.
- Gently release your tongue from the roof of your mouth.
- Inhale for a 5 count.
- Hold your breath for a 5 count.
- Exhale for a 5 count.
- As you are doing this, you are also invited to do a body scan from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Notice any areas that are holding tension and breathe into these areas.
As we practice our meditation and breathing, our mind may wander. We may lose focus or lose count. That’s okay. Just bring it back to the breath.
April Dawn Ricchuito, D.D. & MSW is a writer, speaker, and integrative practitioner who brings a unique voice to the field of health and wellness by combining traditional evidence-based techniques with ancient practices such as yoga and newer findings in contemplative sciences. She has been recognized as a part of “Generation Inspiration” and is also named as one of 20 Young Champions for Women by the White Ribbon Alliance and WIE Symposium, presented by Donna Karan and Arianna Huffington. You can follow April on Facebook or Twitter. Visit http://www.beingandwellness.com to learn about services she offers, including Reiki & coaching, or http://www.verbalvandalism.com to check out her latest written works.
It’s getting colder across the country and that usually signals the start of the season between fall and winter, cold and flu. I’m sure if there’s one thing we can all agree on, there is never a good time to be sick. At the first sign of a sniffle the number one thought that comes to mind is, “Oh not now!” If you’re like most people you have a million things going on; job, family, and heaven forbid a hobby or two. The last thing you need is to be down for the count and fall a couple days behind when you’re living day to day to begin with.
You feel that you are doing everything in your power to avoid catching colds but nothing seems to work. We are all told that if we eat right, take our vitamins, and have a tube of anti-bacterial hand goo in every possible place we have a better chance at avoiding catching the dreaded cold and flu. Somewhere in the back of our minds, if we have kids, we even consider putting them in a plastic bubble during the school year.
It’s inevitable though, you touch the handle of the grocery cart and touch your face or get on a plane two rows over from the hacking, wheezing guy in seat 12C and the virus is on its way in to your system. The interesting thing is this, I’ll bet very few of you have been privy to this factoid; stressing out about the potential of catching those dreaded germs is as bad for you as the germs themselves!
Research shows that stress hormones lower your immune system’s ability to fight back invading bacteria and viruses. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1991), supported the hypothesis that the more stress you are under the greater the likelihood of catching a cold. I know right, first you have to worry about viruses and bacteria, now you have to worry about catching a hypothesis!
So what can you do to boost your immune system? While you may not be able to create a total immunity, the best immune system defense is a good offense. The first step to conquering any problem is to identify it. Figure out what is causing you the most stress and nip it in the bud. If there is something at work or a friend or relative that is causing your blood to boil write it down and set up boundaries to distance yourself from the problem.
Practice relaxation techniques. Work through your stress throughout the day and as it happens. Go for a walk, journal your frustrations, take a yoga/meditation class, or talk openly with a friend about what is bothering you. Blowing off some steam will not only have a calming effect on you overall but will help you get some much needed sleep. After all, isn’t that one of the first things they tell you to do when you get sick? Try doing that before you are forced to do it by Dr. Nyquil.
Eat right and exercise. Well duh? But seriously, why do we always wait until it’s too late to take good care of ourselves? Eat a wide variety of foods including fruits and veggies so that you are getting natures multi-vitamin. Also, exercising will help blow off a lot of that stress that may have you down to begin with. Do you have a crabby boss? Try a nice kick-boxing class. You’ll fight off your demons and your colds at the same time.
Finally, take a healthy dose of PMA. What aisle do you find that in you ask? That’s sold inside you. It’s Positive Mental Attitude. A 1990 study by Lin & Peterson showed a direct connection between an upbeat outlook and a strong immune system. Write down your negative feelings and then take a look at how you can turn them into positives. There is always a way. It just takes a little effort to see the good in everything. As for seeing the bad, that zaps the energy right out of you. Apparently when you’re head is held high it’s harder for the germs to get in!
Overall it seems that not stressing out before or after you start to get sick is the key to staying healthy and recovering faster. Don’t let your head drama work its way in to your nose and chest this flu season.