Disease is primarily related to stress. Thus we must assume that the resultant accumulation of stress hormones, the reduction of stress, and clearing these hormones from our body is paramount, if we wish to maintain the state of wellness and gain longevity. We can categorize stress matters into five major areas:
- Physical Matters - diet, exercise, sleep
- Time and Breath Matters - relaxation, breathing , time
- Social and Emotional Matters - environment, relationship, socialization
- Mental Matters - attitude, confidence, love
- Behavioral Matters - involvement, coping, training
Diet - Dietary matters are hotly contested and it is difficult to make any sense of all the conflicting opinions. To be healthy should one eat meat or not? What kind of meats are OK? What about vegetarians; do they get what is needed to remain healthy? And, what about vegans? The questions are endless and the answers are nebulous. Whatever choice you personally make, just be certain your basic dietary needs are met and you eat moderately; less is best. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions that can help you keep your diet from causing you major health stress.
Current consensus is saying to minimize red meat and increase fish to three meals per week, especially non-farmed species that are high in omega-3 oils like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. All fish that are high on the food chain, like shark and tuna, or are farmed rather than caught in the wild, even though they may be high in omega-3 oils should be avoided because of their possible high mercury content. Supplement EFA and DHA, essential fatty acids, from fish sources rather than from vegetable sources; although as fish becomes rarer and more contaminated, or if you are a strict vegetarian, chia seeds may be your next best choice.
Eat several servings of fruit and vegetables daily from all the colored groups. Eat lots of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables and cook them with curry or turmeric.
Keep away from high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners entirely. Reduce or remove vegetable oils, because they are very high in omega-six fatty acids and reduce the effect of omega-3 oils. Macular degeneration is striking more and more of the worldÔ€™s adult population and it seems to be attributed to the vegetable oils and shortening in our diets. Minimize margarine and use only extra virgin olive, nut or seed oils.
Vitamin D is a major deficiency around the world and is very important for your heart and bone health. Winter colds are caused from a lack of this vitamin. Possibility of early death is high when you are deficient in this vitamin. Supplement this unless you get plenty of sunshine on your uncovered body all year long. 15% to 20% saturated fat, but no more than this, like butter will help you absorb Vitamin D.
Two other world-wide major dietary problems that must be mentioned are an iodine deficiency and a fluoride excess. Fluoride interferes with iodine absorption and fluoride poisoning mimics hypo-thyroid. Never use fluoride toothpaste or drink fluoridated water. Fluorosis of the teeth is a major problem that dental associations are now addressing. Even so, some municipalities are still moving to fluoridate their water supplies. Supplement iodine if you are deficient, which is probable unless you eat lots of fish. Beware of bottled and city water; they have fluoride, chlorine, plasticizers, and sundry other pollutants. Distilled or reverse osmosis water is best.
Coffee is not bad as it has more antioxidants, perhaps, than any other food in your diet, but because of the caffeine keep your consumption to one or 2 cups per day. Use green tea, which is high in phyto-nutrients, instead. Keep alcohol minimized. Less than one drink a day is okay. Red wine has an ingredient that is good for your heart, so one glass of wine may be good with a meal. As an alternative you can supplement with Resveratrol.
Exercise - There is no question most people today do not get enough exercise. Remember the time when all schools had mandatory P.E.? Physical Education definitely plays second fiddle to the three "R"s. Cardiovascular exercise is important for a healthy heart and vascular system. The best exercise is brisk walking and the best time of day for it, physiologically speaking, seems to be late afternoon and early evening. Do aerobic exercises if you are under greater stress or are young. Join a gym and use a personal trainer. Use the stairs. Walking from your car to the elevator is not enough. Exercise will use up the stress related hormones that will otherwise stay in your system and damage your health.
Sleep - Optimum sleep is important. It is important for good health to get adequate sleep; neither too little, nor too much. Studies have shown that most people need seven hours of sleep each night with adequate REM time. Studies have shown that more deaths occur when sleep time is less than seven or more than eight hours per day.
Relaxation - The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. Getting yourself in a relaxed frame of mind - usually through meditation - can transform the body's basic operations (metabolism). Merely by repeating a word, phrase, thought, or even a physical motion, you can rid your mind of distracting and troublesome thoughts. Your breathing eases, muscles relax, oxygen intake decreases, brain wave patterns slow, and (in some people) blood pressure drops. Any technique in which the mind is quietly focused, such as meditation, guided imagery or visualization, diaphragmatic breathing, biofeedback, hypnosis, bodywork, qigong, yoga or prayer, can induce the relaxation response. This is a mental state that triggers significant physiological changes, including lowered blood pressure, slower breathing, reduced muscle tension, and diminished stress hormone levels. Most impressive of all, blood levels of lactate (a chemical associated with anxiety) plummet. The relaxation response can help you with any disorder that is aggravated by stress. The relaxation response in yoga, meditation, prayer and hypnosis has its psychosomatic healing source in an integrated hypothalamic response that reduces stress, resulting in a generalized decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity.
The most carefully controlled clinical studies of placebos with humans consistently find that about one-third of the patients receive more than 50% relief. Under the right circumstances, the medically inert placebo is somehow able to facilitate belief and expectation on the psychological level. This accesses and activates the very real mind-body healing mechanism that is called the relaxation or placebo response. Any drug, placebo or otherwise, that alters any aspect of the body's sensory-perceptual or physiological responsiveness on any level and disrupts the more or less fragile state-dependent encoding of symptoms, and thereby evokes a "nonspecific" but very real healing effect, is producing this response.
Professor Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School reports that, when actual patient cases are studied, the success rate of the placebo response can be as high as 90%. The power of belief and expectation, he believes, may be harnessed by eliciting the "relaxation response." Conventional practitioners at medical centers in the US and UK now employ these methods to improve the well-being of their patients.
A simple technique:
- Arrange a short period of time everyday when you know you will not be disturbed.
- Find a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes, and breathe slowly.
- With each exhalation, repeat a word or phrase that comforts you.
- Relax, but vigilantly banish all distracting or judgmental thoughts.
- Open your eyes for the last minute or two but continue sitting and repeating the focus word and breathing slowly.
Breathing - Controlled breathing and the ability to relax at will are essential aspects of managing stress. Their importance is recognized by many complementary practitioners, particularly those working with Eastern approaches. With each breath, oxygen is absorbed into the blood, enabling production of the energy that fuels every body function. Under stress, breathing tends to be rapid, only using the top half of the lungs. Therefore blood levels of carbon dioxide, which is needed to maintain blood acidity, drops. Tiredness, anxiety, and tension in the upper back, shoulders, and neck results. Abdominal breathing, which allows the lungs to expand fully, is a more efficient and calming way to breathe. Simple breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques can be practiced to reduce the physical and mental effects of stress, bringing therapeutic benefits such as lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and lower levels of stress hormones.
Normally, breathing alternates between the two nostrils according to the ultradian rhythm. When you are breathing through your right nostril, your left brain hemisphere is dominant. Similarly, when breathing through the left nostril, the right brain hemisphere dominates. You can override the shifting rhythm and induce your breathing into the nostril of your choice using a simple yogic technique. This enables you to move your brain dominance at will into your right brain, put yourself voluntarily into the "normal daily trance" state, and thereby enable access to state dependant memories. This "self-hypnotic" technique may enable you to enjoy spontaneous healing of many of your health problems.
Eastern yogis claim that the can regulate their states of consciousness by regulating their breath by a practice known as pranayama. By regulating their breathing rhythms in this way, they gain control over their body physiology. Since these feats of mind-body control relate primarily to the autonomic nervous system, this might be a theoretical and empirical bridge to the ancient yogic tradition. Dr. Usharbudh Arya, in his book Art of Dying (1979), describes the relationship between the nasal cycle, sexual orgasm, and the deepest states of samadhi. According to ancient yogic literature, both nostrils are open during orgasm and during this state of samadhi. The ecstasy of this meditation state is due to the "upward implosions of kundalini so that celibacy becomes easier and more enjoyable than sex."
Time - Time is arguably one of the greatest stressors with which we must contend. Isn't it strange? We never seem to have just enough. We either have too much and find ourselves in a stressfully bored mood, or we have far too little. In our modern hyper-kinetic world the latter is most likely the "normal" condition. How can we possibly get everything done that must be done by the time it must be done? Everything seems to have a "deadline". If we don't meet it, we fail. This built in fear of failure is deadly. Truly this is the effect of the deadline. We cannot, of course, increase the time we have available. We can, however, increase our efficiency by learning relaxation techniques and time management methods, and by maintaining a cheerful countenance and attitude. Everything we do to release stress will thereby relieve this time burden.Environment - The state of your surroundings is very important to your overall health and healing ability. Consider the vast array of chemicals we are forced and choose to live in. Our homes are laced with poisons inside and out to keep out bugs, to kill germs, to keep them "sanitized" and smelling "clean." We did not evolve with these substances in our world, therefore our immune systems will react to them as it does with any foreign invader. This alarm response results in stress. So even if we are quietly meditating in this environment, we are under stress just the same. This condition holds true even more so when we leave our homes. We step out into the smog filled gaseous environment we erroneously call "air." Now that half the world's population are city dwellers, asthma and other environmental sensitivities and illness are becoming the norm. Immune deficiency diseases are on the rise and there seems to be no solution to this dilemma. Nevertheless, there are things we can do to minimize environmental stress.
- Keep surroundings safe, clean and quiet. Noise polution is probably as damaging as chemical polution.
- Don't smoke.
- Use and eat only natural products. Beware of preservatives, coloring agents, perfumes, highly processed food, and petro-chemicals in food and household products.
- Take time out or avoid high conflict situations.
Socialization - The combination of faith and participation in any kind of group increases the likelihood of postoperative survival nine-fold. More relevant to our well-being than organized religion and church membership, it seems, is a spiritual awareness and "connectedness" with fellow human beings. Interaction with other people is vital for your health. Don't discount socializing with friends, family, and coworkers. Joan Borysenko says: "The literature says clearly that although good habits are important - eating right, exercise, not smoking, etc. - none are as important as high self-esteem and the ability to give and receive love and to develop intimacy with other humans." Use the four "fs" as your constant guide - Family, faith, friends and fun. There are plenty of studies that show loneliness and isolation can be hazardous to your health. It was recently shown that you are twice as likely to suffer alzheimers if you are isolated and lonely. Get a support group.
Attitude - A positive optimisitc attitude, high self-esteem and self-worth are essential to a state of wellness. Negative life circumstances and attitudes can lead to illness and death by the mind's connection with the autonomic, endocrine, and immune systems. Shouldering any kind of negative emotion - especially powerlessness, hostility, anger, suspicion, and resentfulness - may not only increase your odds of heart disease but jeopardize your health in general. Sensitive physicians have always known that the reverse is true as well, and wise observers in most cultures have recognised that a positive frame of mind can have a most beneficial effect in healing any illness. Your attitude about life can improve your health and even speed your recovery from a serious ailment or surgery. The attitudes that seem to help the most are optimism, hope, and, above all, a feeling that you have some impact on the quality of your own life. When faced with even the gravest crisis, five attitudes are essential for a full recovery:
- Do not panic. Freedom from fear is important.
- Know that the body's systems have the ability and the wisdom to heal any situation. Let it happen.
- Keep yourself and everyone around you cheerful and in good humor. This will create a sound healing environment for your self, the staff, and all others near you.
- Be responsibile for your own recovery. Form an active partnership with your health practitioner. You can not be passively healed.
- Have meaningful goals that make recovery worth fighting for.
A fighting spirit is essential. A study on women with breast cancer found that 80% who had this "fighting spirit" were still alive after ten years, whereas of those who accepted the diagnosis stoically or who felt helpless, only 17 % were still alive after 10 years. 45 per cent of those with a fighting spirit were still alive fifteen years later. Positive attitudes and emotions are the essence of well-being and the placebo response. You have the ability to change your thinking. You can learn to accept and express your feelings.
Confidence - No One really understands how or why a positive attitude helps people recover faster from surgery or cope better with serious diseases - diseases as serious as cancer, heart disease, and AIDS. But mounting evidence suggests that these effects may have something to do with the mind's power over the immune system. Some researchers think that pessimism may stress you out, too, boosting levels of destructive stress hormones in your bloodstream. Remember that even if you can't change the circumstances of your life, you can change your attitude! Attitude definitely seems to influence the course of illness.Research shows a strong link between happiness, optimism, and good health and between increased well-being, and the body's potential to heal itself. Exercise in positive thinking may be beneficial, but more powerful still are positive emotions, such as hope and joy. Not surprisingly, close and supportive relationships with friends and family, and a sense of humor, can help engender positive feelings. Being able to express emotions that lie beneath the surface, through art or music, for example, also contributes to a full emotional life and a resilient outlook.
Love - Love is the ultimate representation of a healing attitude, which you must cultivate in order to be and stay well. As the essence of spirit, love is sacred above all other things. Research supports the theory that a loving environment and a loving self-image increases the ability to be well. For many of us, disease signals the need to develop a more loving attitude toward ourselves and others. Negative feelings of fear or anger not only inhibit expressions of love but also interfere with healing.
Involvement - Your positive attitude must be matched by an active involvement. That is, your actions must be positive, too. Take part in your own healing process, but primarily, take an active roll in your continued good health. Your behavior and attitudes are basically just habits. If they are detrimental to your health, they can and must be changed, if your are to achieve lasting good health and longevity. Cognitive behavioral training, awareness and mindfulness classes are available nearly everywhere, as are stress reduction and assertiveness training courses. It is essential to build up your self confidence and to learn proper copng skills, for how you relate to sress makes a difference in its affect on your health.
Coping -Negative and positive emotions are significantly different, psychobiologically speaking, in relation to stress. There is a significant difference in the body's response to threat and challenge. Threat causes stress, but if you are able to cope, it is perceived as challenge; this has been called "good stress" or eustress. Threat is associated with two factors: (1), an increase in the blood level of catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine, secreted from the adrenal medulla in response to sympathetic stimulation described earlier as the alarm response of the autonomic nervous system); and (2) the release of cortisol into the bloodstream by the adrenal cortex (signaled by the pituitary gland that sends ACTH to the adrenal cortex). The longer cortisol remains in the blood stream, the more damage will be done to your immune system. Challenge, on the other hand, is associated only with an elevation in catecholamine levels.
Training - Anything that you fear will cause stress. Confidence on the otherhand will counteract this phobia by changing the stress to eustress. In fact it has been found that the greater your ability to cope, and so change the stress to mere challenge, the less stress is experienced and the lower the catecholamine levels remain. With proper training and therapy you can learn to convert the negative stress of the threat into a positive coping experience of challenge.