De-Stress Scientifically!

In these stressful times, it seems that everyone has suggestions for the best ways to handle stress. Sometimes we may assume that the suggestions are “old wives tales” or “new age feel-good strategies.” But many of the most recommended strategies for handling stress actually have a basis in science! Our body chemistry changes with stress; hormones like cortisol flood our systems, heart rate and blood pressure rises, and our breathing becomes faster and shallower. Our bodies physical response is the same whether we face a grizzly bear or a disgruntled boss- the difference lies in the severity of the response.

Just like our bodies respond to stress in scientifically measurable ways, our techniques for handling stress can result in scientifically measurable relief. Here are some strategies to use which will relieve stress at the physical level: 

– Breathe deeply: increased oxygen to the brain and bloodstream clears the mind and increases energy to handle stressors more efficiently.

– Treat yourself- eat ONE candy: a small amount of sugar can help stem the production of stress hormones in the body. The key here is eating only a small amount. Too much sugar can raise blood sugar levels and create a sugar “crash” following the initial sugar high. 

– Step away from the screen: taking frequent breaks from the computer relieves eyestrain and headaches, thus decreasing stress. 

– Take a short walk: walking helps regulate breathing and increases oxygen levels throughout the body. Endorphin (feel-good chemicals in the body) levels are also boosted by physical activities.

– Eat a banana or a potato: potassium, which is found in abundance in bananas and potatoes, help regulate blood pressure and improve energy. 

These are just a few ways that you can scientifically de-stress. What other strategies do you use? How or why do they help? 


Happy = Healthy

Over the years, many studies have been done which link mental health and physical health; the connection is well-established and documented. We know, for instance, that people who are happy, joyful, and content live longer lives and have fewer aches and pains, while those who are stressed out or angry all the time experience far more injuries and illnesses. A new study looks specifically at the effects of “happiness” on health. Researchers found that people who are happy and experience joy in their lives are less likely to develop heart disease or have heart attacks. Happy people also have lower rates of stress-related illness and depression.

Sounds good, right? But what can we do to be happier and experience more joy in our lives, even during these difficult times? Our world is full of warfare, strife, failing economies, broken families- a variety of stressful things!

First, it is important to note that, to a certain extent, we are born with a predisposition to be positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic, in our genetic code.This predisposition is not an either/or trait, but rather a sliding scale on which most people land somewhere in the  middle. But what matters to us in terms of happiness is the fact that regardless of our genetic predisposition, we can rewire the brain for positive changes at any time during our lifetime. It is never too late to introduce more happiness into our lives. Health and wellness professionals writing for the Huffington Post have created a list of 4 suggestions to help people just “be happy!”

1. Practice consistent gratitude for any and all good things you can find in your life. Write down 3 things you are grateful for each night before you go to sleep. They don’t have to be “big” or “important” things; the little things matter too! Being grateful for any blessings in your life automatically brings a smile to your face.

2. Create and protect good social relationships. The key to remember here is the word “good.” Let any toxic or negative relationships you may currently have in your life go, whenever possible. If it’s not possible to eliminate difficult people from your life entirely, then work on minimizing the time and energy spent with them.

3. Exercise regularly. Again, it doesn’t have to be extreme or rigidly planned. A brief, brisk 15-minute walk in the morning or evening is enough to increase your heart rate and breathing, pumping energy-giving oxygen to your brain, and releasing the feel-good endorphins that are responsible for increased happiness.

4. Finally, eat more healthy, natural foods. Some foods are known to contain specific nutrients which can enhance our mood and energy level, such as: salmon, spinach, and walnuts. While these foods are specifically linked to happiness, eating a wide variety of nutritious food, well-prepared, improves overall health and eliminates discomfort and disease which makes everyone happier, right?

Researchers recommend that people looking for happiness in all the right places should add one new habit at a time and practice it daily for 3 weeks to create noticeable and measurable changes in mood and happiness. And remember that when you are incorporating many different happiness habits, there wil be a cyclic, holistic effect; the benefits will get stronger and stronger as you go!

So here’s to happiness for all! Enjoy!