Preventing the Damaging Effects of Stress

Managing stress and overcoming its affects are critical for achieving and maintaining optimal health.  My mantra has always been:  Eat well, exercise properly and manage your stress for optimal health.

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Eat a well-rounded whole food diet full of fresh (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables, staying away from packaged, prepared and genetically modified foods, and drinking plenty of clean, filtered water.

Exercise for balance, as well as strength and cardio.  Our bodies and nervous systems were designed for movement.  Humans are unique in our ability to stand up and walk around on two legs.  In order to accomplish that, our spines curve in and out which allows us to balance in an upright stance.  Advances in technology, however, require many of us to sit far too much and use our bodies in ways that were never intended causing repetitive strain disorders and muscular imbalances which cause skeletal imbalances.  So, when you exercise, it’s important to balance the muscles used repetitively by focusing on their counterparts.  Or cross train.

Stress management is a huge subject, because the causes of stress are so complex.  Stress comes in many forms: physical, mental and emotional.  Physical stress can be caused by such things as poor diet, injuries and environmental factors such as smog.  Mental stress may come from your job, and emotional stress may come from relationships, or even a buildup of other types of stress in the body.  The important thing to remember is that the body itself does not differentiate between the various types of stress – all of it is handled in exactly the same way: stored in your tissues somewhere.

The first step to controlling stress is to know and recognize the symptoms of stress.  But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think.  Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we’re at the breaking point.

And, while a little stress every now and then is nothing to be concerned about, ongoing, chronic stress, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems.

We all experience some form of stress in life.  Mental tensions, frustrations, and insecurity cause the most damage.  Hormones released by stress shrink the vessels inhibiting circulation.  A stressed mind and body means the heart works harder.  Breathing becomes rapid and shallow and digestion slows.  Nearly every bodily process is degraded.  Studies show stress can cause migraines, high blood pressure, depression, etc.  In fact, researchers estimate 80% or more of disease is stress related.

And yet, the antidote to stress is readily and easily available:  Massage Therapy.  Massage helps counteract the effects of stress.  Massage knows no age limits.  It works wonders on the young, the old and the in-between.  It can be especially helpful for the elderly experiencing the effects of aging which can include thinner and drier skin, reduced tissue elasticity, loss of mobility, slower nervous system response, decreased bone mass, sleeplessness, constipation, and a less efficient immune system.

Getting a massage does you a world of good.  Getting frequent massage does even more!  This is the beauty of bodywork.  Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in how healthy you’ll be and how youthful you’ll remain with each passing year.  Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health.  As a wise man has said “The best time to start taking care of yourself was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

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How Hypertension Affects your Health

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called a “silent disease” because you usually don’t know that you have it. There may be no symptoms or signs. Nonetheless, it damages the body and eventually may cause problems like heart disease

hypertension

It’s important to regularly monitor your blood pressure, especially if yours has ever been high or above the “normal” range, or if you have a family history of hypertension. Because hypertension can cause heart disease, you may also need to be tested for heart disease.

Measuring Blood Pressure

You can get your blood pressure measured by a health care provider, at a pharmacy or you can purchase a blood pressure monitor for your home.

Blood pressure is measured in two ways: systolic and diastolic.

  • Systolic blood pressure is the pressure during a heartbeat.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written systolic over diastolic (for example, 120/80 mm Hg, or “120 over 80”). According to the most recent guidelines, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Pre-hypertension consists of blood pressure that is 120-139/80-89. Blood pressure that is 140/90 or greater is high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have the diagnosis of high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting comfortably for at least five minutes to find out your typical value.

In addition to measuring your blood pressure, you need to take into account your medical history (whether you’ve had heart problems before), assess your risk factors (whether you smoke, have high cholesterol, diabetes etc.), and your family history (whether any members of your family have had high blood pressure or heart disease).

If you suspect you have high blood pressure, you need to consult your doctor.  If heart disease is suspected, your doctor may recommend other tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A test that measures the electrical activity, rate, and rhythm of your heartbeat via electrodes attached to your arms, legs, and chest. The results are recorded on graph paper.
  • Echocardiogram:   This is a test that uses ultrasound waves to provide pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers so the pumping action of the heart can be studied and measurement of the chambers and wall thickness of the heart can be made.
  • Cardiac stress test: During this test you may exercise on a stationary bicycle or treadmill to increase your heart rate while EKG readings are taken. A stress test can also be combined with an echocardiogram or nuclear medicine X-ray to get additional information.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A catheter, a small flexible tube, is inserted into the femoral artery in your groin or one of the arteries in your arm and guided to the coronary arteries. Your doctor can locate any blockages in the arteries and can also observe pressure and blood flow in the heart.
  • Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to look for blockages in blood vessels in the neck (carotid arteries) or other parts of your body.

Prevent Hypertension with Regular Massage

Stress reactions require major rerouting of blood throughout the body. This is largely controlled by the speed of the heart rate and the tightness or looseness of the various arteries (the tubes that carry blood away from the heart). So the cardiovascular system is particularly sensitive to changes when we’re under stress, and it suffers when that stress is prolonged.

There are many stress-related disorders of the cardiovascular system, and many of these problems are closely interrelated. In other words, having one cardiovascular problem can greatly increase your risk of having others.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a situation where the arteries are chronically tight, rather than flexible and elastic. Having them tighten down increases the force with which blood moves through them, just as squeezing your thumb over a garden hose increases the force with which the water moves through it. Long-term consequences of untreated high blood pressure are very serious; arteries become prone to damage (atherosclerosis), which will raise the risk of blood clots and heart attacks or stroke.

All of these are life-threatening problems that can be prevented or ameliorated by taking action to reduce stress in your life.  Daily exercise, regular massage therapy, and good nutrition contribute a great deal to lessening your stress while prolonging your life.  Swedish massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure, while sports massage and trigger point therapy raised blood pressure.

Lesson #3 from a Broken Ankle

My life experiences have made me a self-sufficient person. I’m able to do lots of different things from light electrical and rough carpentry to shoeing a horse to grooming a dog and, of course, correcting musculoskeletal problems in the body. This is both good and bad.

It’s good because I can handle lots of different problems without help.

It’s bad because I can handle lots of different problems without help.

American culture values independence, but sometimes we can take it a bit too far. For many of us, success goes hand in hand with self-sufficiency. Anything, we are often told, can be achieved through hard work—which usually implies work done on one’s own.

For those raised in the United States, the idea of independence may bring to mind iconic stories about “rugged individuals”—pioneers, mavericks, or resourceful immigrants who built a life on their own terms. But while bravery and perseverance are valuable traits that help us make our way in life, these stories can idealize autonomy, instilling unrealistic expectations of attaining our goals solo—and these narratives also overlook the fact that we benefit enormously from the help of others.

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For most of my life, I’ve been the go to person to ‘fix’ things, to get things done. Being something of a perfectionist, I have, more often than not, opted to do something myself because I know it will get done correctly. This is both good and bad . . . It’s good because I improve my skills and knowledge base; it’s bad because I add another reason for not asking for help.

Be honest, you’ve done it too, right?

When Glenn was alive and we were ranching, his favorite response to any worker asking for a raise was “When you can keep up with my wife, you’ll have earned a raise”. We were two peas in a pod – both multi-talented and willing to learn new skills and leave our comfort zones in order to accomplish something. While it certainly sounds like a compliment, is it really?   Might it not be better to increase effectiveness through collaboration? In addition to gaining the benefit of suggestions you might not have thought of independently, you may find people willing to assist with the refinement of your ideas, thus increasing the effectiveness of your approach.

This was lesson #3 from my broken ankle. There are times in life when, no matter how independent and self-sufficient you are, you’ve got to ask for help and graciously accept that help. Instead of being the go-to person, you are dependent on the help and assistance of others to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished – like getting to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments.

 

Mindfulness plays a big part in being able to do this. So, what is mindfulness? Ah, shame on you if you don’t know . . . it means you’re not reading your e-mails or following me on Facebook . . . but you’re forgiven.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Being mindful simply takes creating some new and healthier habits.

Most of us would like all new, upcoming years to be better than the current year. Personally, I would really like 2018 to be better than 2017. To that end, I’m learning the lessons from having broken my ankle, practicing healthy habits including mindfulness and being grateful for all the absolutely wonderful things in my life.

And, I encourage you do the same. Don’t allow stress to wear you down, beat it down with mindfulness. Take up or expand your Yoga (or other) practice. Slow down. Appreciate more. Sit less. Move more.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and end of the year. See you soon in the New Year!

Lessons from a Broken Ankle: Lesson #1

Our bodies are incredible – truly. They are hard wired for survival. They have automatic responses to prevent and heal injuries. Some of those automatic responses tend to drive us a bit nuts these days, such as mucus buildup; but that is one of the automatic responses our bodies have against pathogens.

In my lifetime, I’ve been sickly as a child, I’ve been injured multiple times, I’ve been a chronic pain patient and a functional quad – and through all of that my body has never failed me. And, it’s not failing me now with my latest injury, my broken ankle.

This aging body of mine still has some lessons to teach me, it seems. And, I’m very grateful that my mind is still willing to learn.

I found it very interesting that when my ankle broke, I felt no pain . . . none at all. I was even able to set my ankle and keep it in place until I got to the hospital and felt remarkably little pain – until the ankle was reduced and properly reset. Wowzer! I felt that right through anesthesia!

The next few days were very uncomfortable while I waited for the swelling to go down. But, within a short period, just a few days, really, I was up and about on my crutches, scooting up and down the stairs on my butt, taking short walks on the crutches outside getting my Vitamin D. I was trying really hard to listen to my body during those days, elevating the ankle when it said “Enough!”, and felt like I was healing well.

And, then . . . <drumroll, please> came the surgery . . . My ankle was healing well, it did not need resetting, and only two of the three fractures needed some help. So my medial and lateral malleolus were plated and screwed (inner and outer ankle bones) – when this heals, I’ll have a bionic ankle. And my surgeon was great – she loaded me up with local, so coming out of general anesthesia I felt pretty good. Until the next morning! And, that’s when I could tell I’d been cut on, drilled into, plated and screwed. Ouch! I took my pain pills and stayed as quiet as I could with my leg elevated for a couple of days.

After my stint as a chronic pain patient, I’d thought I’d learned most of what there was to know about pain, both chronic and acute. Possibly, another of our automatic protective mechanisms kicked in and allowed me to forget some of what I’d learned, or possibly I still had some learning to do . . .

This experience has reminded me how much we are able to disregard discomfort in our bodies. It’s reminded me how sneaky stress and discomfort are. It’s taught me that if you can’t move your body like you did at, say 30 or 35, you’ve got some work to do!

This series of blog articles will be about what this experience is teaching me.

Lesson #1: Slow down!

While I’m not very competitive, I’ve always been an over-achiever. I tend to move quickly and accomplish lots in a short period of time. I might even take a short-cut now and then; as I did the night I broke my ankle – instead of taking the time to put on real shoes, I slipped into flip flops to rush outside to take care of something. Poor choice of footwear . . . they’ve been relegated to dog chew toys . . . Yup, those $100 orthopedic flip flops were donated to Bear and Nala (some of the rescue dogs I work with).

First lesson: Slow down.

Yes, I meditate – not as often or regularly as I used to, or should. Yes, I do Yoga – not as often or regularly as I used to.

We’re all human. We’re flawed. None of us is perfect. We get busy and let things slide. We try to be in too many places at one time. Guilty as charged! And, now I have a couple of months to get back into meditation, and other forms of self-care, while I consider how to move forward from this injury.

One of the best ways to slow down is by keeping a gratitude journal. It makes us focus on the things that feed our souls, keeps us focused on the positive aspects in our lives. From Greater Good in Action, Science based practices for a meaningful life (Berkeley):

TIME REQUIRED
15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day.

HOW TO DO IT
There’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, but here are some general instructions as you get started.
Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. The things you list can be relatively small in importance (“The tasty sandwich I had for lunch today.”) or relatively large (“My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”). The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life—then enjoy the good emotions that come with it.

As you write, here are nine important tips:
1 Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Tuesday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”
2 Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
3 Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
4 Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive—try not to take that good fortune for granted.
5 See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.
6 Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
7 Revise if you repeat. Writing about some of the same people and things is OK, but zero in on a different aspect in detail.
8 Write regularly. Whether you write every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal, then honor that commitment. But…
9 Don’t overdo it. Evidence suggests writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. That might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them—that’s why it helps to savor surprises.

Here’s the link if you’d like more information.

 

Slow down, breathe deeply and be grateful for all the wonderful things and people in your life.
I look forward to hearing how you get on with your journal.