Description of Stress
Stress can be explained using the scenario where we are walking from our igloo and we see a giant polar bear growling at us. The heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, blood vessels expand, muscles are being fed energy from fuels that are being made from stored fats, the respiratory drive goes up, we sweat to keep us cool because we’re about to exert ourselves, the blood thickens to clot faster than normal, we produce inflammatory chemicals to activate our immune cells to start mobilizing for tissue repair, the attention centre in the brain lights up; it’s a massive change in our system. It’s all designed to deal with a clearly perceived environmental threat. Have you seen that Leonardo Dicaprio movie "The Revenant"? This type of thing used to happen.
99% of the polar bears we are running from (or fighting), are in our head. When we do this chronically it causes what is known as “allostatic load”; the physiological wear and tear on the body. It’s like driving your car like Jeff Gordon (in this classic prank), all the time. If you asked your mechanic about the repair bill, he’d say, “You're not going to like it.”. Your parts will wear out fast and it’s the same with our body.
Evoking the Relaxation Response
Researchers tested people who meditated and found a decreased metabolism, a quieting of the body, decreased heart rate, decreased breathing, slower brain waves; a reaction exactly opposite to the stress response.
The 2 basic features of evoking a relaxation response are, repetition, and the disregard of other thoughts when they come to mind. Those 2 break the train of everyday thinking. It’s usually the everyday thinking that’s stressful. There’s no real polar bear. It’s all our other fears.
Every culture in history has used these 2 basic steps in some way. Some people will claim their method, or religion, or type of meditation is better, but that is subjective. They all evoke the same response from the body. There are many ways to evoke stress, and many ways to accomplish the 2 basic principles of meditation.
Scientists try to teach people how to evoke the relaxation response by practising meditation with them. They try to get them to concentrate on just one thing and become inwardly aware and focussed on the present moment. I personally concentrate on my breathing and then try to concentrate on relaxing the spot between my eyes which some meditators call the third eye. I try to get the relaxation to move through the body.
With MRI, scientists are now understanding the biology behind all this. To an outsider watching a person meditate, it doesn’t look like they are doing much, but there’s a lot going on in their brain. You can see how meditation changes the structure of the brain. The amygdala part of the brain gets turned down. The amygdala is responsible for the fight or flight response.
In a study, researchers stressed mice out for 10 days and after 10 days they took the stress away. They found there was no change in the size of the amygdala 2 weeks later and the anxiety was still high. This is the opposite of what scientists are seeing with people that meditate. These people haven’t changed their life in any way other than they added meditation but their amygdala has gotten smaller.
An example of the positive effects of meditation was found in treating psoriasis. The treatment for psoriasis is ultraviolet light treatment and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at MBSR mindful space reduction clinic, did a study where he had half of the people just using the ultraviolet light and the other half did the UV light treatment and meditation. The results were, the meditators skin cleared at 4x the rate the non-meditators.
Yoga is a great form of meditation with movement. A lot of the brain gets turned off in yoga and the focus is within as opposed to running with headphones or playing an instrument where the focus is more external.
It’s important to know that we all have an ability to activate a response that’s the opposite of the stress response. It doesn’t mean you give up conventional medicine, it just means we need to give meditation the same level of respect as conventional medicine. It is scientifically proven to be effective.
Other Ways Our Feelings and Subsequent Reactions Affect Us
Research has shown us that our feelings evoke a reaction in the body. We become flushed, our heart races, we get butterflies in our stomach; these are a result of chemicals being released when your brain is in a certain emotional state. It has been proven that happy people live about 10 years longer than unhappy people. If you’re optimistic you have half the chance of getting heart disease than if you're pessimistic.
In a study of 2000 men that worked at an electric company in the 50’s, the percentage of men that were depressed were twice as likely to die from cancer 20 years later. You might think that happier people make healthier life choices, but this research allowed for smoking habits, alcohol intake, weight and cholesterol, age, job status, and family history of cancer were factored into the results. Thousands of studies have been done like this in peer reviewed academic journals.
Another example of the effects of stress is in fertility clinics. Infertility itself increases stress and depression. By reducing stress and depression with meditation and proper social support, professionals increased fertility rates by double. When a woman feels stressed, she takes care of her home and family and lets go of her friends which is the thing she needs the most when she’s stressed. A crisis shared is half the burden and that’s why social support is so important.
The Town of Roseto Example
In the early 60’s the town of Roseto was an anomaly. No one in this town died of a heart attack under 55. The death rate for men over 65 was half the national average. A doctor checked to see if this was due to their diet, location, family history, or exercise habits. Nothing was different from the rest of America. The town was made up of Italian immigrants that worked in factories and smoked cigars, and ate rich Italian food.
It was normal to find 3 generations in the same house. 80% of the men were members of at least one community group. They had a sense of community and avoided loneliness in the community.
By 1971, 3 generation homes didn’t exist any more, there were expensive cars and swimming pools, and the first person under the age of 55 died of a heart attack. By the 1980’s the rate of heart attack was the same as the rest of the country.
The most commonly prescribed drug is anti-depressants. It's so easy to make fun of these ideas but we are touchy feely creatures. Many people are getting turned away in doctors’ offices that can be cured with this idea. Many people look to the medical industry for help and they are looking in the wrong place. They need to look within.
The Placebo Effect
The placebo effect isn’t just the placebo effect. It’s a very effective treatment that get’s 30% to 50% better results. It’s having the belief that you will get better. Every EMS person has experienced this effect on scene. As soon as EMS arrives, the patient will immediately feel better.
Scientists are researching how the placebo effect affects a person. They are noticing how it affects the part of the brain responsible for mood, sleep, and pain perception. They have noticed in Parkinson’s disease how it will increase dopamine; the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. People with IBS got better even when they knew the pills given to them were fake. You can’t draw a line and say on this side is the mind healing effects and on this side is the conventional healing effects. Inasmuch, the placebo effect is the effect we are going for.
Meditation and Proper Social Support Changes Your DNA
Over 500 genes were changed in a study, in a matter of just 3 months. They were successful in turning on the genes that prevent disease. Genes can be switched on and switched off. Being exposed to external forces can turn the genes one way or the other.
Researchers found that meditation can flick the switch on genes that affect disease. It’s more profound than just that, because the first time you evoke the relaxation response these genomic changes occur, but the more times you do it, the more response you get. You get response in just minutes. You can get a benefit if you do it once a week but you get so much more if you do it daily.
Researchers found that the life of your DNA changes with the amount of stress you are exposed to. High stress women last 10 years less than low stress women. What they look at is the telomeres on your DNA strands. They find that as you get older the telomeres get shorter and this is linked with disease as well.
Researchers have found that this is reversible. The treatment was love and intimacy, meditation, and proper diet and exercise. It’s the only intervention found that will make your telomeres longer. This is a good type of genetic engineering.
I hope you liked the article. If you did, share it with friends. These are the types of issues I deal with daily with my clients in order to accomplish their fitness goals. I believe in a coach like approach and I help guide my clients to do the things they deem relevant for them and they are seeing really great results. For me the reward is the happiness it creates and seeing the new found confidence in people. WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO PERSONALLY SHOW YOU HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOUR FITNESS GOALS ...FOR FREE?
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