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Sympathy Is The Devil : How Other People’s Problems Can Make You Sick

“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative, on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” – Frank Herbert

The human body is a miraculous machine designed to allow us to thrive and survive. We have abilities above and beyond other animals on the planet that allow us to not only be Father Kidprepared for the next challenge, but to anticipate multiple challenges, threats, and potentialities that could cause us harm. We thrive in environments where we can meet threats to our immediate survival and those of our loved ones. Our bodies have the capacity to generate incredible strength, speed, and physical prowess in order to protect us from danger. Our nervous system is designed to harness these attributes in a matter of moments. Our autonomic nervous system controls our body’s breathing, heartbeat, and digestive processes in order to allow us to function at an optimal level for survival. There has never been machine more efficient, adaptable, or intelligent than the human body.

In the modern era, our nervous systems may be too good for our own benefit. The autonomic nervous system consists of two synchronistic parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” part of our being, reacts to danger and threats, often rather quickly bringing up our heart rate, lung capacity, physical strength, and aggression. Our bodies were designed to respond almost instantly in the face of danger, something that served man well during much of human history. This evolutionary holdover is the reason that modern man suffers from anger outbursts, road rage, and other seemingly inexplicable acts of sudden violence. In the 21st century, a hair trigger sympathetic nervous system can get one killed, arrested, or jailed for a long time.

In the absence of threats to our safety, the human mind will seek out perceived, possible, and potential threats and enter into an adrenalized state of readiness. Our sympathetic nervous system will do this without our directing it consciously. When there are no actual threats to be found, many people will seek out perceived threats by looking at what horrible, horrific, and life-threatening things are happening to other people and we inadvertently start preparing in a “what if” manner in the event that they would ever happen to us personally. People find themselves taking on a lot of anxiety and stress that’s not ours by surfing the Internet, watching television, and reading about life-threatening events happening to other people. Unfortunately, the media thrives on this and sells products through commercials attached to the stories that humans can’t get enough of, can’t take our eyes off of, and sometimes can’t stop thinking about. Our nervous systems literally become “sympathetic” to the life-threatening dangers that are happening to other people, not ourselves or our loved ones, but people who are thousands of miles away and sometimes even fictional characters.

The emotional and physical consequences of a sympathetic nervous system that has no Social-Media-Stress-Syndromedirection to place the stress is potentially life-threatening. Stress related illnesses make up over 70% of the reasons that an adult in the United States will visit their primary care physician. Modern life does not afford us the opportunity to channel  this stress into meaningful activity and this undiverted stress can lead to problems such as weight gain, hypertension, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, and almost any other malady that you can imagine. In addition to physical and emotional issues, it can cause problems in interpersonal relationships as well. Here’s a little experiment that will prove the point. 2016 is a presidential election year in the United States. Bring up presidential politics at the next social gathering that you go to and watch what happens. See what I mean?

A threat to a human leads to an increase in adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. These hormones have an adaptive and evolutionary purpose, designed to give us strength in physical capabilities above and beyond what we normally have. These levels can take quite some time after the threat is over to return to the baseline levels. Many hormones, such as cortisol, receive a bad rap from people who try to eliminate them entirely. Cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin, the sleep hormone needed for a sound night’s sleep. When cortisol is up, melatonin is down and vice versa. This not only impacts our ability to sleep, but also impacts our ability to relax, wind down, and make rational decisions. Too much cortisol and we spin out of control, too much melatonin and we are lethargic and sluggish. The human body is designed to work in a state of balance and performs at its best when there are opposite forces working in harmony.

The parasympathetic nervous system is our body’s counterbalance to the sympathetic nervous system. This part of us is designed to bring us quickly and safely down from the adrenalized high that the sympathetic nervous system can create. The parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “rest and digest, breed and feed” part of our biological makeup. It recognizes that dangers are nonexistent, not directed at us, or have been efficiently dealt with. The faster the parasympathetic nervous system can do its thing, the less damage a person suffers to their physical, mental, and social being. The parasympathetic nervous system, if not functioning well in a person, needs to be consciously developed and trained. Unfortunately, we don’t have to do anything to excite the sympathetic nervous system, life does that automatically for us. Modern life and technology make developing a sound parasympathetic nervous system without work practically impossible.

A fine tuned parasympathetic nervous system can be developed through the following activities:

Physical exercise
Meditation
Prayer
Affirmations
Proper breathing
Mindfulness
Spending time in nature
Sitting in silence
Unplugging from technology
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Sound nutrition
Meaningful interpersonal relationships
Having a pet

Some people are born with a relaxed and carefree attitude. The rest of us need to consciously work on developing and maintaining one. The good news is that developing one not only helps us physically and emotionally, but can make our lives more meaningful.

For more ideas on how to manage your stress and develop a nervous system that works for you, rather than against you, take a look at my book, “Stress Management Made 200387731-001Simple: Essays To Help Manage Your Life,” available on Amazon.com here:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00LRJF0W6

“Brothers and sisters, come on now! That means everybody just cool out! We can cool out, everybody! Everybody be cool, now. Come on.” – Mick Jagger

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Coffee’s For Closers: Enjoying Nature’s Original Energy Drink

“Coffee’s for closers.” – Blake, played by Alec Baldwin in the film Glengarry Glen Ross

Ah, coffee! Coffee, java, cup o’ Joe, or whatever you call it, is probably a big part of your coffeeday. Americans drink it more than any other beverage. One of its many attractions is caffeine, the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance. But, unlike many others, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all jurisdictions. In North America, 90% of adults consume caffeine daily, and coffee is the number way we consume it. We start our day with a strong cup, drink it on breaks at work, use it to get through a mid-day slump, and meet new people as we socialize over cup or two. Sixty per cent of Americans claim they “need” a cup of coffee to start their day, implying an addiction, or at least a mild dependence. Can this be good for us? Should we be drinking it at all?
Coffee, used responsibly and in moderation, can actually be quite healthy and beneficial. It is the original “energy drink,” with a proven track record of safety and benefits. Those who have problems with coffee are those that use it to excess and do not included as part of a well-balanced diet and lifestyle. In recent years, many Americans have sought out alternative ways of getting that daily pick me up with carbonated energy drinks and shots of stimulants designed to give us periods of five hour energy boosts. As of now, there are not enough long-term research studies to confirm the safety and impact of frequent consumption of these products. Coffee has been around for over 1000 years and is quite safe and is an effective energy booster, having health benefits when used responsibly. One could argue that it is a safe and proven alternative to the current consumption of energy drinks.

Here are some of the scientifically proven benefits of coffee:
⦁ Coffee increases energy levels. Within 20 minutes the energy boost from the caffeine becomes noticeable. When consuming coffee, the caffeine is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain. It increases the amount of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine, leading to enhanced brain activity and improved memory, alertness, reaction time, and cognitive functions.
⦁ Coffee improves physical performance. Coffee enhances the production of epinephrine, the body’s adrenaline. This is the “fight or flight” hormone which readies our bodies for intense physical exertion. Studies indicate that coffee, used responsibly, can enhance the body’s exertion capacity by 11 to 12% on the average. This, however, is where the danger lies. Overconsumption of coffee and going through your day an adrenalized state of readiness can be a problem.
⦁ Coffee has a fat burning effect. A study done by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coffee can increase the metabolic rate by anywhere between 3% to 11%. Caffeine is one of the number one stimulants in most over-the-counter “fat burning” supplements, which can be dangerous to take as ingredients often include other coffee wrkoutstimulants such as ephedra. This combination of caffeine, ephedra, and other chemicals can be dangerous to the heart. Coffee, a more natural alternative, allows you to burn fat in a safer manner.
⦁ Coffee is rich in antioxidants. According to researchers at the University of Scranton, Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than any other food source. Joe Vinson Phd., the study’s lead author says, “Nothing else comes close.” The study cautioned that moderation, 2 cups per day, is the safest way to use coffee as a source of nutrition.
⦁ Coffee has protective factors for many diseases. Various studies have shown that coffee can help to prevent type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, liver diseases, and heart disease. Various studies recommend different amounts of coffee, but most studies showed that there are some very positive benefits from moderate daily consumption.
⦁ Coffee can provide some hard to get nutritional benefits. Coffee contains several important nutrients, including Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium and Niacin.
⦁ Coffee can help fight low levels of depression. A 2011 Harvard University study showed that women who drink four or more cups per day had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed.

Coffee has health benefits that other sources of caffeine simply do not. That can of cola, energy drink, or chocolate milk that you consume simply can’t compare to the health benefits provided by that cup of Java. What is the safest and most effective way to consume coffee? Here is what the research indicates:
⦁ Consume thoughtfully and in moderation. In 2015, a government advisory commission published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in which they stated that Americans can safely consume 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day, or approximately 400 mg of caffeine with no detrimental effects. While studies cautioned, however, that results vary from person to person and that the coffee should not be consumed all at once.
⦁ Trying brew your own. The over-the-counter coffees that you buy in coffee shops usually are too big, too sweet, and have way more calories than you need. Not all coffee is created equal. Most people don’t think of this, but coffee is the most heavily pesticide sprayed crop in the world. If at all possible try to get organic coffee or fair trade that you grind yourself. This is approximately 3% of all coffee consumed.
⦁ Drink it black if you can. Sugar, artificial sweetener, and saturating it with milk or cream defeats the purpose. All research studies agree that consuming it black was is the healthiest way to consume.

When you’re looking for a morning pick me up, a pre-workout boost, or something to get lemmonyou through that afternoon lull, pass along the colas, energy drinks, and sugary juices. Look no further than your basic cup of coffee, nature’s original energy drink.

“The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.”- Oliver Wendell Holmes

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Going With Your Gut: The Gut Health-Mental Health Connection

“Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.”-Robert Heller

Our gut is perhaps the source of the human animal’s most visceral experiences, responsible for countless ways that a human being perceives his existence. For the gutbiologist, it is merely a tube by which animals, including humans, transfer food to the digestive organs. Recent scientific investigation and thousands of years of human experience confirm that it is far more complicated than that. Studies have confirmed that not only does the gut transfer food to vital organs, but it plays a role in our physical health, mental health, emotional stability, and impacts the study of human immunology, neurology, endocrinology, and pathology.

Since 2007 scientists have been attempting to catalog the over 100 trillion microorganisms that live in the human gut. Although your initial reaction may be one of disgust, the majority of the 500 species living in your bowels are an essential part of human health. Most of us have become familiar with the term “good” bacteria and the positive role that it plays in digestive health. Science is just now beginning to realize how this good bacteria also influences the human brain and the state of a person’s mental and emotional health.

While studying the impact of good bacteria on digestion, scientists were surprised to find that the ingestion of probiotics modulated the processing of information that is strongly linked to depression, anxiety, and the human stress response. A study of 45 subjects conducted over a three week period showed a significant increase in the efficacy of prebiotics on the subjects capacity to handle stress when compared to a placebo. The study concluded that the consumption of prebiotics reduced the production of cortisol and aided in the maintenance of emotional control. Most people are somewhat familiar with probiotics supplements, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, but are less familiar with prebiotics that can be gained by eating chicory, artichokes, raw garlic, onions, asparagus, wheat bran, and other carbohydrates that contain soluble fiber. These prebiotic sources nourish the microorganisms that contribute to positive mental health, allowing them to proliferate and grow. While this study concluded that additional research is necessary, they stated that the effect of these foods in this particular study was similar to what has been observed in individuals taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. “I think pre/probiotics will only be used as ‘adjuncts’ to conventional treatments, and never as mono-therapies,” the study’s lead author, Philip Burnet, told The Huffington Post. “It is likely that these compounds will help to manage mental illness… they may also be used when there are metabolic and/or nutritional complications in mental illness, which may be caused by long-term use of current drugs.”

Gut bacteria interacts with the enteric nervous system, which regulates a host of human activities that most of us take for granted such as digestion, production of hormones, and regulation of thyroid and adrenal activity. The enteric nervous system also produces 95% of the serotonin in your body, a neurotransmitter that has been associated with feelings of well-being and happiness, and is enhanced by the prescription drugs Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and other SSRIs. Scientists now know that it is not the brain which regulates gut activity, but the gut which helps to regulate the brain. Michael Gershan, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, refers to this as the “second brain.” He states that, “The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system.”

Our bodies respond to stress, physical or mental, in the same manner making no distinction. Any stress or bodily inflammation will impact the entire nervous system. What we eat will impact the enteric nervous system. Our gut communicates with the brain through the vagus nerve which interacts with our parasympathetic nervous system, controlling our ability to calm ourselves down. Quite simply, the food that we consume will impact how our bodily systems communicate and, as a result, the state of our emotional health, well-being, and the way that we perceive the world around us.

Prebiotics and probiotics have the potential to be used as adjuncts to more conventional 21-kinds-of-fermented-vegetables-prebiotictreatments for mental health, but not as replacements. The effects of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology can be impacted greatly by a diet rich in prebiotic’s/probiotics. Whether a person is suffering from emotional issues or not, everyone can benefit from a diet that has gut health in mind. It is recommended that you you eliminate the following from your diet as much as possible:
· sugar
· gluten
· industrial vegetable oils
· soda
· antibiotics
· oral contraceptives

Be sure that your diet is rich in:
· foods that contain soluble fiber such as chicory, artichokes, dandelions, asparagus, raw garlic, and leeks
· active culture yogurt. Read the label and avoid those that are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients
· kefir
· kimchi
· sauerkraut
· pickled fruits and vegetables

While the research on the efficacy of the use of prebiotics/probiotics is promising, none of the researchers are saying that it will ever replace psychotherapy or psychopharmacology. It can and should serve as an adjunct therapeutic intervention. Statistics indicate that approximately 70% of Americans take prescription medications of some type and 20% take psychiatric medications. The vast majority of those taking psychiatric medications do no other therapeutic interventions such as psychotherapy, meditation, or nutritional supplementation. It is quite possible that many who initially run to a doctor for a pill when they are experiencing difficulty and problems in living may do better with a few months of psychotherapy, a cleaner, healthier diet, and a consistent exercise regimen..

Even if your emotional health is sound, being aware of and attending to gut health is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to keep the human engine running smoothly.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”- Hippocrates1748-7161-4-6-12-l

Hippocrates’s advice may come across as fourth century BC hyperbole, but he’s probably right about one thing. We all should be a little more aware of the medicinal effects of the food that fills our gut.

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together: Optimizing Your Brain Chemistry

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”-Donald Hebb

One of the most exciting developments in human behavior over the past 10 years is the brain-neuronsnew interest in the field of neuroscience, the scientific study of the brain and the nervous system. We’ve long had theories about how learning takes place and how humans develop new behaviors and attitudes. We now have visible evidence not only of what happens inside the brain, but how to facilitate the acquisition of new skills, ideas, values, and behaviors. While the scientific literature can get quite complicated at times, it doesn’t have to.

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I am constantly looking for ways to simplify
complex ideas in ways that are useful for the layman. When it comes to brain chemistry and neuroscience, I consider myself to be in that category as well. I often tell my clients that, “There is no behavioral change, emotion, feeling, attitude, or any sensation that you’ve ever felt that is not a product of your brain chemistry. Without a change in brain chemistry, there can be no experience that we can call change.” As a result, there can be no change in our lives, positive or negative, that are not the result of changes in the neurochemistry of the brain.

If you pay attention while watching TV or reading on the Internet, you’ll often come across commercials for educational games for adults designed to improve brain functioning, taking advantage of what is being called the “science of neuroplasticity.” While the efficacy of these games is controversial, the concept of neuroplasticity is not. The brain is quite malleable, constantly changing and evolving throughout the lifespan. An understanding of the link between behavior and neuroplasticity is important for counselors, coaches, and therapists, but also for the average person who would like to change their behaviors and attitudes, improving their lives in the process.

The quote, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” is a brief summary of the ideas of Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, adapted from his book written in 1949 called The Organization of Behavior, in which he introduced his theory about the neurological basis of learning. This theory, which has become known as Hebb’s Law, has since been proven as factual. Hebb proposed that learning is not something that happens to a passive brain, but is a process whereby the cellular structure of the brain is permanently altered and modified. To put it quite simply, behavior and action are the best ways to initiate permanent behavioral and cognitive change in any living being.

A metaphor for how behavior creates changes in brain chemistry was offered by neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone in a book called The Brain That Changes Itself, in which he compared the brain to a snowy hill in winter. When we first go down a hill in a sled, we can be flexible because we have the option of taking various paths through the soft snow each time. If we begin to favor certain paths they become speedy and efficient, guiding the sled swiftly down the hill. Changing these paths becomes increasingly difficult, as we literally become stuck in the ruts that we have created. Human behavior operates upon the same principle. Our behavior creates preferred pathways in our brains that make these behaviors almost automatic and these behaviors become our preferred ways of doing things.

We must be aware that there are ways that we can change long held beliefs and behaviors through conscientious actions optimizing the way that we learn and acquire new information. A metaphor that I like is one that compares our neurology to our muscular system. We can all accept that if a muscle is used systematically and efficiently it can improve strength and functioning at almost any stage of the life span. Thinking of our neurology in the same way is helpful, giving us a model for change that we can process and understand. The body’s muscles strengthen and grow while resting, after stress has been applied. In order to increase muscular size and strength the muscles must be taxed, allow to rest and recuperate, taxed again, followed by more rest and recuperation. During the recuperative phase, it is very important to obtain adequate rest and proper nutrition. As the cycle repeats, theoretically muscle capacity improves each time. Changes in brain chemistry occur almost in the same manner. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/mind-muscle-connection/ )

How can this be applied to changes in our neurology? The “exercise” occurs when we encounter new or unknown challenges, the “recuperation” occurs when we learn to accept and become more comfortable with these challenges. Recuperation phase acceptance can be worked on through cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, introspective self-help exercises, or working with a counselor or coach. As we become more relaxed, adjusting to the stressors, our brain restructures itself, storing its new found knowledge. The key component in this process is the way that one mentally processes the stressor. Focusing on positive self talk, realistic as opposed to catastrophic thinking, and accepting unbiased feedback from a therapist or coach allows one to accept the changes, making them permanent.

The mental recuperation phase is where the magic can occur. It’s also where catastrophic associations can inadvertently be made if one is not aware of how this process works. Over the past 18 years I’ve seen hundreds of clients who have been lifelong victims of childhood trauma. After traumatic events, they were left alone to figure out and make sense of those traumas. It is quite common for trauma victims to blame themselves, stuff down their feelings and emotions, and process them in a maladaptive way. The therapeutic work done in psychotherapy is to get them to open up and process the events, allowing acceptance and healing to occur. Quite often healing occurs through subtle cognitive changes such as identifying the self as a “survivor” rather than a “victim.” These changes in reference create new, more rational, attitudes and behaviors allowing a person to move forward by consciously choosing a different path.

Studies done on the brain chemistry of taxi drivers illustrates how this takes place. Taxi taxidrivers, whose job requires them to memorize mental maps of city streets, have thickened neural layers in their hippocampus, the region of the brain that creates visual spatial memories. These drivers have new tissue they have created there, much like the over developed forearms of a carpenter or mechanic. Similar studies showed that mindfulness meditators had a thicker prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls attentiveness, and research subjects that participated in studies to improve their relaxation skills also showed increases in parts of the brain that control self regulation. These studies suggest that your experience and actions matter profoundly, making a difference not just in the moment but for the lasting impact it has on brain chemistry.

It is important to realize that every single day our thoughts and behaviors are creating our brain’s connections and thus our life experiences. Becoming aware of this is a critical component to learning how to optimize your neurochemistry. You can literally “train your brain” by becoming aware of your self talk, focusing your thoughts, and engaging in positive behaviors. You simply cannot avoid the fact that your brain is constantly creating pathways, your goal should be to be more aware of the pathways that you are creating.

What you choose to pay attention to and what you focus on will be the primary influence on how your brain develops. Naturally, some things will grab your attention first – health problems, worries, and legitimate fears. How you choose to process, reframe, and work through these fears will be the deciding factor in how your brain chemistry ultimately settles as a result of these experiences. Focusing on optimistic thoughts, things which are controllable, and working on acceptance and gratitude are things that you must consciously take responsibility for. Doing so will create a brain that is wired for strength, resilience, optimism, and emotional flexibility. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/best-state-live/ )

Keep in mind the expression “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Become more aware of when you are staying with a negative emotion longer than is necessary. CatchingOptimistic_Life yourself in this negativity, consciously working to change that mindset, and moving forward in a more positive direction is the most important part of training your brain in this manner. Whether you are naturally optimistic or pessimistic, consciously seeking where to place your focus and attention is a must if you want to maximize your brain’s ability to create your reality and the quality of your life.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”-Carl Gustav Jung

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Bigger Body, Smaller Brain: The Weight – Dementia Link

In the 21st century, virtually everyone is aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and maintaining an ideal bodyweight. Most people try to maintain an ideal weight for cosmetic reasons, others for health reasons, and others because they want to live longer to be available for their family and their friends. If indexyou are a health conscious person, then once a year your primary care physician remind you are the benefits of optimum weight on your blood pressure, cholesterol count, blood sugar, and a variety of other “numbers.” What your doctor is probably not telling you is that being overweight is also wreaking havoc on your brain.

It appears that as a person’s weight rises towards obesity, brain size goes in the opposite direction. Numerous neurological studies have shown, for reasons unknown, there is a connection between being overweight and smaller brain size, brain shrinkage, and corresponding loss of brain functioning. A study done at UCLA showed that compared to people of normal body weight, overweight people have 8% less brain tissue than their peers of normal weight. This is not an insignificant difference and overweight people are at considerably higher risk for all brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. People who were merely overweight had brains that looked 8 years older than normal, and people in the obese category range had brains that looked 16 years older. Researchers believe that these differences are not merely cosmetic. Another long term study done in Northern California of 6,500 people found that those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a far more rapid decline in brain functioning over the next few decades, and were much more likely to die of dementia in their 70s. While brain atrophy is a normal part of aging, studies indicate that being overweight accelerates the process tremendously.

Scientists are not sure why being too fat would affect the brain this way, but they have some ideas. A study done in 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences identified a possible genetic link. The gene, which they called FTO, appears to play a role in both obesity and brain functioning. They also concluded that genes are not necessarily the whole story. The gene may be affecting the brain through already well-known problems that being overweight causes, such as sleep apnea, which can lead to the brain being starved for oxygen during sleep. Other diseases associated with obesity such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, cause immediate problems for many starting in their 40s, but also drastically increase the likelihood of developing dementia by your 70s.

Whatever is leading to the increases in incidence of dementia, it is now at epidemic proportions. By the year 2050, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to quadruple, and 43% of those with the disease will need a high level of care, such as a nursing home. Part of the reason for these increased numbers is due to the fact that more of us will be living longer, but certainly maintaining optimal health in the early and middle adult years couldn’t hurt any of us. An alarming thing about the statistics is these apply only to Alzheimer’s disease, and don’t include other forms of dementia.

While there are a number of things that can be done to maintain brain health, by far the most important thing is to maintain normal body weight through a wellness program that includes proper diet, exercise, and healthy ways to manage stress. Traditional dieting is not enough. Most people when trying to lose weight deprived themselves of calories and pay little attention to nutrients, many of which are necessary for brain functioning and brain health. They also tend to look at bodyweight in terms of what shows up on a bathroom scale. Yes, the scale indicates total body weight loss, but recent studies show that only about 5% of people succeed with weight loss programs that do not include a comprehensive wellness program.

Here are some things to consider when making those lifestyle changes that will maintain your brain’s optimal health:
⦁ Food consumption-While less calories has been proven over and over in studies of brain health and longevity as being of critical importance, do not deprive yourself of proper nutrition. Diet should be well imagesbalanced and include enough quality protein in healthy fats to maintain brain functioning. Many will balk at the idea of fats in the diet, but proper consumption of healthy sources of fats through things like olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts and seeds are required to keep your brain functioning well. These can be high in calories, so adjust your total calorie consumption to compensate. Avoid salted seeds and nuts, consuming them in their raw state.
⦁ Cut back on sugar-Keep in mind that sugar also includes corn syrup and fructose. A diet that is top heavy in fruits and fruit juices can be a source of hidden sugars. Too much sugar has been shown consistently in research studies to create “brain fog,” and an accumulation of this over the years leads to the long-term problems discussed in this article.
⦁ Increase your consumption of vegetables-The typical person trying to “clean up their diet” tends to gravitate towards fruits rather than vegetables because they are easier to consume. You can simply grab an apple and eat it, whereas if you are consuming raw vegetables you may have to peel, slice, or make some other kind of concerted effort. While raw vegetables are best, increasing your amounts of cooked vegetables is a good idea as well.
⦁ Eliminate or cut back drastically on alcohol-Alcohol, or any substance that slows down brain functioning to any noticeable degree can be damaging to the brain. Obviously, an occasional use, or even overuse, of alcohol won’t have long-term impact, but keep in mind that the once a week “mild buzz” that you’ve been getting for the last few years may have an impact on brain functioning down the road.
⦁ Consider nutritional supplements-Omega-3 fish oils are the number one improvement that people should be making. Fish oil is easy to consume in tablet form, is a source of healthy fats which creates that “good cholesterol” that your primary care physician is always talking about. It also has been shown in a variety of research studies to improve levels of depression, mood regulation, and overall brain functioning. Vitamin D3 is also a must. Most of us spend far too much time indoors as opposed to our grandparents. Vitamin D3 is deficient in most people in developed nations. Like fish oils, vitamin D3 is easy to consume in tablet form, and plays an important role in neurological functioning.
⦁ Increase your consumption of water-Most of us mindlessly sip something throughout our day-coffee, tea, or soft drinks. Replacing these drinks with water is a great idea and a simple thing to introduce into your wellness program. Dehydration is a major cause of brain fog and the brief periods of emotional confusion that most of us try to resolve with a quick cup of coffee. While coffee works, water is equally good in the short run, and far better over the long haul.
⦁ Improve your sleep-Sleep is one of the most important things for overall physical and emotional wellness. Most people drastically under estimate the amount of sleep that they need. Just because you can “get by” on six hours doesn’t mean that you should. Try going to bed in the evening when you are tired, rather than pushing yourself to stay up a little longer to watch that TV show you’ve been waiting for. TiVo that sucker and go to bed. You’ll probably find an improvement in how you feel and function within a few days.
⦁ Exercise-Yeah, you knew I was going to get around this one. Any kind of exercise is preferable to none, but choose something that you enjoy and will stick with consistently. If you can, find something that you do regularly outdoors in the fresh air. If exercise has never been your thing, then take small steps like parking your car farther away from your destination, use the stairs instead of the elevator, and maybe fire your landscaper or housekeeper and start doing it yourself.
⦁ Breathe well and deeply-Learning to breathe deeply from your abdomen instead of your chest. Finding periods of time throughout your day for some deep breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth, will increase mental alertness and energy. If you can, step outside even for a few moments to do this. Certainly, there’s no excuse not add this to your lifestyle!
⦁ Meditation-Whether meditation is formal, informal, spiritual, guided, transcendental, or merely sitting still and quiet for a few moments doesn’t matter. Finding times throughout the day to “go inside” and sit quietly calms the mind down, allowing you to function at an optimal level after.

Keep in mind that of all the brain healthy hints listed above, maintaining a healthy body weight is the old women yoga pilates exercise class great shape lean active energy energetic confident benefits group boot camp older senior citizen female workout benefitsmost important, provided that your weight is maintained through a well-balanced lifestyle. Remember, your brain, more than any other factor, always determines the quality of your life. It is the most important body part to take care of.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

“I Think I’m Getting A Migraine!!” : Coping With A Brain Buster

“I think I’m getting a migraine!!!”

Many of us know the scenario all too well. The day seems to be going ok, or at least feels normal. You’reimages going about your daily tasks and normal chores when all of a sudden you have trouble focusing one or both of your eyes. The lights seem to be bothering you and you know you have approximately 5 minutes before a Hiroshima sized headache hits. You panic, especially if you’re not home, or are at work, or driving a car. You hope you don’t end up stumbling around temporarily blind, muttering to yourself, “Please God, don’t let me throw up!” In a moment of clarity you ask of no one in particular, “Anybody got a couple of Advils?”

Why does this happen? Why are these so different from other types of headaches? And what can you do Migraine_1634678cto prevent them? Susan Broner, medical director of the Manhattan Headache Center in New York City says that, “People with a genetic predisposition have a reduced threshold for activation of the brain’s “pain centers” and become hypersensitive to stimuli that causes pain.” It is among the most severe and painful types of headaches. Headaches are one of the most common conditions that brings people to their primary care physician, are one of the most common causes of emergency rooms visits for premenopausal women, and are one of the most common symptoms and indicators of anxiety disorders. Recent research also implies that it could be a factor in depressive disorders as well. A 2009 headache study found that over 11% of the participants had migraines as well as other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, substance abuse disorders. Other studies have found that 40% of people who suffer from frequent migraines also suffer from major depression. If an individual has two or more migraine headaches per month, then they meet the diagnosis of chronic migraine headache disorder.

If you are fortunate enough to not know the symptoms of migraines, then congratulations. And, the symptoms are nausea, sensitivity to light, and vomiting. Headache pain from migraines tends to be a throbbing sensation or a piercing feeling, with pain on either one side or both sides of the head. Pain can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. A classic migraine causes an aura, or visual symptoms such as flashing lights 10 to 30 minutes before an attack or loss of vision. A common migraine may cause nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms, but no aura.

Most people who have migraines accept the problem as something out of their control. Because migraines come on so suddenly, it does create the feeling that there’s nothing that one can do about them. There is, however, a lot of research that indicates that there are ways to prevent migraines from occurring. Here are a few things that have been proven to work:
⦁ Stress management training methods of any type have been proven to reduce migraine symptoms from 32 to 49%.
⦁ Cognitive therapies significantly aid in prevention. Learning to identify what your triggers are is the most important cognitive skill needed to prevent migraines. Writing out what was going on prior to a migraine’s onset, where you were, what you were doing, and what the conditions, lighting, temperature, and other factors can help you identify some of the things that can trigger a migraine. A solid program of cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you to put life into perspective and help you manage stress better, significantly lowering susceptibility to migraines.
⦁ Progressive relaxation training, where one learns to control the level of muscular tension that their body holds, can lower the general level of body tension that one carries. This helps create an ability to relax, lessening tension that can lead to migraines and other more common types of headaches.
⦁ Monitoring your consumption of alcohol. If you get a “hangover” after one or two drinks, you may actually be experiencing a migraine. If you must imbibe, then pay attention to how different types of alcohol effect you. With careful monitoring you may find that some types of alcohol, for example vodka but not beer, cause headaches. Headaches triggered by alcohol tend to be very specific to certain types of drinks.
⦁ Your diet also plays a role. Many people find that they are adversely affected by foods containing caffeine. In addition to coffee, caffeine is found in other forms such as candy and chocolate. Cutting out caffeine from your diet to quickly can result in caffeine withdrawal, which is characterized by splitting, migraine style, headaches. If you use a lot of caffeine now, cut down gradually. Excess consumption of caffeine can increase your body’s susceptibility to stress.
⦁ Monitor and track your sleep patterns. Improper amounts of and quality of sleep can make the body susceptible to migraines. Keeping a regular sleep-wake cycle is one of the most important things you can do for your body’s physical and emotional well being.
⦁ Meditation has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to de-stress the mind and body and create the relaxation response. There are numerous ways that one can meditate. It’s more important to engage in a meditative practice regularly, rather than to agonize over which style or method of meditation you use.
⦁ Exercise! This is perhaps the most overlooked and ignored solution to most physical and mental health problems. It’s common sense, the body is the vehicle that carries you through life. Keeping it healthy and functioning well will improve all aspects of your life, including your ability to manage the stressors that create migraines and all types of headaches.
⦁ Learn to breathe correctly. Deep, diaphragmatic breaths, taken multiple times a day increases blood flow to the brain, improves brain functioning, and increases energy, making your body more resistant to migraines and headaches of all types.
⦁ Stay hydrated. Adequate intake of pure water prevents headaches, fatigue, and energy loss, all factors in the development of migraines.

In addition to these suggestions, I’d also suggest you check out the Categories section and use the search imagesbox to the right of this post for more suggestions of how to cope with the stress that produces migraines. Learn what sets these brain busters off and learn your own, unique ways to prevent them. It’s also not a bad idea to keep those two Advils handy just in case, but try to keep them as plan B in your fight against migraines. Track when they occur in see if you can decrease their number and severity. You’ll find that there is a lot you can do to gain control, in the positive benefits of doing so will filter over into other areas of your life as well.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

This Is Your Life On Cortisol

If you are reading this article, then it is a guarantee that you are quite aware of the impact that cortisol has on your life. You are at a computer, which means you probably have Internet access, a job to pay for indexit, a decent lifestyle, and more than likely, a lot of obligations, deadlines to meet, and a host of things that are out of your control. You know what “stressed out” feels like. Some of us even take a type of perverse pride in our stress, believing that it makes us more important and that it is evidence of our productivity. Some of us may even brag about how we put in “60+ hours per week” at our job, “Can get by on less than six hours of sleep per night,” or are involved in the three extra curricular activities that each of our children have.” While, no doubt, some of this frenetic level of activity may be necessary, there is a cost that we all need to be aware of and need to decide if we are willing to pay it.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by our adrenal glands. Like a lot of bodily functions that work beneath our conscious level of awareness, it only gets noticed when it is out of balance. Cortisol is necessary for proper functioning and survival:
⦁ Cortisol helps balance the effect of insulin, keeping blood sugar at the correct levels
⦁ Cortisol helps the body regulate and function during times of stress
⦁ Cortisol assists in the regulation of blood pressure
⦁ Cortisol helps in the regulation of the immune system

From an evolutionary standpoint, cortisol exists in order to wake you up in the morning, adapt more effectively to life-threatening danger, and cope with sudden emergencies. A sudden spike in cortisol gives the human body potentially superhuman capabilities. We are literally faster and stronger under the influence of cortisol. Unfortunately, 21st century life does not give us many opportunities to appropriately exercise this kind of power surge. In fact, excess levels of cortisol in your body can have a deleterious negative effect, called Cushing’s Syndrome, which often leads to:
⦁ Mood swings, depression, and irritability
⦁ Digestive problems
⦁ Heart disease and high blood pressure
⦁ Sleep disturbance
⦁ Weight gain
⦁ Premature aging

If this were a commercial, this would be the point where the voiceover says, “If you suffer from any of these side effects, contact your physician.” Not bad advice by any means, but before you go through the stress of making the appointment, three hours in a waiting room, a hefty co-pay, and two or three prescription medications, there are a lot of things you can do on your own to bring your cortisol levels under control. Here’s a few to get you started:
⦁ Get your diet under control. Cut back on all beverages and foods that have caffeine in them. This includes not only coffee, but soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate. Caffeine causes spiking of cortisol levels. While you do not need to cut out caffeine entirely, it’s a good idea to use caffeine judiciously.
⦁ Reduce processed foods, simple sugars, and carbohydrates. These cause a spike in cortisol levels, increase blood sugar, and cause you to feel anxious. Anxious feelings and thoughts promote increase cortisol to prepare you for the perceived disaster. Try to avoid white bread, pasta, white rice, and pastry products. When you do indulge, lean towards whole wheat.
⦁ Keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of pure water. Dehydration causes spikes in cortisol, as waterdehydration leads to stress and stress leads to higher cortisol levels. No need for all those funky, expensive flavored waters unless you prefer them. Regular tap water works fine. Just try to consume 1 ounce of water for every 2 pounds of your body weight.
⦁ Use fish oil regularly. Fish oil has been linked to moderate levels of cortisol as well as with a host of other beneficial results. If you prefer real food to supplements, lean towards salmon, mackerel, sea bass, and sardines. Fish oil has been shown to aid with brain functioning and reduced levels of inflammation. It is one of the cheapest and least invasive things you can do for good health.
⦁ Learned to meditate in some fashion. Just learning to sit quietly, focusing on your breath, for 10 to 20 minutes per day can bring down stress and cortisol levels dramatically. There doesn’t have to be anything mystical, magical, or religious about it. Just find the time and a place to sit quietly each day. If you find it difficult, try doing it outside as often as possible. Meditation is an acquired taste, but well worth the time and effort.
⦁ Exercise, exercise, exercise! Yeah, you knew what was going to get around this eventually. Exercise does not have to be intense or painful, but it must be absorbing and done consistently. Some exercises are much better than others for lowering cortisol levels. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates, for example, are better for lowering stress than intense cardio or weight training. While cardio and resistance training are necessary for a complete program, a simple stretching routine and a little bit of walking on your off days will do the trick in lowering your cortisol and stress levels. Don’t under estimate little things like parking your car a quarter of a mile from your destination, a brief 10 minute walk at lunch, or a few minutes of yard work.
⦁ Laugh, smile, and hug when appropriate. All three of these activities drastically reduce cortisol. They dalai-lama-laughare your physiology’s “proof” that everything is okay, if not now, at least soon. Find ways to do all three.

Cortisol is a powerful, internally produced, necessary drug that we need for survival. Learn to control your cortisol levels or your levels will control you. It is estimated that as much as 70% of primary care physician visits in the United States are due to stress related illnesses. Before you sit in that waiting room, try some of the solutions suggested here for at least 30 days and see how you feel. Be consistent and you will find that you feel the difference. While you may not become the Dalai Lama, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better.

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Taming The Monkey Mind

“Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.”- Buddha

The title of this article and the quote above are not meant to be merely humorous. It is, however, rather imagesironic that a guy who live in the fifth century BC described the human mind perfectly for those of us who live in the 21st century. He used the monkey as a metaphor for the way that a troubled mind processes things and functions. He often describes the mind as being filled with drunken monkeys jumping from branch to branch, screeching, and endlessly chattering and carrying on. I’m sure this analogy makes a lot of sense to you. One can only imagine the metaphor that this 5th century BC philosopher would use if he were alive today.

Over the last 2,600 or so years, this statement by Buddha has been reviewed, interpreted, and analyzed. Contemporary Buddhism contends that the monkey mind is a product of the human ego. Not ego merely in the sense of pride or narcissism, but in the sense of self deprecation as well. The human ego, if there is such a thing, is usually bad. People with an “over inflated ego” think they more important than they really are. We all know them, the “hey, look at me,” type that work the room at every social event we go to. They shake hands and back slap with everybody, kiss and hug every member of the opposite sex, and mail you those obnoxious Christmas cards where they send you a three-page newsletter about how great their family is doing. Pretty gregarious stuff for someone that you see once a year. There is, however, another way that ego gets in the way of serenity. Some people believe that they are responsible for everything bad that happens around them. It’s that they carry a “what did I do wrong, it’s my fault, I’m not good enough, smart enough…,” mindset that sets them up for misery. While it looks different from your backslapping buddy at the New Year’s Eve party, it is a variation of the same thing, an over developed ego.

If you’re with me so far, or are a regular reader of this blog, you are probably quite aware of the role that thoughts play in creating our life’s reality. Most, if not all, of our views of life are because of the meaning imagesthat we attach to them. Many of us know this, but still struggle with the episode of Wild Kingdom that we carry around inside our heads. Recognition of this internal primate cage is the first step in taming the troop. Consider some of the following examples:
Your phone rings at 6:30 AM on Saturday morning. What do you say to yourself immediately?
Your boss greets you, first thing in the morning at work, and says,”We have to talk this afternoon.” What’s the rest of your day like?
You open your mailbox and there is a letter there from the IRS. What’s the feeling in your chest at that moment?
Your 10-year-old car has to pass the state inspection. What’s the monkey telling you as the mechanic drives your car into the garage?

Yeah, I know, each of the above statements makes you feel like you are hiding in a wagon, covered with hay, trying to flee Nazi Germany. Most of us have been there. Most of us can relate to Buddha’s analogy of mind as monkey. So, how we bring those monkeys under control?

Here’s some practical, how to strategies, to implement into your daily life that have been proven to help:
1. Become an observer to your own life. By that I mean learned to view what’s happening from a third person perspective, observing your own reactions without judgment or labels. Notice the words that you say to yourself about these events. For example, is the traffic really “awful,” or is it only going to make you three minutes late for work? Notice the impact that your internal judgments and evaluations have on your perception of events. You’ll often find that these events are what you tell yourself they are. Also consult Therapies from the Categories section to the right of this blog post. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=936 for more on the observer strategy)
2. Be careful of what you pay attention to. The human brain is wired towards pattern recognition, so we tend to notice what we look for. In other words, what we focus on becomes our reality. Noticing the good in situations creates an entirely different reality for us. Notice things that create an attitude of gratitude and focus on those. Sounds simplistic, but compiling a daily gratitude list of three different things, no matter what they are, over a 30 day period can lead to a profound change in one’s outlook on life. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=742)
3. Exercise daily. While you don’t have to overdo it, a little enjoyable physical activity each day can Karate-Chimpground you, slow the world down, and engross you in your physical body. Any activity will do, but you may find that mind-body activities such as a yoga, dance, tai chi, or martial arts are best. Anything where you have to think before moving tends to give the result that we are looking for here.
4. Learn to breathe correctly. A few minutes every day engaging in the practice of deep breathing slows down your thinking significantly. Focus on the breath in a circular manner, breathing easily on the inhale and just a little more forcefully on the exhale. The goal is not to hyperventilate, but to calm. Over time, the breathing will become more localized in your abdomen, rather than in your chest. Placing your hands, folded, over your abdomen will give you feedback. Proper breathing is not New Age nonsense, up to 70% of the body’s waste is eliminated through the respiratory system. Some of this waste can be negative thinking.
5. Learned to meditate. There are numerous ways that one can attain the relaxation response that we refer to as meditation. The breathing activities outlined in number 4 above qualify as meditation. Starting with an awareness of breath focus, 2 to 3 times per day, for as little as five minutes will bring the response that you are looking for. If you want to plunge into meditation more deeply, there are literally hundreds of YouTube videos, MP3s, and iPhone apps that can walk you through the process. Find something that resonates with you online and commit to it over the next 30 days to get started.

Be patient with your monkey mind. Realize that it will always be there to some degree, as it is part of being human. Your goal is to put those monkeys in the cage and continue to function effectively when they get out of control.

John
P. S. Books from mindbodycoach.org are available in the search box located to the rights of this post. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The Food Mood Connection

moodBad moods are considered by most of us to be just part of being human, something that we can simply ride out and wait for them to pass. Occasionally, these moods are more long-lasting and problematic. We experience feelings that we describe with words such as depression, being a little down, anxious, agitated, and other descriptive expressions. If these moods and emotions last a long time, we may consult medical help. We usually look for things in our environment that are creating these disturbances. Maybe the problem is all in our head or, more accurately, in our diet.

“You are what you eat.”-John De Cola

We are, in fact, greatly influenced by what we eat. The food-mood connection is a vastly underestimated and overlooked part of our mental health. In the last 50 years, the medical world has become more aware of the role that what we eat plays in our physical health and well-being, but we still have a way to go in using our diets to improve our mental health. When we are having a bad day or a bad period in our lives, we can often identify an outside cause. Sometimes, however, there is none that we can pinpoint. Sometimes we are simply overreacting to external events that we normally handle quite well. If we are craving specific foods at these times, most of us grab something unhealthy such as fast foods or a sugary snack. Others reach for something with alcohol in it. The problem then goes away for a while, but soon comes back with a vengeance.

When stressed and overwhelmed very few of us think about grabbing a lean steak with a side of broccoli,fish or a piece of grilled salmon and some kale. Maybe we should. What we eat affects our feelings and reactions because certain foods produce brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that allow parts of the brain to communicate with each other. They are the reason that we process things the way we do, have feelings and emotions that we experience, and perceive life in a unique way. The way these parts of the brain communicate creates our individual personalities. While external forces have certainly influenced our personalities, our neurotransmitters play a vital role in our day-to-day moods, motivation, and in general satisfaction with the state of our lives.

The two main neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation are serotonin and dopamine. These two hormones are largely responsible for the regulation of our levels of happiness. Let’s take a look at the role these two play:
Serotonin plays a major role in regulating mood, sleep, cognitive abilities, sexual behavior, and appetite. We are more resilient to life’s up and downs when our serotonin levels are high. We have a more positive attitude and handle stressors more easily,while low levels of serotonin can result in depression and a tendency to be more impulsive.
Dopamine plays a role in your perceptions of pleasure and pain, emotions, and controls the brain’s reward’s and pleasure centers. Whenever you see something you want, dopamine levels rise giving you the motivation to go after it. In addition, your body needs dopamine for such normal activities like walking and maintaining your physical sense of balance.

Maintaining a healthy diet allows the brain to produce adequate amounts of serotonin and dopamine by converting essential amino acids into these neurotransmitters. Don’t worry, this article is not going to turn into a science class, the solution to this is pretty simple. You not only are what you eat, but you feel as you do because of what you eat. A healthy balanced diet, while no miracle cure, will allow you to cope with life stressors much better. Certain foods contain these essential amino acids which the body converts into these neurotransmitters. Here’s a how to explanation:
Serotonin – The amino acid tryptophan is the building block of serotonin. It’s found in poultry, meat, and most types of fish-salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines. If you’re not into flesh eating then you can obtain adequate amounts through consuming nuts and seeds such as flax seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and in fruits like bananas, kiwi, and pineapple. Vegetables and legumes are also good sources.

Dopamine – Dopamine levels can be improved by decreasing your intake of sugar. Excess sugar intake is responsible for that feeling that we call “sugar high.” The reason we often crave sugar is to increase levels of dopamine which excessive amounts of sugar deplete. In order for your body to make dopamine, it needs appropriate levels of the amino acid tyrosine which can be found in foods like almonds, avocados, bananas, low-fat dairy, meat, poultry, lima beans, or soy products. You should also increase your intake of antioxidant producing foods such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, and peppers.

A regular program of exercise combined with at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night will also help optimize levels of serotonin and dopamine. Cutting back or eliminating alcohol is also important as too much alcohol can wreak havoc on these neurotransmitters, especially dopamine.

chocolateFood supplements can also enhance levels of these brain chemicals. Some physicians recommend vitamin B6 supplementation and L-Phenylalanine, two supplements that can be found in stores such as Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, Whole Foods, or your local pharmacy. Dark chocolate is known to be a good source of L-Phenylalanine, just be sure that the chocolate is at least 65% cacao. Sorry, an over-the-counter Hershey bar doesn’t cut it. Dark, cacao rich, chocolate is available in health food stores and is an acquired taste. It is, however, a natural way to boost both serotonin and dopamine.

I realize that parts of this article may be confusing for some. It does not have to be. Changing your snacking habits, making food substitutions, and adjusting a few simple aspects of your lifestyle can optimize your brain chemistry to give you a fighting chance to more successfully cope with life’s battles.

Next time someone asks you, “What’s eating you?,”ask yourself, “What have I been eating?” Remember, you are not only are what you eat, but how you fuel your brain effects how you think.

John
P. S. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Visit my author page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

 

 

“To Nap Or Not To Nap?”

” To nap, or not to nap? That is the question.”

Ah, the nap! A controversial topic that allows for differences of opinion without conflictnap. Ask coworkers and friends what they think about the topic and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some swear by the brief siesta, while others have it ruin the rest of the day and the following night. But should we nap? What does science tell us about the nap? And should it be a skill to aspire to?

Dr. Sara Mednick is a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside and the author of “Take a Nap, Change Your Life.” She has studied the to nap, or not to nap question quite extensively and has concluded that humans have a biological need for the nap. “There’s actually biological dips in our rhythm and our alertness that seem to go along with the natural state of the way we used to be, probably way back when we were allowed to the nap more regularly.”

The human is one of the few animals that takes all its sleep in one sitting. The rest of the animal world consists of polyphasic sleepers, breaking up their sleep patterns as needed during a 24 hour period. Primitive man was a polyphasic sleeper as well, and current siesta-time_9-great-things-about-summersleep patterns were greatly influenced by the Industrial Revolution. (See “Got Insomnia? Guess Again,” March 28, 2014) Since the rise of industry, napping has received a bad rap, and has been wrongly associated with laziness and non-productivity. Before industrialization, most cultures were biphasic sleepers. The ancient Romans were biphasic sleepers, setting aside time for sleep at “sexta,” the sixth hour of their day, approximating our noon time. This remains traditional in some cultures. The word sexta is the origin of the Spanish word siesta. Sadly, even countries like Spain are doing away with this healthy tradition.

It seems that many anti-nappers perhaps don’t know how to nap correctly. Dr. Mednick contends that, “There is something very specific about the timing of a nap. It should be about 2 PM or 3 PM. It’s the time when most humans and animals experience a post prandial dip, or low ebb. It’s a dip in cogno-processing and physiological processes, when a lot of us actually do feel sleepy.” Coincidentlly, this is the time of day when most of us grab a cup of coffee or a sugary snack in order to prevent slipping into the valley of fatigue. Mednick asserts that coffee is an inferior substitute for a good nap. “In all my research, what I found is that when I have people not drinking caffeine but take a nap instead, they actually performed much better on a wide range of memory tasks.”

Dr. Mednick’s studies, and those of others have consistently shown that:
1. Naps increase alertness. A NASA study found that a 20 to 40 minute nap increased alertness by as much as 100%. Other studies found that 20 minutes is more effective and 200 mg of caffeine, the amount in a large cup of brewed coffee.
2. A nap improves working memory. A nap clears your mind of clutter and information that is not useful. A nap is like clearing your brain’s hard drive, much like a spam filter. This makes your memory more efficient after napping.
3. Napping prevents burnout. If your argument has always been, “I don’t have time for a nap,” then there’s good news. A nap has been proven to be the, one step backward to take two steps forward, that could be the highlight of your afternoon. Workers are more productive after napping, easily making up for the lost 20 minutes.
4. Naps increase creativity. If your job requires you to be mentally creative, then a nap is the perfect way to maintain creativity. You literally can, “sleep on it,” and arrive at an answer that has been keeping you stuck. Try this and you’ll be surprised at how frequently it works.
5. A nap can improve health and can assist in losing weight. Napping decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, which has been associated with stress, the accumulation of body fat, and weight gain. Cortisol has also been linked to anxiety, overwhelm, stress, and depression. A daily snooze goes a long way towards depleting excess accumulation of this hormone.

Here’s some tips on how to nap more effectively:
1. Keep it brief. Setting an alarm for 30 minutes or less is a safe solution for those of you coffee-timefind yourself groggy after napping. When in doubt, brief is better.
2. Be consistent in your efforts. Pick a time somewhere between 2 and 3 PM and make it a habit.
3. Stay warm. Napping tends to decrease body temperature. Waking up cold is not the best idea.
4. If possible, close the shades and keep the room as dark as possible. Darkness can allow you to slip into sleep a little more quickly. Remember, you have approximately 20 minutes for this.
5. Experiment to find what works for you. If you wake up groggy, or you need a superior energy boost from a nap for some particular reason, try a “coffee boost” nap. Consuming a small, 8 ounce cup of coffee before can supercharge a nap. The caffeine will begin to kick in 20 to 30 minutes after being consumed, coincidentally the time when you will be rising from your nap. The benefits of both nap and caffeine will be magnified. While not for everyone, this might work well for you.

Dr. Mednick has created an instrument called The Take a Nap Nap Wheel which calculates the best time for you to nap based on your specific sleep needs. A link is provided here:
http://saramednick.com/htmls/book/napwheel.htm

So, I think we’ve answered the question of whether or not to nap. Research shows it’s good for you and makes you more productive. Follow these suggestions, take that one step backward to take two steps forward, and improve your life.

John
P. S. Pass this information on to other tired people that you. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus, and Amazon.com. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

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