The Link Between Stress, Mindfulness and Your HealthHeidi Hadley
The word “Mindfulness” appears to be everywhere nowadays. In today’s blog we are going to discover why mindfulness has become a widely known and accepted area of health and wellness. We will consider the scientific research conducted in the area of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a technique anybody can adopt. You don’t have to sit under a tree in a fancy pose saying “ohm!” Mindfulness involves the practice of slowing down our frantic daily thoughts/actions and noticing what is around us and also our self. The practice of mindfulness involves being aware of our self in that moment. The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness online program at www.TotalSomatics.com has modules which break down, demystify and teach you mindfulness skills which can be applied on a daily basis.
When we increase our skills of mindfulness, we become less reactive to events in life and learn to develop more of an objective, less judgemental attitude to our self and others.
Mindfulness has been documented as an effective method to reduce stress. Let us consider why stress is so damaging to our health and why we need mindfulness to reverse the detrimental effects of living at “full throttle” every day.
The effects of stress on your body
Stress is detrimental to our health. When we are stressed, the natural state of balance or homeostasis in our body is knocked off course. Stress is immunosuppressive which means that we become prone to developing inflammatory conditions and disorders if we are exposed to stress for a considerable amount of time.
Stress hormones have a huge influence throughout our body when we are upset, anxious, uptight or feeling under pressure. My blog entitled Do you REACT or RESPOND to stressful situations?
explains in further detail the neuroscience behind the “fight or flight” stress response.
The stress response or ‘fight/flight’ mode was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. But when the stress response keeps firing on a daily basis, it can put your health at serious risk.
Consider how stress impacts on your body systems and organs:
Stress triggers muscular tension and tightness through your neck, jaw and facial muscles. Stress can cause a person to create poor habits such as teeth grinding and clenching. Prolonged stress will cause a person’s neck to gradually increase in tension and limit their range of movement.
Chronic stress can create anxiety and depression. The constant bombardment of stress begins to wear a person down and makes them less resilient emotionally, mentally and physically. The rise in the stress hormone cortisol has a direct effect on the ‘happy hormones.’ The ‘happy hormones’ or neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine plummet when a person is exposed to stress for a considerable amount of time. This leads to anxiety and depression.
Insomnia is another issue people suffering with stress may experience. When a person is stressed, cortisol is constantly surging through your body. Cortisol has been designed to keep you alert and attentive in a stressful situation. When we are in a state of stress or find it hard to ‘switch our mind off,’ our nervous system cannot wind down and fall or stay asleep. This is when a person can start to feel even more stressed and anxious as they lie in bed at night trying to sleep but their mind is racing and might as well think it is 10am.
The risk of a heart attack increases over time due to cortisol levels constantly elevated, creating an increase of pressure through the heart muscle which in turn increases a person’s blood pressure. Plus the constant assault on the cardiovascular system causes damage to the arteries, once again causing a possible heart attack.
When you are stressed, your liver releases extra glucose into your bloodstream. When this happens over a prolonged period of time, it increases the chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Your digestive system is amazing and has its own separate nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system. When a person becomes stressed their digestive is impacted and inflammatory bowels disorders can occur. To learn more about your amazing brain-gut connection, check out my blog entitled “Increasing our somatics awareness to the brain and gut connection”
When a person is stressed, they produce an increase in stomach acid, resulting in heartburn. Many studies over the years has seen a large correlation between stressed individuals and acid reflux or heartburn. Researchers have also noted that stress causes changes in the brainthat turn up pain receptors, making you physically more sensitive to slight increases in acid levels. Stress can also deplete the production of substances such as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins normally protect the stomach from the effects of acid, but a reduction in level will increase a person’s perception of pain and discomfort.
When your body is stressed the last thing a person will want to do is have sex. So it is very common for a person undergoing stress to suffer with a low sex drive. 70% of low sex drive is due to misfiring hormones.
Erectile dysfunction is well known to be associated with stress. Sexual activity is under our autonomic or involuntary nervous system which means we have no conscious control over it. So when a man becomes aroused various involuntary responses occur to cause an erection. But if cortisol levels are high, there will be a huge drop in hormone levels which contribute towards an erection occurring. Medical experts have identified a huge mind-body connection. It is well regarded that in order to deal with erectile dysfunction, attention must be directed to a person’s mental and emotional health. The power behind all these physiological issues which contribute towards erectile dysfunction begins with the mind. Reconditioning the brain is the key element in reversing it.
Ongoing stress will affect a woman’s menstrual cycle by disrupting the levels of oestrogen and progesterone. Once this occurs, many women find their sex drive, fertility and other health related issues begin to impact greatly on their daily life and emotions.
Ongoing stress will contribute towards muscular tension and tightness. Chronic stress leads to a person feeling an increased level of pain, a deterioration in their posture and limited mobility leading them to reduce the time spent with the activities they love to do.
Now we have considered how damaging stress can be on our mind and body let’s educate and empower our self in the area of Mindfulness.
The Science behind Mindfulness
Consider what David R Vago from Harvard Medical school stated,
“The majority of empirical evidence for mindfulness’ effect on the immune system support a protection and recovery model. Imagine being caught in a rainstorm without a raincoat and without a towel. In a torrent of stress, mindfulness is both the raincoat (preventative) and towel (palliative), so that, at the very least, stress is impeded in its course to reach downstream immune targets.
Consider some areas of evidence below:
- Studies have been conducted on the relationship between mindfulness and the brain. They have found that people who practised mindfulness had an increase in prefrontal cortex activation compared to people with people who didn’t practise mindfulness. These studies revealed that after an eight week mindfulness program, participants demonstrated an increased activity in their prefrontal cortex which is associated with focus, awareness, concentration, decision making and emotional intelligence. They also discovered an increase in antibody production after administration of a flu vaccine, indicating an enhanced immune response.
- Another study of mindfulness practice in a 6-week compassion and gratitude program positively correlated with a decrease in stress induced interleukin-6 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine with immunosuppressive activity) An increased Interleukin-6 production is common among individuals with chronic stress and depression.
- Participants who were involved in a three-month mindfulness program demonstrated increased activity in immune cell telomerase, an enzyme responsible for preventing immune cell death. Suppressed telomerase activity is related to increased stress perception. Increased telomerase activity is associated with decreased LDL cholesterol and adrenaline.
So from these and many more studies conducted, we can see that if we develop a mindful practise, we can help boost our immune system, reduce inflammation levels, stabilise our hormones and improve our emotional and mental health.
What can you do to develop a daily mindful practice?
I created The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online program to educate and empower people to take control of their stress, rather than stress controlling them. The 6 month structured online program has been designed to increase your mind and body awareness to how you move, sit, think, breathe, eat, speak and live on a daily basis. My online program consists of subjects such as somatic movement, mindfulness, mindset and nutrition. The online program consists of audios, podcasts, instructional videos, down loadable support material and much more to provide you with skills and knowledge to improve your health and well being. When you develop a Somatic mindful movement practise, you will find you have a reduction in pain, improved posture, increased mobility and you’re able to return to the activities you love to do.
The online program is self paced and can be performed in the comfort of your own home. I am available at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any questions or queries answered when you have joined the program.
I look forward to teaching you these amazing skills so you too can take back control of health and well being with the help of www.TotalSomatics.com
Heidi Hadley xx