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Less Stress

Are You Addicted to Stress?

by Dr. Sonia Marques

July 2021 

 

While we all like to say that we’re trying to lower our stress levels, the reality is that, as much as we try, many of us just can’t seem to shake our stress.  We know how harmful it is to our long-term physical and emotional wellbeing, and yet it seems that despite our best intentions we cannot seem to overcome it and this leads to even higher levels of stress.

The reason for this, according to many prominent researchers and psychologists, is that, yes, we really can become addicted to our own stress. Research shows that cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can make a region in the brain called the nucleus accumbens become more sensitive to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. A fast-paced environment can lend itself to unchecked cortisol levels, which, if prolonged, can be a problem.  Rather than tapering off after the perceived threat has passed, chronic stress causes a drippy tap of cortisol and adrenaline to continuously pollute our system. Not only does this wreak havoc on your hair, skin, weight, heart and digestive system, it gets you hooked—and looking for more.

If this is true, how can we actually combat and eliminate stress in our lives?

Step 1

The first step, as with every addiction, is recognizing that you have an addiction to stress. For a lot of people, this can be very difficult. Many of us use our stress as a crutch to avoid deeper and more intimate self-reflection.  But when you start to recognize that there’s a pattern of stress in your life and that, more often than not, you can choose how you respond to an event, you can start to recognize your own addiction.

Step 2

Trick your mind into thinking relaxation is just another task to be accomplished and checked off the list. Once it becomes an assignment, it will no longer be associated with guilt and idleness, but be more a duty.

Step 3

Unplug from one of the most prevalent stress sources in modern society: your phone. Set internal rules, such as no checking the phone at dinner, or no email for an entire weekend day.

Step 4

Exercising is one of the absolute best ways to relieve stress while giving you the chance to unleash pent up aggression. Exercise releases a flood of endorphins that can replace the stress hormones you’ve been bingeing on.

Step 5

Make yourself your top priority and set aside “you time.”  Whatever you choose to do— walking in nature, reading a book, taking an exercise class, etc.—make sure you’re doing it just for yourself. Stress addicted people often use their extra time to catch up on chores or to do extra work, not to relax.  Stress can rob you of your identity, but you can reclaim it doing what you love. 

It’s important to remember that relaxation isn’t a luxury nor is living in a state of stress a badge of success or accomplishment. You can make the choice to approach each day of your life in a relaxed state of mind because, just like stress, relaxation is ultimately a choice.

 

 

 

Why Sleep Is So Important?

Sleep Reset: Simple Steps to get Intentional about your Sleep

By: Dr. Katie Gleisner

Every night is a good night to sleep well. However, one in three of us struggles on a nightly basis with sleep. Whether falling or staying asleep is challenging, a poor night of sleep impacts every facet of your wellbeing. Your health is based on your movement, nutrition, and sleep. We spend a third of life sleeping, and it is a fundamental aspect of our physical, emotional, and chemical wellbeing. 

It seems everywhere I look there is another idea to improve sleep. As someone who loves and values my rest, I explore these ideas. Should I meditate? Should I take melatonin? Should I work out before bedtime? Should I read? And as a chiropractor, I care deeply about my patients’ sleep because those 7 to 9 hours of rest are essential for our bodies to detoxify, heal, and function optimally. Let’s explore the science of sleep and simple steps to catch some ZZZs with greater ease. 

Sleep is a biological necessity for your brain and body. It is Mother Nature’s built-in recovery and restoration system. The brain needs sleep to learn, be productive, and adapt to stress. However, humans are the only species that deprive themselves of sleep with little benefit. Many of us struggle with sleep deficiency, which seriously impacts our ability to focus, learn, create memories, fight off infections, and age well. Sleep expert and neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker has dedicated his research to the importance of sleep and its health benefits. Through his research it is recommended that adults get a minimum of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Your brain requires this period of rest after learning to save memories, and to prepare for the next day’s learning. Studies comparing well-rested to sleep deprived participants found a 40% decline in learning—the difference between passing and failing an exam, due to hippocampus activity. The hippocampus is the information campus of the brain. It collects and holds onto our memories. When we are sleep deprived our hippocampus shuts down, thereby negatively impacting our ability to focus and learn. 

Your ability to cope with daily stress and handle anxiety or depression symptoms is impacted by your sleep. A lack of sleep causes the brain to revert to a primitive pattern of uncontrolled reactivity. We produce unmetered, emotional reactions due to heightened amygdala activity. The amygdala is responsible for processing fear and activating our sympathetic “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Less sleep creates a heightened amygdala response, resulting in increased sympathetic response and emotional outbursts. Decreased sleep leads to oxidative stress and inflammation, the root cause of ill health and disease. The hippocampus and amygdala are initial structures to suffer from this oxidative stress. Whether you slept poorly last night or you are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, each evening with less rest decreases your ability to form new memories and cope with daily stress, as well as increases your risk to develop Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. 

Beyond the brain, your body needs sleep. Your genetic, immune, and cardiovascular systems all rely on sleep for proper function. Additional studies comparing well-rested to sleep deprived participants found a correlation between less sleep and upregulated gene activity. These activated genes are related to inflammatory and tumor promoting conditions. Also, decreased sleep is directly correlated with weaker immune system function. Our Natural Killer cells are your immune system assassins that identify and eliminate unwanted elements from your body. There is a 70% drop in Natural Killer cell activity with 4 hours of sleep, which studies correlate with higher rates of breast and colon cancer. While we sleep, our heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and breathing stabilizes. Fragmented sleep negatively impacts the cardiovascular system, and every hour of sleep counts. Daylight Savings Time sleep studies found a 24% increase in heart attacks the day following springing ahead, and a 21% reduction in heart attacks after falling back.  Sleep impacts every aspect of your physiology and health. The shorter duration you sleep, the shorter your life expectancy. 

Sleep, just as every other facet of health, requires intentionality and commitment. So, let’s tuck in and discover simple steps to improve your sleep quality. 

  1. Regularity and Routine. Your body prefers routine. Creating a consistent bed and wake time helps establish a healthy sleep-wake rhythm. Whether weeknight or weekend, aim to be in bed and rise at the same time to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. 
  2. Keep it Cool. Turn down the thermostat to 65-68 degrees, the optimal sleeping temperature. Your body needs to drop its core temperature 2 to 3 degrees to initiate sleep and stay asleep.
  3. Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant and blocks adenosine, an essential sleep chemical in the brain. Avoid drinking caffeine after lunch to fall asleep easier. A cocktail or glass of wine can be relaxing in the evening, but limit alcohol consumption four hours before bedtime. Alcohol sedates the body and inhibits deep REM sleep, which relates to frequent wake ups and prevents optimal brain restoration. 
  4. Prioritize Unwind Time. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Whether you journal, take a bath, listen to soothing music, do some yoga stretches, or follow a guided meditation, take time to connect to your brain, body, and breath. Avoid high intensity workouts 2-3 hours before bed as it can inhibit your brain’s ability to relax.
  5. Don’t Lie in Bed. Avoid lying in bed for too long, as it can increase frustration and anxiety around falling asleep. Your brain will associate the bed with being awake. If you continue to feel awake after lying down for 25-30 minutes, get up, move to another room, and do a relaxing activity until you start to feel sleepy.

Sleep is a biological necessity that you depend on to heal and restore on a nightly basis. Hopefully, this post brings awareness around your sleep habits and some simple tips to create a healthier sleep routine tonight. By prioritizing your rest, you boost your mental and physical stamina to take on the following day and achieve optimal health.  


Sweet dreams.

 

Lessons From A Pandemic - Part 1 By Dr. Jason Sonners

Lessons From A Pandemic – Part One

by Dr. Jason Sonners

As we welcome June and hope for some nice weather, we also finally see some of New Jersey’s shelter-in-place restrictions lifting. While the health and economic effects of COVID-19 are far from over, the intensity of the spreading seems to at least be slowing.

I literally have hundreds of thoughts regarding this situation that I hope to share over the next few months, but I’ll begin with this blog post.

There are still so many unanswered questions. Where did this virus come from? Are there things we could have done differently? What can we learn from our national response? Was it appropriate? Not enough? Too aggressive? Why did other countries seem to have better infection and death rates? What did other countries do in terms of sheltering or not, and what were the results of those responses?

These answers are so important because, unfortunately, this is probably not the last time something like this happens. The more we discuss the answers to these questions the more likely we will have improved responses in the future. In the meantime, what can YOU do right NOW to improve your personal possibilities?

While the list of unknowns is very long, the list of knowns is quite short, so let’s begin there. We know this is a virus. We know where in your lungs and epithelium it attacks. We know the stronger our immune system is, the better our response will be; and we know the more “other” conditions we have, the poorer our outcomes will be. Is this a black and white approach? No. Like so many illnesses it is about hedging your bets and doing the best you can to improve your odds and outcomes.

Since the onset of this virus, I have been asked by hundreds of patients what they should or could be doing. My answers today are the same as they were three months ago and focus on two conditions guaranteed to weaken your immune system:

Increased Stress – There is tons of research showing prolonged stress responses weaken our ability to handle infections. While we cannot simply remove our stress, we can work on our responses to stress. Hobbies, meditation, breathing exercises are all great ways to reduce our stress response. We offer guidance at Core Therapies, so please talk with your provider to explore options that may work for you.

Blood Glucose imbalance – This is true at all times, but specifically for COVID-19, which seems to have a much worse response in those with obesity and diabetes. Learning how to balance your blood sugar properly through diet is critical for improving the immune system and helping to improve your body’s response to infection. We offer guidance here too, so again talk with your provider to explore these options as well. We do have a variety of solutions.

In these times, there are also specific supplements to consider that will help BUILD a healthy immune response. These recommendations are very similar to the strategies we use during flu seasons.

For building a strong immune system:

Vitamin D – improves our body’s ability to fight infection (among many other roles)
Vitamin C – plays a huge role in improving our ability to fight infection and balance inflammation
and oxidation
Zinc – another key player in immune function and fighting viral infections

For improving your ability to fight infection:

AHCC – one of our favorite immune system stimulants
Zinca Stop – a specific form of zinc utilized for fighting viral infections
Glutathione – helps keep our inflammatory response more balanced
Quercetin – improves our inflammatory response as well as our ability to move zinc into our cells

Ask us about the types and amounts of supplements that should be used to help ensure a strong immune system.

Watch for Part Two of Lessons From A Pandemic coming soon!

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

When The Goal Outweighs The Craving

When the Goal Outweighs the Craving
by Dr. Meagan McGowan

I have notoriously struggled with goal setting and personal accountability. I believe somewhere in my blueprint, I was cyclically wired to remain personally accountable for only two weeks at a time. Along the journey I figured out that I am an Obliger (thank you The Four Tendencies). One of the greatest characteristics of Obligers is that they prefer to answer to someone, let another person help hold them accountable. When I stopped seeing this as a negative trait and welcomed it as a tool for personal growth, things changed. Reaching out to others, setting vulnerability aside, and working on clear communication has made a world of difference in self-exploration and growth.

Fast-forward to four months ago, one of these conversations needed to happen. Two months earlier, my mind and body were absolutely going through a shift that I could only imagine was hormonal in nature. At just over a year post partum, I lived with this supposed hormonal shift for two months, kept quiet trying to self analyze and figure out what was going on. When I was overcome with negative emotion and a mindset very unlike that of my own, I was scared and I knew it was time to reach out. Thankfully some of my closest friends are also some of my health care providers who I entrust with my health and the health of my family. In conversation, I shared the heaviness I was experiencing both physically and mentally. With open ears and a very open heart my friend suggested several things, including an approach to self-healing I had not yet fully grasped. Knowing that we both have tremendous respect for the body’s ability to heal, we agreed that spending some time really cleaning up some of its systems would benefit my overall state of health.

For the last four months my health conscious lifestyle has shifted a bit. It has taken on new challenges, happily, and a new perspective, a lot of which surrounds the idea of “food as fuel.“ The conversation in our house has changed as we self explore what works for us and what doesn’t. I have been intermittent fasting for three months, consciously shifting from needing food packed in my purse, diaper bag, car’s center console and for breaks between patients. This was a choice I made, with guidance, after my very vulnerable conversation. I read a lot and really wanted to understand why intermittent fasting is encouraged for some people. Above all, this was a chance to shift my body from being on the detrimental glucose roller-coaster, to getting back in touch with mindful eating. To allow my cells to really detox and rid themselves of toxins enough to rebuild stronger and better! I will happily share after only a few weeks of beginning intermittent fasting, closing down my eating window, and upping my fat consumption, I truly felt recharged. There has not been the slightest shift to negative thought in the last several months. My immune system has withstood some serious mommy snuggles of sick and very feverish kiddos. I have not had a single craving for sugar, which is just amazing given my relationship with that drug for all of my years! In the moments where the cookie trays are sitting there on a shiny pedestal, my mindset has again and again proven resilient. I felt confident to dive a little deeper, joining Drs. Sonners’ Stemnotic Solutions Program.

Right before the Program began, my husband and I had our blood drawn to truly measure the potential benefits of our efforts throughout the Program. I am excited to see where this takes us and how it will resonate with us as the weeks build. There has been an overall gratifying feeling with my acts of self-care. Cravings have subsided and goals have remained intact. As a family, our vision of food and its strong presence in our life is shifting. We are not eating any less or depriving ourselves, but we are changing the emotion around it. I think it is so important that we all remain open to changes in approaches to health. Whether initiated from a conversation, an experience, or from an educational platform, we constantly question and re-evaluate, always striving to be our healthiest and happiest.