5 Signs Stress is Making You Sick

How Stress Affects Your Body

Research indicates that what people instinctively feel about the negative effects of stress is real. Constantly living in a state of high stress can have significant effects on both minds and bodies, and can lead to serious diseases.

Here are some signs that are telling you to find new ways to deal with your stress levels or pay the physical consequences:

Sleep Problems

One of the first symptoms people notice when living under constant stress is a problem falling or staying asleep. Experts note that stress causes a state of hyper-arousal, which can make falling into a natural sleep difficult. Stress caused by specific circumstances, called “situational stress,” usually is short-lived, and the individual returns to normal sleep patterns.

However, when the stress continues on a long-term basis, severe insomnia can result. Many times, the individual may feel fatigued enough to fall asleep, but awakens during the night and has a difficult time getting back to sleep. Dealing with the stress directly can help to restore normal sleep patterns, instead of relying on sleep aids that produce short-term relief.

Overeating/Undereating

Poor diet is often a sign of a heightened state of stress that is threatening to take over your life. The act of consuming food makes people feel better by releasing chemicals into the brain and bloodstream, and this reaction can cause individuals to rely on food to provide the positive feelings that a stressful life fails to deliver.

This emotional compensation can lead to a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other disorders. Similarly, stress levels can be so high that it can “turn off” normal hunger signals in the brain. Individuals may forget to eat or feel too tense to feel like eating. This habit can lead to anemia, vitamin deficiencies and general poor health. These behaviors signal a need for serious stress management to prevent physical problems from poor diet.

Headaches

Constant headaches are another sign that your stress level is affecting your ability to function in your daily tasks. Tension headaches occur when the muscles of the face, head, shoulders and neck remain in an almost-constant state of contraction.

Doing exercise, getting a massage, bathing in warm water and practicing meditative techniques can help to relax these muscles and relieve the pain. Dancing, working on hobbies, playing sports and listening to music can also help. Of course, getting at the underlying cause of the stress is critical to preventing the return of the headaches.

Back Pain

If you suffer from back pain, you may already know how stress can make your symptoms worse. Experts believe that muscle tension caused by stress may be linked to chronic back pain. They also believe psychological factors may come into play, with the person being more cautious with their movements, and creating even more strain on adjacent muscles.

Your doctor may have a number of therapies to deal with back pain, but he or she may also recommend finding ways to deal with stress, such as learning to do yoga, tai chi or meditation. These activities can help to reduce your discomfort and your reliance on pain medications.

Lack of Exercise

Stress can keep individuals in a constant state of activity to keep up with the demands of the situation. However, this hyperactivity can prevent you from getting the stress release you need to maintain health and mental well-being. When you perceive that you are under stress, make sure you schedule regular exercise.

Exercise can help to burn off stress and allows you to achieve better blood circulation for both mind and body, which helps you to deal with stress better. Exercise is known to increase muscle strength, improve joint function, provide better cardiovascular health and aid in weight management.

Depression

Although some stress can help to keep people alert, focused and motivated, too much stress can eventually lead to depression. Even good stress can lead to biochemical changes that can trigger a bout of depression. Scientists know that stress causes elevated hormone levels, such a cortisol, in the body. This hormone can reduce the amount of “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.

The result can be depression that can sap energy and lead to a dark, negative state of mind. When you are under stress, monitor your mood or listen to those around you for clues about your mood and behavior. If necessary, talk to your doctor about doing a depression screening. You may need medications or counseling while you deal with your stress in other ways.

The Fascinating Thing about Meditation and Why It Could Change Your Life

“Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.” 

― George MacDonald

For many of us, the thought of meditation brings forth images of Buddhist monks sitting cross-legged in some tranquil foothill with only a gentle wind to break the silence. These monks are indulging in an age-old practice of freeing the mind and seeking enlightenment. They are, in large part, responsible for the West’s increasing fascination with meditation. However, you do not need to shave your head or even possess the ability to sit cross-legged for long periods of time to benefit from meditation. 

Regular meditation is said to have life-altering benefits; the practice has been shown to reduce stress, increase practitioners’ well-being, and help individuals avoid a host of illnesses brought on by busy, stressful lifestyles. 

However, there are many people who remain unconvinced as to the benefits of this mysterious practice. If you are one of those who are yet to be convinced of the life-altering benefits of regular meditation practices, read on.   

What’s So Fascinating about Meditation?

Life in the Western world is often fast paced and demanding. Work, social activities, and a slew of technological distractions mean that our minds and bodies are potentially in a constant state of overwork. It is difficult to avoid the stresses and strains of daily life, but meditation can at least help us to better deal with it all.

Several studies conducted over the last decade have shown that meditation is far more than some “woo-woo” fad. There is evidence that regular meditation could help to reduce people’s blood pressure as well as flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), health issues that are often associated with high levels of prolonged stress.

Meditating regularly can help to increase calmness as well as the ability to handle high levels of stress; it can improve your psychological balance, your ability to avoid or cope with illness, and enhance your overall well-being. When used in conjunction with regular physical exercise you create a truly life-changing formula.

Types of Meditation

Of course we can’t all live like Buddhist monks. As alluded to earlier, it is not necessary to spend your life as a monk in order to reap the rewards of meditation. There are several kinds of meditation techniques available which can suit individual lifestyles.

One of the most widely taught methods of meditation in the Western world is Mindfulness. Most people should be able to find time for some mindful meditating. You can practise this method in the workplace, at home, or even in the gym. The basic concept of mindful meditation is to concentrate on breathing deeply and simply letting your mind run. You can start by doing this for ten minutes each day, and increasing the amount of time as you become more experienced.

Other well-practised techniques include:

ï  Zazen – This is the typical cross-legged seated method that is commonly practised by Buddhist monks.

ï Transcendental – This includes adopting the “Lotus” or “half-lotus” posture, and going into a deep state of meditation.

ï Kundalini – The Kundalini technique focuses on our inner energy and requires an understanding of various energy centres located at different points in our bodies.

ï Guided Visualisation – Similar to Mindfulness, this is another simple form of meditation. It requires you to focus on a particular image in your environment for several minutes, usually while listening to mind-soothing recordings.

ï Heart Rhythm – Putting the heart at the “energy centre”, practitioners of this technique focus on breathing. The intense focus on breathing is said to help achieve a state of balance with mind and body.    

Changing Your Life Through Meditation

From Far-East Buddhist monks to high-flying city stockbrokers meditation can be life changing. In the Western world more and more people face issues with stress-related illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Meditation practices have been shown to help with many of these illnesses. 

Do you have an important meeting or speech coming up and feel a little anxious about the impending event? Do you exercise regularly but currently feel like you have “hit your wall”? Do you feel a little down in the dumps and disillusioned with life in general?

Take a leaf out of the ancient, proven practice of meditation and find out what all the fascination is about. Start practising meditation yourself today. Who knows, it may even change your life.  

How to Say “NO” and Stop Being a People Pleaser

Most people want to be liked. Consequently, they find ways to achieve their goal. Some turn into comedians while countless others adopt the behaviors of a people pleaser. People pleasers find saying no hard because they imagine that doing so will make them unpopular, and being disliked is what they fear most. If you want to turn people down in a carefree manner, it may be time to change your perspective.

You already do exactly what you want

“What!” I hear you say. “I am reading this article because I want to learn how to please myself instead of always taking care of the needs of others. I hardly ever do what I want.”

The truth is that people only ever do what they desire. Nobody forces you to be a people pleaser. You say yes to people’s requests because the reward that you gain from pleasing them is larger than the payoff you get when you don’t please them.

What is your payoff?

What is the reward you gain from pleasing people? Maybe, saying yes stops you from experiencing a confrontation, and you have low self-esteem so you don’t want to be in a position that you find hard to handle. Alternatively, perhaps you imagine that saying no makes you a bad person. You might have the idea that being kind means that you should always please people. On the other hand, you may fear that not accommodating the needs of others will result in you being ostracized, and you don’t want to be lonely.

Challenge your idea

Ask yourself some pertinent questions. For instance, would working on your self-esteem be more beneficial than saying yes to requests when you would rather say no? Do compassionate people always do other’s bidding? Does running around after people really make you feel accepted and loved? Most importantly, are you blocking self-growth and your fulfillment when you are not true to yourself? You may discover that the thought of never glimpsing your potential or being truly happy is scarier than saying, “no.”

Change the payoff

So far, the payoff from your behavior, when interacting with others who want things from you, has been to be liked, which alleviates underlying insecurities. However, if you address the issues that make you a people pleaser, the payoff gained from saying yes will shrink. 

You will benefit more by pleasing yourself than pleasing other people. Sometimes, agreeing to carry out people’s requests will make you happy. You will not stop helping people simply because you gain self-esteem or increase your social network so that you are not lonely. The main difference will be that you act on your own terms instead of feeling powerless.

The art of saying “no.”

Saying yes has become a habit, and you might not know how to create a sentence in which no features without using language that demeans you. You may automatically want to apologize when not agreeing to carry out people’s demands. 

Additionally, you may use language such as “I’m afraid,” as in “I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that.” Are you really sorry that you are not going to spend five hours babysitting when you are going to chill on the couch instead and watch a movie with the one you love? Alternatively, are you genuinely afraid to not agree to mow your neighbor’s lawn while they are on holiday? If you are sorry or afraid, you have more issues to work on than you thought!

People often demean themselves in an effort to placate others when turning them down. Much of the time, their endeavors don’t appease anyone; their refusal just sounds weak. If you don’t want people to keep making the same request after you’ve said no, phrase your refusal wisely.

“I have other things I want to do” is an acceptable response to a request. You don’t need to add any more information or make excuses. You have a right to turn people down without having to justify your stance.

Pushy people

Sometimes, people who ask you to carry out a task might be surprised by your response when you’ve said no without apologizing; they are not used to such honesty. If they ask for details about why you won’t comply with their demands, remain direct. “If I do what you want me to do, I won’t be able to do what I want to do” is a sufficient answer. 

When people don’t let the matter drop, don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to tell them what you are going to do instead of pleasing them. Just repeat what you’ve already said, change the subject or smile and say, “good luck with that.” 

Forgive people who ask a great deal of you and attempt to push you into agreeing to their demands when you say no. After all, they are relying on others to please them and get their needs met. They don’t understand that it’s not other people’s job to make them happy. Consequently, because they don’t know how to please themselves, they often have requirements that are not satisfied. You, on the other hand, are beginning to understand how to be autonomous and are empowered.

Helpful Tips for Coping With Mental Illness in a Loved One

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), some form of mental illness affects over 57.7 million Americans over the age of eighteen. What isn’t calculated is the number of individuals who are related to, friends with, or caregivers of someone affected with a mental illness. What also isn’t often shared are the coping tips that could help prevent unnecessary complications.

1. Familiarize yourself with the medications

For many mental illnesses, the first line of treatment for a patient is medication. Medication can quickly return a patient to a safer mental state and allow a therapist to work with the patient on other issues, especially in the case of depression or PTSD. What can be overlooked by loved ones is that medications take a long time to really be properly adjusted and may be in a state of adjustment throughout a patient’s life. That is, what works today for the patient may not work ten years from now.

Loved ones need to familiarize themselves with the medications that the patient is on. Knowledge of side effects, drug and food interactions, and dosage levels can be critical to avoiding errors that the patient might overlook or forget. Knowing the side effects, especially the ones to watch out for, can help the patient seek help in adjusting their medication. Not all patients are aware that their medication might be causing unwanted side effects until it is too late.

2. Know the symptoms of a rebound or worsening episode
While every mental illness is unique, each has signs that things are going downhill. Loved ones should familiarize themselves with the manifestations of the disorder as well as signs that the medication is off, not being taken, or is causing other problems. For example, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) given to a manic depressive patient in their depressive cycle can quickly cause escalated mania.

3. Talk to the individual about their diagnosis
Patients may or may not want to talk about their diagnosis. Some are ashamed and will try to disregard that they need help. Others will be happy to share their experiences. Either way, encouragement is best when speaking with patients. Let them know that it is not their fault that they needed help and that getting help is the first step to moving on. Talk to them about their fears and hopes. Ask them how they feel about their medications and their treatment plans. Having someone interested in them and their care makes a huge difference.

4. Attend a support group
Caregivers and loved ones may find solace in a support group. There are online forums as well as local groups that a caregiver can join which will help provide insight into behavior, anecdotes about medications and treatment options, and success stories from those who have beaten their situation. If nothing else, a support group can provide the caregiver with a chance to safely vent about concerns with others who understand their situation.

5. Speak with the doctor
Speak with the doctor directly about the individual’s progress, medications, and other treatment options if the patient and privacy laws allow it. Not every patient accurately reports to the doctor and to caregivers and family members, so this extra communication can be life-saving. For example, the patient may not be aware that his or her behavior is slowly slipping into the erratic.

The goal of treatment is to move toward functioning that is closer to normal. Patients should have as a goal to return to an enjoyable and productive life, and loved ones can assist with this by arming themselves with the knowledge to help when things aren’t on the right path. Knowledge is key when dealing with a mental disorder and may very well save someone’s life.

How to Become a More Assertive Person

Assertiveness is an extremely handy personality trait to cultivate and practice as often as you can. It helps ensure that you get what you need and that others don’t walk all over you. Some people, however, find it difficult to be assertive and stop bending over backwards to everyone else’s whim.

If you are one of these people, then you may find it hard to believe that you could ever change to become a more assertive person. The good news is that it is possible for anyone to become more assertive, and all it takes is three simple steps:

1) Realize Your Own Self-Worth

Your ability to be assertive relies a great deal on your confidence and levels of self-esteem. You don’t have to be arrogant in order to be assertive, but you do have to have a good sense of your own self-worth. You need to realize that you have the right to be appreciated for your time, your efforts, and even just your presence. You need to stop apologizing for yourself and feeling bad when others do things for you or whey you ask them to do things your way.

Being assertive doesn’t mean that you are bossy or commandeering. You should still be willing to listen to others and you shouldn’t be demanding that they only listen to you. Nevertheless, it is just as crucial that you give credence and importance to your own needs and ideas and that you don’t hold others above yourself.

2) Don’t Make Excuses for People Who Are Inconsiderate of You

On top of cultivating a greater sense of self-worth, you need to stop making excuses for people who refuse to recognize your self-worth by being inconsiderate of your time and efforts. If someone shows absolutely no regard for the fact that they may be bothering you, that they aren’t listening to you, or that they’ve offended or hurt you, then why should you keep acquiescing to their needs or demands?

Stop making excuses for people who don’t give you nearly the same level of thoughtfulness that you try to give them. If someone is always late to meet with you, then remind them firmly but kindly that you’d appreciate it if they could stick to your appointments the same way you do. If someone is bothering you when you are busy or doing work, then don’t be afraid to let them know that you’d be happy to talk to them another time but that it is important for you to focus and get your tasks done.

3) Practice Assertiveness Every Day

As with all skills, assertiveness is something that you need to work on every day in order to fully develop. Some days you may feel too meek to assert yourself and make your needs known, but it is important that you don’t begin acquiescing and bending over backwards for others just because you’re a little tired or a little stressed. If you get back into the habit of putting yourself second, then you’ll once again have to relearn how to put yourself first. If you need to take a few minutes away from everything to sit quietly and remind yourself of your self-worth, then do so. A quick attitude booster can help you face the rest of your day with a more assertive outlook.

It can be difficult for someone who is shy or for someone who experiences heightened anxiety levels to even think of being more assertive because they worry that it will result in confrontation. The truth is, however, that most people will respond positively to your new-found confidence as long as you’re not acting rude or bossy, but simply stating what you need and want. Don’t be afraid to find your voice. You are worth other people’s consideration and you don’t need to make excuses for those who don’t give you the consideration you deserve.

The Gut-Brain Axis: Pathway to Healing Mind and Body

Feeling butterflies in the belly before a big meeting or binging on chocolate to soothe a broken heart, humans have always known how emotions affect the digestive system, and vice versa. Now, neurobiologists are confirming what many distressed people already know firsthand: there’s a powerful link between the brain and the gut.
 
That connection is so deep that scientists are now calling the digestive system our second brain. The brain in the head and the one in the stomach constantly communicate through a bundle of chemical and neural pathways called the gut-brain axis — a messaging system so direct that treating disorders affecting one of these brains can alleviate symptoms in the other.
 
The Gut-Brain Axis: A Message System

The gastrointestinal tract is responsible for breaking down food, extracting nutrients and eliminating waste.  But this system, collectively called the gut,  also contains two extra layers of over 100 million cells whose job doesn’t involve processing food.
 
This structure, called the enteric nervous system, is responsible for just one thing: sending messages between gut and brain through chemical signals passed via the central nervous system. These chemicals are responsible for things like the “fight or flight” response of accelerated heart rate and shallow breathing – but also for sudden trips to the bathroom in a tense situation.
 
The enteric nervous system is just one pathway on the gut-brain axis.  Along with our own human cells, the gut also hosts a vast colony of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and even parasites.  With millions of strains concentrated largely in the intestines, these organisms make up ninety percent of the body’s total cell count
 
Called the gut, or enteric, biome, this colony is home to benign bacteria such as lactobacillus, which helps digestion. But the gut biome also contains potentially harmful ones like H. pylori, which if unchecked can lead to ulcers, infections and inflammation. These organisms also communicate with the brain by sending signals along the vagus nerve and through chemical pathways related to the immune system.
 
Two-Way Tools for Healing

The intimate connection between gut and brain makes it possible to heal maladies of both, in often surprising ways.  Stubborn cases of digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and colitis can improve with mental health treatments such as cognitive therapy and antidepressants.  Mindfulness and meditation practices intended to reduce anxiety are also being used to reduce the severity of digestive issues triggered by stress.
 
Treating the gut also helps ease emotional problems.  New studies suggest that adding probiotic supplements to the diet to support a healthy gut biome can reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms of depression.  Dietary changes such as swapping simple carbohydrates, bad fats and processed foods for lean protein, vegetables and fruits can also help boost mood and ease depression.  In the same way, fish oil supplements and other healthy fats can calm anxiety and improve memory.
 
The secrets of the gut brain axis are still being discovered. But new research reveals that the powerful and immediate communication between our first and second brains is a potent tool for healing both systems – and going with your gut may be a key to staying well.