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Techniques to Counter Chronic Stress

An excerpt from Understanding the Stress Response by Harvard Health Publishing​​

Many people are unable to find a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, much like a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress.

Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body's energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.

Fortunately, people can learn techniques to counter the stress response.

Relaxation Response

Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Most of the research using objective measures to evaluate how effective the relaxation response is at countering chronic stress have been conducted in people with hypertension and other forms of heart disease. Those results suggest the technique may be worth trying — although for most people it is not a cure-all. For example, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 122 patients with hypertension, ages 55 and older, in which half were assigned to relaxation response training and the other half to a control group that received information about blood pressure control. After eight weeks, 34 of the people who practiced the relaxation response — a little more than half — had achieved a systolic blood pressure reduction of more than 5 mm Hg, and were therefore eligible for the next phase of the study, in which they could reduce levels of blood pressure medication they were taking. During that second phase, 50% were able to eliminate at least one blood pressure medication — significantly more than in the control group, where only 19% eliminated their medication.

Physical Activity

People can use exercise to stifle the buildup of stress in several ways. Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.

Social Support

Confidants, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, relatives, spouses, and companions all provide a life-enhancing social net — and may increase longevity. It's not clear why, but the buffering theory holds that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps to sustain them at times of chronic stress and crisis.

Full Article:


Understanding the Stress Response


 BY HARVARD HEALTH PUBLISHING


Publishing, Harvard Health. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, 6 July 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response.

Marketing and Account Associate

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[emily]

I chose this article because understanding where stress comes from is crucial in determining how to deal with it. 

If I Were President…

An article from TIME for Kids

(Today) is Inauguration Day. Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. This year, many of the inaugural activities are taking place online. One of them is a special livestream for students and families called Our White House. “We want to ensure that we are engaging folks of all ages,” Tony Allen said in a statement. He’s the head of the Biden Inaugural Committee.

Many of our TFK Kid Reporters will be watching tomorrow’s events, and all Americans will be paying close attention to what President Biden does during his first 100 days. The first 100 days of a new president's term are especially important. People start to learn what kind of leader he or she will be. They watch to see which issues and projects get priority. We asked TFK Kid Reporters, “If you were elected president, what would you do in your first 100 days in office?” Here’s what they had to say.

“The first thing I would do would be to control the coronavirus pandemic. I would help the vaccine get to more people all over the United States.”

- Miguel Madero, 10 -

San Antonio, Texas

“One of my top priorities would be the environment. I would bring scientific experts together to collaborate and find ways to slow climate change. And I would advocate for and give money to reforestation programs.”

- Abby Rogers, 11 -

Lahaina, Hawaii

“I’d try to stop climate change by reducing pollution. I would limit the amount of single-use plastic being manufactured and used. I would also clean up the world’s oceans.”

- Sophia Hou, 11 -

Short Hills, New Jersey

“Good relationships with other countries are essential. I would meet with top world leaders and establish friendships. (And I’d paint the White House rose gold, my favorite color!).”

- Rory Hu, 10 -

Cupertino, California

“I would go on national listening tours to meet with millions of Americans. I’d show them that I value their opinions, I understand their feelings, and I want to work with them to make America a better place.”

- Jeremy Liew, 12 -

Riverdale, Connecticut

“The first thing I’d do is make a holiday honoring one of my heroes, Harriet Tubman. She risked her own life and safety to free people from slavery.”

- Victoria Hanson, 11 -

Chadds Ford Township, Pennsylvania

“I know that student loans are a big worry for college graduates. I’d pardon student loans up to $10,000.”

- Pranav Mukhi, 10 -

South Setauket, New York

Full Article:


If I Were President...


 BY TFK KID REPORTERS


Kid Reporters, TFK. “If I Were President...” Time for Kids, 19 Jan. 2021, www.timeforkids.com/g56/if-i-were-president/.

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[Emily]

Today is a historical day for our country. I chose this article because it is important to remember that children are watching. We all know that the children are our future, and to hear their words of hope are encouraging to those of all ages. And also, I agree with Rory. Rose Gold is a lovely color. 

A Mindful Guide to New Year’s Resolutions

An excerpt from A Mindful Approach to New Year’s Resolutions by Sarah Rudell Beach

I think our problem with resolutions is that they put us firmly in militaristic effort mode, obsessed with outcomes and notions of success and failure.

But the answer is not to flee to the other extreme, to abandon the practice of self-improvement altogether. It is to find that sweetspot between effort and patience: to identify areas for growth, summon the courage to transform our habits, and, most importantly, to do so with kindness and compassion for ourselves.

We should perhaps think in terms of intentions instead of resolutions. Intention comes from the Latin intendere, “to turn one’s attention,” and intentionem, “a stretching out.”

While resolutions are firm and hard, intentions are flexible. They’re about where we direct our attention. They’re about being mindful.

As we seek personal transformation in the year ahead, I offer you this mindful approach to New Year’s Resolutions and Intentions:


1. ​Consider Your Intentions

The most common resolutions are to lose weight, spend less money, and get organized. Those are all valuable and healthy practices. But why are they your intentions? Do you want to feel better about your body? Know that you won’t need to worry about money for retirement? Stop wasting time looking for all your things in the morning? Honoring the personal meaning behind an action helps us maintain our resolve.

2. ​Focus on Process, Not Results

Resolutions like “lose weight” and “get organized” are completely focused on a result, with no identification of a process for how to get there.

Studies show that when employees — from sales executives to Formula One pit crews — focus on process and style instead of sales numbers and speed, they actually perform better. Intensely focusing on results paradoxically makes us less likely to achieve them.

Instead of focusing on “losing 10 pounds,” try focusing on going for walks or eating healthy salads for lunch — you will probably end up losing some weight in the process. And you’ll probably enjoy the journey a lot more.

3. ​Change Your Habit Loop

Self-transformation begins with self-awareness. First turn your attention to the habits that you would like to change, and examine what sustains those habits. If you want to spend less money, for example, take some time observing how and when and why you spend money. Is it your morning habit to turn to your phone, check your email, and click on all those ON SALE NOW–ACT QUICK! impulse messages? If that remains your morning ritual, you’re going to have a hard time saving your money.

Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, argues that the key to changing our behaviors is understanding the habit loop — the cues that trigger a particular action, and the rewards that lead us to continue to do it.

For example, I wrote this post a few years ago about my old morning habit loop that I wanted to change: instead of checking my email, coffee in hand, as soon as I woke up, which often left me grumpy, I made my coffee the “reward” for meditating in the morning instead. And after a while, meditating in the morning simply became routine. I looked forward to it, and noticed the benefits of a more dedicated practice. But I had to change my habits (i.e., ditch the early morning phone routine), not just resolve to “meditate more.”

So take a careful look at your not-so-skillful habits that are currently supporting the behaviors you want to change in the upcoming year. Duhigg writes, “Once you break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears.” You can find the little tweaks to your routine that can support transformation.

And wouldn’t you know? The word “resolution” is derived from the Latin resolvere, which means “to reduce into simpler forms.” That’s where we should start.

4. Be Kind to Yourself

No matter what intentions we set for ourselves, there will be days and weeks when we don’t live up to our expectations. A fundamental lesson we learn through practicing mindfulness is that we are constantly beginning again — each day, each breath. We sit down to meditate, and we experience a brief moment of awareness. Then our mind starts chattering, planning dinner and worrying about the kids. And then with a deep breath, awareness rearises– and the mind is off again, wondering what’s up next in our Netflix queue.

When the mind wanders, we gently bring our attention back to the breath, without judging or berating ourselves. The moment we notice our mind has wandered is the moment of insight — noticing the action of the mind is the practice itself.

The same goes for resolutions. When we fall short, we can gently and non-judgmentally bring our awareness back to our intention. That’s really the purpose of setting resolutions — bringing a kind awareness to our behavior, recognizing when we’ve wandered, and beginning again. And again…

5. Consider Resolution Alternatives

If the pressure of New Year’s Resolutions is too much, consider a few alternative ways to set your intentions for the upcoming year:

  • Make a Vision Board: You can find lots of online instructions for making a vision board (like these ones here, which include users’ uploaded pictures of their boards). A vision board compiles images that represent what you want for yourself in the upcoming year. It’s a great way to have a visual reminder of your intentions (I have mine hanging in my office). The images of heart-shaped fruits, dancing yogis, and glowing candles gently remind me to eat healthy food, move my body, and make time for stillness.
  • Choose a Word of the Year: Many people have embraced the trend of choosing a word for the year — like breathe, trust, dance, fly — that encapsulates the feelings, attitudes, and behaviors they desire in the year ahead. This word can guide your choices and actions — instead of setting firm expectations for yourself, you can ask if a particular behavior aligns with your word and your intentions.


Ultimately, New Year’s Resolutions are about growth and improvement. They are about bringing health and joy and ease into our lives. With mindfulness we can bring awareness to our habits and hold ourselves with compassion and kindness as we seek meaningful transformation.

Full Article:


A Mindful Approach to New Year’s Resolutions


 BY Sarah Rudell Beach


Beach, Sarah Rudell. “A Mindful Guide to New Year's Resolutions.” Left Brain Buddha, 13 Jan. 2020, leftbrainbuddha.com/mindful-approach-new-years-resolutions/.

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[emily]

I resonated with this article because it is so easy to get caught up in the final destination that you forget to celebrate the accomplishments you make along the way. Setting small, obtainable goals can help you stay on track and feel good about the progress you are making, no matter what your resolution is. 

The Benefits of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Gratitude

In her talk she refers to some things that she has experienced throughout her life. She uses props to prove her point and shares many benefits of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Gratitude.

Gracyn is originally from South Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Before moving here she lived in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. She speaks a small amount of Spanish. It is her 4th year in Saudi, and she has been attending AISR since grade two. Gracyn is now in grade five and she is eleven years old. She has a younger sister, Carys, in grade three. Her favourite subjects are, performing arts, art, and reading. Gracyn loves horseback riding with her family. That is where she got the idea of gratitude. Gracyn is very excited and can not believe that she is a part of the Tedx 2019. Gracyn is originally from South Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. Before moving here she lived in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. She speaks some Spanish thanks to that experience. It is her 4th year in Saudi Arabia, and she has been attending AIS-R since grade two. Gracyn is now in grade five and she is eleven years old. She has a younger sister, Carys, in grade three. Her favourite subjects are, Performing Arts, Art, and Reading. Gracyn loves horseback riding with her family. That is where she got the idea of gratitude. Gracyn is very excited and cannot believe that she is a part of the TEDx@AIS-R event of 2019. In her talk she refers to some things that she has experienced throughout her life. She uses personal examples and some props to illustrate her ideas about the many benefits of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Gratitude. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[emily]

I chose this video because I love hearing directly from children about their experiences navigating a new world and am inspired by the ways they choose to cope with feelings and ideas that seem foreign and new to them.

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