by Lisa Mandelbaum, M.S., L.Ac, Dipl. O.M.
Anxiety is a natural response that alerts us to something in our life that is triggering stress.
Anxiety is a signal to change behavior, reduce stress, and prevent long-term physical damage. If we ignore this signal, we compromise our health and wellness.
When under stress for a long period of time, our body releases cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, a small gland that sits on top of each kidney. In times of acute stress, cortisol helps us to survive. For example, when we are facing a daunting task, the adrenals secrete cortisol, which in turn increases energy, memory, and immunity. This is all wonderful as we run from an attacker or give a speech, but stress day in and day out keeps the adrenals in a heightened state, with cortisol flowing through the body. This long-term exposure to cortisol decreases cognitive function, thyroid function and immunity. It also increases blood pressure and abdominal fat (which leads to a whole host of other health issues.)
These are no doubt stressful times, where multi-tasking is a requirement and product is always more important than process. While it is impossible to change the world's pace, we can change the way we live our lives.
Music: One of the benefits to multi-tasking is that your phone or electronic device is never far. Find some inspiring and/or relaxing music to listen to during the day. There are some great mediation applications that help relax the mind/ body. Mediate Now is a mobile application that provides an eight-minute meditation with music and voice.
Stretching: Many people say that they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Holding this weight results in chronic neck and shoulder pain. Remind yourself during the day to take a deep breath, close your eyes and bring your shoulders back and down. A program like Desk Active placed on your computer will help remind and model simple stretches.
Sleep: Sleep is essential for providing the body with a time to repair and regenerate. It is important to practice good sleep hygiene: going to sleep the same time every night, waking the same time everyday, using the bedroom for only sleep and sex.
Acupuncture: It had to make this list, as this ancient Chinese art is a fabulous remedy for calming the heart spirit and raising endorphin levels (a feel good hormone). There have been many studies on acupuncture and its efficacy. While every study has its own findings, one commonality is that placing a needle, also called a real or sham, along certain acupuncture points raises endorphin levels, which results in people feeling more relaxed.
Supplements: GABA is a wonderful amino acid that also serves as a mood enhancer. Biochemists refer to GABA as an "inhibitory neurotransmitter" as it turns off stress chemicals like adrenaline. GABA works in a matter of minutes. Two other amino acids that are fabulous for calming the system are taurine and glycine. While taurine is said to relax the brain, glycine helps to relax muscles that often tighten during stress.
Ideally, it would be wonderful if we could identify the stressors in our lives and change them. However, reality reigns and we often just need to move through stressful situations. What we can change, however, is how we meet the stress. Employing mind-body therapies like those listed above can have a profound impact on our daily health.
Lisa Mandelbaum, M.S., L.Ac, Dipl. O.M., is both a California licensed acupuncturist and a nationally certified Diplomate in Oriental Medicine. Lisa practices acupuncture and herbal medicine in Nevada City, California