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Stress originally was a survival mechanism. “Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Hans Selye coined the term “stress” in 1936. Since then, we have come to a broader and more detailed understanding about stress and the various roles that it plays in the body and in life.
A normal stress response is necessary to be alive. The body must be active and respond to daily events in order to maintain balance. The key to a normal stress response is balance. In a situation of balance, the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system work in opposition to one another.
Mindful meditation can greatly reduce stress and bring you peace in the present moment. Ujido Matcha Green Tea complements the mindfulness practice — made from the same Japanese green tea that Buddhist monks drank thousands of years ago to maintain relaxed alertness during meditation.
The stress response, often referred to as the fight-or-flight response, activates the sympathetic nervous system.
The fight-or-flight response has evolved as a way to protect us from danger and prompt us to quickly take action, if necessary. The initial stress response is activated by the hormone adrenaline.
A few things that the early stress response activates or dampens:
Persistent stress and sympathetic nervous system activation involves a 20 second delay, but it is 20 times stronger than the initial stress response. This persistent stress response tells the adrenals to release chemicals such as epinephrine and cortisol. While Israeli researchers discovered in 2016 that men and women may process stress differently in the brain — so much so that different sexes may have different brain reactions to eating comfort foods during times of stress — we also know that chronic stress and anxiety can literally damage the brain and increase the risk of depression and dementia, irrespective of gender.1,2,3
Cortisol is extremely significant. While it plays an important role in stress response, it is most commonly known for its relationship to chronic disease and inflammation.
In a stress response, cortisol:
The body experiences a natural ebb and flow of cortisol levels throughout the day. This is what is known as diurnal rhythm. Cortisol levels should be at their lowest concentrations from midnight until 4 a.m. and peak in the morning, around 8 a.m. This means that you awake feeling energetic and by evening, you are ready to sleep.
Regular cortisol fluctuation is the reason why many of us wake up and are not hungry:
As you may have guessed, because cortisol levels in the blood fluctuate according to the time of day, simply not getting enough sleep or sleeping at an irregular time, like working late hours or night shift, will affect overall cortisol levels in the body.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the digestion of food, sexual arousal, and gut motility. It also dominates urination, lacrimation, and salivation.
The parasympathetic nervous system:
Clearly, we want the parasympathetic nervous system to function smoothly, at the appropriate time. Unfortunately, the sympathetic nervous response suppresses the parasympathetic nervous system.
While many of us constantly experience stress, few of us actually find ourselves in a life-threatening situation.
Early and direct activation of the sympathetic nervous system is useful in a life-threatening situation because it maximizes our potential to respond quickly and effectively. But when does that happen? Usually, the sympathetic stress response goes into high-gear while on the job, talking on the phone, managing your family, sitting in traffic, or after visiting a local café. For many of us, these are all normal, daily activities that prompt the constant release of cortisol.
Cortisol sends up a red flag throughout the entire immune system that ultimately delays healing, which can be especially painful in chronic gut permeability. Elevated cortisol levels open the door for yeast, parasites, and opportunistic bacteria to take over and overwhelm healthy digestive function.
In the face of chronic stress, it’s crucial to nourish the adrenals first of all:
While the stress response may seem outdated because most of us are no longer fleeing from wild animals or living as nomads, the fact is that most stress is perceived.
Stress that is not perceived can be:
If practiced regularly, mindfulness can optimize your productivity and has direct association with health and wellbeing.
You can greatly reduce levels of cortisol and activate the parasympathetic nervous system by practicing mindfulness techniques:
Though it has been an integral part of ancient spiritual practices for millennia, mindfulness has some proven real-world benefits too. Case Western Reserve University scientists discovered in 2016 that a corporate culture of mindfulness can help to manage stress and improve employee focus and productivity.6 Mindfulness has also been shown to be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy in treating depression and anxiety, with mindfulness meditation serving as a non-addictive opioid alternative for pain relief.7,8 Remember, when the parasympathetic system is engaged, we are able to release toxins from the body, properly digest meals, and find pleasure in life.
If you have never done a mindfulness meditation, try practicing mindfulness while eating:
Cultivating an attitude of mindfulness can be beneficial in all areas of life, but you may see the biggest impact on your health after practicing mindful eating. In 2016, University of California, San Francisco, researchers suggested that mindful eating may be the answer to the high stress levels, extended screen time, and round-the-clock socialization seen so often in our culture. Mindful eating can curb distraction at mealtimes, reducing risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.9 And by recalibrating neurological imbalances in the brain related to inhibition and impulse control, mindful eating may even help to treat or prevent childhood obesity.10
It’s the great paradox — relaxation takes work, if you want to reduce stress levels, improve your health, and feel like your best self again.
Here’s what you need to know to begin:
Over time and with a mindfulness practice, your brain will build new associations and memories. You will find that cortisol dominates your nervous system less and less. Your immune system will benefit. You gut function will strengthen. And even better, you will have more energy throughout the day.
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