Lowering Stress: Unwind with Mindful Meditation
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:
- Diminishes blood flow to the extremities.
- Increases heart rate and blood pressure.
- Reduces salivation and digestive function.
- Dilates pupils.
- Promotes sweating and relaxes the bladder while inhibiting kidney excretion.
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 and Chronic Inflammation
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:
- Increases vascular tone by elevating blood pressure.
- Suppresses immune function while triggering white blood cell activity in the skin and bone marrow.
- Increases glucose concentrations in the blood.
- Decreases the release of growth hormone.
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:
- If you are hungry upon waking, this is an indication of irregular levels of cortisol in the body and a possible blood sugar crash in the middle of the night.
- One of the most common reasons why blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night is late night snacking or eating a dinner rich in sugars or carbohydrates.
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.
Rest and Digest
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:
- Keeps our bodies moist.
- Allows toxins to exit the body.
- Allows our bodies to receive physical nourishment.
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 is released during a sympathetic stress response.
- Elevated levels of cortisol are most associated with a weakened immune system.
- High levels of cortisol increase infection rate and prolong recovery time.
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.
Mindful Living and Mindful Eating: 3 Keys to Long-Term Stress Relief
In the face of chronic stress, it’s crucial to nourish the adrenals first of all:
- Ancient Earth Minerals help support and rebuild the adrenals. Sadly, most people today are actually starving from mineral deficiencies that have a direct effect on the adrenals. Ancient Earth Minerals contains fulvic acid as the transporter to the body’s cells, along with humic acid as the carrier of minerals, trace elements, and amino acids. Working together, humic and fulvic acid can help the adrenals to withstand the effects of stress.
- Probiotic beverages increase digestion and nutrient absorption to feed the adrenals with the proper B vitamins and vitamin C. All Body Ecology probiotics are made with real non-GMO, organic plants that have come out of the soil. And unlike many probiotic supplements on the shelves, these probiotics are not lab-grown, which makes them especially powerful at colonizing the gut and helping your body thrive.
- Ujido Matcha Green Tea can help to energize and relax the body at the same time; difficulty relaxing is a common symptom of adrenal fatigue. With roots in Zen Buddhism, the popular tea is made from matcha, a fine, green powder that may control inflammation and stress in the body, while boosting the metabolism to support healthy weight loss.4 Ujido Matcha Green Tea is also highly nourishing to the brain, helping to increase concentration and provide cognitive protection in periods of extreme stress.5
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:
- Lack of sleep.
- Diet consisting of frequent and excessive sugar.
- Athletic overtraining.
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:
- Mindfulness means complete awareness of the present moment and real-time associations.
- This often leads to the formation of new memories and new experiences.
- It also means that your response, in whatever situation and with any person, is not dominated by past programming or fear.
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:
- Observe the color, texture, and temperature of food before you taste it.
- Recognize and explore any memories that this food evokes. Acknowledge these associations and release them.
- Try practicing gratitude for the food. If you are eating something fermented, thank the bacteria for supporting all the many cells in your digestive tract.
- Trace with your imagination the path that the food took in order to reach you. You may notice an awareness of the interdependence of all things.
- Finally, taste the food.
- Explore what tastes you detect and again, notice any memories or associations that arise.
- How does the food feel in your mouth? What sensation do you feel as you swallow the food, and how do you feel after eating it?
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
What To Remember Most About This Article:
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:
- A healthy amount of stress keeps us active and engaged with life.
- The sympathetic nervous system is the fight-flight-freeze response. And cortisol is the main “stress hormone” released during stress response.
- The parasympathetic nervous system allows us to rest and digest.
- Ideally, the parasympathetic response and sympathetic response work in a balanced opposition to each other.
- For many of us, cortisol levels are often chronically elevated and extremely irregular.
- A great deal of stress is perceived!
- This means that you play a role in determining your body’s stress response.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness has been extensively researched and proven to reduce stress response and improve immune function.
- Support your body’s ability to withstand stress — Ancient Earth Minerals can strengthen and rebuild adrenals that have been weakened by the stress response; probiotic beverages can improve digestion and nutrient absorption, while feeding the adrenals with beneficial B vitamins and vitamin C; and Ujido Matcha Green Tea can help to promote a state of “relaxed alertness” during stressful times, controlling chronic inflammation and nourishing the brain.
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.
- Yael Kuperman, Meira Weiss, Julien Dine, Katy Staikin, Ofra Golani, Assaf Ramot, Tali Nahum, Claudia Kühne, Yair Shemesh, Wolfgang Wurst, Alon Harmelin, Jan M. Deussing, Matthias Eder, Alon Chen. CRFR1 in AgRP Neurons Modulates Sympathetic Nervous System Activity to Adapt to Cold Stress and Fasting. Cell Metabolism, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.04.017.
- “Stress relief by ‘comfort foods’ may vary between sexes and across the estrous cycle.” Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.
- Linda Mah, Claudia Szabuniewicz, Alexandra J. Fiocco. Can anxiety damage the brain? Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 2016; 29 (1): 56 DOI: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000223.
- Stenblom, Eva-Lena, et al. “Supplementation by thylakoids to a high carbohydrate meal decreases feelings of hunger, elevates CCK levels and prevents postprandial hypoglycaemia in overweight women.” Appetite 68 (2013): 118-123.
- Nobre, Anna C., Anling Rao, and Gail N. Owen. “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.” Asia Pac J Clin Nutrsuppl 1 (2008): 167-168.
- J. Good, C. J. Lyddy, T. M. Glomb, J. E. Bono, K. W. Brown, M. K. Duffy, R. A. Baer, J. A. Brewer, S. W. Lazar. Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review. Journal of Management, 2015; 42 (1): 114 DOI: 10.1177/0149206315617003.
- Jan Sundquist, Åsa Lilja, Karolina Palmér, Ashfaque A. Memon, Xiao Wang, Leena Maria Johansson And Kristina Sundquist. Mindfulness group therapy in primary care patients with depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders: andomized controlled trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry, November 2014 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.150243.
- Zeidan, N. M. Emerson, S. R. Farris, J. N. Ray, Y. Jung, J. G. McHaffie, R. C. Coghill. Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia. Journal of Neuroscience, 2015; 35 (46): 15307 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2542-15.2015.
- Jennifer Daubenmier, Patricia J. Moran, Jean Kristeller, Michael Acree, Peter Bacchetti, Margaret E. Kemeny, Mary Dallman, Robert H. Lustig, Carl Grunfeld, Douglas F. Nixon, Jeffrey M. Milush, Veronica Goldman, Barbara Laraia, Kevin D. Laugero, Leslie Woodhouse, Elissa S. Epel, Frederick M. Hecht. Effects of a mindfulness-based weight loss intervention in adults with obesity: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/oby.21396.
- BettyAnn A. Chodkowski, Ronald L. Cowan, Kevin D. Niswender. Imbalance in resting state functional connectivity is associated with eating behaviors and adiposity in children. Heliyon, 2016; 2 (1): e00058 DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2015.e00058.