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Things to try, to avoid medication
Unfortunately stress and anxiety are the hallmarks of the 21st century. Just before Xmas 2018, on a local TV show, 3 soccer moms were discussing their plans in the lead-up to Xmas. What kind of shocked me was when they all agreed that there was "so much pressure, so much stress".
Objectively, Xmas is a neutral event. It is not inherently stressful nor without stress.
It is our beliefs and reactions which are "stressful", not the event.
But knowing that that wouldn't help the three moms. The tips in this post will help to relieve this type of stress, which is an outcome of our beliefs.
In addition to these societal changes it is well know the rate of depression increases as we age. This is a complicated process with some key factors driving it being imbalances in neurotransmitters, atrophication of the amygdala - the region of the brain most important for controlling mood - and a shrinking hippocampus.
Research shows that the hippocampus is smaller in some depressed people. These factors are all "natural" by-products of aging.
Here's the good news. You can slow the rate of aging and combat some of the effects of stress and depression - whatever the cause - using the following four techniques.
Of course, in terms of living longer better, exercise is a great moderator of stress and anxiety. If you have ever kept up your exercise routine when you are in times of anxiety and stress you already know that the exercise has a strong moderating effect. It calms you down and brings you back to normality for quite a while.
Intense exercise distracts your mind from the thoughts causing you stress, and that carries over for some time after the exercise.
Less intense exercise, such as simply walking, also has a beneficial effect on distracting your thoughts from yourself and making you feel more connected with the outside world. And it has been found that walking in a forest or by sea has an even stronger calming effect on the brain. The reconnection with nature helps.
It is good medicine both physically and mentally to go for a brisk walk every day. I do. Whether I go to gym or not I go for a walk, about 4 to 5km, briskly. I don’t regard it as exercise, I regard it as keeping the blood flowing and clearing my head. If I run on the morning, I walk in the evening, and vice-versa.
2. Meditation, or pseudo meditation
Of course, meditation is always in the "stress reducing" list of options. But not everyone can get into the habit of meditation, so what is something similar that can help relieve stress and anxiety?
For one thing you can find an app that plays binaural music beats. Put on your headphones, sit comfortably, and listen. Even do it when you go to bed, and just relax into the music for ten minutes. That will calm your mind and you will feel your body relax. I often do this when I go to bed, playing softly through a bluetooth speaker.
For another, you could use the 4-7-8 breathing method to calm your mind. This is based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that means “regulation of breath.” Although you can do the exercise in any position, it’s recommended to sit with your back straight while learning the exercise.
You then place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue (try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward).
Then follow these five-steps:
The most important part of this process is holding your breath for seven seconds. This is because keeping the breath in will allow oxygen to fill your lungs and then circulate throughout the body. It is this that produces a relaxing effect in your mind and body.
2022 UPDATE: try the app stores for free breathing apps. Many have the 4-7-8 method built in, along with many other sequences, and some also allow you to set up custom breathing sequences. These are very worthwhile. I use a free one - Breathing Zone. There is nothing to lose as if you don’t like it - simply delete it and try another app.
I find that the 4-7-8 sequence works well in allowing me to experience how my mind and body feel in a relaxed state. This may sound like an add thing to say as you would think that we would naturally know this state. But in our rush of everyday living we actually lose contact with what it physically feels like to be unstressed.
Once you have reestablished contact with the feeling of your relaxed state you can use that to your advantage if you feel stress coming on during the day.
Firstly, you will be more aware of the physical sensation of stress, because you now recall what it feels like to to be relaxed. And you can then remove yourself from leaning into the stress and lean out to engage your mind to bring back the relaxed feeling that is now becoming part of your neuromuscular memory, due to your breathing exercises. I've found this to be very helpful.
TIP: Researcher TJ Shors found that combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression ( a clinical intervention known as Mental and Physical Training, or MAP Training). Aerobic exercise combined with meditation decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. For example walking briskly and then meditating, or meditating and then walking briskly produced better results than doing just one or the other.
3. Food as medicine
Diet is such an important component of mental health that it has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry. We're starting to understand that the gut is a key driver of health, including mental health. Researchers have also consistently found (according to so-called meta-analyses) that a healthy diet (the Mediterranean diet as an example) is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing depressive symptoms.
An Australian study was recently published that showed that a healthy diet significantly reduced symptoms of depression (anxiety is a prominent symptom). The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website with an introductory guide to healthy diet is a great resource and explains the Mediterranean diet.
Mood-boosting foods include: fruit, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds and foods with omega-3, such as fish, polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The foods to be reduced include sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks. You should also minimise animal fats, processed meats (sorry, bacon), and butter.
Quality matters over quantity. And when it comes to what we eat, quality really, really matters.
Whole (unprocessed) diets higher in plant foods, healthy forms of protein and fats are consistently associated with better mental health outcomes.
4. Learn to sleep like a baby
Simple, old-fashioned rest and recovery. It's sometimes not so easy to achieve it, and depression, and it's bedfellow anxiety, can conspire against you.
To cure an inability to sleep properly you need to find the cause - that's beyond this scope of this advice. However, here are three simple techniques to help you sleep better, which will help improve your mood by the morning.
If you have found other natural ways to manage your stress and mental health please leave a comment, or drop me a line @bodyagebuster or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter