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Friday
May062011

Adrenal Fatigue – Part 2: Stress Management

Written by: Cindi Lockhart, RD, LD, Life Time Weight Loss Coaching Program Manager

In Adrenal Fatigue - Part 1, we discussed the health and weight implications of chronic stress and how to assess our personal stress levels. In Part 2, we will explore easy and practical stress management tactics to incorporate into our busy lifestyles, such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and massage. These techniques all assist in restoring the (autonomic) nervous system balance, which veers off track under chronic stress. 

On one side, stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system — picture pressing down on the accelerator pedal of a car. These days, we tend to burn the candle at both ends, which can lead to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in inflammation, high blood pressure and muscle pain.

To offset the negative health and weight effects of always being in “fight or flight mode,” we may have to consciously stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system — which is like applying the brakes of a car. The key to re-balancing your system is not to over-exert yourself, but to gently trigger a relaxation response.

Yoga practice

Yoga practice is a very effective equalizer between the two systems. Through a series of physical poses, yoga lengthens and stretches tense muscles. Emphasis on breath control and concentration improve mood, focus, memory, and attention. In early 2011, an employee population study found that regular yoga practice led to statistically significant improvements in weight, body composition, diastolic blood pressure, and flexibility.[i]  Other benefits of yoga include improved sleep, immunity, lipids, balance and strength.  

If you are new to yoga, it’s best to search for a gentle restorative or beginner class.  If you join a more advanced class too soon, you will likely find yourself more stressed trying to accomplish difficult poses while holding your breath. There are many yoga classes available at Life Time Fitness, and through community programs. If you prefer to start in the comfort of your home, several television programs and DVDs are available.

Breathing exercises

Under stress, we tend to take short, shallow breaths that maintain the stress response.  By extending our breath, we nourish every cell and organ in our body with oxygen. More oxygen in your lungs, blood and organs helps detoxify your system and improves your metabolism. Controlled breathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.

A simple way to start a deep breathing exercise is to lie down on a cushioned floor, covered by a blanket to keep warm. Close your eyes and mouth, unclench your jaw and begin breathing through your nose only.  Place a hand on your lower abdomen and begin to focus on your lower belly breath; your hand and belly should rise/expand with your inhale and lower/deflate on your exhale. Let your breath in and out without force, gently allowing the exhale to last twice as long as the inhale. 

Meditation

First off, get rid of any preconceived notions you have about meditation. Contrary to what you might think, it does not have to involve sitting cross-legged and chanting “Om!”

Meditation has been shown to quiet the mind and therefore improve sleep, mood, pain, and anxiety.[ii]  A four-month study of the effects of transcendental meditation found positive correlations with hormones, specifically: cortisol, testosterone, growth hormone, and thyroid stimulating hormone.[iii]

A simple way to get started meditating is to begin with the deep breathing exercise previously mentioned and then focus your mind on a particular word or phrase (mantra).  As you repeat the selected word or phrase over and over, you will quiet your mind and focus it away from all scattered thoughts and worries. I suggest you start with two to four minutes of meditation each day and slowly build to a 20-minute daily practice for the most benefit.  If sleep is one of your difficulties, try meditating right before bedtime.

Massage

Massage not only feels terrific, it has many health benefits:  improved energy, mood, sleep, relaxation of tight muscles, and increased circulation. According to Life Time Fitness massage therapists, women tend to hold their stress in the upper back and neck areas as compared to men holding their stress in their lower backs.  Recent research determined that moderate pressure massage, in comparison to light pressure, is necessary to experience the diverse benefits of massage.[iv]  You want to leave your massage session feeling relaxed, both physically and mentally. 

If you can’t afford a massage therapist right now, there are many how-to massage books you can purchase (or rent from the library) and have your significant other or family member assist you at home.

Summary            

Although we live in a pedal-to-the-metal culture, we need to consciously hit the brakes and start incorporating relaxation tactics within our lives order to combat stress and any decline in health, function, and weight that results from it. The stress management tactics discussed here typically involve a short amount of time at little or no cost and can be performed just about anywhere. 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


 

[i] Thomley, BS, et al “Effects of a brief, comprehensive yoga-based program on quality of life and biometric measures in an employee population: a pilot study”. Explore (NY) 2011 Jan-Feb 7 (1) : 27-29.

[ii] Lawson, K. “Demystifying mindfulness”.  Minn Med 2001; Jan 94 (1); 37-9.

[iii] MacLean, CR, et al “Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice.” Pyshoneuroendocrinology 1997 May; 22(4):277-95

[iv] Field, T, et al. “Moderate pressure is essential for massage therapy effects”. Int J Neurosci 2010 May; 120 (5): 381-5.

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Reader Comments (1)

Studies show that if you do yoga, 2 times a week, and each yoga session is 90minutes long, you can grow 1cm in 9 weeks.

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