Wellness Wednesday: Laughter IS the Cure!

 Whether you’re guiltily guffawing at an episode of “South Park” or quietly giggling at the latest New Yorker cartoon, laughing does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke. A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but data are mounting about the positive things laughter can do.

Short-term benefits
A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long-term effects
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long haul. Laughter may:

  • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.

Are you afraid you have an underdeveloped — or nonexistent — funny bone? No problem. Humor can be learned. In fact, developing or refining your sense of humor may be easier than you think.

  • Put humor on your horizon. Find a few simple items, such as photos or comic strips that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office. Keep funny movies or comedy albums on hand for when you need an added humor boost.
  • Laugh and the world laughs with you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
  • Share a laugh. Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh. And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
  • Knock-knock. Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and get a few rib ticklers in your repertoire that you can share with friends.
  • Know what isn’t funny. Don’t laugh at the expense of others. Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad, or hurtful, one.
 Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

Stickin’ It Tue You: Acupuncture Relieves Stress and Anxiety

At one time or another, all of us experience stress.  These feelings are a healthy response to events in our lives that may feel beyond our control.  When we are healthy and the stress is short-lived, we are usually able to recover without too much wear and tear to our overall health.  However, when the stress is extreme, or if it lasts a long time, our emotional health and ultimately, our physical health begin to suffer.

Our bodies are hardwired to help us react to stressful events.  At the first sign of a threat, whether real or perceived, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and facilitates what is called the “fight or flight” response.  Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our digestion temporarily shuts down, directing blood to our extremities, so that if need be, we can either fight what is threatening us, or turn and run if the threat is too formidable.

Unfortunately, the “fight or flight” response, which worked well in caveman days, does not serve us as well if the “threat” is a demanding boss, nasty co-worker or even a worrisome situation that is not being resolved.  More often than not, the stress in our lives is long-term, and as a result, we find ourselves in a constant state of “fight or flight”, or stress.  Over time, the constant state of stress takes its toll.  Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone elevates, blood pressure increases, and our immune function is suppressed.  Over time, these symptoms become worse and can develop into anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, and tension headaches.

Emotions from a Chinese Medical Perspective

In Chinese medicine, stress, anxiety, depression or any strong emotion interrupts the smooth flow of energy throughout the body.  According to Chinese medical theory, energy flows through our body through a network of “roads”, almost like a highway system.  Stress, anger, or any intense emotion acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy in the body.  For example, many people who are very stressed out complain of upper back, shoulder and neck pain.  This is because stress is causing tension in those areas, blocking the free flow of energy, causing pain, tightness, and often leading to headaches.

In a highway system, when there is road construction or an accident, traffic may be also backed up on other secondary roads that feed into or out of the affected area.  This is true in the body, too.  Stress may affect many other parts of the body, most notably digestion, the ability to sleep, pain conditions, and blood pressure. Stress can also aggravate an already troublesome health condition.

Through acupuncture, theses energy blockages can be addressed. Acupuncture points serve as the on and off ramps to the energy highway, and can help energy flow smoothly, and alleviate not only the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety itself.

From a Western viewpoint, acupuncture works to alleviate stress by releasing natural pain-killing chemicals in the brain, called endorphins.  In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals.  The calming nature of acupuncture also decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes the muscles.

Sources: https://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture+Information/Detail/Acupuncture+for+Stress+and+Anxiety

Get Moving Monday: Move More, Stress Less!

Nothing can beat regular exercise as a stress-busting technique. The result of the ‘fight or fight’ reaction is that our bodies go into a state of high arousal but there is often nowhere for that energy to go, so our bodies can stay in this state for hours at a time. Exercise is the best way to dissipate the excess energy, especially if you have a sedentary job.

It’s a good idea to channel your energy into proper exercise, be it a brisk walk, a run, a bike ride or a game of squash. You don’t need to join a health club— exercise can be as informal as taking the dog for a walk, or dancing at home to your favorite music.

Experts recommend that we exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes, most days of the week. And there are many reasons to do so. Exercise not only improves health and reduces stress, it also relaxes tense muscles and helps you to sleep. It causes the release of chemicals called endorphins into your bloodstream, making you feel relaxed and happy. As such, it can be a helpful tool in fighting depression and anxiety, as well as keeping you trim and reducing your risk of heart conditions and stroke, managing high blood pressure, diabetes and back pain. All in all, fit people are better able to handle the long-term effects of stress without suffering ill health.

Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, aerobics classes or DVDs, and dancing are all great forms of exercise. If you choose something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore. It is also a good idea to vary your activities to avoid boredom. For example, if you normally exercise indoors, try an outdoor activity. Exercise should be fun. It’s difficult to keep going with an exercise program that you don’t enjoy. Exercising with a friend might encourage you to keep it up longer, and try activities that will make you forget you’re exercising, such as roller-skating or flying a kite.

Even the least fit among us usually are able to incorporate some walking into our schedules. An organized walking routine can be a great form of aerobic exercise. It’s free, and strengthens the heart and lungs as well as the legs. It also helps to prevent osteoporosis, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, helps with diabetes, and increases flexibility.

Walking for 30 minutes most days can be an easily achievable target, perhaps walking all or part of the way to work, or a 15 minute burst at lunchtime and another in the evening. As your fitness improves, you could even try alternating with a slow jog. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a choice that will become automatic after a short time.

A low-impact and easily learned activity is Yoga. Yoga has been proven to reduce stress and improves strength, flexibility, coordination, circulation and posture. It may even reduce the frequency of asthma attacks. Yoga is an ancient Indian practice, dating back more than 5000 years. The word yoga means union, and was originally designed to lead to union of the human spirit with nature. However, today many people use it as a technique to link the body and mind in a way that encourages peacefulness and relaxation. It uses stretching postures, breathing, and meditation techniques to calm the mind and tone the body.

There are different types of yoga, but almost of those used in the West are forms of Hatha Yoga. This is a combination of asanas (physical exercises and postures), pranayamas (breathing techniques) and meditation. You can learn about yoga from books and videos, but the best way is through attending a class with an experienced instructor.

Tai Chi, also known as tai chi ch’uan, is a form of martial art will help to reduce stress and improve strength and flexibility. Based in the Chinese Taoist philosophy, it was developed for health, self-defense, and spiritual development. It combines a series of gentle physical movements and breathing techniques, allowing you to experience a meditative state. The idea is that it facilitates the flow of chi (“life energy”) through the body by dissolving blockages both within the body and between the body and the environment. Through concentration, coordinated breathing and slow, graceful body movements, it aims to increase well-being.

It has recently been found that Tai Chi has physiological and psychosocial benefits while promoting balance, control, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness in patients with chronic health conditions. Tai chi is now practiced all over the world and, as with yoga, it’s best to learn from a qualified teacher.

If you find yourself making excuses, write them down and assess each one. Perhaps you say:

  • I don’t have the time/money.
  • I am not the sporty type/no good at exercise.
  • I don’t enjoy exercise.
  • I am too old/tired/overweight/self-conscious.
  • There are no local facilities
  • I can’t be bothered.

Exercise doesn’t have to take place at the gym or on a treadmill. Anyone can exercise even without spending money, leaving the house or having a particular skill. And everyone feels better afterwards. Just remember to warm up and cool down, to avoid injury. Start off slowly, and add more vigorous activity as your body gets used to exercising. It is best to speak with a physician before beginning an exercise routine if you have serious or chronic health issues.

Sources: http://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/basics/using-exercise-to-beat-stress.aspx