Monday, May 27, 2013

Living Well and Healthy, Part 10

The following three methods of relaxation are among the simplest and most effective, offers Healthwise.  They should be done once or twice a day for about 10 to 20 minutes.  Pick a time and place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted.

Belly Breathing.  The object of belly breathing is to develop full use of your lungs and get in touch with the rhythm of your breathing.  It can be practised in any position, but it is best to learn it lying on your back, with your knees bent.

  1. Place your left hand on your abdomen and your right hand on your chest.  Notice how your hands move as you breathe in and out.
  2. Practise filling your lower lungs by breathing so that your left hand goes up when you inhale and your right hand remains still.  Always inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  3. When you have filled and emptied your lower lungs eight to 10 times, add the second step to your breathing: inhale first into your lower lungs as before, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest.  As you do so, your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a little as your abdomen falls.
  4. As you exhale slowly through your mouth, make a quiet, whooshing sound as first your left and then your right hand falls. As you exhale, feel the tension leaving your body as you become more and more relaxed.
  5. Practise breathing in and out in this manner for three to five minutes.  Notice the movement of your abdomen and chest is like rolling waves rising and falling in a rhythmic motion. 
Practise belly breathing daily for several weeks until you can do it almost anywhere, providing you with an instant relaxation tool anytime you need one.

CAUTION: Since some people get dizzy the first few times they try belly breathing, Healthwise advises that you slow your breathing if you begin to hyperventilate or become lightheaded.  Get up slowly.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  The body responds to tense thoughts or situations with muscle tension, which can cause pain or discomfort.  Deep muscle relaxation reduces the muscle tension and mental anxiety.  You can use an audiotape to help you go through all the muscle groups or you can do it by just tensing and relaxing each muscle group.  Deep muscle relaxation is effective in combating stress-related health problems and often helps people get to sleep.

(How to tense muscle groups and relaxation response will be discussed next Monday, June 3, 2013. – J.P.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Living Well and Healthy, Part 9

Recognizing Stress.  Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize or admit that stress is affecting your health.  If you are aware of its effects and take corrective action, you’ll be able to cope with your stress.

Healthwise says the signs of stress are classic.  You may get a headache, stiff neck, backache, rapid breathing, sweaty palms, or an upset stomach.  You may become irritable and intolerant of even minor disturbances.  You may lose your temper more often and yell at your family for no good reason.  Your pulse rate may increase and you may feel jumpy or exhausted all the time.  You may find it hard to concentrate.

When these systems appear, recognize them as signs of stress and find a way to deal with them.  Just knowing why you’re crabby may be the first step in coping with the problem.  It is your attitude toward stress, not the stress itself that affects your health the most.

Managing Stress.  Some people try to relieve stress by smoking, drinking, overeating, or taking pills.  Healthwise suggests a better way:  Learn to control your stress level by avoiding the dangerous side effects of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.  Also, use your body to soothe your mind and use your mind to soothe your body.

Stress and tension affect our emotions and feelings.  By expressing those feelings to others, we able to understand and cope with them.  Talking about a problem with a spouse or a good friend is a valuable way to reduce tension and stress.

Crying can also relieve tension.  It’s a part of our emotional healing process.  Expressing ourselves through writing, crafts, or art may also be a good tension reliever.  Listening to our favorite music can relieve tension as many have experienced.  

Exercise is a natural response to stress; it is the normal reaction to the fight-or-flight urge.  Walking briskly will take advantage of the rapid pulse and tensed muscles caused by stress and release your pent-up energy.  After a long walk, your stress level is usually lower and more manageable.

Relaxation Skills.  Whatever you do to manage stress, you can benefit from the regular use of relaxation skills.  Relaxation is the exact opposite of the fight-or-flight response.

When learning relaxation skills, you must avoid outside distractions.  It may take some practice to become comfortable with these techniques.  Once you have trained your body and mind to relax (two to three weeks), you’ll be able to produce the same relaxed state whenever you want.

(On Monday, 27 May 2013, Part 10 will cover three methods of relaxation. – J.P.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Living Well and Healthy, Part 8

Managing Stress.  Stress is practically unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your health and well-being.  By learning how to deal with stress in ways that make you feel more in control, you may be able to improve your health, your relationship, your job, and your outlook on life.

But what, precisely, is stress?  Author Kemper, of Healthwise Handbook, explains that stress is the physical, mental, and emotional reactions you experience as the result of changes and demands in your life.  It is part and parcel of common life events, both large and small.

Stress comes with all of life’s daily hassles, traffic jams, long lines, petty arguments, and other relatively small irritations.  It also comes with crises and life-changing events, such as illness, marriage problems or divorce, losing a job, or children leaving home.  All these events may force you to adjust, whether you are ready or not.  Unless you can release the tension that comes with stress, it can greatly increase your risks of physical and mental illness.

Because many major life events are beyond your control, take charge of those aspects of your life that you can manage.

Not all stress is bad.  Positive stress (eustress) is a motivator, challenging you to act in creative and resourceful ways.  Negative stress (distress), on the contrary, can overwhelm you when changes and demands set in.

What does stress do to the body? At the first sign of stress, the pituitary and adrenal glands and the nerve endings automatically trigger these physical reactions to stress:
  • Heart rate increases to move blood to the muscles and brain.
  • Blood pressure goes up.
  • Breathing rate increases.
  • Digestion slows down.
  • Perspiration increases.
  • Pupils dilate.
  • You may feel a rush of strength.

Your body is tense, alert, and ready for action.  After the natural “alarm” reaction to a real or perceived threat, our body stays on alert until we feel the danger has passed.  When the stressor is gone, the brain signals an “all clear” sign to the pituitary and adrenal glands.  They stop producing the chemicals that caused the physical reaction, and the body gradually returns to normal.

Problems with stress occur when the brain fails to give the “all clear” signal.  If the alarm state lasts too long, you begin to suffer from the consequences of constant stress which can lead to many health problems.

(Part 9 will explain how to recognize the signs of stress and how to relieve them through different relaxation techniques. – J.P.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Living Well and Healthy, Part 7

Drug ProblemsDrug abuse includes the use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other “street drugs,” and the abuse of legal prescription drugs.  Tranquilizers, sedatives, painkillers, and amphetamines are misused most often, sometimes unintentionally.

Some people turn to drugs as a way to get a “high” or to deal with stress or emotional problems.  When a person develops a physical or psychological need for a drug, he or she becomes dependent on the drug.

Withdrawing from a drug can cause uncomfortable symptoms like muscle aches, diarrhea, or depression. The usual treatment for drug dependence is to reduce the dose of the drug gradually until it can be stopped completely.

Prevention.  Like any medical problem, alcohol and drug dependence can be stopped before it starts.  Here are some preventive measures from Healthwise Handbook:
  • Look for signs of mental stress.  Try to understand and resolve sources of depression, anxiety, or loneliness.  Don’t use alcohol or drugs to deal with these problems. 
  • Educate your children about the effects of alcohol.  Children are less likely to use alcohol or other drugs if their parents teach them early (during the elementary school years) about the effects of alcohol.
  • If you drink, do so in moderation: not more than two drinks a day for men and not more than one drink a day for women.  One drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one ounce of hard liquor.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or use drugs if you are pregnant.
  • Ask your pharmacist or physician if any of your current medications could potentially lead to overuse or dependence.  Be especially cautious of painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and sleeping pills.  Follow the instructions carefully, and do not exceed the recommended dose.
  • Do not suddenly stop taking any medication without your physician’s supervision.
  • Avoid alcohol when you are taking medications.  Alcohol can react with any drugs and cause serious complications. 

(Managing stress, the seventh basic foundation of lifelong health, will be discussed next Monday, May 13, 2013. – J.P.)