Two weeks in paradise will help you to relax and release, but what happens when you get back?
If there is one thing that almost all of my clients, young and old, have in common, it’s stress. There’s no denying that we live in a stressful world. From daily time pressures, to the stress of a toxic environment, it can sometimes seem like we’re swimming in an ocean of stress and gasping for air. Along with the more obvious stressors, emotional stress (stress from the difficulties of our lives) often goes unnoticed, and can sit at the root of many health issues.
The sad truth is that stress is probably the most significant contributor to disease and it’s the most difficult to treat. The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, psychological and stress-related disorders will be the second leading cause of disabilities in the world. It’s fascinating to me that something that can be perceived in our minds can have that kind of effect on our physiology. However, if we look at the science, it makes perfect sense. Stress, real or perceived, acute or chronic, affects your health. It changes hormonal pathways and the way neurotransmitters relay information. If these disruptions remain ongoing, there are serious implications for your body. The good news is, it’s never too late to do something about it.
In both acute and chronic stress, the power of the mind-body connection is clear. What we perceive as a stressful or dangerous situation (whether it truly is dangerous or not) has implications in the body. For example, if you’re standing in the street and you think you hear a car coming, your body physically prepares you to move out of the way, even if the sound is something else entirely. Likewise, our past emotional experiences can color the way we see current situations. If your father had a volatile temper that scared you as a child, you will likely feel scared as an adult when a boss, a husband, or some other male authority figure gets angry, even when that anger isn’t directed at you. So the stress we feel as children can repeat itself and have a lasting effect on how we think and experience life as adults.
There is no doubt that chronic stress affects many systems in the body. To list just a few: We now know that psychological stress disrupts blood sugar metabolism and can lead to diabetes. Chronic stress also affects the immune system, increasing our risks for autoimmune-regulated disorders like allergies, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism. Studies done in 2006 revealed increased cardiovascular disease with ongoing stress. Being under stress can also influence our perception of pain, sometimes dulling it and sometimes heightening it (again, much of the way we perceive both stress and pain depends on our histories), as well as altering our neurotransmitters, often reorganizing the way we think and sometimes leading to anxiety disorders and depression. On top of everything else, stress can age our individual cells, making it more likely for us to suffer from age-related diseases earlier.
So you can see there’s so much more benefit to be gained with stress prevention and relief than simply feeling better in our heads. With the pandemic levels of stress in this world, researchers don’t have far to look for test subjects!
Women and stress: Is stress in our nature?
As women, many of us have a maternal nurturing response that often puts us in positions where we are trying to care for everyone but ourselves. And some scientists believe this instinct strengthens during times of stress. The reasoning behind this theory stems from women’s evolutionary instincts to protect themselves and their offspring during threatening situations. Forming groups and social networks — known as the “tend and befriend” instinct — proved beneficial to survival of the species in counterbalancing the acute “fight or flight” response.
Modern society doesn’t do us any favors by adding an increasing amount of responsibilities to a woman’s role. We worked so hard to be “liberated,” but the reality for many women is that now we’re just expected to do everything! We simply can’t do it all. I have learned first-hand that taking care of myself was essential before I could help anyone else. We have to learn to set up boundaries for the sake of our own health and learn the benefits of simply saying no.
Explore all your options for stress management with the Stanford Method approach:
From my own experience and that of my clients, I’ve learned that untying the knots at the root of chronic stress offers us long-lasting physical and psychological benefits. But understand that this is a highly individualized process. To truly get at the root of what is stressing you out takes a lot of self-exploration and soul-searching. And I can tell you, no two people have the same experience in resolving stress.
Here are some basic measures you can adopt as you begin on your path to stress reduction:
- Start with quality nutrition. Caring for your body by eating three balanced meals and two quality snacks each day is one basic way to lessen the stress burden on your body. Cortisol is released when your blood sugar is low, so it’s best to keep your body well fueled with colorful fruits and vegetables, good sources of protein, and high-quality fats.
- Incorporate a relaxation practice into your daily life. Guided meditation is a wonderful mind–body method for reducing stress and tonifying the nervous system. Don’t ever feel guilty about scheduling time in for relaxation — it’s fundamental to balance, whether that’s in your stress hormones or your life as a whole!
About your health — every little bit helps
Taking steps today to reduce stress in your life has implications even greater than finding happiness and peace — it means you are preventing disease and preserving your health and longevity. With the incidence of stress-related illness and lost years of lives increasing every decade, we absolutely have to take stress seriously. Stress is a reality in our lives, but we don’t have to let it overpower us or prevent us from being our best selves.
I know from experience that taking time and energy to resolve or lessen the stress in your life isn’t easy. But if you do the work, I promise you will regain your sense of perspective and recover your health and wellness. As noted lecturer and author Dr. Joan Borysenko says, “We can’t find the light in our lives until we’ve gone back through the darkness….” I encourage you to find that inner light.
Our worlds move much too fast. Sometimes as we’re darting around at the speed of light, something unexpected happens to slow us down.
Living through this latest “slow down” has motivated me to search for meaning in this unfortunate situation. So, when my electricity was restored this past weekend, I had to ask myself what gifts this experience had given me. Here’s what I came up with:
1. I read for pleasure. I have a pile of interesting magazine articles that I’ve saved and haven’t had time to really absorb. So when downtime came, unexpectedly, I used the time to read some of those articles that have been piled up for months. It was a great way for me to reconnect with some of the things that really fill my soul.
2. I walked more. My husband and I came up with this idea to conserve gas so we did some errands around town on foot. (For the most part, Long Islanders do not walk except for exercise).
The weather was brisk but the fresh air seemed invigorating. Aside from enjoying the outdoors, we got a chance to talk to neighbors and storekeepers and even to each other.
3. I listened to other people’s stories. On the days when I was feeling particularly discouraged, I recognized that supporting others has always been the best way to pull me out of my own despair.
When an acquaintance started to talk about some of the cherished belongings that she had lost, I noticed others turning away. Hers was a very painful story to listen to.
I couldn’t do anything tangible to change what had happened to her. I do know, however, that giving her my full attention in her time of need has taken our friendship to a new level.
4. I meditated. My personal meditation practice is something that helps me to stay grounded and balanced in good times and in the most trying times. It helped me during the aftermath of the hurricane to recognize that any discomforts that I was experiencing were only temporary.
Meditation helped me to feel compassion for those whose lives were seriously disrupted by the storm and to remain at peace in spite of what was going on around me.
My hope is that you and your loved ones are well!
It seems like someone asks me a similar question about women over forty at least once a week. The answer to this question is complicated.
New research out of Monash University in Australia demonstrates that as we age key appetite control cells in the human brain degenerate, causing increased hunger!
According to Dr. Zane Andrews, a neuroendocrinologist at Monash University:
“People in the age group of 25 to 50 are most at risk. The neurons that tell people in the crucial age range not to over-eat are being killed-off. When the stomach is empty, it triggers a hormone… that notifies the brain that we are hungry. When we are full, a set of neurons… kick in.
However, free radicals created naturally in the body attack the… neurons. This process causes these neurons to degenerate over time, affecting our judgment as to when our hunger is satisfied.”
When older women and men report that they are always feeling hungry, in this respect, this research backs up their claim. When someone over the age of forty gains weight because of habitual overeating, it may well be that the critical mechanism that tells us not to eat when we are full is, in fact, degenerating.
Of course, it’s pretty near impossible to lose weight when your brain fails to tell you that you’re full. Is it any wonder that we have the capacity to eat as much as we do?
So, are all women over forty forever relegated to shopping in the plus size department?
There are so many factors in our modern society make it harder and harder to lose weight after forty. We all know if we are honest with ourselves, that the only way to get to a healthy weight is to eat moderately, eat healthfully and to find the time to exercise consistently. This is all easier said than done- especially if you’re busy, tired and HUNGRY!
What can we do?
The Stanford Method of weight loss helps to adjust the pathways in your brain so that you can feel satisfied with adequate portions of healthy food. Although we can’t restore degenerating neurons, we can help you to choose the right foods, to eat reasonable portions, to follow your plan, to get moving and to stay motivated!
So while you may have all kinds of things going on in your brain that make it harder to lose weight, our method works with your brain to neutralize this effect. I’m glad to say that my answer is a positive one. Yes, women over forty can lose weight and they can do it without feeling constantly hungry or distressed.
Someone sent this to me yesterday and I thought that it was great!
We often think of successful people as “lucky” and we forget that their path may not have been clear cut. What they may have in common is a strong desire, a strong determination and a powerful vision.
Have you ever felt really good about reaching a milestone in your life but when one person downplays your accomplishment, all you can think about is that one comment? If lack of self-confidence has surfaced too often in your life, find out how learning meditation can transform your negative fixation and help you find a new sense of inner self-esteem.
Several years ago, the Dalai Lama met with a group of Western psychotherapists and asked them to name the most common issue that their patients reported. It didn’t take long to get unanimous response: a lack of self-confidence.
On another occasion, when the Dalai Lama was asked what the first thing he thought of when he awoke in the morning, he replied, “motivation.” He said that everyone, including himself, had to be vigilant so that each day our minds were focused in the right direction. For the Dalai Lama focusing his motivation each morning reminds him to extend loving kindness and compassion to all others. He described focusing in meditation on the kind of motivation that takes you beyond yourself so that you are not limited by a lack of confidence or self-esteem.
You might be asking yourself a question right about now. How can this apply to me? I have asked myself that very question many times. I am not a Buddhist and have never been comfortable with many aspects of Eastern meditation. I didn’t start meditating as a child and I certainly don’t have a lot of time to just “empty my mind”.
The good news is that even for skeptical Westerners, there are ways to customize a meditation practice so that it’s revitalizing and enjoyable. At the same time, there are, also, very specific ways meditation can help us to transform a lack of self-esteem into a healthy, balanced inner confidence.
First, meditation enables you to get to really get to know yourself and to be at peace with who you really are. After meditating for a few weeks, you’ll find that your doubts, insecurities or fears are really only superficial, as you begin to connect with a deeper place of trust, dignity and self-worth. You can also begin to connect to a deeper sense of your own unique mission.
The second benefit is that meditation awakens you to an inter-connectedness with everyone on the planet, the sense that you are not alone here. Rather, you are a part of this wondrous planet, and the more that you are able to extend yourself with kindness; the less you will be focused on your own limitations. Discovering this inter-connectedness takes you from a place of self-centeredness to other-centeredness and will build self-confidence.
Old ideas that you do not deserve to be happy, or that you are just not good enough— seem to dissolve with a dedicated meditation practice. Working to build self-confidence by learning meditation is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself and every aspect of your life will improve dramatically.
- Carve out twenty minutes to meditate. Taking a time out for yourself not only helps manage stress but will ward off burnout and empower you to more easily accomplish the tasks of the day. (If you don’t know how, download our free MP3, “Guided Meditation“.)
- Focus on the present and be content with where you are right now. That means that you’ll need to stop the “I’ll be happy when…” thinking. Instead, find simple pleasures that you can plug into your day today. Even the busiest among us can play some stirring music; read something inspirational or find an excuse to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.
- Don’t talk exclusively about your issues. So, that means no conversations that are exclusively about how you need to lose weight, stop smoking or overcome that phobia. (We might think that we’ll feel better if we tell others that we have issues. The truth is, talking about your ‘problems’ to your friends, may just make you feel worse. Instead, find a way to work systematically toward your goals and instead let observant friends take notice of how well you’re doing.)
- Challenge your negative thoughts. Make an effort not to allow pessimism to distort your thinking and to keep you stuck in an unhappy state of mind. Remember that empowering thoughts are catalysts for helping us to move our lives forward.
- Splurge on buying some fresh, healthy food. Do not obsess over the price of raspberries and then spend money lavishly on a sugary concoction. (Buying the raspberries, or any other healthy splurge, is a signal to your subconscious that you are committed to taking care of yourself.)
- Don’t be afraid to enlist help when you need it! Use a personal trainer, a success coach and maybe even the power of a group to help you accomplish your goals in a supportive, encouraging environment.
- Support Women-Owned Businesses. Today, women-owned firms have an economic impact of $3 trillion annually that translates into the creation and/or maintenance of more than 23 million jobs – an amazing 16 percent of all jobs in the U.S.!
I recently ran into an old friend who wanted to tell me all about her latest diet. She was very sure that she would be able to take off sixty pounds in three months by just eating a lot less and exercising a lot more. I have known this woman for many years and if I remember correctly, she has said something similar to me every January. This encounter made me think about my own struggle to maintain weight loss.
My friend, like many of us, wants to believe that there is a quick fix to losing weight permanently. I get it. For years, I fantasized about the one fad diet, the tea, or the pill that would be the answer for me.
There are plenty of ways to lose weight. Eating less and exercising do work- at least temporarily. But what about the process of keeping the weight off? Too often people bounce around from one diet to another as their weight keeps creeping up in their quest for that perfect solution.
Losing weight and then gaining weight again can become a ritualistic, compulsive cycle. Charlie Whitfield, an addictions specialist, coined this phenomenon the “repetition cycle.” Anxiety and depression mount, followed by the urge to eat, leading to self-indulgence, and ending with symptoms of guilt. Then the ugly cycle of self-abuse repeats. And so it is, that those who follow this addictive quest to lose weight may actually end up sabotaging their own goals and gaining weight.
Without exploring the issues that are contributing to our weight problems, most people are doomed to repeat this pattern of self-defeating behavior- going on one diet after another.
The truth is, real change only occurs when we can learn to respect and value who we are with our imperfections and our past programming.
Unhealthy eaters are typically overwhelmed by self-blame. They will label themselves as “fat” (whether they are or not) and will chastise themselves for being out of control. This negative self-talk is certainly not an effective way of motivating yourself to change. In fact, this kind of browbeating only intensifies the cycle of unhealthy eating patterns.
Because of its great value in dealing with an individual’s rational and irrational thinking, distortions, and beliefs, guided meditation is one of the most effective therapeutic treatments for those wanting to break this cycle. This process assists people in responding with positive, empowering self-affirmations to their distorted thinking about eating and body perception. Whatever our past programming happens to be, it can be changed and healthy eating patterns, fitness and even permanent weight loss ultimately can be the result.
Do you know how to enjoy the holiday season? Despite what the movies may depict, happiness doesn’t appear agically because it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”. Oddly enough, the opposite is true. Happiness and enjoyment is something that we can learn to cultivate- especially during this season.
What does science tells us?
Only 10 percent or so of the variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances. The bulk of what determines happiness is your personality and — more modifiable — your thoughts and behaviors. So, yes, you can learn how to be happy — or at least happier.
People who are happy seem to intuitively know this, and their lives are built on the following pillars:
Devoting time to family and friends
Appreciating what they have
Maintaining an optimistic outlook
Feeling a sense of purpose
Living in the moment (One of our biggest goals in teaching guided mindfulness meditation)
How to be happy: Practice, practice, practice
The good news is that your choices, thoughts and actions can influence your level of happiness. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch, but you can turn up your happiness level. Here’s how to get started using some mind control techniques.
1. Invest in positive relationships
Surround yourself as much as possible with upbeat people. Being around people who are content buoys your own mood. And by being happy yourself, you give something back to those around you.
Your family members might be negative and opinionated, so maybe it’s time to schedule time with friends who are not. Let people know that you appreciate having them in your life.
2. Express gratitude more often than one day a year
Gratitude is more than saying thank you. It’s a sense of wonder, appreciation and, yes, thankfulness for life. It’s easy to go through life without recognizing your good fortune. Often, it takes a serious illness or other tragic event to jolt people into appreciating the good things in their lives. Don’t wait for something like that to happen to you.
Make a commitment to practice gratitude. Each day identify three or four things that enrich your life. When you find yourself thinking an ungrateful thought, try substituting a grateful one. For example, replace “My sister didn’t call me” with “My sister has always been there for me. I can call her.” Let gratitude be the last thought before you go off to sleep at night and let it be your first thought in the morning.
These are really stressful times. Whether you’re concerned about changing unhealthy habits, concerned about a work situation, suffering from stress overload or just plain worried about the future, you might be weighing various options. There are three important fundamentals to consider as you do.
In order to change, we need to:
1. Acknowledge where we are (recognizing our current situation, habits or unproductive thinking).
2. We need to acknowledge that these things are just patterns, which can be changed, and not character traits fixed in stone.
3. We need practice what we would rather be doing instead. With meditation, we practice being present and experiencing a peaceful and empowered state of mind.
As Thomas Sterner writes in his book The Practicing Mind: “With deliberate and repeated effort progress is inevitable.”
So, how can practicing guided mindfulness meditation shift your perspective on what you are doing?
One of the reasons that I have moved away from hypnotherapy is that as a hypnosis practitioner, I was trained to focus on results and rewards that are “out there” somewhere in the future. The focus is that when clients get “there” or “achieve that,” then they’ll be happy. Unfortunately, this just is not true.
After twenty years of practicing hypnotherapy, I’ve learned that if and when we get “there,” we simply project some other idea out in front of us and chase after that. Following this pattern, happiness becomes very elusive.
Obsessive focus on future results also takes us out of present enjoyment and impedes the progress of actually getting what we desire because we hold onto an ideal of what “should” be happening. We get frustrated and stressed because we hold onto ideas of how fast and exactly how we should be progressing. Internal dialogue on the order of, “I should have lost ten pounds by now” is a recipe for self-doubt and poor results.
Instead, a mindset that will reduces stress and frustration while actually improving your state of mind is essential for real progress to be made. This is what we teach with Guided Mindfulness Meditation.
What is the result of this kind of meditation practice?
Meditating helps by slowing things down in your mind (stopping the mental chatter that is often disempowering). The result is that practitioners begin to trust themselves again and move into a place of empowerment.
This does not mean that we forget about results. Results are in the background and they are invisibly guiding the process. However, the focus really changes. Our clients are able to focus on the quality of what they are actually doing in the present instead of on some idea of how it should be going. This instantly relieves stress and frustration while keeping them in that positive, empowered state of mind.
Working with guided mindfulness meditation, we can calmly step back and observe if what we are doing is moving us in the right direction. We can learn to easily make adjustments if they’re needed. We can learn to observe what works and what doesn’t, for us individually. We learn how to do this, as objectively as possible, without self-criticism. We can learn how to adjust our present actions easily and to move past old habits and negative thinking patterns in a comfortable, relaxing way and make great strides.