If the ultimate goal for a meaningful life is to achieve peace and harmony, then the principle obstacle to this outcome is stress. Stress is the antithesis of happiness, and stress is ubiquitous in this crazy world we have created. I often pose a question to my audiences at presentations around the globe. I ask “who amongst you can say, in all honesty that they do not feel anxiety on a regular basis that they would rather not feel?”. It does not matter where in the world that question is posed, the response is still the same. There is only ever one or two hands in one hundred raised and even then there is a lingering suspicion that the hand raisers may be self deluded. I believe that if I had posed that question in 1900, when there were many more life threatening, stress generating scenarios, there would have been a much more positive response. Perhaps a combination of capitalism, consumerism and celebrity worship and the associated loss of community, continuity and self confidence, have served to trigger this constant angst but, whatever the reason, the outcome is disastrous.
Stress is linked to every illness. The dynamic new science of psycho-neuro-immunology is quantifying the health-compromising nature of negative emotions. At this point the most destructive of human emotions appears to be guilt. The catholics got it right. Three “Hail Marys” and your guilt is absolved (although their “hell and brimstone” vision of a vengeful God may have actually generated some of that guilt). The second most destructive emotion is bitterness. In fact, there appears to be a strong correlation between this inability to forgive, and the plague disease, cancer. In the first half of this article I will highlight a number of physical, stress busting strategies. In the second half of this feature I will delineate an even more potent group of emotion management tools that may serve to help more of us come a little closer to achieving the elusive state of happiness.
The Stress Minerals
Nutrition must be included at the top of the list because it has a major role to play in the physical generation of relaxation. The two largest mineral deficiencies in the developed world are magnesium and zinc and they are huge players in the vicious cycle that can underlie anxiety. Magnesium deficiency is of particular relevance here. Every physiological and metabolic change that kicks in during the “fight or flight response” is magnesium-driven. The flight or fight response was originally about stepping out of your cave to find your path barred by a Sabre Toothed Tiger. Multiple changes kicked in to allow you to fight (which was rarely successful) or to run like hell! Dramatic, life-threatening events like this only happened very occasionally, but now we live in a stress-laden world and our bodies have not kept up with the change in circumstances. Anxiety sucks magnesium and the less magnesium you have the more stressed you feel and the more magnesium you deplete. In most of us, this downward spiral should be urgently addressed with magnesium supplementation.
Zinc is strongly linked to mental health and your likelihood of feeling anxious, depressed or psychologically disorientated increases in line with your zinc deficiency. Over three quarters of us are deficient in both of these minerals and would greatly benefit by addressing these deficiencies. 25 mg per day of amino chelated zinc, taken just before bed, will take care of the zinc shortage. Although, this may involve long term zinc supplementation if you like your cereal grains. The phytic acid found in all cereal grains forms an insoluble zinc phytate which is excreted. The body has a small zinc storehouse so daily depletion via cereal intake must be addressed each day. The reason zinc is best taken before bed is about sidestepping the cereals and the ongoing, phytic acid-based depletion. Depending upon the level of your magnesium depletion, it can sometimes be hard to correct the deficiency with oral supplementation as the gut lining struggles to uptake magnesium in the seriously deficient. There is an exciting new way to rapidly correct magnesium that doesn’t involve painful needles or intravenous application. This magnesium delivery system bypasses potential issues with gut uptake and the magnesium is absorbed directly through the skin. Researchers claim that transdermal magnesium supplementation is ten times more efficient than oral supplementation, as the mineral passes directly through the skin and into the blood. MagSorb™ from NTS Health is derived from an ancient, pristine, sea bed deposit of magnesium chloride in Holland. This “magnesium oil” (it is not an actual oil but has an oily texture) can be sprayed directly on to the skin or it can be applied to a footbath or bath. MagSorb™ has rapidly become the largest selling product in the NTS Health range because it is so effective in delivering magnesium.
The Stress Vitamins
The nutrition emphasis continues with the second stress-busting strategy but this time it involves vitamins rather than minerals. Just as a lack of magnesium precipitates stress and stress depletes magnesium, the same applies to a vitamin duo from the family of B group vitamins. Vitamins B5 and B6 are often referred to as “the stress vitamins”, as they are depleted during periods of stress and, in turn, their absence can generate more stress. The cliché, “stress kills”, applies a little differently in the context of B5 and B6 depletion. One of the many “gifts” bestowed by the one hundred trillion gut organisms that should inhabit a healthy digestive tract, is a supplementary supply of B5 and B6. These vitamins form part of a package delivered by these organisms to support their host (you!) but, in this case, it is not solely a “give and you will receive” deal. The beneficial gut organisms like to draw upon their B5 and B6 exudates from time to time.
In this stress-filled world our bodies are constantly drawing upon this supplementary, biological supply of these two vitamins and in the process there is often very little remaining for those who provided the original gift. In the absence of B5 and B6 the gut organisms die. Stress is a major cause of dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut organisms) with a whole range of potential outcomes for those lacking this critical life within. Most of us would benefit from supplementing with B5 and B6. The secret here is that you need to have the other B vitamins present as a support team of synergists to ensure the performance of all of the B vitamin team, including B5 and B6. Unfortunately, this involves popping three pills a day (B5, B6 and a B group complex). The other tip here relates to dose rates. Some B group supplements offer little more than a fizzy drink, their B vitamins are so low. 100 mg per day of both vitamins is a good therapeutic rate along with a complete B group. The popular NTS probiotic, Bio-Bubble™ is a great natural source of B vitamins as it is made from lacto-fermented whole grains and legumes, which are a particularly rich source of these vitamins. The billions of beneficial organisms in Bio-Bubble™ also contribute the B5 and B6 exudates and they continue to deliver these nutrients once colonised in your digestive tract.
Sleep Shortage and Stress
Insomnia is a plague condition affecting tens of millions around the globe. The likelihood of destructive stress is greatly increased if you are not getting sufficient sleep. Research has quantified the fact that we all need 7 – 9 hours sleep each night and the less we get the shorter our lives. Sleep is when our bodies rebuild and regenerate and this includes production of the adrenal hormones that are required to help us manage stress. Adrenal exhaustion is one potential outcome of sleeplessness. Proven sleep-improving strategies include:
Ensuring you are asleep during the peak regenerative hours between 10 pm and 2 am. Even if this requires herbal sleep aids like valerian, chamomile, hops or passionflower (which are usually only effective for 4 hours) it is critical to make the most of the rebuilding action that happens at this time.
Making sure that your room is in complete darkness with blackout curtains and no light from clock radios, stereos, TVs, fire alarms, burglar alarms and other electronic devices. The pineal gland, which produces both melatonin and the feel-good hormone, serotonin, does not operate in the presence of artificial light. A consequent shortage of the sleep-inducing antioxidant, melatonin, can fuel ongoing insomnia. Similarly, you are more likely to experience endless hours of sleepless anxiety when your serotonin levels have not been replenished. Melatonin is a powerhouse anti-oxidant with tremendous implications for cancer prevention. A new body of research is highlighting the protective capacity of the sleep hormone.
Apply Feng Shui principles to create a happy bedroom for maximum relaxation potential. Take out the computer, mobile phone, television and fridge. The bedroom is a place for lovemaking, sleep and regeneration. Remove the clutter beside, under and over the bed. Make sure that your bed end is not facing a door (the death position). Ensure that your head and shoulders are not visible in the bedroom mirror. Put dirty clothes in a laundry basket and clean the corners.
Practice 4-7-7 breathing if you are struggling to relax and sleep. This Tibetan breathing ritual is simple and highly effective, particularly if you suffer from Type 2 insomnia where you have no problem falling to sleep but wake in the early hours and battle to return to sleep. 4-7-7 breathing involves a inhaling through the nose for 4 seconds, holding that deep breath for 7 seconds, then exhaling through the mouth with your lips pursed and tongue tucked behind your two front teeth. The exhaled breath should also take 7 seconds. Practice this routine in groups of seven. It might take a series of seven, fourteen or twenty one to get those eyelids drooping but it usually works.
Eat a high protein snack three hours before bedtime. The aim here is to provide the amino acid, l-tryptophan, which is the building block of melatonin and serotonin. Turkey contains very high levels of tryptophan and it is a good trick to combine a few berries with your slice of turkey as this fruit assists tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Practice a relaxation ritual at bed time which might include, chamomile tea, music, aromatherapy (lavender oil is excellent), warm milk, massage and/or sex. Avoid stimulants like coffee, alcohol and spicy foods in the evening. Excess alcohol may help you fall asleep but you will not benefit from the deeper stages of REM sleep where the major regeneration occurs.
Stress Busting Workouts
Physical exercise is a major stress reducing tool. In a recent study, 30 minutes of walking each morning outperformed three popular anti-depressant drugs. The most productive exercise regime involves a combination of four practices - stretching, resistance exercise, aerobic exercise and interval training (called Peak 8). This might involve investing around 4 hours a week but the pay-back is impressive. The Tibetan 5 rites is a ten-minute, morning routine that has been linked to the remarkable health and longevity of the monks in that region. You can source details on the net but the concept essentially involves 21 repetitions of five specific exercises. This is a great start to the day as it combines stretching and resistance exercise and it offers the perfect prelude to some aerobics or interval training. A weekly aerobic routine can involve four, forty minute sessions of swimming, playing tennis, walking briskly or jogging. This will work half of the muscle tissue in your heart and also promote a pronounced relaxation response. The other half of the heart muscle is worked with interval training.
The Peak 8 exercise regime was developed by sports scientists working with Olympic sprinters. It involves just three sessions of twenty minutes each week and, in this case, more is not better. This type of interval training floods the body with Human Growth Hormone, which is a much-researched key to both stress reduction and longevity. Each 20-minute session involves an initial two minutes of walking or riding, followed by 30 seconds of intense activity until you are breathless. There is a 90 second recovery period after each energy burst. Eight times you push yourself to the limit on your treadmill, exercise bike or out in the park, proceeded by a 90 second recovery period after each 30 second burst. The eight bouts of breathlessness followed by 8 x 90 second recovery periods takes a further 16 minutes. Another two minutes of warm down (walking or cycling) completes the 20-minute workout. Human Growth Hormone hunts down fat cells like a heat-seeking missile and the associated loss of the love handles can also reduce anxiety and improve self confidence.
The Meditation Miracle
Meditation is practiced by hundreds of millions of people each day and it is one of the most researched of all stress reducing tools. 50 thousand thoughts flood our brain each day and many of these are negative stress producers. Meditation is about slowing the flow and creating a regenerative stillness. There is a primary focus upon the breath when meditating as the brain struggles to maintain the constant chatter during conscious deep breathing. There is a profound difference in the physiological response associated with shallow vs deep breathing. It is all about chest breathing in comparison to abdominal breathing and if you are a chest breather it is worth considering making a change. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach and breathe normally. If the upper hand shows more movement than the lower you need to change your habit.
In abdominal breathing the contraction of the diaphragm causes the abdomen to expand creating negative pressure in the chest which forces air into the lungs. Blood and lymph flow is increased improving both disease resistance and athletic ability. Most importantly, in our stress laden society, this form of breathing stimulates the relaxation response. Qi Gong is an increasingly popular combination of meditation and yoga that originated in China. It has helped millions achieve a level of peace amidst the pollution and overcrowding in some of the larger Asian cities. The increased flexibility associated with this practice is of major benefit to an aging Western population as is the sense of harmony following a Qi Gong session.
Plant Power for Stress Relief
Aromatherapy reduces stress very effectively. Essential Oils capture the essence of plant energy and they can be amazingly potent. However, there is some controversy regarding the best method of application. Oil burners, which have been widely used for years, are now considered to destroy some of the benefits of the oil and they create free radicals associated with the oxidants that are a byproduct of burning. It is a much better option to use oil diffusers or to add the oils to baths, foot baths or, in small amounts, directly to the skin. Lavender is probably the Queen of aromatherapy stress busters but other options include geranium, frankincense, bergamot, cypress, jasmine, juniper, basil and ylang ylang. Here is a great relaxation blend that can be combined with 150 mL of a vegetable-based carrier oil like sweet almond oil, wheatgerm oil or even avocado oil. The recipe includes:
- Lavender (5 drops)
- Geranium (20 drops)
- Bergamot (10 drops)
- Patchouli (5 drops)
- Ylang ylang (10 drops)
Relaxation techniques are simple exercises that can force the relaxation response onto even the most resistant stress monkey. The most popular of these involves practicing progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups. This gradually helps to identify what tension and relaxation actually feel like in different parts of the body. This practice can then provide an early warning system that can help you counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that so often accompanies stress. The mind tends to relax in accord with the body, but you can fast track this process by combining deep breathing and progressive muscle relation. This technique typically involves moving upward from the feet to the face. You usually deep breathe for a couple of minutes before focusing on the right foot. Slowly tense the muscles in this foot and hold for ten seconds. When the muscles are released there is an obvious outflow of tension. Now move your attention to the left foot and repeat the process. Move slowly up through your body contracting and releasing each muscle group. A standard progression involves feet to calves to thighs always moving from the right to the left. Then progress to the hips the buttocks, the chest the back, the right arm and hand, the left arm and hand, the neck and shoulders and finally the face.
Stress affects everything negatively and it is a major root cause of degenerative illness. From digestion to heart health, from endocrine balance to mental wellness, stress rears it’s ugly head and reduces our potential for peace and happiness. In the first half of this article I have focused upon physical changes that will increase your likelihood of relaxation and harmony. In the second half of the article, the focus will be upon emotions and spirit in the quest for elusive peace of mind.
Ten Tips To Stamp Out The Stressors
In the first part of this article I considered a range of physical tools to reduce stress. In this second part, the focus will be upon the emotional, philosophical and spiritual links to stress reduction. So often, our anxiety levels run parallel with how we view the world and that world view can be changed if it is not delivering the peace and happiness that is our common goal. Scrutinisation and adjustment of beliefs and associated emotions can be the most powerful of all tools in the quest for harmony. Here are some ideas to consider:
Expectations make you absurdly vulnerable because you are no longer in control of your own happiness. When you lose your rightful role as the helmsman of your own destiny, you are almost preordained to fail. Hence, we see the pitiful state of the institution of marriage. 40% of first marriages fail, 60% come to grief during their second shot at marital bliss and one would hope that we have learnt our lessons and it will be third time lucky. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as 80% of third marriages end in divorce. For many of us, marriage involves the search for a soul mate, that perfect person who will make us happy. There are more expectations in this most important of human relationships than in any other. Everything from the wedding vows to the fairy tales, from the soapies to the soft porn phenomenon, “50 Shades of Grey”, reflects the inherent belief that someone else can make us happy. When that person doesn't shape up to the fantasy, the wheels fall off. There is, of course, only one person who can make you happy and that is you! Abandoning expectations involves removing the words “should” and “shouldn't” from your vocabulary. Disappointment and bitterness spring from thoughts like “my partner should be more attentive, or less work obsessed” or “my friend should contact me more often”.
The removal of these two words also applies to yourself. Guilt is the most destructive of human emotions and personal expectation can so easily generate guilt. Repeated thoughts like “I should be more considerate or sensitive” or “I shouldn’t think like that” can actually increase your likelihood of illness as guilt has been so closely related to degenerative disease. Drop the “should” and the “shouldn’ts” and you become free. You have effectively reclaimed control of your own health and happiness.
There is no accident that “The Lord’s Prayer” includes the suggestion that “thou shalt forgive those that trespass against you” but, contrary to many beliefs, this dictate is not designed to release the trespasser, it is actually all about you. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. Very often the object of your grudge is not particularly concerned about your ongoing bitterness, it is you who will pay the price when you pollute each new day with yesterday. Aside from the potential problems associated with an emotion (bitterness) that is closely linked to cancer, there is another reason to practice forgiveness. This is a fundamental act of love and love breeds love.
Gratitude is a law of the universe and when we abide by universal laws it is always a two way street. Think for a moment about all of your friends and acquaintances. Do you know any happy people who are not grateful? The saying of “grace” at mealtimes is an increasingly rare example of thankfulness. Grace is gratitude to the people who produced our food, the soils that delivered up their bounty, and for the fact that we are lucky enough to be able to afford that food and consume it amongst friends and loved ones. During my recent visit to South Africa, families and friends often held hands during this ritual and I developed a deeper understanding of why it is called “grace”.
See the Beauty
The concept here is to try to look for the beauty in everything and everyone. The fast tracked, multi-tasking, workaholic world in which many of us reside is not necessarily conducive to appreciation and we can miss out on a large part of life during the living. If you have lost the ability to truly appreciate the wonder of nature, for example, then you have forsaken the major connection to the sense of “oneness” and stillness that are integral components of a feeling of peace. There is beauty in everyone and if we focus upon positive attributes, rather than the negative, we tend to see more and more positive things. When we truly practice this approach we can even begin to see the beauty in ourselves and this is an essential step toward achieving happiness and the love that is at its core. We cannot really love another unless we love ourselves and many of us have negative self images that constantly compromise our capacity to give love and be loved. The English master poet, John Keats, expressed the ultimate importance of seeing the beauty when he stated, “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty – that’s all you know on Earth and all you need to know”.
Drop the Blame Game
Life is an energy system. Your payback is closely linked to your investment. If your life is stagnant then you need to consider your own input. There is absolutely no point in blaming anyone but yourself. You are the architect of your own delight or demise. Stop being the victim! If nothing good is happening in your life it is your fault.
Create Purpose in your Life
If you accept the fact that we are here to learn lessons and the world is our teacher, then you will understand that if we fail to learn those lessons we will repeat them until we do. If this philosophy is foreign to you, then an analysis of varying outcomes might serve to illustrate the benefits of adopting a sense of purpose. The fascinating thing here is that skeptics can fake it and it will still work for them. You just act as if life has a purpose and it will have. It’s a little like Bettina Arndt’s advice to women with lost libido. She suggests that you act as if you enjoy sex and you just might, once you get started.
In a great little book called, “Follow Your Heart”, Andrew Mathews summarises the “purpose” story as follows; if we use happiness as a yardstick, then which of the following beliefs will have the best outcome; a) My life is a series of lessons I need unfolding in perfect order, b) Life is a lottery but I make the most of whatever comes along or c) Why do bad things always happen to me? The fact is that maximum peace of mind will come from option A while maximum misery and frustration is linked to option C. Which would you prefer? Once again, you do not have to believe. Just act as if every event has a purpose and your life will have purpose!
Learn to Think Positively
This is really about creating your own reality. It is not a new idea. It has constantly resurfaced in different guises from Dale Carnegie to “The Secret”. American automobile pioneer, Henry Ford, probably said it best many decades ago when he stated; “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right!”. The easiest way to evaluate the relative merits of negative v’s positive thinking is to think about those you know. Have you ever met a happy person who thinks negatively? In this context, it is a bit of a no-brainer. If happiness is the holy grail, then negative thinking has no place in your life. The question that remains relates to changing negative patterns. The key to change is to determine which conscious thoughts have become part of your subconscious “program”. Make that program positive and it is inevitable that your life will be more positive. This involves shining a light on your flurry of thoughts and consciously analysing their role in your life. Unexamined thoughts reduce your potential for peace. Faulty beliefs are those that keep you poor and miserable. Identify them and dump them and you are free! You can change your life but it takes disciplined thinking involving a period of three to six months. You can’t think positively for a day and then give up in dismay at the lack of change.
Acceptance works much more effectively than resistance in terms of achieving a happy, stress-free life. J. Krishnamurti was a brilliant, life changing philosopher followed by legions of followers whenever he spoke in public. At a presentation nearing the end of his life he strode onto the stage and announced that it was time for him to share the key to happiness and harmony. The crowd waited with bated breath having waited decades for the secret. Krishnamurti spoke just five words and then left the stage. Many in the crowd were initially bewildered until they realised the profundity of that short sentence. Krisnamurti’s words of wisdom were “I don’t mind what happens”. Much of the stress many of us suffer is related to “minding” what has happened. Something negative occurs and we needlessly fret over things that cannot be changed. Non-resistance is based upon recognition of an underlying purpose combined with recognising the wisdom of going with the flow. Stress dissolves if you accept rather than resist.
Live in the Moment
There is really only one field upon which the game of life unfolds and that is right here and right now. What has passed is over and the future has yet to come. Eckhard Tolle covered the concept in “The Power of Now” and elaborated on it in his master work “A New Earth”. Living in the moment involves a oneness with life that generates true peace. I experience it in my garden but it is more hit and miss when my hyperactive brain is negotiating my hectic schedule. Meditators practice their art to escape the flurry of thoughts, estimated to exceed 50,000 per day. Golfers, fishermen and hikers do the same. It is all about creating a stillness where you can be truly aware of your surroundings, escape the prison of mindless thought and feel a part of everything around you.
One of the best techniques to temper the hectic stream of thoughts is to build a series of roundabouts to slow the flow. This involves a very simple strategy where, every hour, you stop what you are doing and take three deep, conscious breaths. It need only take a minute each hour, but with repeated practice the body begins to automatically insert these roundabouts and you experience an enhanced sense of relaxation and contentment.
Give and you will Receive
This involves another universal law called the law of abundance. Again, life is seen as an energy system where outflow determines inflow. You can’t receive what you don’t give. Scarcity and abundance are inner states that manifest as your reality. If you believe in shortages, it will be your life. I am not just talking material things here. Volunteers will tell you of the many unanticipated rewards associated with giving. Many of the Eastern philosophies promote the benefits of “selfless service” in acknowledgement of this universal law. The “golden rule” which could so easily serve as the sole basis for loving, successful societies is also an extension of the law of abundance. The notion that you should treat all others as you would like them to treat you, is the perfect premise for problem free co-existence. You get back what you give and that exchange is the perfect recipe for peace and happiness.
We are here for such a short time and for many of us that journey is marred by frustration and unhappiness. In this two-part article, I have attempted to provide you with some physical, emotional and spiritual tools that may serve to reduce the negative experiences in your life and increase your likelihood of achieving a greater sense of harmony and contentment. I wish you peace and happiness.
Disclaimer: Information in this article is a guide only and you should seek professional medical advice prior to undertaking mineral supplementation.