Monthly Archives: January 2014

Are we all in stress overload?

The fast-paced rhythm of modern life with all its ups and downs, often gives us the feeling that its too much and that we are really stressed-out. Hardly a day goes by at the workplace without people complaining that they have a “stress overload”. But is stress all bad?

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In principle stress the stress reaction in our bodies is part of our survival mechanism that dates back to the dawn of mankind. The early hunter on the plains of Africa meets a predator. A flood of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol are released, causing an increase in blood pressure, the heart to pound faster, muscles to contract . All senses are put on alert. We are focused completely on confronting the danger ahead. “Where is the next tree? Do I run or use all my additional strength to throw my spear at the predator?”

 We might feel the same kind of “rushed” energy and focused attention when we are busy doing something we enjoy. Time seems of no relevance. We are in flow with what we are doing and the additional adrenalin gives us that extra push. This is the “stage fright” that most actors, singers or sports stars go through before giving an immaculate performance.

 The problem starts when stress gets out of control. When our body is more or less permanently flooded with stress hormones. We are practically confronting a predator for many days, weeks and even years. The long-term health effects are disastrous with every system in the body affected from high blood pressure, poor libido and even rewiring of brain functions that can cause severe fear and depression symptoms.

 Its all about finding the right balance between what we call the yin and yang.

 One part of the Taiji body art principles is finding the balance between muscles contracting and expanding, inhaling and exhaling, vertical and horizontal alignment, internal and external flow. These gentle movements are ideally suited to bring stress under control.

 So when do I know that I have too much stress and need to wind down?

 This differs from person to person. What one person might shake off and forget immediately another person might carry around for days severly stressing him/her emotionally – the worst kind of stress. Much is dependent on the personality. Are you an outgoing, joyful person at heart with a big family and support network? Or are you a pessimist. Can you deal with setbacks? How do you catch yourself again? What gives you strength and energy?

 The “collective burnout syndrome” we are seeing around us in essence means that something is out of balance, that there is too much yang – too much physical energy, thoughts, distractions, over indulgence spent on things that are harming us. We need more yin to bring that in balance such as meditation, stillness, the ability to be completely alone with ourselves, the ability to downsize and to abstain – seeing the beauty and abundance in small things. Now we can’t all go and escape into a monastery. We have family and other obligations. The challenge is to find that balance in our everyday lives. Here are just a few ways of getting quick stress relief:

 Get out into nature: Taking a short break for a walk in the park just listening to the birds and awakening the senses to smell, sight and sound will do a lot. Nearly all great teachers, leaders and philosophers from varied cultures and traditions have been strengthened by alone time in nature.

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 Thought control: Most chronic stress comes from an emotional disconnection from the world outside and our own needs. This, scientists have recently discovered, has a lot to do with the effects of stress on the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Taking a different perspective and just accepting that life has ups- and downs will help. Meditation exercises can really help.

 Physical exercise and nutrition: Even mild regular exercise will release pent-up pressure and tension. Reduce your white sugar and salt intake and feed your body with fresh organic foods with lots of Omega 3 and 6 nutrients. See also my blog on foods.

 

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Living dangerously

We live close to one of Europe’s biggest rivers, the Elbe. Only six months ago we had an emergency situation here when floodwaters where threatening to flood our town, Bleckede, which is some 80 kilometres, southeast of the northern German port city of Hamburg. For several days thousands of people, some even coming from afar as Scandinavia, helped secure the dykes with sandbags. We were fortunate because the waters eventually broke through the dyke, lower downstream , easing the pressure. Others were not so lucky. Thousands of homes in eastern Germany were flooded, agricultural lands and infra-structure destroyed.

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In April this year a groundbreaking TV series on the experiences and personal stories of people whose lives have been touched by climate change will be aired.  Years Of Living Dangerously is an eight-part series produced by famous film-makers James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Weintraub. It is all about how climate change is affecting people everywhere here and now.

Here is the trailer: http://vimeo.com/78162825

 Lets hope that this storytelling-series will serve as a wake-up call! It is not something we cannot change. Global warming is a result of human actions – the burning of fossil fuels, the destruction of carbon sinks such as rainforests and swamps. For almost two centuries, coinciding with the industrial revolution, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased dramatically.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide were about 280 parts per million (ppm), reflecting a long-term balance between natural processes that emit and that absorb carbon dioxide. This natural balance has been seriously upset. Currently the levels are at about 390 ppm and rising faster, despite efforts to bring the levels down to 1990 levels of about 350 ppm. Many people and governments out there are still in denial about climate change.

 Some very strange arguments are being put out on the Internet – that it is all fear-mongering by green activists or sunspot activity. Serious climate scientists are being attacked viciously by media sponsored by those who have most to lose, if we take the necessary steps in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The “war” on climate scientists is vividly portrayed by a leading climate scientist Michael Mann in the book: “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

 We are indeed living dangerously. According to climatologists we have less than 15 years, if that, to bring carbon dioxide levels down to below 350 ppm. And that is only to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

I see many correlations between the climate debate and personal health issues. All the information is out there. We know that we are destroying the environment for future generations. We know that if we lead a certain lifestyle that we will most likely fall ill. So why aren’t we changing our habits? Why are we so much in denial about those things that seem so starkly obvious to the normal intelligent mind?

Maybe it is just part of human-instinct to avoid imagining the worst. “So what! I’m still around and enjoying life, so stop rocking the boat and disturbing me with your bad news.” The sad thing about both issues, is that we very often don’t see the catastrophe happening. It is a very slow process. Lung cancer doesn’t come overnight and after only smoking one cigarette. It is a result of many years of heavy smoking, stress and other factors.

 When the floodwaters came to Bleckede there were also people out there, initially doubting the situation. But when the floods were actually there, when the first homes were flooded and we could actually see with our own eyes kilometres of land under water, nearly everyone was stirred into action and wanted to do something. Lets hope that the positive human spirit will prevail.

 We are just a part of the bigger whole in the unity of things. It is comparable to the different salts found in blood and body tissue which correspond exactly to the 84 elements found in salt water. How we treat our planet and its fellow inhabitants is a reflection on how we are treating ourselves.

 

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Achieve Your Goals in 2014 — Here’s Research That Can Help

Interesting thoughts on why some people can motivate themselves very well while others hold themselves back

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Self Love – the trick to a lasting New Year resolution

How often have we started the New Year with a resolution to make some lifestyle change? Be it the will to do more exercise, stop smoking or spending less valuable life-time watching meaningless TV shows, most New Year resolutions seldom last through the first month of the year.

Very few of us seem to have the strength and the willpower to change habits that we know from a rational point are doing us harm. We then end up being frustrated and angry at ourselves for not making the change we feel is really necessary.

In principle most of us find it pretty safe to stay in a “comfort zone” because making a change requires effort and energy. Sometimes we are even afraid that the changes we implement might rock the boat too much, requiring even more energy and input. We fail to realise that such a “comfort zone” has actually become pretty uncomfortable or even painful for a long, long time.

 Experts at the Harvard Medical School believe that the chances of making lifestyle changes succeed are much greater if they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based. I would add that the factor loving self-care is just as important. The more we care for ourselves, the more this will manifest itself in our habits and dealings with our immediate surroundings.

 So lets take the idea of getting more exercise because we know from all the information out there that it improves our health on all mental and physical levels. First of all I would choose a physical activity which appeals to me and sounds like fun. If it is running, then start choosing a place where you would have fun going for a run. It should be measurable, achievable and realistic. Find a realistic time commitment which you know will have a realistic chance of working . So why not start off by going for a short run of say ten or 15 minutes with a slow walk included so that you don’t over-exert. You can always extend your routine a little as you go along.

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Better still: Find a friend or partner who shares your commitment or resolution. You could motivate each other and discuss a reward you would give each other for keeping at it for say two weeks, like spending a day at a spa. Keeping up a regular exercise or diet routine over 40 days has a much more lasting effect. If you have managed to keep at it for 40 days you will definitely feel a lot healthier physically and mentally. Friends or colleagues may start commenting positively on the visible change they see in you which is an additional motivation to keep up with your training programme.

 More importantly: You will notice yourself how much the quality of your life has improved. You would not want to go back to the situation most people in the industrialized world currently find themselves – an uncomfortable “inbetween-state” of not really being healthy nor really ill.

Falling into positive health habits impacts our lives more than we realize. It is enormously liberating to know that we have the freedom of choice in order to live a healthy life by looking closely at such factors as exercise, sleep, food, emotional stress factors, addictions and time management. Genes are only a small part of our destiny. Making necessary lifestyle changes has a major impact on obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many of our modern-age scourges, according to many recent studies:

Genes are not destiny – Harvard School of Public Health

Lifestyle and cancer incidence in men

The 40-day path to health

 My Book: Yield and Overcome

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