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stress reduction

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Why You Gain Weight When You're Stressed


Most women I know struggle with wanting to lose body fat in one area or another, and many can’t figure out why, despite all their best efforts, this isn’t happening. Now, aside from the topic of self-love and acceptance (two concepts I find paramount to your overall health and wellness), it’s not a crime to want a firmer midsection or to tone up your legs. A healthy, vital and active body is able to carry us places we wish to travel and move in exciting, fun ways that we might not be able to otherwise. Plus, who doesn’t love the feeling of confidence you get when your body is living out in it’s perfect potential? I know I notice when my body feels heavy and sluggish versus when it feels light and energetic. However, notice I said YOUR perfect potential.

 

What we’ll be discussing today is not how to land someone else’s body or uncover six pack abs, but instead how your body’s perfect set point will be revealed once you undo the harmful effects of stress and let your unique shape and size shine through. When I cut out my personal food intolerances, began reducing inflammation and lowered my cortisol, I ended up losing 10 pounds without any changes in exercise or restrictive dieting -  and I’ve seen this happen time and time again with my clients, as they too lean into stress reducing practices and new ways of intuitive, healthful eating.

 

So, you’re probably wondering how one accomplishes such a thing? Well, we’ll get there in a minute, but first I want to take you through the why of how stress causes you to put on extra fat (generally in the belly and hip region for us gals) and then we’ll talk about ways you can reverse this nasty cycle.

 

If you’ve been here long, you’ve probably heard me throw around the term Cortisol quite a bit. However, if you’re new, cortisol is referred to as our stress hormone and is responsible for helping us get through an event that requires us to “flee or fight.” In cases of acute stress, such as a car accident or other emergency, this hormone can be life saving. When our brain registers a stressor, it calls upon our adrenals to release cortisol. Cortisol then circulates throughout the body, breaking down amino acids (mostly from our muscles), and turning them into glucose so we have plenty of energy to either run away quickly or fight bravely. This hormone, combined with adrenaline and dopamine, are responsible for the effects of stress like increased blood pressure and heart rate, hyper-arousal and alertness to danger, shakiness or jitters and dilated pupils. All the necessary ingredients for us to evolutionarily deal with being chased by a tiger or fighting off a neighboring tribe.

 

In these short-lived, acute scenarios, this cascade, known as the the stress response, is not only necessary, but welcomed by the body and brain.

 

However, when we begin to abuse this chain of command by entering into the chronic stress zone, we begin to see problems arise.

 

The effects of cortisol and adrenaline take quite a while to leave the body, meaning that when you’re under chronic stress (think daily traffic, stressful job you hate, negative thoughts all day long, fights with your spouse, crazy kids running around the house while you’re trying to work, too much on your to-do list and not enough time to do it, moves, bills, and on and on) you have a constant supply of stress hormones running through your veins like a drip line filled with Red Bull.

 

Can you imagine just how drained and depleted you’d become eventually if this were the case? Well it IS the case. Adrenaline and cortisol are powerful drugs which is why many of us are “stress-junkies.” They feel really good, until they don’t.

 

Unfortunately, stress is king in the body. The adrenals, which are responsible for the stress response, are also responsible for governing functions like sleep, sex drive, sex hormones, weight and metabolism, thyroid function and more. But, when they are burdened with pumping out more and more cortisol to meet the demands of our stress levels, these other processes take a back seat. Essentially, your adrenals take the nutrients reserved for making all these other things happen and shove them into the cortisol-manufacturing process. So, now that you’re aware of the way that works, let’s dive into cortisol’s effects on our body composition.

 

#1: Cortisol is catabolic. Catabolic is just a fancy way of saying that cortisol breaks down hard earned muscle tissue. Now, in small doses, not a big deal. But in every day cases, where you’re in a constant state of catabolism, muscle degrades while fat increases. That’s because it’s cortisol’s job to turn amino acids into glucose, remember from above? Those amino acids are most readily found in muscle tissue. Muscle is way more metabolically active than fat, meaning it uses up, or burns, more calories sustaining itself than fat. More muscle = higher metabolism. More cortisol = less muscle. You see the problem?

 

 

#2: Cortisol promotes the storage of belly fat. During times of stress or famine, the most important things to protect are our vital and reproductive organs. Where are they? Yep, in the belly and hip region. Cortisol is what gives us the famous spare tire or muffin-top, despite working out and eating healthily. There are actually more cortisol receptors in the tissue of our abdominal reason specifically for this purpose. More stress = more belly fat.

 

 

#3: Cortisol increases blood sugar, which increases insulin, which increases fat storage. Now, insulin gets a bad rap, but essentially we need it in order to get glucose into our cells. When our blood sugar rises because we eat, it’s insulin’s job to open up our cells so that energy from our food can get in. This is why we call it the “storage” hormone. However, when cortisol is released and goes around breaking down muscle into glucose, our blood sugar rises. Only, we don’t necessarily need this extra fuel and our body knows this, so it releases an overload of insulin to lower our blood sugar. We are now storing not only fuel from our food, but also fuel from the extra glucose floating around and our cells are full. Not only does this end up causing us to store more fat, but also to become insulin resistant as our cells can’t take any more energy. High cortisol = high blood sugar = high insulin = extra fat.

 

 

So, now that we’ve painted a pretty grim picture, let’s talk about what you can proactively do to mitigate these effects, because, let’s be honest, it’s frustrating to watch your waist expand despite all your hard work and healthful living.

 

While I highly recommend turning down the volume on your high intensity exercise routine and making sure you’re eating a diet high in greens, healthy fats and clean protein, I want to focus today’s tips on emotional/perceived stress. We call it perceived stress in the health industry because really, what stresses one person out (like doing taxes or working 60 hours a week) may not bother another. We all come with different, unique set points based on our genetics, childhood, lifestyle etc., so what we perceive as stressful isn’t in and of itself stressful. Now, the best way to lower emotional stress is to take a look at your perceptions and see how you can reframe them into something that isn’t stressful.

 

Let’s look at a fairly neutral situation like end-of-day traffic. You’re on your way home from work and stuck in traffic even though you need to be at your son’s baseball game in 30 minutes and still haven’t eaten since breakfast. You could: Scream at the drivers in front of you, curse the traffic gods, stress about being late and hungry and panic at the thought of showing up in front of all the other mother’s late – again – in your work clothes – tired and hungry…

 

OR

 

You could step back and look at it another way. By the very definition that you are in traffic, you should be in traffic. It’s rush hour in a big city, there’s usually a wreck or something blocking the flow, and it’s pretty typical. That’s just the way it is. So, you decide to enjoy your time listening to the podcast you never have a moment alone to play or that new audio book you purchased, but again, don’t have time for. You also realized that your hubby is stuck in traffic as well on his way home, so you call him and have a flirty, fun conversation you don’t get to do as much these days with kids around 24/7 and decide that he’ll cook dinner while you’re at the game. Before you know it, the traffic has cleared and you’re on your way to the game, and because you’re in such a good mood, stop by the store for a snack, and meet your best friend walking in to the game, who also happens to be late – because of traffic.

 

Now – which one do you think releases cortisol and which one do you think releases happy, feel-good hormones?

 

I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you the answer. And, while this might seem like a silly situation, you can take any possible situation in your life and choose to meet it with grace, patience and love or fear, panic and stress. Reframing is a powerful way to calm down our stress response and therefore naturally allow our bodies to thrive.

 

In short, if you’re working yourself to death at the gym and haven’t touched a carb since ’98, I’d recommend that instead of doing more, you do a little less. Show yourself some compassion, choose to see your life with some light, and see if those extra lbs. don’t come melting off. I dare you.

Until next time, 

Sy

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When You Feel Ready to Snap...


WHEN YOU FEEL READY TO SNAP  

Do you ever have those days (or perhaps weeks at a time) when you just can’t pull it together? The days when you’re not even sure what’s going on because nothing is particularly wrong, yet you find yourself irritated with every little thing that’s done or said around you, and after a while, it begins to look like a pattern?  Those times when no matter who is doing the talking, you just wish they’d shut up and leave you be?

 

Even on the days where you wake up and promise yourself you’ll be better today – more patient, more understanding and less bitchy – you still find yourself exasperated for no reason and wish you could just crawl under a rock, cover your ears and drown everyone out. Those are the days/weeks/months I’m talking about. And yes, if you’ve been having “a month,” it’s ok. That’s what we’re here to uncover and unpack today. No, you’re not broken, you’re not a terrible person and you’re not certainly not doomed. And no matter what your spouse, best friend or boss says when they are frustrated with you, you are not always like this. You are, however, in a need of a little compassion and that’s what we’re here to give you. Before we get started, however, I want to share a beautiful quote from the Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching that will give you a look into the journey we’re headed into today. Read it slowly, and twice if you have to, but let its profoundness sink in. Swirl it around on your tongue like ice cream and taste its sweetness. These words might just be your saving grace…

 

“A man is born gentle and weak.

At his death he is hard and stiff.

 

Trees are tender and filled with sap in life.

At their death, they are withered and dry.

 

Therefore, the stiff and unbending are the disciples of death.

The gentle and yielding, disciples of life.

 

Thus, a man without flexibility never wins a battle.

A tree that is unbending is easily broken in the wind.

 

The hard and strong will fall.

The soft and weak will overcome.”

 

When you feel ready to snap, ready to explode, ready to fall apart, its never for the reason you think…

Your life may not be falling a part, in fact, I’m willing to bet you work very hard to make sure it stays pulled together...

Your life may not be falling a part, in fact, I’m willing to bet you work very hard to make sure it stays pulled together - completely in tact, not a hair out of place. Your surface probably looks shiny and bright to the untrained eye, and even those who know you best may not understand why on earth you react the way you do sometimes. But when you least expect it, its there. A bubbling anger that threatens to spew out like vomit when the kids suddenly break a dish or the dog jumps in the car with muddy feet. YOU might not even understand why the smallest, and most trivial of problems can spin you into complete melt down.  One minute you’re happily milling along, checking things off your to-do list, and the next, someone cuts you off in traffic, you spill coffee on your new blouse and your entire day is ruined.

 

The tighter you hold on, the stiffer you become. The stiffer you become, the more likely you are to crack.

When we hold tightly onto sand, it will pour out every crevice and crack in our fingers until there’s nothing left but a few grains. But, if we open our palm, and let it sit there, we could hold it indefinitely. And such is life.

The more you squeeze, and perfect, and wish, and grip, and control and manipulate and mold your life and everyone in it, the more they start to slip away. The more things start to stiffen up, with no room for error. No space for breath. No wonder you feel like snapping. You’re stiff. You’re holding on so tight trying your damnedest not to get bucked off the bull, how could you possibly make room for love, fun, lightness and laughter?

 

But here’s the thing. Your soul is speaking to you. Your highest self is calling out, telling you something is amiss. This is what we refer to as “the snap.”

You’re not losing it on the customer service rep because they lost your package. You’re losing it because you’re tight.  

You’re not yelling at your husband because he got home from work late and forgot to call. You’re screaming because you’re contracted.

You’re not crying on the floor because you’re stressed about work, three days late on your period and looking at a stack of bills. You’re sobbing because you’re losing the control you grip so tightly to.

These experiences of breakdown are your soul’s ways of calling attention to the areas that need some healing and compassion. Every time we contract, we’re afraid. Yet, we don’t know how to handle this fear, so we snap. We project. We push it off of ourselves and onto any and every person we come in contact with just so we don’t have to feel it burning a hole in our skin. Perhaps if we knew what we were afraid of, we could fix it, but we don’t even know what we’re running from. We’ve never turned around to look at it, we just know it’s big and scary.

But what if there’s a better way? What if you didn’t have to run around stiffer than the tin man in his body armor warding off any potential mistakes, mess ups or tricky spots? What if, instead of living from the view point that the world is about perfection and achievement, you started toying with ideas of curiosity, kindness and compassion? Do you think that vice grip might loosen around your chest a bit? And the rubber band around your head might relax? And if happened, do you think that last straw would feel so definitive? I’m here to tell you that it wouldn’t.

Millions of people are walking around right now feeling that they aren’t enough and this makes us tense. This makes us feel like we have to protect ourselves and be ready to fight for our place in this world at any moment.

THE REAL REASON YOU SNAP

Millions of people are walking around right now feeling that they aren’t enough and this makes us tense. This makes us feel like we have to protect ourselves and be ready to fight for our place in this world at any moment. Our lives aren’t enough, our homes aren’t enough, our families aren’t enough, friends, clothes, intelligence, kindness, charity, cars, you name it. Not enough. And not in an ungrateful kind of way, but in a fearful, scarcity-based kind of way. If WE aren’t enough, nothing else can be either. It won’t matter if every day is a perfect day where nothing goes wrong and everyone around you shows you unconditional love. That’s not the issue.

The issue is that you’re hiding an unspeakable, shame-based fear that no matter what you do, say, think or are, it won’t be enough, and this fear then colors every interaction you have with the world and those around you. This makes you tight and ready to snap. THAT is why you yell at your sister on the phone after you tanked your work presentation earlier that day. THAT is why you can’t stand your mother-in-laws criticism when your kids are acting up and lash back in anger. THAT is why you break down crying when your spouse teases you about your shortcomings in a loving way you can’t see.

 

You’re not snapping because whatever or whoever pissed you off. You’re snapping because those things remind you of the fact that, no matter how hard you try to hold it all together, at the end of the day you’re not enough.

 

But this is where we get it wrong. You see, you are more than enough. No matter what you’ve done, not done, said or not said, been or not been, it doesn’t change the fact that you are everything you’re supposed to be and more. Can you imagine living from this space? Can you imagine what the entire world would be like if we all just took a deep breath and knew internally that We. Are. Enough.? How many arguments, fights and even wars could be avoided if we weren’t so scared that there was never enough? How many “snaps” we’d pass by if we weren’t wound like a guitar string waiting to pop on the first person who suggests we didn’t get it right?

 

AWAKEN TO YOUR COMPASSION

With this in mind, I have a challenge for you. As one of my favorite writers coined, I challenge you this week to “live loved.” Live as if everyone and everything around you loved you. Live as if you KNOW how much the universe and God conspire FOR you, not against you.

 

If you’re living loved, what would you do differently? Would you take better care of yourself? Would you laugh more? Rest easy knowing everything would be ok? Smile at that stranger instead of wondering why they were starring? Laugh at your lover’s jokes instead of find them offensive? Collaborate with your boss instead of assuming she has it out for you?

 

Find ways to Live Loved and see how it transforms your life. As always, feel free to share your experiences. I love hearing from you.

 

Much love,

Sy 

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Making Resolutions Stick


 

New Years Changes. We all want to make them, but some of us seem to struggle more with the fulfillment of those resolutions than others. You may have all the best intentions in the world, but come February, you’re right back in the same old rut and beating yourself up for your failed attempts while throwing back another glass of wine and some chocolates to drown out the disappointment. Sound familiar?

 

Take a breath. It’s ok. Trust me, failing to follow through with your New Year’s resolutions does NOT make you a failure at life. It does not make you a failure at your job, or your health, or your relationships, or your finances or anything else that you so desperately want to change but just can’t seem to nail down. In fact, I want to throw out the notion of New Year’s resolutions all together and instead start talking about small, gentle shifts in action and perception that close the doors on shame and fear and open the doors to curiosity and acceptance.  

 

Many people come to coaches, personal trainers, nutritionists and other healing practitioners in order to make monumental changes. You’re tired of living out the same old habits that leave you feeling like less than the amazing person you are but aren’t sure where to start or can’t find the motivation to get there on your own. But over the years, in watching people make transformations, I’ve come to determine that there are a few simple rules to follow that either make or break our goals.

 

One of the common, and yet most detrimental, things we as humans tend to do is to bite off way more than we can chew and then give up when we can’t swallow. Gross metaphor, but you get it. New Year’s resolutions tend to bring out grandiosity and future-tripping. What I mean by this is that we get caught up in these stories of “When I do this, then I’ll be perfect…” or “Once I do this, I’ll be happy…” “This year will be my best year ever and I’ll never experience a set back ever again!” --- and we run off into the sunset not realizing we have no idea where we’re going or how we’re going to get there. I’m sure you can see where this is going, but ultimately, we end up feeling defeated, lost and confused and right back at square one believing all the worst things about ourselves.

 

But what if there was another way? What if there was another route we could take that would lead us not into despair and hopelessness but into joy, creativity, kindness and openness? Wouldn’t you rather take that journey?

 

The way to this path is not as shiny. It doesn’t reside in 12-week total body transformations you see on social media platforms or ‘6-months to become a millionaire’ e-books. No, this type of transformation is the smaller, quieter of the two. Its changes come in gentle nudges, often along with dark nights of the soul, and the tiny voices that whisper “keep going” on days when it doesn’t feel so pretty and shiny.

 

When we truly sign a contract with the universe, it doesn’t matter any more how long it takes us to fulfill it, because our consciousness can no longer live in the space it once did. It’s an in-between space, and one that often makes us a bit queasy, a bit unsettled, but is necessary to reside in until we come out on the other side. It’s the space where we know we can go back but we also aren’t entirely sure how to BE this new person. It’s unfamiliar and even painful at times, but if we can learn to exist peacefully and willingly in this space, without running from the unknowning-ness of it, we will get to the other side much faster. This is what separates those that attain their goals from those who continue to run in circles back to comfort. The ability to lie in the waiting space, the uncomfortable space, the space where we feel like children learning to walk again. We will be wobbly. We will fall down. But we will also rise, let go of the chair and walk and, one day, even run. But it takes time, and commitment and practice and anyone who tries to tell you different most likely hasn’t gone through the process fully.

 

So, how do we make these long-lasting changes stick?

 

Make smaller, more manageable goals. Instead of committing to “lose weight” or “quit eating sugar,” which are incredibly vague and intangible, shoot for something you can do every single day consistently. For example, perhaps I’m going to lose weight turns into “I’m going to eat a salad 4 days of the week” or “I’m going to yoga class every Tuesday and Thursday.” And that’s it. You don’t pile on 5 other goals or overshoot and try to do more. You simply do that, every week until it’s a consistent habit, so much a part of your life that it doesn’t feel like work. Then, and only then, when you have mastered the baby steps and they have become almost mindlness activities, do you tackle another one. And then another and another and another until you’ve slowly woven this new perception into the daily fabric of who you are. This is where real change exists my friends. This is how you peel back the layers covering up the beautiful essence of who you really are and blossom into the best version of yourself. It’s not through willpower or force. It’s not through deprivation or restriction. It’s through love, and gentleness and kindness. It’s through treating yourself like you would a dear friend or a child learning something new for the first time. It’s with patience and acceptance of the journey.

 

Happy New Year! Wishing you a beautiful journey!

 

Much love,

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Cultivating Calm - A Look at Mindfulness Meditation


 

So, let’s face it, most people cringe when they hear the word meditation and they immediately think of a new-age, hippie fest where everyone talks about color auras and crystal healings. And hey, I’m personally all about those healing modalities, but I’m also in tune enough to know that they don’t resonate with a lot of people - and that’s just fine. However, I do truly believe that it would be a shame to miss out on all the amazing benefits and life-changing lessons that mediation has to offer just because we’re a little unsure of it’s tangible-ness. Yes, I make up words from time to time.

 

Meditation is a practice that dates back thousands of years which obviously gives it a significant place in history. Even more interesting is that there are multiple types of meditation, each bringing a unique experience to the meditator. In our discussion today, we’ll be covering one of my favorite practices called Mindfulness Meditation, or formally MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) which calls the practitioner to a state of present awareness.

 

One of the main concerns people have when beginning a practice is that they can’t shut off their brains or sit still without wanting to move. They assume that because they have these feelings they aren’t a “good” meditator. What I want to bust through today is the idea that there are good and bad meditators. Meditation is not, in fact, about turning off your thoughts but rather about coming face to face with them and sitting with them – in some ways, nailing ourselves to the present moment so that we are forced to stop running and just BE with whatever is present for us in that moment. It is from this platform, based in reality, that we actually gain the power to shift and change our circumstances.

 

In our society, we are afraid of stillness. We work like madmen, we run the kids around to a million different activities, we do chores and schoolwork late into the night, we exercise like we hate ourselves, we grab a diet coke and chocolate to get us through the afternoon and we text, call and scroll all day long. Then, as nightfall drifts in, when we’re physically and mentally exhausted, we turn on the TV or Netflix to drown out the last bits of piercing, uncomfortable silence we’ve been running from all day before we fall into a restless, unsatisfying sleep. If we sit in stillness, it’s as if all of a sudden we can’t stop the influx of thoughts. It’s as if meditation actually makes us think MORE, so we decide that all these crazy yoga people must not have stressful lives because how else could they possible turn off the relentless jibberish going on in the mind? Sound famililar?

 

Here’s the thing. Meditation and stillness do not actually bring up more thoughts. They simply allow space for what is already there to make itself known. If you’re mind and thoughts feel jumbled, hectic and chaotic when you sit down and notice them, I assure you they are that way all throughout your day. You’ve just gotten very adept and skilled at pushing them out of the way in favor of staying busy. And by busy, I don’t just mean that you are an a-type, go-getter who burns the midnight oil. I’m also talking about that nagging feeling to pull out your phone as your wait for a friend at a restaurant or while you’re in line to get a coffee. I’m talking about the need to fill the silence of an uncomfortable conversation with more talking. I’m referring to our inability to sit in pain and instead escaping our reality through a drink, drugs, sex, work, social media or any other mind-numbing activity. I’m talking about the habits we all fall into so easily that we don’t even consider them problematic.

 

So, you might be wondering what’s so wrong with this picture? Well, as you’ve heard me talk about hundreds of times, stress is harmful to the body. And the stress of unresolved, unnoticed or undealt with emotions can congest the body in physical ways. When we spend all our time running from our emotions and uncomfortable feelings, we never get to process them and let them go. They stay congested and buried deep in our souls just waiting to come out – and come out they will. The mind-body connection is a powerful tool for healing, but it is also a powerful promoter of imbalance and dis-ease if not tended to. We talk a lot about the healing power of food and all the tangible ways to attend to our health, like sleep and exercise. Less talked about, however, are the metaphysical, emotional and energetic modalities which I have found play an equal, if not more important, role in health and wellness. We spend so much time trying to think ourselves happy, calm and relaxed, but what if, instead, we just eased into the knowing space of meditation and let the rising and falling tides of our emotions do just that – rise and fall. Can you imagine the freedom that comes when you just let go? Your body certainly can as studies have shown that mindfulness meditation actually shrinks the part of the brain associated with fear, anxiety and stress by switching the nervous system over to a parasympathetic state – the state of Rest and Digest.

 

Anxiety, stress and worry are future based. Without thoughts of the future, these feelings don’t exist. What mindfulness mediation does is brings us into the present moment, effectively extinguishing these emotions. As we become better and better at bringing ourselves present in our meditations, new pathways in our brain bring this awareness into other areas of our life as well. We find ourselves slowing down, processing deeper, thinking clearer, speaking kinder. The tonic to busyness is not relaxation. The tonic to busyness is stillness. It is the yin to our modern day yang.

 

So, how does it work? Mindfulness meditation asks the practitioner to sit in awareness by focusing the mind on a ‘home base’ of sorts, which is usually the breath. See, and here you were worried about turning off your brain! No, actually, we are giving your brain something to focus on, something to hold on to as you watch all the thoughts pass by rooting you in what is happening here and now. When you first begin a meditation practice, it can feel pointless and chaotic. Know this is normal and fine. Stick with it and get past the first few clumsy attempts -This is when the real magic begins. Below I’ve outlined the steps to begin a mindfulness practice. However, I highly suggest working with a coach of some type who can walk you through all the potential questions or roadblocks you might come up on. There are also wonderful apps you can use that offer guided meditations. I personally love and use Headspace, but I’ve heard great things about Calm as well. If you’re more interested in going it alone, I also use an app called Insight Timer which simply times my meditation with the starting and finishing gong chimes.

 

Mindfulness Meditation

 

1.     Begin by sitting either cross-legged on a pillow or mat or sitting in a chair with both feet on the ground. If either of these are too uncomfortable for your posture, you may lie down.

2.     Close your eyes and take a few deep breathes. Notice how your body feels sitting on the floor or in the chair. Listen to the sounds around you.

3.     Begin to check in with your breath by noticing the breaths in, the pauses between and the breaths out. You don’t need to change your breathing, simply notice it’s normal pattern and the way it feels going in and out of your body.

4.     As you sit noticing your breath, thoughts will pop up and you may even get carried away by them. If you catch yourself being carried off by thinking, simply notice it, say the word “thinking” and gently come back to noticing your breath. Let the thought pass on by without giving it any more attention.

5.     Do this for 5-10 minutes a day to start with and be kind with yourself as you learn this new skill.

 

Remember, there are no good or bad meditations, only distracted and undistracted. The more time you spend in meditation, the more periods of un-distraction you will experience.

 

As always, I’d love to hear about your personal experiences with meditation and mindfulness. Comment below or find me over on social media and let’s chat!

 

Much love,

Sy

 

 

 

 

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What IS Adrenal Fatigue Anyway?



So, there’s a term that’s been floating around for a couple years in the health and wellness sphere, but it’s still not one you’re likely to see plastered on the pages of magazines or even books for that matter. The term is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and if you’re a woman who feels tired, overwhelmed and generally “off” there’s a good chance you’ve got it goin on. Before you panic, though, keep in mind that Adrenal Fatigue is NOT a disease nor is it something sufferers are plagued with for life. Rather, it’s a syndrome, which essentially means it’s a name for a bundle of symptoms that no one can quite put a finger on.

The name Adrenal Fatigue is actually a misnomer, as it implies that your adrenal glands (which sit on top of your kidneys/renals) are tired, which in fact they are not. However, I personally think it does a wonderful job of explaining just how adrenal dysfunction feels, because at the end of the day there is an intense fatigue of both the body and mind. A better, more correct, title is actually HPA-Axis dysregulation which stands for Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and describes the chaos that occurs when those three main organs responsible for your stress response are out-of-balance, overworked and unable to cope with the demands placed upon them.

So, while I’ve talked a lot about adrenal fatigue in posts, I realized that it may not be exactly clear what I’m referring to and wanted to throw together a description to avoid confusion. Before we move on, I’m going to list out the common symptoms of Adrenal dysregulation, but please be aware that stress in the body can take on hundreds of different faces, and this list is by no means exhaustive. If you have several of these symptoms mixed with some others not on this list, I would highly suggest speaking with a practitioner about the possibility of adrenal dysfunction, hormonal imbalance or digestive problems.

 

Symptoms:

 

Feeling burned out, overly stressed or unable to unwind

Bloating after meals

A burning or gnawing feeling after meals

Excessive hunger or no appetite at all

Any and all digestive issues including heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation

Moodiness and irritability

Lightheadedness, particularly when going from sitting to standing

Harsh PMS or menopause

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar swings)

Frequent nausea

Feeling unmotivated or “lazy”

Intense fatigue

Brain fog or feeling spacy with an inability to concentrate

Joint pain, muscle aches or sensitive skin

TMJ or jaw clenching

Anxiety and depression

Cravings for sugar or salt

Feeling tired but can’t sleep – Tired and wired

Frequent colds or flus that lasts for weeks

A feeling of shaking or vibrating on the inside

Feeling abnormally cold or hot

Flushing easily, particularly during winter

Dizziness or feeling disconnected from conversations and activities

Intolerance to caffeine or alcohol

Weight loss resistance or “spare tire” despite lots of exercise

Low sex drive or inability to orgasm

 

So, what causes adrenal fatigue? Well, in a word: Stress. But I’m not just talking about emotional, or perceived, stress. I’m also referring to physical stress which is just as harmful to the body as mental stressors. Essentially, your adrenals are the organs in your body responsible for managing the stress response in your body, whether it comes from external or internal sources. Some of the main external sources of stress I see are food intolerances, over-exercising, environmental toxins, and eating a diet high in sugar. Some internal sources include negative emotional experiences, worrying or apprehension, perception of fear or anxiety and internal inflammation. When your brain registers stress of any kind, it sends a message down to the adrenals to release stress hormones, mainly cortisol and epinephrine. For purposes of this post, we’ll mostly be focusing on cortisol, but it should be noted that the effects of epinephrine take several days to exit the body and is highly stimulating. Not a state we want to be walking around in consistently.

Cortisol gets a bad rap, but it’s really very vital to our survival. Cortisol has several functions, but three of the most notable are to raise blood sugar, raise blood pressure and to work as an anti-inflammatory substance. The first two are key players when we are under stress becausestress is known as expensive. What does this mean? It means that when we are stressed (again physically OR emotionally), our body requires more nutrients than normal to function. This means that we are using up blood sugar faster, which is full of nutrients we get from our food. So, cortisol signals to the body to produce more blood sugar out of stored energy found in our muscle and liver. This is how we continue to produce energy during activities like exercise. Cool, right?

Well, yes and no. If we only triggered this response every once in a while, things would be great. Cortisol would do its job and then a negative feedback loop would turn production off body allowing us to come back to center. Unfortunately, we are being bombarded by stressors these days, particularly environmental and food stressors, and are triggering this response almost all day long. From traffic accidents to sugar donuts for breakfast and fights with our boss or spouse we are under constant attack. Chronic elevated cortisol leads to raised blood sugar and raised blood pressure – for a while. And here is where adrenal fatigue sets in…

 

Eventually, in the presence of all this sugar in the blood from cortisol doing its job, the cells become resistant because they’re packed to the brim and don’t need anymore. Basically, they push the plate away and tell us they’re full. At this point, we may have plenty of circulating cortisol, but it’s messages are not being received and we actually see blood sugar begin to decline and blood pressure as well. It’s like someone put a cement wall up between cortisol and the cells and no communication can take place. This is in the later stages of adrenal dysfunction and what contributes to symptoms of fatigue, lightheadedness, feelings of insatiable hunger or weakness and hypoglycemic episodes. Now, we have a cycle where we are stressed to the max and still pumping out cortisol but not feeling it’s effects because the cells won’t let it in. So, we continue to pump out more and more essentially “exhausting” or fatiguing the adrenal organs and the entire stress response.

 

As with any syndrome, disease or condition, these details are more nuanced then we can describe in one measly blog post. But hopefully it gives you an idea of how Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is essentially a stress syndrome of the 21st century. Never before in history have we been bombarded by so many external and environmental stressors or been able to explore our emotions beyond survival. While this has afforded us many opportunities and growth, it’s also opened up a whole new can of worms when it comes to our tolerance levels for stress. So, what are some of the biggest ways we can make a dent in our stress cup?

 

Here are the ones I see most in practice that are really putting a burden on people’s bodies:

 

1.     Food intolerances and poor digestion. Eating something your body can’t process every single day is stressful. Period. It will be nearly impossible to clear up imbalanced cortisol without also addressing digestive function and food choices because every cell in your body is dependent upon those nutrients, so I highly suggest taking on some sort of elimination protocol or hooking up with a practitioner who can guide you through the process.

 

2.     Over-exercising and training. You remember how we mentioned that cortisol raises blood sugar and pressure? Well, it’s main job is to do this during intense activity, which also includes exercise. Assuming you have no other stressors, this would be fine. But pile it on top of everything else going on in your life and it’s a recipe for disaster. Try cutting down on intensity, duration or frequency to give your adrenals the rest they’re craving or add in some gentle exercise in place of your regular routine.

 

3.     Lack of sleep. The body repairs and detoxifies while sleeping. If we aren’t giving it the rest it needs to do these jobs, it will become congested and backed up which leads to things like recycled chemicals and hormones. This is stressful for the body as your toxic load builds up. Sleeping does more than just make us feel good and it’s important to respect the processes of repair just as much as the others. Hacking your sleep will be on the best decisions you can make for your health.

 

4.     A negative emotional outlook or self-loathing and perfectionism. Ok, so this one is really much larger than one sentence can sum up, but taking a serious approach to shifting your mindset is the most important key to clearing up adrenal fatigue. Sadly, this piece is missing in most protocols because we get so caught up in the nitty-gritty physical aspects of healing and miss out on all the juiciness that comes with the spiritual, energetic growth. Many people say that they were never able to shift out the adrenal fatigue cycle until they finally began some sort of emotional stress reducing practices.

 

5.     Not making any time for connection and fun. Bluntly put, I know this can be hard when you feel like shit. You may not feel like connected with friends and family or you may not have a whole lot of interest in activities that used to bring you joy. That’s ok. Do them anyway or find some new ones that agree with your symptoms more. Eventually, when you are feeling better, you will be amazed at the growth and strength of your relationships for having weathered the storm together. Writing in a gratitude journal can very soothing to the body as it releases feel good hormones and allows us to step outside of our mind’s chatter for a moment. Even if you only find a moment’s worth of peace, cultivating authentic, vulnerable relationships will go a long way in making the healing process easier and more enjoyable. And if you’re worried, try having a conversation and letting those around you know that you may not be fully yourself right now and could just use a little support. Most people are very willing, loving and accommodating if you give them the chance to be. Remember, they love you too.

 

 

So there you have it. A generalized look at what this thing called Adrenal Fatigue actually is and some ways to help mitigate the nasty symptoms that come with it. Again, if you are reading this blog and feel like you might be experiencing this condition, never hesitate to reach out to a practitioner or do some research. There are so many valuable resources online and some great practitioners who are aware of stress’ harmful effects on the body. It is very real and very important so don’t let anyone tell you it’s all in your head or that you just need to “try harder” to feel good. Until next time.

 

Much love,

 

Sy

 

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Stress and Digestion: The Missing Link



Do you ever feel like you’re doing all the right things, eating all the right foods and taking all the right supplements, yet still struggle daily with digestive issues like bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion or heartburn?

 

If so, you’re not alone. In fact, a survey done a few years ago in 2013 showed that a staggering 74% of Americans are affected by some sort of gastro-intestinal upset every single day. 74% you guys! That means 3 out of 4 people are walking around with symptoms right now that are not only painful and interfering, but also often embarrassing.

 

So here’s the thing. There is so much good information out there on digestive support: how to help heal stomach acid production, increase enzymes and eat foods that are healing to your body. In fact, I am constantly preaching to my clients and people I meet about quality digestive aids and tangible ways to reduce symptoms. But, the even more important part that doesn’t make headlines, and what I’m determined to make a splash about, is the connection between our brain and gut, aptly called the gut-brain axis.

 

Let me say it in a one-liner: Stress makes good digestion impossible.

Let that sink in.

 

Stress, both chronic and acute, emotional and physical, make good digestion impossible.

 

Now, that might irritate you to no end (stress reduction tends to be a bit difficult to nail down for “doers”), or it might excite you as the missing piece of the puzzle you’ve desperately been trying to figure out. Either way, today we’re going to dive into why, despite your best efforts, you’re still not getting the relief you’ve been searching for.

 

The Gut-Brain Axis.  

We’re gonna nerd out for a quick minute, so stay with me here…

The system in your body that controls all of your automatic processes, like breathing, digestion and your heart beat, is called the Autonomic Nervous System. Within this system, there are two divisions called the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic division is your “fight or flight” control board. It’s the system that gets turned on and tuned in when you’re under physical or emotional stress, essentially amping up adrenaline and other hormones and neurotransmitters so get you ready to deal with that stressor. All in all, it’s a life saving system that serves us very well in times of acute stress. Acute meaning intense but short lived. The second division is the parasympathetic, also referred to as your “rest and digest” mode. This is the system that is turned on during times of relaxation and rest. You can think of the two systems as balancing. The sympathetic system will increase blood pressure, say during exercise, and then the parasympathetic will decrease it once the exercise is over. Push/pull, yin and yang.

 

When these two systems are working optimally, all is well. But what tends to happen in our modern day culture is that we get into what is called Sympathetic Dominance, or chronic stress. When this happens, the body systems, hormones and processes triggered by the sympathetic system stay turned on too much and the systems, hormones and processes triggered by parasympathetic take a back seat. This includes digestion.

 

Digestion is a parasympathetic activity, hence the name “rest and digest.” Historically, and ancestrally, if you are running from a saber tooth tiger, the last thing your body is thinking about is digesting your lunch. It’s working instead to pump blood out of the internal organs and into the arms and legs to give you energy to run and making large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol to keep blood sugar levels, and hence energy levels, high so you feel alert.

 

Now, our bodies and brains are smart in a lot of ways, but they are also fairly simplistic in others. One of these ways includes our inability to distinguish between chronic, ruminating stressors like traffic and fights with our spouse and actual danger. We are living in a culture that is sky high in fear, negativity, power struggles and emotional warfare. You get on the freeway and your life is literally on the line every time someone swerves in and cuts you off. We eat processed junk that barely resembles food and make our bodies work ten times as hard processing it. We can’t stop thinking about how much our boss pisses us off and picture all the things we’d say if we ever got the chance. We spend so much time staying busy avoiding painful feelings that we load our schedules up with school, activities and family and friends leaving hardly any time to pee, let alone eat or breathe. We exercise because he hate our bodies and hope they’ll change not because because we love them and want to see them thrive. And here’s the crazy part: All of this is considered normal and functional by 99% of our society.

 

But here’s the thing, living in this kind of world, the kind we create in our minds where everything happens TO us and our lives are an endless to-do list, puts us in a constant state of fear, worry and stress, thereby making it impossible to enter into a parasympathetic state that is so vital to our health and wellness.

 

Some of the ways stress affects the health of our gut:

1.     Decreases the production of gastric juices like stomach acid, which is a critical trigger to every other digestive process and breaks down proteins. The whole cascade is affected by low stomach acid.

2.     Decreases gut motility, or your digestive tract’s ability to physically move your food along. This allows food to ferment and putrify leading to gas and bloating.

3.     An over-production of cortisol breaks down mucosal barriers, which are the thin line separating your stomach and gut from the rest of your body, leading to leaky gut. Leaky gut is bad news for everyone involved.

4.     Harms healthy bacteria and allows pathogenic bacteria to thrive in the changed gut conditions. Our beneficial gut bacteria make up 80% of our immune system, so you can see why we want these guys healthy and alive!

 

These are just a few linear examples of how stress directly affects digestion, but keep in mind that the body is a complex web of processes that all affect each other in different ways. The main take-a-way here though should be that even when it seems like all the other conditions for good digestion are in place, if you’re body isn’t able to access that parasympathetic state, it will become compromised in one way or another.

 

So, now, what to do?

 

Here are a few of my favorite ways to make sure I stay in a parasympathetic state most of the time.

 

1.     Do some deep breathing exercises before your meals. 5-10 deeps breaths in and out through your left nostril automatically puts you in a parasympathetic state by stimulating your vagus nerve.  If you’re not in a place where this is possible, try to chew slowly and avoid putting more food before you’ve had the chance to swallow your last bite. This methodical eating signals to your brain that everything is good and it can relax and let go.

 

2.     Pick up some sort of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. This isn’t something you do during your meals necessarily, but putting your body in a relaxed, concentrated state for specific times during the day signals to the brain that it’s ok to let go. This in turn signals to the body that it too can let go and you can see how the cycle continues. The more time you spend practicing these states of being, the easier it becomes to call upon them as needed.

 

3.     Be kind and gentle to yourself about the foods and meals you are eating. If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve had some nasty thoughts about your body at one point or another. It’s sad that so many of us have felt body shame during our lives, but we’re working to change that!  In the mean time, giving yourself permission to enjoy and love your food helps shift your mindset and recalibrate your nervous system to feel good, again, relaxing your body.

 

4.     Think of something or someone you love. Spending time every day considering all the things we love and are grateful for in our lives has a calming, relaxing effect on the body’s systems. Next time you find yourself struggling with an emotional stressor, try stepping out of it for 60 seconds and begin listing off the things for which you are grateful. At the end of the minute, you can come back to the problem at hand, but I’m betting it will look and feel very different. This allows you to come from a place of love rather than fear and goes a long way in healing the body and mind.

 

5.     Spend time with loved ones. We all have those days where we’ve made commitments with friends but now feel like backing out because we’re too tired or stressed or just don’t feel like it. But positive social connections go a long way in reducing levels of stress and anxiety. Next time you feel like canceling, I urge you to get up out of your Netflix binge and do it anyway. Your digestion will thank you. J

 

 

So there you have it. While this isn’t nearly the entire picture or every nuanced aspect of how stress and digestion are connected, it should paint a picture that is worth looking into if you haven’t quite nailed down your digestive distress yet.

 

Until next time…

Much love,

Sy

 

 

 

 

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