The Biology of Stress
Stress kills by stealth. It turns our immune system down, aggravating the effects of many illnesses and delaying recovery. Stress produces too much of the hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure, decreases bone strength and diminishes our memory. This makes us physically and mentally age more quickly. Stress also negatively affects our digestive system, sleep and sex drive. It increases inflammation putting us at greater risk of developing arthritis. Chronic stress is particularly dangerous because it recalibrates homeostasis (our body’s balanced state) upwards, keeping cortisol levels much higher than they should be over a long period of time.
A strong immune system is essential for maintaining good health over a long life. Conversely a weak immune system will result in increased health costs over our lifetime. With this in mind a number of medical institutions have recently been studying the effects of stress reduction and mindfulness training, verifying practices and quantifying results.
· The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society University of Massachusetts website
· The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation, from the 2005 Conference on Investigating the Mind (Washington DC). www.investigatingthemind.org
· Neuroplasticity: The Neuronal Substrates of Learning and Transformation, from the 2004 Mind & Life Institute Conference www.mindandlife.org
Using the same proven self management principles in these scientific studies we can all learn to physically relax and engage in life with a clear mind and broader perspectives. This has the dual effect of allowing both our body (immune system) and our mind to function much more efficiently.
Cultivating a Clear Mind
Stress causes us to feel less in control and often overwhelmed or distracted by a busy mind. Stress is as much about our perception of triggering events as it is about those events themselves. Particularly when we feel that we don’t have the physical, mental or emotional resources to cope with a situation. This can strain and even destroy relationships.
Cultivating a clear mind is a process of learning how to physically relax, and then focus a controlled attention toward the things we choose, turning down the influence of any distractions. With practice this enables us to formulate higher quality decisions, engage in greater creativity and improve our ability to learn new things. We can direct and manage our energy levels more productively on the things that we decide. Developing skills in attention and self awareness help build our capacity for emotional regulation, an important ability to thrive in demanding situations and be more engaging with the people we interact with.
Learn how to recognise and deal with stress. Develop a calm, clear and observant mind. Proactive Ageing will help you build practical skills that you can incorporate into daily life encompassing....
· Meta Cognition – thinking about thinking, thinking about feeling, and thinking about circumstance
· Objective Mindfulness – a more reflective perspective of your experience (become a witness to yourself)
· Subjective Mindfulness – richer subjective experiences of each moment and enhancing the fidelity of your five senses
· Meditation practices – develop skills in relaxation, attention, and self awareness
The skills underpinning these practices are likely to be some of the easiest that you are ever likely to learn. Starting with simple relaxation techniques and gradually reinforcing your proficiency with positive experiences. Proactive Ageing will teach you about the body’s biological processes of stress and relaxation. Then help you establish some core principles from which you can build on and personalise over time to better manage these processes for yourself. With practice many participants report tapping into regular blissful experiences.