Are you living a life that is consistent with your values and sense of life purpose? Are there walls you have built to justify actions that keep you from reaching your potential?
I originally built this rock wall 25 years ago and over the years the rocks had sunk deeper into the earth to the point where the wall was just a fine demarcation in my backyard. As I was unearthing and rebuilding the wall it made me think of where I was in my life back then and how much my perspective on life has changed. While I was unearthing the buried rocks, it made me think of how easy it was to get caught up in the day to day challenges and to forget to check in to see if how my thoughts and actions were consistent with my sense of purpose in life.
Deconstruct Your Life
While I was rebuilding my rock wall, I selected larger, flatter rocks for the base that angled in a way to adjust to the slope of the ground. Then I added smaller ones on top and filled in the small holes between the rocks with even smaller stones. The rebuilt rock wall is stronger than the original because I gained insight to the art of rock wall building. Like reconstructing a rock wall, sometimes we need to take inventory of our lives and deconstruct our actions and opinions to see if they support our sense of life purpose. Disappointments, pain and negative thoughts can become self-serving, limiting and the justification we use for not reaching our potential. Like an ill-fitting rock in a rock wall, these thoughts can block our attempts of developing a strong sense of purpose and become authentic to ourselves.
Build A Strong Wall, Be Authentic to Your Sense of Purpose
Take the time to examine your sense of purpose in life. Are your actions and words consistent with your sense of life purpose? Are there events, pain or disappointments that keep you from connecting with your sense of life purpose? Is it time to deconstruct the walls you may have build around your life and rebuild them with stronger footing more consistent with your sense of life purpose?
There is a big difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. They are two completely different disease processes that really should not share the same name. Type 1 is actually an autoimmune disease with a small genetic link that usually occurs in youth and causes damage to the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. If diagnosed early then some of the pancreatic function can be preserved. However in most cases of recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes significant permanent damage occurs requiring the individual to administer multiple daily insulin injections to control blood sugar levels. With frequent daily blood sugar checking, insulin administration and dietary planning a person with type 1 diabetes can lead a full healthy life. If blood sugars are not kept in good control, blindness, kidney disease, heart disease and amputation due to poor circulation and infection can occur. Since the pancreas is not producing any insulin, it’s always a challenge for an individual with type 1 diabetes to find the balance between managing their disease and not letting it overrun their life.
Type 2 diabetes is actually a stress state of the associated with a strong family history of diabetes in conjunction with an unhealthy lifestyle. The typical individual diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has excessive abdominal fat, leads a sedentary lifestyle and consumes a diet high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and not enough legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. They often feel tired due to high blood sugars and/or sleep apnea. It can lead to increased inflammatory markers that contribute to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, decreased insulin production and sensitivity, and stress on the overworked pancreas. Medications can help to control the disease process but without lifestyle changes as well, eventually the pancreas fails and insulin through injection is required. Type 2 diabetes is really a vascular problem that if not controlled leads to circulatory problems resulting in slow healing of cuts, loss of vision from retinopathy, erectile dysfunction, painful neuropathies of extremities due to nerve damage, and kidney damage from high blood sugars that damage the intricate filtering components, the nephrons, of the kidneys.
The National Institute of Health did a large study involving 27 medical centers across the country on preventing diabetes in those diagnosed with prediabetes. Prediabetes is diagnosed with a blood test as having a fasting blood sugar greater than 100 or an A1c greater than 5.8. The results of the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine February 7, 2002. Initially the study involved four groups of randomly assigned people to either a lifestyle intervention group involving motivational counseling, one of two medication groups or a placebo group. One of the medication intervention groups was discontinued after the drug was found to cause severe liver damage. The lifestyle intervention group involved losing 7% of body weight and exercising 150 minutes at moderate intensity level a week. The drug group was given the oral medication, Glucophage. The study was stopped early because the results found that a 7% weight loss in conjunction with 150 minutes of exercise a week to be the most effective in preventing diabetes in those already diagnosed with prediabetes.
In prediabetes the pancreas makes extra insulin in order to help glucose get into the cells where it is needed for energy. Over time insulin production decreases, and blood sugars increase, leading to the development of type 2 diabetes. Once type 2 diabetes has developed there is some permanent damage done to the pancreas.
Almost 26 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes. That’s 8.3% of the population! It takes a good understanding of disease management, planning, and good support both financially and emotionally to maintain good control. Can you imagine the cost savings of preventing this disease if everyone diagnosed with prediabetes could just lose 7% of their weight and find 150 minutes out of the 10,080 minutes in the week to exercise? And for those already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, just being physically active for 30 minutes daily and reining in the fast food, chips, sweets, cheese and full fat dairy and eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, could make all the difference in the world between just living and living well. In this time of rising health care costs and limited resources don’t we all have a responsibility to take our health seriously and give it the focus that we give to other parts of our lives?
What is stress? We all know what it feels like when we have stress- our hearts race, our senses are heightened, and our hands feel cold and clammy. But what goes on in our brain when we feel stressed?
The Brain’s Response to Stress
The brain works through a reward system and a reward circuitry. If the light is green, the brain tells the foot to step on the gas. This is a predictable action. The reward for the brain is repetition – that whenever the light turns green, the foot will always go on the gas pedal. Our brain is able to constantly learn new information this way, first with heightened awareness and then with recall through memory traces. But when we are stressed our brain resorts to our old habits in order to react quickly to remove or modify the stress. When we are stressed, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are released. These hormones work through specific neuronal pathways in the brain to either alter the stress or to ameliorate its effects. Serotonin acts on the nucleus accumbens which causes it to release dopamine. Dopamine stimulates our reward and habit system. This means that we are more likely to resort to old habits. When we are not stressed our prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning part of our brain, overrides a lot of our behaviors. This self regulatory part of our brain doesn’t really kick in until young adulthood. If someone before that age has learned to cope with stress through unhealthy actions like overeating, pornography, promiscuous sex, alcohol, drugs or gambling, it will be the initial preference for the brain’s stress lifeline. This does not mean someone is doomed to never break away from the unhealthy habit, but it will take work and commitment and might be easier with a counselor or health coach.
But what if we learned how to better manage our lives so that we could decrease exposure to stress or change our perception of stress? Like the Three Little Pigs, is your life built out of hay, sticks or brick? What are you doing to make yourself more equipped to handle the stress in your life?
Fortify Your Foundation
What tends to make us feel stressed is when we feel out of control. This can be due to having too much to do or it can be from our perception of what needs to be done. In the first situation ask yourself if you are saying “yes” to more things than you have time to get done. Are you using your time efficiently, avoiding a task until the last minute because you don’t like doing the task? Could you break down the task into smaller pieces and do a little each day? Are you saving the more difficult tasks for the end of the day when you are more tired or are you getting them done early when you have more energy? Are you doing everything yourself or are there things you could delegate if you let go? Are you doing things in an inefficient way that is taking more time than necessary? Do you have unrealistic expectations of what you have to get done? Are you expecting perfection?
Sometimes we feel stressed and it’s really due to how we perceive the situation. Distorted perceptions can happen when we don’t get enough sleep. The average adult needs at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Do you keep a regular schedule for going to bed? Do you allow yourself enough time to wind down before bed? Do you keep a consistent meal time schedule? We know eating off schedule can cause disconnection with hunger cues and lead to overeating at night. When things don’t go well do you tend to catastrophize, make the problem bigger than it is and let it expand into other parts of your day because you’ve let it grow out of proportion in your mind?
Take Control of Your Life
The brain will actually change the stress response and not release serotonin when we think we have control over the stressful situation. There are many things you can do to give you a sense of control. Yoga, tai chi, qigong can help you gain a sense of control through body postures, breathing and focus. When these practices are done regularly the sense of control and focus transcends into other areas of one’s life. Mindfulness, a daily practice where you pause and take in your environment through your senses and become focused on the present moment can also help give you a sense of control of your life..which is really becoming aware of senses and feelings in the present moment. Meditation, which is really just focused breathing, can be done through guided imagery or simply by sitting still and upright, focusing on one’s breath, and slowing the breathing down to a rhythmical pace. Counting the exhale to ten can help keep thoughts from “sticking” and allow the mind to stay clear. It is through the absence of thought during meditation that solutions to problems are reached and perceptions are changed.
We might not be able to always change the stress in our life but we can certainly mitigate it through time management, getting difficult tasks done early in the day, asking for help, getting a good nights sleep on schedule and eating three balanced meals. Doing this in conjunction with yoga, tai chi or qigong, mindfulness and meditation one becomes better at forming balanced assessments of situations which will help us handle stress better and be happier for it.
We’ve all had those stressful days where things have not gone as planned. Where do we want to turn? Is it the freezer for some nice cool, smooth, mint chip ice cream? Is it the closet for the bag of crunchy, salty chips? Or is it the bread drawer for some warm crispy, buttery toast? We each have our favorites but not one of them has our best interests at heart when it comes to self soothing and resorting to these in this way can often lead to guilt or regret the minute they are done.
The Stress Response
Stress makes our heart race, our body tense, and our thoughts spin at a kinetic pace. We get in a frenzy, lose perspective on what is important and search out quick fixes to make us feel better at that moment. But you can train yourself to reach out for nonfood alternatives to get through the frenzy. They might not “hit the spot”, but they will hit a different spot and actually be more effective on controlling the physical symptoms of stress without leading to the guilt. They will also put you in control of your emotions by successfully addressing the symptoms and help you to recognize those symptoms before they escalate.
Strategies for Self Soothing
Just as a good gardener lays down compost and tills the soil for good crop production, you must cultivate yourself in order to be your best. Mindful practices like yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation help you connect with your body through the breath. When you concentrate on your breath, making it deep and slow, breathing in through your nose, expanding into your belly, and slowly breathing out through your mouth you not only slow your heart rate and increase carbon dioxide/oxygen exchange, you also stop the frenetic spinning of your thoughts. Like your car tires in snow, when you put the car in a lower gear your get better traction.
Take a walk or get some other form of exercise for fifteen minutes. This reduces stress hormones, gives our minds a break and helps feelings of hunger to pass.
Drink a cup of warm chamomile, jasmine or peppermint tea. The heat of the water and the choice of herbs will sooth your stomach and relax you. Often times our mind confuses hunger for thirst. And green tea is full of cancer-preventing and heart health promoting antioxidants.
Create a soothing place. In your bedroom, or office, take a corner and create a space that will touch all your senses. Add a peaceful peace of art for visual calming, a fountain for soft noise, a smooth stone to rub while you gradually release tension, a CD with relaxing music, and some calming aromas like lavender to smell. Stimulating our other senses can prevent the impulse to mindlessly eat.
Before caving in to a craving, connect with your senses. Take a moment to see how many things you can hear, how many visually appealing things you can see, how many physical symptoms you feel by doing a body scan. Cravings pass and this technique allows enough distraction to allow the craving to pass.
Massage your body. Take a small amount of lavender, lemon, sage, or chamomile oil, and massage into your hands and then gently massage your neck, your shoulders, your forehead and the area above your eyes. These areas often take the brunt of our stress and will love the gentle appreciation.
Identify your hunger. Is it truly the stomach growling, dull ache, hollow feeling or is it mouth hunger, that little voice that says you want a little “something-something”. It is natural to feel hungry 4-5 hours after a meal. It is not natural to feel hungry 2 hours after eating. That kind of hunger comes from either eating a meal of “white” carbs, like rice cereals, white pasta or bread, not eating enough at a meal or from feelings of emotional hunger, not stomach hunger. To avoid the first two situations make sure to eat at each meal cereals, breads or crackers that are whole grain, a fruit or veggie and a lean protein with a little bit of healthy fat. An example for breakfast would be 3/4 cup cooked old fashioned oatmeal topped with one tablespoon of chopped walnuts and a quarter cup of low-fat Greek yogurt. A lunch or dinner might be a large green salad with light balsamic dressing, 1/2 cup of tuna, 1/2 cup Three Bean Salad and a fruit. If you have eaten a balanced meal and 2 hours later your are feeling hungry know that most likely it is due to emotional hunger.
You Can Soothe Yourself
Learning to recognize symptoms of stress before they escalate out of control, finding effective coping strategies to get through a stressful episode and taking charge of emotional hunger teaches us skills and gives us confidence that overflows into other aspects of ones life. You can have that small bowl of ice cream, that serving of potato chips or that slice of crunchy, buttery toast, but have it on your terms when you have planned for it, not when you are feeling stressed and are looking for a temporary fix. The five minutes of pleasure will only lead to hours of regret and unwanted weight gain.