Last week I gave a brand new presentation on Stress at the Central West Women’s Health Centre. There were lots of questions at the end and surprise at the connections between stress and our bodies.
Did you know gut bugs, both friendly and unfriendly, respond to changes in stress hormones? Our immune system is intimately connected with our gut microbes, and is also affected by stress hormones.
In acute stress (running away from a predator), our immune system is UP-regulated in anticipation of infection.
In chronic stress (lasting longer than 6 weeks), our immune system is DOWN-regulated meaning we are more vulnerable to infections.
The microbial balance in the gut changes which can affect neurotransmitter production.
Stress also affects our genes. In pregnant women, chronic stress can change the microbial community in the birth canal which can impact the bugs a baby is first in contact with.
Stress also affects DNA repair (telomerase activity) and women with highest levels of perceived stress compared with low stress have shorter telomeres. This has the average equivalent of at least one decade of additional ageing.
So what can you do about this?
Meditation may slow genetic ageing and enhance genetic repair by promoting telomere maintenance
Box breathing is easy to do and can be done anywhere!
Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat for 4 to 6 rounds.
Lie down with your legs up the wall or calves resting on a chair, thighs vertical for 2-10 minutes for a gentle inversion.
And maybe consider this saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys” – the downfalls of trying to control what is not ours to control.
Maybe someone is trying to give you their problem to sort out/take on board.
Are you aware of a wandering mind?
Or can you focus intently on what you are doing and not get distracted?
I was at my annual Australian Rehabilitation Medicine conference at the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed a three hour workshop on Mindfulness with Dr Craig Hassed. We had opportunities to practise mindfulness, communicate while the other party is distracted or fully attentive, and do mental arithmetic under time and audience pressure!!!
Craig presented many research articles he has either been involved in or referenced in his talk. One of the very interesting facts about a wandering mind and longevity relates to telomeres. What is a telomere? Well it is similar to the end of a shoelace and comes out of either side of the coiled up DNA in each cell. When we are born we have long telomeres and as we age our telomeres shorten. Is there anything that makes them shorten more rapidly? Yes a wandering mind…. People who worry a lot or who have anxiety may appear 10 years older than their true age.
So if you want to maintain your youthfulness, why not give regular meditation a go. If you can manage even 5 minutes twice daily you may well notice some benefits. You could find a guided meditation online or find a quiet place to sit/lie down, close your eyes, scan your body from your toes to your head, listen and focus on your breathing, and if you notice thoughts then let them go and return to focusing on your breathing. There is no need for “perfection” in meditation, rather taking the time to sit down and not be connected with anyone or anything than yourself for a few minutes is just right.