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The Truth About Stress & Its Cure

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Some years ago, I had the opportunity to teach stress management to students in my role as a personal counselor at a New York City public college. While there, I established a stress management program that emphasized relaxation training, diaphragmatic breathing, hypnosis, cognitive restructuring and procrastination training. These techniques were helpful to those who took the time to be trained. But over the years, I came to see that stress management is not only about learning techniques.

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This came home to me while taking a training course in group therapy. I presented one of my stress groups as my course project. I still remember the comments of the instructor: “This is all well and good, but you aren’t really dealing with the people in the group and what’s troubling them.” After a bit of anger on my part, I came to realize that I had missed an essential point in successful stress management.

Managing stress is more than learning a few breathing techniques or yoga poses or even how to think positively. These things can certainly help treat the symptoms of stress, especially in times of need and challenge. But stress management is really about discovering what makes us happy.

Martin Seligman, a positive psychology researcher, in his book Authentic Happiness, laments the scientific neglect of life’s positive dimensions:

“Relieving the states that make life miserable, it seems, has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority.” (1)

Happiness is a center piece to any life that is meaningful, lived with purpose and fully engaged with the world. In this article, I will explore how happiness is the foundation for living a life that is whole and satisfying.

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What is stress management not about?

The media is filled with information about managing stress, losing weight, getting fit, finding the right career, making money and gaining status.  We hear of techniques to cure every ill. We’re told how to breathe, what to eat, which careers are the best, and what exercises to do for a flat stomach. In spite of this, many of us are still stressed out, overweight, out of shape, in jobs we hate and somehow discontent with our lives.

It’s even worse for the not so fortunate among us who are working two or three jobs just to survive and provide for their families, for the single parent looking for day care and decent employment at decent pay, or the homeless trapped in a vicious downward cycle. Deep breathing may not be up to the task of relieving this kind of stress.

There is a much broader vision involved in managing stress than we might at first imagine, such as knowing ourselves , our values and virtues, having a supporting and loving community of family and friends, and working for the good of others. These are the things that help create well-being and happiness. If it were as easy as trying a stress management technique to cure us, we would all be happily relaxed. Let’s take a closer look at the extraordinary contribution happiness can make in our lives.

What is happiness about?

The answer may be that it was never about abundance or techniques. It may be more about coming to know who we are and recognizing the importance of our relationships with others and our community.

There is a dynamic balance between inner peace and healthy loving relationships that serves us well. One might say it’s a yin and yang of inner happiness and outer happiness. For example, a loving relationship helps us feel secure and accepted. If that relationship should end or be temporarily interrupted our sense of inner worth and peace should still survive. Or if we are feeling inner distress, having a loving relationship to get us through helps immensely.

Being happy is about learning to flourish in the midst of life’s conundrums, of being resilient in the face of uncertainty, and of experiencing the great pleasure of being alive.

Let’s look into how inner peace and loving relationships intertwine to produce personal happiness.   

Inner peace – “He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” ― Lao Tzu

greedyA mistake nearly all of us make is to over emphasize the importance of external objects as the source of our happiness. We come to see happiness as something added to us. If I just can just get that job, a spouse, more money, a bigger house, then I will be happy. Our sense of happiness becomes overly acquisitive. Our economic system fosters this attitude. Black Friday is the quintessential symptom of our seduction. If the world gives me what I want, I’m happy.  If not, I’m angry and discontent. The Dali Lama put it this way:

I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy.  From the very core of our being, we desire contentment…it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace. (2)

Perhaps it’s about following the Greek Socratic exhortation to “Know Thyself.”

How do we cultivate inner peace and happiness?

First, we need to recognize that happiness heals. Happiness can influence how long we live, the diseases we contract, and how we recover from illnesses. Lissa Rankin, MD in her book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself says that,

Happiness…effects life expectancy. People with higher levels of “subjective well-being” live up to ten years longer than those who don’t. Happiness also affects some health outcomes, including success rates of stem-cell transplantation, control of diabetes, rates of full-blown AIDS…and recovery from stroke, heart surgery, and hip fracture. (3)

Having a positive psychological stance in life lowers overall mortality, extends longevity, and reduces the severity of most degenerative diseases.

Second, reducing or removing the obstacles to happiness allows happiness to emerge. Similar to dieting, knowing what not to eat is as important as knowing what you should eat. Knowing what makes you unhappy and working to remove or diminish those things helps immensely. Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, (4) a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier. In a Psychology Today article she says:

Although it’s helpful to focus on the positive, to count your blessings, and to remind yourself of what makes you happy, it’s also very important to pay attention to what’s undermining your happiness. (5)

Rubin strongly suggests that you ask yourself what the obstacles are to your happiness. When you identify an obstacle be specific. What exactly is bothering you? Why is this having such an impact? And finally, what do your need to do to change your behavior?

Obstacles could include:

  • Equating success with money and status
  • Blaming others for your unhappiness, it’s always someone else’s fault
  • Being afraid
  • Staying in toxic relationships
  • Not being honest with yourself and others
  • Focusing your life obsessively on making good impressions
  • Neglecting introspection and awareness of yourself, of your values and beliefs
  • Needing to make everyone else happy
  • Thinking life should always be wonderful.

Healthy, Loving Relationships – “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu

loving coupleThe quality of our personal relationships can foster deep contentment and happiness.  Paradoxically, the degree to which we accept ourselves, the more rewarding our relationships can become.

One of the elements commonly overlooked in both medicine and stress management is the quality of our loving and supportive relationships. When our relationships are poor or the community in which we live is isolated and unsupportive our own level of happiness suffers. Lissa Rankin notes that:

The reality is that loneliness causes stress, while loving community relaxes you. The effects of stress and relaxation don’t just affect the mind; they affect the body and the mind. (3)

Rankin goes on to underscore how important loving relationships and supportive community are in our lives:

In fact, this factor alone may affect your body more profoundly than what you eat, how much you drink, whether or not you smoke, or how much you exercise. (3)

Research (6) demonstrates clearly that supportive relationships and community, as well as belief in a higher power extends longevity and brings deeper levels of happiness. This extends to helping the sick and the poor and unemployed. Pope Francis puts it succinctly:

When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them—some food, a place in our homes, our time—not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched. (7)

The modern ideals of total autonomy and radical self-reliance are profoundly misplaced. It is incumbent on us to either change or move away from toxic personal and social relationships. Our happiness and health depend on it.

Remember, happiness comes from the inside and manifests itself in loving personal relationships and our connection with the world.  It is of the utmost importance that we seek out people and communities that offer us love and understanding and to which we can offer the same. It is important that we work to see that all people regardless of ethnicity, race or sexual orientation have the opportunity to live without fear and enjoy the fruits of loving relationships. All of us flourish in love.

References 

1. Seligman, Martin, Authentic Happiness. (2002). Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc.

2. Architects of Peace. His Holiness the Dalai Lama Reflects on Working Toward Peace. Retrieved from http://www.scu.edu/ethics/architects-of-peace/Dalai-Lama/essay.html

 3. Lankin, Lissa, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself. (2013). Hay House, Inc.

4. Rubin, Gretchin, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. (2009). Harper Collins e-book.

5. Rubin, Gretchin. Happiness Question: What’s an obstacle to your happiness?. Psychology Today Oct. 27, 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-happiness-project/201005/happiness-question-whats-obstacle-your-happiness

6. Pursuit of Happiness. Relationships. Retrieved from http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/communicating/

7. Visit to the Community of Varginha, (2013).  Address of Pope Francis, Rio de J2neiro. Retrieved from http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130725_gmg-comunita-varginha.html

 

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

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Awareness

Boy or Girl – Baby Gender Selection Issues

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Some parents have the possibility to opt for gender selection; however, being able to decide whether to have a baby boy or girl is a controversial issue.

Many couples expecting a baby do not think it’s a big issue whether they have a boy or a girl; however there are several medical, social, and personal reasons that could influence parents to recur to some form of gender selection.

Like many other controversial practices, the legality of gender selection, also known as sex selection, varies from country to country.

The Legality of Baby Gender Selection

The United States has perhaps some of the most relaxed laws regarding baby gender selection in the world. Most European countries and Australia, on the other hand, have bans on sex selection and only allow it for medical reasons. For example, if a parent is a carrier of a mutation or gene with more chances of manifesting itself in a certain gender, baby gender selection is valid. However, if parents simply wish to balance the ratio of boys and girls in their family, they are not allowed to recur to sex selection.

This has generated a form of medical tourism in which couples from countries where gender selection is illegal, like the UK, travel to the US in order to be able to choose whether to have a baby boy or girl.

On the other hand, sex selection is illegal in the two most populated countries on Earth, China and India. In these countries, baby gender selection has been performed clandestinely for many years and for reasons other than family balancing or avoiding genetic diseases. In these societies, having a baby boy is preferred mainly for cultural and economic reasons. Parents believe that boys have better chances of earning income and eventually support them when they reach an old age.

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Methods of Baby Gender Selection

There are two major types of gender selection methods: the first one is called sperm sorting, and involves separating X-chromosome sperm from Y-chromosome sperm by flow cytometry, a purification technique in which chromosomes are suspended in a stream of sperm and identified by an electronic detector before being separated. Intra-uterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization can then be performed with the enriched sperm. The success rates for this method vary from 80% to 93%.

The other method, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, consists in generating several embryos through in-vitro fertilization, which are then genetically tested to determine a baby’s gender. The chosen embryos can then be implanted. This method has a success rate of almost 100%; however, it can be quite expensive, costing up to $15,000.

Issues Regarding Baby Gender Selection

While there are few objections against baby gender selection when it is performed for medical reasons, it has become a highly controversial issue when it is used for balancing the number of boys or girls in families. Some people raise the obvious ethical question of whether people who opt for gender selection are “playing God” by manipulating whether to have a baby boy or girl. Others believe that new parents will raise a baby more appropriately if he or she belongs to their preferred gender.

Gender Imbalance Caused by Baby Gender Selection

Gender selection has caused demographic concern in China and India since it has contributed to generate a gender imbalance in the populations of those countries. In some regions of China, for example, the sex ratio for newborns is 118:100, boys to girls. This phenomenon has in turn been associated with social problems such as an increase in violence and prostitution.

It seems like a logical solution for governments around the globe to legalize baby gender selection but to analyze the personal reasons why each couple intends to select a baby boy or girl. Gender selection for medical reasons should even be encouraged, since it could prevent serious genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and Haemophilia A. Balancing the gender ratio of a family should be accepted if by doing this, a healthy family environment is created. On the other hand, China and India have shown that baby gender selection as a result of a bias towards a particular gender can not only create a gender imbalance in the population, but contribute to social problems as well.

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

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Awareness

Organic Certification: What the USDA Organic Label Means

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Organic and natural labels mean different things, and various types of labels tells you what percentage of ingredients are actually organic. We'll explore what to look for.

  • Reflect On:

    Do you sometimes buy products thinking they are organic or fully natural based on their wording? Have you later found out that those products aren't natural or organic at all? Read labels more closely at grocery stores to be aware.

Don’t get conned by fraudulent claims of “natural” or “organic.” Learn what to look for, and why it’s important, to ensure you’re getting the quality you are paying for.

The industrial age of the 20th century brought about changing agricultural practices that have generated increasing alarm about the effects of these practices on the environment and health. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, irradiated and genetically altered food and fiber products has created a groundswell of rightful concern. It has led to the growing demand for non-toxic, organic products that many are willing to pay a higher price for to ensure the healthful purity of food and clothing provided for their families.

With such profit opportunities, it’s little wonder that the lucrative organic product market has suffered abuse with so-called “organic” labels being fraudulently placed on products that have not earned the right. As a result of pressure from farming and consumer groups, legislation for the standardization of organic certification was introduced in the 1980s. It has been updated to include more vigorous enforcement and control methods since, with the current standards established in 2002 by the USDA.

The Standards of USDA Organic Certification

Specific standards must be met in order to legally claim a product as USDA certified organic. Organic producers must utilize methods that conserve water, maximize soil health, and reduce air pollution. The specific standards to earn USDA organic certification include:

Free of synthetic chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and additives

Free from irradiation and genetically modified organisms

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Agricultural products grown on land that has been free of prohibited substances for a period of three years

Animals used for meat, eggs, milk or other animal products must be exclusively fed foods that are organically grown, may not be given antibiotics or hormones, and must have access to outdoors.

Clean and sanitized harvesting and processing equipment throughout the process from harvest to finished, packaged product

Detailed chain-of-handling records from the field through final sales

Physical separation of certified organic products from non-organic products throughout the process of production

Regular on-site inspections from USDA-approved inspectors to ensure compliance

Understanding the Certified Organic Label

Once the rigorous process of certification has been completed, organic producers may place the USDA certified organic seal on their products. Currently, there are four levels of certified organic products, with a specific definition of the percentage of organic ingredients the final products contains. They are as follows:

• 100% organic: all production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic.

• Organic: at least 95% of the production methods and ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.

• Made With Organic Ingredients: at least 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic with remaining ingredients included on the National List of allowed ingredients.

• No organic wording or seal: less than 70% of the ingredients are USDA certified organic and no claims may be made on the front or back of the product.

Manufacturers or producers who knowingly label a product “organic” when it does not meet the USDA standards are subject to fines up to $11,000 per violation.

Why Organic Certification is Important

When you see the official USDA organic certification seal on food, clothing, and bedding products, you can be assured that these products have met the meticulous standards required and are free of chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, and hormones. When you see the USDA certified organic label, you will understand the value of the higher priced organic products as compared to non-organically produced products.

With the current stringent organic certification requirements enforced by regular inspections from USDA accredited agents, the USDA certified organic label has great meaning and importance to the consumer. Look for the label to know that you are getting the quality you are paying for.

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

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Awareness

WHO Finds Global Lack Of Inactivity Rising Especially In Wealthier Countries — What You Can Do

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Inactivity is on the rise and it's the cause of a wide range of health concerns. Our population is only becoming more inactive, not less, and it's time to change that.

  • Reflect On:

    There are many factors of our modern world that make us less active. Our jobs, driving rather than walking/biking, too much screen time. What can you do differently to bring more activity into your life? What story stops you from starting?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than a quarter of the entire population on this planet are not getting enough physical exercise, this number has barely improved since 2001. There are many factors that contribute to this, but just how much damage are we doing by failing to be active?

The lack of physical exercise raises the risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and various types of cancers.

Interestingly, according to their study published in The Lancet Global Health, higher income countries, such as the UK, were among the least active population. Women were also found to be more sedentary throughout the world, excluding two regions in Asia.

The study looked at self-reported data on activity levels from 358 population based surveys covering 168 countries and included 1.9 million people.

The populations of higher income countries, which include the UK and USA showed an increase in the proportion of inactive people and had actually risen from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016, in the lower income countries it remained at 16%.

Those who were classified as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise and around 75 minutes of intense activity per week.

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It was found that women were less active than men overall, except for in South and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and higher-income Western countries. The authors believe that this was caused by a few different factors including extra childcare duties and cultural perspectives that may have made it more difficult for them to exercise.

Why More Inactivity In Wealthier Countries?

According to the researchers, in the wealthier countries, many of the jobs have transitioned to more office or desk jobs, meaning a more sedentary type of lifestyle. On top of that much of the population of these countries drive automobiles or take public transit to and from work which in many cases accounts for a lot of their time.

In the lower income countries, many of the jobs require the people to be more active, are physically demanding and people often have to walk to and from their jobs.

The WHO has had a goal to reduce the global levels of inactivity by 10% by 2025, the authors of the study feel that at the rate we are currently going, this target will be missed.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Regina Guthold said, “Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health.”

Regions with increasing levels of insufficient physical activity are a major concern for public health and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.”

Co-author, Dr. Fiona Bull added, “Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable.”

According to the WHO,

Exercise guidelines for 19- to 64-year-olds

How much?

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
  • break up long periods of sitting with light activity

What is moderate aerobic activity?

  • Walking fast, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground or with a few hills, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, volleyball, basketball

What counts as vigorous activity?

  • Jogging or running, swimming fast, riding a bike fast or on hills, singles tennis, football, rugby, skipping rope, hockey, aerobics, gymnastics, martial arts

What activities strengthen muscles?

  • lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, yoga

What activities are both aerobic and muscle-strengthening?

  • circuit training, aerobics, running, football, rugby, netball, hockey

Final Thoughts

I was surprised to see that the WHO didn’t touch on inactivity due to too much screen time — watching television, Netflix, Facebook scrolling, messaging, texting, browsing etc. Certainly, the increase in screen time plays a roll with the amount of inactivity, especially in the higher income countries. If you are someone who spends too much time staring at a screen, then it is important to consider the above information. Can you limit your screen time and replace it with something active? Or would you consider jumping rope, or rebounding while watching the television? Our health is our greatest wealth and having awareness about an issue is the first way to create change and take responsibility for our lives.

Could you walk or bike to work instead of drive? What about trying a new sport? Could you commit to adding a few hours each week of physical activity? These small decisions could have a profound impact on your health, longevity and overall well-being.

Much Love

Free Franco DeNicola Screening: The Shift In Consciousness

We interviewed Franco DeNicola about what is happening with the shift in consciousness. It turned out to be one of the deepest and most important information we pulled out within an interview.

We explored why things are moving a little more slowly with the shift at times, what is stopping certain solutions from coming forward and the important role we all play.

Watch the interview here.
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