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de-stressing

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How Quitting My Job Cured Chronic Migraines

Image courtesy of http://deathtothestockphoto.com

Image courtesy of http://deathtothestockphoto.com

You heard that right, leaving my job is what finally cured them! Last fall, I started on the downward spiral, health wise. I was getting autoimmune flares and feeling like death warmed over most days. What was new this time is that I had migraine headaches 5-6 days of the week. Some days they were so intense, I was in bed all day. Other days it was just all I could do to get through the day. 

I started looking for answers. I took a good hard look at my food, my sleep, my exercise and my home environment. I started questioning whether or not I had been exposed to some kind of chemical that could be causing them. Then I remembered that at the Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS) last year, there was a lecture about migraines that I was unable to attend (due to a migraine, ironically). So I went back and listened to the lecture. I've linked to it for you so you don't have to go searching for it. It's 20 minutes and a bit sciency, but well worth it.

What I learned from that lecture is the basic premise that we have a given threshold where the brain might get stuck in a pain feedback loop - aka the painful part of the migraine (1). And the theory further states that under normal circumstances (i.e.: how we evolved) we are pretty far away from that threshold. Then when you add on the things we see pervasively in our modern lifestyle (Standard American Diet, environmental chemicals and toxins, chronic stress), that threshold becomes closer and closer to triggering a migraine (2).

So even though I had thought I had really done a good analysis of all the health factors, my migraines continued at that crazy level for 3 months.

Then I left my job. 

You see, even though I have been doing health coaching and FDN for about a year now with clients. I played it "safe" and kept a "corporate" job too. So really, I was working two jobs for a good long while. And then the corporate job stopped being as interesting, then politics got in the way, and it was downright brutal to work there. But I thought I was doing the right thing by playing it safe with the income streams. Yet I dreaded going to work every day. I wasn't happy, but I was secure.

But the day after I left that job, was a migraine free day and I felt fantastic! I thought it was a fluke. But the trend continued. So much so that I have only had 2 migraines in the last 35 days!! Holy Pain Freedom, Batman!

And here is what I have learned from this experience:

  1. If you hate your job, nothing is worth compromising your health over perceived financial security. 
  2. Don't ignore the stress damage that can be done from "putting up with" or tolerating a bad situation, no matter the perceived benefits.
  3. Stay in alignment with your core desires. If you find that you no longer enjoy something, then try *anything* else :)

Where have you noticed that stress has had this much of an impact on your health and well being? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear from you!

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Making Gratitude a Habit

Image courtesy of http://deathtothestockphoto.com

Image courtesy of http://deathtothestockphoto.com

I know a lot of people think of the holidays as a chance to pig out on some family favorite recipes. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat great food, but I also love to take the time to think about the holiday as a time of gratitude. Its nice to be reflective on those people around you that you want to appreciate.

Which brings me to gratitude. Gratitude, and those who practice it regularly tend to be happier, have less stressstronger relationships and increased vitality! Many studies have shown that practicing gratitude have increased happiness in people. One of my favorite gratitude studies (documented by that great group of folks, Soul Pancake) in this great video (7:13). Spoiler alert: there are tears & laughter at the same time! 

So how does one build gratitude into their daily life as a habit? Habit is essential, because at the end of the day, when willpower runs out, habits are what bring forth lasting behavior that can be relied upon. Habits are they key to success with implementing change. Habits become how you live your life, without question, or pressure or judgement.

Last year I was listening to the Health Bridge podcast, and one of the hosts, Pedram Shojai, introduced a fascinating Taoist topic, the 100 day gong. A gong is a concept that during a 100 day period of time, you set actions you will take each day for the purpose of personal growth. Traditionally, these tasks tend to be physical, mental and spiritual. During this period of time, you commit to restructuring your life around doing these tasks every. single. day! If you miss one day, you start over again with day one. Doing a 100 day gong is a way of making that important commitment to yourself and holding yourself accountable if you fall off of the wagon. 

Now I know that the New Year tends to mark the time when we list out 20+ things we are going to start doing on 01 January. The list usually looks like this: "Exercise more, eat better, get more sleep... " etc. And I also know that I can overachieve the overachiever tendency! So I am picking ONE thing that I want to build as a new habit: Gratitude. Im going to do 100 day Gratitude Gong. 

For me that means writing down, or expressing in a photograph something that I am grateful for each day. My friend Oliver Asis (go check out his photography, btw) who documented his 100 days of gratitude last summer. I thought that was a fantastic idea. So, each week, I'll post one of my practice samples to the Toréa Rodriguez FDN Facebook page to share with you how I am doing! And if you want to follow me on Instagram, I'm sure I'll be posting some over there as well. If any of you wish to join me, please let me know (leave a comment or drop me an email) and I can set up a group for us to share our Gratitude Gong's together!!

What sort of actions are you taking for the New Year? Anyone else committing to a gong? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Photography as a Mindfulness Tool

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I have to say, that I love photography. While I can totally geek-out on the nitty gritty of shutter speeds and f/stops, and, as much as I respect the DSLR photographers, I really find DSLR photography more complex than what I need. Still, I wanted to improve my own skills as a photographer and in the last year I decided to only shoot images and video with my iPhone. I mean it was always in my back pocket anyway, so why not?

I am your typical Type-A-stressed-out-to-the-max-overachiever type. Well at least I used to be. And when I would overload my to-do list, over-commit and then take on even more, there was no time in the day to photograph, let alone, to pause and notice moments. I didn't even give photography a second's thought. But until I decided to challenge myself to start taking more photographs, I didn't even understand what I was missing out on. 

This is Rally - he just got back into town after doing some off-roading!

This is Rally - he just got back into town after doing some off-roading!

One of the wonderful and not so often talked about benefits of photography is that it gets me to live in the moment much more than I am used to. I have started to learn to pause, and look at my surroundings to find things to photograph. It may be a shadow, or light peeking through trees, or snails (yea, its become a thing) or an expression on my dog's face. But I have learned that I enjoy life so much more when I take the time to notice the moments. Now, when I go for walks, I find that I am the one pausing to capture moments, light, whatever and then running to catch up. It really has brought a lot of joy to my life.

Being mindful refers to our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It's the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions and thoughts - as well as the awareness of what is going on in our immediate environment. There are many health benefits to mindfulness including stress reduction. And I find that practicing photography is a great door to being mindful to my environment, but it also gives me that pause to be mindful of my own body and mind. And in that respect, I know that photography has contributed to better health for me.

Am I a professional? Ha! no way. Are my photos perfect? Not even close. Is my photo roll full of blurred, muted, images? You bet! Oh and there are some black ones from photographing my pocket by accident - that happens regularly. But some days I get some gems, and they are delightful gifts when I get them.

To that end, I have signed up for a photography challenge in August. Its called the August Break run by Susannah Conway. She takes a break from writing on her blog and focuses on photography. The rules are really simple: take a photograph each day in August. She provides daily subject prompts... and those participating post to Instagram with the #AugustBreak2014 hashtag or the shared Flickr album. Of course you can always follow my Instagram feed if you want to see what I am up to photography wise. Or you can sign up for the challenge yourself! Totally free.

What do you do to be mindful throughout your day? Leave a comment below - I'd love to hear from you!

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15 Tips on Reducing Stress in a Modern World

Image courtesy of Toréa Rodriguez - his name is Louie :)

Image courtesy of Toréa Rodriguez - his name is Louie :)

Our bodies are built to stay in a state of homeostasis, or that is to say a state of balance. So when we are normally exposed to stress, the body can respond with the adrenal glands, but typically returns back to that state of homeostasis. So for example, back in the day when we lived in caves and hung out by the fire, if we took a walk and got chased by a lion, we’d produce an acute stress response. This “fight or flight” response kicks in with the Autonomic Nervous System and causes many physical reactions. Our pupils dilate, our heart rate increases, the airways in our lungs open wider, blood circulation increases, the adrenals release cortisol and adrenaline… all of this so that we could run like heck to get away. But then later, back at the cave resting, our adrenals return to producing the same levels of cortisol and adrenaline that they do when they are in a state of homeostasis or calm.

Fast forward to present modern life and our picture is quite different. We don’t have lions chasing after us every day, but we do have plenty of external and hidden stressors that invoke the same “fight or flight” response. External stressors could be problems in a relationship (emotional stress), losing a loved one, or getting into an accident and ending up with physical injury. The hidden stressors are not as apparent, however, and could be getting exposed to toxic chemicals (say from cosmetics or household cleaning products), chronic sleep problems or deprivation, internal infections (parasites, bacteria, yeast, viruses), use of alcohol, caffeine, or drugs, etc., even eating foods that are inflammatory (gluten for example) or foods you may have sensitivities to can cause hidden chronic stress in the body.

Even our lifestyles contribute to stress: high-achievement, over-productivity, use of computers/screens for too many hours in the day, watching violent or stressful television, never saying no to opportunities, sacrificing sleep and recovery for achievement - most of those don’t sound so bad… in fact our modern society rewards high-achievment and the mom of 5 who can hold down two successful careers simultaneously! But this "low level" chronic stress can accumulate over time. These chronic levels of stress are just as damaging as the acute levels of stress if kept up for some time.

As you can see, we are surrounded by stress. And when we have this relentless pattern of acute and chronic stressors constantly at our door, the body looses its ability to respond and recover the same way it was designed for the occasional acute stressor. Over time, the adrenal glands can’t keep up and they loose their ability to produce the same level of response, and eventually if taken to the extreme, could loose their ability to produce a response at all. This is one of the key reasons why one should take steps in their life to reduce and manage stress as much as they can.

Now there may be no way for us to get rid of 100% of the stress given the modern life and we can't control *everything*. But there are quite a few things one can do to reduce their stress overall. Here are just a few examples of stress reduction and management:

  1. Work out emotional conflict with people and/or terminate relationships that are toxic or unhealthy
  2. Find time to rest, relax, mediate, or read a book
  3. Make sure recovery is part of your exercise program - often times we workout to the extreme (chronic cardio anyone?) and forget to set aside recover
  4. Evaluate the chemicals in your home and take steps to eliminate them or replace them with less toxic versions (trust me, apple cider vinegar and baking soda go a long way!)
  5. Make sure you are eating a diet free of foods that cause inflammation (ahem, gluten, sugar...). If you are allergic to cranberries like I am, don't eat them a ton during the holidays :)
  6. If you are in a job you hate, get out and find something you love
  7. Likewise, if you live in a house with black mold, get out or get it treated
  8. Take long walks on the beach (seriously!) or in a park - try to get out in nature as much as you can
  9. Sedentary lifestyles are also stressful, so make sure you are walking and incorporating movement as much as you can
  10. Take a digital sabbatical or reduce your overall screen time
  11. Really consider if its worthwhile to volunteer at every. single. opportunity
  12. Get good sleep, like 8-9 hours each night, in a dark quiet space
  13. Investigate with a health professional (like an FDN practitioner) if you have any hidden infections or malfunctions
  14. Reduce your exposure to bright light (blue spectrum) at night - this will help produce more restorative sleep
  15. During the day, get some sun exposure to increase your Vitamin D production

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What is Stress and Why Should We Care?

CC image courtesy of Emergency Brake

CC image courtesy of Emergency Brake

S-T-R-E-S-S!!! It triggers our sympathetic nervous system, or more commonly known as the "fight or flight" mode. And while we (most of us) are not actually running from that Grizzly Bear each day, the lower-level chronic stress is triggering the exact same mode! Most of us have an idea of what stress is, or what it means to us. But many of us don't know how permeating stress can actually be. Stress can come from many forms, each of these triggering that sympathetic nervous system

  • Mental/Emotional - Whether perceived or subconscious, this stress can result from fear, worry, excitement, anxiety, existential angst, lack of purpose, covertness: the argument with your partner, the new job and its resulting expectations, the loss of a loved one, etc.
  • Physical/Biomechanical - Can results from trauma, fractures, muscle injuries or weakness, nerve compression, intense prolonged exercise, amongst others. It could be the broken wrist after going over the mountain bike handlebars, it could be from a surgery procedure, or misalignment of the body from years of slumping over that keyboard, or you've noticed lately that it takes running a full marathon to get the same endorphin rush as 5 miles used to give you. 
  • Chemical/Biochemical - This physiological stress is usually hidden or underlying; stress that we may or may not be aware of: infection, inflammation, incorrect diet, food additives, chemicals (pesticides, herbicides), drugs, alcohol, caffeine, blood sugar disregulation, sleep deprivation, toxic metals, radiation, EMFs, allergies, over-active immune system, exogenous hormones, antibiotics, parasites, fungus bacterial infections. This is quite an extensive list that shows just how easily our bodies can be stressed without any outburst or medical trauma.

Stress is everywhere. And our society seems to crave more of it every day. But what happens when our bodies are bombarded by all these stressors without any respite? Eventually our body starts to break down. Our immune systems become compromised and our body is not as efficient dealing with these stressors as before. Additionally, research now shows that stress is a leading contributor to leaky gut and chronic illness.

"Stress increases intestinal permeability, visceral sensitivity, alteration in GI-motility and leads to profound mast cell activation resulting in the release of many pro inflammatory mediators. [3]"

In fact, Dr. Fasano from the University of Maryland School of Medicine purports in his research [1, 2] that having a leaky gut is one of the required factors in the development of autoimmune disease. And with over 50 million Americans [4] having autoimmune disease (that is more than the 12 million with cancer or the 25 million with heart disease, btw), I would say its a pretty safe assumption there may be a correlation with all this stress and the rise of autoimmune disease!

Personally, I know that I used to carry a lot of chronic stress for many many years. I'm that typical type A personality that needs to always be achieving and setting the curve on class exams. I never rested, I had a love affair with coffee, and frankly I was jazzed on the feeling I got from that level of achievement - or was it the coffee? not sure. But then you add to that elevated level of chronic stress some acute stress events (cycling accident that resulted in multiple injuries, loss of my mom and a pressurization emergency at FL250) that happened within months of each other and you have the perfect storm for illness and disease to progress at a rapid rate.

Stress management these days is a lot more than just managing the emotional aspect of stress. We have to look at all the stress factors and eliminate as many as possible. Because let's face it, we will never escape it all. The most important step however, is gaining appreciation for just how much can be a stressor on the body and bringing awareness to your own stress factors. Because until you are aware of it, you won't be able to do anything about it. Now you can!

I would love to hear in the comments what you do to manage everyday stressors (hidden and obvious) in the comments below!

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