Regardless of how you have classified this past year, “good”, “terrible” or somewhere in between, it is now for all of us, in the rear view mirror. The infamous year, 2020, is in the history books and we are now about 2 weeks into a New Year. As humans we have always looked forward to new beginnings and a fresh slate on which to construct a better way. What is your vision and hope for this year?
We can only thrive when we have hope and trust that our actions will move things in a positive direction. We may not be able to control many things that are happening all around us, but we can control our thoughts and actions.
Now more than ever in my career, I am seeing a genuine interest among people, in building better health and reducing the chances of disease. Despite this, I am also seeing now more than ever, increases in physical pain and ailments like back pain, neck pain, and muscular pain. What is contributing to the rise in chronic pain in general?
There is no simple answer for this. What we do know is that since the arrival of this virus, people are experiencing heightened levels of stress, anxiety and fear. There have been increases in consumption of sugars, alcohol, and processed, comfort foods with concomitant decreases in exercise, positive social interactions, and outdoor recreation. Can this unfortunate combination of conditions increase inflammation and with it, the bodily response of pain?
I believe it can. Let me explain just a couple of the mechanisms at work, so we can focus on solutions.
- Diet is the number one cause of systemic inflammation, which is the precursor to disease and pain. This is an undisputed fact. Processed foods, are notoriously high in inflammatory omega 6 fats like the seed oils ( corn, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, soybean…) and low in anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils such as avocado and olive oils. In addition, processed foods have an abnormally high content of sugar and simple carbohydrates. Sugar and it’s counterparts, brown rice syrup, and corn syrup are inflammatory to cells, causing a rapid rise in insulin, promoting insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. Many of these foods are void of nutrients, cause nutritional deficiencies, and yet are high in caloric density.
2. Exercise and Muscle Building activities are Anti-inflammatory and provide a host of countless benefits. Exercise is a potent outlet for stress reduction, release of toxins, oxygenation to the tissues, improved lung and cardiovascular capacity, and improved function of mitochondrial cells ( our energy manufacturing cells) and therefore energy production. Exercise enhances mobility, strength and bolsters the immune system, provided it is not a prolonged or extreme intensity. Exercise, especially when outdoors in the sunshine, improves mood, stress coping skills and reduces pain perception. Strength training enhances how joints function, reduces the strain on the joints and often prevents or halts the progression of arthritis.
3. Stress, you will often hear me say, is the Unofficial Grim Reaper. What does this mean?
Unabated, chronic stress and worry pack a perilous punch of lowering the immune system, ramping up inflammation, increasing the incidence of insomnia, and escalating chronic pain and disease. Need I say more? Our perception of the events that are occurring around us gives rise to a physiological response by the body. If our interpretation of events is negative, resistant, critical, angry, or feeling victimized, the resulting biological response will be elevation of blood pressure, elevation of blood sugar, activation of the fight or flight mechanism, and reduction of immune disease fighting cells.
Many of us are living in the future or past and are precariously perched on the edge of our worries and fears. The brain is designed for our survival and therefore fear and worry may easily be our default mode. Our minds are the first frontier to conquer if we are to be successful in any area of our life. Our minds will offer up many thoughts in the course of a day, we don’t have to believe them all. Although difficult, we can choose the thoughts and beliefs that move us in a positive direction.
If you are finding that your health goals are off to a slow start or if you are feeling mentally or physically unprepared to tackle the habits and behaviors you need to succeed, you are in good company.
Here are 5 simple ways you can move toward a healthier future and manage pain significantly better.
- Move. Exercise, even if it to simply get outside and walk. Perform body weight exercises, or work out with resistance bands or weights. Since many gyms are closed, this will be challenging, but you knew that already. Do it anyway. Even if 10 minutes twice a day is all you can do.
- Meditate. Start and end the day with 5-10 minutes of mindful breathing and visualization. Perhaps include a meditation like the loving kindness meditation. Many studies have demonstrated that meditation is highly effective for chronic pain, especially when exacerbated by stress. It changes the structure and function of the brain by decreasing activity in the fear brain and brains’ pain processing center.
- Nutrition first. This must be a priority! Reduce inflammatory sugars and omega 6 inflammatory oils. Stop eating nutrient void, dead, processed foods from a box or bag. Instead, eat lean protein sources and increase vegetable intake. This is not a diet, it is a decision. Watch your motivations for eating, often they will circle back to an emotional state. Understanding this is the first step to over ruling it.
- Stay hydrated. Our organs, tissues, discs and cartilages are 60-80% water and we require adequate water for normal functioning of our cells and detox organs. Dehydration contributes to pain and stiffness.
- Sleep, Rest, Relax. Seems easy enough but for many who find themselves in the midst of challenges, or experiencing pain, it is far from easy. Sleep is restorative to the body and reduces pain. You have to move your nervous system away from ‘fight or flight’ or the state of sympathetic dominance, toward the parasympathetic state of ‘rest, repair, and digest’. For starters, turn off all electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed. Stop watching the news, which is designed to hijack your fear brain and cause rumination and anxiety. Create a space that is conducive to sleep and relaxation. Use your favorite music track, nature sounds, essential oils, a cool, dark atmosphere, a weighted blanket, centering meditation and/or prayer or a warm bath of Epsom salts. Find something that is most comforting for you, that promotes peace and tranquility.
Be kind and gentle with yourself as you embark on change. Small steps, repeated consistently over time, reap big results. Every new day is a gift that we are given. We get to choose how to show up.
I am excited to announce that my new book, Staying Healthy, Living Longer 7 Powerful Principles for Living Longer! will be released within the month.