Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Skip Beer Yoga-Put Your Stress to Work
You probably wouldn’t want these guys, who reenacted the Operation game in the Janss Pro-Am, taking out your spleen. But emulating their spirit of fun and laughter would help you rebound from the loss of your spleen.
Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Headed for a knee replacement? Some other type of surgery?

Be sure to enlist stress in the battle, along with doctors’ skills.

Short-term stressors can enhance the immune function, resulting in faster and better recovery, says the professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Health System.

Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar addressed listeners at the Community Library this past week on behalf of Expedition Inspiration, Casting for Recovery, and River Discovery, three organizations that use therapeutic recreation to work with cancer survivors.

Dhabhar has been working with other researchers to figure out how to fully harness natural healing from within while using everything medicine provides from without.

“Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, said it’s far more important to know the person who has the disease than to know the disease the person has. But Western medicine has been doing the opposite of this,” he said.

Ayurveda calls stress “the mind’s error.” And many believe all forms of stress are damaging. Just look at the Germans who practice beer yoga and soak in whiskey barrels of beer to relieve stress. Or those in Mumbai, India, who have erected highway signs asking, “Stressed out? Have a Kingfisher (beer).”

Stress is a loaded gun that, left untreated, can kill you as surely as a bullet, says the National Library of Medicine.

But Mother Nature gave us stress to help us survive, Dhabhar said.

Short-term stress, or fight-or-flight stress, helps us flee the javelina hog headed full bore towards us. And the short-term response of immune cells during surgery and other medical procedures can aid recovery.

Think of immune cells as soldiers, Dhabhar said. Most of them spend their time sitting in barracks of the body while a few go out on patrol in the blood vessels scouting for danger. When they get the signal that something’s attacking the body, they activate, heading out to potential battlefields, increasing fire power.

As the battle abates, everything goes back to normal. If a wound or infection is severe, however, a second spike in stress-induced activity might occur.

Stress also signals bone marrow to act, Dhabhar said.

Those with a good adaptive response recover faster with a better outcome. Unfortunately, some people have a maladaptive response, which means that there are fewer cell soldiers and what soldiers there are  don’t mount as vigorous a battle.

Generally, women in general don’t have as vigorous a response as men, although some can hold their own.

And those who deliberately activate short stressors, such as moderate exercise, just before a surgery can help set up the cells to do their work, Dhabhar said.  The exception is for those with autoimmune diseases, which can be worsened even by short stressors.

“We want to harness this response to augment the protective immunity,” said Dhabhar.

Repeated incidences of acute stress are not a problem as long as the individual is able to experience low or no stress on a regular basis.

But chronic stress that lasts for long periods of time inhibits the ability to manifest good stress when needed. Furthermore, chronic stress has been linked to the leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, accidents and suicide.

Chronic stress can be caused by working with mean people in a toxic workplace, the stress of caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s or autism, ongoing cancer treatment, PTSD and major clinical depression. It can also be caused by economic uncertainty, relationship conflicts, envy or jealousy, loneliness, and chronic fear and anger.

As Yoda said in “Star Wars,” fear is the path to the dark side. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Chronic stress dampens the flight-or-fight response.

“Your soldiers have a harder time getting to where they need to go and doing their job once they get there,” said Dhabhar.

Sleep deprivation is the first sign of a problem—cortisol levels not only don’t decline when the sleep cycle is disrupted but levels of the stress hormone rise, increasing susceptibility to disease and shortening telomeres, thereby accelerating aging.

People with shortened telomeres, which protect chromosomes, have been known to look and act like they’re 40 when they’re 30, Dhabhar said. The good news: Telomeres can rebound with stress intervention.

To break harmful stress, get ample sleep, eat well, decrease your focus on self or self-centeredness. And get regular exercise. Consistency in exercise is more important than intensity, Dhabhar said.

Surround yourself with friends who provide support when needed. And practice authenticity, kindness, gratitude and compassion.

Have constructive coping mechanisms you can put in place where needed and learn to appraise things smartly. There’s no need for road rage, for instance, when the traffic jam is just going to add five minutes to your time.

Finally, practice mindfulness, meditation, dance and do yoga, make and listen to music, create art, get your hands dirty gardening, teach others, take walks and enjoy the fresh air outside in nature.

And, above all, breathe.


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