How Does Stress Affect Immunity?

stress and immunity

If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, you probably also come down with more than your fair share of illness too.

This isn’t just bad luck; according to science, there is a pretty strong link between stress and immunity.  Here’s how stress can affect your health and immunity and some tips on what you can do to cope with chronic stress.

How Does Stress Affect Immunity?

Under normal circumstances, your immune system protects you by tackling bacteria, viruses and other nasties that could make you ill.

Stress affects your body’s ability to fight off these viruses and bacteria, which makes you more likely to be ill. As a double whammy, it also makes it that bit harder to recover, meaning it takes you longer to feel fully well again.

As part of the “fight or flight” response, stress encourages hormones to be released. .This would be great if you were dealing with a genuine threat to your life that required you to get away quickly but it’s bad news when the threat is a bit more mundane.

One of the hormones that is released as part of the “fight or flight” response is cortisol, which is linked to inflammation.

This should only be a temporary effect and once the “threat” is over, hormone production and systems in the body should return to normal fairly quickly.

But with chronic stress, it can mean that the “fight or flight” stress response is  switched”on” most or all of the time. And this leads to inflammation in the body.

As you’ve probably heard, chronic inflammation is said to be a factor in a wide range of diseases and conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

Chronic inflammation can pave the way for conditions such as arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, lupus, fibromyalgia and psoriasis.

Cortisol also reduces the number of lymphocytes in your body. These are the white blood cells that would normally help to fight infection. Having low levels of these can mean that you pick up every cough and cold going and are prone to developing cold sores, for example.

In one study, researchers asked 276 people about the things that had stressed them out in the past year. They then gave them nasal drops containing the common cold virus to see who was most affected. Almost 40% of the participants did indeed catch a cold, and those who had reported having a lot of stress were twice as likely to be ill.

In the second part of the same study, researchers also looked at the inflammatory response of 79 participants before they exposed them to the cold virus. They found that those who had a weak inflammatory response to begin with also produced more inflammatory cytokines when they got ill.

Depression and Mental Health

It’s not just stress that can deplete your immunity. Studies have shown that depression is also heavily linked to lower immunity, especially in situations that involve chronic stress.

One study looked at depression in older caregivers and found that even mild cases reduced their immunity and this was still the case 18 months later. Researchers concluded that it isn’t how severe the depression is that affects immunity but the length of time that it’s been present.

What Can You Do to Deal With Chronic Stress?

It’s not always easy or even practical to avoid stress, especially if you suffer from a chronic health condition or care for a loved one, for example.

If you can’t avoid stress, the next best thing is to learn how to cope with it so that it’s less likely to have a big impact on your immunity.

A few things you can try include:

Relaxation remedies: The mind-body connection is strong but you can use it in a positive way by harnessing relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, visualisation and guided imagery.

Overcoming negative thinking: Negative thinking and anxiety tend to go hand in hand and can cause a lot of stress. Studies have shown that people with a positive outlook on life have better immunity so there are a lot of big benefits attached to overcoming negative thinking.

Building a strong support network: In recent years, loneliness has been flagged as one of the biggest risk factors for chronic ill health – potentially even more so than obesity and smoking. People with stronger support networks have been shown to benefit from better health and immunity.

Eat well: Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is recommended for tackling stress but there are also foods that you should limit as much as possible. Refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods are all best restricted as they can promote inflammation.

Exercise regularly: Exercise encourages feel good endorphins, which can boost your mood and it’s also a good way to relieve stress. There are benefits for immunity too as being physically active increases your body’s white blood cells, which can be depleted by stress. High intensity physical activity has the most effect on white blood cells.

Have some fun:  Laughter also increases your body’s white blood cells and helps to reduce stress hormones.

 

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What to Eat for Anxiety (And What to Avoid)

anxiety foods

What you eat can have a big impact on your health and wellbeing, and mental health is no exception to this. Some foods have been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety symptoms while others are known to make anxiety worse. Here are some of the key foods and drinks that can help to reduce anxiety, plus some of the ones to avoid.

What to Eat for Reducing Anxiety

Fruits

Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress, which can alter key neurotransmitters in the brain. In one study, anxiety has been linked to low consumption of antioxidants so it’s definitely worth upping your intake of fruit if you’re struggling with anxiety. Aim for as many different colours as you can to get a range of nutrients as well as antioxidants.

Salmon

Salmon is linked to a healthy brain, not least because it’s a good source of vitamin D and fatty acids EPA and DHA. All of these nutrients are thought to help to regulate the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which are linked to calmness.

Adding more salmon to your diet can be an easy way to improve your wellbeing and it’s backed up by research too. In one study, men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week also experienced less anxiety.

Turkey

Turkey is a good source of L-tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin. It’s been shown to improve symptoms of depression and social anxiety.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut promote a healthy gut, which has a lot more to do with your brain than you might think. Studies suggest that eating probiotics and fermented foods regularly can be good for anxiety – even to the point of potentially preventing anxiety and depression. One study in particular looked at the role that fermented foods can play in treating social anxiety.

Turmeric

If you’re not adding this spice to your diet on a regular basis, you’re missing out on another chance to decrease anxiety symptoms.

It’s thought that turmeric may help the body to produce more of the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, which is linked to key neurotransmitters in the brain.

Another factor is turmeric’s anti inflammatory qualities. This can reduce inflammation in the body and decrease inflammatory markers such as cytokines, which are also connected to anxiety and depression.

Water

Wondering about what to drink to tackle anxiety? Water is a great choice. Even being just a little bit dehydrated can affect your mood and how your brain functions, which in turn can promote anxious thoughts and feelings. One theory is that it is linked to a primal survival strategy to find water and stay hydrated but whatever the real reason, water is definitely one drink to reach for when you’re anxious.

Green Tea

Green tea contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that has shown potential for encouraging relaxation and relieving some of the physical symptoms of stress, including a fast heart rate.

Drinks containing L-Theanine can also reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Sipping green tea several times per day can potentially bring cortisol levels down so it’s a great choice when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

Other studies on mice have suggested that green tea can reduce anxiety to much the same extent as some anxiety medications.

Camomile Tea

According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, drinking chamomile tea for 8 weeks helped to reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation.

In another study, taking chamomile extract for 8 weeks was shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and demonstrate antidepressant effects.

Unfortunately it seems that drinking chamomile tea doesn’t have quite the same effects for reducing anxiety compared to the extracts (which are stronger), although there is a lot more research to be done in this area before any definite conclusions can be made. One plus point in favour of chamomile tea is the ability to help to make you feel calmer. And that’s always welcome when anxiety is starting to take hold!

Foods and Drinks to Avoid for Anxiety

So now you know about the foods and drinks that can help to reduce anxiety, what about the main culprits in promoting it?

Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and one study even found that it can make you more likely to have a panic attack, especially if you’re already prone to anxiety.

Processed Foods

Processed and sugary foods are a double whammy for anxiety. They spike your blood sugar to begin with and then encourage it to crash. According to a study from Colombia University, it also increases your riskincreases your risk of depression and mood changes – especially for women.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can make anxiety worse for more than a few reasons. It can affect blood sugar, is dehydrating and can even change neurotransmitters in the brain if you drink regularly and in excess.

The more you drink, the worse it can be. One study found a strong link between social anxiety and alcohol dependency.

9 Tips for Feeling More Confident

9 tips for more confidence

Lots of us would love to have more confidence but it’s not always something that comes naturally for many people. If you’re lacking in self esteem, it can have a big knock on effect on your relationships, career and other key parts of your life.

Here are 9 tips for boosting your confidence and self esteem:

Overcoming Negative Thoughts

Negative self talk can be hugely detrimental for your self esteem. We all have an inner critic that tries to guide us through life and if yours is full of negative comments, it can become the norm to listen to it and let it dictate to you.

Negative thoughts happen a lot and can become second nature – to the point that you don’t even realise how many you have in the average day.

The first step is to become aware of when they happen. Don’t try to fight them too much; when a negative thought comes into your mind, acknowledge it and try to let it float away. This can take some time to get used to, especially if negative thoughts are a big part of your life. Overcoming them is a really important aspect of building your confidence.

Practice Positivity

Whenever you get a negative thought, try to think of up to 5 positive thoughts that will lessen its power and stop it being a “truth” in your mind.

Don’t just skim over these thoughts- let them sink in for a while before you acknowledge the next positive thought.

Surround Yourself With Positive People

How often do you find yourself feeling mentally drained after spending time with negative people?

This isn’t too surprising, given that experts claim that our outlook in life is made up of the 5 people we spend the most time with. If these people don’t have your best interests at heart and only end up dragging you down with their negativity, it’s not going to do much for your self esteem.

Spending time with people who support you and have a positive attitude towards you is a lot more likely to improve your confidence.

Face your Fears

Self doubt can keep you rigidly in your comfort zone and stop you pursuing your hopes, dreams and plans for the future. Breaking free of this is key for moving forwards in your life and making positive changes. If anxiety is stopping you getting involved in certain situations, gradually immersing yourself in them through Exposure Therapy is a scary but effective way to face your fears head-on.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

We all have one thing we’d love to have the confidence to do, whether this is changing jobs, setting up a dream business or trying a new hobby.

Low self esteem can make this seem daunting and impossible. Breaking the bigger picture down into smaller steps can make it less scary. Back yourself to take that first step towards it and don’t think beyond it. Then focus on the next step and so on. With each step you successfully complete, your confidence and belief in yourself should increase.

Challenge Limiting Beliefs About Yourself

Poor self esteem can often be linked to self limiting beliefs about yourself that stem from your childhood. Common examples can be thoughts like “this didn’t work out so I’m not cut out for anything” and “no one will like me”. It goes without saying that these kind of beliefs will hold you back!

Recognising that these type of beliefs aren’t automatically truths can do wonders for your self esteem but it’s not always an easy thing to do when they are so long held.

Focus on Your Strengths

If you have low self esteem, it’s easy to feel that you’re not good at anything. You may also feel inferior to people who you feel have talents and skills. Truth is, we all have strengths and weaknesses but with low self esteem, you can get fixated on what you’re not so good at and completely gloss over what you are good at.

Make a list of 5 things you do well and if you get stuck, ask other people to help you out. You might be surprised to know how other people see you versus how you see yourself.

Learn to Take Praise on Board

It’s incredibly easy to accept that any negative comments or situations are automatically true while not truly acknowledging any positive compliments that come your way. It’s common for people with low self esteem to assume that praise only comes through politeness or that it was pure luck that caused a positive situation and not your skills.

This kind of self talk needs to be swapped for a more positive acceptance that praise, compliments and success are a reflection of your skills.

Stop Trying to Be Perfect

Here’s the thing – perfection doesn’t actually exist and you’ll likely destroy your confidence trying to achieve it. You’re better off striving to be the best version of yourself you can be and realising you’re not a failure if you’re not “perfect”.

Becoming more confident isn’t something that will happen overnight. To be more confident, you’re essentially rewiring your brain and changing how you see yourself.

 

What Causes Dark Circles and Puffy Eyes?

what causes dark circles and puffy eyes

Dark circles can make you look exhausted and under the weather, even if you’re actually feeling great. A lot of people with dark circles also have puffiness in the undereye area too, which can be a double whammy.

There can be a few different factors that contribute to dark circles and getting rid of them isn’t always as easy as grabbing a few early nights for a bit.

Here are some of the most common reasons why dark circles and puffy undereyes happen, and what you can do to make them less obvious.

Genes

Your genes can play a role in how prominent dark circles are, especially if you have very fair or very thin skin.

The blood vessels in the undereye area will show up more because of this and dark circles will be more obvious. Blood that pools in the undereye area during the night will be particularly noticeable in the morning.

How to fight back: Use more pillows at night can reduce the potential for blood to pool while you’re asleep. If this is one of the main factors behind your dark circles, it can help to reduce them when you wake up.

Age

Dark circles can be more of an issue as you get older and your collagen levels start to deplete. The skin can become thinner as a result and this can make the blood vessels underneath more noticeable.

How to fight back: Retinol based products can help to strengthen collagen but they can be too intense for the delicate eye area. Products that use time-released retinol can be a better choice.

Dehydration

If you’re not drinking enough, it can show itself as dark circles and puffy undereyes. These are both more likely to occur when you’re dehydrated as your body tries to retain as much water as possible.

If you drink a fair amount of alcohol and your diet is high in salt, this can make the problem worse as both are dehydrating.

Alcohol can also make the blood vessels dilate, which makes dark circles more prominent, so it’s definitely one to cut back on if you’re wanting to get rid of them.

How to fight back: Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids, especially water. If you’re drinking alcohol, try to drink water in between every alcoholic drink so the effects aren’t so dehydrating on your body. Cutting back on the amount of salty foods you eat in your diet can also help to make dehydration less likely.

Allergies

If your dark circles are more of an issue at certain times of year, seasonal allergies could be to blame. Allergies encourage the body to produce more histamine and this can encourage the blood vessels to become inflamed and swell.

How to fight back: Taking antihistamines can reduce the effects of this histamine release. If you know what is behind the allergies, taking antihistamines before you come into contact with the allergen can mean that the reaction doesn’t happen or is a lot milder than it would have been and dark circles linked to the allergen will be less of a problem too.

More Tips for Tackling Dark Circles

  • Frozen tea bags and cucumber slices can help to constrict the blood vessels so that dark circles are less noticeable. Sadly, this is only a temporary fix rather than a permanent cure!

 

  • Eye masks can help to soothe and cool the undereye area and constrict the blood vessels too, especially if you keep them in the freezer beforehand for maximum cooling effect. Again, it’s only a short term solution but it can reduce puffiness in particular.

 

  • Sun damage can make dark circles and puffy eyes worse so investing in a good sunscreen that can be used on the undereye area is a good move. Use it every day to protect the delicate undereye area from UV rays and be aware that it isn’t just sunny days that you need to worry about; damage can be done even on cloudy days.

 

  • Use a gentle undereye cleanser that won’t irritate or dry out the undereye area. Some products can be too much for this sensitive area and the lack of hydration can make dark circles and puffy eyes more of a problem.

 

  • As there’s no guaranteed miracle cure for dark circles or puffy eyes, you’re probably still going to need to cover them up as well. Whereas matching concealer to your skin tone is the smartest move with most skin issues, it’s not what you want for dark circles. Colours that are lie across from each other on the colour wheel work to cancel each other out and this can work wonders for making dark circles less obvious. Yellow toned concealer can help to hide dark circles that are more purple in colour, while peach shades can do the same for the blue hues of most dark circles.

The Beauty Benefits of Lavender

The Beautyy benefits of lavender

Lavender has been used for beauty purposes as far back as Ancient Egypt and is a key ingredient in a lot of skincare and haircare products, especially natural ones.

This has a lot to do with the anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties that lavender possesses, which make it a really versatile ingredient in beauty products.

Here are some of the great reasons why lavender should be part of your beauty regime:

#1 – Glowing Skin

Lavender boosts your circulation and improves blood flow. This helps skin cells to get plenty of oxygen and nutrients to keep skin happy and healthy.

Boosting circulation can also help to tone the skin and make it firmer.

#2 – Improving Acne

The fact that lavender is anti inflammatory means it can be an invaluable and underrated tool in the fight against acne, particularly in reducing swelling and redness of acne blemishes. It can also reduce acne scarring.

Lavender is also antiseptic and it can help to fight the bacteria that causes acne so that acne breakouts are less of a problem.

With all of this in mind, you probably won’t be surprised to know that lavender is a common aromatherapy treatment for acne.

#3 – Relieving Eczema

Eczema is another skin condition that can be tackled through lavender. It can help to relieve eczema symptoms, especially the itching side of things.

#4 – Healthy Hair

Lavender can also have a positive effect on the hair and scalp too.

One of the big benefits is its ability to balance oil production so that the scalp is less oily. This is one of the reasons why you’ll find it heavily featured in a lot of natural haircare products designed for oily hair.

It can also add a vibrant, healthy shine to hair so it’s a great choice if your hair is prone to looking dull and lifeless.

#5 Reduced Hair Loss

If you’re struggling with hair loss, you probably feel as though there isn’t anything you can do to tackle it but this is another surprising area that lavender can work wonders with.

One  study showed great potential for using essential oils in treating alopecia areata, a hair loss condition that results in hair falling out in patches.

Lavender was one of the essential oils used in the study and when it’s combined with dry scalp massage, it can also encourage new hair growth too.

Why Do My Nails Break? 6 Factors That Could Be to Blame

Why Do My Nails Break_

If your nails are prone to breaking and splitting, there can be a few factors that are contributing to the problem.

Some of these can be health related but your lifestyle can also make nails dry, flaky and more likely to break.

Here are 6 common scenarios that could be contributing:

You’re Not Getting Enough Iron

If you notice your nails have depressions in them, it could point to a deficiency in iron. Flat, spoon shaped nails can also be linked to iron deficiency anaemia.

If you aren’t getting enough iron in your diet, your body doesn’t produce as much haemoglobin. This is needed for transporting red blood cells around the body – including to the nail matrix (the tissue under cuticle that helps to keep nails healthy as they grow).

A lack of iron can affect the quality and strength of the new nail that grows from the nail matrix and it can make nails more likely to split and break.

If you’re deficient in iron, you may also find that your nails are pale due to the lack of haemoglobin and this can also extend to your skin. Other signs can include feeling tired a lot, frequent headaches and being short of breath.

You’re Not Getting Enough Biotin

Another dietary factor can involve biotin. This is one of the B vitamins and it is strongly linked to healthy nails, hair and skin. If you’re lacking in biotin, it can show itself in the condition of your nails, especially if they are weak and break a lot.

Upping your biotin intake can potentially make a lot of difference to your nails if there’s a chance that you’re not getting enough in your diet at the moment.

A study published in The Journal of Cosmeti Dermatology looked at the effects of taking 2500 mcg of biotin each day and the results were encouraging. This level of biotin helped to make nails stronger and less brittle but it wasn’t an overnight success. The study was a fairly long term one and these improvements took place over a period of 6 to 9 months.

If you’re patient enough to play the long term, keeping an eye on your biotin intake can be a great way to help your nails to be healthier.

You Spend a Lot of Time Texting or Typing

If your nails are not particularly short and trim, doing a lot of texting or typing can really take its tolls on them.

Nails of a certain length can repeatedly make contact with your phone screen or keyboard whenever you text or type and this can damage them, resulting in splits and even fractures of the nail.

The easiest way around this is to keep your nails fairly short so that there isn’t so much potential for damage.

You Don’t Use Hand Cream Regularly (Or At All)

If you don’t use hand cream on a regular basis, there is a good chance that your nails are on the dry side and this can encourage them to weaken.

When the cuticle area is visibly dry, the same will also be true of the nail matrix. This can also affect the new nail that grows from the nail matrix, resulting in brittle nails that are more prone to breaking.

You can help to reduce potential for splitting and breakage by keeping your nails well moisturised – especially around the cuticles – and reapplying hand cream whenever your hands have been in water.

Your Hands Spend a Lot of Time in Water

Dry nails are likely to be an even bigger problem if your hands are in water a lot. This dries your nails out and can make them weaker. This can happen if you do the washing up by hand or wash your hands a lot, for example.

If posssible, wear gloves when you wash up so that your nails aren’t in such prolonged contact with water.

Your Nails Are Always Polished

Nail polish might make your nails look stylish and pretty but it doesn’t do a lot for the health of your nails.

Nail polish can really dry out your nails, especially while it dries. Most nail polishes also contain ingredients that draw moisture out from the nail plate, which can make your nails weaker. Base coats and top coats can exaggerate this problem too.

Using acetone-free nail polish and nail polish remover can help to stop the nail beds drying out as much, especially if your nails aren’t polished every single day.

The more you wear polish, the more this is the case so it’s not a great idea to have polish on your nails every day without giving your nails a break from it. To help your nails, give them a reprieve from polish for a few days every so often.

So as you can see, a lot of the things we do on a daily basis can affect the strength and health of our nails but there’s also a few things you can to rectify this and help your nails to be less prone to breaking and splitting.

 

 

 

 

How Does Stress Affect Your Skin?

stress and skin

Stress can affect your skin in a lot of ways and can make some common skin problems worse, especially acne, eczema and psoriasis.

It can become a very vicious circle in which your skin becomes a source of anxiety and stress, and this then has an even worse effect on your skin.

Getting stress and anxiety under control can be one of the best things you can do for your skin, especially as it can have a knock on effect on diet, sleep and other factors that can also affect the state of your skin.

Here’s what you need to know about how stress can encourage existing skin conditions to flare up and have a helping hand in why they occur in the first place.

The Mind-Body Connection

Research has shown that people with skin conditions often experience stress and anxiety too and this isn’t too surprising when you think about the psychological effects that skin conditions can have on self esteem and body image.

Most of us know how quickly spots could zap your self confidence as a teenager and this feeling can be a whole lot worse if you have bad acne as an adult or you develop eczema or psoriasis on areas of the face and body that are obvious to other people.

Anxiety also be one of the culprits for fuelling skin conditions, and stress hormones play a big part in this, particularly where acne is concerned.

When your body produces more cortisol as part of the fight or flight response, your skin responds by producing more oil and this can pave the way for acne. If you notice that you tend to break out more during stressful periods, this is one of the reasons why it happens.

Stress can encourage us to eat comfort foods, often of the sugary and starchy kind. These kind of high GI (glycaemic index) foods have been linked to acne breakouts.

Stress can affect sleep patterns and this can have a knock on effect on your skin. Levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) decrease while you sleep but of course, this doesn’t happen to the same extent if you struggle to sleep well. High levels of cortisol can make existing skin conditions worse, especially eczema and psoriasis.

Stress can encourage tic behaviours such as picking at your skin or pulling your hair. These type of actions can lead to scarring and even permanent hair loss. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why people engage in tic behaviours but it may be that it’s a type of coping behaviour.

Tips for Dealing with the Effects of Stress on Your Skin

Unfortunately, we can’t avoid stress completely (especially in modern life!) but we can change how we respond to it.

Here are some tips for reducing your stress levels and helping your skin to be less affected by the effects of stress:

Keep up with your skincare routine: When you’re feeling frazzled and anxious, your routine can quickly fall apart and you may find yourself forgetting to take care of your skin.

Exercise regularly: Exercise can reduce stress levels and releases ‘feel good’ endorphins that boost your mood and wellbeing. Even a quick walk can be invigorating, clear your head and help you to feel bit better.

Set aside some ‘me’ time: Lots of us don’t take time for self care and this can affect your mental health and potentially physical health too. Having some ‘me’ time can be anything from enjoying a relaxing bath to spending time reading a book. The important part is that you’re doing something that benefits your mental and physical wellbeing. Even exercise and sleep are forms of self care if you look at it this way!

Set some boundaries: Some stress can be caused by not feeling able to say no to people or reject situations that aren’t going to be good for your wellbeing. Don’t feel bad or guiilty about setting boundaries for yourself and being more assertive. You may actually find that people respect you more for doing this (assuming you tread the line between being assertive and being aggressive!).

Hypnotherapy: If self care measures don’t help as much as you hope, you may want to try a more permanent way to change your response to stress and anxiety. Hypnotherapy taps into the unconscious mind, which makes it more powerful for changing the way that you think and feel. If you don’t deal very well with stress, it can help you to react in a healthier and more positive way so that the effects aren’t so evident in your skin.

 

 

Why Do Some People Get More Stressed Than Others?

Why Do SomePeople Get MoreStressed ThanOthers_

How we respond to stress can vary a lot from person to person and if you’re someone who is very prone to feeling stressed, you may well wonder what it is that causes this.

Why do some people respond well to stress but others are strongly affected by the same amount of stress?

There have been a few studies about this, which have put forward some explanations of why we deal with stress differently.

Theory #1 – It’s in Your Genes

Studies have suggested that the way you respond to stress can be down to your genes.

The culprit is a stress molecule known as nuclear factor kappa B (NF KB). This can encourage the “fight or flight” stress response, which can make you more likely to develop depression and even cancer.

Here’s the good news though: meditation can actually decrease the amount of kappa B that your body produces, which has an impact on the way that you then handle stress.

Experts believe that meditation can go as far as to change how we respond to stress and anxiety at molecular level.

Theory #2 – Electrical Signals in the Brain

A study on mice showed electrical patterns in the brain that researchers believe can predict how well they cope with stress.

In time, they hope that this could be expanded to also help to tell whether people are likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental health problems if they are already badly affected by stress.

The study looked at the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are linked to both stress response and fear. The mice who were more prone to being affected by stress had more interaction between these two areas of the brain while being exposed to stressful situations and this was also the case before this too.

Even mice who were genetically identical responded differently to stress and researchers believe that this was the result of having varying electrical patterns in their brains.

 

 

 

 

What is Health Anxiety?

What isHealth Anxiety_

It’s natural to worry about your health sometimes but if it happens a lot, you may be experiencing health anxiety.

Signs of Health Anxiety

With health anxiety, you worry about your health to the point that it is excessive and has a big impact on your life.

You may have a chronic health condition that you worry about or you may spend a lot of time worrying about your future health and whether you’ll get things like cancer.

With a more general version of health anxiety, any symptoms you have are viewed in the worst possible light.

What if that pain in your leg means you have a blood clot or your ‘missed’ heartbeats are a sign of something more serious?

These kind of symptoms often have a far less serious cause but if you have health anxiety, you’ll tend to bypass these and go straight to the worst case scenarios.  This is the basis of health anxiety: the relentless fear that you’ll develop a serious health problem or the belief that you already have.

You may spend lots of time looking online for information and see your GP on a regular basis because of your worries.

There is also another type of health anxiety based around avoidance. This can include tuning out of anything that may potentially make health anxiety worse, such as never watching programmes on television that may mention medical issues or not going to GP appointments. You may also avoid things that you think could put your health in danger when you have worrying symptoms, such as exercising, or sitting down (or even going to bed) when symptoms occur.

The Problem With Health Anxiety

Health anxiety can become a very vicious circle in that you’re constantly alert to signs that something isn’t right with your body and this can make you aware of things that you wouldn’t normally notice.

Most of the time, these things won’t be anything serious and they may even be signs of your anxiety. Your awareness of them causes more anxiety though and the cycle continues.

Being reassured that nothing is wrong can help to put your mind at rest for a short time but the anxiety usually comes back fairly quickly.

It may not be enough to get reassurance from a doctor as there is always a “what if?” lurking at the back of your mind, especially when more symptoms crop up. This usually means going back to the doctor to get new reassurance about symptoms but it can also lead to you wanting to get a second opinion from another doctor or arranging tests, for example.

Who Gets Health Anxiety?

If you’re an anxious person in general, your health is often just another thing to worry about so it’s not that surprising if you develop health anxiety.

Being affected by negative thinking patterns is another factor in whether you’re likely to develop health anxiety. This can make you more likely to think along the lines of “if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s bound to be me”.

Stress can be another culprit, especially if you have health related concerns in the family.

Certain beliefs can fuel health anxiety too, including:

  • Any change to your body is a sign that something is wrong
  • A family history of certain health problems means you’ll get it too
  • Doctors can miss things or get it wrong
  • Having tests is the only way to know for sure that everything is okay
  • Not knowing that you are totally well could mean that you’re actually ill

These beliefs can be incredibly unhelpful and keep your anxiety going if you genuinely believe them.

Treatment for Health Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often used to treat health anxiety. This can help you to identify your thoughts and feelings and give you tools to manage them. Health anxiety is kept going by the negative, unhelpful and unhealthy thoughts that characterise it and breaking free from these is key for overcoming the hold it has on you.

A lot of the coping strategies that people with health anxiety use are actually keeping the anxiety strong in the mind, including focusing more on the body, constantly looking for reassurance, reading up on illness and avoidance behaviour.

CBT can help you to develop new ways to deal with health anxiety that are more helpful in relieving the anxiety.

Medications can sometimes be used too, especially if you have depression as well.

 

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How to Make Sure Your Vegan Diet Is As Healthy As You Think

A vegan diet can be great for your health and wellbeing if it’s done in the right way.

Unfortunately, it can be easy to fall into certain traps that make it a lot less healthy than you might think.

Here are some tips to make sure that following a vegan diet really does make you healthier!

The Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Some of the many health benefits that a vegan diet can encourage include:

  • Having more energy

  • Healthier skin, hair and nails

  • Better cardiovascular health including lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure

  • Eating less saturated fat (due to the lack of meat and dairy)

  • Lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure

  • Eating more fiber, which is great for better digestive health

  • Eating good sources of nutrients that are often lacking in non vegan diets including iron, magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E and plenty of antioxidants

  • Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes

  • Lower risk of some cancers, including breast,prostate and colon cancers

  • Lower risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration as you get older

  • Lower risk of developing osteoporosis

Potential Pitfalls of a Vegan Diet

There are a few things that can go wrong with a vegan diet so it’s important not to make these kind of mistakes when you go vegan:

Too much fat: Cutting out meat and dairy from your diet won’t lower your fat intake (and bring cardiovascular benefits) if you replace them with lots of high fat alternatives such as nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil and nut milks. These are all great in moderation but they add up to a lot of fat if they’re making up a large part of your diet. Some people find that they actually eat more fat on this type of vegan diet than when they were eating meat and dairy so it’s definitely something to keep a check on.

Not getting a balanced diet: If you’re not eating milk and dairy, it’s really important to make sure that you’re getting vital nutrients such as iron and calcium from plant based sources instead. This can protect against deficiencies and makes sure that your vegan diet is really having the benefits you think. Vitamin B12 is another area to focus on as it’s mostly found in animal sources and can be very lacking in a vegan diet. You may want to look at foods that are fortified with B12 (such as breakfast cereals) to make sure that you get enough of it.

Assuming that all ‘vegan’ foods are healthy: There are lots of vegan options on the market now and unfortunately not all of them are all that healthy. Sticking to unprocessed, wholesome food will help you to get balanced nutrition and will bring a lot more of the health benefits associated with a truly vegan diet.

Making Sure Your Vegan Diet is Really Healthy

How can you avoid making some of these common mistakes? These tips should help you to get the biggest benefits from a vegan diet!

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables

You can’t go too far wrong if fruit and vegetables makes up a big percentage of your vegan diet!

Aim for up to 75% and pad this out with things like legumes (such as beans and pulses), potato, whole grains and some healthy fats.

Ideally, healthy fats should be up to 10% of your vegan diet, which works out at around a handful of nuts or a third of an avocado.

Vegan Iron Sources

Non vegans can get iron from their meat intake but for vegans, it’s really important to eat the right foods to avoid iron deficiency anemia – especially for women.

Some good vegan sources of iron include:

  • Dried apricots

  • Raisins

  • Prunes

  • Blackstrap molasses

  • Dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, swiss chard and cooked green beets

  • Spirulina

  • Tofu

  • Quinoa

  • Kidney beans

  • Cashew nuts

  • Almonds

  • Sesame seeds

Vegan Calcium Sources

Calcium can come from some surprising sources in a vegan diet so it’s not too difficult to get enough of this nutrient. For example, dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium, especially kale and broccoli.

Other options include:

  • Dried apricots

  • Blackberries

  • Dates

  • Figs

  • Prunes

  • Oranges

  • Orange juice

  • Sesame seeds

  • Pulses

Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12

Vegans can easily become deficient in vitamin B12 as it’s largely found in animal sources and isn’t readily available in a plant based diet.

Vitamin B12 is added to quite a few fortified foods these days, including cereals, vegan spreads and some non dairy milks such as soy milk.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin D

A vegan diet can be deficient in vitamin D, especially if you aren’t getting much of this nutrient from exposure to sunlight.

This is another area where fortified vegan products are a good idea as vitamin D often comes from animal sources such as dairy.

Vegan sources of vitamin D can include fortified vegan spreads, fortified cereals and even soy drinks.

Vegan Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can help to keep your heart healthy and is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

The jury is still out on whether omega-3 fatty acids from plant based sources offer the same cardiovascular benefits as those from fatty fish but as part of a healthy diet, they can still play a key role when it comes to heart health.

Vegan sources include:

  • Walnuts

  • Soya based foods such as tofu

  • Flaxseed and rapeseed oil (in small quantities)

A vegan diet can be incredibly healthy and protect against a number of diseases and conditions but it does require a bit of planning to make sure that you don’t become deficient in key nutrients. Once you get it right, there are so many benefits to a vegan diet!