Category Archives: Stress Relief

Always Up at 3 AM? Your Blood Sugar May be to Blame

We talk about sleep a lot, but that’s because its importance cannot be overstated. Not just for weight loss, but for your health in general. Sleep is nourishing and restorative and when you don’t get enough of it, it can completely throw you off in all areas.

As we started educating our clients on the importance of sleep, we noticed an alarming trend: a large percentage of people admitted that not only do they not get enough sleep, but their sleep is unsatisfying. They toss and turn all night or wake up throughout the night. In addition to that, there was a striking similarity in those who were having sleep trouble. A significant amount of people who admitted to unsatisfying sleep were waking up around 3 AM. We figured that there had to be significance to this time frame, so we dug a little further. We were shocked at what we found.

Why You Wake Up at 3 AM

Your body is a complex organism. Although you probably don’t think about it much, it’s constantly pumping out hormones and balancing these hormones to keep you running like a well-oiled machine. If these hormones are off-kilter, it can cause a number of symptoms – one of which is waking up in the middle of the night. One of the most common causes of waking up around 3 AM is blood sugar imbalance due to stress. Let us break it down for you.

When you’re stressed, it triggers your adrenal glands (which sit right near your kidneys) to pump out a hormone called adrenaline. In response to adrenaline, the liver releases, and your cells use up more, glycogen, the stored form of glucose, or blood sugar. If there is not enough glycogen in your body to replenish the stores in your liver, even more adrenaline is released. As a result, your blood sugar levels drop and you begin to feel alert and ready for action, instead of relaxed and ready for sleep.

So What Do You Do?

Now that you know WHY you’re waking up at 3 AM consistently, the next question is: how do I fix it? The two major goals here are to 1. get your blood sugar balanced and 2. reduce your stress levels.

How to Balance Blood Sugar:
  • Eat 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks per day. Make sure that all meals and snacks include protein, healthy fat, and healthy carbohydrates.
  • Eliminate processed foods and focus only on whole, nutrient-dense foods.
  • Never skip meals.
  • Avoid sugar.
  • Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up.

While you’re working to balance your blood sugar, here’s a helpful tip that can get you on your way to better sleep right away. Before bed each night, eat a teaspoon of raw, local honey. The honey gives your body the glucose it needs to replenish the liver’s glycogen stores. That way, your adrenals won’t cause your blood sugar to drop during the night.

How to Reduce Stress on the Adrenal Glands:
  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Go to bed before 10 PM and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
  • Engage in yoga and meditation, but avoid intense exercise.
  • Get some sunlight. If this is impossible due to weather, supplement with Vitamin D.
  • Make time to play or engage in activities that you enjoy.

An Important Note

Of course stress and blood sugar imbalance is not the only cause of restless sleep. Sometimes the tossing and turning are a result of sleep apnea, consumption of alcohol, age, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It’s always best to check in with your doctor if you’re having chronic sleep troubles.

Ashwagandha: Nature’s Stress Reliever

Last week, we discussed adaptogens and how they help your body respond to stress. We got a lot of questions about ashwagandha, a specific type of adaptogen that’s been getting a lot of press recently; so we wanted to dive in a little deeper and give you more information about this important herb.

ashwagandha

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a traditional herb that has been used in Ayurvedic, Indian, and African medicine for centuries. In Sanskrit, the name ashwagandha translates to “the smell of a horse”. Many do say that the herb smells “horse-like”, but don’t let that scare you away. Some refer to Ashwagandha as Indian ginseng, but it doesn’t really belong to the ginseng family; it’s part of the tomato family. The herb is native to Africa, India, and the Middle East, but farmers now also grow it in United States.

Benefits of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha’s major claim to fame is its ability to help the body cope with stress, but the benefits reach much further than that. Ashwagandha may also:

  • Boost the immune system*
  • Improve learning and memory*
  • Reduce anxiety and depression*
  • Stabilize blood sugar*
  • Lower cholesterol*
  • Improve energy and decrease fatigue*
  • Improve concentration*
  • Decrease pain, swelling, and inflammation*
How to Include Ashwagandha in Your Diet

The most common way to consume ashwagandha is in capsule form, but it’s also often available as part of multi-vitamin nutritional supplements or protein powders or as a tea. Typically, the recommended dose is 600 to 1,000 milligrams twice per day. The adaptogenic herb is readily available at most health food and supplement stores.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to prevent, cure, treat, or diagnose any medical condition.

Adaptogens: Your Secret Weapon Against Stress

What if we told you that 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s visits are due to stress-related illnesses? Even worse, what if we told you that stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death?

In recent years, stress has developed into a $1 trillion health epidemic. That’s more expensive than the cost of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. So what can you do? How can you manage stress in an era that seems to glorify the concept of “busy”?

While it’s true that you can’t get rid of stress completely (some stress is actually good), there are many things that you can do to manage it. You probably already know about the big guys — meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, for example — but there’s another player in the game that frequently falls off the radar, and that’s adaptogens.

intramax

What are Adaptogens?

The term adaptogens was first coined by a Russian pharmacologist named Lazarev in 1947. He defined an adaptogen as any agent that helps an organism counteract any physical, chemical, or biological stressor by generating a nonspecific resistance. In simpler terms, an adaptogen is a substance that helps reduce stress levels by acting on the body as a whole.

In addition to helping reduce stress, adaptogens also:

  • increase energy and stamina
  • improve strength and mental focus
  • boost the immune system
  • balance mood
  • support a healthy weight
True Adaptogens

Many herbs are credited with being adaptogens: but in order to be considered a real adaptogen, a substance must meet three criteria:

  1. It must be non-toxic to the person taking it.
  2. It must act on many organs and body systems (rather than just one) and allow the person taking it to better adapt to biological, chemical, and physical stressors.
  3. It must help the body maintain homeostasis (or normal functioning).

Examples of true adaptogens include:

  • American Ginseng root
  • Ashwagandha root
  • Asian Ginseng root
  • Cordyceps
  • Dang Shen root
  • Eleuthero root
  • Holy Basil herb
  • Jiaogulan herb
  • Licorice rhizome
  • Reishi fungus
  • Rhaponticum root
  • Rhodiola root
  • Wu Wei Zi Berries/Seeds
  • Maca Root
  • Astragalus
How to Take Adaptogens

Luckily, many of these adatogens are easily accessible. Some of them are available as teas, while others are added to protein powders or liquid multi-vitamin products. Intramax, which is dubbed the “crown jewel of multi-vitamins” contains a stress management matrix that offers Ashwagandha, licorice, astragalus, and ginseng all in one place.

The best stress management program combines several methods of stress relief and management, but adaptogens should definitely be a part of that puzzle.

5 Health Benefits of Gratitude

November is a time when we focus on gratitude, but did you know that gratitude is more than just giving thanks? When practiced regularly, gratitude can improve your health in profound ways. So what if we extended the practice of gratitude beyond November and applied the practice to our day-to-day routine? Researchers say that this regular practice of gratitude will be rewarded with drastic improvements in health.

gratitude1

5 Health Benefits of Gratitude

  1. Decreases Stress

Gratitude can reduce stress hormones, alleviate anxiety, and help those suffer from severe stress conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder.

  1. Improves Self-Esteem

Regularly practicing gratitude can help increase self-esteem and reduce our tendency to make social comparisons. Gratitude helps you truly appreciate others’ successes, instead of becoming jealous or resentful of them.

  1. Helps You Sleep

According to a study published in 2011, writing in a gratitude journal on a regular basis (just 15 minutes before bed) may help you sleep better and longer.

  1. Improves Relationships

A study done in 2012 found that people in romantic relationships who felt appreciated by their partners were more likely to appreciate their partners in return, and therefore, stay in the relationship longer. Another study found that showing appreciation can also help you make new friends. Saying “thank you” and showing genuine appreciation makes people more likely to seek an ongoing relationship.

  1. Increases Happiness

In a study done by Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on gratitude, it was determined that subjects who wrote down one thing they were thankful for everyday for three weeks experienced a 25 percent increase in happiness for the 6 months following. Gratitude also reduces feelings of depression and can help you think more positively.

How to Practice Gratitude Daily

Gratitude doesn’t have to be some grand gesture. In fact, it can be something that you quietly practice every day in small ways. Here are some ideas to get you started right now:

  • Write a thank you note to someone who has made a positive impact on your life.
  • Write down three things that you’re thankful for every day.
  • Smile at a stranger and wish them a “good day”.
  • Keep a journal of your thoughts. Write at least two to three times per week.
  • Look in the mirror and speak to yourself in a positive, appreciative manner.

Reducing Stress: Your Key to Weight Loss (Part 2)

Managing stress is such a vital factor in taking control of your health that we didn’t think it was right to dedicate only one blog post to it. We wanted to make sure that you had a good idea of all the things you could do to help manage and/or reduce your stress levels so that you’d be armed with as many tools as you need – and so that you’d be able to find something or a combination of things that works for you. In today’s fast-paced, modern world, chronic stress has become the norm and we want to work to help you change that.

stress

In addition to the stress-reduction techniques we introduced in the last blog post, here are some more things you can start incorporating into your life right now to help combat stress and push you one step further to reaching your health goals.

Yoga

We get a little opposition when we mention the word yoga and we think it comes from the same misconceptions that surround meditation. Like meditation, yoga is a practice. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You don’t have to be flexible or zen to start. You develop these things once you get deeper into your yoga practice. Over time, yoga helps to reduce stress and anxiety and brings together body and mind.

Sleep

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it until you start doing it – get enough sleep! When you’re stressed out, it’s easy to skimp out on sleeping in favor of trying to get work done instead. Don’t do it! Sleep is the time when your brain and body repair and recharge and it is vital to managing your stress levels. Sleep also contributes to mood, energy level, and ability to concentrate. Make sure you’re hitting the sheet by 10 PM and getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

Music

Listening to or playing your own music has been shown to decrease stress hormones, reduce muscle tension, and provide mental distraction. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, crank up the volume on your radio and just let loose. Bonus points for dancing along to the tunes.

B Vitamins

Stress depletes the B vitamins in your body, which help you handle stress. In times of chronic stress, you should take a multi-vitamin or a B complex supplement, like this one, to replenish these critical nutrients daily so that your tank doesn’t run out.

Reducing Stress: Your Key to Weight Loss (Part 1)

stressIn previous blog posts, we touched briefly on the role that stress plays in contributing to weight gain – or the inability to lose weight – but recently we’ve had several conversations with patients and friends and we’ve come to realize that stress is a larger factor than most people give it credit for. Stress not only prevents you from reaching your weight loss goals, it can do a number on your health in general.

One of the immediate ways stress contributes to weight gain is by tempting you to reach for comfort foods – like pizza or ice cream – that you may not crave if your stress levels were under control. We’ve all heard of emotional eating, right? Although some people tend to lose their appetite under high stress, many have an increased appetite for foods that are just not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

Chronic stress also causes an increase in cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and when your body is constantly pumping it out, it can make it more difficult to lose weight and lead to an increase in belly fat, particularly.

It’s not just weight that is a concern with high stress levels, though. Chronic stress is also linked to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few.

If there’s one thing you need to do today, it’s figure out the best ways for you to lower your stress levels. Once your stress levels are under control, you’ll be able to focus your attention on your eating plan and following the steps to help you reach your goals. Here are a few of our favorite tried and true stress reduction techniques.

Exercise

This one probably isn’t a big shocker, but it tops the list because it’s simple to incorporate and regular exercise has been shown to be just as effective as anti-depressants in some studies. Exercise increases endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals in your body that help enhance your sense of well-being. To benefit from the stress-relief effects of exercise, you don’t have to hit the gym hard for 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. A thirty minute light walk in the morning or after dinner is enough to do the trick.

Social Contact

When you’re particularly stressed, it’s often tempting to hole yourself up and remove yourself from the world, but this can actually increase your stress levels. Social contact provides a distraction from daily stressors and your social network can serve as a support system. An added bonus – you’re more likely to laugh when spending time with family and friends whose company you enjoy and laughter is its own stress reliever. Laughter promotes physical changes in your body that can reduce your stress load and help get you feeling better.

Deep Breathing

When you’re stressed, you tend to take quick, shallow breaths that come from your chest rather than your abdomen. When you breathe deeply from your abdomen instead, you take in more oxygen which helps you feel less anxious, less short of breath, and more relaxed. Learning how to take deep breaths can take practice, and this is how you do it:

  1. Sit up straight or lie on your back somewhere comfortable. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take deep breaths in through your nose. You should feel the hand on your abdomen start to rise, but the hand on your chest should move very little.
  2. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can. Repeat this process until you feel your body start to calm down.

Meditation

Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, reducing anxiety and making you more resilient to stress. There is no right or wrong way to meditate so don’t let your preconceived notions about what meditation is supposed to be deter you from starting your own practice. If you’re new to meditation, you can start by following along with some guided meditations. There are a plethora of videos available on YouTube for free to get you started.

Get a Massage

A relaxation massage not only works out the knots and tension that can build in your muscles following a period of chronic stress, the touch of a massage also helps release oxytocin – a neurotransmitter that helps make you feel good. Schedule a weekly or monthly relaxation massage and allow yourself to fully enjoy this treat.

Getting Enough Sleep — The Secret Weapon for Weight Loss

A few weeks ago we discussed how important a good’s night sleep is to reaching your weight loss goals. In today’s modern lifestyle, getting a good night’s sleep is getting more and more difficult to come by. There are several reasons for this – high stress levels, too much technology, etc., but today we’re going to focus on LIGHT. Yes, you heard that right. The light you’re surrounded by – from electronics and lamps in your house – has an ENORMOUS impact on how well you’re sleeping. When you’re exposed to too much light at night – and not enough during the day – it disrupts your sleep patterns, making it more difficult for you to nod off when the time comes. We’ll explain exactly how this happens and what you can do about it to make sure you’re getting those 7 to 9 hours per night.

Your Circadian Rhythms

Your Circadian Rhythms are certain physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These rhythms respond primarily to light and darkness in your environment. Your natural sleep cycle relies on the proper functioning on these circadian rhythms. Before modern technology came into play, the rise of the sun – and the resulting daylight – signaled your body that it was time to wake up and the setting of the sun – and the resulting darkness – signaled your body that it was time to go to sleep. Nowadays, we have lamps, nightlights, cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions. All these things emit a bright and very unnatural light. This light interferes with the circadian rhythms and sleep patterns by disrupting the release of melatonin.

What is Melatonin?

The rising and setting of the sun was able to tell your body it was time to wake up/go to sleep by triggering the release of melatonin, which is often deemed “the sleep hormone”. The release of melatonin told your body it was time to go to sleep, while dropping levels said it was time to wake up. Melatonin is HIGHLY sensitive and the presence of bright light, especially the blue light emitted by light bulbs and electronics, disrupts its natural rhythm. When you’re on the computer late into the night or watching TV in bed, the release of melatonin gets delayed and, as a result, you have difficulty falling asleep.

So What Can You Do?

In a perfect world, you would hit the sack as soon as the sun goes down and get out of bed at the crack of dawn, but we both know that’s not going to happen, so instead, you can follow a few tips to get enough light during the day and minimize the impact of light on your sleep rhythms and get the good night’s sleep your body needs.

Shut all electronics off at least one hour before bed.
Shut all electronics off at least one hour before bed.
  • Go outside more. The goal is to get at least 1 hour of sunlight every day. The exposure to this bright, natural light helps regulate your circadian rhythms and can help reduce the impact that nighttime exposure to bright light has on your sleep patterns.
  • Use technology wisely. It’s best to shut off all electronics at least one hour before you go to bed and keep all technology – including your cell phone – out of your bedroom. Get in the habit of reading near a soft light or spending some quiet time meditating before bed.
  • Consider adding an app like f.lux to your computer and tablets. F.lux is an app that masks the blue light emitted from these electronics. It gives the light more of an amber glow, which is more natural for the nighttime – which brings us to our next point.
  • Use only amber lights at nighttime. Amber lights filter out blue and white light, which are the brightest, most stimulating colors on the light spectrum. When you use amber-toned lights, your body will produce melatonin and it won’t disrupt your circadian rhythm. You can also purchase amber colored glasses inexpensively that you can wear at night while looking at electronics.

 

Is Stress Keeping you From Reaching Your Weight Loss Goals?

MeditationWe live in a time of stress. Whether this stress is real (a family trauma for instance) or perceived (you just feel like you don’t have the time to do ANYTHING) is irrelevant – a chronic state of stress wreaks havoc on your body AND can prevent you from losing weight (and even cause weight gain!). Most people know that eating right and exercising are key components of weight loss; but stress is an often overlooked factor. If you feel like you’re doing “everything right” yet you still can’t lose weight, consider your stress level. Is it controlled? Are you doing anything to manage it? If you answered no to these questions, read on.

When you’re stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, which increases your body’s storage of fat. Cortisol has a particularly profound effect on the fat around your midsection, which is called visceral fat. Having extra fat around your midsection is not just a cosmetic issue, it actually increases your risk of developing insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and heart troubles. That’s why it’s especially important to lower your stress levels, which in turn, can lower your cortisol levels.

There are several things you can do to get your stress under control. You may feel like you don’t have the time, but it’s important to MAKE the time.

  1. Do something you love every day. Taking a few minutes to really enjoy yourself every day is important to your health. It can be reading, writing, drawing, walking, playing with your pet, or just lying in the grass and looking at the sun. Whatever it is, just take some time to really wind down.
  2. Consider yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are both scientifically proven to help reduce your stress levels. If you think yoga and meditation “aren’t for you” give them a fighting chance. There is no right or wrong way to do either. It’s all a personal experience – one that can significantly lower your stress (and cortisol) levels.
  3. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep not only increases your stress levels, it can mess with your hunger hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, it disrupts the action of two hormones – ghrelin (which is responsible for telling your body you’re hungry) and leptin (which is responsible for telling your body you’re full). When these hormones are out of whack, you’re more likely to overeat. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night (8 to 9 is better).
  4. Exercise not only directly contributes to weight loss, it indirectly contributes by reducing your stress levels, so your body is better able to handle cortisol. Spend at least 30 minutes (60 to 90 is better) doing something active. You don’t have to walk on the treadmill inside the gym. You can join a kickboxing class or a work sports league.

Managing your stress levels is not just important for weight loss, it’s extremely important for your health. Take the time TODAY to incorporate one of these stress reduction techniques into your life. Eventually, you can work up to doing all of them.

Now we want to hear from you. What’s your favorite way to keep your stress levels in check?