The Story of Stress (Hint: We’re Addicted to It)

Dr. Mercola

“Stress is not a state of mind… it’s measurable and dangerous, and humans can’t seem to find their off-switch.” These words of warning come from renowned author and award-winning neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky in the documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer.1The film, jointly produced by National Geographic and Stanford University where Dr. Sapolsky is a professor and scholar, shows just how dangerous prolonged stress can be.As we evolved, the stress response saved our lives by enabling us to run from predators or take down prey. But today, we are turning on the same “life-saving” reaction to cope with $4 per gallon gasoline, fear of public speaking, difficult bosses, and traffic jams—and have a hard time turning it off.Constantly being in a stress response may have you marinating in corrosive hormones around the clock.This film shows the impact stress has on your body, how it can shrink your brain, add fat to your belly, and even unravel your chromosomes. Understanding how stress works can help you figure out ways to combat it and reduce its negative impacts on your health.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Dr. Sapolsky has learned a great deal about the human stress response and its effects on your body by studying primates in Africa. Every year, he spends a few weeks in the Kenyan wilderness studying baboon societies that have intraspecies social and psychological tumult that mimics the stress of modern man.He monitors their adrenal hormone levels, namely adrenalin (epinephrine) and glucocorticoids (such as cortisol). The fact that baboons live in communities with hierarchical structures led Dr. Sapolsky to one of his most profound discoveries: baboon stress is related to hierarchy, or social rank.The higher a baboon’s rank, the less stress it experiences. The lower its rank, the higher its stress. More importantly, Dr. Sapolsky discovered that the low ranking “have-nots” of the baboon world experienced higher heart rates and blood pressure than the “haves.”Arteries in the “have-not” monkeys filled up with plaque, restricting their blood flow and increasing their heart attack risk. This was the first time stress was scientifically linked to deteriorating health in wild primates. As it turns out, the same is true for other primates—for example, us!

Mortality Rates Follow a Social Gradient

Professor Sir Michael Marmot performed a 40-year long stress study in which he followed 18,000 men occupying various positions with the British Civil Service. His findings paralleled what Sapolsky found for the baboons: the higher your status, the lower your risk for stress-related diseases.2Marmot found that men in the lowest employment grades were much more likely to die prematurely than men in the higher grades—there is in fact a “social gradient” for mortality. Subsequent studies involving women had similar findings. But why would this be—what does your status have to do with your stress?

It’s All About Your Locus of Control

Dr. Sapolsky explains how psychological distress may turn on your stress response in this short video clip. If the link does not work for you, you can access it on the Stanford University website (click on “Related to this Story” in right column, then the tab “More on Stress”). Sapolsky explains how you are more vulnerable to stress if the following factors are true:

  • You feel like you have no control
  • You’re not getting any predictive information (how bad the challenge is going to be, how long it will go on, etc.)
  • You feel you have no way out
  • You interpret things as getting worse
  • You have no “shoulder to cry on” (e.g., lack of social affiliation or support)

Like baboons, people at the top of the social pyramid feel a greater sense of control because they are the ones who call the shots, as well as typically having more social connections and resources at their disposal. This results in less stress, which over the long run translates to lower rates of disease.

Stress is also closely related to the experience of pleasure, related to the binding of dopamine to pleasure receptors in your brain. The brains of “primate CEOs” light up brightly in PET scans, whereas the brains of subordinate monkeys do not, indicating that life is less pleasurable for the subordinates.Like primates, people of lower socioeconomic status appear to derive less pleasure from their lives. Perhaps this is why laughter therapy is so effective!34

Overall, men and women suffer from the same stress-related illnesses, but they differ in the types of situations they experience as most stressful. The genders also experience stress differently. For example, women suffer more stress-induced anxiety and depression than men.5 One thing is known to be true for both genders: higher stress equates to a shorter life expectancy.

Are You a Stress Junkie?

The paradox here is that humans have essentially become addicted to stress. There is “good stress” (eustress) and “bad stress” (distress)—meaning, you experience certain stressful experiences as unpleasant and seek to avoid them, but others you may actually seek out because they’re fun. For example, snowboarding, skydiving, rollercoasters, and scary movies are experiences that may flip your thrill-switch—and your body responds to those stresses in the same way as if a tiger were chasing you. Your muscles tense, your heart pounds, your respirations increase, and your body stops all of its non-essential processes.This can be pleasantly exhilarating, and for some rather addictive… you might know someone whom you could describe as an “adrenalin junkie.” A thrill is simply the relinquishing of a bit of control in a setting that feels safe. But when you’re in that heightened state of arousal 24/7, stress takes its toll on your body—whether you perceive the stress as “good” or “bad.”

Stress Takes a Toll on Your Brain and Adds Inches to Your Waistline

Science has established that stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, but did you know that it can also lead to weight gain—of the worst kind? Stress-induced weight gain typically involves an increase in belly fat, which is the most dangerous fat for your body to accumulate, and increases your cardiovascular risk. Stress alters the way fat is deposited because of the specific hormones and other chemicals your body produces when you’re stressed.Prolonged stress can also damage your brain cells and make you lose the capacity to remember things. The brain cells of stressed rats are dramatically smaller, especially in the area of their hippocampus, which is the seat of learning and memory. Stress disrupts your neuroendocrine and immune systems and appears to trigger a degenerative process in your brain that can result in Alzheimer’s disease. Stress can also accelerate aging by shortening your telomeres, the protective genetic structures that regulate how your cells age. In the words of Dr. Lissa Rankin, author of Mind Over Medicine:6

“Our bodies know how to fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, retard aging, and fight infection. They even know how to heal ulcers, make skin lesions disappear and knit together broken bones! But here’s the kicker—those natural self-repair mechanisms don’t work if you’re stressed!”

According to Dr. Sapolsky, the following are the most common health conditions that are caused by or worsened by stress:

Cardiovascular disease Hypertension Depression
Anxiety Sexual dysfunction Infertility and irregular cycles
Frequent colds Insomnia and fatigue Trouble concentrating
Memory loss Appetite changes Digestive problems and dysbiosis

The Dutch Famine Study

The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study (Hungerwinter Study) shows that stress in utero might be followed by a lifetime of poor health. Survivors of the Dutch famine are now in their 60s, and those conceived during the famine have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and are in poorer overall health than those conceived after the famine ended. Researchers postulate that stress hormones in the blood of those pregnant women triggered changes in their babies’ developing nervous systems as they battled against starvation. Decades later, their bodies still “remember” this prenatal stress.7

The Dutch Famine Study is not the only scientific research to show that your mental and physical health can be permanently affected by childhood stress and trauma. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study is an ongoing research project that analyzes the relationship between stressful childhood experiences and health outcomes later in life. There is a very strong correlation between childhood stress and many diseases, including cancer, depression, and heart disease.8

Cortisol Can Be an Important Health Challenge

The stress hormone cortisol, released by your adrenal glands as part of the “fight-or-flight” response, is the master hormone that regulates many aspects of your body’s stress response. However, cortisol levels are typically elevated across the board in today’s culture, to the detriment of mental and physical health. The impact stress is having on society as a whole is so profound that Psychology Today calls cortisol “Public Enemy Number One:”9

“The ripple effect of a fearful, isolated and stressed out society increases cortisol levels across the board for Americans of all ages. This creates a public health crisis and a huge drain on our economy.”

For example, elevated cortisol levels are a potential trigger for mental illness and reduced resilience, especially among adolescents. Evidence of the societal affects of unmanaged stress is disturbingly evident on the evening news, with seemingly ever-increasing episodes of bullying, suicides, and mass shootings, which are unfortunate, albeit extreme examples of what happens when people cannot cope. When you have effective stress reduction tools, you and your children are mentally and physically healthier, more resilient and less likely to be depressed, sick, or violent.

Is It Time to Send Yourself to Cortisol Rehab?

Sapolsky’s baboons prove that stress is not inevitable. You can change your environment and your responses. And as you learn how to effectively decrease your stress level, your cortisol will stabilize, your blood pressure will drop, and your health will improve in just about every way. It’s important to realize that stress management isn’t something you save up to do on the weekend—it needs to be done on a daily basis, because that’s how often stress rears its ugly head. There are many different stress reduction techniques, and what works for you may not work for another.

One may enjoy meditating, but another may feel calmer by cleaning house! Stress management is a highly individual thing, and the last thing you want to do is be stressed by your supposedly stress-busting activity. You’ll have to find what works best for you. Of course, making good food choices will support your overall health and increase your resiliency.

Keep reading for effective stress management tools



New Data on Meditation & Natural Remedies Shows 28% Reduction in Medical Costs

| Naturalsociety | June 19th 2014

MeditationIt may seem like an unlikely panacea, but meditation (not medication) is so effective for healing that in a 14-year controlled study, it was shown to reduce medical expenses by 28%. Meditation especially positively affected the costs for those aged 65 and older, who often are subject to exorbitant medical fees and pricey hospitalizations.

These results are further supported by a study showing a significant reduction in medical expenditure in subjects practicing meditation in conjunction with a comprehensive natural health program, which is often suggested by Ayurvedic practitioners and modern naturopaths alike.

The Many Benefits of Meditation

Why is meditation able to reduce our spending on western medicine? Its simple:

  • 1. Meditation Reduces Pain Naturally – Brain imaging has proven that meditation can reduce our need for expensive and dangerous pain medications, both over-the-counter and those prescribed by our doctors. In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, it was found that, “a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation.” Meditation has also been shown to outperform morphine in some cases, reducing pain by 57%.
  • 3. Meditation Boosts the Immune System – When we meditate, our bodies create more antibodies – the important soldiers that fight unwanted viruses and bacteria. One study confirmed that, after given weekly meditation training for 8 weeks, 48 biotech workers had significantly higher levels of antibodies than the control group. Meditation also increases electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and right hippocampus; the command center for the immune system.
  • 4. Meditation can Cause a Placebo Effect, but it Doesn’t Have to in Order to Work – More than half of the clinical trials on new drugs fail because they perform no better than a sugar pill, or placebo. This is due to the strong ability of our minds to direct healing. When we meditate, we can alter our thoughts to be more positive and uplifting, which naturally supports the body in healing itself as it was intended to. The results are not just imagined, but real.

“Studies of meditation also show decreased sympathetic nervous activity and increased parasympathetic activity associated with decreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased respiratory rate, and reduced oxygen metabolism. Functional neuroimaging studies have corroborated these subjective experiences by demonstrating the up-regulation in brain regions of internalized attention and emotion processing with meditation.”

Additional Sources:


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How to Free Yourself From Repressed Emotions

Ryan Brown | Wakingtimes 

lucid-dreaming-man-flyingA common way in which we deal with unpleasant emotions is to suppress or ignore them. These are normal coping mechanisms our minds uses to handle situations we don’t particularly want to deal with in the present moment. When strong emotions come into our consciousness, there is often something inside of us which says, “This is going to ruin my happiness right now and I don’t like that, so I’ll just deal with it later.” The problem with this approach is that ‘later’ never comes and these emotions get pushed further down, out of our conscious awareness.

It is a basic law of the universe that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. The same law applies to our consciousness. We can suppress emotions for a very long time, and although they leave our conscious awareness, it doesn’t mean they are completely gone. This repressed emotional energy gets buried deep within the basement of our subconscious, where it sits gathering ‘emotional dust’.

This ‘dust’ is actually emotional energy that resonates with the repressed emotion. These emotions also attract like-emotions, and they do this by bringing situations into our day-to-day life which activate and feed them with similar emotional energy. In this way, suppressed emotions (which are basically energetic patterns) begin to gain more power, until an emotional pressure begins to build.

This internal pressure of repressed emotions is what many of us are afraid to look at. This gradually accumulates until the pressure becomes too great to remain hidden, and rises to the surface in a fit of rage, depression or an uncharacteristic emotional reaction. When this breakdown happens, we feel a temporary relief from the released energy. However, if we don’t work to bleed out all the accumulated energy, the pressure will, once again, begin to build until the next ‘external’ event releases more of the pressure.

When an emotional trauma occurs, there is the choice to either deal with it effectively or to turn away from it. When we choose to turn away from it, we must do something with the energy of the situation. We either 1) repress/suppress the emotions, 2) express them (i.e. saying things out of anger), or 3) distract ourselves with something else.

These debilitating forms of handling emotions lead to the reinforcement of an emotional pattern within the psyche, which can eventually take on a life of its own and begin to run our lives. When approached in this way, the process can continue indefinitely, or until a complete (often called nervous) breakdown occurs. The nervous breakdown, although traumatic, usually has a very transformative effect because a vast amount of pent-up emotion is released in a very short period of time. It is this catharsis, or ‘dark night of the soul‘, that is touched upon in many world myths, religions, and shamanic traditions.

The Good News

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for a complete nervous breakdown to start letting these repressed emotions go. There is a way to let out this emotional pressure, no matter how deep, in a beneficial and transformative way. It requires radical self-honesty and the courage to face the fear that played a main part in suppressing the emotions in the first place.  It is not the easiest of paths, and not to be undertaken lightly, but it is one that we must take if we wish to live a truly peaceful and balanced life.

The Decompression Process

First, it is important to create a safe environment in which the decompression process can occur.

The tools for cultivating this are simple: humility and acceptance. We can become humble to the fact that everything is fine, and the emotions we fear coming up, in reality, are not going to kill us, even though at times it may feel like it. We can also cultivate an attitude of acceptance towards all the emotions that arise and just observe them, without judgment.

Second, drop the urge to label the emotions as they arise. Ignore all thoughts about the emotion and instead focus on the sensations that occur in the body. At first, this may be difficult to do, as an emotional numbness can be present. If this is the case, focus on the intention to just feel them, and eventually it will happen.

Once the thoughts and labels about the emotions have been dropped, just sit with the feelings, without trying to change them. Notice if there is a resistance to the way the emotions feel, and just be with that. If a resistance is felt, the key is to not resist the resistance.

In the space of observing the emotions as they are occurring, free of any mental labeling, they become only energies playing out across the energetic backdrop of consciousness. Since there are no labels, it doesn’t even matter if they are there or not. You can ask the question, “What if this feeling stayed in the body forever?” Then what? Would it kill you to feel this way forever? Probably not…

The Radical Step: Accepting the Emotions, As They Are

Try for just a second to experiment with the possibility of the emotion never leaving you, and being totally okay with it, without needing to change anything. Notice how this attitude feels, compared to that of resistance. It can almost feel peaceful, even in the midst of a very heavy emotion.

By dropping the mental labeling of the emotion and the resistance to feeling it, we allow the emotional energy to return into the flow of the universe, rather than keeping it bottled up inside of us. Since there is no longer a resistance to feeling the emotion, there is no longer anything keeping it from leaving; it is finally free to go.

As can be seen, there is no limit to how much you can accept what is happening, to just let it be. Fortunately, there is a limit to the energy of the emotion being let out. If we are patient enough and continue to surrender to the process, eventually the pressure of the emotion runs itself out completely, as if a fire has burned it out of us. It is this transformative fire of the decompression process that clears out all of the unpleasant feelings associated with repressed emotions. What remains is the warmth from the fire, and in it all of the lessons we were meant to learn from the experience.

About the Author

Ryan Brown is a meditation teacher, energetic healer and writer. He has studied shamanic traditions of the Amazonian Basin and strives to integrate the ancient wisdom teachings of both the East and West in a way that is applicable to modern living. You can learn more about his pursuits at www.wayruna.org

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CLN RADIO NEW EPISODE: Whole Health with Dr. Mark Mincolla

In the latest episode of Conscious Inquiry, Alexis speaks with alternative healthcare practitioner Mark Mincolla about the alarming rise in autism, GMO’s and other health assaults and what we can do to take back our power and regain our health!

WHOLE HEALTH Cover ArtJust recently the Center for Disease Control announced an alarming statistic – 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with various forms of autism, up 30% since 2012.  What is contributing to this disturbing and now very common phenomenon?

According to some, including natural healthcare practitioner, Dr. Mark Mincolla it is the foods we are consuming – GMO’s, processed foods, and more importantly food intolerances all may be contributing greatly to this and other mutations of the human physiology.

Overall, our health has been assaulted.  But the good news is that there are solutions.  Dr. Mincolla has helped thousands in his over 30 years of practice regain their health and take back their power to heal themselves.  Using a blend of Chinese medicine, personalized nutrition and what he calls, “extrasensory energy medicine,” individuals can reclaim health and put an end to this assault on our bodies and on our spirit.

It’s so refreshing to know that we do have choices and Dr. Mincolla’s approach gives a promising outlook toward realizing whole health.


Listen to the interview on demand here.

MarkMincolla_credit Kerry Brett_hi-res

Mark Mincolla, Ph.D. is a visionary natural health care practitioner who has transformed the lives of thousands of people over the past thirty years. Dr. Mincolla has integrated ancient Chinese energy techniques with cutting edge nutritional science in what has become his Whole Health Healing System, which includes the innovative Electromagnetic Muscle Testing system (EMT). He is the author of WHOLE HEALTH: A Holistic Approach to Healing for the 21st Century.

To learn more about the work of Dr. Mark Mincolla and to purchase his book, Whole Health – A Holistic Approach to Healing for the 21st Century visit: www.maxhealing.com



Be sure to tune in to Conscious Inquiry with Alexis Brooks every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month – FREE and ON DEMAND!

A Year of Living the Ayurvedic Way

To HappinessHappy 2014! What do you say? Are you ready to give Ayurveda a try in 2014 after reading all the articles I wrote last year? It really did revolutionize my life, so I thought I would throw the idea out there to all of you.

Many healthy tips we hear nowadays have their roots in Ayurveda, dating back thousands of years. So while you might think that scraping the tongue, detoxifying the body or practicing mind/body medicine are newfangled ideas, they are not. They have withstood the test of time. Handed down for ages by word of mouth, the wisdom of Ayurveda was eventually written down in the ancient Hindu texts known as the Vedas. Even Chinese Medicine originated from Ayurveda.

I have compiled ten of Ayurveda’s best principles/practices. Some are simple, some a little more complex. Pick one. Or two. Or as many as you want. The point is, focusing on even one of these valuable gems might be a game changer and put you on a path to a better quality of life. To happiness–as the sidewalk above recently pointed me towards. Remember that Ayurveda is about striving for balance, not perfection. Try not to think of these as New Year’s resolutions that can set you up for failure. That will take all the fun out of it! Just about every day I fall short of living the Ayurvedic life I strive for. But it’s always in my consciousness and I know that I feel so much better when I do practice these principles.

1. Good digestion is key to a healthy mind and body. Our gut is often referred to as our second brain and it is where roughly 95% of our serotonin (the happy hormone!) is produced. Most Ayurvedic practitioners look to digestion first when treating any condition as they believe that poor digestion is the root cause of every illness/disease. Start paying attention to how you feel after you eat. You don’t need to obsess–just be aware. Gas, bloating, burping, acid reflux, foul breath, etc. are all red flags that you are not properly digesting the food you are eating. It could be the type of food, how it was prepared, or the manner in which you are eating (stressed, rushing, etc.) that causes the distress.

2. Keep a regular routine, as much as possible. The body loves routine, especially when it comes to eating and sleeping. It’s the mind that craves excitement and variety–especially for Vata types. Strive for getting out of bed before 7:00 a.m. and in bed between 9:30-10:00 p.m. Eat a light breakfast by 8:00 a.m., lunch around 12:30 p.m. (biggest meal) and a light dinner between 5:30-6:30 p.m. This seems to be one of the biggest challenges for many of us in our busy modern world and yet mastering it can have profound healing effects. I work hard on this every single day. Remember, baby steps are better than no steps at all!

3. Meditate to nurture the mind/body/spirit connection. The best times of day for meditation are during the Vata times of day which are 2:00-6:00 a.m. and 2:00-6:00 p.m. If you find yourself waking in the wee hours of the morning and can’t get back to sleep, try meditating. You will likely fall back into a delicious deep sleep after just twenty minutes of meditation. Click HERE.

4. Scrape your tongue gently from back to front about 10 times after brushing your teeth to remove excess ama (toxins) so that it doesn’t get reabsorbed into the body. I like this simple tongue scraper.

5. Drink a big glass of warm lemon or lime water after brushing your teeth each morning. You can add a little bit of raw honey if you can’t bear the tartness. This will help activate peristalsis in the gastrointestinal tract to get things moving, and will also aid in removing ama from the digestive tract. If you haven’t eaten since dinner at 6:00 p.m. the night before, your body will thank you for an easy twelve hour detox/cleanse!

6. Eat seasonal foods that help balance your particular prakruti (constitution) and cook accordingly to pacify the doshas. Not sure of your constitution? Click HERE. Become familiar with the gunas and how these properties in nature such as dry, cold, heavy, hot, oily, pungent, liquid, etc. influence our digestion–both in mind and body. Learn which foods are easy to digest and those that are difficult to digest.

7. Exercise according to your constitution. Exercise is not one-size-fits-all. You might just as well be exercising too much as well as too little, especially if you have a lot of Vata in your constitution. All Exercise is Not Created Equal.

8. Experiment with spices and herbs–they can be a great aid for digestion, calming the nervous system, stimulating metabolism, and helping with numerous health problems. Remember that everyone’s body is unique with different levels of tolerance. Many Vata types are particularly sensitive and should not overload themselves (which we habitually tend to do), especially with herbs. Start out slowly. Generally speaking, I don’t take an herb for more than three months at a time. You should know by then whether or not it’s working for you. My favorite source for quality organic Ayurvedic herbs is Banyan Botanicals.

9. Begin the practice of daily warm oil self-massage. Called abhyanga in Ayurveda, this simple practice of applying warmed dosha-specific oils on a daily basis can have a profound healing effect on the mind and the body. Two good sources for massage oils are Banyan Botanicals and Pratima Spa. I have yet to find a Vata body oil that smells as divine as Pratima’s! You can also use plain sesame, almond, coconut, olive or sunflower oil. Just be sure that it’s organic and preferably unrefined. Here’s a video to inspire you.

10. Incorporate daily sadhanas (spiritual practices) through the use of food, breath and sound. They will bring you back to your center, connect you to your Source and bring great calm and clarity into your life.

That’s it! I’d love to hear from those of you who decide to take the plunge. Need a little support? I am always available to guide you. If you live in NYC, come visit me at my new location in the offices of the Herban Alchemist, 137 Grand Street, #2 in Soho. Or we can connect by phone or Skype. Call 212-962-4738 to set up an appointment or contact me through my website.

Wishing you all the best in 2014, from my heart to yours!

Much love,


Barbara Sinclair is a visual artist, AADP certified Holistic Health Counselor and Energy Healing Practitioner with a passion for Ayurveda (the Science of Life). After suffering with the debilitating effects of fibromyalgia for seven years, Barbara was able to heal herself by learning and implementing ancient holistic practices, including Ayurveda. She is now pain-free and eager to share these methods with her readers and clients. You can contact her for an Ayurvedic consultation or energy healing session, or to read more articles on her blog, at barbarasinclair.com.