Home' Spa and Clinic : Volume 62 July 2015 Contents SPA WELLNESS
My aunt is a national treasure.
Unfortunately, she has been
suffering terribly from rheumatoid
arthritis and is navigating her way through
treatment options to limit the damage
and pain. In our last email exchange, she
mentioned the most interesting thing “I’m not
feeling too bad, but when I’m around negative
people my joints hurt more.”
Natural medicine is always linking our
attitude to our physical health. Previously
it was thought our brain was unpliable.
Fixed. No room for rewiring or repair. If
there was damage, the function within that
area was thought to be lost forever. We now
The prefrontal cortex is the pleasure
centre where all this activity takes place. It’s
a pretty dynamic part of the brain. We know
that through joyful optimistic thoughts we
can boost our feel-good serotonin levels and
lower the stress hormone cortisol.
Positive thoughts essentially help the brain
to grow. A buoyant mentality establishes and
reinforces new synapses in the brain making
it healthier, more productive and efficient.
So when my aunt is around friends who
encourage positivity and laughter, her
brain is flooded with dopamine, a natural
analgesic. What a wonderful remedy for pain.
For the diehard realists, I understand
that to remove completely the daily
pressures of life is in itself a stressful
proposition. A society juggling increasing
workloads, families, partners and
communities in a 24-hour media cycle is not
just taxing, it can feel over whelming.
With the demands of daily life how do
we manage stress when it is an expected and
inevitable part of a Western lifestyle?
The commonly held belief is that stress
is bad for you. It boosts cortisol levels and,
when left unattended, it compromises our
health. But what if I gave you a new way to
think about stress? What if I told you it’s not
the stress that’s harmful; it’s simply the way
you think about it?
There is a dynamic US psychologist, Dr
Kelly McG onigal, whose research focuses on
stress and its impact on longevity.
Her study, conducted over eight years,
included 30,000 adults. Here’s what she
For those people who were under a lot of
stress and believed the stress to be harmful,
they had an increased 43 percent likelihood
of death. Alternately, those under high levels
of stress, but felt positively towards that
stress, had a no more likely increase of dying
than those who had relatively little stress.
She shows us that it really is our belief
about stress being bad which shapes the
damage it does.
In a typical stressful situation the heart
rate increases and blood vessels constrict,
reducing blood flow and compromising the
cardiovascular system. The indications are
considered harmful to the body.
Yet in the studies where the recipients
believed the stress was positive, sure their heart
rates still pounded, but their blood vessels
remained rela xed, encouraging blood f low.
Dr McG onigal likens this second
response to what happens in our bodies in
times of joy, courage and exercise. How we
think about stress matters.
Central to all of this are the efforts
of a very important hormone - oxytocin,
the feel-good hormone. It primes you to
strengthen close relationships by crav ing
physical contact. It also activates empathy,
and enables a willingness to help and
Did you know that in times of stress the
brain pumps out not only adrenalin but
large amounts of oxytocin as well? The
reason? It motivates you to seek support.
Not only does oxytocin act on the brain
but it also supports the body by having an
anti-inflammatory effect on our vascular
health. It can actually strengthen the heart
by helping to repair heart cells from the
damage caused by stress.
Reaching out and connecting with
others reduces the effects of stress and
actually has a positive effect, just as if you
were experiencing a joyful situation. It
appears the stress response has a built in
protective mechanism: human connection.
Caring creates resilience.
By connecting compassionately to others
we create strength under stress.
The physical signs of stress are our
body’s way of energising us and preparing
us to successfully meet life’s challenges. If
we lend a hand by adjusting our thinking,
then we are potentially not only extending
our lifespan but creating a culture of care
* Michelle Reeve is founder and managing
director of Waterlily Australasia. She is an
expert in a range of natural medicine modalities,
with extensive experience in aromatherapy.
By choosing our attitude and responses
to stress we are telling our bodies that we
can handle pressure, and by recognising
the signs of stress we can learn to interpret
them positively, says Michelle Reeve*.
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