If I could choose 10 days to give back to time, I’d choose the last ten.
Between my usual six month cancer checkup (to see if I’m still in remission or not), a relationship ending, and my brother in critical care and suffering from ICU Delirium, the stresses of my life cut through any desire to do much, including writing more than a few words.
What do you do when life rides so heavy on you that you don’t want to get out of bed?
I jotted down bits and pieces of words in my bedside journal. Sometimes it was a curse word, other days I don’t remember what I wrote until I looked back.
This is what my journal said one day:
I think we’re on the brink of change, like a jeep tottering over a cliff in an action movie. Will it fall or won’t it. Will we be saved or crash and burn? I pray and pray. I show up in life. I try to write, read, concentrate, but all I want to do is cry.
On that day I prayed continuously for my brother to progress. And then I rested and cried.
Another day my journal reminded me to take time out, be grateful, meditate, pray, take it easy. And I tried to do that.
I’m well acquainted with the valleys of life, but for the last few days it’s been particularly hard. Perhaps, it’s because I feel I’ve been hit on three sides; too many whammies at once.
It’s getting the gumption, the ganas as we say in Spanish, to move forward that eluded me.
But, I know things will get better, and I thank God I am still in remission and my brother is slowing progressing. It really is one hour at a time, then one day at a time, for a while.
Today, while returning home from the hospital, I opened my Bible scriptures app (yes, there’s an app for that):
Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…-Matthew 11:28
I smiled at that. And then I put in my earbuds and listened to meditation music on my cell phone, while my sister drove us home. Among the soothing music a gentle voice said:
Put away the ghosts of the past, the worry about the future, and stay in the here and now. Stay in the present moment. Surrender.
Again, I felt comforted. I am encouraged.
These small acts have made a big difference. In my heart, I feel the ganas returning.
It sounds like something out of science fiction, but this is no Sci-Fi novel where Zombies eat brains. A recently released Yale University study, says that stress causes the brain to shrink. Houston neuroscientist and author David Eagleman states, “Stress is underpinned by particular hormones that circulate through the body and the brain. Those stress hormones are very bad…They eat away at brain tissue.”
“What’s new to be stressed about is that stress is literally chewing miniature holes in your brain.”
These Zombie hormones aren’t doing this, negative continuous stress is. “…we evolved to have stress systems that are useful when you need a fast response,” says Eagleman. “What we did not evolve for is chronic stress, that 21st century stress that man and woman lives with.” Instead of a burst of a stress hormone, most people have chronically elevated levels.
“The body is simply not built to have high levels of stress for long periods of time. That’s where the stuff eats away at your brain tissue.”
Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Although it’s a normal part of life, too much stress is not only harmful to your brain but to your heart, stomach, memory, and blood pressure.
Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked and stress-related tension builds until it leads to a condition called distress. When we experience headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, memory loss or chest pain our body is telling us we are in distress.
“…you get neurons dying, shriveling up and losing connections. It’s all really bad news.”
This is bad news, but not all is lost. We can help ourselves deal successfully with these zombie hormones. Yes, it all goes back to taking charge of our nutrition and exercise.
A list to ward off Zombie Brain Killers:
Complex Carbs: They prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which are digested more slowly. Good choices include whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas, as well as old-fashioned oatmeal.
Oranges: These contain a wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can reduce levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system.
Spinach:One cup goes a long way toward replenishing magnesium stores. Not a spinach eater? Try some cooked soybeans or a filet of salmon, also high in magnesium. Green leafy vegetables are a rich source of this mineral. Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon and tuna can prevent surges in stress hormones and protect against heart disease, mood disorders like depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
Black tea: Too much caffeine, like that in coffee can boost stress hormones and increase blood pressure. Instead of reaching for that third cup, replace it with a cup of black tea. It can help you recover from stressful events more quickly.
Nuts:A handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, reduce inflammation in the arteries of the heart, lower the risk of diabetes, and protect you against stress.
Avocado: Half of an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. In addition, guacamole offers a nutritious alternative when stress has you craving a high-fat treat.
Carrots or Celery: Munching on hard raw vegetables release a clenched jaw and that can ward off tension.
Toast with a little jam: Carbs at bedtime can speed the release of serotonin and help you sleep better. Heavy meals before bed can trigger heartburn.
Calcium:Researchers found that calcium eases anxiety and mood swings. Dietitians recommend a cup of skim or low-fat milk. Almond milk has double the calcium and is low in calories.
Aerobic exercise: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise three to four times a week. This increases oxygen circulation and produces endorphins—chemicals that make you feel happy.
Yoga or meditation: It releases other hormones that are the anti-flight-or-flight hormones.
Stop ruminating: “You keep reliving the situation and get in a vicious cycle that breaks the brain down more,” says Sandi Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “Halt that pattern and change the way you see things.”
Support system: Talk to someone, not necessarily to offer solutions but who just listens.
Sleep:Eight hours helps restore mental processes so we can handle stress better.
Now that you’re fully armed, go out and slay some zombie hormones. Your health depends on it.
Sources: Neuroscientist and author David Eagleman, Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Yale University researchers report in a study published online January 2012 in the journal Biological Psychiatry and WebMd.com.