Yoga for Mental Health and Stress Resilience

Yoga isn’t just a “fitness trend.” There is so much data to support yoga as treatment for mental illness, trauma, and stress management.

In this episode, yoga instructor Luci Davis shares her love of yoga in a practical, helpful way! Download here or listen wherever you get podcasts.

Luci is the founder of “Pajama Yoga with Luci.” She began practicing yoga in 2006 following surgery and treatment for thyroid cancer. She believes yoga was integral to her recovery physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her motto is “practice with the body you have today.”

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Stress and Your Immune System

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but it needs to be said.

When you’re stressed, your body isn’t prioritizing immune health.

When you’re stressed – and this includes physical stress as well as emotional – your body’s main job is prioritizing survival of the stressor. All other functions get altered in order to survive.

Healing can only occur in a parasympathetic state. Learning to manage stress and actively rest, limiting stressful external physical triggers as well as negative self-talk, gives your body a chance to heal…which optimizes immune function.

Some of us are living as if every day we are running from a saber tooth tiger. Your body doesn’t know you’re just stressed from kids’ schedules, relationship conflicts, pandemic fear, work, sleep issues, your dietary restrictions or nutrient deficiencies, and your stressful exercise routine (yeah, that’s a stressor).

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It’s Time to Befriend Your Body

“Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body.” 

– Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.

You can work with your body or against it. You can force it into eating patterns that don’t work for you and your natural hunger cues, or you can ignore your body’s core needs completely and have a food free-for-all, contributing to poor sleep, mood issues, and blood sugar roller coasters.

Whether you are deep into restriction and diet culture or on the “screw-it-all, I don’t care” train, your body is still fighting for you, looking for balance.

Your body needs to feel safe in order to keep functioning in a healthy way. Chronic stress, intense exercise, yo-yo dieting, busy schedules, constant phone alerts, and an inability to deal with unpleasant emotions will take a toll on your physical well-being. The fear center in your brain, primed for your survival, doesn’t know if you’re running from an invading army in 1406, or if you’re just living the typical overstressed lifestyle of the 21st century.

When you befriend your body and learn healthy emotional regulation, and you will see your mental health improve as well. It’s allll connected.

Here are some of my favorite ways to befriend your body:

  1. Lay off the intense exercise. I know, I know. Cardio is addictive and also feels productive. Getting your heart rate up so high you can barely hear yourself think is comforting for many of us wanting to escape real life anxiety. BUT. It is still a stressor, on top of dozens of other stressors. Depending on what kinds of signals your body is sending you, it may be time to re-evaluate your chronic cardio habits.
  2. Do a body scan and check in with yourself. This is the opposite of cardio, and I promise, it’s way harder than running 6 miles. Lay in a quiet place and close your eyes. Breathe deeply, flooding your body with oxygen. Start scanning down your body, checking in with various body parts as you go. Where are you feeling tension? Where are you feeling pain or discomfort? Breathe into it, and lean into the stillness, connecting with your body. This isn’t easy, and it may be helpful to download a meditation app or try restorative yoga if you need assistance with this.
  3. Schedule intentional down time. Whether you’re taking yourself out to lunch or dinner (without being on your phone), or you’re planning a morning to be lazy and lay around the house, plan it ahead of time, proactively. I like to set aside one day on the weekend for reading time, and by reading time, I’m talking about fiction, not the usual health/educational books I devour during the week. Taking time to remove yourself from the constant GOING will help you find balance in your nervous system.
  4. Stay off social media. This really causes a flare-up of those “I’m not good enough” thoughts. It’s hard to be present and at home in your own body and life, when you’re constantly surrounded by what everyone else’s lives (and bodies) look like. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I feel so much more anxiety when I’m regularly scrolling on Facebook or Instagram. It inspires the opposite of gratitude in me, and causes me to feel unsettled and annoyed, which flows into every aspect of my relationship with myself and others I care about.
  5. Make a nourishing meal at home – and eat it slowly. Food tells your body you’re safe. Period. Rushing through the drive through or mealtime may be a survival necessity at times, but it’s sending powerful messaging to your body. Eating nutrient-poor and quickly consumed foods tells our body we are stressed and that our body isn’t safe. Depriving ourselves of calories (energy) via dieting also sends unsafe messages to the body. Planning for a meal rich with nutrients and colors, food that may take a bit of chopping and prepping, prepares your body for digestion from the moment you start. I’ve found that while I often dread getting those first veggies chopped, once I’m doing it, I find it can take on almost a meditative state for me. Signing up for a meal kit delivery is a great way to provide intentional nourishment. (Note: Green Chef is one of my favorites, and by going here and using the code spark100 you can get $100 off and enjoy free shipping.)
  6. Start re-training your brain to take the negative thoughts captive. Your negative thoughts are toxic, and they send powerful chemical messages through every cell of your body. When you talk negatively to yourself about your life situation, your body, your food choices, the state of the world, etc – you are sending a cascade of stressful messages to your body. Unfortunately, negative thoughts are addictive because they are so familiar to our brains. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome of the mind. It’s important to find tools to break away from those habitual thoughts. Having a regular practice of gratitude, journaling often, practicing mindfulness and meditation, developing mantras or reminding yourself of verses or Scriptural truths are all ways to start retraining your brain away from the the negative. My recent podcast episode with Dr. Caroline Leaf also provides some helpful tools.

Taking time to slow down and be present, in the body you’re in, with whatever state of mind you have, will make a huge impact on your body’s intuitive need to regain homeostasis. It’s okay if you have built up coping mechanisms of constant activity and commitment. Those behaviors were probably really helpful at one point. But over time, your body will likely get worn down and need some new tools for long-term support… tools that will make you more resilient to stressors in the long run.

Your body sends you signals every day. Are you listening?

I have multiple opportunities for one-on-one coaching, as well as group sessions. Message me if you’re struggling. I’m here to listen and support you on your journey to wholeness!

How to Train Your Brain to Beat Depression, Anxiety, and Toxic Thoughts

The inner dialogue you engage matters for the health of your whole body. We have so much science to support that what you think affects the health of your entire body. Dr. Caroline Leaf is a pioneer in neuroscience research and she is changing the way we think about brain health.

In this episode, we explore her recent research and dig into neuroplasticity and why you aren’t stuck with the brain you have. Download here or download wherever you get podcasts.

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Tips for Kids’ Back-to-School Anxiety

It’s back to school time – which means a time of heightened anxiety for some kids.

There are so many supportive tools to help with a “brain that is always awake” (to quote one of my children, when explaining his overactive, sensitive mind).

Because our calming neurotransmitters are formed in the gut, optimizing nutrition makes a huge impact on brain health, so it’s a bottom-up approach as well as top-down. Remember – if your child isn’t getting or digesting protein well, he or she may not be making the neurotransmitters they need for calming/stress relief. So sometimes a little support can help, but nutrition is key!

There are so many safe, evidence-based tools to help our children thrive during times of anxiety.

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How Social Media Affects Our Mental Health

How can we manage our minds during the social media age? How can we best support our children and monitor their time on screens? How does “influencer culture” affect our kids’ mental health? Whether you’re using social media for entertainment, information, or to grow a business, excessive time on our devices can take a toll on our mental health.

Reena B. Patel is a renowned parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, and author of Winnie & Her Worries. For more than 20 years, Patel has had the privilege of working with families and children, supporting all aspects of education, mental health and positive wellness. She works extensively with typically developing children as well as children with exceptional needs, supporting their academic, behavioral and social/emotional development.

In this episode, we dig into all the hot topics in social media, and we discuss solutions and ways to use positive psychology work for your brain health. Download and listen here or find wherever you get podcasts!

Key Topics:

  • The way our brain has changed from social media
  • The negative impacts of social media on our mental health
  • The impact of influencer culture on adults and children
  • The use of positive psychology as a solution
  • The impact of gratitude
  • How help kids identify feelings and the physical symptoms of anxiety
  • The effect of screen time fatigue

To learn more about her books and services, visit her website here, and to get more parenting tips, follow her on Instagram @reenabpatel.

This episode is sponsored by Indeed. Get a free $75 credit on Indeed at indeed.com/spark.

Top Brain Health Killers and How to Flip the Script

Five things will always sabotage your mental well-being:

  1. Lack of sleep.
  2. Lack of nutrients.
  3. Lack of sunshine.
  4. Lack of movement.
  5. Lack of community.

I could leave it at that. It’s a whole post in itself.

But I want to flip this, because most of us know these things on some level. However, during times of stress, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We forget that we humans are basically just plants, and plants left without care will wither and die.

We were not designed to stay inside all day, blinking back at a screen with artificial light, head and neck perpetually tilted downward while the rest of our body is unmoving, eating food that is filled with hard-to-digest chemicals and additives, with a schedule so packed we don’t make time for people who are important to us.

Yes, I know that was a massive run-on sentence. It was exhausting (and convicting) typing it out.

Times of brief stress and opposition can be helpful for the body, but when we are continuously stressed, doggy-paddling up to the surface of the water all day long, we will start to feel side effects. It will impact our physical body’s health, and it will most definitely affect our brain’s health. It will cause us to be unable to make clear decisions, show empathy, and connect well with others – because we are in survival mode.

Our bodies are amazing at survival – that’s why you’re here. You’re here because your ancestors survived during difficult times. You gain weight after you diet because your ancestors were able to store weight during famine and not die. Your digestive discomfort is physical evidence that your body knows how to respond to mental stress and anxiety. Your blood sugar fluctuates in order to adapt to emotional stressors and physical stressors on your body. Your hormones are wacky, because duh, it’s never optimal to reproduce when there is a famine or threat to your safety (remember – your body doesn’t know the difference between a stressful job or a T rex chasing you). Even your afternoon fatigue that hits you like a load is a sign that you are overflowing with stress chemicals, and your body’s response system is working properly.

Your body is doing all the right things it is supposed to do. Your body is on your side.

Continue reading “Top Brain Health Killers and How to Flip the Script”

How to Regulate Your Brain, Reduce Stress, and Get the Best Sleep Ever

Jim Poole is the Founder of of NuCalm, the world’s only patented neuroscience technology clinically proven to resolve stress and improve sleep quality without drugs.

In this episode, we break down the history of NuCalm and the software built by a quantum physicist, and how NuCalm is unlike any other tool out there. Download here or listen wherever you get podcasts!

Key Topics:

  • Background on the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system in regulating the brain
  • What our fear brain does to our logic brain – How the brain and body communicate
  • The method behind NuCalm
  • Types of brain waves
  • How brain cells affect mitochondria
  • What time of day to use NuCalm
  • How 20 minutes of NuCalm is equivalent to two hours of restorative sleep
  • The music used and the way it improves the vibration and stress response
  • How to get started with NuCalm

This interview is jam-packed with good information!

To learn more about how to access NuCalm for yourself, head to nucalm.com.

This episode is sponsored by Sleep Number. Introducing the new Sleep Number 360 p5 smart bed. Queen now only $1,799. Only at Sleep Number stores or sleepnumber.com/wholeness

Stress Awareness Month: Products I’m Loving to Support STRESS Management

April is Stress Awareness Month, and wow, what a year for stress, right? After devoting several presentations and podcast episodes to the importance of stress management, I’ve learned that the topic never gets old…because as much as we can manage it, stress never goes away.

Your body experiences stress on a physiological level. Every thought you think is a chemical messenger to your body, so when you are in “fight or flight” mode in your brain, the rest of your body listens and acts accordingly. Digestion may shut down, reproductive function can be altered, your blood sugar response may be affected, and your blood pressure will send signals as well.

Learning to manage stress matters, and it’s not something we are taught growing up. In fact, we often get the opposite messaging. Culture tells us to push through, work harder, and there aren’t enough hours. We’re led to believe that poor sleep, afternoon fatigue, and relying on caffeine for energy is normal. It may be common, but it should never be normal.

I say this all the time, but if we don’t learn to manage stress, our stress WILL manage us. It will show up in our bodies and cause all kinds of health problems. Stress creates inflammation, and inflammation creates chronic disease.

This is why I’ve created a list of my favorite stress-supporting products. If we can decrease our response to stress, we can decrease the effect stress has on our bodies.

To be clear, I often get to to try out lots of cool new products, whether it’s for social media promotion or podcast sponsors or podcast guests’ companies or suggestions. I’ve sorted through what I’ve been trying lately, and what follows are my favorites. Do you have to try them all, like me? Of course not! There is no one size fits all to health, and our bodies will all respond to products differently. I believe many supplements should be rotated seasonally, and sometimes it will even depend on the time of month – or even what phase of your menstrual cycle you’re in.

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How Stress Makes You Close-Minded

Brain health truth bomb: When I am living under chronic stress, in “fight or flight,” I am physiologically incapable of accepting other perspectives and showing empathy. My brain can’t make sense of new information, especially information that is contrary to what I believe is necessary for my survival.

This is becoming more and more apparent to me, this year especially. I typically love welcoming other perspectives and opinions, which is the reason I will interview anyone and everyone on my podcast, no matter what side they are on for any issue.

So when I’m feeling triggered by something someone says, it’s a sign to me that I am not carefully self-regulating or taking care of myself the way I need to.  I have to do a self check-in.

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