5 Practices to Begin NOW to Impact Immunity & Joy.
Consider this: Does stress define the most important moments in your life?
Distress, pain and illness can block our path to healing — and joy. Implementing these five powerful practices (5Ps) can give you the tools you need to regain control over stress.
Don’t let the stressors in your life define you.
The 5Ps stand for five practices you can embrace right away to feel more vital and healthy:
- Peace – Adjust mindful practices to rewire your reactions to stress
- Pillow – Activate your sleep center to repair and restore your body
- Plants – Eat mostly plants, in a variety of colors, to jumpstart healing
- Play – Move in a joyful way to unleash physical and mental benefits
- People – Strengthen social connections to boost immunity and thrive
These 5Ps are based on the Institute for Functional Medicine’s lifestyle domains. These practices are vital for addressing the root causes of each individual’s stress or disease.
You are never powerless over your health journey.
Genetics are important, but research shows that lifestyle accounts for as much as 70-90% of the risks for developing chronic disease. This means that improving mindful practices, sleep patterns, nutrition, movement and social connectivity can have a huge impact on replacing stress and anxiety with vitality and happiness. Yes, you are more in control than you may have realized.
Addressing these 5Ps will allow you to start healing holistically while regaining control over stress and anxiety. This in turn will unlock your full potential for a joyful and fulfilling life.
You don’t need to deprive yourself or be an Olympic athlete to be successful.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to be perfect in every lifestyle domain, deprive yourself of certain food groups, or exercise like an Olympic athlete to start your healing journey!
You do need to joyfully explore each domain, however, to identify your individual needs, and understand how much of each practice may be needed to help you heal. Each individual has unique needs as to the amount or ‘dosage’ of each of the 5Ps that will work synergistically for increased energy and vitality.
You may already incorporate mindful practices such as yoga, meditation, and so on, but you may need to ‘push the dose’ by increasing the frequency of your practice.
Take the time to reevaluate the effectiveness of each practice, hone some rusty skills, or add other, new wellness “protocols” to your tool box. Dr. Jeffery Bland refers to this as ‘the right amount, at the right place, at the right time.’
Here is an in depth look at the first “P”… Peace!
PEACE: REWIRING YOUR RESPONSE TO STRESS, BODY AND MIND.
Perhaps the most important of the 5Ps is the first one, finding inner peace.
If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said food or nutrition was the most important practice. I now believe that finding inner peace is the critical key that allows us to regain our health and vitality.
Based on my own observations, as well as important recent work, like that of Dr. David Perlmutter’s, finding peace allows your body to effectively shut down stress pathways, so you can employ the resilience to face whatever challenges life throws your way.
If your midbrain and adrenal stress / distress system is running the show, you can’t truly move forward in a clear fashion. Dr. Perlmutter points out that peace is the most important first step of engagement, so that we are open to the process
Let me be clear: Stress never goes away. Stressors exist in our lives all day, every day, no matter how large or how trivial.
Our sense of having control of our lives, stress, health and wellbeing can be summed up in Julian B. Rotter’s concept of the ‘Locus of Control.’ People who feel they have some degree of control over events and their own health have an internal locus of control. They tend to believe that how they interact with the environment can impact certain outcomes in their lives. This belief is linked by research to a healthier way of responding to stress and distress.
Slow, mindful breathing activates the vagus nerve. This promotes peace and puts the brakes on our flight-or-fight stress response.
Mindful practices boost the immune system and promote peace:
- Breathe Deeply – Activate the vagus nerve and rewire your brain for peace
- Switch circuits from the midbrain (stress) to pre-frontal cortex (de-stress)
- Adjust the dose of your mindful practices until your reach a flow-state to handle stress
- Evaluate your mindful practices for effectiveness, and adjust as needed
- Use mantras throughout your day to sustain a flow state
One simple mindful exercise you can try is to slow down and take one deep breath. As you breathe in, say the word ‘grateful,’ and as you breathe out, say the world ‘peaceful.’ This will allow you to re-center.
Another mantra that is effective to maintain your flow-state is to say this five-word mantra over and over again as you breathe slowly and attend to your breath: “Peaceful, positive, energized, healthy, whole.” Just having those words run through your head shifts activity from the stress centers in the midbrain and adrenal glands to the executive center where it belongs, in the de-stressing processing centers in the frontal and prefrontal cortex.
Deep breathing, mantras, and mindfulness helps our immune system. It helps us reallocate executive control to its rightful place in the frontal and prefrontal cortex rather than the stress center in the midbrain.
Being at peace promotes a top-down, rational and metered response, rather than a bottom-up emotional and stressful response. The frontal and prefrontal cortex are meant to be running the show, not the midbrain. If there is an urgent situation happening, which is usually less than once percent of the time, we need our stress centers to get engaged. Otherwise we need to let the part of the brain that’s meant to be running the show do its job.
Tara Brach suggests that even though many people try to move forward and identify where they are stuck, they often end up in a sort of low-grade stress / distress trance.
Finally, here’s a beautiful meditation you can read to support you and help release stress on a daily basis.
You are walking along a beautiful clear beach. The sand is all around you, The sound of the ocean is peaceful and beautiful. The sun is warm and inviting. Take in the smell of the ocean and breathe deeply, feeling it fill your lungs. Slowly look upward and breathe in the deep, timeless ocean. For the moment you are in, imagine all stress you have carried to be large grey rocks. One by one, you place the heaviest rocks down, as you walk along the beach, leaving them behind you. They are there, but you do not carry them. Now leaving the medium rocks in a circle, one by one, placing them into the sand. You walk along again, leaving them behind you. Your body begins to straighten now, less burdened on every level. Breathe in the ocean air all around you. You can hear other people far away on the beach, laughter and joy far off in the distance ahead of you. Your slow walk feels beautiful, your feet digging into the warm white sand as you take each step.
You take the smallest rocks from your pockets now. Small worries that nag at your conscious and subconscious mind. Memories unresolved after years of carrying them. You sit down in the sand and begin to build a sand castle, like a child, the sound of the water drowning out conscious words from your thoughts… you put the small stones into the edifice you create, adding them to the top of the castle, adding them to the fence around it. You stand now, gently, and look at the sun above you, letting the warmth touch your face, your shoulders, your arms. You feel it on every part of your body. Health. Peace. Warmth. You feel the water lap gently up to your feet, the tide bubbling gently, cool and beautiful.
Slowly you walk forward, the tide carrying your castle gently away. The rocks exist, but you do not carry them. They are there, behind you on your journey, but you do not have the stress of having them on your person, on your body.
Breathe in the ocean air again, deeply. The sound of joy and laughter are closer now, the white sand up ahead is filled with other people. People who support you the most and who are there, filled with love. The stress of worry and burden and rocks, for this moment, are released. You are light and walk faster and see the health and happiness ahead of you.
One more deep breath as you center where you are, in present time. The beach is there and the ocean is real. You are welcome to revisit them every day. Center into present time into your real body at this real moment. Walk forward. No rocks. Less stress. We can only live this one day ahead of us. Live into it knowing you are whole and valued.
Finding peace helps the architecture or our brain be more robust and beautiful, and promotes the growth of those delicate and healthy fern-like structures rather than muted, dull nerves that have been negatively impacted by stress and distress.
To your well being,
Dr. Rob Downey