Telomeres: The Number One Predictor of Your Health

Telomere (315x391)

Telomeres: The Number One Predictor of Your Health

According to Elisa Epel, Associate Professor in Residence at University of California, San Francisco, biological age is greatest predictor of the onset of early disease.  When Dr. Epel refers to age, she is not speaking about your age in chronological years – thank goodness!  Scientific researchers have discovered that the length of your telomeres, the ends of each of your chromosomes, is the greatest predictor of your biological age (Greider & Blackburn, 1989).  Longer telomeres denote a younger biological age, more health, and a decreased risk of disease.  The opposite is also true, the shorter the telomere length, the greater the biological age and an increased chance of developing a disease.

You might be wondering: Why is this information important for me to know? There are a few very important reasons. Research has proven that thoughts, behaviors, and lifestyle choices have a direct link to the length of your telomeres. While genetics play an important role in your health, 50 % of your biological age is derived from decisions that you make on a daily basis! Dr. Epel explains that CHRONIC STRESS is the number one factor that relates to the shortening of telomeres. Together, Dr. Epel and Dr. Blackburn furthered telomere research and discovered that stress is the number one factor affecting the body’s ability to repair itself. Our cells know if we are doing well and they often listen to our suffering, anxiety, stress, and exposure to trauma!

The wonderful news is that research has proven that decreasing mind wandering (i.e. worrying about the past and future events) has actually slowed cell aging!  There are many ways that you can create a practice of staying in the present moment which will create greater health in your entire body – including your cells.  It might be helpful to identify the biggest stressors in your life.  How might you find ways to decrease this stress?  Are there activities that you do that allow you to “lose track of time” or “get lost in the moment”?  These are wonderful activities to particpate in more often.  Also, meditation is a great way to develop an awareness of being in the moment.  I have included a free download of a guided meditation on my website here. Please note that if you find yourself ruminating about situations in your past or often worrying about the future, it might be helpful to speak with a mental health professional about your experiences.  For more information about choosing an appropriate mental health resource, please click here.

If you would like to hear more directly about this subject from Elisa Epel herself, please review the TED talk resource below!

Resources

Greider CW, Blackburn EH. A telomeric sequence in the RNA of Tetrahymena telomerase required for telomere repeat synthesis. Nature 1989; 337:331-7.

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Finding Meaning in Your Life

Finding Meaning in Your Life

MattKlein_Faith_2007

I write this article today because many of the people I work with in my private practice are suffering from a profound feeling of loneliness.  This feeling is often not filled through relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol, politics, etc.   I am sharing a personal experience with you.  It is meant to offer one example of a stubbly, rocky path that has led to a place of peace. It is my hope that if you have found yourself on some prickly parts of your path, then it may be helpful to hear about another person’s experience of finding comfort within her own roots.

I have lived in the western parts of the United States for 15 years; however, I grew up in an area very much steeped in Midwestern culture.  This culture is typically defined by “traditional values” and the notion that people stay in their communities for a very long time.  One aspect of this Midwestern lifestyle (particularly in Missouri) is an adherence to the Christian religion.  In some parts of Missouri this adherence is quite formulaic and strict. If you do not believe me, then please consider that the documentary movie Jesus Camp  was filmed in my home state! Of course, this extreme version of Christianity is certainly not everyone’s way of appreciating their religion in the Midwest!

When I was young, my best friend’s father was a Baptist minister.  Somehow at age five or six, I found myself at a bible camp in which Michael Jackson’s character was being questioned.  To place this indiscretion in context, it was 1982, the album Thriller was just released. I loved all things of popular culture.  My best friend and I spent many weeks perfecting our dance moves.  In short, MJ meant everything to me.  During my time at this camp, I was told that MJ was no less than the devil incarnate!  The camp leader threw his album, Thriller, into a fire stating that this album was the work of Satan. Looking back on this “experience”, I have to say that I am shocked and outraged that someone would scare young children in this way! At the time, I was upset and very confused. This was the beginning of a few “god issues” for me!

Time progressed and I witnessed many different experiences that were similar in nature to the one mentioned above. I so wanted to be like my peers and their families and just believe in Christianity, because that is what you do in Missouri! But then I started to question things, for example: What about the people living in Saudi Arabia or India? What would god think if you were gay?  The answer I received from the community was a resounding echo that “those people” would go to hell and I would be going too – if I didn’t figure this whole “god” thing out.

I started to pray out of fear.  I prayed from a place of wanting to belong. I prayed and I prayed – yet I felt nothing.  I could not reconcile my conscience with the fact that god would send a lot of the world’s people to hell. This did not make sense to me.

I stopped believing in anything at all, as I tried the Christian way and I felt nothing, but fear.

This way of being served me for a while, as I just stopped thinking about the whole issue.  Feeling nothing felt better than feeling fear.

Time moved ahead ten years. I found myself surrounded by people who experienced a deep spiritual connection with nature.  I would go into the woods and feel this connection, too! Then I met more people, some who honored the woman or goddess aspect of spirituality, and I would pray and have amazingly profound connections with something far greater than “little, old me”. This way of living felt much better to me than trying to force myself into believing something out of fear, or the opposite, of not believing in anything at all.

I now hold a deep respect and faith for my own way of experiencing spirituality and for other people’s way of experiencing both religion and/or spirituality.  It has been a long journey; however, I have also come to peace with Christianity.  I now understand that even a great idea taken to extremes can cause problems!  One of my greatest spiritual teachers, Mother Meera, states, “All religions or spiritual traditions are rivers that are leading to the same ocean.”  She recommends that you find one practice that works for you and explore it thoroughly!

Personally, I know what it is like to question the world and the culture in which you are raised. I have lived life trying to force myself to adhere to a religion that didn’t quite fit for me, and I have tried living with believing in nothing at all.  Neither one of these extremes offered me a sense of peace.  However, slowly, gracefully I have found ways to connect with something greater than myself through nature, community, and the divine feminine. If you find yourself questioning greater themes in your life, then please know that there is not a one size fits all “meaning-maker” that works for everyone!  However, if you have the curiosity and are seeking, I believe that there are many ways to find your truth and a reconnection to your roots.

The Focus Wheel

The Focus Wheel

 It is my pleasure to share a helpful tool in shifting thought patterns and circumstances in your life, the Focus Wheel.  This worksheet (below) will help you to pick a topic in which you would like to see shift or change.  You may choose something that you wish to “nudge” in a certain direction.   For example, a lot of people might start with something like their jobs. You may write, “I love my job.”  Now this statement may not feel entirely true in the moment; however, this statement is something that you are working towards feeling.  It is important that it is a clear statement written in present tense.  Now after writing the statement, “I love my job,”, then the next part would be to write out the “whys”.  What reasons could you find to possibly love your job?  You may start out with vim and vigor noticing all the ways that you really do love your job, until maybe you get to number 8, at which time you may start thinking to yourself: Maybe I don’t love my job after all.  Nonetheless, I encourage you finish the task at hand, as the “juice” of this exercise is in the numbers 8-12 – your shift in thinking may occur here.  When you are finished, put your focus wheel in a place where you can see it, often – look at it each day.  You will soon begin to notice that the topic statement is closer and closer to your reality.  Happy focusing!

The Secret to Achieving your Ideal Weight

 Five Minutes of Tapping on Emotional Issues Per Day

During the past 20 years obesity has been on the rise in the United States. Approximately one-third of US adults (33.8%) and 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents age 2-19 years old are obese. Missouri in particular is ranked as one of the states in which obesity has reached alarmingly high proportions with an average of 30.5% of adults labeled as obese (U.S. Obesity Trends, 2011). At the same time, the weight loss industry is making billions of dollars; people are spending money and doing what they can to lose weight, but are often not reaching their weight loss goals. This article is for those who suffer from this national epidemic and have struggled to lose those unwanted pounds.

As you are reading this article you may find yourself wondering: What else can I do that I have not already done? Commonly, the weight loss “struggle” includes constant dieting, weight fluctuations, feelings of deprivation, and many critical self judgments. After all of the effort put forth people are left questioning: What is the key to having a strong and beautiful body? The answer lies in the problem itself. Let’s review how weight is commonly gained. Something that many of us Americans have in common is that our lives are full of stress. Stress creates an overproduction of a hormone called cortisol; an overproduction of cortisol inhibits weight loss and is directly related to abdominal obesity. In addition, it decreases nutrient absorption, increases salt retention, and negatively impacts the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems (Gittleman, L. 2001). As Jessica Ortner, creator of Tapping Solutions, simply states, “Stress is a weight gain drug that many of us take daily”. Surprisingly, our emotions are actually the missing key to losing weight. Often people don’t understand the difficulty of weight loss explaining that everything would just be “fixed” by eating less and exercising more. However, this method does not address the emotions that may be causing this struggle and inhibiting successful weight loss and maintenance.

Ms. Ortner suggests that spending just five minutes per day, using the tapping technique introduced in my August blog posting (Emotional Freedom Techniques), will have a dramatic effect on decreasing the extra weight on our bodies. The antidote to “stressful eating” and “stressful weight gain” is living a fulfilled and happy life, right now – at any weight. She explains that without dieting, she was able to lose over 10 pounds in a month by simply addressing her emotional issues through tapping. Instead of forcing herself to diet and exercise, she did the emotional work and naturally enjoyed eating healthier and exercising. As her emotional issues around weight and her body were clearing the weight came off her body easier than ever before.

It is important to become aware when and why you are eating. Are you eating because you are truly hungry or are there other emotional factors involved? Are you attempting to nourish yourself or feel “safe” through the intake of food? Honing in on the emotional factors behind the extra pounds and “tapping” on them is an important step to shedding unwanted pounds. Making a commitment to decrease the emotional stressors which increase the production of cortisol and lead to weight gain will result in weight reduction. It is imperative to realize that we cannot start loving ourselves conditionally, only when we are a certain weight, this only enhances the weight loss struggle; we must commence loving ourselves now.

A few ideas to ponder…

• We get so obsessed with our weight loss goals that we forget to live in the now. Happiness is a choice, a choice we can make today – at any weight.

• Let’s put an end to negative self judgment for the sake of our children and not teach a younger generation that their worthiness is based upon a number on the scale.

• Let’s stop studying weight loss and instead study health.

• Let’s eat a natural diet, because it nourishes us and feels good.

• Let’s make a list of things in our life that both increase and decrease our stress levels. Let’s make a commitment to both phase out the “stress makers” and focus more attention on those activities that decrease stress.

• Let’s have the bravery to face what might be holding us back, knowing that change can occur in an instant (it really can!).

Tapping Exercise

Try this tapping exercise about five minutes daily. At any time you may change the verbiage below and tap on issues that specifically address the emotions that are keeping the extra weight on your body.

Karate Chop Point– Even though there is no possible way I can be happy looking like this, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.

Karate Chop Point– Even though there is no possible way I can be happy looking like this, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.

Karate Chop Point– Even though there is no possible way I can be happy looking like this, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.

Eyebrow – I can’t be happy until I lose the weight.

Side of the Eye – This seems impossible.

Under Eye -I can’t relax at this weight.

Under Nose – All this stress around my body.

Chin – I have to feel stressed with this weight.

Collarbone Point – I feel all the emotional pressure of this weight.

Under Arm – I can’t be happy until I lose the weight.

Top of the Head – This weight is making me feel miserable.

Back to Eyebrow Point – I can’t be happy with this weight.

Side of Eye– The whole idea that I can love myself before I lose the weight is stupid.

Under Eye – The only way to lose weight is through pain.

Under Nose – Is that really true?

Chin – Everyone else in this world stays thin by stressing out about weight.

Collarbone– Is that really true?

Underarm– I can’t be happy unless I am a certain weight.

Top of head– I don’t deserve happiness until I lose weight.

*This tapping exercise was derived from Jessica Ortner’s presentation at the 2011 Tapping Summit. A review of tapping basics may be found at the Emotional Freedom Techniques page.

Take a deep breath and check in with how you feel. If you are at a five or lower, you can duplicate the exercise above with the inclusion of “maybe” statements. An example would be, “Maybe I can accept myself, even with this weight”. By using the word maybe you allow yourself to feel a new possibility.

I would be quite excited to learn about any successes you have with this technique! I also offer 50 minute phone consultations; if you are interested please email me at rootsrenewal@gmail.com.

Resources

Ortner, J. Tapping Solutions, http://www.thetappingsolution.com/

Gittleman, L. (2005) The fast track detox diet. Broadway Books, New York.

U.S. Obesity Trends, derived from the CDC website, http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html, August 11, 2011.

Healing From Grief & Loss

This article is dedicated to all of those who have lost a loved one. Grief is devastating to experience, yet it is universal to being human. No matter which religion, culture, or country in which you find yourself a citizen, it is a known that at some point you and someone you know will cease to exist in your current forms. The intellectual “knowing” that at some point we all die, does not make it any less heart wrenching to lose someone you love. While I am specifically speaking to the pain experienced through losing a loved one to death, the principles of grief and loss can also apply to break-ups or other major traumatic changes such as the onset of a chronic illness or the loss of a loved pet companion.
 

I have chosen to highlight Dr. Nancy Reeve’s Energy Model (1999) below as a way to visualize the stages of grief. When grief is viewed through the lens of energy, it helps us to realize that it is normal to be profoundly affected by the loss of a loved one and that there is hope. While you will never forget the feelings that you have for the person that you loved, the intensity of the grief will be decreased and you will have energy in your life again.
 

It is important to mention that people do not move through this model in a sequential way. As new feelings or emotions are experienced, people will move back and forth through the circles. Couples, families, and communities who are grieving together may find themselves in a different place with their energy capacities. There is no one “right” or “wrong” way to grieve.*Please note that “physical survival” refers to the basic activities such as eating and sleeping shown in the figures below.

Circle One

When a loss is first experienced most of our energy is used for feelings of grief, being overwhelmed, or a sense of “numbness”. A small portion of time is spent on our survival needs such as eating or sleeping.

Circle Two

As time passes, we work though some of our grief and are able to use more energy on our basic survival by going to work, cooking, and sleeping. However, people often feel discouraged in this stage, because they feel as though weeks have gone by and they “should” feel better. People are actually moving through their grief, but may feel that it is worsening, as they often sense their pain as being more palpable when life is “supposed” to go on as normal and they do not have their “normal” amount of energy.

Circle Three

At some point, people report waking up and feeling a little bit “lighter”. Instead of wanting to isolate from friends or family, people report feeling able to dedicate a small amount of time to their social lives or having more energy for physical exercise.
 

Circle Four

The grieving process continues until a small slice of energy is used for grieving. This slice never leaves and is often experienced on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, graduations, weddings, the birth of children, buying your first house – basically times of family celebration and togetherness. Tapping into this grief can provide healing that can be used to produce memories of the person or to honor the spirit of the individual. It is important to mention that some people have reported feeling guilty for enjoying themselves at this stage, please remember that(in many cases) your loved one would have wanted you to continue enjoying life.

 

Path to Healing

 

I work with clients from various cultures and countries from around the world and have discovered one commonality that assists people to move through the grief cycle – acknowledgment. Acknowledge the loss that you are feeling when you are feeling it and accept it as a tribute to your loved one. It is healing to honor the memories, legacy, and lives of our ancestors and those that we love. Below I have listed several ways to assist in dealing the overwhelming sadness that may develop from grief and loss derived from William Worden’s theory called “Tasks of Grief”.

 

1. Participate in Ceremony and Rituals

If you are able, participate in your family or culture’s rituals around death. If your cultural traditions are not clear about how to grieve, seek out rituals that bring you comfort. Ideas of rituals could include as follows: participate in a ceremonial fire (http://www.sacredfirecommunity.org/), plant a tree of remembrance, visit places where you felt a connection with the loved one, get together with people to share stories of your loved one,listen to music that reminds you fondly of them, or keep a “memory journal” full of cherished memories.

 

 2. Experience the Grief

This part of the process may feel overwhelming and exhausting. Grief is experienced at every level of our being – it is felt physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. You may experience a stomachache, headache, inability to concentrate, or irritability. This work can take time and a willingness to explore intense emotions, thoughts, and sensations. In particular, you may feel symptoms of depression, sadness, or anger. Activities that can be done are as follows: keep a daily emotional journal, write a letter to your loved one that appreciates all of the love that they have shared with you, write a letter that expresses why you may feel angry with him or her (if you feel angry), join a support group with others who have lost important people in their lives, or create art that expresses how you feel.
 

3. Forge a New Type of Relationship

Base this new experience on memory, spirit and love. It can be helpful and important to find ways to celebrate and remember the person who has died in a way that has meaning for you. You do not need to “forget about them” or “move on”. You may write, draw, collage, paint, mould, create an image of your favorite memory of the person or an aspect of them that you miss. Write a letter and include what you wish you could have told them but did not have the chance to do. Create a memory box, photo album, or web page with pictures and stories to share with others.
 

4. Find Your Community of Support

It is important to find a community of helpers to assist you through times of transition. Who could you call at 3 AM if you were upset and needed to talk? What kinds of activities help you through challenging times? Going to church, meditating, going outside, cooking, and talking with friends, are all activities that could support you in your time of need.***Please note, just as there is no one “right” way to experience grief, each person has a different time for which they feel an intense sense of grief. However, if it has been several years since your loss and your emotions remain so intense or debilitating that you have trouble going about your normal routine, it may be a good idea to talk with a mental health provider in your area. In addition, if a family member died that you never met, was not born, or you feel conflicted about, please know that it is still normal and important to grieve. The activities above may be adjusted to accommodate for feelings of anger or unfulfilled wishes. For more information about “complicated grief” please visit the following URL http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/complicated-grief/DS01023/DSECTION=symptoms.

 

Resources

Reeve, D.(1999). A Path Through Loss. Centennial: CO, Renton’s International Stationery, Inc.Worden, W.(2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. New York: NY, Springer Publishing Company.

 

Additional Resources

 

Emotional Freedom Techniques

Emotional Freedom Techniques

I am delighted to highlight the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a self healing tool that uses your body’s natural stress-reduction points to produce rapid emotional change (Craig, 2011). I use this technique with nearly all of my clients and am amazed by the efficacy for which it works. EFT can lessen and/or alleviate the emotional suffering that occurs from depression, guilt, anger, grief, post traumatic stress disorder, phobias, anxiety associated with public speaking, trauma, and many other emotional difficulties.*

This technique commenced with Dr. Roger Callahan’s psychological research on phobias in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and was further simplified by Gary Craig in the 1990’s (Craig, 2011). EFT is an “emotional” version of acupuncture that does not use needles for implementation; instead the individual “taps” certain meridian points on his or her body. This tool consists of several basic steps that take only a few minutes to learn. The EFT practice includes defining the problem, rating its intensity on a scale of 0-10 (both before and after the procedure), a set-up statement (explained in the “how to” video), and “tapping” on select acupressure points. The videos below highlight the effectiveness of EFT, how it works, and examples of EFT in “action”. Happy Tapping!

EFT Introduction

EFT Tapping Points


EFT “How To”


EFT Professional I


EFT Professional II

***Note: If you find yourself debilitated by your distress, worry, or anxiety it is a good idea to consult with a mental health professional. For pertinent information about selecting a suitable practitioner please visit the Mayo Health Clinic.

Resources

Craig, G. (2011). The EFT Manual. Santa Rosa: CA, Energy Psychology Press.

EFT Universe

The Tapping Solution

Three Easy Steps to Improve your Romantic Relationship (and even the World)

 

Mirroring. Empathy. Validation.

I love being a relational therapist. Not only do I have the opportunity to bear witness to people’s relationship improvements, but I am also able to assist couples in transforming their family lives. Strong couples positively affect families, which to a greater degree impacts communities, nations, and the world. It is interesting to discover that being a part of even a small transformation can create a great change. Thich Nhat Hanh, poet, Zenmaster, and former Nobel Peace Prize Nominee often explains, “ if we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” Increasing the joy and satisfaction in our own romantic relationships makes the world a better place.

We want to enjoy our partner and benefit from an amazing relationship and yet it just does not seem that simple. Our partner is often bothering “us” in some form. If he or she would only change BLANK, then we could experience true happiness. I can relate to this in a profoundly personal way! One example of this circumstance existed in my marriage. My husband is quite specific about the way he deals with his recyclables! He has a habit of constantly “policing” the recycling and trash after I throw things away. In the beginning I was surprised; I would spend “hours” cleaning the kitchen and separating our compost, trash, and recyclables. While I enjoyed a rest after my kitchen duties, I noticed he “slinked” into the kitchen. I heard the noise of movement and thought to myself, “What is going on here?” He came out of the kitchen and proclaimed that eggshells indeed belonged in the compost not the trash, and for the “last time” only plastics 1 and 2 were recyclable – not numbers 3 and 4 (geez, didn’t I know anything). At first, I found this quite funny. I would respond with, “What are you the recycling police?” But, after a while I felt he was similar to some CIA agent, watching my every move to insure that numbers 5 and 6 did not even contemplate the plastic bin reserved for numbers 1 and 2. Well, I will be the first to tell you that numbers are not my strength! But worse than that, with time, what once was funny turned into an “issue”. .. . I even contemplated going to my neighbor Brea’s apartment for a “recycling reprieve”. Sure we are just talking about bits of plastic and food, but I started feeling judged, watched, and even criticized.

That is the thing about improving a romantic partnership; it is never about the event that just occurred (at least – not usually). More often than not, it is the conclusions that we draw about ourselves and our partners from the event. Instead of thinking to myself, “Wow, my husband just loves the environment so much that he puts extra care into recycling.” I thought, “My husband obviously thinks I am not smart and that he is the only expert recycler in the family.” From this assumption, I am not going to be the “kindest” partner to him and there will be less peace in our house. Lately, we have been working on three easy steps to change our “assumptions” that we make about one another. It involves using a technique coined by Harville Hendrix and Lynn Hunt’s Imago Therapy. The steps are as follows: mirroring, validation, and empathy.

As I write out these techniques, I acknowledge that they may sound “cheesy”, however, what I like best is – they work! If you find yourself feeling stuck with your partner and unable to move forward in a disagreement, I encourage you to try them out.

MirroringFirst, mirroring involves using “I” language, where one person sends a “message” to convey his or her hurt feelings leaving out blame statements toward the other partner. In terms of our recycling issue it would sound like this, “I feel like you don’t trust that I will put the recycling items in the correct bin when you constantly rearrange them and that you are watching me like the “CIA” – which leaves me feeling angry.” Then my husband, in order to mirror back, would say something similar to, “Let me see if I have this right. You feel like I don’t trust you because I rearrange the recyclables, which, you think, is similar to the CIA and this leaves you feeling angry.” At this point, I can tell you that I am already feeling better, because whether he agrees with me or not, viola, I feel understood!

 

ValidationSecond, validation entails supporting your partner. This does not necessarily mean that you agree with your partner, but given the information your partner provided that you might be able to see his or her point of view. My husband in this situation could say, “That makes sense to me, because I would not want to feel like I was under the surveillance of the CIA.”

 

EmpathyThird, empathy involves putting yourself in the “shoes” of your partner and imagining what he or she may be feeling. My husband might say, “I imagine you might be feeling angry at me and maybe a little frustrated, too. Is that what you are feeling?” After this conversation feels complete, the next step would be to repeat the process with the other partner. My husband could then explain the reasons why he was on surveillance duty and the importance of proper recycling etiquette coupled with his feelings.

 

While using the techniques of mirroring, validation, and empathy are no replacement for relational therapy, I hope you find them to be helpful tools for your relationship. Even though, at times, I still find my husband “examining” our garbage rather closely, I do not feel as irritated by this action. After all, the happier we are as a couple, the better our kids will feel. Stronger families build strong communities. My husband and I experienced this on a personal level, the better we became at communicating, the less trash was thrown away and the more plastic we “properly” recycled!

Resources

Imago Therapy Website

Hanh, T. (1987). Being Peace. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.