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If you’re already on the path to a fit and healthy lifestyle, you know the importance of proper nutrition. You know the effects that eating clean and whole foods can have on your appearance, energy levels, endurance, and overall feeling of well-being. You do a good job of nurturing your body, but are you aware of the importance of nurturing your mind, too? Your mind isn’t just critical to your mood. What you think and how you respond to different situations can affect your health more than you may know.

It all goes back to the 3 Bs: Body, brain, and breath. Your state of mind affects your body and breathing. But breathing changes your mind and body. That’s why it is so important to learn how to get your breath under control. Let’s take a look.

Your Thoughts and Your Health

Your internal dialog affects so much more than your mood. While someone with a cantankerous demeanor isn’t usually top choice for company, negative attitudes can affect more than just your social interactions. They also impact your health.

Ever Heard of Neuropeptides?

If you’re new to the world of neuropeptides, fear not! We will cover a brief overview here and then revisit their importance in more detail in future articles. These signaling, protein-like molecules help neurons communicate with each other while sending signals to your brain. Sounds complicated, and it is. These little guys do so much and are so important, they even have entire journals dedicated to them!

Let’s not get overwhelmed by the details. What is important to know, for the purposes of this article, is that your neuropeptides are the means by which your thoughts, desires, and emotions get transmitted to your nervous system. The receptors in your nervous system and immune system then receive these messages. Feelings of stress, nervousness, anxiety, and sadness can cause your body to release hormones that, over time, can wreck havoc on your immune system, causing it to break down.

Excessive negative emotions, like calories, build up over time. You may be able to burn some of them off, but after awhile, they build up to a point where you’re feeling sluggish, low energy, and disconnected. Conversely, training your mind to think positively, focusing on the good in situations, and reacting calmly can result in improved health and overall well-being.

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Break Up With Stress

We talked briefly about stress above, but let’s take a deeper look. What happens in our bodies when we become stressed out? To protect from potential threats (think wild animals chasing you through the night), our bodies come equipped with a stress response that gives you a boost of energy to handle urgent situations. This boost of energy, however, is accompanied by an elevation in your heart rate, rising blood pressure, and a release of hormones to top it off. One of these hormones, cortisol, alters immune system responses while suppressing your digestive and reproductive systems.

While this is beneficial in a fight-or-flight scenario, chronic releases of these hormones, especially cortisol, can be dangerous. Prolonged increase in stress levels are linked to arrhythmias, anxiety, digestive problems, weight gain, and more!

Just reading about all of those things can be stressful! Time to take some deep breaths.

So what does all of this talk about stress have to do with your state of mind? Whether you realize it yet or not, you have the power to control your responses, your stress levels, and your internal dialog – all leading to a more stress-free state of well-being. This is a process, however. You can’t roll out of bed one day and run a marathon without having trained, built endurance, and gained the needed strength. Likewise, you have to train your mind and how you respond. Over time you’ll win the race.

We All Have to Start Somewhere. Here’s How:

1. Shift your perspective – The way we interpret situations is critical to a healthy state of mind. Stress comes at us from every direction. When confronted with a difficult situation, try shifting your perspective. Let’s try it out…

Scenario: You’ve been working for weeks on a presentation only to find out your work will not be used in an upcoming pitch. All those hours wasted. Right? OR, find gratitude in the experience you’ve gained and be proud of your work ethic and perseverance to get the job done.

2. Find Gratitude – This was touched on above but we can’t emphasize enough the importance of being thankful. Finding something to be thankful for in every situation and focusing on that can bring any situation up a level or more.

Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice. — Harvard Medical School study, In Praise of Gratitude

3. Don’t React, Breathe – Instead of immediately acting in emotion and anger, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Then take another. And another. Finding the calm and taking a moment of reflection will help you get needed perspective.

Breathing does more than reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have shown it to enable focus and productivity, help reduce aches and pains, and even lower your blood pressure. When you’re feeling more productive, in less pain, and healthier overall, your state of mind naturally shifts into an improved state. See how cyclical the process is?

By learning how to manage your stress “You’ll not only be more productive but able to think more clearly and work at a higher level,” says Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health.

Remember, we have more control over our health and well-being than we may know. Nurturing your body is important, but taking care of your state of mind shouldn’t be neglected. Start incorporating the exercises above into your daily routines and see how your health and energy levels can improve.

This is a repost from an article I wrote for the Spire blog.

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