It’s no secret that health is mostly about how you take care of yourself. Diet, exercise and sleep get a lot of well-deserved attention, yet there are many other self-care skills that can naturally lower stress, manage chronic pain, improve heart health, fight addiction, support mental health, and even increase job, academic or sports performance.
Self-care is about developing the most important habit of all: paying attention to how your body and mind feels, and taking action to support health and feel better, each and every day. Today, self-care is also a big part of healthcare’s future. It’s about what you’re doing to prevent disease, access health services, minimize healthcare costs for you and your family, and resolve or manage health issues safely, with careful, limited, and doctor-managed drug use.
So, read on to learn more about the science and philosophy of self-care and BreatheAware, or just go ahead and start training!
Did you know nearly ninety percent of doctor visits are for stress, pain or anxiety-related ailments? Or, that sixty percent of human illness is directly traceable or correlated to physical and mental stress, and almost 30% of Americans have hypertension that is highly correlated to stress? In the US alone, nearly $300 billion is spent on stress-related health care costs and lost productivity! Even scarier for those using opiates to control chronic pain, did you know that 140 Americans die every day due to opiate addiction? Nearly 1 in 10 Americans will battle addiction.
Everyone manages stress, pain, aging and injury, at some point. It’s part of being human. Having the right tools and knowledge to meet and manage these challenges is available to anyone, and at far less of a cost than that of almost any chronic disease. You can learn these skills at any stage of your journey - at any age - for prevention, maintenance and recovery.
Training to be more self-sufficient and resilient is about education, skill-building and practice. It’s just like learning a new sport or hobby – the more you practice, the better you get, and the more results you’ll see. Those who train find that positive habits and techniques for managing health quickly become a natural part of who they are, and how their brain works.
Breathing is at the heart of limiting physical stress throughout the day, feeding oxygen to the body and brain, and using it to exert control over your stress response.
Your nervous system responds directly and automatically to conscious breathing, counteracting the stress response by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system and relaxing your body. Yes, you read that correctly: breathing to relax is built into who you are, and how you work. Conscious breathing leads to physical benefits such as reduced heart rate and blood pressure, better balance of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, reduced tension throughout the body, and even better performance (expression) of your genes.
Breathing also has an amazing benefit on your brain and mental health. Focusing on the act of breathing itself is a mini-meditation. When you can focus on one thought, idea or action, peripheral thoughts and worries begin to drift away. From this calm, relaxed place, you can use mindfulness and visualization techniques to further control your stress, improve energy and focus, work on self-improvement, and much more!
Body alignment impacts how you feel, how well your body works, how much pain you experience, and how you physically hold up over time.
Most of us have experienced firsthand the discomfort of misalignment and injuries from repetitive activities, whether in sports, or simply sitting at a desk, typing, hunching over a phone or driving, to name a few. If you look around today, you’ll see many people with unhealthy forward-head posture due to constantly looking down at their phone or tablet.
The specifics of preventing injury, pain and inflammation vary, but one thing is always true: learning to be aware of your body from moment-to-moment and making little adjustments throughout the day improves overall health and reduces chronic stress, injury and fatigue. Reducing wear-and-tear by maintaining healthy body alignment reduces inflammation, and strengthens the muscles and connective tissues that keep the body strong and stable. In many cases, alignment work improves flexibility, too.
The benefits of training yourself to move around, stretch and adjust your body continuously and habitually throughout the day range from greater mobility, reduced wear and tear on muscles and joints, reduced pain, improved mental and cardiovascular health, to just feeling good!
For those suffering from chronic pain, movement is particularly important. Over time, many people with chronic pain are conditioned to stop moving, stop stretching, and stop strengthening. Unfortunately, this typically makes pain worse, and can lead to a whole host of other health problems, which can in turn further compound the pain experienced.
The answer is to move, move, and move more, as much as you reasonably can. Movement doesn’t have to be intense or extreme, it can in fact be light and easy, comfortable even. Just keep your body in motion.
Mindfulness is a broadly used term, so let’s focus on what it means from a health and science perspective.
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to something in the present moment (eg. breathing) and learning how to separate what you experience or sense from how you judge, react or respond to it. It is learning how to observe yourself (interoception) and the world around you (exteroception) with awareness, so you can fully recognize and feel your experiences, but still have the presence of mind to remain calm, focused, thoughtful and intentional in your reactions.
The benefits of cultivating mindfulness are broad, and the medical evidence showing the benefits of mindfulness are broad. One of the most important benefits to health is general stress reduction, and how mindfulness practice literally changes your brain to better handle stress by what is called neuroplasticity. In simple terms, when you practice choosing not to respond to stress, you train your brain to automatically respond this way more of the time!
Advanced practitioners go even further to reduce or eliminate anxiety and pain through more advanced techniques.
Some conditions and our responses to them can be affected by our thought processes. For example, some people with pain react in ways that actually make the pain more frequent and intense, or last longer. This can be as a result of thought patterns that have developed over-the-years and, though normal, can impact pain by causing stress or affecting the emotions. Fortunately, these patterns often can be neutralized and even reversed through cognitive training. In many cases, this is an easy process.
One of the most important elements in the patient-provider relationship is affirming the patient’s efforts to be aware of their own health, and taking action to improve it. It can be as simple as validating a patient’s efforts in researching information, building aware of their personal health record, or taking action to improve their health in between visits.
The best outcomes occur when the relationship goes even further, where relationships between patients and medical providers are valued more than cost considerations – or even outcomes. In today’s health system patients make most treatment decisions, so building trust is paramount to the physician’s success in patients accepting important recommendations.
One of the best ways to develop trust is through shared experiences, information and education – which can be uniquely provided by trackable digital education and training tools. It creates a shared understanding of terms, concepts, healthful activities and expectations in working toward a common goal: patient health.
Start by taking the BreatheAware starter program. In 8 free lessons you’ll get additional background on how the techniques discussed above can help you, and you’ll see what it’s like to take the 2-minute lessons – and how hard it can be to stay focused for two minutes!
Modern science clearly shows that addiction is a disease of the brain, and as such requires many months or years of treatment and work to overcome. The brain can and will change, but for most people it takes a lot of time, and many different modalities of treatment and support to get there.
Several of the modalities that specifically support brain change and recovery from addiction include CBT, mindfulness, and for many, pain reduction and general mental and physical self-care. Every program should have some component of long-term self-care training integrated into its very fabric.
It's also clear that people who have developed healthy behaviors and habits of the mind by learning these practices in advance of exposure to addiction risk (e.g. after injury or surgery), have a leg-up on avoiding the downward spiral of addiction in the first place.
For additional learning, read these BreatheAware articles, which get into greater depth on key health topics and the science of self-care.
IMPACT ON REDUCING HEALTHCARE UTILIZATION
Stoll JE, Dossett ML, et al (2015), Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Affect on Healthcare Utilization PLoS ONE 10(10): e0140212. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0140212
Rakel D1, Mundt M, Ewers T, et al Value associated with mindfulness meditation and moderate exercise intervention in acute respiratory infection: the MEPARI Study, Fortney Fam Pract. 2013 Aug;30(4):390-7. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmt008. Epub 2013 Mar 20.
EFFICACY OF TECHNOLOGY-BASED MINDFULNESS TRAINING
Morledge TJ, Allexandre D, Fox E, Fu AZ, Higashi MK, Kruzikas DT, Pham SV, Reese PR. Feasibility of an online mindfulness program for stress management--a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Behav Med. 2013 Oct;46(2):137-48. doi: 10.1007/s12160-013-9490-x
Glück TM, Maercker A. BMC Psychiatry. A randomized controlled pilot study of a brief web-based mindfulness training. 2011 Nov 8;11:175. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-11-175
Wahbeh H, Goodrich E, Oken BS. Internet-based Mindfulness Meditation for Cognition and Mood in Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2016 Mar-Apr;22(2):44-53
Yackle K, Schwarz LA, Kam K, Sorokin JM, Huguenard JR, Feldman JL, Luo L, Krasnow MA. Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice. Science. 2017 Mar 31;355(6332):1411-1415. doi: 10.1126/science.aai7984. Epub 2017 Mar 30.
Herakova N, Nwobodo NHN, Wang Y, Chen F, Zheng D. Effect of respiratory pattern on automated clinical blood pressure measurement: an observational study with normotensive subjects. Clin Hypertens. 2017 Jul 18;23:15. doi: 10.1186/s40885-017-0071-3. eCollection 2017.
Aritzeta A, Soroa G, Balluerka N, Muela A, Gorostiaga A, Aliri J. Reducing Anxiety and Improving Academic Performance Through a Biofeedback Relaxation Training Program. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2017 Jun 16. doi: 10.1007/s10484-017-9367-z.
Shahriari M, Dehghan M, Pahlavanzadeh S, Hazini A. Effects of progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and deep diaphragmatic breathing on quality of life in elderly with breast or prostate cancer. J Educ Health Promot. 2017 Apr 19;6:1. doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_147_14. eCollection 2017.
Voroshilov AP, Volinsky AA, Wang Z, Marchenko EV. Modified Qigong Breathing Exercise for Reducing the Sense of Hunger on an Empty Stomach. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jan 1:2156587217707143. doi: 10.1177/2156587217707143.
Rachel J. Skow, Trevor A. Day, Jonathan E. Fuller, Christina D. Bruce. The ins and outs of breath holding: simple demonstrations of complex respiratory physiology, American Psychological Society, Sept. 2015
Parkes MJ. Breath-holding and its breakpoint. Experimental Physiology, 2006 Jan;91(1):1-15. Epub 2005 Nov 4.
Rost T, Stein J, Löbner M, Kersting A, Luck-Sikorski C, Riedel-Heller SG, User Acceptance of Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression: Systematic Review, J Med Internet Res 2017;19(9):e309 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.7662 PMID: 28903893
MINDFULNESS PRACTICES AND THEIR EFFECT ON HEALTH
Wielgosz J, Schuyler BS, Lutz A, Davidson RJ. Long-term mindfulness training is associated with reliable differences in resting respiration rate. Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 7;6:27533. doi: 10.1038/srep27533
Allen M, Dietz M, Blair KS, van Beek M, Rees G, Vestergaard-Poulsen P, Lutz A, Roepstorff A. Cognitive-affective neural plasticity following active controlled mindfulness intervention. J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 31;32(44):15601-10. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2957-12.2012.
Shawyer F, Enticott JC, Özmen M, Inder B, Meadows GN. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for recurrent major depression: A 'best buy' for health care? Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2016 Apr 19. pii: 0004867416642847
Young, Wery, Gotink, et al. Web-Based Mindfulness Intervention in Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial” Published: December 7, 2015 PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143843. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143843.
Kingston J, Chadwick P, Meron D, Skinner TCA pilot randomized control trial investigating the effect of mindfulness practice on pain tolerance, psychological well-being, and physiological activity. Psychosom Res. 2007 Mar;62(3):297-300.
Rosenzweig S, Greeson JM, Reibel DK, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. J Psychosom Res. 2010 Jan;68(1):29-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2009.03.010.
Felix, Ferriera, da Cruz, Barbosa. Relaxation Therapy with Guided Imagery for Postoperative Pain Management: An Integrative Review. Pain Management Nursing, 2017 Dec 14. pii: S1524-9042(17)30344-2. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2017.10.014.
Kenneth H. Kaplan, M.D., Don L. Goldenberg, M.D., and Maureen Galvin-Nadeau, R.N., M.S., C.S. The Impact of a Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program on Fibromyalgia
Mathews EH, Liebenberg L. A practical quantification of blood glucose production due to high-level chronic stress. Stress Health. 2012 Oct;28(4):327-32. doi: 10.1002/smi.2415. Epub 2011 Dec 28
Hewagalamulage SD, Lee TK, Clarke IJ, Henry BA. Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity. Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2016 Jul;56 Suppl:S112-20. doi: 10.1016/j.domaniend.2016.03.004. Epub 2016 Mar 31
Bergeron CM, Almgren-Doré I, Dandeneau S. "Letting Go" (Implicitly): Priming Mindfulness Mitigates the Effects of a Moderate Social Stressor. Front Psychol. 2016 Jun 13;7:872. doi: 310.3389/fpsyg.2016.00872. eCollection 2016.
Muscatell KA, Dedovic K, Slavich GM, Jarcho MR, Breen EC, Bower JE, Irwin MR, Eisenberger NI. Greater amygdala activity and dorsomedial prefrontal-amygdala coupling are associated with enhanced inflammatory responses to stress. Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Jan;43:46-53. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.06.201. Epub 2014 Jul 9
Steptoe A., Kivimaki M. Stress and Cardiovascular Disease Nat Rev Cardiol. 2012 Apr 3;9(6):360-70. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2012.45.
Young, Wery, Gotink, et al. Web-Based Mindfulness Intervention in Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Published: December 7, 2015 PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143843. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143843
Goldstein CM, Josephson R, Xie S, Hughes JW. Current perspectives on the use of meditation to reduce blood pressure. Int. J. Hypertens, 2012: 578397. doi: 10.1155/2012/578397. Epub 2012 Mar 5
Kopf S, Oikonomou D, Hartmann M, Feier F, Faude-Lang V, Morcos M, Häring HU, Herzog W, Bierhaus A, Humpert PM, Nawroth PP. Effects of stress reduction on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes patients with early kidney disease - results of a randomized controlled trial (HEIDIS). Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2014 Jun;122(6):341-9. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1372583. Epub 2014 May 5
Erica B. Oberg, ND, MPH, Margaret Rempe, PhD, and Ryan Bradley, MPH. Self Directed Mindfulness Training and Improvement in Blood Pressure, Migraine Frequency and Quality of Life, Glob Adv Health Med. 2013 Mar; 2(2): 20–25
Alexander CN, Schneider RH, Staggers F, Sheppard W, Clayborne BM, Rainforth M, Salerno J, Kondwani K, Smith S, Walton KG, Egan B. Trial of stress reduction for hypertension in older African Americans. II. Sex and risk subgroup analysis. Hypertension. 1996 Aug;28(2):228-37
Mechthild Hartmann, MSC, Stefan Kopf, MD, Claudia Kircher, MD, Verena Faude-Lang, MD, Zdenka Djuric, MD, Florian Augstein, Hans-Christoph Friederich, MD, Meinhard Kieser, PHD, Angelika Bierhaus, PHD, Per M. Humpert, MD, Wolfgang Herzog, MD, and Peter P. Nawroth, MD, Sustained Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction Intervention in Type 2 Diabetic Patients--Design and first results of a randomized controlled trial (the Heidelberger Diabetes and Stress-Study) Diabetes Care. 2012 May;35(5):945-7. doi: 10.2337/dc11-1343. Epub 2012 Feb 14.
T. McMillan, Ian H. Robertson, D. Brock, and L. Chorlton (2014). Brief mindfulness training for attentional problems after traumatic brain injury: A randomised control treatment trial.
B. JOHANSSON, H. BJUHR, & L. RO¨ NNBA (2016). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) improves long-term mental fatigue after stroke or traumatic brain injury.
HS Burke, CE Degeneffe, MF Olney (2009). A new disability for rehabilitation counselors: Iraq war veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Zoe Zoupanou, Mark Cropley, Leif W. Rydstedt. Recovery after Work: The Role of Work Beliefs in the Unwinding Process, PLOS Medicine, December 11, 2013
Marc T. Hamilton, PhD, Genevieve N. Healy, PhD, and Neville Owen, PhD. Too Little Exercise and Too Much Sitting: Inactivity Physiology and the Need for New Recommendations on Sedentary Behavior, Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep. 2008 Jul; 2(4): 292–298.
Pedersen, BK. The diseasome of physical inactivity--and the role of myokines in muscle--fat cross talk. Journal of Physiology, 2009 Dec 1;587(Pt 23):5559-68. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.179515. Epub 2009 Sep 14.
Jos N. van Ommeren, Eva Gutierrez-i-Puigarnau, Are workers with a long commute less productive? An empirical analysis of absenteeism. Regional Science and Urban Economics, Volume 41, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 1-8. LINK: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166046210000633