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Robin D. Stone is a New York City based psychotherapist, coach and consultant who works to help you achieve your most optimal self. 

Posts tagged stress
Adaptogens to Your Rescue
 
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I had to laugh at a recent article about the actress Gwyneth Paltrow selling $200 smoothies on her good-for-you website GOOP. I gave the side-eye to her ingredients like Beauty Dust and Goodnight Dust (at $55-$65 a pop), but I was curious about some of the herbal ingredients listed like ashwagandha. 

Ashwagandha is among a class of healing plants known as adaptogens, which are thought to support your body’s immune function and boost its ability to handle internal and environmental stress. If you face the wear and tear of a fast-paced (and at times difficult) life, then you might want to fortify your diet with adaptogens.   

Adaptogens aren’t new; the concept is thousands of years old, and certain adaptogenic plants go by different names in different practices and disciplines. In Ayurveda, they are known as the rasayanas, and in traditional Chinese medicine, they are called the Superior Herbs. In 1947 the Russian scientist Lazarev coined the term adaptogen, for an agent that allows an organism to “adapt” to adversity.

Like herbal supplements, adaptogens are not FDA-approved. So if you consider using them, be sure to get information on the plant, its properties and potential interactions with any medicines or herbs that you may be taking. When it comes to choosing an adaptogen, consider what best targets your needs as each offers something a little different.

As a newbie to adaptogens, you might want to take baby steps in introducing them into your diet. Try something like Adaptogenic Miso dressing from Great Kosmic Kitchen. This recipe works nicely because you simply sprinkle the powdered herb into the dressing. You can also add the herbs over mixed roasted vegetables and stir in broths or soups, like Learning Herbs’ Immune Soup.

Here are a few adaptogens highlighted on The Great Kosmic Kitchen and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
 

  • This root, also known as Indian ginseng, is often used for fatigue, stress, immune system support, joint pain (topically), and to stabilize blood sugar and hormones. Traditional recipes include the root (powdered) in warm milk and/or honey. Use 1-6 grams a day. Can be taken as a capsule.

Asian Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
American Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

  • Ginseng’s Latin name, Panax, comes from the same Greek root as the English word “panacea,” meaning cure-all, or all-healing. Ginseng is known to relieve stress, and studies suggest that it significantly improves athletic performance, relieves fatigue and can reduce muscle inflammation after exercise. Ginseng is among the world’s most widely used medicinal plants.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

  • Also known as “huang qi,” Astragalus is used traditionally to stimulate the immune system and reduce fatigue. Research suggests it may also be helpful for immune systems that have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation. As with most medicinal plants, use about 3-4 grams throughout the day of the powder or in tincture form.

More to know:
*Adaptogens are not fast-acting; it takes a couple of months to see consistent results.

*For the herbal adventurist, try adaptogens in a variety of ways, from brewing strong decoctions and teas to taking a daily capsule to alcohol or non-alcohol based tinctures.

*You can purchase organically grown adaptogens and herbs at online retailers like Mountain Rose Herbs or at your local herb shop.


Happy healing, 
Robin

 
What We Can Learn from Hunger
 

Do you ever eat because you’re bored, stressed, you deserve it, because everybody else is eating, or simply because “it’s time?” 

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What about because you’re hungry?

Few of us eat because we’re hungry because we rarely feel hunger these days. With constant grazing, we’re eating from the time we wake up until the time we lie down.  We’re eating midnight snacks and 6 a.m. bagels. We’re eating while watching TV and while commuting. We’re on everybody else’s schedule but our own body’s.

And often, if we’re eating while in motion or otherwise occupied, we aren’t really mindful of how much we’re eating, or even the quality of what we’re eating. Ever down a bag of chips in the car the and then head straight to the fridge for dinner once you get home? You’re no longer hungry, but it’s “time” to eat.

Some of us, who may have a history of not having enough food to eat, may eat to avoid the emotional triggers that feeling hungry might produce. We may be eating more than we should because we “deserve” it. 

Unless you’re aware of these dynamics, you can’t address them.

Hunger, in fact is a useful sensation, as this registered dietitian explains. It signals to our body that it’s time to eat. When we eat for reasons other than hunger, we’re often taking in more calories than our bodies can use.

But how do you know when you’re really hungry? As she notes, a Hunger Scale can help you get in touch with your body’s needs. Here’s how it works: Your internal scale prompts you to eat when you are “pleasantly hungry” but not starving, and to stop when you are “pleasantly full” but not stuffed.

But before you get on that scale, you might want to spend a few days simply monitoring and noting when you eat, what you eat and why. Note how often you eat because you are truly hungry. And the true reasons you eat when you aren’t. Be honest, and gentle, with yourself.

And when you’re ready, allow yourself the sensation of feeling hungry. So that when you sit down with your appetite (and pretty food on the plate, a fork, a knife, a napkin, no TV, no distractions), you savor your food for all of its goodness – and all of the good it does you.

 
Lift Your Spirits, Boost Your Health
 

One study showed that spiritual or religious practice like prayer can help fight off depression – especially if depression runs in your family. 

The brain-mapping research at Teacher’s College at Columbia University found that found that people who valued their religion more and prayed regularly had thicker cortices when compared to those who did not. It seems that a thinning cortex is associated with depression. Regular church attendance was not a factor; the focus was more on how much people valued spirituality in their lives.

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Another study, by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shows that meditation may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. So much so that meditation appeared to provide the same kind of relief as that from antidepressants, the study’s leader said.

Other research points to countless benefits from spiritual practices, from relaxation and stress reduction to faster healing of surgical scars to increased immunity to just being happier.

The outtake: Spirituality and spiritual practices like prayer and meditation are not just good for your soul; they can actually boost your mental and physical well-being.

Docs may never write ’scripts for “take two prayers and call me in the morning,” but as we seek ways to recover and heal from whatever ails us, it’s good to remember the benefits of sweet and soulful surrender.

 
My New Film Highlights Black Women's Stories about Stress & Self-Care
 

I was honored to premiere my mini-documentary "THICK: Black Women Weigh In on Body Awareness, Food, Stress and Self-Care"  recently at the Black Women’s Life Balance and Wellness conference at Spelman College in Atlanta. Featuring the stories of nearly 20 Black women nationwide – myself included – the film asks how can we take care of ourselves in the face of stressors like job demands, relationship issues, family drama. 

    Black Women's Life Balance and Wellness conference, Sept. 19, 2015.   

 

Black Women's Life Balance and Wellness conference, Sept. 19, 2015.
 

THICK centers on healthy weight, as Black women contend with weight-related health concerns like heart disease, diabetes and fertility problems in disproportionate numbers. This project was a part of my master's thesis, which focused on using narrative techniques like storytelling and writing to promote healing among Black women.

Joining us were two of the sisters featured in the film who are from Atlanta. They loved seeing their stories on the big screen. One, Elizabeth Montgomery, shared that she was thrilled to go from "homeless" -- a reference to her tenuous life as a young adult -- "to Hollywood!"

We followed the film with a powerful writing workshop focused on the body and self-care. The women gathered, wrote and witnessed, and some shared from deep within their hearts. 

I now incorporate narrative techniques in my coaching work. A beautiful thing about writing for healing is that it is a way to get your “stuff” down on the page. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re struggling with until it’s there in front of you, talking to you, telling you about itself. And once you name it, whatever it is, you can begin to deal with it. 

I look forward to showing "THICK," to writing and sharing our stories, and to continuing conversations about what it takes to be healthy and whole.

Click here for a preview of "THICK," and let me know what you think at robin@robinstone.com.

 
On Love & Weight Loss
 
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Author Alice Randall has no trouble calling folks out. The writer of four books, including The Wind Done Gone, a provocative take on the “classic” novel ­­Gone With the Wind, does it again through Ada’s Rules: A Sexy Skinny Novel  (Bloomsbury, $15), a charming novel that’s part love story, part diet guide, now in paperback.

Eyes rolled big time when Randall opined last year in The New York Times that “Black women are fat because they want to be.” If you could get past the offense, you could hear her urgent cry that Black people – women in particular, who have a higher obesity rate than men or women of other races – need an attitude adjustment on eating and living more healthfully. 

The larger point, she says: “What we need is a body-culture revolution in Black America.”

She tries to make that point through Ada Howard, the feisty yet vulnerable protagonist in Ada’s Rules. In the course of a year, Ada changes her diet, adds more exercise, spends less time taking care of husband, ailing parents, and everybody else so she can take better care of herself, and encourages her family and friends to improve their health too.  And all the while, Ada’s trying to determine whether her preoccupied hubby, pastor of Nashville’s Full Love Baptist Tabernacle, is transgressing with one of the flock. In the end, if you follow even some of Ada’s 53 rules, you will be on your way toward positive changes that you might see reflected on the scale.

Why a Black woman’s weight-loss story when it seems everybody else is struggling with weight? It’s personal, says Randall, who’s dropped 40 lbs. “I’ve said I want to be the last fat Black woman in my family, and that struck a chord in people’s heart. At the rate we’re going, frankly there will be no old Black ladies in the next generation.”

Here’s what else she had to say:

HealthJones: You share your own struggle with weight loss. How did that influence Ada’s Rules?

Randall: I decided to go on a weight loss journey to get under 200 pounds or have the [weight-loss] surgery. I was reading and getting advice and decided that if I wrote a book at the same time, that would help me stay focused on my goals. I wouldn’t do anything a poor woman couldn’t do. No personal trainer, no one to cook in the house. I wanted to identify low-cost and no-cost ways. The rules came to me as I figured out what worked. I consider myself to be an Ada.

I lost about 40 plus pounds. That’s important because losing just 10 percent of your weight leads to major health improvements. I started at over 225, so just 22.5 pounds equals 10 percent of your body weight – you see a reduction in diabetes risk and cancer risk. I want to empower women to aim for that 10 percent in weight loss. For me, I focused on just getting to 200 pounds. That was a good goal – it got me past 10 percent.

HealthJones: You said black women are fat because they want to be. Why do you say this?

Randall: It’s not just about are you overweight because this is what your husband likes. Many Black men and women appreciate larger Black women. It’s not just a sexual or romantic connection. Think about our grandmothers – my grandmother was big as two houses. I say that admiringly. No one can convince me that she wasn’t the most beautiful woman in the world.

Being larger can be the embodiment of political disobedience when your family’s labor has been commodified. Labor and fitness are no longer a simple thing when your fitness has been used for the benefit of others. So the choice can not to be fit can be a political choice.

I grew up in Detroit. My grandmother came up from Selma, Ala. She was born in 1900s. In 1900 Selma, Black women went to the fields to pick cotton from day they were children. If you were a sharecropper working somebody’s land you didn’t get fat. That a Black woman could sit on the porch and get fat was a cultural revolution. We need a new cultural revolution.

HealthJones: In the book, Ada struggles with issues that many may find familiar. What did you want to explore though Ada?

Randall: Low self-esteem; I was was speaking to that. Stress. There are strong relationships between stress, overwork, a history of sexual abuse, workplace trauma and lack of respect.  That’s why one of Ada’s rules is massage your own feet. So much is not in our control. You may not be able to control what causes stress but you can control the processing of stress.

HealthJones: How do you address that cultural change in your own home, say when your sweetie thinks you’re fine just the way you are?

Randall: I had to tell my husband [David] if he did not get out of my way … and I really like him! He liked to encourage me to eat something or figure out some reason to not get on the treadmill. He was benefitting when I was overweight – all the decadent meals. But I introduced him to high-protein Greek yogurt, to scrambled egg whites with spinach. He’s now benefitting with a wife who’s healthier and happier and more peaceful.

HealthJones: What do you want readers to take away from Ada’s Rules?

Randall: I want women know they can enjoy their bodies and their lives more if they take care of their health. Even if they don’t lose one pound, just moving, drinking water and sleeping more has emotional benefits, spiritual benefits. And everybody needs to do it her own way. I want them to put themselves on their own to-do list – it’s a way of showing self-respect.