Stress Hormones

black and white photo of a woman holding her head in stress.

Stress hormones are released in response to a stressful situation. This could be a near-miss car accident, a project deadline at work, or overdue bills—any event where our unconscious deems we are in a threatening situation. Before we are even aware, our sympathetic nervous system triggers our fight, flight, or freeze response, and a flood of stress hormones enters our bloodstream. The two primary stress hormones are epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol.

The Stress Response

It all starts in our hypothalamus, a small portion of our old “survival brain”. When we encounter a perceived threat—such as a large dog barking at us during a morning walk—our hypothalamus sets off an alarm system in our body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) system prompts our adrenal glands, located on top of our kidneys, to release a surge of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline (epinephrine) Stress Hormone

Immediately upon the recognition of a stressor, the amygdala signals the brain stem to release norepinephrine and epinephrine, aka adrenaline. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure, makes us sweat, dialates our pupils, and boosts energy supplies to our muscles, fueling us to fight or flee. Adrenaline causes inflammation in an attempt to destroy antigens, pathogens, or foreign invaders.

Cortisol Stress Hormone

A surge of cortisol follows the release of adrenaline and can remain elevated for hours. Cortisol increases the availability of blood sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances our brain’s use of glucose, and increases the availability of cells that repair tissues (in case we get hurt as we fight or flee). Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation, altering the immune system responses and suppressing the digestive system, reproductive system, and growth processes to prioritize survival.

Cortisol’s role in our body and brain isn’t only in response to a stressor, however. It manages how our body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear. The hormone is integral in controlling our sleep/wake cycle, naturally rising and fall throughout our circadian day, peaking in the morning, and waning throughout the day. Cortisol helps us focus, problem solve, and manage the details of our life, regulates blood pressure, and also boosts our energy when required by controlling blood sugar. It’s a versatile hormone and when in balance, actually decreases inflammation to allow for the effective management of stress [1].

Stress Hormones & Their Response

Healthy Stress: The Acute Stress Cycle

Stress takes a variety of forms. Some stress happens as the result of a single, short-term event such as having an argument with a loved one. Other stress relentlessly builds due to recurring conditions, such as managing a long-term illness or a demanding job. When stress hormones are released due to acute, or sudden and short-lived, stressful situations, they rarely have a damaging effect on our bodies. In fact, the right amount of physical stress helps us grow muscle and bone, and being challenged mentally to learn a new task helps us become more effective and efficient.

Following a stressful situation, our body needs to enter a state of relaxation to recover. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over at this point and promotes a “rest and digest” state that returns stress hormone levels back to normal. This is called the Acute Stress Cycle.

Historically, stressors were life-threatening things like predators, famine, and extreme weather conditions. They were present in our lives, but occurred periodically, allowing for the full Acute Stress Cycle to occur and hormonal balance to be restored.

So, as long as our mental, physical and emotional stressors come and go throughout our day, and the sense of perceived threat relaxes after an event, our acute stress cycle is incorporated into our day-to-day life without adverse effects on our balanced health.

Unhealthy Stress: Chronic Stress

When recurring conditions trigger stress that is both intense and sustained over a period of time, it can be referred to as “chronic” or “toxic” stress. While all stress triggers physiological reactions, chronic stress is specifically problematic because of the significant harm it can do to the functioning of the body, brain, and nervous system.

Unfortunately, in our current culture, we now have mental and emotional stress on top of the physical, causing a stress response in situations that aren’t life-threatening—and these situations arise daily; we stress about work drama, our finances, the accomplishments of people we follow on Social (and what we’re not accomplishing in comparison), and so much more. This results in a constantly activated stress response, and constantly elevated levels of our stress hormones, especially cortisol. We rarely have enough of a break between stressors to allow our body to regain hormonal balance. This chronic stress is killing us.

As mentioned above, under normal conditions, cortisol reduces cellular inflammation. However, when continuously secreted due to chronic stress, cortisol fails to function and it actually has the opposite effect—it increases inflammation. This is similar to what happens with insulin resistance in diabetes, where excessive secretion leads to dysfunction. According to the Mayo Clinic, the CDC, and others, chronic stress, and the constant elevation of the stress hormone cortisol causing inflammation, is responsible for a vast majority of the diseases and illnesses of our time, up to 90%.

The Effects of Chronic Stress

Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated. This nervous and hormonal system vigilance is much like a motor that is idling too high for too long. Chronic stress leads to:

Inflammation

Repeated stress is a major trigger for persistent inflammation in the body. The brain is normally protected from circulating molecules by a blood-brain barrier. But under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky, and circulating inflammatory proteins can damage brain tissue. Chronic inflammation can also lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of dementia-related brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Anxiety and Depression

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in emotional cognition – such as evaluation of social connections and learning about fear may enhance irrational fears. Eventually, these fears essentially override the brain’s usual ability for rational decision-making. It has long been researched that chronic stress can lead to depression, which is a leading mental illness worldwide. It is also a recurrent condition – people who have experienced depression are at risk for future bouts of depression, particularly under stress. There are many reasons for this, and they can be linked to changes in the brain. The reduced hippocampus that persistent exposure to stress hormones and ongoing inflammation can cause is more commonly seen in depressed patients than in healthy people. Chronic stress ultimately also changes the neuro transmitting chemicals in the brain that modulate cognition and mood.

Reduced Serotonin levels

Serotonin one of our feel-good hormones is lower in the brain in people with depression. Serotonin is produced in our intestines by the digestion of fiber by our positive gut bacteria, and travels up the vagal nerve to the ‘old brains’. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can affect this brain-gut communication and may trigger pain, bloating, and other effects from inflammatory bowel diseases. The gut’s nerves and bacteria strongly influence the brain and vice versa.

Impaired cognitive performance and brain health

The hippocampus is a critical region for learning and memory and is particularly vulnerable. Studies in humans have shown that inflammation can adversely affect brain systems linked to motivation and mental agility. According to several studies, chronic stress impairs brain function in multiple ways. It can disrupt synapse regulation, resulting in the loss of sociability and the avoidance of interactions with others which limits our choices for de-stressing through co-regulation with others.

Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Specifically, chronic stress has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision making. “Cortisol is believed to create a domino effect that hard-wires pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala in a way that might create a vicious cycle by creating a brain that becomes predisposed to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight,” Christopher Bergland writes in Psychology Today.

Increased abdominal fat and weight gain

Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. Unutilized for flight or fight, that extra available glucose gets stored as fat.

Hyperglycemia (blood sugar imbalance), metabolic syndrome, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise), Type 2 Diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome.

Heart disease

Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Compromised immune system

While this is valuable during stressful or threatening situations where injury might result in increased immune system activation, chronic stress can result in impaired communication between the immune system and the HPA axis. This impaired communication has been linked to the future development of numerous health conditions, including chronic fatigue, fibral myalgia, and immune disorders. Even Autoimmune disorders are created as an inflammatory response to ongoing stress. The immune system becomes overly sensitized to the body’s own healthy cells and tissue. It reacts against the joints, intestines, or other organs and tissues as if they were dangerous. As the inflammatory response continues, it damages the body instead of healing it.

Muscle atrophy, decreased bone density, and hormone imbalance

Experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic. Constant cortisol production from our Adrenal glands lowers the production of DHEA, the precursor to our male and female sex hormones. The resulting decline in testosterone production negatively affects libido, and can even cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Women who are more stressed and anxious may experience an increased number, intensity, and severity of hot flashes, according to the American Psychological Association.

Increased likelihood of addiction

A series of population-based and epidemiological studies done at Yale University School of Medicine proves that increased levels of cortisol is predictive of substance use and abuse. Preclinical research also shows that stress exposure enhances drug self-administration and reinstates drug-seeking in drug-experienced animals (addiction).

Insomnia

Naturally, cortisol wanes throughout the day and is replaced with our sleep-beckoning hormone melatonin. Elevated cortisol levels late into the day stimulates us and prevent melatonin from being released, impacting our circadian rhythm and making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Unfortunately, researchers at Dartmouth have proven that is a negative cycle, “sleep, in particular deep sleep, has an inhibitory influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis, whereas activation of the HPA axis or administration of glucocorticoids can lead to arousal and sleeplessness. Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, is associated with a 24-hour increase of ACTH and cortisol secretion, consistent with a disorder of central nervous system hyperarousal”. Increased stress leads to poor sleep, and poor sleep, in turn, leads to increased stress. We must learn to break the cycle.

Read our Sleep Hygiene Checklist for your best night’s sleep.

With such a dramatic effect on our health, how we deal with and react to stress, and learning how to prevent or lessen the impact of our stress response is critical to our health and longevity.

Getting to the bottom of Stress-induced Disease

Humans, like all animals, are genetically wired to cope with environmental stressors for survival. How harmful a physical, mental, or emotional stressor is, ultimately depends on its intensity, duration, integration, and, as the most recent research is concluding, how our autonomic nervous system was developed as a child. If we had traumatic events, neglect, developmental attachment issues, or toxic shame in our childhood, our brain, and nervous system will have developed a low-grade survival vigilance. That underdeveloped or under-resourced response will keep cortisol amplified daily decades later. This can put many of us under more stress than may seem necessary.

Emerging Stress Patterns

Before the Covid pandemic, the Stress in America survey reported that money and work were the top two sources of stress for adults in the United States for the eighth year in a row. Other common contributors included family responsibilities, personal health concerns, health problems affecting the family and the economy. The study found that women consistently struggle with more stress than men. Millennials and Gen Xers deal with more stress than Baby Boomers. And those who face discrimination based on characteristics such as race, religion, poverty, disability status, or LGBTQ identification, struggle with more stress than their counterparts who do not regularly encounter such societal biases.

Vagal Theory

A recent study conducted by Stephen Porges, the guru on poly-vagal theory (our autonomic survival nervous system), found that during Covid, the most highly stressed individuals (who weren’t infected) were those who had either an underdeveloped or underregulated/underresourced survival and safety nervous system. Vagal Tone describes our nervous system’s ability to co-regulate with others through prosocial interactions, and self-regulate through practices that induce the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Decreases in vagal tone is associated with illnesses and complications that affect our nervous, circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems as all of our internal organs are connected to the ‘many wandering’ strands of the polyvagal nerve that connects to our reticular, limbic, and neo-cortex brains.

How To Manage Chronic Stress

Since there will always be stressful events in our lives, with all of these varied symptoms of chronic stress on our Balanced Health, what can we do?

Elicit the ventral vagal parasympathetic relaxation response

Harvard Health reports, Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the ventral vagal parasympathetic relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as “peace” or “calm”), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Practice mindfulness and journal

You can learn to identify what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations through mindful reflection and journalling. When practicing mindfulness meditation, heart rate and breathing slow down, blood pressure normalizes, adrenal glands produce less cortisol and immune function improves. The mind also clears, and creativity increases. Additionally, mindfulness will prevent stress levels from reaching an extreme, or getting out of control. This will allow the Acute Stress Cycle to complete more frequently, resting and digesting fully following a stressful event.

Resource Your Body, Mind, and Spirit to Restore Stress Hormone Levels Quicker

Stress is naturally draining. Resourcing yourself following a stressful experience will restore the balance of your stress hormones and prevent the negative effects of chronic stress. Try eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, getting a massage, taking time for creative hobbies, reading an inspirational book, or listening to emotionally relaxing music. Walking in nature also lowers cortisol and bathes our brain in positive mood stimulating neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin). Fostering healthy intimate friendships, engaging a sense of humor, and seeking professional Relational Somatic Therapy to expand our “window of tolerance” for external stressors that may trigger our autonomic /survival response patterns from childhood help us self-regulate. Resourcing habits between acute stress ‘demands’ and co-regulation with safe others coupled with self-regulation techniques all help break the cycle of chronic stress, nervous system vigilance, constant cortisol elevation, and disease-causing inflammation.

Purposefully Expose Yourself to Acute Stress

Intentionally putting ourselves in stress-inducing, but not harmful or damaging, situations can desensitize our stress response and improve our longevity. Activities such as intermittent fasting or cold-immersion are stressful by definition but performed correctly, they are not harmful and in fact, have a long list of health benefits. Intermitting fasting has been proven to cause cellular autophagy, a process of cellular healing, and Caloric restriction (CR), the reduction of calorie intake to a level that does not compromise overall health, has been considered as being one of the most promising dietary interventions to extend lifespan in humans.

Cold water immersion has a vast array of benefits, from raising metabolic rate by 350%, lowering Cortisol by 46%, raising noradrenaline by 530%, and raising dopamine by 250%. Pain and inflammation also decrease (as experienced in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia due to increased production of opioid endorphins in the body). Research has shown that cold showers or cold immersion create a “positive systemic stress activation”, through which the high density of cold receptors on the skin sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the brain. This positive transient activation ignites the sympathetic nervous system and HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-Thyroid nervous and hormonal systems). This activation has immense stimulating effects on our immune system by promoting lymphatic drainage! Brief daily cold stress increases the production of T-Lymphocyte, also known as T-cells, a type of leukocyte (white blood cell), and Natural Killer cell, also known as NK cell, production and activation. Both are critical in our immune system. Research is proving the benefits of cold water immersion in innate tumor immunity and nonlymphoid cancer survival rates.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

The Cause of your low energy and how to fix it

Feeling tired and low on energy has a dramatic effect on your life. Being low on energy reduces productivity, happiness, longevity, and your overall health. Understanding what causes a lack of energy and how to fix it is critical, and what we aim to share with you in this article.

What Causes Low Energy

Essentially all life in the universe is composed of energy. And, energy (which is never created or destroyed) is constantly changing into one form and through utilization or decay into another. In the cells of our human body, we take in thermo-electric energy from our sun that has been converted into plant life (and up the food chain into animal life) in the form of glucose (sugar). Tiny organelles in each of our cells called mitochondria convert the sugar transported by blood (“blood sugar”) into energy to power every organ, muscle, and neuron. These 1000-2500 power houses extract energy from food and supply it to all parts of every cell in an energy currency called ATP. The healthier and more efficient our mitochondria are, the healthier and more efficient our bodies are.

How To Fix Low Energy

Now if energy is never created or destroyed, how come we feel like we are losing energy? Aging and our lifestyle choices affect the efficiency and longevity of our mitochondria. Oxidation (the bombardment of mitochondria and other cell components with “free radical” electrons from energy production), nutrient deficiencies, and environmental toxins are the root causes. According to Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, “the better a species does at protecting its mitochondria, the longer a species lives”. So, in a nutshell, we need to ensure our lifestyle supports our mitochondria operating efficiently.

Optimize Your Nutrition and Meal Timing

The primary way mitochondria are protected from ‘oxidative stress’ is through plant-based dietary building blocks containing CoQ10, manganese, glutathione, and vitamin E from omega 3 oils. Then there is the need for rest. Intermittent Fasting for as close as possible to 12 hrs through the night, gives the mitochondria a break from energy production so they can repair and regenerate.

Reduce Toxin Exposure

Decreasing toxin exposure (plastics, petrochemicals, heavy metals, alcohol, etc.) lessons damage.

Build Muscle Mass

And, building muscle mass counters the diminishing number of mitochondria as we age. Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates warn us about sedentarism contributing to a loss of muscle mass prematurely lowering our number of mitochondria and ATP production. Strength training rebuilds energy-producing mitochondria in our muscle cells.

Reduce Stress Hormone Cortisol

Stress reduction is important to lowering cortisol which through both the increase of inflammation and reduction of ATP production becomes another energy zapper.

Prioritize Sleep

It’s one thing to target longevity through incorporating as many balanced health lifestyle habits as possible (refer to the previous blog on Blue Zone Centenarian lifestyle commonalities), but living consciously now with a focus on supporting our cellular energy engines and maintaining a charged battery with deep sleep will keep you feeling youthful until your ‘due date’.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

How to increase willpower and motivation

Lately, we’re hearing more of our guests say they are having difficulty focusing, making decisions, and following through with actions they know would be in their best interest both at work and in my personal life. It’s not easy to perform as well as we would like mentally or emotionally during times of stress—and this past year has certainly been one of the most stressful in our lives! Here is the latest neuroscience on willpower, decision making, and motivation to help you do your best.

Our decision-making “muscle”, commonly called willpower, resides in the prefrontal cortex of our brain. It is the executive functioning center that helps us weigh the pros and cons of a decision from a logical perspective. These deliberate value-based decisions vs our endless reactive and automatic unconscious decisions max out at approximately 75 per day. According to researchers at Cornell University, the average North American adult is making 35,000 decisions a day (226 just about food)!

The most successful decision-makers don’t have super willpower, rather, they conserve willpower by developing routines and habits that help them avoid having to make inconsequential decisions. These mental energy conservationists know what researchers are confirming; making too many decisions and wading (or surfing) through too much information depletes cognitive resources and decision power.

Multitasking is another mental energy drain that results in poor decision-making, mental fatigue, shallow thinking, and impaired self-regulation. It takes energy to jump from task to task, and even more energy to attain a level of focus where we perform our best. Focus on one task, do it really well, then move on.

Motivation is the force that drives our decisions through to completion. We have intrinsic motivation, which is driven by our internal value set. We are motivated to make decisions and take actions that align with our “authentic self,” and are rewarded when we do so—an increase in brain stimulation in our learning and creativity centers is seen when make decisions that align with our values. We also have extrinsic motivation. We feel this form of motivation when we receive external rewards such as awards, praise, status, a raise, or bragging rights. Extrinsic motivation is rewarded by our feel-good hormone dopamine. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play a role in progressing towards our goals.

When under duress, motivation wanes and is replaced with anxiety (fear of failure), burnout (depleted energy reserves), and low self-esteem (competitive self-comparisons). Here is a list of options for you to consider to boost your decision-making willpower as well as your motivational energy.

How To Cultivate Will Power

  • Work in focused time blocks and avoid multi-tasking. Minimize interruptions by turning off prompts, alerts, and auto feeds.
  • After focusing with uninterrupted concentration, set a time limit to followup on emails, texts, and important information feeds.
  • Trust your subconscious “gut instinct” for the less important decisions. Neuroscientists have found that our intuitive subconscious is able to make a decision several seconds before our prefrontal cortex can, and does so without “over-thinking”.
  • Practice daily meditation and mindfulness. A study by INSEAD and The Wharton School showed 15 minutes of concentration and awareness practice made smarter choices while derailing compulsive and addictive patterns.
  • Ensure that self-resourcing and self-regulation punctuate the focus and admin time allotments to keep the brain fueled, oxygenated, and less stressed.

How To Cultivate Motivation

  • Set SMART goals.
  • Pre-analyze potential obstacles and list solutions.
  • Reflect on the benefits of following through on a decision in a journal to build mindfulness skills. Importantly, hold an experimentational mindset.
  • Include fun in some of the decisions to cultivate dopamine rewards.
  • Enlist support from others for emotional alignment.
  • When possible, find alignment to your internal authentic values, and trust that following through will enrich you.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Stop coping with mental and emotional stress and start resourcing

Q: I’m noticing that while coping with the mental and emotional stress of Covid 19 over the last year, my habits of relaxing don’t seem to be working. What can I do?

A: We all have various activities and behaviors that help us cope with uncontrollable situations. It’s humanly natural to avoid adverse or uncomfortable circumstances, as they generate a survival response in our subconscious brain, nervous, and hormonal systems. The uneasiness or duress is often connected to active or passive trauma experiences from our childhood (this is why all stress is individual). When something in our world destabilizes us like a pandemic, war, an economic crash on a societal scale, job change, illness, or having to work from home with our kids, we can feel uncertain, groundless, and wary—this can initiate a state of anxiousness.

To avoid this dysregulating cascade, we have habituated various forms of pleasure, soothing, and numbing to create a false sense of happiness and stability. Our brain is wired to release “feel-good” hormones in response to these coping strategies, but the momentary happiness we receive from the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin doesn’t rectify the situation. Inevitably, wine and guacamole, Netflix, and online shopping don’t lower our stress, and eventually, these actions lose their momentary pleasure potency. What our mind, body, heart, and spirit really need in difficult times is resourcing.

If we can get over the hurdle of deservedness, and truly resource rather than soothe, we can find resilience, vitality, peacefulness, and joy even when immersed in adversity. Considering that our society aims at keeping us developmentally in the state of the myopic self-absorption of an early teen (who would prefer a chocolate bar topped with sea salt for immediate gratification to release the feel-good hormones over an action we need to schedule), we need to energy manage our will power’s decision making through our day to have the reserves to decide as an adult to invest in our well being.

Here are a few considerations to self resource rather than cope and soothe:

  • “Own your day” by bookending the 1st and last 5 minutes just for you (not work, kids, a news feed, or social media), perhaps to pause and notice body sensations, arising emotions and quality of thoughts, journal, meditate or stretch.
  • “Bookend your workday” start and finish at the same time (as much as possible), but work more efficiently with periods of undistracted focus followed by 5-10 minutes of getting up, moving, and changing your mental state. Eat a snack, stretch, breathe deeply, write down 3 things you are grateful for, or have a tea in your garden.
  • Consider replacing happy hour a couple of times a week with these research-proven activities that lower Cortisol and bathe our brain with serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin: pat a pet for 5 min; enjoy a creative pursuit and drop into the ‘flow state’ for 20 min; cuddle, tickle, wrestle or massage your child or grandchild or make love with your mate for 20 min; walk or hike in nature while mindfully noticing moment to moment what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling on your skin for 20 min; unite your mind and body with 20 min of yoga, Tai Chi or meditation practice.
  • Prioritize movement/exercise, healthy nutrition, deep sleep, detoxing, and choices that actually lower stress and minimize anxiety throughout the week in order to balance your hormones, maintain an active anabolic metabolism and keep energized.
  • Enrich your weekend with fun outdoor activities with others, or take up gardening, the most recently researched long-term happiness-inducing activity.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Hydrotherapy and it’s benefits

Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, has been used for a variety of health treatments for thousands of years. Even before the Egyptians, humans have been steaming, mineral spring soaking, and immersing in cold water to boost healing in the body and mind. Hydrotherapy has long been incorporated in naturopathic, Ayurvedic, and Taoist health practices—even our modern, allopathic medical system has been using it for pain reduction, muscle, and joint inflammation treatments, as well as surgery and nerve recovery.

Hot Water Immersion

Balneotherapy, or Hot Water Immersion, lowers our stress hormone cortisol, as well as ureic acid and lactic acid post-exercise. Mineral salts (either naturally occurring at hot springs, or Epsom salts in your tub at home) have the added benefits of supporting the release of unwanted chemistry from the skin while also soothing joints, back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Cautionary caveat: replace your electrolytes after soaking in hot mineral baths or springs, and get up from sitting carefully as lightheadedness is common.

Cold Water Immersion

Cold water immersion has a vast array of benefits, from raising metabolic rate by 350%, lowering Cortisol by 46%, raising noradrenaline by 530%, and raising dopamine by 250%. Pain and inflammation also decrease (as experienced in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia due to increased production of opioid endorphins in the body). Research has shown that cold showers or cold immersion create a “positive systemic stress activation”, through which the high density of cold receptors on the skin sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the brain. This positive transient activation ignites the sympathetic nervous system and HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-Thyroid nervous and hormonal systems). This activation has immense stimulating effects on our immune system by promoting lymphatic drainage! Brief daily cold stress increases the production of T-Lymphocyte, also known as T-cells, a type of leukocyte (white blood cell), and Natural Killer cell, also known as NK cell, production and activation. Both are critical in our immune system. Research is proving the benefits of cold water immersion in innate tumor immunity and nonlymphoid cancer survival rates.

How about Warm Water Therapy you ask? Sorry, not much happens. Head-out-of-water immersions in 20 C / 68 F water will cause metabolic rate to go up marginally. However, throw a few ice cube trays into the tepid bath and drop the temp to 14 C / 58 F and your metabolism will quadruple. Water immersion has benefits, but the greatest health measures are when it’s hot enough to sweat or cold enough to want to shiver in order to affect blood flow and its healing constituents!

There is a growing trend for cold immersion thanks to Wim Hof from the Netherlands. Wim researched water immersion practices from a variety of cultures and married them to breathwork from Vedic and Taoist origins. He leads workshops around the world in taking practitioners beyond their fear-based imaginings to reap the health benefits of hyperoxygenation (what happens when you hyperventilate) and prolonged cold water immersion.

How To Try Hydrotherapy

You don’t have to swim under the polar ice cap like Wim, but consider experimenting with ending your morning shower in cold water, which is called contrast hydrotherapy. You may notice its antidepressive release of beta-endorphins as it awakens you. Do your best to surrender to the sensation of the water on your skin, and know that the vasoconstriction of millions of tiny muscles around the capillaries of your circulatory system are exercising as they pump the blood quickly from your skins surface to your abdominal organs, raising your metabolism and circulating your blood, while actually lowering your blood pressure and giving your heart muscle a break. You can end your shower back to warm or hot water if you wish. The point is to move from hot water to cold. What you do after this is your choice.

As with anything new, approach this new practice with curiosity and always ask why. Please also be cautious if you’ve had heart issues in the past, as cold immersion can cause transient arrhythmias in patients with heart problems.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Finding Balance with sugar, alcohol, and caffeine

Achieving balance is no small feat. Especially when it comes to elements of our life that involve rituals, friends, or cravings. Take a few of the most common ones; sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. We all battle these daily, and constantly. One month, we’re off of them completely, then the next we find ourselves overindulged to the point we feel toxic. This cycle can leave us feeling stuck, dependent, and out of control.

We need balance. We can’t be all work and no play; all stress and no fun. But we also can’t be all fun and play. That is when actions become habitual, obsessive, or addictive, and we become out of balance with our balancing acts. It’s worth asking ourselves once in a while whether our choices are serving us or we are in service to them?

Our philosophy at Mountain Trek is that nothing is evil—not Ben & Jerry’s, zinfandel, nor espresso—it’s all about the amount, frequency, and timings of our favorite indulgences. To be habit-free we must know “why” we want any dopamine-rewarding substance. This requires asking ourselves a few mindfulness-invoking questions. Typically we are chasing a need with these pleasures. It could be to relax and unwind, reward ourselves for working hard, filling a moment of boredom, masking an uncomfortable emotion, or often sharing something socially. None of these, or any reasons, are shame-worthy. Once we know why we want these choices, we can ask if they are truly bringing us balance and happiness beyond the moment? This question might require some deeper contemplation and reflection to notice and track what effect these substances have on our energy levels, moods, mental clarity, digestive system, sleep, and even self-esteem. Journaling is a wonderful aid in documenting insights and helps you get out of your own head. If we realize we might be “holding the tail of the tiger”, we can experiment.

If you feel that cutting these elements from your life is preventing you from enjoying time with friends, lowering your overall happiness levels, and feeling overly obsessed, then there may be another path. Fortunately in this world of choices, there are replacement options for many of our pleasures! There are chocolate bars with higher levels of cocoa and lower levels of sugar, and even sugar-free chocolate bars are getting more sophisticated and delicious with natural sugar-free sweeteners (try Xylitol from Birch Tree sap). There are de-alcoholized wines, and 0% microbrewery beers, and even quality alcohol-free spirit replacements to give us options for the social or ritual aspects of ‘happy hour’ fun. Micro roasters have been creating high-quality swiss water decaffeinated espresso beans for years, so we can still be in joy savoring the flavors, aromas, and rituals without some of the un-balancing effects.

The key is to play around and not get stuck in habits that we may think are meeting our needs but are actually tipping us out of balanced health. Be present, savor and enjoy!


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Different Kinds of Meditation

We live in a world of choice; 50 shades of grey, 150 flavors of ice cream, 50 styles of yoga, and over 300 various mind/body practices of meditation. It’s oh so easy to get frozen in the decision-making process and then not choose anything! Below is a summary of the different kinds of meditation to help you find the technique that resonates with you, so you can exercise your mind to be more potent and free.

First, let’s back up and discuss the benefits of meditation, and specifically, the practice of mindfulness, which is one of the most researched topics in psychology and neuroscience these days. Unequivocally, as exercises, it shows positive results in both brain and mental/emotional health. Though we tend to think of meditation as only something to bring mental benefits like increased attention span, heightened concentration, improved focus capabilities, peace, and tranquility, all the various techniques also have a somatic, or body-centric, benefit by invoking the parasympathetic nervous system. The result is lowered stress hormone levels, relaxed muscles, oxygenated blood cells, and ultimately, a deeper mind-body connection.

Current researchers have been cataloging the various practices, and have synthesized them down to the 20 most common, which can then be subdivided into 3 primary themes; Focused Attention, Open Monitoring, and Ethical Enhancement. Though there are the various flavors imbued from the original religious or spiritual wellspring that these techniques are associated with—whether Christian, Sufi, Buddhist, Judaic, Taoist, or Hindu—they are all, at their core, techniques to train our mind to be in present moment awareness, a mental state called consciousness.

Focused Attention Meditation

Focused Attention Meditation (FA) uses a vast array of internal or external phenomena to concentrate the mind on. From the sensations of the breath rising and falling or passing the tip of the nostrils; to gazing at a candle flame; the sounds of singing bowls, word phrases, mantras or, chants; or the details of each foot landing in slow motion while mindfully walking, focusing is the focus. When we notice our attention drift to thoughts, feelings or, body sensations, all schools of this form of meditation encourage a non-judgemental “letting go” followed by a return to concentrating the awareness on the stimuli. Brain scans show increased neuron activity in the centers responsible for cognitive control, thought regulation, and sensory information processing. Try this 8-minute breathing meditation:

Open Monitoring Practices

Open Monitoring Practices (OM) do not use an object of focus. Instead, they center on moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations also without judgment or preference. Again, with this practice, certain areas of the brain show improvements in action and thought regulation, cognitive control, and sensory information processing. These schools of meditation practice noticing and letting go of anything and everything to foster awareness of our thought tendencies, from a place of present moment witnessing without attachment.

Ethical Enhancement

Ethical Enhancement forms of meditation (EE) include contemplative, gratitude, and compassion centric exercises. They tend to focus thoughts and feelings towards higher states of acceptance and loving-kindness. The improvements noticed through neuroscience are related to areas in the brain associated with ’empathy’, ‘pain perception’ and, ‘body sensation processing’.

Whether you choose to start a meditation practice from any one of these channels, the results are beneficial for the mind, heart, and body. Besides becoming practiced in being focused, aware, or more compassionate for self and others, you’ll notice how your interpersonal presence increases, your ability to stay on task at work increases, and how anxious thoughts can be simply noticed and let go. All of these benefits bring more peace, and joy to our lives.

How To Start A Meditation Practice

Here is a simple starting formula:

  • Pick a time of day that you can own as consistently yours; before getting into bed, or after your morning shower and smoothie.
  • Create a place that invites you to feel calm and relaxed; a chair or cushion in corner of a quiet room, perhaps a serene piece of art or houseplant nearby.
  • Start gently, set a pleasant bell or gong timer for just 5 minutes.
  • Lightly close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply from the bottom of your belly to the top of your ribs through your nostrils.
  • Invoke your mind’s focus on either the movement/sensation of your breath; the light awareness of the thoughts, feelings, sensations that arise; or focused thoughts or images of gratitude or compassion.
  • Be kind to yourself if you notice a constant stream of thoughts interrupting your practice, this is a normal occurrence for all of us—be patient and, over time your concentration will increase and so too will the space between thoughts.
  • Keep a journal to track your experience and insights.

We hope this helps you on your journey to balanced health. If you would like a kickstart, including guided meditations, please join us for an upcoming Basecamp Weekend Retreat, an online retreat where our expert team brings our award-winning program to you.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: I am over working from home. What should I do?

Q: I am really struggling with working from home. What should I do?

A: The world has learned a lot from the past 10 months of Covid. One of the unforeseen outcomes was a mass migration of office workers from downtown to their dens. A variety of research on the phenomena has found both positive and negative ramifications, however, one thing all university and corporate research has pointed out is that for the foreseeable future—even after Covid—work will be remote or from a hybrid of locations, and mostly virtual. How do we as managers and employees prepare for this change?

With 40% of the workforce able to work from home, and 80% of their employers planning to permit them to work part-time or full-time from home post-Covid, strategies are going to be required that build employee satisfaction and productivity for the new reality. The main struggle for homebound employees is work-life balance, distractions, and loneliness from isolation, while corporations struggle to maintain the inter-employee relationships that are so vital to trust, team collaboration, and creative synergy.

For many, the honeymoon phase of working from home is over with some 55% of employees struggling from distractions such as family-shared workspace, children and pets needing attention and support, and negative world news affecting their fear of the future. But even with more flexibility to manage work hours than ever before, 66% of 2000 office workers surveyed are working more nights and weekends than they did before, and 49% find it difficult to keep boundaries, while 59% feel less effective. The blurring of work-life balance is showing up in degradation of physical, mental, and emotional health. Lack of gym and studio access, proximity to the fridge, and the ease for interruptions from the virtual world to pop up are having a negative effect on healthy lifestyle habits as well as productivity. Physical isolation is also taking its toll. The post-grad 20 to 30-year-olds who moved to a new city for employment were counting on coworkers for friendships. Zoom fatigue is setting in and many meeting participants stay blank screened (don’t turn on video), allowing the few extroverts to carry meetings. The “heartbeat” of the office where serendipitous encounters in the hall or spontaneous collaboration at the coffee machine which build trust and relationships through countless unscheduled gestures and interactions has gone missing.

The managers of the future will need to be savvy on technology and off-site work efficiency practices, but also be able to leverage virtual relationships, trust, and team synergy if they want to be leaders in maximizing employee happiness, creativity, effectiveness, and longevity. Though many surveyed employees appreciate the trust from their managers to work from home, and the freedom to customize their day, they are often complaining of boredom and loneliness. It’s too easy for distance workgroups to lose a sense of belonging, feel disconnected from the culture of the organization, and lose sight and commitment to the corporation’s aims and objectives. This can lead to withdrawal and apathy.

Now is the time to realize we are not just coping with a singular crisis. The way we work is going to change forever. So here are some considerations for both employees and management to build the healthiest and effective virtual teams:

  • Create strategies and protocols that schedule work and life separation, while allowing for some freedom and flexibility
  • Utilize the old commute time for personal health resourcing and stress reduction
  • Invest in virtual team-building activities that transmit the corporate culture of health, connection, and co-creation
  • Utilize technologies and protocols that foster face to face small group communication for relationship and trust-building which are foundational for effective brainstorming and collaborative solution finding
  • Transfer office equipment (stand up desks) and gym pass memberships to home and virtual outlets to support physical health
  • Provide workplace and health coaching as well as counseling therapeutic support for individuals who are feeling anxious or depressed from the chronic stress of Covid, but also afterward as we empower a new way of working more virtually

We hope this article helps you with ideas on how to build a sustainable approach to long-term working from home.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

How To Stay Healthy During The Holidays

While the holidays are supposed to be a time to recharge, reset, and rejuvenate with friends and family, they often feel more like a drain on our energy. Maintaining a balance between your holiday traditions and indulgences and your health goals is the best way to stay healthy during the holidays. Below are our top tips for how to stay healthy during the holidays. We’ve picked only a few so you aren’t overwhelmed!

1) Take a 20-min “turkey burner” walk after-dinner.

Get outside, get some fresh air, some movement, and enjoy your neighborhood’s lights. It’s inevitable that we all indulge during the holidays. Taking a nice walk after large meals will balance your blood sugar levels and lessen the impact of over-eating, improving your digestion and sleep.

2) Savor your indulgent moments.

We all know these moments too well—they are inevitable during the holiday season, and they typically come with an internal struggle. This year,  try something different. Rather than allowing these indulgences to bring up feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, or stress—go the complete opposite direction. Really enjoy the sweetness of your favorite treat on your tongue, bite by bite, or the warmth of your favorite holiday drink, sip by sip. You may find you actually indulge less.

3) Stay hydrated

Keeping your urine a pale apple juice color. Being well-hydrated can help prevent the diuretic effects of alcohol. Drink clean, filtered water to hydrate. Pro-tip:  Stop drinking 20 minutes prior to eating and resume 20-minutes after eating (sans enjoying a glass of wine with dinner). Drinking lots of water while eating prevents your saliva (an alkalizer) from neutralizing the acid in your stomach.

4) Put your fork down between each bite.

This tip will slow you down and help you savor your food more. It will also allow your stomach ample time to tell your brain when it’s full.

From our family to yours, we wish you the best of health, happiness, and balance this holiday season!


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below: