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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:

Sleep Hygiene Checklist

a woman wakes up and stretches her arms

Our sleep hygiene checklist will ensure you get a great night’s sleep

Without having to commute to the office and run from the dentist to the bank to the hairdresser to the dry cleaner, you may find you have more time to sleep. But is that sleep actually sleep? Or, are you tossing and turning for hours, waking up feeling foggy, irritable, and just as tired as when you went to bed? If so, you’re not alone, but don’t worry, you can use our sleep hygiene checklist to ensure you get a great night’s sleep!

Between COVID-19’s sneakiness and scariness, and having had a wrench thrown into your routine, it’s no wonder your anxiety levels have skyrocketed, while your sleep quality has done the polar opposite. You’re worrying not just about work, your kids, their school, their happiness, your happiness, but about how much (or little) toilet paper to use. Times are changing.

Pandemic or not, sleep is critical for our health. A bad night’s rest lands you in a fiery place, where a not-hot-enough coffee equates to THE END OF THE WORLD, but what we’ve really got to pay attention to is what happens to our bodies when we’re chronically sleep-deprived. In come heart disease, weight gain and diabetes, a weakened immune system, low sex drive, and mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, impulsive behavior, and paranoia (this is why sleep deprivation is a highly-effective method of torture). Sleep deprivation is not something to sweep under the rug with a tall cup of frothy caffeine–it’s something to take seriously. Otherwise, your life’s at risk.

It’s now clear that it’s not just during developmental years that you need to clock the correct amount of sleep; for the sake of living longer, you need to make sure you get a good night’s rest at every age. But how do you do this? How, with all of today’s stressors, do you get that kind of sleep where you wake up feeling genuinely refreshed?

Just like anything worth pursuing, you need both hard work and a good strategy to see results. Sleep is an essential component of our health, and something we need to put just as much effort into as our diet and exercise. Follow our sleep hygiene checklist below to give yourself a framework that will help you sleep better tonight, and for the rest of your (now longer) life.

Checklist Item 1: Turn your room into a sleep sanctuary

Just like you’d struggle to read a book at a construction site, how can you expect to sleep well in a space filled with disturbances? Here are the basics for setting up your sleep sanctuary:

Never let your phone cross the threshold

Your phone is quickly becoming one of the main causes of your poor sleep. The entrancing blue light your screen emits has a similar wavelength to sunlight, a natural stimulant, they ping and ding throughout the night, and whether they wake you or not, they disturb your sleep. Curtail your spinning brain and fall off into a dream-world by not scrolling through social, news, or email feeds right before, during, or after placing head to pillow.

Read Related Article: 9 Ways To Digital Detox

Your best bet is to make a hard and fast rule: never let your phone enter your room. Charge your phone on a table outside of your room, and make sure it is set to “silent” and/or “do not disturb” mode.

Install blackout shades

Humans are hardwired to get up when the sun rises, but that’s not always necessary, like in the summer months. This is where blackout shades, or curtains lined with blackout fabric, come in handy; as the name implies, they create a blackout effect, blocking light from streaming through your windows, and thus letting you clock in all the hours of sleep you need before waking. The summer’s sunlight aside, we also need to block light from street lights and cars; thanks to our semi-transparent eyelids, we register light from all sources even when our eyes are closed. If blackout shades are not an option, or if you are traveling, you can use an eye mask, but beware: eye masks are often uncomfortable.

Keep your room between 64-66°F/18-19°C

Your core temperature naturally decreases during sleep, so matching this cooler temperature with a cooler room promotes not only falling asleep faster, but staying asleep throughout the night. Don’t go wild and turn your room into a refrigerating chamber–your body will react to being cold by raising stress hormones (it thinks it’s in danger)–but strike a sleep-promoting balance by keeping it between 64-66°F/18-19°C paired with a warm and cozy bed.

Control room noise

The really loud noises that wake you up aren’t the only sounds that disrupt your sleep. Every random car driving by, ring, ping, hum, bang, and buzz—no matter how subtle—is processed by your brain and disrupts your sleep cycle. If you live in an area where there are a lot of disruptive sounds throughout the night, try a white noise machine or earplugs. Yes, white noise machines are sounds themselves, but they produce an even and consistent sound that your brain doesn’t react to, making them great options for drowning out the jarring, inconsistent sounds that do disturb your sleep. Earplugs are another option but tend to be uncomfortable if sleeping on your side. If you’d like to try earplugs, try silicone earplugs—they mold to your ear shape for maximum comfort.

Restrict your bed to only sleep and sex

Stop eating, watching, scrolling, and even reading in bed. These actions just train our brain that when we climb into bed, we’re not there for sleep. If you must read before bed, cozy up in your favorite chair, and use a dim, but not eye-straining, light.

Remove all other distractions

Take the TV out of your room—that’s the biggest distraction culprit–but we’re also calling out anything else you might spend time on that’s not to do with sleeping or having sex.

Invest in a good mattress, pillows, sheets, and duvet

The final piece of the sleep sanctuary puzzle is to invest in quality. Every person is different, so it’s hard for us to tell you exactly which mattress, pillow, sheets, and duvet to buy, but what we can tell you is this: you spend 1/3 of your life in your bed, so you might as well be as comfortable as possible. If you’re a side-sleeper, purchase an extra pillow so you can put it between your legs to improve spinal alignment and comfort.

Checklist Item 2: Start preparing for great sleep the moment you wake up

From the moment you wake up, everything you do affects how well you will sleep that night. And how well you sleep that night will affect how well you do the next day. It’s a cycle, and these days, it feels like more often than not, a negative one. Take the following steps during your day to right the ship and turn your cycle positive:

Soak in some sunshine immediately upon waking

A blast of sunlight first thing in the morning will stimulate your endocrine and central nervous system, reducing grogginess (and, consequently, our dependence on caffeine) and kick-starting your circadian rhythm, making it more likely that your body will cycle into sleep-mode earlier in the night when it’s best to fall asleep (~10 pm).

Exercise, and do it at the right time

Exercise increases the amount of deep sleep we get, which is when both our brain and our body repair themselves. Movement is also positive for our mental health, reducing anxiety, and slowing down our thoughts; two cognitive processes that help sleep quality.

While it’s best to be active and move throughout the entire day, if your routine allows for only one dedicated daily exercise session, exercise after work, well before bedtime. Exercising immediately after work will help you decompress and will allow enough time for your body to return to a calmer state, where you don’t have endorphins and other hormones coursing through your body, making it harder to settle down into sleep.

Eat the right food, in the right portions, at the right time

Going to bed full is a recipe for bad sleep. Your body innately tries to metabolize whatever food is in your stomach, requiring energy and the attention of your autonomous nervous system in the process. This effectively keeps the “engine” running while you’re trying to do the exact opposite—power down and put things to sleep. Make dinner your lightest meal and finish it a few hours before bedtime to give yourself enough time to digest. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion, and eat magnesium-rich foods, like fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Magnesium is a vital mineral that regulates melatonin and the neurotransmitter GABA, which reduces activity in the central nervous system, calming us down and reducing stress.

Going to bed starving is no recipe for success, however. If your body is entering a state of starvation, it will release stress hormones that will prevent you from falling asleep (again, your body thinks it’s in danger). Eat a small calcium and magnesium-rich snack, like a bit of milk and some Seedy Trail Crackers with cheese, before bed.

Avoid caffeine 8 hours prior to sleep

Coffee is the obvious perpetrator, but tea, soft drinks, and chocolate all have high levels of caffeine as well. A cup of black tea has about half the caffeine as a cup of coffee, while a cup of green tea, a can of coke, and a serving of 70% dark chocolate all have about one third as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Checklist Item 3: Power down your brain, and body, properly

Get off all electronics at least 1 hour prior to sleep

Watching anything good on Netflix usually means there’s drama, emotion, action, or violence involved—all of which leave us in a heightened state. And, as mentioned before, the light emitted by the screens of your TV, tablet, laptop, or smartphone is in the blue spectrum, making it very stimulating. Pry yourself off of your devices at least one hour before sleep to give your body enough time to calm down. At the very minimum, reduce screen brightness and ensure you have night mode enabled on your devices so that you reduce the amount of blue light you’re taking in.

Take a warm bath 90 minutes before bed

In line with lowering your room’s temperature to mimic the process of your body cooling heading into sleep, a hot bath, while initially counterintuitive, has the same effect. Taking a 104-109°F/40-43°C bath will cause blood to go to your extremities (why we are red when we get out), and when blood is in your extremities, vs your core, you lose heat easily and your body temperature decreases. This cooling triggers your circadian rhythm, and your pineal gland kicks in, releasing melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Add Epsom salts to your bath to promote natural detoxification and healing.

Add a few drops of lavender oil to your bath to increase relaxation and calm. Similar to magnesium, lavender regulates the neurotransmitter GABA, calming the central nervous system and reducing anxiety.

Restorative yoga

Supporting your body weight with props and bolsters and holding poses for 5 minutes or more, restorative yoga calms the parasympathetic nervous system and allows you to fully relax and rest.  It’s a great practice for your pre-bed routine. Learn four poses you should try from Mountain Trek’s yoga instructor, Katya Campbell, or follow along with this full Restorative Yoga session.

Physical stress release

Target acute areas of stress with spiky stress balls. Place these balls directly under knots and other tight and painful locations and just rest, allowing the ball to massage your myofascial tissues to reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow, similar to how a deep massage works. Or actively roll out. Watch this video to see how to properly use the spiky ball.

Checklist Item 4: Employ techniques to fall asleep

The inability to fall asleep is usually caused by a spinning mind, which, in turn, is usually caused by anxiety, stress, and depression. Anxiety is regretting the future; depression, regretting the past; stress, regretting the present. Regret is just a feeling elicited by thought. If we can teach ourselves to shift our thinking away from regret, we will be able to fall asleep faster. The techniques below are also great if you wake up during the night and find your mind spinning.

“Download” your thoughts into a journal

By the end of a long day, you’ve got a lot on your mind. Instead of climbing into bed and letting these thoughts bounce around inside your head, write them down first. The act of writing down what’s on your mind sends a signal to yourself that you won’t forget anything, allowing you to move on.

Meditate

Meditation, by definition, is the practice of intently focusing your attention on one single thing. Whether that be a candle, your breath, or feelings of gratitude, when you focus your attention, work, your anxiety, depression, and your stress are unable to possess your thoughts. There are thousands of guided meditations available that are specifically designed for sleep. Insight Timer is a great, free resource for meditations. You can easily filter by sleep. And practices such as Tong-Lin are excellent for ensuring your mind is focused on something positive.

Breathe

Often the most simple act holds the most power. Just drawing your attention to your breath and witnessing your inhales and exhales as closely as you can is often the best way to put yourself to sleep. Be specific in noticing where you feel your breath—is it the rising and falling of your chest, or at the tip of your nose—and follow your inhales and exhales in their entirety. Some people benefit from adding a layer and counting the seconds of their breath. This simple exercise is a great way to practice mindfulness and drift off into a great night’s sleep.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Similar in purpose, progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique where you systematically tense, and then release your muscles. For instance, you might start with your toes and work your way up to your head, tensing each muscle as you go during a long, slow inhale, and releasing on the exhale. This is a good exercise for those who prefer more physical vs mental practices.

Checklist Item 5: Develop a routine

Your body craves routine. Routines reduce your cognitive load and energy requirements, which consequently reduces your stress levels, the linchpin to great sleep. It may take you a few weeks to find a routine that works, but when you do find that magic combination, stick to it. Your sleep will continue to improve as your routine becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit, it’s a lifestyle. Congratulations, you have just significantly decreased your risk of mortality.

Now that you have this sleep hygiene checklist, you can make sure that you’re doing everything possible to get a great night’s sleep. If you’re still curious about how to improve your sleep, contact us below, or come visit us for a week of unplugging, resetting, and sleeping deeply.


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:

Recover From New Years’ Resolution Setbacks

image of dice spelling old habits

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going? Still on track, or are you mired in self-defeat? If it’s the latter then we’re here to help. Setbacks are just part of the process when we make big changes. Perhaps you vowed you’d eat breakfast every morning and then fell back into the routine of consuming only three coffees before lunch. Or maybe you said you’d exercise three days a week and have only managed to go once or twice. Not to worry–you are not failing! You’re doing everything right by just deciding to make a positive change in the first place.

Here are six tips to encourage you and help keep your goals on track:

Remember, it can take upwards of three months to create a healthy habit. Continue to stick with your goals and you’ll be increasing your overall vitality in no time!

  1. Firstly, if you’ve suffered a setback the key is don’t beat yourself up over it. Just acknowledge it, try to discern why you slipped, and then immediately get back on track again.
  2. If you find yourself continually encountering setbacks, maybe the change you’re trying to implement is too big? Is it possible to make a smaller change that will lead to a healthier path? For example, if you wanted to hit the gym three times a week but are struggling to make it there even once, then edit your goal. Resolve to go to the gym once a week to start, and work your way up from there. 
  3. If you keep lapsing into a bad habit, such as snacking on potato chips throughout your workday, then swap out the context of the bad habit. Instead of potato chips, snack on baked kale chips instead. 
  4. Get outside! There’s no better tonic than a walk through nature in the fresh air. If you find yourself lapsing into self-judgment and despair, just take a step outside and breath deeply. It seems like such a simple solution but you’ll be shocked at how it clears your mind and puts you in a better mood.
  5. Phone a friend! You are not in this alone. Engage a family member or friend and tell them about where you’re having difficulty. You’ll be amazed at how just talking about it to a good listener will help put you back on track.
  6. Travel! Nothing helps you break a bad habit faster than completely changing your environment. It’s so much easier to reinvent yourself when you’re not surrounded by the same-old, same-old. The trip doesn’t have to be an epic cross-country adventure – you could simply book a room at a local hotel, take a good book, and relax away from the stresses of your regular life. 

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:

How To Balance Work And Play

woman in a business suit without shoes playing in a fountain

About 50 years ago, many of us moved from work that involved standing and moving to desk jobs that require more sitting. Not only that, but work hours have increased since then. For some, two-thirds of our day is spent connected to our job in some capacity. This can make for an incredibly stressful lifestyle.

By spending all of our time either working or sleeping poorly, it damages our mental and physical health. After all, our system is designed to run after gazelles on the African savannah. It doesn’t feel good when we sit in front of a computer for 14 hours a day. 

The good news is there are some easy things that you can do in order to better balance your work and play. In our opinion, the latter doesn’t get emphasized enough in our current work-obsessed society. Having fun is just as important, if not more so, for personal health and happiness.

Inch by inch is a cinch, but yard by yard is hard.

The key to a good balance is not biting off more than you can chew at first. The first thing you want to do is make a list of things that you consider fun and make you happy – even if the list is only one activity long. 

Perhaps you haven’t found the time to get outside as much as you’d like. The key is to start small and set a SMART goal. Don’t expect yourself to go for an hour-long walk every afternoon right off the bat. But you can get outside, even if it’s just walking from your car to your office. For the first few days, park farther away than you normally would, and as you’re striding along, take deep breaths and remember what it was like to run freely through nature. Before entering your office, look up at the sky for 30 seconds and just enjoy the view. 

When you’re at your desk, follow these five steps:

  1. Take 10 minutes out of your workday and relax and just clear your mind. 
  2. Drink lots of water. Not only will it cleanse your system but it will force you to get up and move when you need bathroom breaks. It will also allow you to step out of your work mode for a few moments to give you time to think of other activities.
  3. Occasionally get up from your desk and stretch in a doorway or stare out the window at the sky. While you’re doing that, think about what makes you happy.
  4. The next time you’re perusing Facebook or on some other social media site, stop what you’re doing and instead Google classes, courses, groups, or apps that are related to the activity you love. Bookmark relevant sites. Even if you don’t sign up right then and there, it will be beneficial to have your mind dwell on it.
  5. Mention to a friend or co-worker about your desire for better work/play balance and the activity you would like to get involved in. By putting it out there, you’ll enlist the help of acquaintances and it will become “real” as opposed to a “wish” that only exists in your mind.

Try and do the above things every day and eventually you’ll find yourself setting aside more and more time for the activity you love. Learn more ways you can pamper yourself.


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:

CN Traveler Awards Mountain Trek

Conde Nast Travler Magazine

More than 300,000 travelers took part in Condé Nast Traveler’s 29th annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey submitting millions of ratings and over 75,000 comments to create a list of winning favourites – and Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat and Health Spa was one of them. In fact, Mountain Trek made it onto the list of the 15 Best Wellness Retreats in the World! “Whether you’re into hiking or yoga, or just need a nap-inducing Swedish massage, book now to rejuvenate both mind and body” is what the article says and that’s exactly what you can find at Mountain Trek.

Condé Nast Traveler, one of the most popular travel magazine and websites in North America, listed Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat and Health Spa along with 15 of the most exclusive wellness getaways in the world including Six Senses in Portugal, BodyHoliday in St. Lucia and Ananda in India. Mountain Trek was the only Canadian resort listed.

This is what the CN Traveler had to say about Mountain Trek: “You may be on vacation, but there’s no reason you can’t throw some self-improvement in the mix, too. At Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat Resort & Health Spa, way up in the clean, clear air of British Columbia, you won’t lament the week-long cheat day that could’ve been. Instead, embrace the granola life with day-long hikes led by one of the eager local guides, and sunrise yoga classes taught by certified professionals. Everything here is targeted toward achieving optimal health, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be shoving kale down your throat, or scraping bark off the nearest tree to kill the hunger pangs. Quite the contrary: The on-site nutritionist and head chef develop locally sourced, nutrient-rich meals, with lemon ricotta pancakes just one of the many fan favorites.”

“The 15 Best Wellness Retreats in the World” article was recently published on CNTraveler.com and you can read the story in its entirety here: http://www.cntraveler.com/gallery/the-best-wellness-retreats-in-the-world.

Whether you’re interested in improving your own fitness, losing weight, or just want to relax in the fresh mountain air, we recommend you book Mountain Trek and enjoy the amenities that only our all-inclusive resort can offer:

  • complimentary massages
  • delicious boutique spa cuisine
  • natural hot springs
  • infrared sauna, outdoor hot tub and cold plunge pool
  • luxurious lodge in a natural setting far away from urban stressors

You’re also guaranteed to reach your fitness goals with our program that’s tailored to each individual. You can keep to your own pace but we’ll make sure you get results. We hope to see you soon!

 

Easy Ways to Digital Detox

close up of a group of people holding their phones around a table

“Digital detox” is a buzz phrase we’re hearing more of lately but what exactly is it and why should we do it? After all, isn’t technology meant to improve our lives, helping us keep more connected and freeing up time so we can concentrate on other things?

It is true that technology has vastly improved certain aspects of our day-to-day. But our relationship to digital devices is changing at a rapid pace and it’s important to notice the specific impacts on your life. And to do this, we need to take a step back and discuss toxins, detoxifying, and the role of digital media and devices in all of this.

What is Toxic Load?

A toxin isn’t just a form of poison that enters your body. Toxic-load can also be mental or emotional. It is the result of stagnation through repetition. When there is a build-up of patterns that block energy, we become inflamed and constricted – we lose the natural flow state of expansion and contraction. This could be the increasing interruptions from the constant repetitive information signals to our brain from our digital devices. It could be the build-up of bio-waste and chemical compounds in our body due to the repetitive sitting we do, which limits circulation and elimination. Even our social world can become stagnant if we are not going deeper than social media for our heartfelt interactions.

Why is Detoxifying Important?

Detoxifying is the process of supporting a flow state in our whole being. When we take a break from ongoing patterns and habits, we recalibrate and become “lighter of being.” Our mind, body, and emotional states are interconnected. By taking a break from incessant incoming notifications, not only does our mind get a break from vigilance, but our stress hormone cortisol gets a chance to lower; which in turn supports sleep, appetite, and energy levels. When we move our body (ideally 10,000 steps a day), our circulation, lymph drainage and elimination organs (liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, and sweat glands) release waste and unhealthy chemicals. And on an emotional level, having an intimate conversation with someone we trust allows the weight of our concerns to be released.

What’s the Best Way to Digital Detox?

Digital detox goes beyond just spending less time in front of a screen. There are other aspects that can be incorporated to ensure a full detox experience. Here are three easy ways to do it:

  1. Electronic Devices: Shut all electronics down one hour before bed. This will allow your Cortisol to drop and will support better sleep. Take that hour to do some restorative yoga, have an Epsom salt bath, or give and receive a massage, all of which aid in toxin release and deep regenerative sleep.
  2. Move More: It’s not enough to be away from your devices for a while and then just sit there waiting for the chance to check them again. Get up! Dance, walk, skate, swim. Keep the blood pumping, Breath deep. All of this will help your elimination system, decrease inflammation and increase a flow state.
  3. Eat Veggies: It may seem odd to mention food when discussing digital detox but the fact is by eating more vegetables, which contain more fiber and antioxidants, you’re helping your elimination system and supporting a lean and clean body. In other words, the more veggies you eat, the more you’ll want to move around, meet friends in person, get outside, and generally enjoy a fuller life.

Of course, the best way to digital detox is to take a break from your day-to-day life and immerse yourself in nature. Click here to learn more about how Mountain Trek supports digital detox through its program.


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:

How to Reduce Stress With Meditation

Mountain Trek’s program director Kirkland Shave says more often he’s meeting guests at the lodge who are struggling with stress. Whether it’s their work, family life, or personal troubles, he says that many people come to the lodge to escape their daily stresses, immerse themselves in nature, get a good night’s sleep, and, ultimately relax. However, when their stay at the lodge nears its end, their stress levels begin amping up again as they consider returning to their regular day-to-day.

As part of the educational component of the program, Kirkland spends time sharing various tips for how to reduce stress. For example, in this video below, he discusses the causes of stressors and what you can do to alleviate them and relax, and, ultimately enjoy a more fulfilling life free of chronic worry.

Kirkland also recommends meditation as a great form of relaxation. It used to be that meditation was viewed as something only “old hippies” did. But now its benefits are being touted by the likes of Oprah, Hugh Jackman, and Arianna Huffington.

Related Article: The Rise of Forest Bathing

There is so much new research available since brain imaging equipment came into existence 20 years ago that its benefits are proving it can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and slow Alzheimer’s. Also, in a recent study by John Hopkins University, it was proven that mindfulness meditation can be just as effective as antidepressants for treating anxiety symptoms. It also boosts our feel-good hormones (serotonin, dopamine), lowers our stress hormone (cortisol), lowers our blood pressure, alleviates pain and inflammation and it invokes our parasympathetic nervous system to help balance our digestive and elimination systems.

If you’re considering trying meditation for the first time, my recommendation would be to start simple.

Steps to Begin Your Meditation Practice:

  • Find a quiet space and remove all devices such as your smartphone
  • Sit comfortably with a straight spine
  • Breathe slowly and fully while concentrating on a candle flame, or the sound of ocean waves, or the sensations of your breath as it passes through your nostrils
  • Notice how your concentration gets interrupted by your thoughts. Don’t worry though as this is the normal function of our mind to generate thoughts.
  • Gently (and without judgment of the content) come back to concentrating on your focus of attention.
  • Practice increases the power of concentration so start with just 5 minutes a day and then build from there.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, 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:

4 Tips: How to Sleep On Airplanes

a person sleeping on an airplane

Many of our guests at Mountain Trek travel for work and spend a lot of time in hotels, at airports, and on airplanes. When enduring cross-continental flights, it can feel impossible to sleep on the plane.

Related Article: 7 Tips To Help You Sleep Better

Sleeping on a flight has its challenges, but there are a few best practices that can help you get some rest between runways. First, don’t force sleep if it’s the middle of the day and you aren’t changing timezones as it will disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder to sleep that night. If you are on a night flight or are traveling through timezones, here are some hints to get some shut-eye.

4 Practices to Get to Sleep on an Airplane

Get a good seat

Choose a window seat on your preferred side to sleep. If you book early and can choose the best option using this: helpful tool.

Don’t drink

Although booze is a muscle relaxant and depressant, it disrupts our rapid eye movement sleep and lowers the quality of our rest. Try a herbal tea instead.

Eye pillows and earplugs

Come equipped with your own supply. Specialty earplugs and a good eye pillow will block out the too most difficult environmental interruptions; light and noise.

Get Comfy

The best position for your body, from a spinal perspective, is to have the seat reclined as there is less direct loading on the lumbar. Next, bring something to pad the lumbar curve (like the extra sweater in your carry-on) and a neck pillow as it will prevent total collapse of the neck. Lastly, stow your carry-on above you to give your legs room to stretch out and avoid cramping.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia and featuring daily sunrise yoga and night-time restorative yoga, 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:

Why You Should Sleep Naked

Good Duvet

What do pajamas, pets, and your ex all have in common? They should all be kept away from your mattress!

Keep cool under the covers

The two main reasons why you should sleep naked are to reduce elevated body heat and to minimize the toss and turn. We want to sleep slightly cooler, keeping our environment around 18C/65F. Our body’s temperature naturally fluctuates during our sleep cycles and allowing this process will promote a night of quality sleep.

Bedclothes can hold in heat, disrupting this temperature variation and making sleep onset more difficult. Further, sleeping with bedclothes or pets can interrupt our sleep. Every time we toss and turn our sleep quality goes down.

For most of us, sleep involves at least some regular movement. Although we may be oblivious, when we readjust or roll over the chance of getting caught up in bedclothes is much higher than if we are naked. This creates discomfort, and in turn, the quality of our rest.

Beyond improving sleep, sleeping naked can also help with these health benefits

Look Younger

Ensuring our bedroom temperature hovers around 18°C (65°F) while we sleep allows our anti-aging hormones — melatonin and the growth hormone — to function properly. These hormones work better at lower temperatures and allow our cells to regenerate, which results in better-looking hair and skin.

Lose Weight

A good night’s sleep is an excellent way to fight stress, which is one of the reasons we gain belly fat. If we don’t get a good night’s sleep, we can wake up with high cortisol levels that can trigger our appetite for comfort foods and lead to overeating.

Protect Your Private Parts

Bacteria thrive in moist, warm environments. By ensuring more ventilation down there while sleeping naked, the probability of infection is reduced. And for men, sleeping naked increases fertility by keeping that area at cooler temperatures.

Enjoy Better Sex

You are naked after all. Sleeping in the nude with your partner increases skin-on-skin contact and helps stimulate the release of the “love” hormone oxytocin.


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: