Altruism: A Remedy for Stress

Will acts of kindness and generosity enhance our health, increase our longevity and make us happier? Can genuine altruism be a remedy for stress? When we act on behalf of other people, research shows we feel better and more secure and experience less stress.

Does altruism have a physiological basis? Using MRI scans, scientists have identified specific regions of the brain that are very active during deeply and compassionate emotions. Stephen Post, Ph.D., head of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, told WebMD: “This is the care-and-connection part of the brain. States of joy and delight come from giving to others. It doesn’t come from any dry action – where the act is out of duty in the narrowest sense.” What Post is describing is heartfelt giving. Neurochemicals also enter into this picture of altruism. A recent study has identified high levels of the hormone oxytocin in people who are very charitable toward others. But what about the heart?

The Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit research and education organization in California, has studied the physiology of and relationship between the heart, stress, and emotions for 17 years. Dr. J. Andrew Armour, a leading neurocardiologist on the Institute of HeartMath’s Scientific Advisory Board, has found the heart contains cells that synthesize and release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine, among others. More recently it was discovered that the heart also secretes oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love” or “bonding” hormone. Remarkably, concentrations of oxytocin produced in the heart are as high as those found in the brain. When you are altruistic – lending a helping hand – your oxytocin level goes up, which helps relieve your stress. Altruistic behavior also may trigger the brain’s reward circuitry – the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. However, the hormonal benefits of the good deed depend on the genuine intent of the act of altruism.

Research shows that altruistic people are healthier and live longer. In one study that followed over 400 women for 30 years, researchers found that 52% of those who did not engage in volunteer work experienced a major illness – compared with only 36% of those who did volunteer. In a British poll of volunteers, half of those surveyed said their health had improved over the course of volunteering. One in five even said that volunteering had helped them lose weight. Another large research study found a 44% reduction in early death among those who volunteered – a greater effect than exercising four times a week. And a recent investigation conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that older people who are helpful to others reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60% compared to peers who provide neither practical help nor emotional support to relatives, neighbors or friends.

You can learn to cultivate altruism using the HeartMath® System. HeartMath experts say that giving to others should be balanced with self-care so you don’t burn yourself out. Giving is most effective when it comes from a genuine sense of heartfelt care rather than a feeling of duty or “I should.” The heart-focused techniques of the HeartMath System help people to align themselves more fully with their core values and to actualize more care and compassion in their daily lives. Practice of these techniques has also been linked to beneficial changes in hormones that profoundly affect our health, happiness and longevity. Integrating HeartMath practices into your life helps you reduce stress while increasing your generosity from the heart.

Benefits of Altruism:

  • Promotes emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health.
  • Boosts your self-esteem and confidence.
  • Increases your longevity.
  • Givers are more open to receiving gifts and experiencing appreciation.
  • Provides a way to express your feelings about someone or an issue.
  • Builds connections and relationships with others.
  • People gain knowledge about the cause and issue they give to.
  • Giving to a community or globally is caring that uplifts consciousness.

For more scientific information go to:

Five Essential Practices to Safeguard Your Relationship in Tough Times

HeartMath Institute’s Research Sheds Light on the Role of the Heart in Lasting Love

In times like these, when so many people are experiencing such high levels of stress, fear and anxiety, our relationships inevitably suffer, and in some cases, fall apart completely. Yet strong, caring relationships are vital to our mental, emotional and physical health. HeartMath has explored human emotions extensively for the past 17 years, using heart rate variability, or heart rhythm patterns, to measure inner emotional states and stress levels. From this research emerged innovative techniques and technologies that utilize the heart’s powerful rhythms to intercept and manage stressful emotions. This heart-focused approach helps couples to deal more effectively with the increased stress of today and revitalize their heart connection.

Better Communication Comes from the Heart

Research conducted by the HeartMath Institute has shown that negative or stressful emotions lead to chaos in the heart’s rhythms, which has a harmful effect on the rest of the body. Our ability to think clearly and reason is also impaired during heightened stress; our actions become reactive and our decision-making and communication skills are less effective than when we are in a calmer state.

However, this research also shows that positive emotions like care, love and appreciation creates “coherence” in the heart’s rhythms, which is reflected by a smooth and ordered pattern. As the brain and nervous system synchronize to the heart’s coherent rhythm, emotional stress is released. The heart, brain and nervous system are in-sync, working in harmony, and the individual experiences enhanced mental and emotional clarity. In this coherent state the capacity for communicating and making decisions is enhanced, we’re more intuitive and more sensitive.

Psychologist Deborah Rozman, Ph.D. says, “During these difficult times stress can be extreme and communication is vital to keep our relationships strong. Couples can easily learn how to shift their heart rhythms into coherence, to intercept their stress response and reset their emotional physiology. The benefits are more open-heartedness, better communication and enhanced problem-solving abilities – all of which we need right now as we navigate through these challenging times.”

Saving our Marriage

Tammy and Reynir Jonsson were on the brink of divorce. Despite their efforts to save their marriage, the stress of finances, raising teenagers and the pressures at work was destroying it. Their biggest issue was strained communications, as it is with many couples. Tammy and Reynir’s feelings of hurt, judgment, anger and blame that had accumulated over the years made it impossible for them to communicate effectively.

Tammy says, “Reynir was always angry and I always felt hurt and unappreciated. Whenever we’d try to talk it would end in a screaming match. It got to where we felt like not communicating at all because we knew we’d never see eye-to-eye or resolve anything. It would be like, ‘You go to the living room, I’ll go to the bedroom and we just won’t talk.’ This went on for years. We tried everything to fix our marriage but we were at the end of our rope.”

Ray Varlinsky, a licensed California Marriage and Family Therapist, certified Gottman Method Therapist and Gottman Couples Workshop Leader, says, “Many couples don’t know how to use their emotions. Instead, they’re being used by their emotions. Emotions can be a valuable resource for couples if they learn how to use them as a signal and learn to disengage from their distressed negative emotions and work with the information within them.”

Nurture your Heart Connection

Dr. Rozman offers some simple strategies to helps couples get their hearts in-sync.

The Quick Coherence Technique® is a scientifically validated three-step exercise. This deceptively simple technique will help you adjust your heart rhythm patterns into coherence.

Quick Coherence Technique:

  1. Heart Focus: Shift your attention to the area of the heart and breathe slowly and deeply.
  2. Heart Breathing: Keep your focus in the heart by gently breathing – five seconds in and five seconds out – through your heart. Do this two or three times.
  3. Heart Feeling: Activate and sustain a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone or something in your life. Focus on the good heart feeling as you continue to breathe through the area of your heart.

Additional practices to help revitalize your relationship:

  • Set a few minutes each evening to connect with your partner. Share about how your day went. Share about your concerns and fears related to work, finances, etc. The act of sharing with someone who cares about you helps to revitalize feelings of being connected.
  • When your partner is talking, practice listening without interruption. Listening from a place of genuine care, even if the issues aren’t resolved yet, can provide tremendous release.
  • Take a few quiet moments before bed to focus on something about your partner, or something they did, that you really appreciate. Feelings of appreciation have been shown to create more heart rhythm coherence. It’s also beneficial for the immune system. Keeping an appreciation journal is also a great practice.
  • During breakfast share with your partner what it was that you really appreciated about them or something that they did that left you feeling cared for.

Varlinsky says, “One of the things I suggest to the couples I work with is to use emWave Personal Stress Reliever (PSR) whenever they feel stressed. Based on the HeartMath Institute’s research, the concept behind this technology is to engage the heart’s powerful rhythms to transform stressful emotions. Whether in session or at home, I ask couples to use the emWave PSR to calm themselves down, self-soothe and reconnect with a positive feeling and with their relationship. From this balanced place, when their heart rhythms are coherent, they can talk about what triggered the feelings that came up and how it made them feel. Because they’re in a coherent state, they’re much more successful at working through the issues that arise.”

Dr. Rozman says, “Stress is a feedback signal that something needs to be adjusted or rebalanced. The good news is that people have much more power over their emotional well-being than they give themselves credit for. They just need a little direction on how to access that power inside themselves to reset their emotions. None of us are immune to stress, but we can choose how we process the stress that is happening around us.”

Case in Point

“All these years we’ve been saying similar things but couldn’t hear each other because of the negative emotions we carried around with us. The emotions would stack and the stress would accumulate and that’s what entered every conversation we would have,” says Tammy. “Now, before a communication we each take a couple minutes to get in coherence. We adjust our heart rhythms, we release the stress, we get our attitudes right and then we communicate. It’s amazing what you hear from the other person when you do this.”

Reynir added, “Before I learned the HeartMath tools I had a very difficult time managing my anger. I didn’t know why I was angry all the time, I just was. Now I’m a lot happier in my life and things are a lot easier to deal with. My interactions with my wife and my kids and in life in general are a lot smoother. Now we can go and do things together we couldn’t do before because we’d be fighting and be angry. I’ve recharged my life, I’m calmer now and I feel much more in control.”

Tammy explains, “Nobody teaches you emotions 101. What we’ve learned to do is so easy, anyone can do it. But if you don’t know what to do you just end up a victim of your emotions. These practices have played a critical role in our communications. I realize now that before we were listening to each other but we never really heard each other.”

Tammy says that in addition to the major improvements in their communications, they’ve also experienced a rekindling of their romance and reignited the passionate sparkle they had when they first started dating. “Reynir sends me sweet text messages and he’ll call me on his lunch hour and say something that just makes my heart flutter. We’ve reopened our hearts to each other and it feels so good.”

Tammy and Reynir say that they’ve also benefited from using HeartMath technology. They use it to help with their communication as well as to prepare for the day ahead. Taking just a couple of minutes to use the emWave to get into coherence before they start their day and again when they get home has significantly reduced the amount of day-to-day stress they experience and greatly enhanced their overall quality of life.

How To Increase Your Resilience Factor

Are your emotions spinning out of control more often? Do you find that inconveniences, impatience and frustration are getting to you, and you aren’t able to let it all go like you once could? Do you feel tired or drained just thinking about your day and everything you need to get done? If you answered yes to any of these symptoms, it may be due to a lack of emotional resilience.

Are your emotions spinning out of control more often? Do you find that inconveniences, impatience and frustration are getting to you, and you aren’t able to let it all go like you once could? Do you feel tired or drained just thinking about your day and everything you need to get done? If you answered yes to any of these symptoms, it may be due to a lack of emotional resilience.

Think of your emotional resilience capacity like the amount of gas you have in your car. The more you have, the farther you can go. Building a reservoir of emotional resilience gives you the confidence to know you can make it through a potentially stressful situation; it gives you the energy to continue down the road after stress drains you; and it gives you the ability to quickly reset your system to perform in a normal, operational state.

Our resilience depletes when we feel resistant or compressed. For example, think about the resistance you feel when you find yet another major project has landed on your plate. Or your company is laying off 15 percent of your department and you have to pick up the slack. You’re already feeling overloaded. Who wouldn’t feel resistant or compressed?

We don’t know about you, but more and more people we talk to are having multiple health and/or financial problems they never imagined before. To get through these tough times, we all need to build up our resilience capacity.

Building up our resilience capacity is so important because it helps reduce the emotional and physical effects of time crunch, overload, edginess, financial pressures, unexpected changes … you know the list. Research is showing that these standard daily stressors have a cumulative effect that translates into resilience depletion. Plus, when we’re low on resilience, we tend to add extra drama to a problem which magnifies the situation and creates even more drain. And that’s when we spin out of control, make mistakes, say things we later regret, ignore our health, and so on.

In physics, resilience is the property of a material that enables it to bounce back and resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed. (How often do you feel bent, stretched or compressed?) Bamboo trees are wonderful examples of being able to bend without breaking. Bamboo trees go through stress from nature, but they bounce back in a remarkable way. You may have no control over external factors but you can build up your internal resilience to maintain flexibility and balance in your life, like the bamboo tree, as you deal with challenging circumstances.

We all need resilience for optimal health, happiness and reducing stress. Building our emotional resilience capacity involves simple actions that can be easily learned. Here’s one way to stop the drain and start building resilience:

The Power of Neutral

By learning how to activate the Power of Neutral you can prepare for a potentially stressful situation or stop a reaction in the middle of a stressful experience. Think of all the times you’re listening to the news, surfing the web or in a meeting and you hear something that makes you angry or worried. Instead of letting the anger run or projecting fear into the future, you can use the Power of Neutral before and as you watch the news, surf the web or attend a meeting to build your resilience capacity and save all that emotional energy.

Here’s a simple tool to shift into Neutral to build your resilience capacity. It’s a lot like shifting into neutral in a car. Your engine is still running but you get to decide which way to go before you engage the gear again. Shifting into Neutral inside yourself gives you more vision and stops the emotional surge and energy drain so you can maintain resilience as you sort your options and choose how to respond.

  1. Take a time-out, breathing slowly and deeply. Imagine the air entering and leaving through the heart area or the center of your chest.
  2. Focus on your heart and breathing instead of focusing on your stressful thoughts and worried feelings.
  3. Continue until you have neutralized the emotional charge and you feel calmness throughout.

Use Step one as soon as you feel your emotions start to react. First you want to take a time-out by choosing to step back from your emotions. Heart breathing in Step one helps draw the energy out of your head, where negative thoughts and feelings get amped up. Breathe slowly and deeply in a casual way. Imagine the air entering and leaving through the center of your chest and heart area.

In Step two, disengage from your stressful thoughts and feelings as you continue to breathe. Just having the intent to disengage can help you neutralize a lot of your emotional energy.

In Step three, continue the process until you have chilled out and neutralized the emotional charge. This doesn’t mean your anger or anxiety will have totally evaporated. It just means that the charged energy has been taken out and you have stopped the stress play out in your body.

Practicing the Power of Neutral often brings a sense of empowerment, confidence, appreciation and other positive emotions. When you’re experiencing positive emotions more possibilities come into your view. Positive psychology researcher, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has found that: “Through experiences of positive emotions people transform themselves, becoming more creative, knowledgeable, resilient, socially integrated and healthy individuals.”

Resilience should be at the top of all of our “must-have” lists if we are to effectively deal with today’s time constraints, overload, financial worries, and the unexpected challenges to come. There are many ways to build mental, emotional and physical resilience. This is just one tool to get your started. Practice this resilience tool daily and watch your resilience tank fill.

Tips for Better Sleep

#1 The number one tip for better sleep:

Put stress in check. One of the first symptoms of stress overload is disrupted sleep. Stressful feelings throw our inner rhythms out of sync and have a negative carryover effect on hormonal and nervous systems – making it difficult to sleep. You can try other sleep tips, but if managing stress isn’t a priority, other strategies have less chance of helping you get the quality sleep you need.

Create emotional ease on demand. Techniques designed to release emotional stress during the day can have a positive carryover affect that benefits sleep. With practice you can create an inner ease as you need it.

Try this simple technique. Quick Coherence® can help reset your inner rhythms. Three easy steps can improve your skill at releasing stress as you move through your day. Also, try it before bedtime to bring your mind and body into balance. Try it out here.

Measure your inner rhythms. There are devices that can help individuals reset their inner rhythms and provide immediate feedback that use lights and audio cues to help you unwind and rebalance. Some devices also offer simple practices such as the Quick Coherence technique. The combination guides you into a balanced state for a restful night.

#2 Eat right and get regular exercise:

Light exercise in the evening can help release tension without over stimulating the body. Try simple yoga postures or gentle stretching exercises to help you unwind. As little as ten minutes can be beneficial and help promote sleep.

Save the caffeine for morning. Believe it or not, caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten hours after drinking it. Consider eliminating caffeine after lunch.

Avoid large meals at night. Try having your dinner earlier in the evening and avoid heavy, rich foods within two to three hours of bed as they use a lot of energy to digest.

Try an herbal nightcap. Instead of alcohol before bed try some chamomile tea, which has relaxing and soothing properties. Alcohol can reduce sleep quality and possibly even contribute to waking you up later in the night.

#3 Regulate your sleep schedule:

Keep a regular sleep schedule. This is an important strategy for good sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Try to maintain your usual sleep time and wake–time even on weekends so you build consistency into your routine.

Recharge with a nap. Limit naps to 20-30 minutes and try and get them in in the earlier part of the afternoon so you don’t throw off your sleep routine.

#4 Create a relaxing night time routine:

Carve out some wind down time. At an hour or two before bed stop stimulating activities such as being on the computer or watching TV. Instead, opt for quieter things such as reading, knitting, taking a bath or listening to soothing music.

Soothing sounds help prepare you for quiet. If you live in a noisy area with sirens, barking dogs, city traffic, etc., camouflage the noise with a fan or perhaps a CD of nature sounds. You might also try a sound machine with white noise. Good-old-fashion earplugs can also be helpful.

Check your thermostat. The ideal sleeping temperature for your bedroom should be around 65° F. A room that is too warm or too cold can affect your quality of sleep. Also make sure you have good air flow and ventilation. A fan on low can keep the air gently moving, which prevents the room from getting stuffy.