A Gray Issue
Did your mother ever tell you that you were giving her gray hair? She might have been right. The legend that stress can make someone's hair prematurely gray has not been proven, but there are some theories behind how it might work. Certain cells called melanocytes produce melanin, the stuff that gives color to your hair (in addition to your eyes and your skin). When these cells die off, your hair loses its color. A minimal amount of melanin will produce gray hair, but complete loss of melanin will make hair white. One theory states that stress could produce things called "free radicals" which hurt cells. If free radicals attack the melanocytes near your hair follicles, you'd produce less melanin, and your hair would lose its color [Source: Ballantyne].
Breathing and Meditation Techniques
If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the time, we breathe with our chests. During times of stress, when our breath is short, we can relax and take in more oxygen if we breathe using our diaphragms, a muscle below our ribcage. When we do this, the chest takes in more blood, which is good for heart functions. Like other muscles, the diaphragm needs exercise to get strong. The American Medical Student Association offers these suggestions for practicing diaphragmatic breathing:
- Place your hands on your chest and stomach.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose. Make sure that the hand on your stomach rises and the hand on your chest doesn't.
- Breathe out very slowly and then clench your abdomen muscles.
- Repeat these steps four times [source: AMSA].
Although often practiced by people in religious orders, meditation can be a useful method to relieve stress regardless of one's beliefs. Here are a few different kinds of meditations that supposedly relieve stress:
- Finding a happy place: With this form of meditation, you use your imagination to escape and relax. Think of a place where you felt relaxed -- on a dock at the lake, in the hot sun at the beach or with your friends and family, for example. Try to imagine that place in the greatest detail possible, down to the sounds, smells and textures. When you take a few minutes to really immerse yourself in this meditation, it can serve as an excellent relaxation technique.
- Repeating a mantra: Many religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, use mantras. A mantra is a repeated word or short phrase that serves as a relaxing prayer. For example, a Jewish mantra is "shalom," which means peace. But your mantra need not be religious. When our lives become busy, it can get harder to concentrate on one thing at a time without other thoughts popping into our heads. This is when mantras become useful to clear our minds.
- Mindfulness meditation: In this kind of meditation, commonly associated with Buddhism, you focus in on the present moment. To accomplish this, concentrate on your own breathing. Through practice, you can get better until calming your thoughts becomes easy.