Laughter really is the best medicine
Laughter not only feels good — studies also show it can protect us from illness and provide significant physiological and psychological benefits. Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness (Bantam, REI edition, 1991) was one of the first to document some of these benefits. Cousins was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in 1964 and, after observing the negative effects of a rather depressing hospital life on his health, decided to check himself out of hospital and into a hotel. There, along with a more palatable diet, he included television comedy shows and movies in his treatment regimen.
In his book, Cousins asserts that laughter was the critical factor in his recovery. Researchers today believe that some of the physiological benefits of laughter may include muscle relaxation, improved circulation, strengthening of the heart, defense of the immune system, increased production of endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers), as well as lowered pulse rate and blood pressure. On the psychological front, laughter is said to reduce anxiety and stress while increasing self-esteem and motivation. Can’t remember the last time you had a really great laugh? Get together with a friend who makes you giggle, buy a CD or DVD featuring your favorite comedian, or do as Cousins did: watch a favorite comedy show or movie. (Note: the Seinfeld gang just released a set of DVDs that are sure to elicit a guffaw or three.)
Putting your best face forward
Self-professed “cosmetics cop” Paula Begoun knows the beauty industry inside and out. The best selling author and publisher of several books about the biz, including the massively successful (and massive, at 1,362 pages!) Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me (Beginning Press, Sixth edition, 2003) also tells it like it is in her syndicated “Dear Paula” newspaper column and on her info-rich website. We caught up with Begoun recently and asked her what advice she could offer to those going through the stress and upset of separation and divorce. Here’s what she had to say:
“I think that when you’re undergoing a major change in your life, you can either dig your heels in and say, ‘I’m not changing anything else,’ or you can say, ‘I’m going to re-evaluate a lot of things in my life.’ Re-evaluating how you take care of your skin and your appearance is a really big deal,” she says. “The truth is, with skincare, sometimes you just have to let go of what you’ve been doing and rethink the basic facts about skincare.”
These three basic facts are, according to Begoun:
- You have to be gentle. “If you’re not gentle, everything else is for naught.
- “Irritation breaks down collagen, makes the skin feel rough, breaks surface capillaries… it does a lot of nasty things for the skin.”
- You absolutely have to pay attention to sun protection. “Sun protection is complicated — I wish it was easy, but it isn’t. A lot of people tell me, ‘I use a sunscreen — I don’t why I’m tanned.’ I tell them, ‘You use a sunscreen and you’re tanned because you don’t know how to use a sunscreen and you don’t know how to shop for one. There’s no such thing as a safe tan; you’re getting a tan because you’re damaging your skin, and you need to stop doing that.’ It’s like deciding to have sex with someone who has the flu and then saying you didn’t think you’d get it because you took Echinacea.”
You have to consider state-of-the-art ingredients. “I’m not going to say they’re the Fountain of Youth, but they’re very interesting. The research is pretty fascinating in terms of the potential these state-of-the-art ingredients have — which come under the names of ‘antioxidants,’ ‘anti-inflammatories,’ and ‘cell-communicating’ ingredients.”
The bottom line: before you go to the cosmetics counter, ask yourself if your skincare products live up to these categories, advises Begoun.
Here are a few product recommendations from the world’s most unbiased cosmetic reviewer.
- Best Gentle Cleansers: Cetaphil Cleansers
- Best Moisturizers: Anything from Olay Regenerist and Dove Essentials
- Best Foundations: Cover Girl and Revlon
- Best Mascara: L’Oreal
- Best Pressed Powder: Maybelline
- Best Shampoos: L’Oreal Vive or Fructis
- Best Styling Products: Got2Be or Physique
For more of Paula Begoun’s cosmetics, skincare, and haircare advice, visit www.cosmeticscop.com.
“Frenzied” is often the best way to describe our modern lives; add a pending divorce to the mix and things can feel really like they’re spinning out of control. A new book, A Pace of Grace: The Virtues of a Sustainable Life (Plume, 2004) by Linda Kavelin Popov, shows us how to reclaim our lives by choosing to adopt a more reasonable pace of life. Popov is the author of The Family Virtues Guide (Plume, 1997) and co-founder of the International Virtues Project, an inspirational personal development program. The Project is based on 52 “virtues” (for example, “enthusiasm,” “creativity,” “loyalty,” “justice”), each mined from the world’s most sacred texts. As ancient as these “gifts of character” may be, their true meaning seems to resonate with all individuals, young and old.
Despite her international success with the Project, however, Popov found herself feeling exhausted and burnt-out. Seeking to change her workaholic ways, she embarked upon a personal program of recovery, which she shares with readers in her book. “I wrote A Pace of Grace to offer hope that we can indeed reclaim our lives, and create a pace of life that nurtures our joy and gives us a greater measure of the grace that is meant to be ours,” she says. The 341-page paperback, which is glowingly endorsed by the Dalai Lama, outlines a four-part program: “Purify Your Life,” “Pace Yourself,” “Practice the Presence,” and “Plan a Sustainable Life.”
Three simple daily practices outlined in the book include:
- Take time for daily reflection. “Early in your day, take time for a routine of reverence. Pray, meditate, stare out the window, journal, breathe deep. Ask yourself, ‘What would a pace of grace look like today?’, taking into account the energy and time you are given today. Be thankful for it, whatever it may be.”
- Make a Plan. “Create a plan for your day, not by making a long list of everything you’re afraid you’ll forget if you don’t write it down. Create a short, manageable list. Set yourself up for success. Include three priorities. Take them step-by-step. Set boundaries to guard yourself from interruptions. Focus your full, relaxed, purposeful attention on each task before you. Immerse yourself in excellence. Remember to plan time for rest, exercise, play, and dreaming, if only for a short while during the day.”
- Put your first passion first. “What is the one thing that, if you focus on it and accomplish it, will give you the deepest sense of satisfaction? It may be that you need to play today. It may be a task you have been postponing, one that would provide great relief upon completion. It may be an act of kindness for someone you love. It may be a project that you feel is most important. When you put your first passion first, everything else you do today will follow a flow of grace.”
Vegging out may help reduce stress
Everyone knows that vegetables are good for us, but a recent study funded in part by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) indicates that they may also help us reduce stress. The study, which was led by Antonio Martin, a physician specializing in nutrition and inflammatory responses at the Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, found that volunteers who ate vegetables consistently for two weeks showed a significant increase in blood levels of vitamin C and a decrease in key stress molecules associated with health impairment. Researchers served 12 healthy volunteers — six men and six women — two bowls (17 ounces, total) of gazpacho soup daily for a period of two weeks.
The antioxidant-rich soup packs a lot of veggies into each serving: it’s made from tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olive oil, onions, and garlic. Blood samples for each volunteer were taken prior to soup consumption and on the seventh and fourteenth days of the study. Starting on the seventh day, levels of vitamin C in volunteers’ blood samples were found to have increased by 27% in men and 22% in women, and they remained elevated for the rest of the study. The researchers said that stress molecules measured during the study are secreted by the body as a normal response to stress, but continuous high blood levels of these chemicals increase vulnerability to illness due to inflammation and oxidative stress.
After consuming the Mediterranean soup, one of the stress molecules measured, uric acid, was reduced by 18% in the male volunteers and by 8% in the females. (High blood levels of uric acid have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.) Three of the other stress molecules measured were also found to be significantly decreased after soup consumption. The study was significant because it measured the effects of dietary intervention, rather than supplementation, on circulating levels of antioxidants and inflammatory biomarkers in healthy volunteers. The findings appeared in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.