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In a world where our days are filled to the brim with stimuli, stress is an unavoidable part of the experience. The good news is that stress isn’t always the bad guy (it actually helps us sometimes) and when we have a relaxation technique or two under our belts, we have a much better chance of quickly calming down.

What relaxation really means.

According to an article published in the Journal of Holistic Nursingrelaxation, in its simplest form, means “to loosen again.” 

During a stress response, the body enters a sympathetic state and may release stress hormones like cortisol or norepinephrine. Spending too much time in this tense fight-or-flight state can create issues for our physical and mental health

Certain relaxation techniques can help us return to a parasympathetic, rest-and-digest, state. “Relaxation techniques reset and reboot the nervous system so people can feel good within their own bodies and shut down racing thoughts,” Roseann Capanna-Hodge, M.D, an integrative mental health expert, tells mbg.

Learning how to curb stress responses before or when they happen can improve your quality of life. The key is turning relaxation into a practice. “Relaxation techniques only calm the brain when you do them consistently and that means taking 10 minutes or more every day to intentionally practice them,” says Capanna-Hodge.

The benefits of focusing on relaxation.

“Relaxation techniques are critical for self-care,” Nya B, M.A, a licensed therapist and mental health clinician, tells mbg. “Being able to control your moods and set the tone for proper brain function begins with relaxation techniques.” Relaxation can bring the body back to baseline. 

“Relaxation is your body’s way of combating those stress hormones,” says Andreas Michaelides, Ph.D., Chief of Psychology at Noom. Being in a state of relaxation decreases your heart rate, clears your mind, and loosens the tension in the body.

Putting your energy into developing healthier coping mechanisms for the stress that enters your life will help you live rather than simply exist. 

Here are eight relaxation techniques supported by experts.

8 techniques to try.

Because our brains process stressors differently from other people’s brains, there is no one-technique-fits-all approach. Instead, Michaelides suggests entering the process of practicing relaxation with a growth mindset and figuring out which ones land for you.

1. Breathwork.

When you’re stressed, your heart rate speeds up and your breathing quickens. This limits the amount of oxygen the rest of our organs receive. Research shows that consciously changing the way you breathe can send a signal to the parasympathetic nervous system and trigger relaxation, slowing the heart rate and improving blood flow to the rest of the body.

2. Meditation.

Where breathwork focuses on your breathing, meditation focuses on your thoughts. Our thoughts have a bigger influence on our reality than we may believe. Sitting in stillness is a natural remedy to stress that puts all of your attention on the present moment, decreasing the stimulation of the perceived threat and improving the way you respond to stressful stimuli. 

B notes, “if [you’re] uncomfortable with silence or being still, [you] probably shouldn’t choose meditation or any kind of technique where noise isn’t involved.”

3. Somatic movement.

Reconnecting with the body can also be incredibly helpful for those experiencing stress. The intention with somatic movements is to pay close attention to what is happening in your body as you move it around.

“In a time when we are so disconnected and distracted by devices and choose to avoid uncomfortable situations,” starts Capanna-Hodge, “it’s a tool that builds resiliency within the mind and helps people cope with stressors instead of avoiding them.”

The slower, the better is a good rule of thumb. Restorative yoga, dance, and mobility training are a few of many somatic movements that release the tension in your body.

4. Massage.

When you’re stressed, the body produces higher levels of cortisol. While it’s unclear how effective a one-and-done massage session is, a scientific review in the journal Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine found that repeated visits with a massage therapist may help lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and loosen tension in the body.

5. Nature outings.

A change in surroundings when things feel dim can make a world of difference. There are a lot of theories out there about why being outdoors feels so restorative, including: because our ancestors evolved in the wild, we have a natural inclination to connect with nature. Whatever the reason, many studies have found that immersing ourselves in the natural world can help melt away cortisol levels, worries, and unhelpful thought patterns.

6. Art.

Part of soothing stress involves making sure we feel safe. As adults, it can feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world at times. B has found that encouraging her clients to add art and coloring books to their lists of relaxation techniques has given them “a mental escape from adult responsibilities or pressures of their roles.” It’s freeing to let go, engage a different part of the brain, and connect with our inner child.

7. Singing.

Research has shown that singing in a choir can lower cortisol and improve mood in certain populations. You don’t need to have professional singing experience for this to work for you. Singing in a low-stress environment, like in your car or in the shower, can provide a similar release. Simply listening to calming music and soundscapes also seems to make it easier for some people to return to their baseline. 

8. Gratitude practice.

Practicing gratitude activates the part of the brain that recognizes pleasure and connects to systems in our body that promote stress relief (like heart rate). Make it a habit by journaling on the things you’re grateful for each morning or evening.

The bottom line.

We aren’t meant to live in survival mode all day long. Teaching your body how to relax and step out of a stress response will help you find balance.

Some other physical tools that can help you manage your stress include herbal supplements like ashwagandha, a luxurious personal care product that brings you back to your senses, or a spiritual card deck that allows you to release control.* With these tools and techniques on hand, the next time a stressful period comes along, you’ll be ready for it.



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Two new vaccines made specifically for the Omicron variant are currently in production, but experts question whether a variant-specific vaccine is necessary right now.

Two new COVID-19 vaccines specifically designed to combat the Omicron variant may be ready soon, one as early as March, according to the CEOs of both Pfizer and Moderna—but the timing of such vaccines has some wondering if they’ll be helpful, or even necessary.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla shared the news of the company’s forthcoming Omicron-specific vaccine on January 10: “This vaccine will be ready in March,” Bourla told CNBC‘s “Squawk Box.” “We [are] already manufacturing some of these quantities at risk.” A week later, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel shared similar news that their vaccine “is being finished,” and that the company should have data to share with regulators in March as well, according to Reuters.

But with Omicron’s quick rise in the US—and now that some areas are already seeing falling case rates—many are wondering if the variant will fade out before shots can go into arms, especially since either Omicron-specific vaccine has yet to be approved or authorized by the proper authorities.

Here, infectious disease and vaccine experts help explain what makes an Omicron-specific vaccine different from the vaccines already in use, and what kind of impact, if any, such a vaccine could have on the global community.

How Is the Omicron-Specific Vaccine Different From the Vaccines Already Available


How is the Omicron vaccine different from the vaccines currently available?

The simplest explanation: “It is designed to specifically target the Omicron variant,” Kit Longley, a spokesperson and senior manager of global media relations at Pfizer, tells Health.

The Omicron-specific vaccine uses the same mRNA technology other COVID-19 vaccines use—and all mRNA vaccines deliver synthetic genetic material that’s similar to the virus they protect against. Because the Omicron variant has at least 50 mutations that differentiate it from the earliest SARS-CoV-2 strain, the Omicron-specific vaccine is expected to contain synthetic genetic material that is slightly different from the original vaccines.

Otherwise, it should work the same way the current mRNA vaccines do, Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center and professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Health. The synthetic genetic material that looks like the SARS-CoV-2 virus will trigger an immune response that forces the body to create protective antibodies. Those antibodies will then help prevent the real virus from entering cells and replicating, or causing illness, he says.

Exactly how the Omicron-specific vaccine will be used is yet to be known: It could be used as a primary vaccine or a booster, but those specifics have to be determined by regulatory bodies, once the vaccines are authorized. Another big unknown is whether the Omicron vaccine protect against mild or asymptomatic infection, or whether it will stop infected people from spreading COVID-19 in the event of breakthrough infections.

Will the Omicron vaccines still be useful when they’re ready?

More than 99% of COVID-19 cases in the US are due to Omicron right now, according to CDC data. But, at least in some areas, the variant seems to be on the decline: The New York Times reported on Wednesday that new cases in the some states, like New Jersey and New York, have dropped by 30%; while other states, like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have seen cases drop by 10%. And although the variant hasn’t peaked nationwide yet, it could happen in the coming weeks.

“We don’t know what will be happening by the time March comes around and if we’ll still need the Omicron vaccine,” Abinash Virk, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic, tells Health. “But if we switch from the current Pfizer vaccine to the Omicron one in March, it won’t be a loss since there are still so many people who haven’t had primary vaccines or boosters.”

But for now, Dr. Offit insists the current vaccine options—especially when supplemented by booster doses—are more than sufficient. Though Omicron has brought on more breakthrough cases that other variants due to its increased ability for immune evasion, existing vaccines still effectively protect against us severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, according to the CDC. That means more vaccine compliance overall would still lead to less illness—even without an Omicron vaccine. “We can vaccinate our way out of this pandemic—but to date, we have chosen not to,” Dr. Offit says. “The pandemic has always been a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But now it’s a pandemic of the willfully unvaccinated.”

Will we need other variant-specific vaccines in the future?

No one has an answer to that yet. Experts largely agree that so long as individuals refuse vaccination, COVID-19 is likely to keep mutating—meaning the Omicron variant may not be the last variant we see. According to Longley, though the Omicron-specific vaccine offers protection against previous variants like Delta, Pfizer does not know whether it will provide protection for the next variant that might pop up.

That said, there’s no consensus that any variant-specific vaccine is necessary in this moment. “We’ll need a variant-specific vaccine when what we have fails to protect us against serious illness,” says Dr. Offit, who’s not convinced the time is now. “Just because vaccination doesn’t protect against mild or asymptomatic infection doesn’t mean you need a variant-specific vaccine. The original vaccines were designed for the SARS-CoV-2 virus as it left China. It’s been replaced by Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and Beta in some areas. But in every case, vaccine protection from serious illness has held up.”

That’s not to say it’s time for vaccine manufacturers to put their feet up. On January 11, the World Health Organization called for current COVID-19 vaccines to be reworked to ensure they are effective against Omicron and future variants. “A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” the organization said in a statement.

The holy grail, Dr. Virk says, would be a single-dose vaccine that provides blanket coverage from the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its mutations forever. “I don’t know if we’ll ever find one,” she says. “But if we can get more people protection and immunity, fewer variants will emerge so we won’t have to update the vaccines so frequently.”

In the meantime, experts agree that the Omicron vaccine isn’t going to be the thing that ends the pandemic; only widespread adoption of vaccines—any COVID vaccines, really—will do that.

The resounding message here is to act now. “You shouldn’t be waiting for the Omicron vaccine or any other pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Dr. Virk says. “Every study, country, research institution, and public health agency agrees that two doses of an existing vaccine are better than nothing and three doses are protective against hospitalization and death. The vaccinations we have are now are incredibly effective and safe.”


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Hint: It’s different for every single person.

Eating healthy is important, but it can be a process in and of itself: Should I eat organic fruit? Do I need grass-fed beef? Should all juice be cold-pressed? And that’s before you even start figuring out how much of each macronutrient—carbs, fats, and protein—you need on a day-to-day basis. Sigh.

Fortunately, things don’t have to be so difficult, at least when it comes to arguably the most important macronutrient for active folks: protein.

Here, why the filling nutrient is such a key part of your diet, how to gauge your individual protein needs, the real scoop about calories in protein—plus protein-packed picks for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anything in between to help you make sure you’re getting enough protein per day.

Why Protein Matters

Think of your body like a never-ending construction site. Protein is the workforce required to keep the project running smoothly.

“You’re continually using protein to support hormones, enzymes, immune cells, hair, skin, muscle, and other protein tissues,” says Cynthia Sass, R.D., a performance nutritionist based in New York and Los Angeles. “On top of that, protein is needed to recover from the stress of training.” After exercise, your body uses protein (broken down into amino acids) to repair damaged muscle fibers, building them back stronger than before.

Not getting enough protein per day (and in overall) could lead to muscle loss, weak hair and nails, or immune issues. But, bare minimum, it’ll hold you back from the best results in the gym. Luckily, most Americans do get enough protein in their diet. In fact, “there are some estimates that the average American gets two times the recommended protein intake,” says Alex Caspero, R.D., a dietitian based in St. Louis. But acing the right amount of protein is important. “The body can only use 15 to 25 grams of protein at a time for muscle building,” says Caspero. “The rest of that gets broken down and used as fuel, or stored as fat.”

But here’s the thing: Everyone’s protein needs are different.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

While dietitians have differing thoughts on the exact amount of protein each body needs per day, there are some general rules of thumb in place to help guide you. The National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), which describes the minimum amount required for the body to function properly, says you should aim for 0.36 grams of protein for each pound you weigh per day. That’s about 46 grams of protein per day for the average woman. (To put things into perspective in your overall macro mix, gram-for-gram, there are 4 calories in protein, 4 calories in carbs, and 9 calories in fat.)

But many experts, including Molly Kimball, R.D., C.S.S.D., a dietitian with Ochsner Health in New Orleans, suggest fit many folks need far more than that. After all, that amount only prevents a protein deficiency, says Kimball—it’s the minimum grams protein per day requirement. It isn’t optimal for muscle repair and growth, a reduced risk of injury, or feeling fuller longer.

How much protein you actually need depends on who you ask and who you are. Generally speaking, the more you move, the more protein you need. “The less wear and tear you put on your body, the less repair work there is to do,” says Sass. Your age plays a role, too. Some research suggests that as you age, your body performs better with higher amounts of protein. One study published in The American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism found that when people over age 50 ate about double the DRI of protein, their bodies were better at building muscle.

If you’re working out hard on a regular basis (think: both cardio and strength training on the reg), Sass notes that the ideal amount of protein per day for muscle building and maintenance is about 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight—ideally spread out evenly throughout the day. So, if you’re working your butt off, aim for 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of healthy body weight.

In short, that means whatever your weight was when you’ve felt your strongest and healthiest. The distinction is important considering if you’re severely underweight or overweight, you don’t want to just use the numbers on the scale as a reference for your protein intake.

Your absolute minimum, if you’re not active or only slightly active, should be about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of healthy body weight, notes Kimball. For an active 130-pound woman (59 kg), a ballpark protein breakdown would be roughly 24 grams of protein per meal including snacks or about 97 grams of protein per day (more or less, depending on your activity level).

If you’re still concerned about protein needs (vegans and vegetarians can sometimes require more attention) a registered dietitian can help you ID the ideal amount of protein for you.

Consider these meals and snacks (one from each category), with their respective amounts of protein, when determining your meals and your macros for the day.

Protein-Focused Breakfast Options

Omelet with avocado and a side pea protein “yogurt”: 24g

Made from two whole, large, organic, pasture-raised eggs, an omelet packs 12 grams of protein, says Sass. Pair with veggies and avocado, with a side of plain pea protein Greek “yogurt” for another 12 grams.

Egg “muffins” with two slices of whole-grain toast: 22g

Kimball suggests scrambling up two eggs in muffin tins and pairing them with whole-grain toast for an early a.m. protein boost.

One Fage Greek yogurt: 18g

Not into eggs? One 6-ounce container of Fage Total 0% Greek yogurt ($1, contains 18 grams of protein.

Protein-Focused Lunch Options

Salad with grilled chicken: 24g

A large salad made with leafy greens, extra-virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinaigrette, topped with 2 ounces of grilled chicken breast would be about 14 grams of protein, says Sass. Add half a cup of cooked chilled quinoa and you’ll tack on another 4 grams. Half a cup of chickpeas gives you another 6 grams of protein—that’s a salad with 24 grams of total protein.

Protein and nut butter smoothie: 27g

If you’re eating lunch on the go, hit up a smoothie bar or whip up your own smoothie made from a scoop of protein powder (typically about 20 grams of protein), frozen fruit, a handful of kale, fresh ginger, unsweetened almond milk, and 2 tablespoons of almond butter (which adds 7 grams of protein), suggests Sass.

An old-school turkey wrap with vegetables: 25g

Don’t dismiss the old-school brown paper bag lunch. Three ounces of lean meat (in this case turkey) will provide about 20 grams of protein. Pair that with nutritious whole-grain bread, and you’re at about 25 grams, says Kimball. Include your favorite veggies or spreads as fillings.

Protein-Focused Dinner Ideas

Salmon with Brussels sprouts: 25g

One cup of Brussels sprouts (oven roasted in herbs and extra-virgin olive oil) provides 3 grams of protein. A little bit of cauliflower gives you about 2 more grams. Top it with 3 ounces of broiled Alaskan salmon for another 22 grams of protein. Complete the dish with 1 cup cooked spaghetti, suggests Sass.

Bean bowl: 22.5g

Beans are a solid but sometimes overlooked source of protein and a great option for plant-based eaters. Prep a red bean power bowl packed with mixed greens, veggies, and fruit for an easy 22.5 grams of protein.

Banza mac and cheese: 18g

Sometimes, cooking from scratch isn’t quite in the cards. No pressure. Banza chickpea pasta ($4, provides a solid dose of protein (far more than your traditional types of pasta, which usually clock in around 7 grams).

Protein-Focused Snack Ideas

A nutrition bar: 10g

Not all protein bars are created equal—but Protein One bars pack 10 grams of protein, 90 calories, and 1 gram of sugar. Plus, they’re easy enough to store in your desk drawer to pull out any time a craving hits.

Pistachios: 6g

Plant-based protein, like the kind found in pistachios, provides more bang for your calorie buck, says Caspero. “Nearly 90 percent of the fats found in pistachios are the better-for-you mono- and polyunsaturated types. Plus, they’re a good source of protein and fiber for a trio that helps keep you fuller longer, compared to just protein.”

Cottage cheese: 25g

Kimball favors protein-rich cottage cheese as a nighttime snack—especially for those who find themselves hungry before bed. Rich in a slow-digesting protein called casein, it’ll do away with hunger pangs the healthy way, keeping you full throughout the night.


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