Stress: we all experience it and have different coping mechanisms. Stress and anxiety interfere with your immune system, making you susceptible to illnesses like the flu.
Chronic stress encourages infection and inflammation, which increases your risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases, hormonal disruption, heart disease and weight gain. According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, the more stress in a woman’s life, the greater her weight. Chronic stress makes you more vulnerable to cancer, diabetes and inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.
According to a 2006 study presented at the 114th Annual Convention of the APA, people with chronic stress are more likely to suffer from age-related diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, major depression, mental decline, osteoporosis and metabolic syndrome.
Although stress is life and life is stress, you must be able to manage the stressors that will inevitably occur in your life. Here are some of my “Winning Formula Stress Busters:”
• Breathe: this is the foundation to de-stress and heal. Allow yourself five minutes in the morning and evening to focus on deep, belly breathing versus chest breathing. Empty your mind of your day-to-day activities and focus on a one- or five-word phrase you like and repeat it over and over again, or surrender into the silence. Studies show that this lowers blood pressure, releases healing hormones into your body, increases creativity, increases productivity and increases your ability to handle stressful situations. Profound health benefits!
• Moderate exercise: aside from strengthening your heart and lungs (two organs that can become physically affected from too much stress), exercise is great for your mental health, too. Exercising increases the levels of endorphins in your body, which stimulate your immune system, reduce stress and put you in a better mood.
Don’t overdo it though! Include daily exercise lasting 30 to 60 minutes such as weight training, yoga, Tai Chi, qi gong, rebounder (mini trampoline) and walking are ideal options. You must be healthy, nourished with wholesome foods and well-rested with balanced hormones to benefit and recover properly from more intense exercise. Working out too hard without addressing these other important variables may compromise your immune system and endocrine/hormonal system.
• Restful Sleep: the fountain of youth. When we sleep, the stress hormone cortisol is lowered, but when we are sleep deprived cortisol levels rise. Lights out by 10 p.m. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), the physical body repairs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The mind/emotional/spiritual body repairs between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m.
Turn off all communication devices at a set time each night: this includes your cell phone, computer and fax. Remove electronic devices from your sleeping area to eliminate electromagnetic stress.
• Get rid of clutter: clutter will make your life feel more complicated than it needs to, while a clutter-free space is one where you can truly feel at peace.
• Wholesome nutrition and hydration: providing your body with the nutrients and water it needs is vital to reducing stress (and staying healthy). Stress can actually deplete your body of nutrients. Make sure to include smaller, more frequent meals of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and enough protein. These foods contain stress-reducing vitamins such as magnesium, calcium, vitamins C and E, folic acid and B-complex. Our bodies require more protein when we’re stressed.
Avoid all sugar, white flour products and processed, junk foods that cause more stress and damage to your body. Doing so will help regulate your insulin levels. When blood sugar drops, adrenaline is released to compensate, which increases anxiety.
Drink a minimum of half your weight in ounces of water daily. Add a pinch of unprocessed sea salt or Himalayan salt to your water. Many people are chronically dehydrated, which may reveal as dry skin, brittle bones and hunger that is actually thirst and even depleted brain chemistry (neurotransmitters function in water). Hydrate properly. Eat mindfully, chew your food and enjoy your meals.
• Relax with water: water has been used since the dawn of humankind for reduction of stress. We are composed mostly of water; we were created in our mother’s womb in water. Water is our connection to life itself. Take long, warm showers or a relaxing bath. Schedule a regular time to soak in the tub. Aromatherapy is very powerful for relaxation. Pick soaps and bath salts with the most relaxing smell to you. Light candles around the tub. This is one of the most powerful ways to relax and come home to your mind, body and soul.
• Build strong friendships/relationships: stress can lead to feelings of depression and even isolation. Keep a network of social ties. Surround yourself with like-minded people who make you feel good. Decide who and what is most important to you. Center your life around those people and items. Resign from any and all organizations and commitments that are not fulfilling to you. It’s OK to say “no” to invitations and events you really don’t want to attend.
The Stress Institute’s founder, Dr. Kathleen Hall states: “Friendships are strong indicators of mental, physical and spiritual health. Friendship is not a luxury, but is essential to work-life balance and your health. Studies show that isolation decreases immune functioning and increases mortality risk.”
Consider supplements to take the edge off and balance neurotransmittors: Kava, St. John’s wort, 5-HTP, Biotics DeStress formula, Biotics VHP (a blend of Valerian, Hops and Passion Flower).
• Listen to your heart: turn off your brain and get quiet with yourself. Listen to the voice of your heart. Connect with and nourish your spirit.
• Be charitable: charitable acts have been shown to decrease stress, improve quality of life and increase lifespan for the giver, while a person who receives, but does not practice charity, doesn’t experience the same benefit. Dr. Hans Selye, the Canadian endocrinologist who developed the current model of stress and how it affects living systems, promoted altruism for its direct effect on decreasing stress and improving health. He proposed that “egoistic altruism” is natural law of the biological advantage of cooperation and collaboration between cells, individuals, groups, communities and societies.
Dr. Kathleen Hall, a world-renowned expert in stress and founder of The Stress Institute, says that “altruism creates a physiological responses or ‘helpers high’ that makes people feel stronger and more energetic and counters harmful effects of stress.”
• Attitude of gratitude: every night I pull out my gratitude log and write five to 10 things, events or people I am grateful for. Feels good! Studies tell us daily gratitude exercises result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.
• Laughter: it releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain killer. Laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and boosts your immune function.
Tis the Season ~ have a healthy and stress-free holiday.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness and weight loss expert, and the author of THE POWER OF 4 – Your Ultimate Guide Guaranteed to Change Your Body and Transform Your Life. Visit www.PaulaOwens.com.