Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to Relax No Matter How Much Stress You Face!

Stress is inevitable in our lives, but we can find ways of managing stress to reduce the impact it has on our health. Not dealing with stress affects our immune system's ability to work properly, can lead to weight gain, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, lead to gastrointestinal problems, interfere with sleep, cause a lack of energy and poor memory, and can be linked to skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne. One of the problems in managing stress is that in an already stressful, full scheduled day, it sometimes causes more stress trying to find the time to relax which of course makes it impossible to relax. After all who can relax knowing that there is a whole list of things still on the to-do list for the day. And since stress can affect cognitive function, the more stressed we are the harder it is to concentrate on those coping skills we may have developed. The first step for many therefore in managing stress has to be developing a different perspective and attitude about taking the time to relax. This is going to be an individual process so give it some thought and see what philosophy you can adapt that will make sense for you and your life. Some of the reasons people find to start making managing stress a higher priority include:
  • health concerns
  • weight gain
  • negative attitude (all work and no play...)
  • interference with relationships (as in quick to anger or as in no time to spend with others)
  • why make lots of money working constantly if don't have time to spend any in enjoyment
  • no family time (ie.- missing out on your children's milestones or activities)
Look over this list and see if any of these reasons resonate with you or see what you can add to the list that does resonate. Lifestyle changes aren't always easy. Having a reason that makes sense to you and is important enough to you to make a change will go a long way towards how successful you will be.

Managing Stress
After you have found the motivation to make managing stress in your life a priority you'll need to try out a variety of strategies for dealing with stress to find what works for you. Take a look at how you typically deal with stress currently. Do you skimp on sleep, grab a candy bar or coffee in the afternoon to push your way through the rest of the day, skip breakfast in the morning, hardly ever take any time for yourself, drive through a fast food place to get dinner or find other ways to try to reduce your load? Write down a list of the ways you are dealing with stress now. Then you can start developing a plan to keep anything on the list that is a healthy way of dealing with stress and substituting something healthier for those ways that aren't so healthy.

Coping With Stress
Here are some ideas of healthy alternatives that we can substitute for some of the unhealthy ways we currently are coping with stress.

Change Comfort Foods
When we are under stress cortisol is released in the body. This causes a rise in blood sugar levels and blood pressure. That is why often when we are stressed we crave sugary and fatty comfort foods. Trudy Scott, author of The Antianxiety Food Solution, warns that eating foods with refined sugar and carbs gives us a spike in blood sugar, but then it quickly crashes which can lead to anxiety, nervousness and being irritable. We certainly don't need that on top of all the stress we are dealing with. But many dieticians are advising that when we get the comfort food cravings to go ahead and have them in moderation or with changes to them. Joy Short, MS, RD, assistant professor and head of undergraduate nutrition and dietetics at St. Louis University recommends that you make small changes to your comfort food by making it healthier and something that will have a longer lasting effect on your mood. The optimal foods to accomplish this would be lean proteins, healthy fats, leafy vegetables and starches with high fiber. The internet is full of recipes that no matter what your comfort food is, you should be able to find a healthier alternative. For example, if your comfort food is pizza, look for a recipe that uses a light, thin crust made with whole grains, a pesto sauce or light tomato sauce and loaded with good veggies. If cookies are what comfort you, change to an oatmeal, nut and cranberry recipe and use a natural sweetener instead of refined sugar. If you don't have time to make cookies yourself, read labels and find one that is the lowest in sugar and higher in fiber like oatmeal raisin. Another strategy is to just concentrate on maintaining stable blood sugar levels to keep an even mood throughout the day. Instead of eating the typical 3 meals a day, eat smaller meals or snacks every 2 to 3 hours that have a protein source and either fiber, veggie or healthy fat. For example, a small amount of tuna and some brown rice. If you reach for the coffee pot when you are stressed, work on changing that habit to drinking decaf tea instead or switch to decaf coffee. Caffeine causes a surge in adrenaline which is the exact thing you don't need when you are stressed.

Protect Your Friendly Bacteria
There are many studies showing that chronic stress has a negative impact on our gut health. It can cause a multitude of problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Leaky Gut Syndrome. Taking high quality probiotic supplements such as acidophilus, bifidus, or a multi-spectrum probiotic supplement can help keep the intestines in tip top shape and functioning properly by supporting the friendly bacteria in the gut. One of these functions is producing B vitamins. B vitamins, especially B-12, help us relax, soothe our nerves and help us deal with stress. When we are stressed, we tend to use up our body's supply of B vitamins just when we need them most and need to replace them. Taking probiotics can give your body a boost to keep producing these vitamins and help your body cope with stress.

Unblock Energy Flow
Stress is held in the muscles of the body which blocks the body's natural energy flow. You can test this easily for yourself. When you feel stressed, scan throughout your body and see which parts of the body you are holding tightly or clenching. Is it in your jaw, your neck, shoulders, or back? Those are typical places for most people. When the body energy flow is blocked, the body's natural healing abilities are cut off and not functioning properly. Strategies such as yoga, deep breathing, tai chi and meditation are good relaxation techniques that many studies report beneficial results for coping with stress. One study in support of this showed those meditating regularly for a 6 week period had less emotional distress when in a stress situation. A study at the University of Wisconsin reported that participants undergoing 8 weeks of meditation showed an increase of electrical activity in their left frontal lobe which is the area of the brain more active in optimists. If these type of practices are something you have put off doing because you "don't have the time", reconsider. Get up just 5 or 10 minutes earlier in the morning to make meditation or yoga a part of your day and that time will pay off big time in stress reduction and health benefits. Whatever time you can squeeze in is certainly better than the nothing you are doing now, so don't stress out if you don't' get it in every day.

Stress Support Supplement Recipe
Try this recipe daily when you feel especially stressed:

In addition to making some of these lifestyle changes for coping with stress, be sure to get enough sleep, especially when under heavy periods of stress. Experts suggest getting 7 to 8 hours a night, waking up without an alarm if possible, getting in the habit of a regular sleeping schedule, and doing something relaxing in the evenings before bed. Stress can really take its toll on your health, so start now developing a game plan for coping with stress to stay healthier and get more enjoyment out of life.

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