Health advice and news from Sutter Health’s Northern California experts. The latest on fitness, nutrition, menopause, disease prevention and more.
Here are some more ways you can effectively reduce the impact of chronic stress on your body. Some of them are familiar – you have heard these tips before. But if you take their role in stress relief seriously, and you may finally be convinced of their overall benefits to your health.
Exercise has many, many health benefits and relieving the body of the effects of chronic stress is one of those benefits. So, what to do?
Increase your basic activity level every day, and reduce the amount of time you sit. You can do this in sneaky ways, like walking more around the office, finding the furthest parking space wherever you go, or standing while watching TV, folding laundry, etc.
Engage in exercise classes or sports activities with others. Exercise or playing sports in a group setting is more effective in reducing stress than working out alone.
Don’t make your work out stressful! Be careful not to rush from high-intensity workouts to high-intensity work. Allow time to cool down and calm down between activities. If you have 60 minutes to work out, set aside 15 minutes at the end to breathe and stretch and enjoy the calming effect of your exercise session.
Fitness tracking devices can help. Devices like Jawbone or Fitbit, Android watches or iPhone tracking apps can give you the visual motivation to move more each day. Remember that taking fewer than 5,000 steps per day is associated with being overweight. Aim for 7,000 steps daily and then work your way up to 10,000.
Consider yoga and Tai Chi. These practices combine movement with breath while stretching out tight muscles and improving mobility, which is an ideal combination for stress reduction.
Of course good nutrition helps your health overall. But certain foods and food habits can lead to more stress response, while others can help you de stress.
Not-so-good food habits include overloads of sugar and excess caffeine.
Too much sugar causes a spike in insulin and then a subsequent fall of blood sugar. This can stimulate the adrenal gland to secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine, giving you the jitters
Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Too much caffeine can also impair your restful sleep, creating daytime fatigue and increased stress, in a vicious circle. If you must have caffeine, don’t overdo it and try to avoid it after noon.
Good foods for stress relief include:
Healthy fats - Omega 3s (fish, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds,leafy greens) and monounsaturated fats (avocados, olive oil, almonds).
Protein – high-protein foods can help keep you energized.
Vegetables and fruits – eat more! It’s hard to go wrong here.
Nuts and seeds – good nutritional value. Keep the quantities small.
Carbs – but make sure they are whole grain, high fiber and low glycemic index carbs. Limit your overall intake of carbs since even healthy carbs in excess can cause health problems
Many of us suffer from “hurry sickness.” This internal sense of time pressure correlates with heart disease risk. Stop overscheduling yourself (and your family). Deliberately slow your breathing, walking, talking, etc. during the day.
Make a reasonable daily to-do list, and be sure to include these categories:
Personal Wellness. Create some time for yourself and your breathing practice, relaxation response practice, and/or exercise.
Work. During work time, shut off personal devices (no Facebook, etc.) and focus on a few important tasks only. Focused and concentrated single-tasking is more productive and less draining than stressful multi-tasking.
Family/Friends: When you are with others in a social mode, give them your genuine presence. Make eye contact; have no digital distractions.
And last, but not least, know when you might need help. There is no shame in asking for help from a licensed professional if you find your own efforts at stress relief are just not working. Your peace of mind and health are at stake.
Missed previous posts?
Ronesh Sinha, M.D., is an internal medicine specialist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Working in the Silicon Valley with large employer groups, Dr. Sinha is the author of The South Asian Health Solution and speaks frequently on health issues as they apply to the South Asian population.