To Your Health
August, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 08)
10 Ways to Reduce Stress
By Dr. Perry Nickelston
Does it seems as if your life is spiraling out of control? We all feel overwhelmed at times, but the way we deal with it determines whether we continue our productive lives or board a one-way express train to Stressville, USA.
Let's face it, the bills aren't going to stop coming, there will never be enough hours in the day for all your errands, and your career or family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that you're in control of your life is the first big step to stress management.
Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life with time for work, relationships, relaxation and fun - plus the fortitude to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.
There are several different types of stress, and learning how to control them can make all the difference. You have physical stress (lack of exercise, illness, sleep habits, etc.), mental stress (how you deal emotionally with life) and chemical stress (nutritional and environmental). Here are 10 straightforward ways to help you reduce all three stress factors.
1. Proper Breathing
Let's start with breathing because it's so fundamental. Proper breathing has a dramatic impact on muscle relaxation, tension reduction, normalizing heart rate, and increasing mental clarity. Breathing is of primary focus in meditation, yoga, and Pilates because of its intricate connection to inner core strength. What you want to strive for is learning to breathe mostly with your diaphragm instead of your lungs. The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle for breathing. It is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs. Learning how to breathe with your diaphragm takes some practice, but in time it will become second nature.
Practice the following technique on a daily basis for 5-10 minutes. Lie on your back, putting a pillow or similar support under your knees to relax your lower back. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Slowly inhale through your nose and make sure the only hand that moves is the one on your abdomen. Try to keep the hand on your chest as still as possible. Exhale through pursed lips and repeat. You may become temporarily lightheaded after your first few breaths, but this is a normal response to the increase in oxygen uptake by the body.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with so much to do and so little time? Unclutter your life and get organized to take back control. Where do you start? You've got to have a plan. That plan starts with learning to master the art of creating a "Top 5 List." Create a list of the five most important tasks you need to complete for the day. Put the one you want to do the least at the top of the list to help prevent procrastination. It is human nature to delay things which make you feel uncomfortable. By accomplishing the difficult task first you set the tone for positive action and motivation the rest of the day. You can always add more numbers to the list when you get better at the system.
3. Adequate Water
Dehydration stresses your body and nervous system. Adequate water intake is essential for cellular processes, tissue regeneration and detoxification. You may even notice a decrease in mental clarity, tiredness, fatigue, lethargy and a propensity for more illness due to increased stress on the immune system. So, how much should you drink? The advice to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is antiquated. Instead, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.5 and 0.7. The numbers generated are the range, in ounces, of water you should drink each day. There is no need to start slamming down water today. Instead, gradually increase your intake over a four-week period. Keep in mind that caffeinated beverages are natural dehydrators, so for every cup of caffeine beverage you drink, replace it with 2 cups of water.
4. Healthy Snacking
Eat healthy and eat often to control blood sugar levels. When you go long periods between meals, a hormone known as insulin spikes. This hormone controls how fast sugar enters your bloodstream after eating. Big surges in insulin occur when you wait too long between meals, which may increase stress on your body chemistry. You can get cravings and mood swings. Eating only three meals a day is insufficient for keeping this delicate balance of hormones in check. It is recommended that in addition to eating three regular meals a day, you mix in 2-3 healthy snacks. You will notice a renewed sense of energy and vitality as you provide your body and mind with the nutrition it needs.