Managing Stress in Challenging Times

(February 2009)


Many people are feeling the fear and stress of challenging times. We are greeted in the New Year with economic uncertainty, changes in our government, instability abroad and shifting priorities at home. These pressures, stressors and fears affect our bodies and minds in complex ways, often leaving us feeling unhealthy, unhappy and fatigued.

Stress is a natural response that originally protected us from dangerous environments - there is nothing inherently wrong or bad about stress. It is when we are unable to return to a "normal" state of calm that we can start feeling the damaging effects to our health. It is also important to remember that stress affects us physically, mentally and emotionally, and often these separate responses fuel each other to escalate our overall stress response and feelings of dis-ease. An integrative approach, addressing the mind, body and spirit is essential to alleviating symptoms of stress. Here are some simple techniques you can practice to help calm and re-center so you can face your challenges with clarity and confidence.

 

  1. Nurture a sense of hope.
  2. Practice meditation - There are many kinds of meditation to choose from including breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation, mental focusing and other still or movement based practices
  3. Engage in diaphragmatic deep breathing - Learning to breathe deeply from the diaphragm is important to stress management. Deep, slow, even breathing is the natural breath of the body and is a more efficient way to use oxygen.
  4. Relaxation response - This meditative technique quiets the mind and encourages deep relaxation of the body through consciously relaxing muscles in the body while focusing on deep breathing to still the mind.
  5. Prayer - No matter what denomination you are, prayer can be a calming and rejuvenating experience to center your mind, and create a sense of peace, comfort and hope
  6. Monitor your negative thoughts - Cognitive/behavioral techniques focus on understanding and changing automatic negative thought patterns that can often increase feelings of tension and worry. The goal of this technique is to help you
  7. Eat a healthy diet - Good foods, abundant in essential nutrients your body needs to function well is an excellent defense against stress. When we eat healthier our bodies and minds are fueled with more of what we need to function smoothly and efficiently.
  8. Check your vitamin D levels - The sun can be pretty scarce in Chicago during the winter, so chances are you are not getting as much vitamin D as you may be used to. Vitamin D is important to maintain blood levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body. Vitamin D may also provide protection from conditions such as osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, infections, MS, diabetes, high cholesterol, and some autoimmune disorders.
  9. Get good sleep - Developing healthy sleeping habits is a great way to reduce stress. Sleep is necessary for both the body and the mind. Healthy habits might include keeping a regular schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, or creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
  10. Exercise - Even if it wasn't one of your New Year's Resolutions! Regular exercise is one of the best techniques for reducing stress and increasing overall health. Exercise improves circulation, increasing flow of blood and oxygen to your brain helping you to think more clearly. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins that can give you a feeling of happiness, a natural "high" that can positively affect your overall sense of well-being. Exercise relaxes tense muscles and can also help you sleep better. People who exercise regularly and are physically fit tend to have less extreme physiological responses to stress than those who are not.
  11. Curb your alcohol and coffee intake - Although many people drink alcohol to relieve stress, some of the body's responses to alcohol are similar to its responses to other stressors. Consumption of alcohol can increases blood pressure, disrupts the proper functioning of the brain and other organs and can increase levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone", in the body. Coffee can also contribute to an increased experience of stress by disrupting sleep, interfering with hormones in the body, and causing you to feel moody and anxious. Although coffee and other caffeinated beverages can give you an initial boost of elevated energy, people often experience fatigue and depression once the affects have worn off.

To schedule an appointment to discuss your optimal health plan or to have your vitamin D levels checked call the Raby Institute at 312-276-1212 or email appointments@rabyintegrativemedicine.com.


"Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food."
- Hippocrates