By Dr. David Friedman
Stress! It creeps up on you the moment you wake up. You reflexively unlock your phone and check for emails, texts and tasks: things you should have done yesterday, meeting requests, bills to pay, deadlines to meet. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 75 percent of visits to primary care doctors are related to stress. The government’s Health and Safety Executive estimates that stress costs the economy over ten million working days annually. Some 43 per cent of all sick days are attributed to stress.
Stress has been linked to many health issues including: obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and even cancer! Stress causes premature aging; just look at how quickly our presidents age after taking office. If stress is a primary foundation for disease, why are so many doctors prescribing drugs instead of offering their patients some type of stress management? The pharmaceutical model of care is predicated on the belief that when we have a chemical, hormonal or structural imbalance, our body needs to be medicated. These drugs are designed to suppress and eliminate signs that are actually meaningful messages about our state of dis-ease. Rather than cover up symptoms caused by stress, you can deal with it head-on by taking proactive steps to eliminating your daily stressors.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
One thing I live by is, “If you can’t change it, don’t stress about it.” This has eliminated 85% of the stress from my life. For example, if traffic is bad and I’m running late for work, I can’t change this scenario so I will just use the time to listen to talk radio. If I’m traveling and my flight is canceled, rather than get upset about being stuck at the airport like so many people do, I realize I can’t change the situation and I use this time to catch up on my reading. If bad weather ruins my outdoor plans, I can’t change this by stressing about it, so I find something productive to do inside. Only allow yourself to stress about things you have control over and can do something about.
STOP BEING NEGATIVE
Most of the time our thoughts are our biggest enemy. What you think about in life, you tend to create. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you become. Count how many times per day you say the words “can’t and won’t” compared to how often you use the words “can and will.” When dealing with a stressful situation, instead of saying, “I cant ever get ahead in life! ” change that to, “I can and will rise above this.” How much time do you waste worrying about not being able to complete your daily tasks? Instead of saying, “I can’t deal with this giant work load,” change that to, “There are 2,400 minutes in my 40 hour work week and I will utilize every one of them the very best that I can!”
Sometimes our negative thinking is so deeply rooted, we need outside help. Try acupuncture, meditation or yoga, to help you decompress. Another thing you may consider is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This is a psychological acupressure technique that you can use to optimize your emotional health. It can help you remove negative emotions, reduce food cravings and implement positive goals (see: http://eft.mercola.com). There are also programs like the Hoffman Quadrinity Process to reverse negative patterns and improve emotional stress (see: www.hoffmaninstitute.org).
Oxygen is the most important element needed for human life. When we are stressed we tend to breathe shallow. This lack of oxygen lowers our cognitive thinking and our brain’s ability to deal with stressful situations. Taking a few really deep breaths can do wonders at clearing your head and help you feel more in control. The best way to do this is to breathe in all the way until your lungs are completely full. Hold your breath for ten seconds and then release slowly. Repeat twice. Try this. It really helps.
WALK IT OFF
Sitting is now considered the new smoking and your chair is out to kill you! According to research published by the Mayo Clinic early this year, for every hour sitting at a desk or watching TV, you cut about 22 minutes from your life span. In contrast, smokers shorten their lives by about 11 minutes per cigarette. Sitting creates stagnancy and lack of blood flow, which stresses the body and the mind. Walking increases circulation and activates those feel-good endorphins, which put you in a better mood, helping you to focus and rationalize better. Even a 15 minute walk around the block during your lunch break can have positive effects on your attitude.
SLEEP YOUR STRESS AWAY
More than 60 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders according to the National Institutes of Health. Research from the National Sleep Institute found adults over the age of 45 that slept fewer than six hours per night are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who sleep six to eight hours per night. The following tips will help you achieve a restorative and restful sleep.
1) Keep the room dark: Any light (especially blue light) in the bedroom confuses your circadian center of the brain into believing that it’s daytime, and this results in less melatonin (sleep hormone) release.
2) Quite please: Make sure your bedroom is free from noise or other distractions. If you have a bed partner that snores or if you snore, try using a cervical pillow. This will help open the airway, similar to what tilting back the head accomplishes during CPR. If you’re a light sleeper and noises keep you awake, try using foam earplugs.
3) No food before bedtime: Digesting food while sleeping causes the blood sugar to increase for longer periods. Eating within two to three hours before bedtime can be a recipe for stress, weight gain and a restless night.
The University of London has conducted over 30 years of research on the physical and psychological benefits of singing. The act of singing is an aerobic activity that increases oxygen in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system, which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. When you feel stressed, try singing in the shower or in your car on the way to work. It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune; this isn’t a contest. So turn up Pharrell’s song “Happy” and become what you sing!
The old saying “laughter is the best medicine” is actually a true statement. I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Paul McGhee, President of The Laughter Remedy. He’s published 15 books and many scientific articles on the health benefits of humor and laughter (http://www.laughterremedy.com) According to Dr. McGhee, laughter increases endorphins (pain relieving,) serotonin (mood enhancing,) and dopamine (pleasure.) Instead of watching the news, opt for a funny TV show or a comedian on Netflix (I recommend Sebastian Maniscalco– LOL!)
The word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts” and during tough times, many people turn to their two best friends for help, Ben & Jerry. That brings on a sugar spike, which leads to internal inflammation which reeks havoc on the immune system. When it comes to combating stress levels, what you eat may actually help relieve your tension. Certain foods can help stabilize your blood sugar and your emotional response to stressful situations. Here are six healthy choices to reach for when you are feeling stressed:
Pistachios: When you have constant negative thoughts in your head, doing something repetitive with your hands can help silence that inner monologue. Unshelling pistachios can help and so does eating them. A Pennsylvania State University study published in the American Heart Association Journal, reveals that including pistachios in a healthy diet may positively reduce the body’s response to the stresses of everyday life. They also help lower blood pressure.
Blueberries: A recent study published by the American Physiological Association found that blueberries worked better than popular anti depressant drugs including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. Blueberries have powerful antioxidant properties that slow the destruction of serotonin which leads to a stress free, calming effect inside the brain.
Turkey Breast: Turkey contains an amino acid called tryptophan which is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving. Turkey aids in the production of serotonin which is responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience, men and women who were argumentative (based on personality tests) were relaxed and more agreeable by the end of just two weeks with a diet high in turkey, compared to when they didn’t eat it.
Wild Caught Salmon: Researchers at Ohio State University discovered that having 12 to 15 ounces of salmon can reduce stress and anxiety by more than 20%. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon also have heart healthy, anti-inflammatory properties that counteract the negative effects of cortisol.
Avocados: This fruit (yes, Avocados are a fruit) contains B vitamins, needed for healthy nerves and brain cells. They are high in monounsaturated fat and potassium, which lowers blood pressure. One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is to eat foods high in potassium—and just half an avocado offers 500 milligrams, more than you’ll get from an entire banana. Avocados also help put you in a good mood because they increase serotonin.
Chocolate: Ladies, I saved the best advice for last. A regular healthy indulgence (just a bite, not a whole bar!) of dark chocolate can have the power to regulate your stress levels and lower cortisol levels. Also, the antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure, and improving circulation and increasing good cholesterol. Reach for chocolate that contains at least 80% cocoa.
If all else fails, fake it til you make it! If you can’t change the stressful event in your life, change how you respond to it. Fake smiling when you don’t feel like it releases endorphins. If you fake smile enough, you can trick yourself into believing you’re happy. The key to fighting stress is to not let it control you. Instead, turn the tables on your stress—be proactive. By using the above tips, you can create a healthier, more relaxed you.