MichelleFit on Daytime RogersTV (8 Tips for Managing Stress)

The holiday season is just around the corner and for many people this time of year tends to cause more unwanted stress then usual. There are many reasons for stress on any given day but for this time of year more often then not people will tell you that they feel financially stressed (due to the increase in expenses), emotionally stressed (perhaps a recent death in the family triggers feelings of sadness), socially stressed (due to the increase in holiday parties, family visits and therefore the presence of more food and alcohol), or all of the above!

Before we go into ways to manage stress let’s first talk about what happens to the body on a chemical level. Your body responds to stress by sending out a fight-or-flight hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a type of steroid hormone that regulates the metabolism of glucose. When a stressful event occurs cortisol is released which results in a rise of glucose, fatty acids and amino acids in the blood, or increased blood sugar. On top of that, stress stimulates lipogenesis (fat creation) and mobilizes that fat to the deep abdomen to surround and protect your internal organs. This abdominal fat is called visceral fat and leads to obesity, high blood pressure and bad cholesterol, therefore putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke, among other things such as increased risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, gastrointestinal difficulties and reproductive difficulties. As if that wasn’t enough, stress also decreases bone formation, which in turn increases our risk of osteoporosis.

Now that we understand what happens to our body during a stressful event let’s talk about how to deal with it! Everyone reacts to stress in different ways, whether it be anger, frustration, eating less, eating more, or multiple sleepless nights it’s important to recognize when you are feeling stressed so that you can manage it instead of hurting yourself or lashing out on those around you. Here are 8 things that you can do to help cope with and ultimately relieve stress:

#1 Exercise Exercise stimulates your pituitary gland and hypothalamus to release endorphins, which in turn provides you with the feeling of happiness. Your mood may determine which activity is best for you, for example, I enjoy kickboxing or pumping iron when I’m feeling angry or frustrated, other days I enjoy a good sweaty run, and on days when I’m feeling tired I enjoy a calming yoga class. Other relaxation techniques such as tai chi or meditation may work for you. Whatever it may be, find a fitness activity that you enjoy and take the time for yourself and your well-being.

#2 Nutrition Green tea contains EGCG, a plant vitamin that helps promote focus and calmness. The calming effects of green tea will take about 1-2 hours to kick in so if you know you have a busy day ahead of you plan accordingly. Fruits and vegetables high in vitamins A and C are found to return cortisol levels back to normal; these are our orange and yellow foods like oranges and papayas. Dried apricots are rich in magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant while foods like leafy greens and legumes contains folate which gives you more energy. You’ll want to avoid caffeine as it causes anxiety and also sugar which causes a spike in blood sugar levels and effects the adrenal glands ability to control stress hormones.

#3 Healthy Work Environment The National Institute for Occupational Safety reports that job stress causes more health problems than any other stressor. What can you do? (1) Establish boundaries with coworkers and define what people may or may not say or do to you while at work to avoid letting others walk all over you. (2) Realize that no matter how much you wish for change in your work environment it’s most likely not going to happen and carrying around that anger and resentment will only make the problem worse. Try to redirect your attention to the positive things in your life. (3) Put yourself first. Consider how much negative energy you are wasting in your current job situation and decide whether or not this job is worth it or if it’s time to move on.

#4 Massage Massage therapy, or acupressure, is an ancient healing practice that works together with your body’s own healing systems (the muscular system, nervous system, blood vessels and lymphatic system) to remove blood stagnation, increase energy, decrease insomnia, increase relaxation, plus many other benefits while increasing body awareness and giving the receiver an overall sense of well-being. Massage therapists use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows and even feet (Thai and Chinese massage will use the feet to give more pressure) to rub, press and manipulate your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. During the massage, the pressure can vary from deep and therapeutic to light and soothing depending on the ailment and outcome preferences. Therefore communication between the therapist and client is vital. Many benefits packages now include financial coverage for massages provided by a Registered Massage Therapist. If you are not able to get a massage by a therapist there are self-massage techniques available to relieve headaches and tension in various areas of the body.

#5 Acupuncture According to Chinese medicine, stress, or any strong emotion, interrupts the free flow of energy throughout our body. Many people who are stressed complain of pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck. This is because the free flow of energy is blocked, causing tension, tightness and pain in those areas, which often leads to headaches. Acupuncture is a calming technique that can helps alleviate these symptoms by releasing endorphins to the brain. It also improves blood circulation throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and rids the body of waste chemicals, which results in muscle relaxation, lowered blood pressure and decreased heart rate.

#6 Sleep It is recommended by many health professionals to acquire 8 hours of sleep per night. The latest research shows that not enough sleep can make you feel hungry and therefore lead to overeating and weight gain. Chronically inadequate sleep can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

#7 Get Organized Plan ahead and make “to do” lists. This allows you to prioritize the important things and keeps you focused. Try to avoid procrastinating so you are not rushing around at the last minute!

#8 Create Your “Third Space” Dr. Adam Fraser partnered with Deakin University in Australia to research the impact of a transitional gap, or Third Space, in our happiness, performance and balance. The research showed that we carry our emotional state from one activity to the next, which often leads to negative consequences. Not surprising right, you have a bad day at work and come home angry and unintentionally take it out on the first person you see. However, what they found during their research is that by creating a Third Space for transition to relax (just breath and calm down), reflect (think of a positive daily achievement) and reset (think about how you want to show up when you get home) you can improve your behaviour by 41%.

Written by Michelle O’Neill, AAS Certified Fitness Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor Owner of www.MichelleFit.ca

Posted on November 21, 2012