Functional Medicine

Why we should take Stress seriously and 5 tips to manage it

By October 10, 2018 No Comments
lifestyle medicine

We are seeing an epidemic of stress. Even people who appear to have it all figured out are really struggling on the inside with chronic daily stress. Busy people with jobs, families, and a social life are risking their health by being 100% on all day long.

 

Our bodies weren’t designed to be in a constant “fight or flight” status all day everyday. There is a natural ebb and flow to what our bodies can do. For example, historically, we could use a spurt of energy to run away from a tiger, and then rest until the next threat approached.

 

Today we are bombarded with constant tasks and no built-in break time at work or even between work and home responsibilities to recharge. This chronic secretion of our stress hormones is putting us at risk for chronic disease in insidious ways.

 

Studies show that high social stress puts us more at risk for chronic disease mortality than smoking. And recently, JAMA published a study showing that life stressors increase our risk of developing autoimmune disease.

 

Stress leads to high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, weight gain, headaches, neck pain, interferes with our hormones balance, and it can even change the balance of gut bacteria.

 

The good news is that simple changes can help you get a handle on stress.

Here are 5 starting points:

 

  1. Plan breaks. Maybe it’s a 5 minute break every hour (which has been shown to increase focus and productivity), or maybe it’s a break in between work and home, like low impact restorative Yoga to help you feel more present once your arrive home.
  2. Schedule it out. Upgrade your to-do lists, which aren’t always helpful in actually accomplishing the to-dos. Instead, place each to-do item on your calendar, either on your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule with an assigned allotted amount of time that each task will take.
  3. Breathe. Simply the act of slow deep breaths can calm stress in the moment. Try box breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 count thinking about expanding your belly with your breath, hold for 4 count, breath out for 4 feeling your shoulders relax, and hold for 4 count. Repeat x 3.
  4. Meditate. Studies have shown that spending 5-10 minutes can improve productivity for the day, and meditating twice a day can lower blood pressure by 5 points. Meditation can be as simple as sitting in a quiet room and listening to a meditation app like Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, or 10% Happier.
  5. Unplug. Disconnect from your devices to re-connect with yourself and your surroundings. Try putting yourself in airplane mode overnight or giving devices a rest for 24 hours over a weekend.

These tips don’t need a lot of effort or time, but they can require practice to get into the habit of doing. The health benefits are worth it as a simple daily habit can start to reverse the effects of stress.

References:

 

Song, H. Fang, F. Association of Stress-related disorders with subsequent autoimmune disease. JAMA. 2018; 319(23) 2388-2400.

 

National Institutes of Health: Meditation.

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