10 Tips to Heal Chronic Stress
In a previous blog post I discussed my battle with chronic stress and how I managed to get a handle on it. Today I am discussing various tips on how to reduce your chronic stress without having to move across the world.
The Mayo Clinic links Chronic Stress to:
- High Blood Pressure
- Weight Issues, especially fluffiness around the middle and inability to loose weight.
- Sleep Problems
- Heart Disease
- Memory Problems, Focus, Concentration Issues
- Hormone Imbalances
You may have a Chronic Stress if you:
- have to take sleep meds
- take anxiety meds
- are snappy
- are on the edge
- need to drink at 3-5PM to deal with, well life
- drink in the evenings so kids are less annoying or to calm self
- have a need to constantly move and be productive
- are eating a spectacular diet, yet you still feel fluffy around the middle
- you have chronic medical problems which are difficult to resolve
4 things to understand:
1 - You must make yourself a priority. As we get older and settle into life, we start making everything else a priority - the spouse, the kids, the house, the dishes in the sink, the laundry, the to do list. Stop it!!! If we don't take care of ourselves, none of the above will be done well.
2 - Understand that the body and brain need rest and sleep to function properly. When we sleep the brain uses 1/5 of the blood supply to repair itself, make new cells, make new connections and memories. A lot of work happens when the mind is at rest. During sleep - the brain heals from anxiety, the belly fat gets burned off, the immune system powers up, stress levels are reduced, hormones are balanced, etc. Here is a One Minute Pediatric Video about sleep and memory.
3 - Most medications are a crutch and not a solution to chronic illness.
4 - We are in charge of our health. Our lifestyle and habits determine which family genes will be turned on and what chronic diseases we will have. Chronic disease, generally speaking, does not happen randomly. We are responsible for our diagnosis and for the cure. Stress Management is a treatment for cure!
1 - No phones in bedrooms (unless you are a doctor on call)
Phones on night stands activated our brains. Harvard Medical School reviewed a great study from JAMA 2011 on how cell phones activate the brain. Volunteers were placed in a PET Scanner with cellphones attached to each ear. Their brain activity was measured when their cellphones were OFF then ON but muted. Results showed that the brain cells increased glucose (sugar) uptake from the blood only when the phones were on. This is brain activation. This of course does not prove that there is a link to cancer, but it demonstrates that the brain is stimulated by the energy emitted by phones.
Phones, laptops, iPads, apple watches get emails and notifications all night long. These devices send out electromagnetic radiation which trigger brain activity. This interference prevents the brain from doing it's night time duties as mentioned above.
Fun Fact: The World Health Organization has declared cell phones a 2B carcinogen - in other words, a possible cause of cancer in humans.
2- Limit the use of electroinc devices 1-2hrs before bedtime.
The blue light from the devices reduces our melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone we produce as a the sun sets so we can rest at night. It takes the body 1-2 hrs to raise the melatonin levels to "sleep levels" once the devices are turned off. Not only does melatonin help us fall asleep, it also helps us stay in a restful sleep all night long. Here is a One Minute Pediatric video illustrating this concept.
3 - Take a Social Media Holiday
Social Media and the Internet are the Black Holes of Productivity. They suck minutes away from the clock leading to late nights for homework or dishes, no time for exercise, and little time for cooking, playing with family/friends, or relaxing. Not only is it irritating if you don't get enough likes on IG, adequate Snaps from your friends, or plenty of comments on your FB post, but electronic devices irritate the brain and steal time.
Fun Fact: it takes 10 min to get back to the task at hand after a notification comes thru on your cell phone.
Challenge: Take a week off from all social media (day 1 you will panic, day 2 you'll sweat, day 3 you get more stuff done, day 4 you realize how many hours you were really spending on your phone, and so on.)
4- Go Outside
Take 10 minutes every day to walk outside. If you don't have 10 min to do this, you have major issues that need to be addressed ASAP. Numerous medical studies have linked the outdoors with decreased anxiety and depression, better memory and mood, increased attention and focus, and improved immune system function.
5 - Make Children Do Chores
I see more and more parents doing everything for their children for various reasons:
- If the kids are too busy to do dishes, then they are over-scheduled.
- If they refuse to vacuum, then they are entitled.
- If they have tantrums about cleaning up, then they need consequences.
- If they have too much homework, then they need time management tips.
There are no reasons why only one person in the house works, gets dinner ready, puts a load of laundry in, and cleans, while everyone else is on an electronic device for whatever purpose.
Fun Fact 1: kids who help in the kitchen are less picky eaters then those who don't.
Fun Fact 2: kids who do chores know how to care for themselves when they go to college or move out.
6 - Say NO more often.
After 20 years of marriage and 16 years of parenting, I have not gotten a trophy for being a doctor, room mom, soccer coach, spring break coordinator, neighborhood social planner, party coordinator, bake sale leader, and so on. But, I ended up on a marriage councelor's couch defending all my involvements.
7 - Make Time For Free Play
Kids learn best during unstructured play. Contrary to what Pinterest has to say, the more unstructured, the better. Electronics have to be put away for this to happen. Most children are addicted to screens and have to be made to go outside. Sad but true.
Kids do not need an activity after school every day to become successful. This only teaches them to be busy and will build a foundation for Their Chronic Stress.
Teens and Adults can have a night without plans and not be Lame. This is possible!!! A cup of tea, a puzzle, a great book, or a family game may be just the perfect "medication" for a busy week.
8 - Outsource
There are no medals for those who manage to birth kids, raise kids, cook, do laundry, volunteer, tackle difficult homework, nurse, clean, organize, work, and so on. Not one medal, if you can believe it. If your mom, auntie, cousins can't help, there are plenty of teenagers who want/need money. Have them do the chores you dislike or just hold the baby. They can watch the kids play outside while you go grocery shopping. Hire a tutor. Get a laundry service. Get Sun Basket and make dinner a pleasant experience a couple of times per week.
Fun Fact: The only perfect teens, homes, and families exist on FB, IG, and Pinterest. Reality is messy. Embrace it. We all need help. Outsource it. Your stress level will go down!
9 - Learn to do Yoga and Meditate
When your mind races so much that you can't simmer down to do yoga or meditate, it's most likely because you suffer from chronic stress. I couldn't do yoga properly for years because I could have been running, cleaning, organizing, and so on. It's not a yoga problem, it's a stress problem. I had to learn how to accept a slow moving exercise as "medication" for my body and brain. Once I decided that slowing down wasn't going to kill my productivity, or make me fat, or loose muscle mass I learned to enjoy the process and it's benefits. I can sleep without meds!!!
Challenge: Every time you send a text or comment on social media Take 1 INHALE for a count of 4 and EXHALE for a count of 6. This is Breathing Meditation. Exhale has to be longer then inhale to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which decreases Stress Hormone Levels.
10 - Feed Your Stress Hormones Nutritious Food
- Stress hormones love Carbs and Sugar. Think of the last time you were really mad. Did you crave broccoli or Oreos?.
- Stress hormones interfere with sleep. Sleep deprivation + Stress Hormones = Sugar and Processed Carbohydrate Cravings. The more sugar and simple carbs you eat (crackers, cookies, bread, pasta, etc) the more you feed the Stress Hormones, the more they get out of wack. They are like weeds.
- Eating and ordering out all the time because you are too busy only worsens the Stress Condition. Generally speaking, restaurant food is high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, trans fat, and poor quality meats. These foods/habits will worsen Chronic Stress.
- The body makes hormones from the food we eat. In fact, every cell in our body is fixed and created with the food we eat.
- Vegetables, Eggs, Fruits, Grass Fed Meats, Nuts, Legumes, Water are the perfect antidote for high stress hormone levels.
In Good Health,
Ana-Maria Temple, MD