There’s been so much in the media lately that is downright disturbing. The actual incidents are disturbing. Whether a bombing on the other side of the world or a shooting in a city not far away, the amount of violence and discord we are exposed to on TV can be overwhelming. While we have to be engaged citizens and we need to be aware of what is happening in our world, we also have to take time to manage the amount of energy we give to those things that we cannot control.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, my focus and passion is food. I believe that food has amazing influence and power over our health in both the short and long term. However, I also realize that eating a nutritious diet isn’t enough to be truly well. Conversely, I also believe you can’t truly be well without a nutritious diet. When I work with individuals and counsel them on health, I really invest time in helping them consider the total picture of what leads to wellness, including discussions around the importance of adequate and quality sleep, emotionally healthy relationships, regular appropriate physical activity, and stress management. I make referrals to other professionals to help them manage some of these issues when needed.
One of the big ones here is stress. Stress is actually a good thing…in the right dose and at the right time. It is one of the things that motivates us to move out of the way of an oncoming disaster. Stress drives us to change our behavior – often in very good ways. But it can also be a driver to bad behavior (smoking, binge drinking or over-eating, for example). Managing stress is an essential part of good health. When I ask people about their stress level, I’m amazed when they sometimes say they don’t have “any stress”. Since we all have stress in our lives, this indicates an individual is not even aware of their stresses. As we’ve all probably heard, the first step to addressing a problem is identifying it. According to a good short article by WebMD, some emotional or physical signs of stress include (see full list here):
- Being easily agitated
- Having difficulty relaxing
- Avoiding others
- Low energy
- Upset stomach
- Aches, pains and tense muscles
And that’s just a partial list! Unaddressed stress can really lead to significant health issues. On the other hand, stress management can alleviate lots of issues that medicine alone cannot. Here are my favorite ways to reduce my own stress:
- Spend time outdoors. There’s something about the open space, the sky, the fresh air, and the sounds of nature that are just healing for my soul. Whether it’s a cup of tea on the porch or a walk to the park, getting outdoors does amazing things to clear my mind and make me feel so much better.
- Take a news/media fast. I started this post with some of the issues that we’ve seen in the media. So much of it is outside of my control. I can take an active part in creating peace and joy around me. Sometimes that means that I detach myself from the rest of the craziness of the world and be present where I am. Reducing or eliminating news and media for a period of time can go a long way in helping to quiet the noise in our heads and allow us to decompress and be present where we are.
- Meditate and pray. Speaking of quiet…it’s so important to periodically get quiet. For me, that means sitting in a quiet place with an inspirational book and/or my Bible, reading a bit, and praying. Then, spending a little time being silent to “listen” with my heart to what God may have to say to me. Often, He is reminding me that he didn’t create me to be constantly rushing and that He loves me and He is with me. Those are the kinds of reminders that help calm my heart and reduce my stress!
- Have some laughs. Someone once said, “Laughter is the best medicine.” I can agree that it is a fantastic treatment for a busy heart. Laughter actually releases endorphins in your brain like stimulants, but it’s totally natural! Spending time with people who make me laugh, watching a funny show or movie, and giggling silly with my toddler are all ways I fight stress with the funnies.
- Yoga. Deep breathing has been shown to reduce blood pressure and tension almost immediately. Gentle yoga is one way that help reduce my stress level. Even just 10 minutes at the end of the day helps me let go of the day and relax into a restful night’s sleep.
What about you? How do you manage stress?