It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the daily stressors that come our way. Pressure from work, raising a family, maintaining a home, and financial stability are some of the major stressors in life… along with all the smaller stressful situations that arise on a regular basis. Coping with stress is essential on many levels, with your health being at the top of the list.
Heart disease remains the number one killer in our country and stress plays a big role in increasing its risk. Research has shown that living a stressful life may affect factors which increase blood pressure (hypertension) and cholesterol levels, and can lead to poor habits such as smoking, heavy drinking, physical inactivity, and over- or under-eating. All of which in turn are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Studies also show that stress can alter the body’s functions, affecting the blood and nervous system and leading to negative health effects.1,2,3
Manage stress and improve your health with these healthy habits:
- Connect with friends and family. Call or spend time with positive people that provide a strong support system.
- Relax and recharge. Enjoy some kind of leisure activity that helps you relax. Work in the garden, go for a walk on the beach or spend time in nature. Hawaii’s natural environment is an excellent place to relax and recharge!
- Eat right. Diet and stress are closely related. Be mindful of what you eat, as well-nourished bodies are better prepared to deal with stress. Eat well-balanced meals throughout the day. We often forget to eat well when under stress and resort to unhealthy snacks high in sugars and fats. Plan ahead by packing healthy on-the-go snacks such as fresh fruit, cut veggies with dip, and nuts. Walnuts, for example, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have shown to help prevent and reduce stress!4
- Exercise regularly. Get moving even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day. Getting your blood flowing releases endorphins, enhancing your mood instantly! Besides, what better way to get rid of pent-up stress than with a good workout!
- Laugh it off. Laughter helps reduce stress by increasing those mood-enhancing endorphins and by decreasing the stress-causing hormones such as cortisol. Have a sense of humor, watch a comedy, tell a joke!
- Get enough sleep. Rest your body and mind with adequate sleep of 6-8 hours a night. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling irritable, irrational and stressed-out. Recent research also shows that lack of sleep can have negative impacts on our digestion, leading to cravings, overeating and potential weight gain.5
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and drugs. These unhealthy habits are temporary ways to escape stress and have negative long-term effects. In fact, they often lead to increased stress!
- Calm the body and mind. Take deep, slow breaths to oxygenate the body and quiet your mind. Relaxing and balancing practices such as yoga, pilates, tai chi and chi gong can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, also called the “rest and renew” nervous system.6,7
- Nabi H. et al., Increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals reporting adverse impact of stress on their health: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study. Eur Heart J (2013) doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/eht216
- World Heart Federation. Stress. Accessed on January 19, 2014.
- American Heart Association. Stress and Heart Health. Accessed on January 19, 2014.
- Bourre JM. Dietary omega-3 Fatty acids and psychiatry: mood, behaviour, stress, depression, dementia and aging. J Nutr Health Aging. 2005;9(1):31-8.
- Greer M. S., et al. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. August 2013.Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2259.
- Ross A and Thomas S. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Jan;16(1):3-12. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0044.
- Streeter, CC., et al. Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Med Hypotheses. 2012 May;78(5):571-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2012.01.021. Epub 2012 Feb 24.