Reduce Chronic Stress, Improve Health & Feel Good Again

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Stress is actually good for you. It keeps you alert, motivated and ready to respond to danger. If you’ve faced a work deadline or competed in a sport you know how well stress prepares the body to respond, improving performance. However too much stress, or chronic stress can trigger a multitude of health problems. How successfully you manage stress can determine whether it makes you ill or not. There are many lifestyle changes that can help you to respond to stress more effectively and re-establish harmony of mind, body and spirit. Making one or more of these seven positive steps will bring you closer to a healthier, more energized and happier you.

1. Take Regular exercise. Virtually any form of exercise, from bootcamp to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. Even if you haven’t exercised in years, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management. Physical activity is a powerful medicine to naturally boost up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. These endorphins makes us feel “alive”, “energised” and “happy”. Exercise also helps you forget the day's irritations and focus only on your body's movements. In this way, it’s like a form of meditation. Regular exercise can indeed lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running), or you can opt do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. It is also important to incorporate strength training exercises at least twice a week. Government Activity Guidelines

2. Eat a balanced healthy diet. So what does a balanced healthy diet actually mean? Very simply, reduce the amound of processed foods consumed and start cooking simple meals made from whole foods (vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds..). Avoid foods that cause stress/inflammation in the body, in particular insulin-promoting foods (sweets, chocolate, highly processed foods, sweeteners, coffee). Try to include protein with meals and snacks. Protein keep us fuller longer and when eaten with a low GI carbohydrate helps release energy slowly into the bloodstream, resulting in steady, stable blood sugar over a number of hours. Some examples of healthy low GI/protein meals include: Oatcakes with nut butter, porridge with a sprinkle of seeds, brown bread with sliced chicken, raw carrots with hummus, an apple with a handful of almonds. There are loads of ideas for simple, quick, nutritious recipes on my website

3. Learn to relax. Practicing relaxation techniques regularly can counteract the negitive effects of stress. Some of the common relaxation techniques include yoga, tai chi, meditation and deep abdominal breathing (which can be done anywhere at any time in as short as 1-2 minutes!).

4. Let your worries go. Find time to set aside 15 minutes each day where you allow yourself to focus on problems and worries and then train yourself to let them go after the 15 minutes is up.

5. Reduce caffeine intake. For someone feeling overwelmed and stressed, drinking coffee reguarly to cope can be very damaging for your health. The caffeine in coffee increases catecholamines, your stress hormones. The stress response elicits cortisol and increases insulin. Insulin increases inflammation and this makes you feel rotten.

6. Meditate. High levels of cortisol are associated with physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of the hormone contributes to wide-ranging, adverse effects on a number of physiological systems. Regular meditation helps many people overcome negative/worrying thoughts and studies have shown that focusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. I find these free guided meditations from UCLA very useful

7. Connect with others. Studies show that people who are happily married and/or have large networks of friends not only have greater life expectancies compared with those people who do not, but they also have fewer incidences of many chronic diseases. The antidote to cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones, is another hormone called oxytocin, the “anti-stress chemical. Oxytocin can actually calm the brain down and can lower heart-rate responses during psychosocial stress. Oxytocin is released when we connect with people who are important to us. A touch, a friendly handshake, a hug or just being in the presence of a friend, a loved one, or a trusted colleague can stimulate the production of oxytocin. It helps calms the body and mind. That’s why regular and frequent connection with others is essential to your mental and physical health and, in turn to your productivity. Although we are connected today more than ever with technology and social media, many of us are lacking actual human contact. Real connections involve showing respect, emotion, and affection and spending time with friends or family.