4 Healthy Habits to Help Manage Stress and Maintain Calm

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Stress, especially chronic stress, is an unhealthy disadvantage of living in this fast-paced, 24/7 world. We get so caught up in work, family, children’s activities, grocery store runs, and keeping the household running smoothly that we end up creating a daily routine of unhealthy habits. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We have the ability to make better choices, beat the stress, and a live a life that allows us to breath and enjoy each minute. What are some healthy habits we can pick up that will help maintain a sense of calm and keep stress levels in check?

Get more sleep – This may seem like a no brainer, but it’s surprising how many people don’t allow themselves a good night’s sleep. If you deprive yourself of this time of rest, you will begin to let stress creep in and issues that come along will seem bigger than they really are. Remember to let yourself unwind a little bit before going to sleep. This will prevent you from lying in bed thinking about the events of the day, and, in turn, not being able to fall asleep easily.

Meditation – Begin the day with a meditation session. It doesn’t have to be extremely long, but even 10 minutes of quiet and calm will make a world of difference on how the day unfolds. Wake up a half hour earlier and make time to get in touch with your goals for the day and what you hope to accomplish. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be bothered, and take advantage of that time to focus on breathing and just being in the moment.

Write it down – Writing down your thoughts for the day can help to rid your mind and body of unwanted stressors that bog you down. Getting it all out of your head and down on paper has a calming effect that makes any situation seem better. You can do this in the morning or when you are winding down during the evening hours. Just pick a time that feels comfortable for you and make it a daily routine.

Read a good book – Read one of your favorite, uplifting books to help calm your mind from a long, demanding day and to prepare you for a restful nights sleep. If you’re not into reading that much, you can always choose the audio version of the book and listen while you relax. You can also get up early in the morning and choose this time to read, if that is what fits your schedule.

There are numerous ways to maintain a set of healthy habits in your daily routine. If you can find a way to carve out a little quiet, relaxing “you” time on a daily basis, not only will you make daily stresses more manageable, but also improve your productivity, concentration and overall health. You just need to plan ahead and take action to make your life as calm and stress free as you want it to be. Find out what activities fit your family life and schedule, and then set some goals for everyone involved. Your whole family can benefit from this, and you will see a noticeable difference in the stress level all around.



Stress And Weight Gain

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Many people are under stress. Work, social obligations, bills, running the kids here and there can cause a great deal of stress. Often people under stress fail to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits and may gain weight. You may be tempted to stop for fast food on your way to work or skip the gym because you worked late. Even if you do try to eat a balanced diet and exercise, you may still gain weight. Stress triggers a hormone that may actually cause you to gain weight. 
Cortisol is a hormone that is essential for a number of body functions, including maintaining blood pressure, metabolizing carbohydrates for energy and stimulating the release of insulin into the blood stream to keep blood sugar levels stable. Stress causes elevated levels of cortisol in the blood. Excess secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands stimulates your appetite, which can lead to overeating or unhealthy snacking. 
Elevated cortisol levels may also cause your body to store fat in your abdomen. Belly fat has been linked to diseases, such as stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. The best way to combat stress-related weight gain is to reduce the amount of stress in your life. If that’s not immediately possible, continue eating a healthy diet and get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Exercise can help combat stress. Take time to relax and care for yourself. Do things that are enjoyable and help you relax. 

Get Moving to Relieve Stress

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It is practically impossible to avoid stress, but we can learn to manage stress and reduce the impact of many of the negative effects of stress. Stress often manifests in physical symptoms, such as headaches, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, muscle aches and pains and tiredness. Stress affects your mood and may result in anxiety, inability to focus, feelings of sadness and restlessness. Your behavior may also change due to stress. Some people deal with stress by overeating or not eating enough. Stress can be the driving force behind angry behavior or substance abuse. Any form of exercise can help relieve the effects of stress. You can benefit from the stress relieving effect of exercise whether you are in top shape or completely out of shape.
Regular exercise improves your physical fitness and your mood. Exercise and physical activity stimulates your brain to produce endorphins that improve your mood and relieve aches and pains. After about 30 minutes of exercise, you may discover that you stopped thinking about the things that caused your stress. As you focus on exercising, you are not worrying about tomorrow’s long list of tasks at work, your teen’s growing pains or financial concerns. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you feel better physically and emotionally. Your sleep and ability to concentrate will also improve. As you continue to exercise and focus on the movement of your body, you should experience increased ability to focus in other areas of your life.
Any physical activity can help relieve stress and stress-related symptoms like anxiety. Walking, riding a bicycle, lifting weights or simply cleaning your house or working in the yard or garden counts as exercise and helps to relieve stress. Regular exercise improves your self-confidence also. You can lose weight and look and feel more fit.


Exercise to Combat Stress

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Stress is something that is a fact of life for most people. Stress can have serious negative effects on your mind and your body. People with high levels of untreated stress may suffer from headaches, inability to concentrate, insomnia and even body aches and pains. Reduce the amount of stress in your life if possible. Set aside some quiet time for yourself so you can unwind, and exercise. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and combat the effects of stress. Exercise will also increase your overall fitness and improve your sense of accomplishment and well-being. You will probably lose a few pounds, too.
Physical exertion causes your brain to produce extra neurotransmitters, or endorphins. Endorphins cause you to feel good. They produce a sense of well-being and happiness. You don’t have to run 10 miles or lift weights for an hour to experience the good feeling produced by endorphins. A brisk walk or a jog for 30 minutes, 20 minutes of swimming laps in a pool, a game of tennis or half an hour of dance aerobics can stimulate your brain to release endorphins and help you feel better. You should notice a marked improvement in your mood following some moderate exercise. In addition to the endorphins in your system, you can feel more confident and less anxious. 
Stress can keep you awake at night. Regular exercise also helps improve sleep. Most people need about 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to function at peak performance during the day. If stress is keeping you awake, you may have difficulty concentrating, suffer headaches and feel excessively tired. These problems then increase your stress, which continues to interfere with your sleep. Break the cycle by dedicating at least 30 minutes each day to exercise. Drop your briefcase when you walk in the door and put on your bike helmet and ride for a half hour. 
See your doctor for a complete physical if you have not exercised in a long time. Start out slowly to avoid injury and sore muscles that discourage you from exercising. A personal fitness trainer can help you design a stress-busting exercise program that fits with your schedule and fitness level. Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise every other day can relieve the unpleasant symptoms of stress.

For more information about stress and its effect on your body, see:
Mayo Clinic, Stress Symptoms: Effects On Your Body, Feelings and Behavior

Eat to Feel Good During the Holidays

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The holidays can be a difficult time to maintain a fitness routine and healthy eating habits. Stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol which increases blood sugar levels. Almost everywhere we turn there are delicious cakes, pies, cookies, puddings and candy. Traditional holiday dishes are often loaded with fats and sugar. Add the inevitable holiday stress to sugary foods and you have a recipe for weight gain. Nutritious foods, including whole grains and fresh fruit, can help improve your mood, reduce the impact of holiday stress and help you maintain your weight.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast that includes whole grain cereal such as oatmeal. Add some bananas or strawberries and drink a glass of orange juice. Vitamin C can help reduce the release of stress hormones. Oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, guava and  kiwi are rich in Vitamin C and taste delicious. Skip the eggnog and enjoy a fruit smoothie using fresh guava and kiwi instead.
Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and beans stimulate the brain to release the hormone serotonin. Serotonin has a calming effect on the mind and body. Stimulate your brain to release serotonin by eating whole wheat breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, dried beans, dried peas and fresh vegetables. Nourish your brain and muscles with protein found in nuts, fish and lean meats like turkey.
Coffee, tea, soda, chocolates and energy drinks contain caffeine. Too much caffeine in your diet can cause headaches and make you feel anxious. Help reduce your stress levels and feel better during the holidays by avoiding caffeinated drinks. Replace sugary, caffeinated sodas with water. Limit coffee to two cups per day and avoid drinking coffee in the evening.
You may not be able to avoid all the stress of the holidays, but you can alleviate some of the effects of stress by eating a variety of healthy foods. Remember to get plenty of rest and exercise daily.
For more information and meal plans, see: WebMD, Nutritional Training to Beat Holiday Stress, by Jean Lawrence, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD. 2002.
For information about caffeine content in drinks, see: Mayo Clinic, Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Caffeine Content for Coffee, Tea, Soda and More. 2011