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Get the Stress Out!

These days there is plenty of stress to go around.  We are worried about the economy, our healthcare, and paying the mortgage.  The cost of higher education keeps rising and we wonder how we will ever get our kids into college.  Then there are environmental disasters:  the oil spill in the Gulf, flooding in Pakistan, the earthquake in Haiti.  Watching the news these days seems more like Shock Therapy than a summary of the day’s events.  So how is a person supposed to deal with it all?

Reducing stress in our lives is all about taking care of your body.  Stress is everywhere, but it affects our lives when we get overwhelmed, overworked, and lose sleep.

Eat Healthy, Nourishing Foods

Eat foods that are relaxing to the mind and body.  For example, calcium and magnesium are very soothing to the nervous system and they act as natural muscle relaxers.  People who are stressed tend to be deficient in magnesium.  Dark leafy greens and almonds are rich in magnesium and calcium.  They should be a part of your daily diet.

Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains are not only good sources of magnesium, they also boost serotonin levels in the brain.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that causes anxiety when levels drop too low.  Therefore carbohydrates tend to have a sedating effect on the body.  Add protein to a carbohydrate meal to help modulate blood sugar – spikes and drops in blood sugar can also cause stress and anxiety.  Avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as these substances rob your body of nutrition and disrupt the production of neurotransmitters.

Be careful about eating too many carbohydrates during times of stress.  Many people get in the habit of sedating themselves with carbohydrates.  This can lead to overeating, weight gain, and other health problems.  Always eat mindfully and stop eating when you are no longer hungry.

Stress also depletes the body of most B vitamins and vitamin C.  B12, found in liver, salmon and beef, is an essential co-factor in the production of serotonin.  It is also essential to the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.  B6 is also very calming and found in cereals, potatoes, beans and bananas.  Citrus fruits, strawberries and bell peppers are rich in vitamin C.

Get your Heart Rate up!

Regular exercise increases the body’s production and release of endorphins.  Endorphins are natural chemicals in the body that act as opiates to relieve pain and create a sense of euphoria.  Studies have shown that regular exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress and depression.  Exercise also increases circulation to the brain as well as the rest of the body.  The blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the brain, tissues and organs, as well as removes waste products from these areas.  This supports brain function, helps eliminate “foggy” thinking, and makes your whole body feel good.

In addition to endorphins and increased circulation, studies show that physically fit people handle stress better and sleep better at night.  Less physically fit people tend to have more extreme responses to stress, are more likely to fall ill or burnout, and are unable to get adequate sleep.  Exercise also helps the body release stored energy which is often held in tensed muscles.  Stretching exercises, such as yoga, is a fantastic way to relax stressed muscles and overworked minds.

Have fun!

One of the most important things to reduce stress is to enjoy life!  Do you remember the things in life that bring you joy?  Go do them!  Play in the park with your kids.  Take your dog out for a run.  Soak up some sunshine.  Read a good book.  Play video games, if that’s what you enjoy.  Take time out to enjoy the things that make you happy, and do it on a regular basis.  Joy is the best stress reliever.

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