Whatever your goals are for the new year, you should know that true health requires a holistic approach. One that looks at all factors in your life that may be influencing your health, addressing the intimate connection between the body, the mind and the soul. While nutrition and exercise are the focal point for most people, there is one area that is often overlooked and in my opinion is the most powerful—stress management. Learning how to manage stress is the most beneficial thing you can do for your health. Why? Stress impacts all areas of your health.
Psychologist Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., President of the HeartMath, says, "Often women don't realize how chronic stress affects us. This kind of relentless tension causes cortisol levels to increase. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can cause excess oil production leading to skin breakouts, and increased cortisol has been linked to more weight around the belly area. It can also interrupt our ability to sleep well and can cause insomnia."
Below are a few key areas negatively affected by stress:
- Metabolism (your thyroid)
- Skin quality and elasticity
- Where you store body fat and how much you store
- Performance and recovery when exercising
- Energy levels
- Immune system
- Mental/Emotional health
It is important to note that while stress comes in many forms, your body treats all stress the same. A stressful thought triggers the same biochemical response as when you are getting chased by a lion. It is impossible to reduce all stress and that is not the goal, instead, try the following:
ONE | CONTROLLABLE VS. UNCONTROLLABLE STRESS
Stress Manage the stress you can control so that the stress you can't control is not as damaging. Modern life is stressful, on many levels, but we do in fact have control over much of this stress. Controllable stressors include the quality of the food you eat and the amount of exercise you get. Uncontrollable stressors might include where you live, the weather, having to work and make money. Be cautious not to let controllable stressors impact your health. For example, over-training and under-eating is a major stressor.
TWO | YOUR BIGGEST STRESSOR
While there are a variety stressors in life, there is usually one that is the biggest and is usually playing over and over in your head like a commercial. Do something to address this stressor, whether it be a person, a job, money, where you live, a health problem, the way you look, etc. While you may not be able to eliminate it completely, chances are you can take some steps to make it less consuming.
THREE | PICK YOUR ACTIVITY
It is critical that you begin incorporating some stress management activity each day. The best activity is the activity that works best for you. We are all different. Some people will enjoy meditation, others will enjoy movement based practices like Tai chi or yoga, others will want to do something more creative like painting or drawing, others will enjoy just sitting in the park and daydreaming, others will enjoy computer/app based stress reduction programs. Find what works best for you and begin incorporating this activity on a regular basis—ideally 15 minutes a day. It is important to note that the effects are cumulative, so once you start, it is a good idea to stick with it as you will see more and more of an impact. Consider starting with a 30-day challenge for yourself. You might even want to put this slot on your calendar like a meeting. Below is a full list of activities to consider.
ACTIVITIES TO CHOOSE FROM
- Drawing, coloring, painting
- Playing an instrument
- Learning a new language
- Taichi and Qiqong
- Walking / Hiking
- Time in Nature
- Sitting in the park
- Sauna and massage
- Deep breathing
- Light yoga
- Jigsaw Puzzles