How to Manage Stress

form-1352382-unsplash

Hello again Blush Nutrition family! Jessica Sharp here, brain expert and the Founder of Sharp Brain Consulting. 

In my last blog post (which can be found here), I talked about the different kinds of stress and what it does to your brain and bodies. Now that I have explained the negative implications of stress, I am going to give you some coping mechanisms to help you manage stress.  

Before I do that, though, I think it is important to say a few things: y’all already know this, but stress is a completely normal part of life. Quite frankly, we need a little bit of stress in our lives. That acute stress that I mentioned before can often be classified as ‘normal’ stress. Chronic stress is the type of stress that you should be concerned about – things like a stressful job, prolonged financial issues, a sense of having to juggle multiple competing priorities. All these stressors are examples of not only long term problems but challenges that do not have easy solutions.

Coping Skills

Deep breathing and meditation. Meditation and deep breathing increases the oxygen in your brain and can literally calm you down. Meditation creates a reaction that is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response that stress induces. According to WebMD, “training our bodies on a daily basis to achieve this state of relaxation can lead to enhanced mood, lower blood pressure, improved digestion, and a reduction of everyday stress.” There are a variety of apps that you can use to introduce meditation into your life- Simple Habit is my favorite and lots of people like Calm. I would encourage meditation on a regular basis so that it can really help when you need it. Research has said that meditating consistently for 8 weeks can literally change your brain – it can decrease the size of your amygdala where that “fight or flight” response comes from. And protip, start off with a 5 minute guided meditation once a day for a few weeks. It is something that shouldn’t be too hard to infuse into your life and will allow you to get ‘better’ at meditating (because when you start, it may be hard to quiet your brain).

Stress awareness month quotes (4)

Progressive muscle relaxation. My therapist introduced me to progressive muscle relaxation. With this exercise, you tense up muscle groups then release them one at a time. WebMD says you can’t be anxious (or stressed) when your body is relaxed. They dedicate a whole page to progressive muscle relaxation and let you know how to do it. Again, regular practice makes it easier it implement when you need it.

Decrease stressor. I recognize that we can’t always eliminate the things that cause us stress in our lives, but when you can, you should.

Gratitude. I have always had a love/apathetic relationship with gratitude. I wanted to embrace the idea of practicing gratitude but didn’t necessarily know if it would be beneficial or helpful. Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons would say I am wrong. He says that practicing gratitude can have multiple positive impacts us in a variety of ways including:

  • Physical: Stronger immune systems, Lower blood pressure, Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
  • Psychological: Higher levels of positive emotions, More alert, alive, and awake, More joy and pleasure, More optimism and happiness

In that same article linked above, Emmons says that gratitude allows us to celebrate the present, blocks toxic/negative emotions, helps us to be more stress-resistant (gratitude allows us to recover more quickly), and helps us to have a higher sense of self-worth.

There are several ways to practice gratitude: you can keep a gratitude journal and write down things that you are grateful for (and there is something about handwriting things), thinking about things you are grateful for during the day (maybe it is in the morning, at night, or before a meal), or using an app (I use the uplifter app).

Self-care routine. It goes without saying that a self-care routine can help decrease stress in the moment and in the long term. I will say, self-care is talked about a lot, especially among millennials. I still believe in self-care, though. What I think is important about the practice of self-care is that it is unique to YOU, self-care should be something that works for you. My self-care routine includes regular massages, weekend naps, and going to local theatres. Make a list of a few things that energize you and give you joy. Try to incorporate them into your life as much as you can.

Stress awareness month quotes (3)

Therapy. If you are really struggling to handle the chronic stress in your life, I would recommend spending some time with a therapist, someone who is trained to help provide assistance to people. If you are interested in seeing a therapist, there are a few things I would recommend – first, if you have insurance, see how much your co-pay is. From there, I always tell people to go to Psychology Today’s website where they have a therapist hub; you can filter for therapists who take your insurance and find out more about them. And I always do a short call with a therapist before I make a decision (most of them offer this for free).

Sleep. I have always been a huge proponent of sleep, primarily because I am cranky and less productive when I have less of it. But after reading Thrive by Ariana Huffington, I really began to think more about the benefits of sleep and why it should be something I focus on.

According to Dr. Merril Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist, when you’re tired, you can’t function at your best.

“Loss of sleep impairs your higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to details.” So, simply put, tired people are less productive at work. Sleep also affects other parts of your body. Your brain and body are working while you sleep. Your sleep affects “growth, stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health.”

PS – a bit about women and stress… For lots of reasons, women generally handle stress in a different way than men. Women tend to be more relational in how they manage stress and are more prone to reach out to a friend or loved one to help cope with stress. The Huffington Post has a great article about women and stress. With that said, if you are a woman, it may be a great idea to include reaching out to someone as a part of your stress management technique.

PSS – I hosted a webinar about chronic stress and the brain with Bossed Up. If you have 45 minutes, you should check it out!

Thank you for reading my blog series on stress and your health – and feel free to engage with me on social media! Follow me on Instagram at @sharpbrainconsulting

 

Millenials: Prevent Alzheimer’s Now

jess-watters-503363-unsplash

Did you know that Alzheimer’s can start developing as early as your 30s?  Women make up about 66% of those affected by the disease, and as a Registered Dietitian focused on prevention the Today Show segment this morning really caught my attention.

You can watch the full video here, and below is a summary of how to make healthy lifestyle changes NOW to ensure your brain is healthy in the future:

1 – Exercise regularly

Experts recommend exercising at high intensity for at least three hours a week to prevent Alzheimer’s, with two hours being from cardio and one hour from strength training. Ok great, but what does that look like? It could mean three Orange Theory Fitness workouts per week, or running for 30 minutes followed by 15 minutes of body weight strength trianing four times per week. Whichever work out you choose, I always recommend to my clients that they schedule it in advance! Book an appointment with yourself (or sign up for classes ahead of time) and if you need to move it that’s totally fine, just be sure to reschedule that time with yourself on your calendar to get in your three hours.

2 – Get at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night

I often set goals with my clients to use the bed time function on their iPhone clock app to ensure that they get enough sleep every night. Simply put in the time you need to wake up, and work backwards at least 7.5 hours to see what time you need to go to bed. Your phone will remind you 15 minutes before, indicating that it’s time to start getting ready to go to sleep! While that does include brushing your teeth and starting your anti-aging night time regime (yes, I’m 30 now so this is a daily thing for me), but it also means turning off/silencing all electronics to avoid bright lights from screens, and also dimming the lights in the bedroom to boost melatonin.

3 – Eat a diet high in antioxidant foods

This means focusing on vegetables, fruits and whole foods at every meal. I encourage all of my clients to make half of their plate non-starchy vegetables, and to choose carbohydrates that are whole food such as fruits, sweet potatoes, beans or legumes. All Blush Nutrition meal plans are naturally high in antioxidants and good fats because they focus on eating whole non-processed foods throughout the day.

4 – Know your numbers

It might seem silly to start checking your blood sugars, cholesterol and blood pressure in your 20s and 30s, however I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your numbers. With a background working as a Registered Dietitian in advanced testing for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, I have seen first hand how checking your labs, and checking them early, can affect the outcomes for the rest of your life. Alzheimer’s has been called “type 3 diabetes” for a reason and there are things that you can do now to prevent health troubles down the line! If you don’t have a primary care physician and are in Greenville, SC I highly recommend one of my partners The Brio Internal Medicine as they are also focused on prevention.

Want to know more about disease prevention, brain health and how your diet can help? Message me!