Dr. Doni Wilson tells how to make changes to your daily routine gradually, so you don’t make stress-related issues even worse.
We live stressful lives and, as regular readers of this blog will know, it is stress that lies at the heart of most chronic health problems. As such, my personal philosophy of wellness is that by addressing stress we improve our overall health. For many people though, the thought of addressing the stresses in their lives can in itself make them feel more stressed. When you already have an extremely busy schedule, with little time for yourself, and you already feel under the weather and that life is getting on top of you, it can be difficult to even think of doing the things that could reduce your stress such as:
- Taking vitamins – which give your body the nutrients it needs to process and recover from stress.
- Exercising – which is known to bring cortisol levels back to optimal and reduce feelings of stress (the only exception to this is extreme exercise which increases cortisol levels).
- Meditation – even brief sessions of mindfulness are known to reset the stress response and help you become more resilient to stress.
- Choosing different foods to eat – highly processed foods create stress for your body whereas real, whole foods don’t.
Dealing with Stress – Common Challenges
From listening to my patients, I have learned there are three main reasons why they find it challenging to integrate stress reduction into their lives. Which one sounds like you?
- Making the choice to prioritize yourself
Taking care of yourself, putting yourself first can sometimes feel selfish – especially if you aren’t used to prioritizing your own needs. And yet, if you don’t take care of you, you won’t feel well enough to be there for others. If you struggle with this, it can help to think through what is important to you and about your health goals – you may want to refer to my suggestions on how to set health goals. Aim to align the activities you do and the choices you make on a daily basis so they are consistent with achieving your vision for yourself. One possibility is to include, “Feeling good so I am more able to enjoy my loved ones” as one of your goals.
- Feeling too stressed to add anything new
The paradox is that it is when we are most stressed that we need the most support to help us recover from stress. Yet that is when we find it most difficult to change things to make them better. So instead of being hard on yourself or giving up, I suggest you try quick and simple techniques that you can integrate even while stressed. I’ll talk more about them below.
- Getting motivated to make grand changes, but then falling off the wagon again and again
We don’t want to throw every possible lifestyle change into your daily routine all at once, because that is likely to be so overwhelming you’re less likely to stick to them – and that will prevent you making real progress. Finding ways to give yourself stress relief amidst your usual daily activities, and in some cases making just one small change at a time, is the secret to feeling better gradually over time.
How to De-Stress, Even When You’re Busy
Practitioners, including naturopathic doctors, can find it challenging to help you to deal with your stress. Often this is because they too are stressed and have several tasks on their to-do list for your case, these tasks may include research, ordering tests, and writing up recommendations. So to help you both out, here are a few of my favorite ways to de-stress even with a busy schedule (I call them stress remedies) – you could choose one to try out this week and see how it goes. If it goes well, choose another one to add next week:
- Take a Break
Take a short break every hour (even if it’s just 1 minute) and a longer one every 4 hours or so. Research shows that we are actually more productive when we take breaks because it gives our bodies a chance to rebalance. Use your breaks as a chance to enjoy nature, take some deep breaths, and/or get a low carb, higher protein and fat snack such as organic nuts and seeds, or a protein bar or shake.
- Get Up and Moving
As soon as you finish work (and whenever you take a break) get some exercise. Exercise is known to help your body recover from stress. I like to go to the gym a couple times each week, but you could also exercise in your office or at home – using videos and apps if you like, you could exercise outdoors by going for a run or for a hike, or you could take a class, like Pilates or yoga.
- Sleep the Night Away
Aim to get into bed early enough to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep before you have to get up in the morning. Sleep is when your brain heals – without it we become forgetful and irritable. If you need more help with sleep, you may want to sign up to receive my free guide to better sleep and to be notified when my book on a natural approach to insomnia is published.
- Eat Just the Right Amount of Nutrition-Filled Foods
As I said above, the foods we choose to eat have an effect on your stress levels. Rather than processed or packaged food, choose nutrition-filled whole foods like vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds – and choose organic whenever you can. But don’t eat too much at one time.
Keep in mind that whatever you eat at one sitting has to be digested right then – and if you eat too much, you are likely to experience digestive upset such as reflux, bloating, and gas. The exact ‘right amount’ varies from person to person so there will be some trial and error to find what works best for you. The aim is to feel “not hungry” and remember, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to know that you ate so don’t keep eating until you feel full. Instead, start with a small serving (say the amount that would fit in a small bowl or plate) and then wait and see how you feel. If you feel too full, then eat less the next time. If you feel hungry again in an hour, then try eating a slightly larger portion next time.
- Eat to Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
All of us, not just those with diabetes, need to be thinking of our blood sugar levels because fluctuations in blood sugar is known to put stress on the body. To do that, try to decrease the amount of sugar and carbs you eat overall and space your meals regularly through the day. How often to eat varies from person to person – someone whose blood sugar levels tend to drop low may need to eat a small amount of food every 2 hours or so. Otherwise, I recommend eating about every 3 to 4 hours through the day, and don’t eat within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime.
Learn As You Go
As you try these stress remedies, notice how you feel so you can learn from your body’s experience. Here’s how I look at it. Every time things go “wrong,” I see it as an opportunity to learn so we can adjust for next time. Then, as you master these Stress Remedies, you’ll be more ready for the next steps your practitioner suggests.
So when you start to implement these changes, start out slowly and carefully, and note how you do. By focusing on one new area at a time, it allows you to put your whole focus on your initial health concern – in this case, stress – and, in this way you’ll be preventing yourself from feeling stressed by your stress recovery.
For more help with de-stressing without stressing more, I have a few resources for you:
- FREE Guide to Adrenal Recovery
This 35 page e-book guides you to identify how stress is affecting your health and provides an explanation of ways you can start to recover from stress. You can get this guide for free when you sign up to receive my e-newsletter, Weekly Wellness Wisdom.
- 99-cent Stress Remedies e-Book
Available at Amazon and on Kindle, this 38-page book goes into more detail about how stress affects your health and what you can do about it. Download it here.
- Stress Remedy 7 and 21 day programs
I designed these programs to include daily email tips, a meal plan and products to help you integrate Stress Remedies into your life without stressing out more. Learn more here.
Notes for Practitioners:
Try discussing these initial stress remedies with patients during their first appointment or provide them in written form so they can read them and begin to apply them before their next appointment. Having these basics in place will help your patients integrate any next steps you recommend more easily.
Be a role model for your patients by implementing stress remedies for yourself and sharing what you learn with them. Patients will be very inspired to do what you do.
Discuss your overall plan with your patients so they can see the big picture without feeling they have to do everything at once.
To stay in touch and find out about a course I’m developing specifically for practitioners that will support you to implement this approach in your practice, click here.
1st August 2016