I always have visions of summer being more relaxed and carefree than the rest of the year – backyard barbecues with friends, evening walks, time spent at the pool or lake, fun activities with family, and a slower pace. In reality it’s a daily juggling act of shuttling my daughter to and from camps or play dates, a chaotic calendar of activities, a crazy travel schedule for work, and far less structure. It can be really stressful! To make matters worse, we may cope with demands by turning to things that are bad for us - French fries, sweets, alcohol, cigarettes, working longer hours, or skipping workouts - adding several more layers of stress!
For many of us, fall is an opportunity for a bit more regularity – the kids are back in school, we can get back to our workout schedules, and the social calendars die down just a bit.
As an exercise physiologist I like to give people stress resiliency strategies that actually change your physiology and internal chemistry. Here are a few tips you can incorporate into your lifestyle right away that will minimize physical stress, keep you more resilient and energized, and even improve your health!
STRESS RESILIENCY TIPS:
1. Perform short bursts of physical activity during the day. Thirty to sixty seconds of intense physical activity burns off stress hormones and releases the feel good hormones also known as “the bliss molecules”. It also boosts metabolism, energy, and focus. Sprint up a flight of stairs, do a few Hit the Deck™ cards, or squeeze in some push-ups, sit-ups and squats.
2. Eat small meals frequently throughout the day. Going too long without eating places stress on the body as does over eating. By spreading your food intake throughout the day you’re providing energy to the body as it needs it, keeps it functioning optimally and minimizes nutritional stress. Eat a small meal or snack about every 3-4 hours throughout the course of the day.
3. Eat snacks that are low glycemic. A low glycemic food is broken down into glucose and released into the blood stream more slowly instead of spiking blood sugar levels. Foods that contain more fat, fiber, and/or protein are lower glycemic. A few examples include nuts, yogurt, hummus, nut butters, eggs, and apples.
4. Minimize caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. All three of these things stimulate the body’s stress response. Although it’s easy to turn to these in times of stress, keep them to a minimum.
5. Get a good night’s sleep. Stress can lead to poor sleep, and not getting enough sleep is a stress on the body – it can be a horrific negative feedback loop. Have a sleep routine you follow each night that relaxes you and prepares you for sleep – no checking email before bed! Keep in mind, people who exercise regularly fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. Regular exercise helps you deal with stress both psychologically as well as physically. Cease caffeine intake by 2:00 PM, noon if you are more sensitive. Take a warm shower or bath before bed -the subsequent drop in body temperature helps you fall asleep. Keep your bedroom cooler than the rest of the house.