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Four Keys to Building Stress Hardiness and Resilience

July 11, 2018

By Linda Smith, PA, MS

Chronic stress underlies more than 50% of physician visits and is a factor in most, if not all, chronic diseases. It’s a part of our every day lives. So what do we do about it?

Key Number One:  Get Up and Move!

One of the most researched and effective stress reduction strategies is movement and exercise.

Here is why.  When we exercise, we are stressing the body.  Our heart rate speeds up, our blood pressure rises and our breathing becomes more rapid.

When that happens, we release chemicals called endorphins and also a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

These factors together minimize the feeling of pain, protect and repair the memory function of the brain, and increase the feeling of well-being and happiness.  They act to “reset” the mind and the body.

In fact, people who exercise just 20 minutes at the beginning of the day do better on memory tests later that day and report more productivity and a happier mood than those who had been sedentary.

How much exercise do you need?

Just 20 minutes of moderate exercise in the morning will have lasting effects throughout the day.

Let’s get moving!

Key Number Two:  Get Enough Sleep

How much sleep each of us needs is variable and often changes with age and with both physical and emotional challenges.

Some researchers estimate that up to 75% of adults in the US are chronically sleep deprived.

Most adults need around 8 hours of sleep each night.  Without it, our mood is affected as well as our productivity and our ability to think clearly and creativity.

If getting enough sleep at night is a problem for you, consider a nap.  Research studies have shown that a 10-20 minute power nap in the afternoon can restore alertness, focus and problem solving ability.

Consider sleep an essential, not optional part of your day in order to feel and perform at your best.

Key Number Three:  Eat a Mood Boosting Diet

Sugary and carbohydrate dense foods like doughnuts and candy, pasta and bagels may boost our mood momentarily as sugar floods our system.

Soon, though, that blood sugar drops as insulin regulates the amount of sugar in the blood and carries sugar to the cells.  When that happens, many people experience a crash in energy, even greater fatigue, loss of focus and diminished performance and mood.

This can be a vicious cycle of trying to boost energy with caffeine and sugar with rising stress hormones and diminishing returns resulting in increasing fatigue.

There is increasing evidence that when we eat an anti-inflammatory diet, our system is more stress resilient and better able to handle both physical and emotional challenges.

Foods with omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and canned tuna, as well as foods like colorful vegetables and fruits, eggs, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate can have an anti-inflammatory and calming effect on our system.

Making sure that we have healthy proteins and fats to sustain energy throughout the day in addition to complex carbohydrates can make the difference between energy and fatigue, and between creativity and mental dullness.

Eat a colorful mix of delicious and healthy food to increase your mood and balance your day.

Key Number Four-Develop Tools to Reverse the Stress Response in the Moment

Let’s face it, stressful situations arise many times throughout our day.  From being stuck in traffic, late for an appointment, facing medical concerns and challenging communications, stress is a part of our everyday reality.

How we face the stress in our lives is the difference between momentary, acute stress that actually improves our resiliency or chronic stress that depletes us.

The stress response is automatic.

The relaxation response is not automatic and has to be consciously induced.

So how do we do it?

One of the most effective ways is taking three deep breaths.  Three deep breaths can be used to reverse the stress cascade in any situation-in a meeting, in the middle of a conflict, in the Dr’s office.

Simply slow the breath down.  Instead of continuing to escalate the stress response, taking three long, slow deep breaths in and out will reverse the stress cascade physiologically and will automatically induce the relaxation response.

You don’t have to be the victim of your circumstances.  Take control with three deep breaths and bring your mood back to calm and balance!

Interested in helping people make lasting behavior change that can help them alleviate stress and  increase resilience?

Integrative Health Coaching empowers clients to make lasting behavior changes that are the foundation for a lifetime of health and well-being. Health is impacted by multiple interconnected dimensions. These dimensions include the choices one makes that affect their physical, mental, spiritual well-being and the medical care approaches utilized for their health. An Integrative Health Coach helps support their clients in discovering ways to successfully implement healthy lifestyle behaviors across these various health dimensions into their unique lives. Duke Integrative Medicine offers two courses to train you as an Integrative Health Coach.  All participants start with our Foundation Course, focusing on the core competencies of Integrative Health Coaching. Following the Foundation Course, participants who desire advanced training may register for our Certification Course.


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