Among the top five national health conditions contributing to poor health, depression, anxiety and mood disorders, as a group, are ranked number one in almost every county of every state in the U.S. Oftentimes, these chronic conditions are made worse by stress, a human response to both positive and negative change, which can manifest cognitively and physiologically. A key to managing everyday stress is setting realistic, manageable goals.
1. Healthy diet: Believe it or not, there are foods that have been shown to lower stress by decreasing blood pressure and boosting mood. Examples include:
• Crisp vegetables
(celery, carrots, peppers, etc.)
• Dark chocolate
• Nuts and seeds
• Sweet potatoes
2. Good sleep: Proper rest allows the body and mind to recharge, which both help in the fight against stress. Americans today get 40 percent less sleep than the body needs to function at its best. The benefits of adequate rest include: muscle repair, improved memory and heightened focus.
3. Regular, moderate exercise: The body and mind work hand-in-hand, so it may come as no surprise that physical activity is beneficial in managing stress. The release of endorphins works to boost energy, endorse positive thinking and improve overall cognitive function.
4. Positive psychology: To challenge everyday stressors, work on spreading positivity in your own life. Consider trying the following exercises created by psychologist and best-selling author Shawn Achor over a three-week period to improve levels of stress:
• Three gratitudes: Write down three new things you are grateful for each day.
• The doubler: Spend five minutes journaling about a meaningful experience from the past 24 hours.
• Conscious act of kindness: Dedicate two minutes to write an e-mail or thank a person in your social support network.
5. Cognitive restructuring: Training the brain to practice positive thinking can be difficult, especially in situations of stress. However, being cognizant of unrealistically negative thoughts and actively replacing them with more realistic and positive thoughts can modify the habit over time.
6. Self-observation: Being aware of behavior allows for a heightened sense of action/reaction, which can change one’s natural response to stress. For example, knowing that poor time management leads to headaches or lack in motivation. Noting this consequence can lead to healthier methods of coping with the same kinds of stress moving forward.
7. Time management: Managing commitments, avoiding procrastination and categorizing tasks effectively reduces stress. Try the following tactics:
• Time log: For a week or two, record how much time is spent on each activity on a daily basis. Then, list how much time you would like to spend on each type of activity.
• Prioritize: Categorize a to-do list and set quantifiable goals to achieve each task in an order that makes sense. Set realistic deadlines and get started.
8. Problem solving: In situations of stress, seek to identify and fully understand the problem in order to effectively brainstorm alternative solutions. Failing to stay calm under pressure can hinder critical thinking skills while also increasing levels of emotional stress.
9. Relaxation training: Taking time to relax can restore emotional well-being, boost critical thinking and reduce the production of stress hormones. Simple methods include:
• Deep breathing
• Progressive muscle relaxation
• Guided imagery
10. Seek help when necessary: It’s important to identify when stress is beyond one’s control and professional help is necessary. Severe, long-lasting symptoms of stress can lead to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and depression or anxiety.
-Dr. Duane J. DiFranco is a senior medical director at Blue Care Network. For more health and stress management tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.