Posts for tag: stress
Yes, the happy holidays are upon us, and as discussed last newsletter, the glorious days of indulgence can lead to weight gain if not managed properly. But the holidays are dangerous to your health and wellness for another reason: stress. Whether it's the end-of-year deadlines at work, the mad rush to get your holiday shopping done (and the financial burden therein), the hectic one-party-after-another schedule or endless other factors, the holidays can increase your stress levels exponentially. Here's how to de-stress the holidays and allow you to enjoy the end of the year (and the beginning of the new one) without blowing a gasket.
Put it on the calendar:
As your days become busier and busier, the potential for stress overload increases. How can you manage all your errands and responsibilities? The same way you've (hopefully) done it throughout the year: by putting it on a calendar. The only way to survive the hectic holidays is to make not only a calendar of the entire holiday season and pencil in all important dates and deadlines, but also to create a daily To Do List – and make sure all your "to-do's" get done in an orderly fashion. You'll be amazed how great you feel when you've organized your hectic day onto a single sheet and then cross off one task after the next as you complete them.
Stress reduction goes way beyond the physical; it becomes an exercise in mental relaxation. This holiday season, continually remind yourself to "go to your happy place" whenever you're faced with a stressful situation. Drowning in a sea of mall shoppers? Find a bench and take a 5-minute break – or go outside and walk for a few minutes, breathing the fresh, crisp air. Can't take another critical conversation with your in-laws? Switch the conversation to something you know will elicit a positive reaction / interaction. Find your happy place amid the chaos and help keep your stress levels low.
Schedule some free time:
Back to that calendar / To Do List for a moment. If you're going to take control of holiday stress, you've got to schedule some free time for yourself while you're scheduling everything else. You can tell yourself you're going to do it, but if you don't put it on the calendar, you'll likely end up skipping it – and suffering the stress consequences. So schedule an end-of-day bath, a 20-minute midday walk or an early-morning read of whatever book you're working through – or schedule all three! After all, during the holiday season, there's plenty of stress potential in the air. Balance it with consistent, rewarding free time and give stress the boot.
Feed a little peace of mind:
Last issue, we talked about ways to avoid holiday weight gain with sensible eating / lifestyle habits. This advice works just as well when it comes to fighting stress. After all, if you can't fit into your holiday outfit, you're riddled with guilt because you've gained back all the weight you lost for the previous 11 months, and your stomach's in knots from that third piece of pie, it's hard to stop stress from overwhelming you. So while you're enjoying those holiday indulgences (sensibly and moderately), up your intake of stress-relieving foods such as avocado, salmon, green tea, oatmeal, blueberries, leafy green vegetables and a host of other healthy options.
Holiday stress can ruin what should be an amazing time of year for you, your family and loved ones. Make the holidays memorable by taking control of stress – before it takes control of you. Ask your doctor about these and other stress reducing strategies to help brighten your day.
Stress is a part of life, and so is back pain. Ironically, stress is a leading cause of episodic back pain. Your body experiences a cascade of physiological responses during chronic stress setting the stage for injury. The human body is genetically programmed to respond to stressful situations by stimulation in a survival part of your brain known as the limbic system. Otherwise known as the reptilian or primal brain, it is responsible for the emotional "flight or fight" (run or stand and fight) response to negative stimuli. Your brain response functions the same in stressful situations regardless of the source and extent of the threatening stimuli. The limbic brain does not recognize differences between types and degrees of stress. It simply reacts. Your body releases hormones (chemical messengers) which cause a physical reaction to stress; shortness of breath, sweating, increased heart rate, muscle tension, tightness or stiffness in joints, etc., in preparation for survival reaction. So whether you are about to be chased by a rabid dog, cut off in traffic, or had a tough day at work the same response occurs. The same negative physical impact also occurs on the body. There are several different types of stress and learning how to control them can make all the difference. You have physical stress (lack of exercise, illness, sleep habits, etc), mental stress (how you deal emotionally with life) and chemical stress (nutritional and environmental).
Stress alters breathing patterns by causing you to breathe more from the chest/lungs than the diaphragm. This altered pattern increases tension in the neck and upper back leading to poor posture, muscle tightness and headaches. The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that sits in the lower part of the ribcage underneath the lungs. Optimal breathing patterns should occur from the diaphragm first, followed by the lungs. Most often people have dysfunctional patterns where this sequence is reversed. Breathing is the foundation for relaxation. Learn to control your breathing and you will have discovered a secret weapon of relaxation and stress reduction. To check your breathing pattern lie on your back with knees bent. Close your eyes and place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose. The lower hand should move first and the upper hand second. If the upper hand moves first you have an altered breathing pattern. Luckily it is fairly easy to learn how to breathe again properly. In our quick tip help guide below you will learn how to restore normal breathing patterns.
Stress increases tension in the body 24/7. It is like flipping the light switch on for self- protection, muscle tension and tightness. Think about how stiff and tight you feel when walking across ice. Your body tenses up in anticipation of falling and is trying to protect you from injury. Imagine how your muscles would feel if you were in this constant state of tension for weeks at a time. It would not feel good! That is what chronic stress is doing. Stress increases production of specific hormones known as cortisol and adrenaline located in the adrenal glands. These are two small glands that rest on top of the kidneys, one on either side. Cortisol is nicknamed the "stress hormone" and it can cause many negative reactions in the body if it is unbalanced. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline will cause increased inflammation in the body. In essence, your own body begins to turn on itself.
So what are some simple and effective tips you can start doing today to help alleviate stress? Below are suggestions for helping physical, mental and environmental stress in your life.
Nutrition: Eat healthy and eat often to control blood sugar levels. When you wait long periods between meals, you have a spike of a hormone known as insulin. This hormone controls how fast sugar enters your bloodstream after eating. Big surges in insulin occur when you wait too long between meals which may increase stress on your body chemistry. You can get cravings and mood swings. Eating only three meals a day is insufficient in keeping this delicate balance of hormones in check. It is recommended to eat three meals a day, mixed in with 2-3 healthy snacks. You will notice a renewed sense of energy and vitality with regular feedings.
Mental: Take some "me" time every morning before you start the day. Use this time to reflect on yesterday and plan out today's events. With the craziness of non-stop information overload in today's society it's more important than ever to take quiet moments. Set your alarm 15-minutes early and wake up to silence. Do not turn on the television or open the newspaper. You may find that problems which have plagued you suddenly become more manageable and put into perspective. When was the last time you sat in a room without white noise all around? Try it and see what happens.
Physical: Learning how to breathe with your diaphragm takes some practice, but in time it will become second nature. Practice the following technique on a daily basis for 3-5minutes. Lie on your back, putting a pillow support under your knees to relax your lower back. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Slowly inhale through your nose and make sure the only hand to move is the one on your abdomen. Try to keep the hand on your chest as still as possible. Exhale through pursed lips and repeat. You may become temporarily lightheaded after your first few, but this is a normal response to the increase in oxygen uptake by the body. Do this before bed time and you will have a more restful sleep leading increased recovery and regeneration.
You do have power over your body. Simple changes in your life to help reduce stress can have a profound impact on your health. Take back control of your life from pain. Empower yourself to feel good again mentally and physically. Start with the simple strategies above and when you feel the positive difference you will want more for yourself.
To decrease the stress in your life, talk to your chiropractor about your concerns.
Perry Nickelston, DC, is clinical director of the Pain Laser Center in Ramsey, N.J., where he focuses on performance enhancement, corrective exercise and metabolic fitness nutrition To learn more about Dr. Nickelston, visitwww.painlasercenter.com/Our_Practice.html.
By Brian Jensen, DC
Sit up straight! Stop slouching! Don't stare at the floor when you walk! These are the classic phrases children hear from their well-intentioned parents regarding posture. As children, we learn early on that posture is important, but generally never fully understand its role in our health, what causes poor posture or how to positively influence it. Let's start with a simple definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines posture as "the position or bearing of the body whether characteristic or assumed for a special purpose." Want to know more? Read on...
Let's focus for just a moment on the characteristic aspect of posture, the basic form we take while standing or walking. The human body is designed to stand with the eyes level with the horizontal plane of the Earth. Viewed from the front, the shoulders and hips are level and the spine is vertical. From the side view, the ear is over the shoulder, the shoulder is over the hip and the hip is over the knee, which is over the ankle.
Think of it like the foundation of a house. The foundation can settle, creating structural stress that can crack the plaster on the walls or ceiling. The same is true for our bodies. Unequal support in the foundation of our body, our feet,can create stress in our structure that can show up as poor posture. This poor posture can lead to tight muscles, stiffness and ultimately contribute to joint degeneration in the knees, hips and spine. Basically, small imbalances over time can lead to big problems for our bodies.
Common Postural Problems
The most common signs of postural stress are one ear being higher than the other and unlevel shoulders or hips. You can also detect postural stress from the side if the ear looks as if it has moved forward of the tip of the shoulder or if the hips appear to have moved forward.
The first thing to do is find out where your postural stress is coming from. Certain jobs require you to sit, stand, twist or bend in repeating patterns, which can create postural stress. If you sit at a computer for long periods of time, that can have a tendency to create a forward head positioning, causing stress in the neck and upper back. Bending and twisting motions can cause an overdevelopment of muscles on one side of the body compared to the other side, which can also be a source of postural stress.
The foundation of posture is actually the feet. It is very common for there to be slight differences in the arches of the feet, which create a slight imbalance. This imbalance can cause a chain reaction all the way up the spine, affecting postural balance. One sign of foot imbalances is when one foot flares out more than the other. Both feet should point forward with only the slightest outward flare when you walk.
Flat feet, a condition also known as excessive pronation, can produce slight twisting movements in the knees and hips, causing one hip to be higher than the other. This is usually more pronounced on one side and is not typically painful, but it explains why one knee or hip can develop soreness or stiffness more than the other one.
A Few Things You Can Do
Get checked - If your posture is breaking down as a result of improper foot balance, it is important to have your feet examined to determine if a custom-made, flexible shoe orthotic will be beneficial. Orthotics create a solid foundation for your pelvis and spine by limiting excessive motion in the feet. Having a stable foundation helps to improve your posture. Your doctor can provide you with more information.
Improve flexibility - This is important because postural stress causes some muscles to work harder than others, creating tension and stiffness. Mirror image exercises are stretching and strengthening exercises designed to restore muscle balance by stretching in the direction away from the postural imbalance. If you are looking in a mirror and one shoulder is higher than the other, you will want to stretch and strengthen in the direction that makes the shoulders level. The same concept works for the lower back. (Note: For a list of easy stretching exercises to help keep the entire body flexible, read "You've Got to Be Flexible" in the January issue of TYH.)
Work with your chiropractor - Be sure to work closely with your chiropractor in developing a plan of action, and then check your progress with a postural analysis. It is important to remember that the body works best when it is in balance, so that should be the goal of all of your stretching and strengthening exercises
Good posture does a whole lot more than just allow you to stand and walk tall. It's a full-body improvement that benefits you from head to toe.
- Joint mobility
- Injury prevention
- Improved balance
- Overall wellness
Consequences of Poor Posture:
- Muscle tension
- Degenerative arthritis
Brian Jensen, DC, is a graduate of the University of Nebraska and Palmer College of Chiropractic. He specializes in structural biomechanics and has been in practice for 17 years.
Manage Stress for Better Quality of Life
Feeling stressed out? You are hardly alone. According to the American Psychological Association, one-third of Americans feel that they are living with extreme stress, with money and work taking the biggest toll. Nearly half of Americans believe that stress is affecting their work and home life. While some stress is normal, extreme or ongoing stress can become debilitating, contributing to everything from lack of energy and upset stomach to heart disease and family breakups. The good news is that there areeffective ways to deal with all types of stress, from the everyday to the chronic.
Recognizing the different types of stress gives us a clue about how to respond to it. When we encounter something new or face pressure at work, we feel everyday, or acute, stress. Our bodies respond as if we are in danger; we breathe faster, our heart rate speeds up, we are on edge and ready to go into action. Everyday stress prepares us to perform and, in most cases, fades away as soon as the initial challenge, called a stressor, is behind us. But even stress that begins as a response to a problem can become a problem in itself, if it's too severe or happens too frequently. Episodic acute stress interferes with daily life; it lingers and recurs, contributing to headaches and sleeplessness as well as weakening our immune system. This can eventually lead to serious illness and affect job performance, relationships, and certainly quality of life. This stress may require some effort, or even treatment, to address.
If stress continues on an ongoing basis and becomes chronic, it can become debilitating or even deadly. It's often at the root of suicide, domestic violence, serious health problems, and mental breakdowns. A traumatic event, such as child abuse or any other frightening incident, can sometimes trigger chronic stress, even years after the actual incident. Post-traumatic stress disorder, all too common among combat veterans, is a type of chronic stress in which victims repeatedly relive the fear, anxiety, and anger of the initial trauma. PTSD has the potential to ruin lives, but it can be effectively treated, sometimes with the help of psychotherapy or medication.
One of the best ways to handle stress is to address it before it begins to snowball. First, consider the cause. Is it something that you can change? If not, accept that it is out of your hands. If the problem issomething you can change, take a positive step, no matter how small, toward making it better. For example, if you are always late for work, set your clock a half-hour earlier. Making healthy choices, such as a modest change in diet or an exercise program, can also help reduce stress. Also, be sure you are getting enough sleep -- most adults need 7-9 hours each night.
Relaxation techniques (including some that can be done anywhere) can also help reduce stress. Deep breathing is simple and effective. You could also try progressive muscle relaxation (slowly relaxing individual muscle groups while focusing on a peaceful scene), visualization (imagining yourself in a pleasant, peaceful setting), and meditation (quietly concentrating on a calming thought, word, or object).
It is important to recognize when stress is becoming episodic, chronic, or too big a problem to handle. If you find yourself unable to sleep, snapping at others in anger, getting physically ill, or spiraling into depression, do not wait -- reach out for help! Talk to family members or friends about what you are feeling. See your health-care provider, who can offer detailed information about diet, exercise, and relaxation, or refer you to a mental health center for counseling or other services. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help when you have a problem. In fact, getting help is a sign of strength and demonstrates that you are taking control of the situation and that you are working to make it better.