It's February, the official month of love!
You do your best to eat healthy, stay active, and get proper rest. But, have you thought about stress? When you're stressed you're more vulnerable to indulge in less healthy habits, and those habits may have less than healthy effects on your heart.
For example, working more and sleeping less, feeling fatigued and exercising less, and reaching for high fat, sugary, comfort foods. This is not likely to help your stress levels. So, maybe the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones this Valentine's Day is making small, simple changes to reducing stress.
Stress was plaguing my life at an early age and continued through adulthood. When I realized stress was one of the major culprits contributing to my illness, I was determined to change that and I did. Here are my four musts for reducing and managing stress. Warning...they work!
Meditation- I practice daily meditation and it's been life changing! When I step away from my practice, I immediately notice the anxiety creeping back and I'm more reactive. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. Anyone can practice and you can start small, just 2-5 minutes a day. Once you've mastered 2-5 minutes, increase by a minute daily, with a goal of 20 minutes a day. That's where you will begin to experience all the health benefits. Don't overthink it, just set a timer, sit upright in a chair, take a slow deep breath in through the nose, exhale fully through the mouth. Continue to breathe as you normally would, be still and present, become aware of your breath, notice when you want to move, and practice staying still. When the mind wanders, which it will, simply come back to your breath. That's it. Practice daily!
Exercise- Let's identify exercise for those that believe if you don't belong to a gym it doesn't count. With two torn shoulders and a bad knee, I'm not doing the things I used to, but I move my body and honor what it allows. This is not a competition with anyone, so whether it's CrossFit, cycling, pilates, swimming, yoga, etc., do what works for you. This is simply about moving your body and movement can be anything. Walking, cleaning, dancing, climbing the stairs, it all counts!
Exercise and other physical activity releases endorphins, those feel good chemicals in the brain, and also improves the ability to sleep, which helps reduce stress. Commit to move at least 30 minutes a day.
Play- Get in touch with your inner child. What did you love to do when you were a 10-year old kid? I was a ballet dancer, playing guitar, and writing music and poetry. I feel like my soul is dying when I'm not expressing myself. So, what is it for you? Has life gotten in the way of your playtime? I encourage you to release your inner child and make time for play. Not sure where to start? Explore a new activity, art or cooking class, take up a musical instrument or new language. Get creative and see how it shifts your outlook on life and yes, decreases stress!
More playtime please!
Healthy Eating- What's on your plate? Incorporating the right foods is essential for managing stress. Focus on quality carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains to boost serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Indulge in a piece of dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or higher) which is loaded with antioxidants, and researchers found help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Enjoy avocados packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish like wild salmon, which are anti-inflammatory and associated with improved mood, and nuts like almonds, pistachios, and walnuts with healthy fatty acids and B vitamins, which can help lower blood pressure. Just a small handful is enough. Remember, food is medicine!
Now that you're armed with healthy, stress reducing tips, which ones will you incorporate into your life if not already doing so? How will you add one small change to get started this week? As always, I'd love to hear from you!
To your health & happiness,