Stressed out?

To deal with stress, take time to relax

To deal with stress, take time to relax

January 24, 2006|by FEDORA COPLEY

Imagine this: You walk into a hotel room. As you open the door, you feel smooth, too-slick wood beneath your fingers. In front of you is a brown, scraggly rug. You smell cleaning chemicals in the air.

Is your anxiety rising?

"All your senses affect your stress level," says Kathleen Hall, founder of The Stress Institute and columnist for Pink magazine.

Hall's new book, "A Life In Balance, Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness," talks about stress in everyday lives, and how to balance stress positively.

"My book is a prescription on how to live a better life," says Hall. "The body is full of stress. There is pressure on the brain, pressure on the veins, keeping the arteries regulating, doing their job."

If you accept stress as a part of life, it becomes a whole lot less forboding. Now you just have to make stress a positive thing - to keep your life in balance.


We evolved to handle stress

Before interviewing Hall, I viewed stress as something negative, something you get headaches from after a long day. I thought of it as a mental thing, not a physical thing.

Hall made me think differently. She reminds me that humans evolved to survive among predators.

Say you were wearing mammoth skins and sporting a spear, what would get you stressed out? Probably some huge animal charging at you. If that were the case, your body would be smart to prepare itself for an attack.

"Stress and anxiety make the body produce more adrenaline. Your blood gets thicker, so if your arm got ripped off, it would clot right away," she says. "Stress is a physical thing. We call it mind-body connection."

Overstressed teens

Anyone with eyes can see a lot of teens are stressed out. Coinciding with that are higher rates of obesity. Hall sees a connection.

"Depression is widespread among teens. We think it's because 25 percent of Americans are obese and sedentary," she says. "This could be the first generation where kids have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, if levels of obesity keep rising."

If you're obese, you tend to feel bad about yourself. This starts breaking up your body's cycles, Hall says. Your immune system weakens.

According to Hall, test results show that people who eat breakfast are less stressed than people who skip it.

Hall says depression and stress are connected.

"Stress and anxiety get your body to produce cortisol. Every system is regulated by cortisol. When you're anxious, your body produces excess cortisol."

The brain gets tired, what with all this production, and arteries and veins get sluggish. They slow down. Production of T cells - which help cells' immune system - and immune cell production slow down. Your organs and veins get "melancholy," Hall says, and from there depressed.

Tend to your SELF

"Your senses will interpret what you're attracted to or repelled from," Hall says. "We go towards things or are repelled from things. This is a Darwinistic thing about survival."

According to Hall, your brain processes 100,000 chemicals per second. That's a lot of stress right there! Imagine that repeating over and over again all through the day. It's pretty mind-boggling.

"We look solid, but we're not," she says. "Our bodies are chemistry soup; they change every day for survival."

Our lives are busy, and often times we're under stress. Instead of changing your lifestyle, here are some tips Hall says will help brighten your mood and lower your stress:

Serenity - Try a three-minute meditation, focusing on a phrase such as "I am loved," "I am strong" or any mantra that makes you happy. If you like music, put on your favorite CD, or sing. Laughter is one of the best treatments.

Exercise - Walk around the house or around your neighborhood. This helps calm your body and produces endorphins, natural stress-reducers.

Love - Write someone an e-mail or call a friend. Spend some time around someone you enjoy. When you're with someone, your body produces wonderful chemicals.

Food - If you feel anxious, try eating tuna or turkey. Eat any kind of fish for omega-3 fatty acids. And get this: Blueberries are one of the best foods for neural health, according to Hall. Out of all the fruits and vegetables you can eat, blueberries have the most antioxidants. Studies show that blueberries increase your brainpower as well. Keep them in your freezer for a quick, healthy snack.

The most depressing day of the year

Stress is an everyday event, according to Kathleen Hall. But according to a recent article in Health magazine, Jan. 24 is the most depressing day of the year, Hall says.

"We experienced sensory overload during the holidays: the lights, the smells of pine and peppermint, sounds of music, the aroma, sight and taste of foods, and the touch and connection with others," Hall say. "We are now experiencing a flat, hollow sad feeling."

Hall offers these tips:

Food - Try new foods. Get the family to cook it together.

Color - Purchase an inexpensive tablecloth with happy bright colors. Keep bright flowers on the kitchen table. Accessorize with a bright scarf or shoes.

Have fun - Schedule one or two nights a week to turn off the TV and play board games or cards, or watch a funny movie (research shows laughter gets endorphins going).

Time alone - Encourage family members to reserve 10 minutes for themselves three days of the week. Take a bath, read, paint, or take a nap.

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