3 Powerful Ways To Live A Healthy And Stress-Free Life

Updated: Mar 21

Are you a Human Doing not a Human Being? Being busy is a lifestyle disease that is actively promoted. If we aren't "crazy busy" then something must be missing in our lives. We sacrifice meaningful time with family and friends to keep pace with work, family schedules and personal demands.


Can you relate to the effects of chronic stress?

  • Tossing and turning, struggling to sleep

  • Using caffeine to give a jolt of alertness

  • Eating cookies, candies or drinking soda to deal with mid-afternoon slumps

  • Numbing ourselves at night with junk food, alcohol, social media, or medication


What is stress? According to VeryWellMind, stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. Stress is your body's response to anything that requires attention or action. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way you respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to your overall well-being.


HOW STRESS AFFECTS THE BODY


When life is out of control, the genes in our body that cause chronic inflammation get turned on. Did you know lifestyle-related chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, respiratory disorders and anxiety, are due to stress? Most people think these diseases happen because of genetics or the disease "runs in the family". In reality, the choices we make everyday influences whether or not we are diagnosed with a chronic disease.

In the U.S., three out of four people will suffer from at least one chronic disease. Those diseases account for more than 86% of our healthcare costs. And you would think that due to the popularity of social media, connections with others would be getting stronger. Nope. Loneliness and social isolation are on the rise, with one in four Americans reporting they do not have even one person to discuss important matters with.


How do you know if you have chronic stress? It can be hard to tell since we are so used to dealing with it everyday. When someone is asked if they are stressed, the most common answer is: "I don't feel stressed." Symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating, disorganized thoughts, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and/or frequent infections or illnesses. Does this sound like you?


There are other physical effects from being overstressed. A common question is: does stress cause constipation? Yes! Being stressed means the body reacts as if a lion is chasing us. If a lion was chasing you, there would be no need to have a bowel movement. During stressful times, the body shuts down blood circulation to the digestive system, which may cause constipation. (Source: Medical News Today)

Can stress cause a stroke? Yes! Chronic stress raises cortisol levels in our blood. "Acute stress has also been found to be a trigger for stroke, that is to say that strokes occur immediately after a stressful event more often than would be expected," Libman explained. (Source: Medicine Net)


There are many stress management techniques but I've narrowed it down to three areas of focus: sleep, relaxation techniques and food. Wellness activities such as reducing stress are often seen as unable to be achieved by everyone. Solutions are often thought of as a middle-to-upper class solution but the three areas of focus can easily be practiced regardless of where you live or your annual income.


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✅Reduce stress and anxiety

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SLEEP


One in three Americans doesn’t get enough sleep. Many adults say they get less than the recommended 7-9 hours. Only one in five adults say their sleep is good or excellent. Sleep problems steal your energy and make it harder to work on your eating and physical activity habits during the day.


SIGNS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION


Poor sleep makes it harder to cope with stress, which further disturbs sleep. Poor sleep increases risks and makes it harder to manage:

  • Obesity (sleep helps balance hormones that affect metabolism, appetite, and weight). This may lead to sleep apnea and a slippery slope of health decline.

  • Pre-diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • Depression

How to get a better nights sleep? Start by taking a close look at your sleep habits and patterns. Try new routines, such as the list below, that can help you relax each night before bed.

  • Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.

  • Turn off all electronics before getting in bed. Even better, keep them all out of the bedroom.

  • If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of bed. Do something relaxing in another room if possible.

  • Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day - even on weekends!

  • Avoid taking naps. Or keep them short (less than one hour and before 3:00 pm).

  • Avoid large amounts of caffeine.

  • Avoid large amounts of alcohol or nicotine.

  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little bit cool.

SOURCE: DPP-Group Lifestyle Balance™ - Session 16 Copyright 2017 University of Pittsburgh

STRESS RELIEVING ACTIVITIES


In addition to creating good sleeping habits, there are free activities you can do at home. Simply look them up on YouTube for instructions and to see which activity you might want to try.


Autogenic Training: Teaches you to concentrate on physical sensations of warmth, heaviness and relaxation in different parts of your body.


Deep Breathing or Breathing Exercises: Involves focusing on taking slow, deep, even breaths.


Guided Imagery: Taught to focus on pleasant images to replace negative or stressful feelings. Self-directed, practitioner, or recording options work.


Progressive Relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation: Involves tightening and relaxing various muscle groups. Often combined with guided imagery and breathing.


Meditation Practice: Increases calmness and physical relaxation. It focuses on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behavior. Most have these four elements:

  • Quiet location with as few distractions as possible

  • Take on a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking or other positions)

  • Focus of attention (A specially chosen word, or set of words, an object or the sensations of the breath)

  • Open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them)

  • Studies show it is effective for reducing blood pressure, symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia and positively effects the brain.

SOURCES:

Guided Imagery Therapy - Dr. Weil's Wellness Therapies (drweil.com)

Stress effects on the body (apa.org)

Meditation: In Depth | NCCIH (nih.gov)

Relaxation Techniques: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov)

FOOD MATTERS


Food is medicine! Every time we eat we are either feeding disease or wellness. The standard American diet is full of highly inflammatory foods. Pasta, white rice, foods that come in a box and are ready in 5 minutes, the list goes on and on. To make matters worse, the food industry wants us to eat these products so they can make a profit. Huge amounts of money are invested in research and development and marketing so we eat their products.


There is no way around it, if you want to reduce stress, eating foods that are as close to the original form as possible is the best way to go. Obviously, no one can eat this way 100% of the time. But if you can eat whole foods 80% of the time, you are going to feel so much better! You will have more joy and less stress in your life, I promise.


What are the top foods to eat regularly to promote a less stressful life? Spinach, wild salmon, oats, olive oil, strawberries, dark chocolate, red peppers and nuts. If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance to any of the foods listed, please don't eat it! The above foods contain key nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C magnesium and antioxidants. If you need additional guidance, the Mediterranean Diet is the best diet to learn about for stress management.


HOW TO CREATE A NEW HABIT TO REDUCE STRESS


Pick a habit and make it stick.


There are a lot of options to choose from in this article to manage stress. It is probably easy to think you will do them all, but we know attempting drastic changes in current routines all at once does not work. This is why New Year's Resolutions often fail.


Instead, ask yourself: What are my core values? What lifestyle habit will help me embody those values and become the kind of person I want to be? Selecting a new habit that matches how you envision your future self will result in success. The next step is to create small actionable steps to achieve the new habit.


For example, if you would like to start a new sleep routine, define how many days a week you will attempt to sleep differently. Starting off slow, such as selecting one night next week and actually completing that goal, improves self-confidence that you can make the change.

Surround yourself with like-minded people.

Sticking to a new lifestyle habit is easier, more fun and effective when we do it with others. Social support is an independent factor that us helps us achieve goals. Find a social media group, friends or even people in your own household who are also interested in finding a stress relieving habit. It doesn't have to be the same habit. The key to social support is to keep everyone accountable!


When you stumble (and you will stumble), pick yourself up with compassion.


Life will get in the way of your new habit – it’s inevitable. But there is overwhelming evidence that being kind to yourself, treating yourself as you would your best friend, is more motivating than being self-critical.


AN EXAMPLE


Lisa, a pre-diabetic, needed to reduce stress in order to manage her health. A single mom, unemployed, with two teenagers at home and an ex-husband who paid only a couple of hundred dollars a month in child support, was barely sleeping and worried excessively about her situation.


Identifying her core value as "practicality". She wanted to focus on what was practical, prudent and sensible for her family. To do this, Lisa knew she needed to sleep in order to help stabilize her blood sugar, which would help her continue her job search and juggle her active teenagers schedule.


Meditation became her habit. She started with just five minutes of practice a day, at the end of the day, while laying in bed to help her calm down before trying to sleep. It took some time, but as she continued to practice (sometimes listening to free guided meditations from YouTube), it became easier for her to quiet her mind, fall asleep and sleep longer. When she slept longer, she was more rested, focused and able to better manage her job search along with the kids activities.


SUMMARY


To live a healthy and stress-free life it is important to create healthy habits. Sleep, eating nourishing food and practicing stress relieving activities are three habits that keep stress from taking over our lives. Stress can cause disease. To prevent disease, take the time to evaluate what causes you the most stress and find a way to manage it. Working with a health coach can help you define your stressors and give you the tools to eliminate stress.


About The Author

Heather L Donahue is a Master Certified Health Coach and Certified Holistic Nutritionist. A self-proclaimed wellness geek, Heather has personally overcome hypothyroidism, a lifetime of struggles with her weight, constipation and the transition to menopause holistically. She is passionate about helping others achieve their wellness goals so they can live a life they love. When she is not helping others, Heather loves to read, cook, garden, go to the beach, practice mediation and yoga.