How to handle your stress

Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes
Dr. Esther Konigsberg provides five proven methods of stress relief that parents can implement to support an overall healthier lifestyle: 

1. Eat better

Nutrition is key in fending off stress. According to Dr. Konigsberg, there are specific foods that can help to maintain balance in the body and in turn, fight stress. Eating protein with every meal assists in keeping one’s blood sugar steady. Variances in blood sugar have been proven to be anxiety-producing, so keep things on an even keel by planning your meals in advance. She also recommends avoiding caffeine and opting for herbal and green teas when possible. Remember that caffeine is found in many common foods and beverages beyond tea and coffee. In place of your regular java or caffeinated drink, try stress-relieving blends that include chamomile, passion flower, lemon balm, valerian or hops.

2.Work towards balance

As much as you can, look at all of the variables in your life that may be contributing to your feelings of stress. Is work manageable, or are you putting in too many overtime and weekend hours? If it’s the latter, see what you can do to shift the balance, whether it’s speaking with your employer, investigating a work-share (if feasible), or simply turning off the cell phone and computer once you walk through the door at the end of the day. Speak to your family and have a clear plan about roles, responsibilities and expectations for each member to ensure that the weight and burden of family-related chores are not the sole domain of a single member. 

3. Make time for sleep

Interrupted or shortened sleep times have been linked to a variety of ailments. Schedule your sleep times and make it a priority to stick to your plan. Turn off your cell phone, close your laptop and put your friends and family on notice that you will be making an effort to catch 40 winks or more each night. You may have to forgo watching your favourite program or staying up late to check your emails, but in the long run, you’ll be healthier – and happier. 

4. Get physical

Commit to some form of daily physical activity. Whether it’s a regimented workout plan at a gym or a simple nature walk, do something that allows you to not only get fit but to clear your mind as well. A regular walk at your local park or garden can do wonders for your state of mind. Similarly, making an effort to be mindful of your surroundings and focusing on your “here and now” will shift the focus off your stressors and put it on to more pleasant items. 

5. Learn how to relax 

Dr. Konigsberg suggests meditation, breathing techniques and guided imagery (sometimes referred to a visualization) as methods of alleviating stress. One exercise in particular – the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique – has been shown to be effective in positively changing the hormonal milieu. Inhale for four counts, hold your breath for seven, then exhale for eight counts. This has been proved to decrease stress-inducing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, while increasing the pleasure inducing hormones, dopamine and serotonin. In times of heightened anxiety or when you’re feeling stressed, try this exercise and feel your body and mind relax. In guided imagery, you listen to a recording or a reader describing a relaxing setting, (ie “you are sitting on a warm beach…”). Imagining yourself in that peaceful scene helps reduce stress. Google “guided imagery” for online resources to download or purchase.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.

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