stress management program

Stress Challenge Week 6: MANAGING STRESS WITH YOUR SOCIAL & FAMILY NETWORK

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Hi friends! We have finally made it to week 6 of this stress management program. This week is really short and simple. I basically want to call our attention to the importance of a social support system, whether that is with friends, family, you and your spouse, or at work. This may be obvious, but I have to admit that I probably tend to overlook it at times. I love being around my friends and family but, maybe it’s the only child in me, I can also often be totally content on my own (any other only children out there who can relate??). However, I know that I always feel better when I get out and about with friends and when I surround myself with a group of people (big or small, family or friends) that I care about, that encourage me, that inspire me and that I can be 100% myself around. Putting together this program and reading up on the information for this week really made it all a little clearer. We need people!

THREE THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT SOCIAL SUPPORT AND MANAGE STRESS

  1. Social support provides emotional support which is instrumental in managing stress.

  2. People with emotional support reported lower stress levels, less depression and sadness and more lifestyle changes compared to individuals without emotional support.

  3. Benefits of having a strong network of social support include both psychological and physiological benefits, such as improved ability to cope with stressful situations and lowered cardiovascular risk.

And, here’s a quick little read from the Mayo Clinic on the ability of relationships to help us manage stress.

WRAPPING IT UP!

And this wraps up our six week program. I have a couple of questions for you guys and would REALLY LOVE to hear your thoughts in the comments below to any or all of them!

  1. What is something interesting you learned during this six weeks?

  2. Did you pick up any new healthy / stress-fighting habits during this six weeks? If so, what is one that you think will be the most sustainable?

  3. Have you noticed any positive changes in your health since starting to follow along this program?

  4. What is one thing you appreciated the most about this program?

  5. What is something you still have questions about??

Thank you for following along with me these 6 weeks. I’ve loved walking through this program with you and I hope you found some peace and joy in it as well!

Oh, and even though the program is over, I’m absolutely still trying to carry out some of the practices I started during the program. For me, specifically, this includes getting in a long walk once or twice a week and taking two to ten minutes each day to write in my Fitbook Goal Getter journal that I wrote about last week. (I love this book and this is absolutely not sponsored. I just really think it’s perfect for this program!).

Take Care!

Taylor

Fitbook: A Wellness Notebook That Keeps Me Mindful & Inspired

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Starting out on this Stress Management Program, I wanted to have a place to journal and take notes. I wanted a place where I could write each day’s challenges and stay mindful of my stressors, my coping behaviors and how I felt in general. One thing about me - I am SUCH a sucker for a great notebook. I love them! You will probably never see me without one in hand or in my purse. I know, some people have moved on to their phones, but I will always stay back in the old days with a quality notebook with pretty paper and a fun pen. I look at a screen enough during the day that I’m happy to take something off the screen and onto paper. Notebooks are the stores for all of my ideas, my lists, and my “don’t forgets”.

Another random fact about me - I’ve been trained to “goal set” since before I can remember. Between my school that had specific classes devoted to teaching us study and time management strategies to figure skating and road trips where dad just happened to have cassettes on goal setting ready to pop into the cassette player (yes, that’s right, I said cassette. And, yes, this really did happen) I have to say that goal setting is ingrained in me. Some kids rebel but I just let it sink in, and now I’m all about the goals. It can be a tiny goal or a big goal, but there is usually always a goal.

Keeping all of this in mind, I set out for the perfect notebook to jot notes in for this challenge and came across Fit Book by Fitlosophy. They have a bunch of great items and notebooks, but the one I loved for this challenge in particular and ended up chosing was their “Goal Getter” notebook. Lots of the notebooks out there that I found were all about counting portions and calories and workout reps. That is not at all what I wanted. That is absolutely not what these last 5 weeks have been about. I love this notebook because it immediately starts out by having you list three things that you are thankful for. I mean, what a great way to start the day! I have been doing this as consistently as possible and it makes such a difference to start your day out with that in mind - AND it only takes like two minutes! It then has you list what you appreciate about your body followed by ways you will take care of yourself that day, noting your activity, your food and your overall mood. Then each day has free space to write whatever you want as well as a place to list what inspires you that day. I love that you can look back and note how you felt over the course of the weeks and you can find patterns in food, exercise, stress levels, mood as well as focus on your inspiration each day.

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If you are out there looking for a small notebook to help you stay mindful, thankful, inspired and healthy, I highly recommend this one! It allows you to track habits over time but also fuels inspiration and positivity each day.

Whether you have been following along in our Stress Challenge, or you are just now finding out about it, I recommend grabbing a notebook, this one or one of your favorites, and start following along. Since all of the info from each week is posted on my blog, you can even go back and do it for the first time on your own if you missed the first weeks or come back to it later when life gets stressful.

Take Care!

Taylor

Stress Challenge Week 5: MANAGING STRESS WITH MEDITATION

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I hope you guys are learning a few new pieces of info or picking up a few new practices from this six-week program! I have been following along and working on my own habits and can say it has been nice to dedicate some time, even if it’s only like 5 minutes on one day of the week, to this topic.

I also hope that you are continuing to include at least one practice you picked up around nutrition and exercise from the past two weeks as we enter into this new week. For me, the 2 practices I have picked up on include: (1) making one or two long walks a part of my week and (2) stopping to assess what’s going on around me when my hunger & satiety gets off.

As we enter into Week Five of our Stress Challenge we are focusing on meditation and mindfulness. Today I want to touch on what it is, how it can help us, and some tools and resources that can help us become more mindful and start taking moments to decompress.

However, before I dive in, I just want to give a shoutout to one of the Nutrition Practice Groups that I’m a part of, the Nutrition Entrepreneurs group. One of their last newsletters was about stress. Their corporate wellness section that is always written by fellow wellness dietitian, Caroline Susie, was all about stress in the workplace, how we can help better manage stress in this space and it gave some resources for wellness dietitians and professionals. I got a lot of great ideas from this section and so I had to give both Caroline and NE a shoutout. Thank you for always providing such informative and useful content! If you are an RD in wellness or any type of business I highly recommend being a part of this group!

Anyway, back to this weeks challenge! Managing stress with meditation….


“Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to the focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude - which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious”

- Dr. John W. Denninger,

(director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital)


WHAT IS MEDITATION?

  • Focusing your attention and thoughts to promote calmness, focus and well-being



WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE BODY DURING MEDITATION?

  • PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES

    • Decreased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system

    • Reduction in cortisol levels

  • PSYCHOLOGICAL CHANGES

    • Enhanced coping mechanisms

    • Better emotional regulation - process that influences which emotions you have, when you have them and how they are experiences & expressed

    • Better psychological flexibility - makes you better able to balance and shift your attention to all that is happening in and around you

WHAT ARE THE MAIN COMPONENTS OF MEDITATION?

  • Focused attention

  • Relaxed breathing

  • Quiet setting

  • Comfortable position

  • Open attitude


WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION?

  • DECREASED STRESS

    • new perspective on stressful situations

    • stress management skills

    • self - awareness

    • self - acceptance

    • ability to focus on the present

    • sustained attention

    • attentional switching

    • selective attention

  • IMPROVED HEALTH MEASURES

    • improved immune responses

    • reduced blood pressure

    • improvement in chronic pain

HOW CAN YOU INCLUDE MEDITATION IN YOUR EVERY DAY?

  • Repeat a mantra

  • Sitting meditation

  • Walk and meditate

  • Engage in prayer

  • Read / listen and reflect

  • Focus love and gratitude

  • Scan you body

  • Guided meditation

  • Mantra mediation

  • Mindfulness meditation

  • Qi Gong

  • Tai Chi

  • Yoga

  • Breathe deeply


A Book I am loving that teaches all about the principles of mindfulness & meditation for stress reduction…

The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Dr. Amit Sood

AND A GREAT VIDEO TO HELP YOU BETTER MEDITATE IN A MOMENT…

Lot’s of references on this one. Please email me if you would like the list!


Take Care!

Taylor






Stress Challenge Week 4: MANAGING STRESS WITH EXERCISE

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We are officially into Week 4 of our stress & mindfulness challenge. I hope you are continuing to make new discoveries, that you feel encouraged and inspired and that you are finding new practices that you can implement to feel better and and cope with life’s stressful events each day.

Were you able to implement any changes in your regular food and nutrition routine this past week? What new practices, related to nutrition, were you able to substitute for less-healthy food-related coping habits? My hope is that you found at least one thing that you enjoy that you can make a part of your lifestyle moving forward.

Before I dive into this week’s focus I want to remind everyone that we can’t simply stop or “get rid of'" our less healthy habits. We have to replace them with a new habit and this new habit needs to meet THREE main criteria:

  1. It is something we enjoy & look forward to.

  2. It is something that gives us a similar feedback to the less healthy habit we are replacing.

  3. It needs to fit into our schedule.

Remember that as you continue to implement any food and nutrition changes these next few weeks.

And this brings us to today’s focus of managing stress with EXERCISE. This criteria above absolutely applies to our exercise as well!


EXERCISE

We all know that exercise is important to our health and well being. What I have found interesting in a handful of studies that I recently came across is the type of exercise that has been found to be more beneficial for stress management in some individuals. I’m currently doing research on the most effective type of exercise for weight loss; however, I’m noting that my findings there are not quite the same as my findings for stress management.

Everyone is different, so, of course, stick with the exercise(s) that work best for you, but I’m going to share with you a few studies that support low to moderate intensity exercise as effective tools for managing stress. This may be a reason to consider adding some yoga, walking and other low-intensity exercise into your typical cardio routine. Or, if you’re not an exerciser at all, this may be a good reason to start slow and steady vs jumping in to running or intense cardio classes. I know I will certainly be giving it a try!

Please note, this is independent of cardiovascular outcomes, fitness outcomes, etc. I am only referring to stress in this post.


STUDY #1:

Exercise reduces depression & inflammation but intensity matters

(from the Biological Psychology Journal, 2014)

  • Study looked at moderate continuous training (MCT) & high intensity interval training (HIIT)

  • MCT decreased symptoms of depression and decreased perceived stress

  • HIIT decreased symptoms of depression but increased perceived stress

  • Concluded in this study that moderate - intensity exercise is optimal when looking at mental health


STUDY #2:

a 12-month exercise intervention decreased stress symptoms & increased mental resources among working adults - results perceived after a 12-month follow-up

(International Journal of Occupational Medicine & Environmental Health, 2008)

  • Study looked at stress symptoms (SS) and mental resources (MR). Mental Resources are the tools that we use to cope

  • Heart rate at moderate level (60 - 80% max heart rate) in 3 to 5 exercise sessions per week. Sessions consisted of walking, biking and skiing

  • During the intervention: SS decreased 16%, MR increased 8%

  • Those with highest SS at baseline had the biggest SS decrease (26%)

  • At 12-month follow-up: SS still decreased 13%, MR still increased 5%

  • The control group (had no supervised exercise program), had no significant changes


STUDY #3:

exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect

(Journal of Endocrinology Investigation, 2008)

  • Study looked at the percent change in cortisol circulation from pre and post workouts at varying intensities

    • Resting control: -6.6%

    • Low intensity (40% VO2 max): 5.7%

    • Moderate intensity (60% VO2 max): 39.9%

    • High intensity (80% VO2 max): 83.1%

  • Moderate to high intensity exercise will significantly increase amount of cortisol circulating in the body

  • Low intensity does not significantly increase cortisol and actually results in a reduction in cortisol circulation after taking into account plasma volume reduction & circadian factors.

AND A FEW FITNESS APP SUGGESTIONS FOR YOU…

(with the help of my fabulous intern who researched & tested all of these!)

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Happy Fueling & Take Care!

Taylor

Stress Challenge Week 3: MANAGING STRESS WITH NUTRITION

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We are officially into Week 3 of this Stress / Wellness Challenge. I hope you have already noticed some things regarding what causes or increases your stress, the ways you cope with that stress and, more importantly, I hope you have had the chance to identify some less healthy ways you cope with stress that you would like to change (and by change I mean replace with healthier coping habits).

Now it’s time to start taking action! This week we are talking all about Food & Nutrition. Yep! My favorite topic :) . This is for all of us “stress eaters” or “stress non-eaters” out there or those that may be eating in ways that increase stress and don’t even realize it! So, here we go, this week’s info on Managing Stress Through Nutrition…



HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT OUR INTAKE & FOOD CHOICES?

  • Eating foods that specifically contain fat and sugar cause a release of hormones, like dopamine, that promote a feeling of well-being & satisfaction.

  • We turn to these foods because our brains know that they will produce these good feelings and combat the impact that the stress response has on our mood.

  • The release of cortisol can intensify emotions & motivation and, in turn, increase excitement and motivation or desire for these foods.



WHEN IT BECOMES “STRESS EATING”…

  • Norepinephrine and cortisol are involved in learning & memory, especially around negative emotional events.

  • When we eat certain “comfort foods” after these hormones are released in stressful events, our memory is set to remember this coupling in future stressful events.

  • We begin to associate feeling stressed & feeling better with eating these particular foods.

  • Stress begins to promote more habitual behaviors at the expense of cognitive, goal - directed actions (aka, we stop thinking about and then deciding to eat the food, we just do it).

  • We no longer consciously think about how to cope with the stressor.



WHY MIGHT WE OVEREAT WHEN WE ARE STRESSED?

  • Sugar, fat and salt combinations increase the response in the brain.

  • Dopamine may stay elevated the more multisensory a food is.

    • ice cream + hot fudge + crunchy peanuts = GIVE ME MORE, PLEASE!

  • In one study, participants ate more M&M’s if given 10 colors vs 7 colors (which equaled over 100 more calories)



WHAT ARE THE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES?

  • Increase in blood sugars (plus decrease in insulin sensitivity that can be found with chronic stress)

  • Increased abdominal fat (visceral fat)

    • Puts us at greater risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease

    • Remember, when stressed, our bodies tend to store fat / energy around our middles because this is where important organs are that allow us to convert stored energy to glucose to “fight” or “flight”.


SOME FOOD SOLUTIONS

  1. No skipping meals!

    • Skipping meals causes a roller coaster affect on our blood sugars that leaves us lethargic, less mentally sharp and less able to tackle projects and obstacles.

  2. Include salmon & tuna

    • The vitamin D in salmon is part of the serotonin - producing pathway and can help promote feelings of calm & well-being.

    • Both salmon & tuna contain omega 3’s, which promote brain health and help decrease inflammation in the body

  3. Include whole grain carbohydrates

    • The carbohydrates promote serotonin production to help calm you down

    • The protein and fiber in the whole grains help steady the blood sugars (so they don’t spike & drop like in refined cookies, chips and candies, putting further stress on the body)

  4. Include leafy greens, beans, oranges

    • These are all high in folate, which helps the body produce energy!

    • Also, in some studies low folate levels have been found in those with depression

  5. Snack on fresh fruit

    • The natural sugar can help satisfy a sweet tooth plus provide the body with tons of antioxidants, fiber and fluid to keep energy levels up!

    • There have been benefits found in dark chocolate so I’m totally not opposed to a little dark chocolate if you can watch portions. It just depends on the individual.

  6. Crunch on vegetables and whole grain crackers or popcorn

    • Did you know the actual act of crunching has been found to reduce stress? Crunch away stress and tension with these healthier options and also get a dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber and fluid!



ANOTHER RESOURCES FOR YOU…


THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE / FOCUS:

  • How do I use food to cope? Do I use food to cope?

  • I could use food to help manage my stress in healthier ways by _____________.

  • Stress - fighting foods I already include or that I would like to start including are ________.



Happy Fueling & Take Care!

Taylor

Stress Challenge Week 2: HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO STRESS? WHAT DOES SLEEP HAVE TO DO WITH IT?

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It’s officially Week 2 of this stress management / mindfulness challenge!

How have you been mindful this past week?

What did you learn about how your body responds to stress last week? Did you learn anything new about your sources of stress? Definitely hold on to those discoveries and keep them in mind as we move forward!

Today we are building off of last week by looking at what you intentionally, or unintentionally, do to cope with your stress. For some that could be exercising, not exercising, eating, not eating, smoking, drinking, avoiding, yelling and the list goes on. We are also going to really dive into SLEEP this week. Yep, many of us don’t realize the important role that sleep plays in our stress levels, our ability to manage our stress and in the decisions we make when we’re stressed. I’ll mention again at the end, but this week the focus is:

  1. Determine the ways (positive & negative) that you cope with stress.

  2. Look at your sleep patterns. How many hours do you get, on average, a night? How do you feel when you get less than what you know you need?

  3. Are there any ways you can adjust your schedule to allow for more and / or better sleep?


Ok, diving in!

WHY IS SLEEP SUCH A BIG DEAL?

  • Gives our bodies the time it needs to recharge

  • Allows for optimal memory, alertness, decision making and reaction time. (Important for everyone, especially when driving a car, and the young athletes who are practicing or playing their sports for hours each day AND taking tests and quizzes in school. And, absolutely those recovering from injuries!)

  • Allows our bodies to repair and build muscle (particularly important for my exercisers out there and the young athletes I see)

WHAT IS HAPPENING WHEN WE SLEEP?

  • Initially, there is a rise in growth hormone which increases glucose in the blood and decreases insulin so that our blood sugars don’t drop while we are sleeping

  • In the morning, cortisol levels rise and our bodies begin to utilize the glucose

HOW DOES A LACK OF SLEEP AFFECT OUR STRESS?

  • How much sleep we get can affect how stressed we are and how stressed we are can affect how much sleep we get!

  • Studies have found greater levels of morning cortisol in those reporting job and life stress. Remember, that some rise in cortisol is natural. It’s when it becomes too much and for too long that we start seeing the negative results (refer to Week 1 post)

HOW DOES SLEEP AFFECT OUR HUNGER?

  • Our bodies make hunger hormones called LEPTIN & GHRELIN

  • Our sleep cycle helps regulate these hunger and satiety hormones

  • Leptin tells the brain that we are full and to stop eating

    • we have decreased levels of leptin during periods of sleep deprivation

  • Ghrelin is secreted from the GI tract and tells the brain we are hungry

    • we have increased levels of ghrelin during periods of sleep deprivation

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HOW DOES SLEEP AFFECT OUR FOOD CHOICES?

  • Studies have found that when we don’t get inadequate sleep, not only do we tend to eat more, but we also tend to choose carbohydrate foods higher in fat and added sugar. (so I don’t mean grabbing a slice of whole grain bread or pasta. This is not saying carbs are “bad”. This is saying we grab the pie, the cookies, the cake, the bigger portion of fettuccine alfredo. And in moderation, these are not “bad”, it’s when we eat them consistently to cope and in larger portions, not being mindful, that it becomes a concern)

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HOW DOES LACK OF SLEEP AFFECT OUR OVERALL HEALTH?

  • May lead to weight gain (increased appetite + increased craving for higher energy foods that we may not be burning off)

  • May lead to weight loss (a decreased appetite also occurs in some. But eating too little can alter your metabolism so is not healthy either).

  • Can affect whether you lose muscle or fat in your weight loss.

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THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE:

  1. Determine the ways (positive & negative) that you cope with stress.

  2. Look at your sleep patterns. How many hours do you get, on average a night? How do you feel when you get less than you know you need?

  3. Are there any ways you can adjust your schedule to allow for more and / or better sleep?



AND A FEW RESOURCES…

Also, a few resources that I thought provided some good information can be found here. Check it out and see what practices work for you!

An article by the National Sleep Foundation:

https://www.sleep.org/articles/how-losing-sleep-affects-your-body-mind/

An article by dietitian Amber Massey from Food & Nutrition Magazine:

https://foodandnutrition.org/blogs/stone-soup/vicious-cycle-sleep-stress-diet/



As always, comment with questions or let me know if you want my sources (there is a very lengthy list) and I’ll send over.

Take Care!

Taylor