Finding the Balance With Stress

The following is a guest post by Mary Battista of Prairie Health Companion.

When you hear the word stress, most people automatically think of a negative outcome: disease, discomfort or distress! Stress is “the response of the human organism to any change or demand”. But is the outcome from a demand put on the body necessarily always bad?

Most people are well aware of what stress means to them. When people are under pressure to achieve, or have constant demands that exceed what they feel they are capable of handling, they feel the negative effects of stress. Physically, they may experience chest pain, a racing heartbeat, rapid and shallow breathing, trouble sleeping, digestive dysfunction, muscle tension and headaches, to name a few. To soothe this state of “distress,” some may engage unhealthy practices such as overeating or drinking, which starts another set of stressors that comes from being overweight or side effects of too much alcohol. The body, feeling under threat, is sending distress signals by secreting the hormones cortisol and adrenaline as it prepares for the flight or fight response designed to help the body evade danger. The problem is that if stress is not well managed or is excessive, this response can cause or exacerbate disease.

Alternately, eustress is defined as “good stress”. In this state, you find yourself feeling engaged, inspired and excited about what lies ahead. This is the “sweet spot” that, as a coach, I am helping the client find so they feel challenged about the goals that lie ahead, rather than overwhelmed or out of control. Too little of the good stress and the client feels uninspired and finds it hard to move forward toward healthier habits.

Divorce can certainly be a stressor.

Taking small steps and experimenting with self-care, women can start to flourish in ways that bring good health and happiness back into their lives. Stress need not be all bad, but careful management is necessary so that you can live a life that feels exciting but allows the body to maintain optimal health.

Maintaining Wellness During the Holiday Season!

Written by Mary Battista, Prairie Health Companion

The holiday season is once again upon us and for many of us that means challenging situations they may throw us off our game.  Not only will there be lots of indulgent drinking and eating, but we start to get sleep deprived from staying out late or staying up late just getting everything accomplished.  This only makes things worse as lack of sleep can make us feel tired, therefore craving energy in the form of sugar/caffeine, and the body’s hormones that regulate satiety get thrown off leading to increased snacking and indulging during the day.  On top of all of this is the stress that comes with unrealistic expectations and overwhelm!   What’s a healthy person to do?!

A few simple strategies can keep you on track and feeling in charge of your health and happiness. 

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  Visualize the outcome and how good you will feel when you stick to your healthy choices and guidelines.  Imagine how good your clothes will feel the next day when you put them on.   Mentally walk through the event making choices exactly as you want them to be.  See yourself saying, “no thanks”  and still having a great time!  Practice this is your mind several times before you go.  This is a key step!
  2. Decide on guidelines for alcoholic beverages and treats when you go to a party or holiday event.  By setting guidelines you will pace yourself differently. Use water to stay hydrated and to pace yourself alternating water in between sips of wine. Keep treats small and eat them slowly and mindfully.
  3. Don’t go to holiday events ravenous!  Have something healthy before you go so you are satisfied but not totally full.  A cup of soup, some veggies/hummus, a piece of whole grain toast with hummus or nut butter, a cup of yogurt or a small salad.  If you are too hungry, you may have difficulty controlling portions especially at buffets which are very tantalizing.
  4. Look over the holiday buffet before making your choices and use a small plate. Look for fresh fruits, veggies, shrimp, hummus, salsas, chicken, turkey etc over high-fat/high-salt appetizers and entrees.  Foods with fiber fill you up with fewer calories.
  5. Stick to your exercise/sleep routine to help manage stress and overwhelm.  Exercise is a great stress buster so be sure to schedule it in your busy day which might mean starting your day with it. Perhaps you could squeeze a walk in over your lunch hour?  The more you diffuse stress during the day, the better you will be as the day progresses.  If you don’t get to bed at a reasonable time, you aren’t going to get up to exercise, so be sure to pre-determine your bed time and stick to it!

By thinking through how you want the holiday season to go, you can anticipate triggers and have skills ready to head them off.  The main strategy is to plan your work by thinking it through and having guidelines that you are committed to. As my Dad would say,”Plan your work,  then work your plan”.

Divorce Blues and Night Eating!

Written by Mary Battista, Prairie Health Companion

You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat” but have you ever wondered if,” You are when you eat!”  When we are lonely or stressed, especially during divorce, food can sometimes seem to fill a void, but the dangers of this emotional eating pattern are starting to be understood.

Recent studies are shedding new light on how our metabolism works, and it seems that our bodies are designed to process food most efficiently when we eat during the daylight hours. Research is discovering that calories consumed during the day are metabolized differently than calories eaten at night, which could mean weight problems and disease for the many people who work at night or are just up at night snacking and dining.

Researchers have recently discovered how disruption of our circadian rhythms due to unnatural light exposure can interfere with sound sleep, now they are discovering a second kind of circadian clock that has to do with metabolism.   According to Ruth Patterson PHD, and nutrition expert and epidemiologist at University of California, San Diego, “when you eat all the time, your insulin and glucose levels are elevated all of the time”.  Insulin is a growth promoting hormone and its constant presence in the blood stream could fuel precancerous cells.  So not only are we more inclined to gain weight from night eating, but we are also more predisposed to chronic disease.    Dr. Patterson’s research discovered that breast cancer recurrences were less likely when women simply abstained from food for at least 13 hours.  In fact, many of their subjects lost weight simply by adjusting when they ate during the day, but not what they ate.

Other findings form Dr. Patterson’s research suggest:

  1. Fast for at least half of the day each day.  Depending on your schedule it could be 6PM to 6AM or if you have to eat later, say 8PM, stave off breakfast until 8AM
  2. It’s beneficial to eat your main meal earlier in the day (before 3PM) to lose weight and for best digestion
  3. Eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper. Calories eaten earlier in the day are metabolized more efficiently than those eaten at night.
  4. Consume only water during your nightly 12 hour fast (sorry, coffee is not water)

It’s interesting to note that one of the oldest medical systems in the world, the science of Ayurveda, practiced mainly in India but also elsewhere in the world, also teaches to eat in a very similar pattern and they’ve been teaching this for over 5000 years!   According to Ayurveda, the science of life, between the hours of 12PM and 2PM our “digestive fire” is strongest as it is aligned with the strongest sun of the day, reminding us that our bodies are linked to the natural world. They also suggest a lighter dinner earlier in the evening to supplement you to get through to your  “break-fast”.  So research may be confirming what these Ayurvedic practitioners have known for thousands of years-night eating is detrimental to your health.

It might be an interesting experiment for you to change the time you ate and/or to abstain completely from eating after your evening meal.  What if I get hungry you ask?  Then, you would be in solidarity with the millions of hungry people on this earth.  The only difference is, you know you have another meal coming and they don’t.