Manage Stress to Improve Your Health
Deep breathing, meditation and maintaining healthy habits are good stress reducers
Stress can compromise our health and well-being – physically, mentally and spiritually. When patients come to Lorraine Olivero, DNP, with health issues related to stress, she explains there are a variety of lifestyle tools they can use to navigate stressful situations. “From deep breathing and meditation, to adopting healthier eating and sleeping habits, people can learn to lower their stress level and improve their health and vitality,” said Dr. Olivero, a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Highland Medical, Palisades Primary Care and Pulmonary Medicine in West Nyack, NY.
There are two types of stress: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). Acute stress elicits our flight-or-fight response to deter a dangerous situation. Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and levels of muscle tension may skyrocket for a short time.
Chronic stress occurs over time and can lead to a variety of consequences, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, weight gain, memory problems and headaches. It can increase inflammation in the body, leading to a number of chronic health conditions including metabolic disease, fatigue, brain fog and cardiovascular disease. Stress also can compromise the immune system, which may lead to increased vulnerability to infections such as the flu or the common cold.
Whether your stress is acute or ongoing, deep breathing exercises can help you relax. Dr. Olivero teaches her patients a technique called Box Breathing. “It helps to reset the nervous system when you’re feeling overwhelmed,” she said.
To practice Box Breathing, sit with your spine straight. Breathing through your nose:
- Inhale for four counts
- Hold your breath in for four counts
- Exhale for four counts
- Hold your breath out for four counts
Other ways to reduce stress include:
Healthy eating. “We truly are what we eat,” Dr. Olivero said. “I advise patients to avoid sugar or refined carbohydrates which can be very inflammatory. Also avoid processed foods, fried foods, and artificial ingredients. Instead, focus on eating fresh food such as organic vegetables, fruit, herbs and healthy proteins such as wild-caught fish or grass/pasture fed meat and poultry.”
Connecting with nature. “As you face the sun, place your feet on the earth and just breathe,” she said.
Getting enough sleep. “Optimizing sleep is important because the body rejuvenates itself at night,” she said. Electronics often interfere with a good night’s sleep. “Many people are using their phone or watching TV at night. The blue light that’s emitted from electronics interferes with the brain chemicals that tell our body it’s time to go to sleep,” she said. Dr. Olivero recommends avoiding artificial light and food within two to three hours of bedtime and sleeping in a dark cool room.
Meditation. Try sitting upright in a chair, with your hands on your thighs. Repeat “I AM” silently in your head for 20 minutes. If your mind wanders, let thoughts move along – don’t engage with them. After 20 minutes, sit still for another three minutes with no thoughts. “If you can do this twice a day when you wake up and again in the afternoon – perhaps during your lunch break – it helps to create a state of balance,” she said. “Patients tell me when they meditate, it makes them more efficient, and they can handle stressors more easily.”
To find a primary care provider in your area, visit highlandmedicalpc.com/specialties/primary-care.