Building Foundations to Survive the Stressful Seasons of Life

Through all the seasons of life it is important to nurture our emotional and physical health. It is natural to become reactive or default to bad habits during a busy or trying time. Staying healthy does not need to be complicated. When life gets difficult with work stress, a family member not being well or overwhelming deadlines to meet, use these four foundations as a blueprint to enable you to build resilience or to help get you back on track.

1. Nutrition  When we are busy it is easy to grab processed foods or fast foods that lack the nutrients that we need to thrive. It is important to eat real food. Food is information for our body, and we need to fuel our body and mind so that we can accomplish more. Make sure most of your diet includes nutrient-dense foods that let you accomplish more with less.  Make sure each meal and snack packs as much benefit as possible. It is very important to stay hydrated. To keep it simple, always have a bottle of water with you and aim for 8 glasses of water per day.

Unhealthy convenience foods contribute to additional stress. Unstable blood sugar levels caused by processed, high carbohydrate foods increase stress hormones in our body and can also cause changes in our mood. It is important to incorporate healthy fats and lean protein into each meal and snack to keep our blood sugar in balance.  Aim for five different vegetables per day. Try to incorporate the different colors of the rainbow into your fruit and vegetable choices.

One of the best things you can do is prepare snacks and meals for the day. Grocery shop wisely and focus on the whole, natural foods in the outer sections of the store. Have healthy snacks available such as berries and walnuts, celery and almond butter or baby carrots and hummus. Purchase snack size packets of nuts and seeds. There are also many companies that deliver home-cooked meal kits or meals ready to eat. When only fast-food or restaurant food will do choose healthy options. To play it safe, stick to grilled instead of fried food and choose side dishes such as fruits, soups and salads. Whether you are dining out or eating in, it is important to maintain a balanced diet. Make sure you are getting a good mix of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

2. Stress Management  Stress has been proven to have serious effects on our bodies and minds. Some seasons of life bring us more stress than others. It is important to practice self-care regularly. If you take care of your mind and body, you’ll find you are more productive and have more energy throughout the day. We can’t always change our commutes, deadlines, and pressures but there are actionable strategies that we can put into practice.

  • We can turn on the stress response and create the hormones of stress just by thinking about our problems. Trade emotions like fear, worry, or overwhelm for elevated, heart-centered emotions like gratitude, appreciation, or joy to create a cascade of healing hormones.  
  • Keep a gratitude journal or start your day with a mental list of five things you are grateful for. If you can only think of one thing to be thankful for – begin with that – and repeat.
  • Incorporate a daily practice of stillness. Calm your mind and body and reconnect with the present moment with focused breathing. Focus on a soothing image, a positive word or prayer. Find even five minutes a day to meditate or to listen to your favorite music.
  • Carve out 15 minutes of “me time” each day. No phones, emails, or deadlines. This time is just for you.
  • Learn to say ‘no’. Having too much to do and too little time is a common cause of stress. Are there things that can be delegated to others or completed at a later date?
  • Spend time with friends and family. If you want to be happy and healthy, relationships are very important.

3. Sleep  Actively prioritize sleep. There are too many distractions and things competing for our attention that keep us awake. When we do not sleep well, we crave comfort foods and lack the energy to exercise. When we are sleep deprived our mood is affected and we are more reactive. Incorporating a relaxing bedtime routine can be transformative. Dim the lights and quiet your mood. Turn off all technology and the television at least 30-minutes (90-minutes would be best) before sleep. The blue-light emitted from these devises can suppress your melatonin production and affect your sleep and health. Try to maintain a consistent bed-time schedule.

4. Movement  Build movement into your everyday life. Rather than let stress build up, incorporate 10-minute or 15-minute walks into your day to buffer the effects of stress. Physical activity will increase your energy levels, improve your health and boost your mood.  If a trip to the gym doesn’t work with your schedule, fit stretches and muscle-building exercises into 5 or 10-minute intervals during your day. You can fit in a “kitchen workout” while your dinner is baking or an “office workout” for the first few minutes of your lunch break.  Make a habit of doing little things throughout the day that build up to 30 minutes of exercise. Keep your body strong and build resilience so that you will have the reserve to handle unexpected challenges and they will not deplete you.

Finding balance in these four foundational areas can make a huge difference for your mood, energy, outlook on life and how well you can handle stress. Develop good habits and when you lose your focus just get back on track. When you start to feel drained, irritable and less focused, it’s time to listen to yourself and your body. Maybe you need to go to bed an hour earlier next week and that will do it. Maybe you need more protein in your breakfast meal for sustained energy in your day. Perhaps you will find that a one-hour yoga class per week could restore and rejuvenate you. It’s the little things you do in your life day by day that can make a master change in your health and happiness.

-Diane Duvall, Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine.  Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Suite A, Atlantis FL 33462. Phone: (561) 432-8935, Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook