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                                                     

Taking Care of Your Heart

February is American Heart Month. This is a great time to focus on steps we can take to keep our heart healthy and prevent heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but a heart-healthy lifestyle can go a long way to prevent heart disease. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease. Make sure you are working with your doctor and incorporating healthy lifestyle practices to treat these conditions.  Our day to day lifestyle choices directly impact our heart’s health. Research shows that making healthy lifestyle changes, even later in life, may stop and actually reverse heart damage.

A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight heart disease.  The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods instead of nutrient-poor foods. The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that is high in fresh fruits and vegetables (variety of color), lean protein, healthy oils (Extra virgin olive oil), whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.  Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease.

This healthy diet includes:

  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice per week and limiting red meat to no more than a few times per month.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Avoiding hydrogenated oils (trans fats) which are found in fried foods and processed foods such as pies, cookies, pastries, donuts and frozen food.
  • Limiting refined sugars and carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice.
  • Sticking with water as your beverage of choice is best, as there is no benefit to adding sugary drinks.
  • Focusing on whole, natural foods and eating lots of vegetables.
  • For dessert, eating fresh fruit and saving sweets for a special treat or celebration.
  • Taking time to savor your food and enjoy your meals with family and friends.  

Regular exercise is one of the most effective tools to strengthen the heart muscle and reduce the risk of heart disease. Your heart will get stronger and healthier if you lead an active life. Regular exercise has many benefits including: burning calories, lowering blood pressure, reducing “bad” cholesterol and boosting “good” cholesterol. Aim to do aerobic exercise (“cardio”) for thirty minutes, five to six times per week.  Some examples include walking, jogging, biking, swimming or dancing. To check your intensity and make sure you are not pushing too hard, you should be able to talk but you shouldn’t be able to sing a full song. Find activities that you enjoy and start small. You can even break up your exercise sessions into 10-minute intervals. In addition, you should include strength training twice per week to build muscle and reduce body fat. To maintain flexibility, be sure to include stretching exercises (such as yoga) weekly as well. For ongoing encouragement, use an app on your phone or a wrist band that provides input on how many daily steps you have taken. Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your current exercise routine.

Focus on rest and relaxation. The effects of stress can have a direct impact on your body and can harm your heart. It’s important to have healthy habits in place to help in preventing and managing stress. When we feel stressed, we often reach for unhealthy habits to find relief, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or overeating. These unhealthy habits lead to other factors that may contribute to damaging your heart by increasing blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar.  Find hobbies and activities you enjoy, stay social and engage with friends and family. Stay positive and ponder uplifting thoughts about the future, as optimism is good for your heart. Dedicate a certain time each day to focus on your body and relaxing. Practice stress reduction techniques and exercises such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga and tai chi. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for a healthy heart. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. Create a nightly routine to unwind and relax before bed and stick with the same sleep schedule, even on the weekends.

Working with your doctor is essential to managing your health effectively. Staying proactive with your lifestyle choices will have a positive impact on your heart and overall health.

-Diane Duvall, CLC, CHHC, CPT

Diane Duvall is a 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 to prevent chronic disease and promote health and wellness. 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

5 Strategies to Fit Exercise into Your Life

When combined with proper nutrition, regular exercise has a profound effect on our health.  Physical activity has been proven to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and disorders that are related to lifestyle. Regular physical activity can improve blood glucose levels, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, decrease risk of heart disease, promote weight loss, improve brain function and enhance self-image.  Your muscular health can have a profound impact on how well you age. And like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger.  Although no amount of physical activity can stop the aging process, regular physical activity can improve your quality of life and independence as you age. It will also increase your ability to live a full, active life.

The U.S. Government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week (for a total of 150 minutes). Muscle strengthening activity should also be added at least two days per week. The benefits of exercise have been clearly documented, but how can we find the time and motivation to incorporate an exercise program into our busy lives?

  1. Clarify Your Fitness Goals

Just making the decision to take charge of your health and improve your fitness is a powerful first step.  Take some time to reflect on the reasons you can benefit from including exercise in your weekly plan. Writing down your goals for physical fitness will enhance your motivation and personal accountability. Include the frequency and types of physical activity you will incorporate.   These goals should be Specific (clear and easy to understand), Measurable (know how you will track your progress), Attainable (motivating, but not too difficult or extreme), Realistic (possible to achieve), and Time-bound (contain a specific endpoint or deadline). These are known as SMART goals.

  1. Develop Consistency

To stay consistent in your exercise routines, establish a good time to exercise, mark it on your calendar and keep the appointment as scheduled.  When time challenges come up, remind yourself that working out is a priority and stick to your appointment.  Schedule in your different activities such as walking, yoga, dance class, stretching, and swimming. Choose a form of exercise that fits your lifestyle, personality and taste.

  1. Find the Time

When something is really important in our lives, we find a way to fit it into our schedule. Some types of exercise can be combined with other tasks you are already doing. If you are running an errand at the mall, throw on your tennis shoes and add in a 20 to 30-minute brisk walk around the mall while you are there.  Change into your workout clothes as soon as you get home from work. You can fit in an exercise routine before you start your evening activities. Include your family or friends. Take a walk together after dinner or do strength training exercises while you watch your favorite TV program.  Even fitting in 10 to 15-minute exercise intervals during your workday will do your body good.

  1. Set Your Alarm Early

When you work out first thing in the morning you eliminate the risk of getting distracted by the busyness of your day or unexpected events. Even if you wake up 15 minutes early to squeeze in a strength training session, a brisk walk or cardio exercises at the gym, this is an effective way to start your day. You will jumpstart your day with more energy and a sense of accomplishment.

  1. Try New Activities

Keep your activities fun and challenging so you are not tempted to skip your workouts. Incorporate walking/running/hiking in scenic spots and include hills and steps.  Find group exercise or dance classes that are convenient for you. Include friends or family members so you have a workout buddy and accountability partner.  Enjoy activities like tennis, biking, softball, rock climbing and social dancing. Keep your muscles strong, toned and guessing what you will do next.

Even the busiest person can stay in shape and prioritize their health.  The benefits to be gained in leading a healthy lifestyle are worth every minute of time invested. Commit to making exercise a priority and never settle for less than feeling fit and fabulous.

 

-Diane Duvall, CLC, CHHC, CPT

Diane Duvall is a Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, M.D., Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine.

Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine to prevent chronic disease and promote health and wellness.

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