In the second installment of this healthy lifestyle series from Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D., we will learn the importance of reducing stress in our lives and how to achieve it.
Why is reducing stress so important? Believe it or not, the American Association of Family Physicians reports that two-thirds of all doctor visits are due to stress-related ailments. It's also believed that 80 to 90 percent of all diseases are stress-related. If you're female, stress may be even more damaging to your health. Study after study has found that women suffer from both stress and depression more often than men.
For some of us, our biggest stressors might be weather-related situations such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, and hurricanes. Similarly, most of us are stressed out by deadlines and work commitments, but stress has many other causes. It can be triggered by emotions such as anger, fear, worry, grief, depression, or even guilt. And stress can actually lead to high blood pressure, heart problems, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, and other illnesses and chronic health conditions. If you want to avoid these problems, here are my favorite eight tips to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and bring a sacred balance back into your body and world.
1. Get moving! That's right—exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress; it relaxes muscles and eases tension. Want proof? A study at the University of Southern California shows that patients who took a vigorous walk and raised their heart rates to more than 100 beats per minute reduced the tension in their bodies by 20 percent. A control group, given a tranquilizer, didn't get such good results! So go for a walk, hit the gym and do some weight-bearing exercises, or give yoga a try. Studies have shown that those who practice yoga have lower levels of stress hormones than those who don't.
2. Meditate and Breathe Deeply (really, it's simple). Don't worry—you don't have to be a Buddhist monk to know how to meditate. Here's how: find a special, quiet space in your home. Spend at least 15 minutes here first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Sit and close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, focusing on the sound and rhythm of your breathing. Mentally visualize peace and calmness. Your day will start and end on a stress-free note.
3. Eat a stress-relieving diet. Can your food choices really help relieve stress? You bet. Take stress off your digestive system by eating a high-quality, organic, colorful diet with an emphasis on fresh produce, which is high in water content and, therefore, easily digestible. Especially beneficial are antioxidant-rich leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and fresh sprouts. Also, choose from an array of rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables with every meal or snack, to benefit from a plethora of antioxidants. Just remember this: Produce is the most important health care money can buy. And vibrant health starts in the kitchen by choosing to eat foods in their natural, raw state.
I often say in my motivational talks and seminars worldwide that you can sit down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs and butter and then take your cholesterol-and blood-pressure lowering medications. That's your right. But if you choose to take charge of your body and eat better foods—a healing natural-foods diet—your body will thank you every day for the rest of your life.
Studies show that heart disease can be reversed by diet alone. Many diabetic patients can go off their medication by dietary changes. Kidney stones can be prevented as well as cancer and obesity. These studies demonstrate that a good diet is the most powerful weapon we have against disease and sickness. And it comes down to four things: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Look to nature for the answers on what to eat. You don't find ice cream trees, potato chip bushes, or donut vines in Nature. The more natural a food is, the more likely it is to have an abundance of healthy nutrients that boost immunity, protect your body from disease, and promote youthful vitality. It's your choice and it's within your power to create a healthy body and life.
4. Keep your body hydrated. Our bodies are 70% water. Our cells are 70% water and our planet Earth is 70% water. That's no coincidence. Each day we need to drink at least eight glasses of water. At a cellular level, dehydration makes us as droopy as a neglected violet. Lack of moisture in faces causes wrinkles the way lack of moisture in plums causes prunes. Drinking “liquids” won't do. Although herbal tea, freshly extracted vegetable juice, and diluted fruit juice can count in the water tally, coffee, tea, colas, and alcoholic beverages actually dehydrate the body. They're wet, but they're not water; in fact, they're “antiwater.”
We need to maintain proper fluid balance for brain and kidney function, to rid the body of waste material and toxins, and to maintain radiant health. Water is also a safe, cheap, and effective appetite suppressant. Often when we think we're hungry, we're actually thirsty. Get into the habit of carrying a reusable, earth-friendly bottle of water when you walk or drive. If it's there, you're more likely to drink it. You can refill them from your filtered or purified water source at home.
5. Catch plenty of zzz’s. Lack of sleep undermines your body's ability to deal with stress. That's why it's important to get eight hours of rest per night. You can tell you're getting enough shuteye if you wake at a regular time without an alarm. If you require a buzzer to get out of bed in the morning, you're not getting enough sleep.
6. Heat therapy using an infrared sauna. Saunas, in one form or another, have been used across ages and oceans. Cultures around the world have recognized the relaxing benefits of heat therapy within a warm, welcoming space. From the Romans to the Japanese to the Scandinavians, heat therapy has been essential for the body to unwind from the stresses and hardships of daily life. Far infrared sauna therapy boosts the body’s ability to detoxify, leading to significant and lasting health benefits.
7. Laugh a lot. Worried about something? Maybe you're stressed out about your relationship with a loved one, the monthly bills that are stacking up, or the poor grades your son or daughter is bringing home from school. Whatever it is, one way to mollify this stress is to make sure your life is filled with laughter.
According to researchers, laughter releases endorphins, “feel-good” hormones that act as natural stress beaters. In fact, a good belly laugh gives your heart muscles a good workout, improves circulation, fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air, clears your respiratory passages, stimulates alertness hormones, helps relieve pain, and counteracts fear, anger, and depression, all of which are linked to illness and stress. So be sure to schedule time into your busy schedule to be with friends and family who make you smile and laugh, and go to movies or read a book that tickles your funny bone. Just make sure you're getting plenty of things to giggle about in your life.
8. Be thankful and reap the health benefits. Each and every day, take a moment to be grateful for all you have in life. Gratitude, after all, is a great stress-buster. What you think about consistently brings more of the same into your life. So focusing on the positive, even during difficult times, is the best way to alleviate stress and transform your life.
For more than 30 years, Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D., has been one of the world's most recognizable names and faces in the fields of holistic health, anti-aging, human potential, and balanced living. She taught health and fitness at UCLA for 30 years, travels worldwide as a motivational speaker, and is the author of over 25 books, including her new “healthy lifestyle” series of books: The Curative Kitchen & Lifestyle, Living on the Lighter Side and Healthy, Happy & Radiant…at Any Age, as well as her other celebrated books Recipes for Health Bliss, The Joy Factor, and Walking on Air. To order her books or to learn more about her work, visit SusanSmithJones.com.