7 Strategies for Coping with Stress

“Think of a recent time you felt stressed. Maybe it was during an argument with your spouse, or a meltdown with your kids. Maybe you were stuck in traffic and late for an important meeting. Or maybe you were lying in bed, worrying about work. Whatever the cause of your stress, your body and brain were almost certainly experiencing the same thing: boiling blood pressure, a churning stomach, tight muscles and a racing mind.”

Sounds all too familiar, right?

In her recent feature article on the effects of exercise on physical and emotional stress, found in the March 2013 IDEA Fitness Journal, Kelly McGonigal, PhD, IDEA author/expert and a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, painted this vivid picture for readers.

The next time you experience the stress response, try the following tips offered by McGonigal and other IDEA authors/experts to help you cope.

1. Exercise. McGonigal suggests that exercise can protect the brain, heart and even our DNA from stress. “Research has identified several ways that exercise protects the brain from stress—and even reverses the effects of chronic stress on the brain (Stranahan & Mattson 2012; Rothman & Mattson 2012).”

2. Diet. McGonigal also suggests eating a less-processed, plant-based diet. “[Both have] been associated with higher heart rate variability and longer telomeres (Fu et al. 2008; Mirabello et al. 2009; Lin, Epel, & Blackburn 2012). This type of diet likely increases resilience by reducing inflammation, insulin resistance and other metabolic risk factors associated with chronic stress,” she says.

3. Pilates. Christine Romani-Ruby, MPT, ATC, co-owner of PowerHouse Pilates and assistant professor of physical therapy at California University of Pennsylvania believes in Pilates practice for stress management. “The Pilates method is a successful tool for self-management of the stress reaction. In fact, in 1920 Joseph Pilates (founder of the Pilates method) defined his work with six principles that are remarkably similar to today’s proven methods of managing stress: relaxation, breath, concentration, guided imagery, heightened body awareness and mindfulness” Read more about how Pilates principles can bust stress in your life.

4. Meditation. To date, more than 1,300 studies have documented the effectiveness of meditation as a health practice, including lowering heart rate, muscle tension, stress hormone secretion and resting blood pressure. Many hospitals and medical clinics use meditation in stress management and other health promotion programs in order to relieve stress. Learn a few tips and techniques to start meditating from Michele Hebert, international mind-body health and fitness expert.

5. Yoga. Shirley Archer, JD, MA, IDEA spokesperson and certified yoga and Pilates teacher, suggests trying a yoga practice to combat stress. “In a study reported in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012; doi: 10.1155/2012/501986), researchers found that brief periods of yoga or meditation helped reduce stress among office workers,” writes Archer. “Data analysis showed that both yoga and guided meditation reduced perceived stress (the mental aspect), and this effect continued through the post intervention period. The yoga intervention reduced more physical markers of stress than guided meditation; however, both practices lowered respiration rates.”

6. Visualization. Archer also recommends adding visualization to mind-body classes to enhance stress relief. “Visualizing comforting images reduces stress levels—that much has been known for some time. Now scientists have verified that individuals who are skilled at “seeing” mental imagery reduce their stress levels more than those who are less adept at the task.”

7. Relaxation. Mary Bratcher, MA, IDEA author, certified life coach and co-owner of The BioMechanics, suggests taking it easy to help relieve stress. “Relaxation is a crucial part of your stress management plan. Try these methods of alleviating stress: 1. Determine how you like to relax and then schedule activities you prefer (e.g., go mountain biking, take a bath, play basketball or go for a stroll). 2. Take a “time-out”—breathe deeply, turn off your phone, stop moving, start moving, etc. 3. Accept offers of assistance from others or ask for help when you need it. 4. Eat, drink and be merry—choose healthy food, drink lots of water and get plenty of rest.” Learn more tips from Brachter by reading the full article.

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