Preventive Wellness Tips by Chandra Villano, ND

Dr. Villano is a licensed Naturopathic Physician, and exercise physiologist, and a licensed Massage Practitioner. 

Are YOU Stressed?!?

Stress gets talked about in the media as if it is an actual “thing” that has invaded us. However, stress is defined as “the mind & body’s reaction (physical, chemical, emotional) to any positive or negative event”. Every situation has the potential to cause stress but not everyone reacts in the same way. Without any stress, life would be boring. Yet reactions to chronic stress (“distress”) can cause significant health risks with negative effects on: blood pressure, blood clotting, coronary arteries, heart rate, blood sugar, sleep, and the immune system, just to name a few.

Mastering stress takes awareness, avoidance of stressful situations when possible, and having positive outlets to counter the mind & body’s reaction to stressors. Breath holding is a common reaction when under stress, yet this makes matters worse. To counter this unhelpful tendency, try to bring your awareness to your breathing when you feel “stress” coming on. Stress symptoms may include sweaty palms or abnormal sweating, increased heart rate, muscle tension, inability to think clearly, and/or anxiety.

The best, “in-the-moment” stress reducer is deep, belly breathing, officially called “diaphragmatic breathing”. Your regular breathing continues to function automatically, whether you consciously think about it or not. However, when you directly think about taking a few full, nourishing breaths, this can help to stave a full-blown stress response. By avoiding shallow, rapid breathing when under stress, it is easier for the body to supply oxygen to the tissues. By not hyperventilating, the body is less apt to have high heart rates, tense up muscles, etc. in response to whatever the immediate stressor is.

During a full diaphragmatic breath, the abdomen should rise outward when taking a breath in, making room as the lungs fully expand in the chest and downward. Then when breathing out, the stomach should return inward, back to it’s resting place. Allowing the belly to rise and fall does not harm the abdomen or create a “pot belly”. By using the abdominal muscles to assist with breathing, then the breathing capacity can be stronger when needed for physical exertion, such as climbing stairs. Practicing gentle diaphragmatic breathing before falling asleep at night can assist in letting the muscles relax and can bring more awareness to proper breathing.

In addition to trying to counter stress “in-the-moment”, it is also beneficial to do activities on a regular basis that can be a positive outlet for stress. Great stress relievers include: aerobic exercise (as long as it isn’t too intense so as to create stress on the body) such as walking, biking, and swimming; reading; listening to quiet music; taking a relaxing bath; enjoying time in nature; and watching a funny movie. Receiving massage is another excellent activity for decreasing stress, lowering blood pressure, relaxing muscles, and feeling calm.