I’m sure you’ve heard the term before “stress kills”. Each semester I will have students (before they go through my class, of course) tell me that they think stress is the #1 cause of heart attacks. While stress plays a large role in health, I always respond that it isn’t the stress itself that causes problems in people’s lives, but the things that cause our stress and how we respond to and manage them. On the other hand, many people think extremely high stress is “normal” in our American lifestyle and with this viewpoint, we tend not to acknowledge when it becomes problematic. Many will say, and truly believe, “I just have a type A personality and like to be busy; someone like me just can’t relax and that’s okay”… a little while ago that included me!
While my career title may be registered dietitian, counseling is a big part of my job. Aiding my clients in identifying what causes their stress and how they respond from a lifestyle perspective is where we start. Then (in short) we eventually move on to how they can change habits with exercise, environmental changes, diet, breathing, positive self-talk etc.
While I help people with these things on a daily basis, I also deal with a lot of stress myself. I do a really good job keeping it under wraps at work and have had people ask how I am able to keep it together so well when something crazy happens. While I have many techniques that I have learned work for me, there are times when its hard for me to manage too. As my career has been busier (which I view as positive), my stress has increased and so has general anxiety. I am on a continued journey to find better ways to manage this and want to be transparent about it… so I am making a commitment to a blog series I am calling “Stress Management Monday”. I know it will help me stay on track in keeping balance in my own life while making me a better health professional so I can help my clients as best as possible. I also hope that with the series readers can identify they are stressed and find ways to better identify the cause and how to manage it. If you are ever prompted to let situations, people, or just emotions cause you to over eat, under eat, skip exercise, over exercise, feel depressed, lash out at others, ride the negativity wave or just feel lack of self control, join the journey!
So, now that I have introduced my motivation for Stress Management Monday, I have my first tip. For all you type A’s out there (or type B’s and those that can’t identify as either)… try yoga.
Going to one class, not being able to relax and getting frustrated that you aren’t the best one there does not give you the right to say “I tried yoga, it wasn’t for me”. I have been active my entire life as an athlete and 4 years ago, when my ITBS was so bad I could barely walk, my anxiety hit an all time high. I realized then that exercise was the daily stress management that I never knew I had! I thought hitting a high intensity was the only way to help myself but decided I would try yoga. I didn’t love my first class. Maybe hated it. My balance was off, it was really quiet, I didn’t sweat a ton, and the whole relax and lay down for 5 minutes at the end thing? Not for me. But I told myself I had to go back because I felt maybe 3% better after (no research or documentation to confirm this #) and because cardio wasn’t an option and I couldn’t just lift weights for my arms everyday. Next time I tried a different class with a different instructor. I found some things I liked a little more, and others less. Light bulb moment: there is a yoga instructor and class out there for me.
After a good couple of months, I found two instructors I liked (then loved) at the Newtown Athletic Club, one of which is still there, and not only was my running injury improving but so were all of my yoga skills. Oh yeah, and the most important thing, my stress and anxiety were super low! Four years later, I love a variety of classes (though I am still picky about instructors), Shavasanah (that 5 minutes of laying there thing I mentioned) is something I crave now at the end of a class, and if I start to get irritable my husband is asking “when is the last time you went to yoga?”. In most of those cases, its been too long. The great thing is, I have learned to incorporate it in day to day life without a class. I can do a forward fold and just stretch out and stop thinking, I can do one sun salute to realign my back and my mind, or I can just let out a cleansing breath (or 10).
Don’t feel comfortable going to a class with other people in a tight space? I’ve heard that excuse too. Use your cable service’s on demand fitness classes, check out the Huffington Post’s 9 great Yoga YouTube Channels, or do my favorite “morning yoga sequence” that I found on none other than Pinterest a few years ago! I opt for a sun salute between each. If you don’t know what that means, BuzzFeed has your back.
We all experience stress in our life, and at times everyone experiences anxiety too. While not all stress is bad, and it is normal to experience from time to time, honor the signals your body sends you to relax and take your stress levels down a notch. I hope many of you will take this stress management ride with me. Your body and mind will thank you!
Need more help? Check out the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.