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Fitness 2014: Learn to manage stress or it can wreak havoc with your health

Oregonian (Portland, OR)


Jan. 03--Your boss wants more from you. Your spouse, too. Kids are whining. Traffic's nasty. Money's tight.

You might know all that, but did you know your body responds to such common assaults with something called general adaptation syndrome, a three-stage physiological reaction to that health bugaboo, stress?

The adrenal glands regulate the syndrome's three phases -- alarm, resistance and exhaustion -- helping you adapt to stress. But go to the bank too often and you'll deplete your body's nutrients and "everything becomes taxed mentally, emotionally and physically," says Tori Hudson, medical director of A Woman's Time, a Northwest Portland natural medicine clinic.

"We all have stress," Hudson says. "It's a normal part of life. But many, if not most, of us have been continually asking of ourselves, and being asked by others, to adapt to faster and faster paces, more and more pressures, more complicated lives. There's a limit."

And there can be serious consequences. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach problems, depression and many other health issues.

Hudson advises being aware of yellow flags indicating your stress is getting out of control. Yellow flags might be feeling irritable or anxious, sleeping poorly or being inexplicably fatigued. A red flag might be a panic attack.

"People have different thresholds," she says. "You might look at my life and say, 'You have a lot of balls in the air.' For me, it seems normal. I need to be aware of: When is it a little too much? What are my yellow flags?"

Key, Hudson says, is improving the resilience that allows you to deal with stressors. She offers some stress-management suggestions:

--Eat a healthy, whole foods diet and eat three times a day at regular mealtimes "so your body doesn't have to keep going to its reserves," she says.

--Develop regular sleep patterns, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day; sleep helps re-build the body's energy reserves.

--Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.

--Hudson sometimes recommends herbs known as adaptogens, said to help the body resist stress or build reserves needed to adapt to stress. Different cultures use different herbs for this purpose. Ginseng is an Asian tonic. Eastern Europeans use Rhodiola and South Americans, maca. "They're a long-term strategy to build the reserves," she says.

--Because stress depletes such key nutrients as vitamins C and B6, zinc and magnesium, some people benefit from taking those supplements, she says.

--Various relaxation techniques -- meditation, biofeedback, prayer, taking a hot tub under the stars and many more -- help with stress management. "It also could just be sitting quietly, having calm breathing, clearing the mind and not thinking about anything," Hudson says.

--Connect with nature. "It seems to be one of the first things to go, especially in an urban environment, Hudson says. "Being in nature, with trees, breathing, looking, listening, experiencing ... it's a rhythm to be appreciated and learned from and to be respectful of for many reasons but also for its ability to impart healing to us. And where better? In Oregon, most of us don't have to walk very many blocks to be in nature."

-- Katy Muldoon


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