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What is Your Plan for Wellness?

Most people are aware that high levels of stress that go unmanaged can affect your health.  Some of the illnesses and medical conditions that are associated with long-term stress are:

  • A lowered immune system that leaves you more susceptible to the cold and flu
  • Irritable bowel and other digestive disorders such as ulcers
  • Back, neck, and joint pain
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Weight loss due to poor appetite
  • Obesity caused by stress related eating
  • Impatience and irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Worry or Anxiety
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse

You already know that your job can be stressful.  Combine this with the everyday stresses you may have in your personal life, and any medical risk factors you may have, and it is clear that you must have a wellness plan.  So what is your plan for wellness?

Talking with your healthcare professional is always a good place to start.  Based upon your current health and whatever medical issues you may have, he or she will make specific recommendations.  But there are some components of a wellness plan that make sense for everyone.

  • If you smoke, STOP!!!  Smoking places you at much higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.  Exercise!  Consult with your doctor about what is a healthy weight for you, as well as how much cardio and resistance training is safe and recommended for you.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Most Americans don't eat enough of these foods. 
  • Eat regular meals.  Don't try to skip a meal in order to lose weight.  If you've tried it in the past, you know that skipping meals usually leads to out-of-control hunger and eventual overeating.
  • Reduce your intake of some of your favorite foods instead of trying to eliminate them from your diet.  A less restrictive approach will allow you to occasionally eat those foods that are high in fat, salt, or sugar.  You won't be depriving yourself completely and you'll be more inclined to stick with a more healthy way of eating.
  • Get enough sleep.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that you only need 4 or 5 hours of sleep.  The recommended amount of sleep for positive well-being is 8 to 8.5 hours.

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Reduce Your Stress Levels

If you feel that you are under too much stress, you need to explore ways to decrease your stress levels.  There will be things that are out of your control, but there are also probably some behaviors and aspects of your life that you can change.

Is it possible that you need to change your thought patterns?  The late cardiologist, Dr. Robert Elliot, coined the phrase "hot reactor" to refer to people who are impatient and become upset with even minor every day stress.  He found that "hot reactors" are at greater risk for developing stress-related cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and sudden cardiac death. 

"Hot reactors" demonstrate characteristics that are often associated with the Type A personality such as low tolerance for frustration, being busy and on the go, interrupting others often, walking or talking at a rapid pace, always feeling pressed for time, competitiveness, and a strong orientation toward action and achievement.  Hot reactor types usually internalize their stress and feelings of anxiety which can lead to outbursts of rage and hostility.  These personality types need to learn effective stress management techniques in order to improve their physical and emotional well-being.

Stress Management Techniques

Positive Self-Talk - What you think affects how you feel, and can either increase or decrease your stress level.  Thoughts like "This can't be happening", "I'll never get home with all this traffic", and "Nothing ever goes right for me" can only leave you feeling more stressed, anxious, or angry.  You may need to monitor your inner dialogue and substitute some of your extreme or negative thinking with more positive and calming phrases such as "It'll be okay", "Breathe", "This isn't something that I can control".  You will be surprised at how much of a difference this can make in how you react to potentially stressful situations.

Deep Breathing - When faced with a stressful situation, taking slow deep breaths can help to slow pulse rates, relax tense muscles, and lower blood pressure.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation - This technique involves conscious tensing and relaxing of specific muscles starting with the forehead, and progressively working down to the feet. 

Meditation - Various types of meditation are practiced throughout the world.  Generally speaking it is a form of highly focused concentration.  Those that practice meditation experience a mind that is quieted and free from stress by the use of quiet contemplation and reflection.

Visualization/Imagery - Visualization is a process in which you quietly sit or lie down and imagine a very relaxing or comforting place in great detail.  As you become more involved in your visual image, your body relaxes and you become able to let go of the problems or worries that you felt before.

Autogenic Training - This technique involves focusing on relaxing phrases that will help lead your body into experiencing desired sensations.  An example of an autogenic phrase is "My shoulders feel warm and relaxed."

Balance Work & Leisure - Set aside time for healthy activities that you enjoy.  Everyone needs time to relax and have fun.  If you don't do this, you'll find yourself feeling depleted and resentful of your obligations.  Leisure time needs to be on your list of priorities or responsibilities, otherwise it may not happen.  Consider resuming a sport or hobby that you used to enjoy or try something new that you've always wanted to learn.  Sometimes leisure time can be spent doing something as simple as sitting outside and enjoying the weather, reading a book, listening to music, or watching a movie.  What you do is not as important as actually taking the time to relax and refuel.

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