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Downsizing stress

Posted on Nov. 10, 2015 ( comments)
Women walking in park

November 8–14 is Mental Health Wellness Week, a public education campaign that focuses on promoting mental health wellness across the country.

What's your stress size? If it’s extra-large, you’re not alone: 25 percent of Americans say they’re “super-stressed.” But whether stress is small, medium or large, too much can contribute to big health problems, from migraines to depression, from diabetes to cancer. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy ways to downsize stress. Four MultiCare experts share their tips for reclaiming your calm.

Let action absorb anxiety

“Humans evolved to deal with stress in one of two ways — by fighting or running away,” says Taryn West, [email protected] Wellness Coordinator for MultiCare. And back in the day, fighting off an enemy or fleeing a predatory animal not only saved lives; it dissipated stress.

Though stressors have changed over the millennia, they still trigger that fight-or-flight response. Of course, whether you’re facing a looming deadline, a flat tire — or even life’s good stuff, like buying a home — fight-or-flight isn’t practical. “We have to learn to deal with today’s pressures in ways that suit modern life,” West says.

One proven strategy: Get moving. “Action absorbs anxiety,” says Bev Utt, Wellness Dietitian at MultiCare. She’s talking, in part, about the post-exercise euphoria that makes you feel relaxed. So, since you won’t be battling any predators (and can’t run from your Outlook calendar): Choose an exercise you enjoy. And practice it for at least 30 minutes, almost every day. Need a new workout? Consider yoga or tai chi. Both include two sure ways to get your calm on: meditation and focused deep breathing.


Surprising but true: Listening attentively relieves stress. “Listening lowers our blood pressure and can cause the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, two of the body’s feel-good chemicals,” West says. To practice, try this activity:

  • Ask a friend to share a childhood memory.
  • Look him or her in the eyes.
  • Relinquish your thoughts and focus only on what you’re hearing.
  • Resist the urge to interrupt.
  • Don’t speak until your friend is finished.

“Listening also helps us build relationships,” West says. And social interaction is a proven stress buster.

Practice self-care

“I’m always taking care of everyone but me.” So women have been telling Dawna Schroeder, Master Esthetician at MultiCare ENT, Allergy & Med Aesthetics – Puyallup, throughout her career. “But if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to take care of other people very well,” she says. That’s why she and Lisa Gainey, Licensed Massage Practitioner at MultiCare MedSpa – Gig Harbor, recommend giving yourself the gift of a visit to a medical spa for a massage or to address concerns about your skin.

“During massage, your body releases endorphins, which are natural pain killers,” Gainey says. “Massage increases the flow of oxygen, reduces your heart rate and calms the nervous system.”

It also promotes a good night’s sleep, another key for controlling stress. To enhance the experience, Gainey often uses lavender essential oil,* which may help reduce the stress hormone cortisol. She suggests keeping some at work, where a quick whiff can help clear your head.

Take comfort in quality carbs

From mac and cheese made with refined pasta to chocolate chip cookies, carbohydrates top many lists of comfort food faves. Now, carbs aren’t necessarily bad.

“They’re the fuel of choice to run our bodies,” says Utt. “But we need to choose the right carbs: whole grains, fruits and veggies, beans.”

To give food a positive role in managing stress, Utt suggests learning to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger:

Emotional hunger

Physical hunger
  • Comes on suddenly
  •  Comes on gradually
  • Needs to be satisfied instantly
  •  Can wait to be satisfied
  • Isn’t satisfied with a full stomach
  •  Stops when you feel full

*Lavender essential oil is safe for pregnant women. However, not all essential oils are. If
you’re expecting, consult your doctor before using any other oils.

This story was originally published in September 2014 and updated in November 2015.

Posted in: Healthy Living

About The Author

maura hallam Maura Hallam
Maura is our manager of content services. She writes extensively about health and wellness topics, from fitness and nutrition to medical insurance. You can reach her at [email protected].
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