Straight talk about stress

Oscar’s got relaxing down pat

Oscar’s got relaxing down pat

In my recent articles on how to prevent and reverse (yes, reverse!) lifestyle disease, we’ve explored how eating more, not less, can be a good thing, and that moving our bodies is vital for good health. (Missed the scoop? Catch up on my previous blog posts here).

This series is based on the book UnDo It!, by Dean Ornish, M.D., and Anne Ornish. It lays out a no nonsense 4-step plan that showcases simple science-backed habit changes to help prevent, or even eliminate, chronic lifestyle diseases. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain types of cancer are all called lifestyle diseases because, quite simply, they’re a result of how we live our lives. 

Big drug companies would like us to believe that the only fix for our high cholesterol is to take their drugs, but the truth is, we CAN regain control: “Even if a condition like heart disease runs in your family, you can do a lot to break that pattern. Your choices and lifestyle make a big difference. Some genes lead to disease. But for most people, a healthy lifestyle trumps inherited risk," says cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones.” (

Four important lifestyle categories that have an affect on our health:

  • Diet

  • Exercise

  • Stress 

  • Love

This week, we’re tackling stress head on. 

Stress is killing us

It might sound dramatic, but it’s true. Unmanaged stress is killing us. According to Dr. Ornish, unchecked stress:

  • Increases inflammation in our brain

  • Shortens telomeres (the ends of our chromosomes that regulate the aging of our cells) which shortens our lives

  • Increases oxidative stress which may play a role in development of: cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, high blood pressure and other illness 

  • Causes blockages in our arteries to get bigger, faster, regardless of our diet

Stress also makes us fat

Out of control stress can also be responsible for that extra belly fat. You may have heard of fight or flightWhen we’re amped up, our nervous system is out of whack and tells our brain that a tiger is chasing us. The brain takes this message very seriously, and sends stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to our body to help us fight the tiger or flee from it. Smart as our brains are, they can’t distinguish between real life-threatening stress (such as that imaginary tiger) and perceived life-threatening stress, such as worry over making a deadline.  

Now for the good news

While we may not be able to eliminate the causes of stress in our lives, it turns out we don’t need to. It’s not the actual stress that matters, but how we react to that stress. I hope this is empowering! While we can’t always change our situation, we are at the helm of our reaction to it.

But how? 

The list of ways stress adversely affects our health is long, but the possibilities of how we can lessen the impact are also plentiful. Some simple ideas:

  • Yoga

  • Breathing exercises

  • Meditation

  • Exercise

  • Ritual

  • Self-care

Biggest bang for your buck

If you don’t have time to work all of the above stress-busters into your day, I suggest incorporating a three-minute breathing practice into your routine.

I don’t have time

I’d say that’s BS! Everyone has three short minutes to dedicate to their health. If not for yourself, consider doing it for your kids, your partner or your co-workers. If you’re stressed out, trust me, you’re also stressing out those around you.

The practice and how it works

  • Sit comfortably. Silence your phone and set a timer for three minutes. 

  • Close your eyes. Notice that you’re breathing. 

  • Notice the breath coming in through your nose and going out of your nose.

  • Notice the rise and fall of your chest. Notice your rib cage expanding and your belly moving in and out.

  • If your mind wanders, or if you get sleepy, simply bring your awareness back to the sensation of breath in your body.

Voilà! This simple, short practice will do wonders towards balancing your nervous system. Even if your stress still exists, you’ve actually changed your physiology; you’ve tricked your mind into believing that you’re not as stressed as it thinks you are. 

Possible side affects may include:

  • A feeling of calmness

  • Greater sense of peace

  • Improved mood

  • Alertness without caffeine

  • Relaxation without booze

Three minutes. That’s all it takes to help make a shift. 

Still stressed out? Overwhelmed? Let me know. I can help. Click here to schedule a free 45-minute discovery call to find out more about managing your stress.