Avoiding Burnout

“Should I be concerned that my 15-year-old boy may burnout after being immersed in soccer for the past 10 years? He is putting in a lot of time and I know he loves the game, but sometimes he seems like wanting to quit.” Young athletes are playing the same sport year-round at a very intense level. They compete, practice, plus dedicate gym time as if they were professional athletes. On top of these commitments, they need to meet academic requirements, including attending school and doing homework that barely leaves them with time to sleep. But, should we be concerned that they may crash and burnout?

There is no question that the athletic stakes are much higher than ever before. To earn an athletic spot at a top university is becoming increasingly challenging. NCAA coaches are constantly in the look-out for the best athletes as their respective conferences are also becoming more competitive. The better their athletic program, the more funding they will get. Hence, coaches are selectively looking for the best athletes and they know that if a high-school athlete competes at the varsity and club level, he/she has, by far, much better chances of being recruited.

There are three factors that, when combined, lead to burnout: 1- sport specialization at a very young age; 2- the unfamiliarity of using effective stress management coping skills; and 3- the proliferation of social media as a tool to remain socially connected.

Sport specialization at a young age

An athlete younger than 12-year-old, who plays one sport for more than 8 month/year to the exclusion of participating in other sports, and has limited free playing time is specializing in sports.  Playing just one sport significantly increases the chances of muscle burnout. One of the major concerns is the muscular repetitiveness that often leads to torn muscles. At a young age, muscles are not quite developed, yet, which leads to an increase in injury. The number of ACL surgeries has double in the past 15 years. Although the medical field has made tremendous progress in orthopedic surgeries, there is always the underlying concern that the young athlete may develop fear of re-injury. By then, their own fears will get in the way of returning to compete.

Unfamiliarity of using effective stress management coping skills

Some young athletes learn skill development very quickly. Others happen to be physically strong. In either case, they tend to use those gifts to their advantage and stand out over other competitors. Additionally, many athletes follow Vince Lombardi’s motto, “winners never quit and quitter never win.” Hence, their belief system is to continue plowing along at full speed, and when this strategy begins to fail, then it is time to go even faster. As the competition becomes more intense, these athletes eventually meet equally gifted athletes who give them a run for their money. Unless they have worked on how to properly use sport psychology strategies that prepare them for before and during the game, they will be overwhelmed by the stress of competition. More often than not, those upsetting and frustrating feelings are either ignored or minimized. However, we know that feelings do not go away and will reappear when facing similar situations. Their lack of being able to emotionally navigate challenges eventually leads to underperforming.

Proliferation of social media

The speed with which social media has taken the “space” of these young individuals is beginning to be quite concerning. The greatest loss is in their limited time to personally interact with one another. Instead, social media interaction has overtaken their way of communicating and engaging. Its consequence is that the human nervous system needs the on-to-one interaction to develop its capacity to regulate emotions. It is a physiological requirement, not a personal preference. The less their interaction, the less developed their capacity to navigate stressors and remain focused. If their nervous system is not developed enough to manage competitive stress, then they will be more likely to quit out of frustration of under-performing given their learned skills and talents.

How to avoid burnout

The most important reason for pursuing a sport is because it is fun. The motivation to continue making progress and follow the demanding training and competitive schedules must come exclusively from the athlete, not the adult, coach or teammates. We call it, intrinsic motivation. It is born from within, not from outside. It is the player who needs to embrace to its fullest the grinding of pursuing a sport out of fulfilling his/her own goals, not somebody else’s. In accepting these challenges, stressors will come up. Learning how to be mentally ready and able to negotiate the pressure of competition will greatly enhance the athlete’s abilities to trust and focus. Equally important, learning when to peak, how to rest, and what to eat provide tools excel. When young athletes achieve their goals, it promotes confidence. Intrinsic motivation is a personal experience that can be taken anywhere else in their life.

 

Alex Diaz, PhD

Sports Mental Edge

www.sportsmentaledge.com

Know Your Knee

I am an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. I see about 30 patients everyday with knee problems and do over 200 knee surgeries every year. Most people with knee pain do not need surgery. If your knee is hurting and not getting better, you need to see a knee specialist.
What are the signs of a knee problem? The most common sign is pain. If you are young and twisted your knee with pain on the sides of the knee, a likely diagnosis is a tear of the meniscus cartilage. This is best diagnosed on physical exam by an orthopedic specialist and can be confirmed with an MRI. If there is a small tear in the meniscus it can heal, but a large tear will require arthroscopic surgery. Those of us who do a lot of these surgeries can typically do it in less than 15 minutes and you can walk immediately after the surgery. It is a quick and easy surgery, but if you can avoid the surgery avoid it.
If you twisted your knee and heard a “pop,” it is likely that you tore your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This is a very important stabilizer of the knee and if you play any pivoting sports you will need it reconstructed. Unlike a meniscus surgery, ACL surgery means recovery of at least 6 months before you can return to sports.
Swelling of your knee can be caused from either an acute injury or due to a chronic problem. Living in Westchester, if your knee swells without a direct injury test for Lyme disease. If diagnosed early, treatment with antibiotics will prevent long-term complications of Lyme disease which can include arthritis and brain/nerve issues.
If your knee swells and it is red, hot and painful make sure it is not an infection. This is an emergency. If you suspect an infection, go immediately to your orthopedist’s office or go to the emergency room. You cannot wait and ignore this. The consequences of not dealing with an infection early can be life altering.
Knee pain from arthritis usually presents as chronic pain that is getting worse over weeks to months. Pain is usually in the front of the knee and worse going up and down stairs or after sitting for too long. Also, arthritis usually feels worse in the morning when you first get out of bed and at the end of the day when your leg has fatigued.
If your knee hurts or swells, ice and Motrin may be helpful. However, if your symptoms persist or you worry about an infection get it evaluated and diagnosed by a medical doctor who will help get you back to normal activities.
By Dr. Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA
Director of Orthopedic Surgery
Westchester Sport & Spine of White Plains Hospital

Should I Take a Probiotic?

 

Our body contains over 100 trillion bacteria, which is more than all of cells in our body combined! Gut health of the microbiome has been shown to be related to many health conditions today, including obesity, diabetes and depression. The quality of the microorganisms are responsible for preventing or encouraging the onset of diseases. There is a combination of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut, and when the ratio of the bacteria becomes off balance, this can lead to health issues. Our gut bacteria can easily change due to changes in our food, environment, and lifestyle. This is where probiotics can help correct imbalances and improve our health.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are helpful and benefit the digestive system. There is a great deal of research on the benefits of probiotics and how they improve health conditions. They have been shown to boost cognitive function and improve memory, anxiety, depression, autism symptoms, stress, and OCD. Probiotics improve gut health and decrease GI issues such as IBS, and they aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, such as B12, calcium, zinc and phosphorus. Intake of probiotics has also been shown to help promote weight loss, to improve HDL levels, and to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. Lastly, probiotic help reduce inflammation and improve immune health.

There are many different strains of probiotics, and some studies show that different strains are beneficial at healing certain ailments. For example, some strains may improve immune function while others promote hormonal balance. When purchasing a probiotic, purchase a reputable brand, and try to pick one with multiple strains. SBOs (soil based organisms) are a new popular trend of probiotics. They are probiotic strains/microbes found in soil, which used to be a large part of our ancestral diet. Proponents state that they increase gut diversity and benefit gut health, especially those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Common SBO strains are bacillus subtilis, bacillus clausii, saccharomyces boulardii, lactobacillus plantarum, and bacillus coagulans.

Everyone’s gut microbiome is different, and different strains will react differently in our bodies. In my opinion, a probiotic can be beneficial for just about everyone. They are especially helping for those with persistent GI issues, allergies, asthma, frequent yeast infections, autoimmune conditions, anxiety, and skin conditions. They are also beneficial with those with a history of antibiotic use and when one is on a weight loss program or traveling. If probiotics cause your digestive symptoms to get worse, stop them immediately.

by Denise Groothuis MS RD CFMP

10 Success Strategies for Boosting Your Immune System

Many over the counter products, vitamins and supplements claim to help improve your health, but the best strategies for boosting your immune system involve a number of simple lifestyle strategies anyone can follow through with. Some of the best success strategies to boost and support your immune system are:

  1. Eating a healthy diet
  2. Losing weight if you are carrying extra pounds
  3. Exercising regularly
  4. Getting more quality sleep
  5. Decreasing stress levels
  6. Making time for yourself
  7. Socializing with friends and family
  8. Quitting smoking
  9. Avoiding or minimizing antibiotic use
  10. Cutting down on your alcohol consumption

Let’s look at each of these success strategies in turn.

We are what we eat, digest and absorb, so a healthy diet goes a long way in preserving our health. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables offers a range of nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants, powerful disease-fighting molecules found in certain foods such a berries, legumes and apples. Eating a rainbow every day will help you achieve a balanced diet, and the fiber and water in these foods will also help you feel full and satisfied for longer, which in turn can help with weight loss.

If you are carrying extra weight, turn to clean natural foods to help slim down. Don’t rely on supplements or packaged diet foods, but rather, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, healthy, properly-raised animal protein, wild fish and smaller portions.

Regular exercise can not only help you achieve your weight loss goals, but boost your immunity too. Exercise improves digestion, brain function and helps eliminate toxins from the body through sweating. It also stimulates circulation, including not only the blood but the lymphatic system, which helps the body fight and prevent illness.

Getting more sleep can help boost the immune system, especially high-quality, deep, restorative sleep. If you’re feeling stressed, it can be difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Stress reduction strategies such as meditation can help lower your stress levels and improve your quality of sleep.

You can also decrease your stress by making more time for yourself to do some of the things you enjoy. This can include hobbies, time at the gym getting more exercise, or going for long walks. It should also include nurturing the relationships that are important to you by spending quality time with friends and family. Loneliness and feelings of isolation can make you feel run down but surrounding yourself with positive people can help boost your immune system.

By now we all know about the negative effects of smoking on the body, especially the immune system. It scorches away the cilia, the little hairs that line the nostrils and nasal passages, for example, making it far easier for germs to get into your body. It also decreases circulation in the microscopic blood vessles leading to slowed healing.

Many people turn to a range of pills in an attempt to boost their health, and when used correctly, they may be beneficial. The flipside is that excessive use can cause harm. In particular, antibiotics can damage your immune system as they kill off both helpful and harmful bacteria. They do not help against viruses such as colds and flu, so do not ask for a prescription from your doctor in the hope you will get better faster.

If you do have to take an antibiotic, take it EXACTLY as prescribed. Once you have finished the full course of treatment, consider probiotics to help get your system back in balance.

Finally, if you consume a lot of alcohol, especially in an attempt to reduce stress, try cutting down. Alcohol has many negative effects on the body, including suppressing the immune system and increasing inflammation.

Adopt these simple, practical success strategies to boost your immune system and see what a difference they can make to your health.

by Dr. Robert Inesta, DC L.Ac CFMP CCSP

Viavitae Health

Confused About CBD Oil?

There has been a lot of buzz about CBD oil and many people are confused about what it is, how it differs from marijuana (cannabis) and how to use it. Cannabis is a drug that is approved for recreational/medicinal use in some states in the US. Cannabis contains a substance called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the psychoactive properties of the plant.  In additional to THC, cannabis contains many other biologically active compounds called phytocannabinoids. One of these compounds is called cannabidiol (CBD), and it has been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory and pain reducing properties without the psychoactive “high” effect of THC. Therefore, cannabis oil is not the same as CBD oil since cannabis oil contains CBD oil and THC while CBD oil does not.

Research has shown many benefits from CBD oil including pain relief, decreased anxiety and depression, a reduction in cancer-related symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, improvement of acne, neuroprotective properties, treatment of  symptoms related to Parkinson’s and epilepsy, and improvement of gut health and heart health. Further some research shows that CBD oil may help treat diabetes and substance abuse and prevent certain cancers and diabetes.

CBD oil is derived either from the cannabis plant or the hemp plant and then diluted with a carrier oil such as hemp seed oil or coconut oil. Hemp is a plant that comes from the same genus as the Cannabis plant, but only has trace amount of THC, usually less than .3%. The majority of CBD oil comes from industrial hemp. CBD oil can be extracted as a full spectrum oil or a crystalline isolate.

CBD oil products come as oils, tinctures, vapors, capsules, topical balms, teas, and sprays and they vary in concentrations. Higher concentrations have more CBD cannabinoid. It is difficult to suggest a dosage for CBD oil, because everyone is different, and weight, genetics, environment, diet, metabolism, and the product type all affect how it works. It is always important to start with the minimal suggested dose of the product then increase the dosage gradually. The dosage should be determined by your body weight, the reason you are taking CBD, and what kind of effect (mild, moderate, or high) you desire. There are varying recommendations for determining the correct CBD dosage. Some experts state that 5 mg is a good starting point, and it can be increased 7-10mg per use as necessary.  Desired effects are often found at 10 mg 1-2 times per day. Other guidelines state those under 130# should take a dosage ranging from 11-17mg, while those over 230 pounds should range from 23-45 mg. Websites on pain recommend higher doses, with as much as 1-6mg per every 10 pounds of body weight.

It is very important to buy high quality CBD oil, since it is not regulated by the FDA. High quality oil has been tested by accredited laboratories and is free of pesticides, residual solvents from the extraction process, heavy metals, bacteria and fungus. When purchasing CBD oil, you should determine the extraction method used to process the oil. You do not want to buy a product that uses toxic materials like propane or butane. Instead look for safer extraction methods, such as ethanol and carbon dioxide. You should also research if the hemp is organic and learn about the farm where it is grown so it is not contaminated with metals and unwanted minerals. Also consider whether the CBD oil was tested by a third-party to meet quality standards, and avoid oils that do not give information about their third party testing.

As with all supplements, consult a doctor before you take CBD oil to determine if it is right for you.

by Denise Groothuis MS RD CFMP

Getting in Shape 2019

It’s a new year and time to get in better shape. For many people that means losing weight. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 47% of Latinos, 47% of black adults and 38% of white adults are obese. Overall 40% of American adults are obese and 19% of American youths. Obesity is slightly more common in women than men. This is a major health issue in our country. It cannot be called an epidemic because it is not contagious, but it is a growing issue with rates increasing for the past 20 years. Its ironic that we seem to have so many people dieting and joining gyms and so many diet foods in 2019, but we have more overweight people than ever before. What’s the problem?

Weight gain or loss is really just simple math. If you burn more calories than you consume you lose weight. Eat more than you burn you gain weight. There are so many diets including keto diets and low carb diets, nutri system and weight watchers and even the paleo diet and Zone diet. Some diets are dangerous and you should discuss options with your medical doctor or a certified nutritionist before making any drastic changes. All diets work by reducing your calorie intake…that’s it! There is no magic or secret to weight loss.

In terms of numbers to lose a pound you need to reduce your calories by 3,500. This done by decreasing how much you eat and also through burning more calories. This is very doable by combining eating less and working out more. To lose 1 pound a week, all you need to do is decrease calories by 250 each day and burn 250 more calories each day. In previous articles I discussed that interval training is much more effective in working out in a shorter amount of time. It would take about 20 minutes on an elliptical or treadmill to burn these calories but the intervals need to be hard getting your heart rate up to 80% of your max (220-age). Do hills or sprints for 2 minutes then go lighter for 2 minute intervals.

When it comes to working out try and do something every day. Do what you like. It should be hard but somewhat enjoyable. You will feel better after even those days you are feeling less motivated.

My simple rules to weight loss.

  1. Do not eat anything fried.
  2. Do not have dessert.
  3. Do not get so hungry that you will eat whatever is in front of you – that means having a snack in the late afternoon and perhaps in the morning to offset your hunger.

The bottom line is to get in shape this year, pick realistic goals. Eat healthier and work out every day.

 

Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA

Director of Orthopedic Surgery

Westchester Sport & Spine of White Plains Hospital

Choking

High level of emotions felt under pressure situations may undermine an athlete’s best skills leading to under-performing when it matters most. We can easily point out to the exact moment when choking occurs, but does missing a free-throw, penalty kick, or a 3-foot putt for birdie mean that the athlete choked?

Choking is more often than not the result of a process leading to under-performing than an isolated missed execution. Everybody misses free throws, penalty kicks, or short putts. And, emotions do not just show up all of the sudden. What we think prior to the game, our expectations, somebody else’s expectations, meaning of the game, and past experiences are all factors influencing performance. How we come mentally prepared to compete can greatly influence how we perform when the emotions of the game are at its highest level.

John McEnroe said it best: “When it comes to choking, the bottom line is that everyone does it. The question isn’t whether you choke or not, but how -when you choke- you are going to handle it. Choking is a big part of every sport, and part of being a champion is being able to cope with it better than everyone else.” (Goffi, 1984, pp 61-62).

As competition is about to start, the heart beat speeds up, muscles tense, and the breathing accelerates. What we think about the competition concurs with an immediate physiological reaction. Thoughts and body felt sense responses go hand-in-hand. It is a human response, not an individual response. Everyone’s bodies go through the same experience. Maybe for some individuals, the felt sense responses are less pronounced than for others. Regardless of your personal experience, negating, minimizing, or pretending that “I am fine” will only exacerbate the sensations. Unless these experiences are well managed, emotions will really come up when the game is on the line and, by then, it will be too late. The inability to better cope with normal competitive emotions will lead to loss of focus, increased muscle tension, under-performing, and later lamenting for not being able to show your true talents.

One of the ways to enhance your ability to manage emotions is by paying close attention to what you can vs. cannot manage. If emphasis is placed on meeting past successful results, then such expectations will only increase tension as past experiences do not dictate how you are performing right now. It may provide information to help you design your strategy, but it will not execute present tasks. For example, a tennis player who easily beat an opponent in their last match will be mistaken to overly rely on such an outcome to minimize his/her own preparation. If the opponent made significant improvements and you came in unprepared, when the game is on the line, pressure will tense your muscles and increase the chances of making mistakes.

Also, playing in a team sport may adds pressure as the thought of not wanting to let teammates down often enhances self-pressure. It is important that a team meeting takes place where a discussion about the pressure of wanting to do well and the fear of not wanting to let others down are verbally expressed. It is vital that teammates feel the support of one another to strengthen team spirit. Fear concerns are in everybody’s mind. We tend to believe that we are the only ones who have these concerns, but it is often a common concern that everybody has. Fearful thoughts and stressful feelings can easily remain hidden only to come up to the surface when the pressure is on and, by then, it is too late.

Another good mental preparation happens on the night before competition. Going to bed early, imagining all possible competitive scenarios and creating mental rehearsals on how to overcome those situations, including having success and experiencing a loss, practicing breathing relaxation, and remaining positive are all mental tools that foster readiness.

We only have control over our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It is very easy to get distracted by what others are saying, bad weather conditions, unfair referee calls, and the opponent’s untimely good luck. Bring your attention to what you can control and embrace the process. If it was a successful experience, then celebrate it and remain focused. If it was an unsuccessful experience, then accept it as such without remaining overly emotionally attached and use a cue signal that fosters re- focusing.

To Parents: they can also serve as emotion regulators by reminding game strategies, focusing on variables that the athlete can control, such as positive talk, breathing relaxation, and mental rehearsal, and cheering for all his/her efforts. It builds internal trust and confidence. On the other hand, focusing on winning, saying that his/her child is the best, or yelling when an error is made will increase pressure. Learning comes from making constant adjustment. The more parents support the athlete’s ability to trust in their skills and learn from mistakes, the more likely the athlete will trust in his/her self-beliefs.

 

Alex Diaz, PhD

Sports Mental Edge

How to Lose Weight This New Year

It’s the New Year…a time for the usual weight loss and exercise resolutions. Lifestyle changes can be challenging and hard to maintain. How can you ensure that you will be successful in your exercise and diet goals this year?

First, diet is extremely important. Despite popular opinion, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Instead high carbohydrate diets are really the enemy because of how they affect glucose and fat storage in the body. Every diet should be high in vegetables, which have important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Intermittent fasting is also a great tool to help with weight loss. The most popular method of intermittent fasting is to eat all your food in an 8 hour window and fast for the other 16 hours.  Research has shown many other benefits to intermittent fasting including improved blood sugar levels, improved heart health, a reduction of inflammation, and improvements in memory and cognitive function.

Exercise is also key in any weight loss program. It is important to incorporate resistance training and cardio training to get the desired result. Exercise programs should be tailored to your goals, fitness level, weight, time commitment, and limitations. At times, group exercise classes, while fun, can be dangerous because the instructor can’t individualize the routine or make sure your form is correct.

THE ARENA FITNESS can help with your diet and exercise goals. First, you can make a free consultation with our dietitian, Denise Groothuis, who will help you come up with a plan. Additionally, our personal trainers can put you on a routine to promote weight loss. Our trainers take more courses and are more credentialed than 95 % of the trainers in Westchester and Connecticut, even the trainers at the “elite” gyms. It’s time to shed those pounds. Come to THE ARENA and let us help you fulfill your resolutions!

 

by Denise Groothuis MS RD CFMP

How to Eat on Vacation

Most of us look forward to our vacations from life, work, responsibilities, etc. We spend months planning to find the perfect location, amazing hotel, and great restaurants. Many of us spend time dieting to get the perfect “beach body,” and we watch our intake for weeks. However, all that hard work often vanishes the second we arrive on our trip!

Vacations are meant to relaxing, fun, and decadent. You’ll often find huge buffet breakfasts, abundant lunches, and decadent dinners & desserts. And what is a vacation without a few drinks by the pool or beach?  After a day of eating and drinking, the hotel gym is nothing but a pipedream. Often, we end a vacation a few pounds heavier than we started.

So, how can we keep lean and healthy on vacation? First, pack healthy snacks for the plane and to keep in the hotel. These include nuts, seeds, energy bars, protein powder, and fruit. Second, plan ahead. Pick a few days to exercise in the morning and choose one big splurge meal instead of eating crazy every night.

For breakfast, stay away from the bread and muffins. Instead, choose fresh fruit and eggs. Drink plenty of water at each meal and throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially if you are drinking alcoholic beverages. For lunch, choose salads with dressing on the side or lean protein or fish with vegetables.  Try to avoid the bar food and French fries! At dinner, don’t order both an appetizer and entrée. Either get your own appetizer and split a main course with your partner or friend, or avoid the appetizer all together. Make sure foods are not fried or drenched in creamy, high caloric sauces. It is also important to avoid the bread basket! As far as dessert, pick two nights to splurge, and avoid sugar the rest of the trip. If there is a buffet, start with a plate full of salad first and then have protein and a vegetable.

It is possible to enjoy your food and keep your body trim. Just listen to your body and do not overeat, and remember to exercise and drink plenty of water. Eating healthy is a lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge within reason on your trip. Happy Holidays!

 

by Denise Groothuis MS RD CFMP

 

 

Exercise Your Way to Calm

There are many different ways to de-stress. One of the most productive ways is to exercise. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress hormones & chemicals more than any other activity. Whether it’s just a walking or jogging around the neighborhood, joining a new sport, participating in yoga or a new class at your gym, or lifting weights, it will do wonders for your mind & body.

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives. When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind.

Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins which ultimately mean you will not only look good, you will feel good too!

Any type of exercise can increase your fitness and decrease your stress. However, it’s important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread. Stress can result from many personal, professional, and environmental causes. The best way to cope with stress is by managing the stressors that are within your control. For example, you could walk away from toxic relationships or leave a stressful job. You can also practice accepting or coping with the stressors that are out of your control, with actions like meditating or drinking less caffeine and alcohol. Depression can make it much more difficult to control or cope with stressors, but seeking out counseling or therapy or taking medication can allow you to better confront stressors and deal with them in a positive, constructive way.

Stress comes in many forms and produces many symptoms. Mental symptoms range from worry and irritability to restlessness and insomnia, anger and hostility, or sensations of dread or panic. Mental stress can also produce physical symptoms. Muscles are tense, resulting in fidgetiness, taut facial expressions, headaches, or neck and back pain. The mouth is dry, producing unquenchable thirst or perhaps the sensation of a lump in the throat that makes swallowing difficult. Clenched jaw muscles can produce jaw pain and headaches. The skin can be pale, sweaty, and clammy. Intestinal symptoms range from “butterflies” to heartburn, cramps, or diarrhea. Frequent urination may be a bother. A pounding pulse is common, as is chest tightness. Rapid breathing is also typical, and may be accompanied by sighing or repetitive coughing. In extreme cases, hyperventilation can lead to tingling of the face and fingers, muscle cramps, lightheadedness, and even fainting. The physical symptoms of stress are themselves distressing. In fact, the body’s response to stress can feel so bad that it produces additional mental stress. During the stress response, then, mind and body can amplify each other’s distress signals, creating a vicious cycle of tension and anxiety. Because the root cause of stress is emotional, it is best controlled by gaining insight, reducing life problems that trigger stress, and modifying behavior. In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular exercise also promotes optimum health in other ways. Improvements to your overall health may help indirectly moderate your stress levels. By improving your physical wellness and heart health, you’ll have less to feel stressed about.

Many forms of exercise reduce stress directly, and by preventing bodily illness, exercise has extra benefits for the mind. Regular physical activity will lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol, and reduce your blood sugar. Exercise cuts the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, osteoporosis and fractures, obesity, depression, and even dementia (memory loss). Exercise slows the aging process, increases energy, and prolongs life. Except during illness, you should exercise nearly every day. That doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym or training for a marathon. It does, however, mean 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking or 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. Aim to walk at least two miles a day, or do the equivalent amount of another activity. You can do it all at once or in 10- to 15-minute chunks if that fits your schedule better. Add a little strength training and stretching two to three times a week, and you’ll have an excellent, balanced program for health and stress reduction. It’s important to start out slow & not cause extra stress to your body by overtraining. If you need guidance, hire a trainer to help get you on the path to stress-free, healthy living!

by Gina Stallone