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Staying Healthy and Fit at 73 Part 3: Stress Management

Updated: Nov 20, 2022



"Being focused and calm bestows a critical realism necessary to meet any crisis."


Stress seems to be everywhere. Whether it's inflation, gun violence, paying the bills, or record heat waves, stress is affecting all of us. Such high levels of stress can destroy our joy of living, make us susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and throw us into perpetual turmoil. The balance we all need to enjoy life, make good personal and professional decisions, and remain healthy becomes compromised. As stress mounts we feel less and less in control.


But as you will see, there are lots of things that you can do to manage stress effectively.


Stress can affect every part of your body and mind. When stress becomes chronic day in and day out, your muscles are tense, breathing is shallow, stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) are released, digestion is disrupted, and blood pressure rises. You tend toward greater anxiety, moodiness, substance abuse, and depression. This compromises your immune system, making you susceptible to a variety of illnesses and chronic disease.


Don't give up hope. Although solutions to our economic, political, and social problems may seem elusive, there is much you can do to remain balanced, healthy, and productive.


Stress and aging


Before I outline activities and methods that effectively deal with chronic stress, I want to briefly discuss stress and aging.


Since I'm well into my 70s, I have had to reevaluate my own stress management approach.


The things that stressed me, and I'll bet for you, too, in my younger years have faded. I worried about promotions, taking care of the kids, keeping the house running, etc. Now I worry about my health and the health of loved ones. I notice the weakening of memory and cognitive capacity. My balance isn't as good and I fear falling. I pine about the loss of friends and colleagues. Many of us worry about making ends meet and having to continue working. Feeling useful and productive also weigh heavy as does the burden of loneliness. Sound familiar?


Physically, as you age, your body changes: lung capacity decreases, maximum heart rate lowers, immune responses are less robust, energy levels decline along with muscle repair and growth.


Mentally, short-term memory weakens, emotional resilience diminishes, a good night's sleep is harder to come by leaving you less refreshed and mentally focused. Stress hormones are more abundant and cause greater aging.


What this means is that over time we all respond to life's stresses with less vigor and effectiveness.


Subscribe to my website Transform Your Life and have access to all my health and fitness articles. It's free.


Meeting the challenge


"If you maintain a calm and centered demeanor, you are best prepared to meet life's challenges."


As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I lived near two huge beer breweries. I can recall the ash piled up in the windowsills. When playing outside, I could often see the black soot floating in the air. I suffered from bronchial difficulties as a result of all this pollution. I recall having coughing fits and difficulty breathing.


One day, while in bed because of bronchial issues, someone brought me a book on yoga. I'm not sure if I had requested it or a family member picked it up. I tend to think I had heard of yoga at some point and wanted to know more. I remember reading with rapt attention all the techniques described. Since I had such difficulty breathing I closely read the section on yogic breathing (pranayama). I tried a few of the techniques and found them transformative.


By performing full diaphragmatic breathing I overcame my chronic breathing problems. I practice yogic breathing and postures to this day.


I can't overvalue the importance of how taking control of my health through breathing has had on my entire life. It started a journey through yoga and meditation that I have continued for over 60 years. Combined with the influence of my father in the field of fitness, plus obtaining an advanced degree in traditional naturopathy and state licensing in social work, I have developed an integrated fitness and psycho/spiritual life style that has served me well. You, too, can benefit from such an integrated approach to living. The tools are there.


This approach has given birth to my website Transform Your Life. My site offers all that I have learned through decades of experience on how to sustain health and balance in the wake of life's turmoil.


Through a combination of science-based and traditional practices, I have made available healing methods to help you deal with the chronic stress imposed by modern living. These are powerful compensatory behaviors that, when incorporated into your lifestyle, can reawaken creativity, focus and calm that are transformative.


Let me be clear, this is not a smile and be happy approach. If you maintain a calm and centered demeanor, you are best prepared to meet life's challenges. Remaining focused establishes a greater capacity to make wise decisions and see them through. Being focused and calm bestows a critical realism necessary to meet any crisis.


Subscribing to my website offers you a wide variety of health and healing approaches you can easily use to transform you life and regain the energy you need to live fully.



What can be done?


There are many health promoting behaviors that can help you effectively manage stress.

I’ve listed below a series of behaviors that can create a dynamic, calm, and balanced way of living. I have used all these approaches personally.


1 - Exercise


“For me, exercise is more than just physical—it’s therapeutic.” – Michelle Obama


I'm a life-long exerciser. I find that exercise is one of the best ways to clear my mind, process emotions, and strengthen my body. Current research demonstrates that exercise can give us a greater sense of control, lower anxiety, and combat depression. I've been exercising most of my life. It has helped me create a balanced and stable outlook, as well as, a healthy body.


Going out for a run or brisk walk can be refreshing, clear your mind, and pump up the immune system. A nice long walk/run can unleash a cascade of endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin that leaves you feeling calm, clear thinking, and emotionally stable. Exercise reduces stress, lowers stress hormones, and makes you more resilient.


Resistance training and yoga bestow similar benefits and are central to maintaining dynamic balance.


Related: Access my article at Part 2 of this series for a complete overview of how exercise can help you remain fit and healthy at any age.


Further info can be obtained at these websites and apps:


Websites:



Exercise Apps:



Related:


2 – Connect with Nature


"The goal of life is living in agreement with nature." - Zeno


I'm a long term advocate of getting out in nature to induce a deep sense of calm. I will often sit out or go for long walks in town. I never underestimate the power of being in nature as a salve for built up tension and anxiety. As with exercise, being out in nature has a calming affect. Being in or near green spaces brings about a physiological reaction that is both emotionally and mentally calming.


Populations with greater exposure to greenspaces are more likely to experience better overall health than those not so exposed. Such populations also demonstrate lower salivary cortisol (a stress hormone), lower heart rate, and better outcomes for neurological disorders, cancer, and respiratory conditions.


Take some time, whether exercising or not, to enjoy natural settings. You will feel a sense of contentment, serenity, and a sense of belonging.



Related: My article Can Spending Time In Nature Cure Your Ills? explains how exposure to natural settings can be of great benefit.


3 - Meditation/Breathing


"Learn to be calm and you will always be happy." - Paramahansa Yogananda


As I mentioned in the intro, I've been doing yoga and meditating since childhood. In adulthood, I trained with teachers to learn yoga asanas, breathing techniques and Chan and Zen Buddhist meditation. I still practice regularly. Below are some of the meditation and breathing approaches I use presently.


Mindfulness: There are many types of meditation. One that may be particularly helpful is to be mindful of your experiences and feelings. Sit and take note of your worry and then move your attention to your body and its sensations. Whenever a feeling or worry emerges attend to your body and what you are hearing and seeing. By sitting and following your breathing and attending to sensations in your body, you can experience worry and anxiety in a way that isn’t overwhelming. It takes practice. Access these sites to help you master mindfulness meditation.


Mindfulness Websites:



The second meditation is called fostering the witness or internal observer. This technique fosters a healthy sense of separation from our emotions. We simply sit and observe what we are feeling. In this way we separate ourselves from our worries. Simply sit and watch yourself worrying. Don’t be that worry. You can even label each feeling as they emerge. To develop this skill access this site:



If, however, you experience strong negative reactions, simply stop the meditation.


Breathwork: Most of us take breathing for granted. But something called breathwork can help with everything from anxiety to insomnia. Although we take about 20,000 breathes a day most of it is of the shallow variety. This can affect our anxiety levels, digestion, and even our immune systems. On the other hand, deep breathing increases oxygen levels, reduces insomnia, increases energy, as well as contributing to a reduction in stress. This often leads to deeper mental calmness, improved emotional health, and greater capacity to focus and problem solving.


Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) by stimulating the vagus nerve. By breathing deeply your brain feels safe and out of immediate danger while leaving you in a state of calm. Connecting to your breath pays huge physical and emotional dividends.


I practice deep breathing regularly and experience a deep sense of balance and relaxation.


Here are a few sites that can help you begin a breathwork practice:


Breathwork websites:



4 - Relaxation


“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” – John Lennon


Curiously, I learned meditation and yoga before learning relaxation techniques. These I learned when in graduate school and later while working at a college counseling center. I was able to create an entire stress management program there that included stress management, test anxiety, procrastination, and anxiety support groups. It also included ongoing group work and information flyers for all participants and students.


Like meditation, relaxation techniques are designed to bring about a deep sense of calm by slowing your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and restoring body/mind balance. Relaxation techniques activate the body’s natural relaxation response. Rather than watching TV or pouring yourself a few beers, it may be more helpful to learn a few approaches that lower stress levels without negative side-effects.


Relaxation may be as simple as following your breath or as robust as learning to do a full body scan while relaxing each body part. Some techniques include diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, body scan meditation, visualization, self-massage, rhythmic movements, yoga and tai chi.


It takes some practice to garner the full results of relaxation techniques but with persistence they can bring your mind and body to a whole new place. It’s best to set aside some time each day to devote to using the technique you find most effective. Ten to 20 minutes a day is fine.


Websites:



Apps:



4 - Diet

"Came from a plant, eat it: was made in a plant, don't." - Michael Pollan


A healthy diet is essential to reducing stress. In recent years, the role of diet in reducing depression, anxiety, and stress has been increasingly recognized. Eating a plant based diet is the central focus of my dietary approach. Since adopting a plant based diet, all my bodily functions have improved: lower blood pressure, lower fasting glucose levels, better kidney function, etc.


In times of stress, it is critical to adopt a diet that provides you with all the macro and micronutrients needed to sustain proper physical and mental function. The emphasis is on promoting immune function.


A proper diet is one that emphasizes a variety of multicolored fruits and vegetables, is primarily plant based, contains some fish such as salmon to provide omega 3 fatty acids, restricts calories and processed carbohydrates, and allows for healthy amounts of nuts, seeds, and fruits.


Cut out as much junk food, sugar, and processed foods as possible. Eat copious amounts of fiber to maintain your microbiome. Stay hydrated. Water is best.


Essentially, this is a low or anti-inflammation diet.


Choose foods from traditional, ethnic diets. It could be the Mediterranean, DASH, or Blue Zone diets. You might want to try other traditional diets from various parts of the world. There are great, wholesome diets from Asia, Africa, etc.


Supplement wise make sure to get some extra vitamin D3, Zinc, Omega 3s, and vitamin C.

Consider supplementing with Theanine and Lemon Balm to calm your nervous system while remaining alert and active.


Nutrition Sites:



Food Apps:




5 - Relationships


"...my heart has learned to glow for other's good, and melt at other's woe." - Homer


It is of vital importance to sustain meaningful relationships throughout our lifespan.


I've found that the thing that gets me through and makes me most happy is having genuine, loving relationships with family and friends. It's those relationships that bolster my resolve, provide feelings of contentment and trust, while fostering love and compassion toward others. Making sure you establish and sustain such relationships is vital to managing stress. Here are a few suggestions on fostering good relationships.


First, it's important to establish open lines of communication within your household. All concerns must be heard.


Second, stay in touch with family and friends. Getting together socially or even using facetime or Zoom can really be helpful. Don’t neglect family and friends. Share your feelings and concerns. Show support for friends and family members in need.


Third, find creative ways to deal with children. Keep them learning. Make sure to get them out to socialize with friends and classmates. Go on field trips to farms, museums and aquariums. It can be exciting to explore the world together.


Fourth, keep in touch with elderly family members. Keep them a part of the family system. Make sure their needs are being met.


Establish or maintain close relationships with the people you love.


Relationships and Health Websites:



Relationship Apps:




6 - Sleep


”Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker


One of the best things you can do to tackle stress is to get good, restful sleep. A lack of sleep exacerbates your stress reaction and can lead to physical and mental health problems. On the one hand, too little or disturbed sleep can intensify stress issues. On the other hand, too much stress can disturb sleep. It’s a vicious cycle. Especially when you are under long-term chronic stress sleep patterns can become erratic.


Luckily, I tend to fall asleep quickly. I do wake up during the night but usually fall back again after a brief time. There are times, however, when I have had to use relaxation, meditation and other techniques to calm down and recover my sleep.


Good sleep rejuvenates the mind/body like nothing else. It can protect you from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease while easing our anxiety and depression.


Utilizing the stress management techniques listed above can go a long way to reduce your stress response, lower stress hormones and produce a state of calm.


Getting to sleep can be helped by listening to music or nature sounds. Self-hypnosis can be very effective in inducing pre-sleep relaxation.


Don’t underestimate the power of sleep to foster health and wellbeing.


Here are some websites to assist your efforts at getting a good and deep sleep:


Sleep Websites:



Sleep Apps:



Mental Health Concerns


If you have pre-existing issues (depression, anxiety, OCD, etc.) the stress of social isolation, and increased worry can exacerbate symptoms. For this reason, it’s important to maintain the use of medications and to stay in touch with your therapist, counselor, and psychiatrist.


For the general population, it’s important to adopt strategies that can decrease feelings of being out of control, fear, anticipatory anxiety, and hopelessness.


I’ve listed a few strategies that may help keep you grounded:


1 – Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time listening to the news or reading about the world and local problems on the internet. Give the news a certain amount of time and walk away from it.

2 – Keep socially connected. Isolation can deepen feelings of depression and anxiety. Try to maintain a schedule of connecting with friends and family.

3 – Create a stress time-out. Set aside time each day to practice deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation techniques. Taking a walk or exercising is helpful, as well.

4 – If you or a loved one is experiencing destructive thoughts and behaviors, don’t hesitate to call a mental health provider or 911 if the case is serious.

5 – Keep things in perspective.


Mental Health Websites:



Mental Health Apps:



Subscribe to my website Transform Your Life and have access to all my health and fitness articles. It's free.


Conclusion


Use some or all the suggestions I’ve listed. Exercise as much as possible. Get out in nature whenever you can. You can exercise outdoors! Take time each day to meditate and relax. Concentrate on taking the time to breathe deeply throughout the day. Make every effort to eat a good plant-based diet. Don’t rely on junk food. Stay connected to family and friends. If necessary use social media, facetime, zoom, etc. to keep in touch. Don’t lose track of your relationships. Get plenty of sleep and monitor your mental and emotional state as well as of those around you.


It’s my hope that by implementing these behaviors you can reduce the stress, panic, anxiety, depression, and anger that can overtake the best of us and establish a happy and balanced life.


Stay healthy. Remember to breathe deeply.


Caveat: the information contained in this post is not meant to diagnose or treat disease. The information and advice contained herein is for educational purposes only.

The advice offered on the websites and apps recommended are solely that of the owners of the websites and apps and not the writer of this blog.


For medical advice, please contact your medical and mental health provider.

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