How to Get & Stay Healthy in a Stressful World

by Dr. Cynthia Akagi, Health Professor, School of Education

2022.

We are coming off a two-year pandemic, where we were shut up in our houses, juggling work, kids, and their schoolwork, wearing masks forever and ever, and now there is the Ukraine-Russian war and high gas prices! Are you burnt-out or nearly burnt out? I know I’m struggling and I’m trained in how to help others be healthy. There is good stress and bad stress, but in the last three years there has been more bad stress than good. Thank goodness that historically, pandemics only come around every 100 years or so, so we hit the bottom of the barrel and now we’re climbing out.  But to survive, many of us developed bad eating habits during the pandemic.  As we climb past the pandemic, we still face the normal stresses of balancing school and family.

What can we do? What do we do? In a word; re-group! Come back to center. Get back to daily me time, moving our bodies and eating healthy. These three activities are the keys to good health and good health is critical to getting and staying healthy in a stressful world!

DAILY ME TIME. 

When we are busy helping others, we don’t make time for ourselves. But in order to effectively help others, you must first make time for yourself, DAILY ! I well remember my child-rearing years, running 90 miles an hour, 24/7, raising my twins and working full time. My solution for me time was getting up 15 minutes, just 15 minutes earlier than my children, because that’s all the time I had.  I’d slide out of bed unto the floor and set my phone alarm for 10 minutes.  Then I’d sit with my legs wide open (because I couldn’t do a lotus position), touch my pointer fingers to my thumbs, rest my hands on my thighs just above my knees and meditate until my alarm went off. I’d visualize light and love coming into a hole through the top of my head and traveling through my body, just light, love, peace, healing and strength.  When thoughts would enter my brain, I’d acknowledge them, let them go, and go back to visualizing warm, healing light, flowing through my body. I’d visualize my molecules becoming one with the molecules of air in the room, then the house, then the outside.  Yes, it feels hooky at first, but as we’re taught in science, everything is atoms.  At first 10 minutes was an eternity. But after repeated meditation times, I was able to zone out into a peaceful state and the phone alarm sounded far sooner than I wanted to come back to cereal and milk on the kitchen table and Mommie questions.

For others, ME TIME might be a 10-minute yoga stretch, a Tia Chi routine on YouTube, a morning or evening run, journaling, or prayer.  One of my good friends thinks of three things she’s thankful for to start each day.  There are also some excellent apps you can use for ME TIME from your phone including Calm and Headspace to name just two.

ME TIME is different for every individual, but the key is giving yourself ME TME DAILY.  Note: If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or other emotional issues, ask for help from the SSBS Virtual Center for Health & Wellness as they will help you find and access resources.  

What do you do, or are you going to do, for ME TIME daily?

MOVE YOUR BODY DAILY. 

Our bodies are made for movement, not sitting around. If we don’t move, our joints get creaky--even twenty-something joints, our muscles turn to fat, our arteries clog, are energy decreases, our bodies start the dying process. Our bodies are made to walk, run, jump, jiggle, and dance.  If our bodies don’t move, we don’t metabolize our food effectively, and our body functions don’t function correctly. Using a stand-up desk at home, is also a helpful tool, when you discipline yourself to stand up at use it throughout the day.

 I move my body daily in a couple of ways. Recently I discovered walking aerobics on YouTube which I do for 30 minutes after breakfast three days a week before I start my workday.  The other days, I walk with my neighbor.  While research has shown that evening exercise can also help you sleep better, morning exercise is especially helpful in jumpstarting your metabolism for the entire day.  There are apps and watches that make it easy for you to record your daily steps and aerobic output, so you get instant feedback, that “Yes, I am moving! I’m caring for my physical health!”

The other activity I do is get up from my computer every hour, turn up my radio, move back my chair and dance like no one is watching to whatever favorite rock song is playing at the time. It is important for heart health to not sit for more than two hours at a time, but movement every hour is even better.  It’s amazing how the Stones and AC/DC (old school) or Radiohead, Artic Monkeys and the Foo Fighters (new rock) can get your heart rate up, lower your blood pressure, and kick-start your body processes.  Plus, research has shown that music decreases stress.  

For others, daily body movement might be running, rollerblading, swimming, Jazzersize, BeachBody on Demand, or the strength circuit at the gym. Moving one’s body is different for every person, but the key is move your body daily!

What do you do, or are you going to do to move your body daily?

 

EAT HEALTHY.

We all know we should eat healthy, but the past two years of the pandemic saw people do a lot of stress eating, me included. Now we forgive ourselves and get back on track. Our eating habits as adults often stem from how our family’s handled food when we were growing up. The good news is that if your family did not model healthy eating habits to you, as an adult you can change from unhealthy eating to healthy eating.

First, acknowledge that in its most basic form, food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less.  Second, acknowledge that stress eating is real and normal, but you can triumph over stress-eating with journaling, therapy, and feasting on healthy snacks when you stress eat.  Eating healthy includes reading food labels, embracing portion size, keeping unhealthy food out of your house and putting healthy food in your pantry and on the middle shelf of the refrigerator so the healthy food greets you when you open doors. These are other healthy eating strategies I’ll address in more detail in future blogs.

But for first steps, when you eat out select low-fat meat and cheese, whole grains and fruits and vegetable dishes. While it’s wonderful to occasionally treat yourself to your favorite meal, eating out is about the company, not the food. Pay attention to the calories counts listed on the menu and order wisely. Apps on your phone like WW and Noom make it easy to record and plan your food intake.

When you shop, do not bring the unhealthy chips, cookies, candy, and ice cream home with you. If it’s in the house, you’ll be tempted to eat it when stress eating hits you.  Instead, fill your pantry with low-sugar cookies, whole-wheat chips, dark chocolate in moderation, lower fat and sugar ice cream options, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and embrace portion size.  IF we deprive our body of all salt and sugar, we’ll crave it more, but your body will learn to like low-sugar, fat, salt, and whole wheat options and prefer fruits and vegies over unhealthy foods.  Your weight will decrease, and your energy will increase!  Simply quitting pop in your diet (all types) and drinking instead unsweetened iced tea, herbal teas, or unsweetened vitamin water can help you drop pounds and give you more energy.  Note: If you are suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, ask for help from the SSBS Virtual Center for Health & Wellness as they will help you find and access resources. 

What do you do, or are you going to do to eat healthy?

 

TAKE AWAY.

Whether you are a student or faculty member, we at the Virtual Center for Health and Wellness, care about you and helping you take care of your physical and emotional health.  Working online demands we work at our computers, which is a sedentary activity. Sedentary jobs often lead to inactivity and unhealthy eating habits which contribute to extra pounds and put stress on our hearts and other body parts. This year, 2022, let’s crawl out of the post pandemic/war/gas bucket and get and stay healthy!  What are you going to do to get and stay healthy for yourself this year? All it takes is the first step…  To start, right now, stand up from your chair.  That’s right stand up. Turn up the radio and dance! Get your stress out, dance! Just dance like no one is watching.

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