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Don't let stress sabotage your health

How you cope with stress can affect your fitness and nutrition goals.

When we are stressed, we want to be comforted. So we look for external things to take away the “pain” of stress… food, alcohol, smoking, etc.

These things cause a release of neurotransmitters in the brain that make you feel good (at least in the moment) and encourage you to repeat the behavior over and over again… looking for the same result. This is like addiction. The pattern becomes wired in the brain, and eventually, the brain learns to depend on that substance to cope with stress. And it wants more and more of it.

While de-stressing is generally beneficial to your physical and mental health, relying too much on anything external to cope is ultimately not beneficial.

Here are some healthy ways to de-stress...

Mindful Breathing

Take note of your breath and purposely track the feeling of inhaling and exhaling. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen with each breath.

After a few breaths, take a slightly deeper breath. Try to really focus on your breathing and if you get distracted, just redirect your attention back to your breath.

Do this exercise for just five minutes. You can gradually increase the time each time you practice.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Starting with your feet, tense each muscle group, one at a time. Hold the tension until it is almost uncomfortable, and then release.

Then move up to your legs and tense each muscle group. Continue moving up your body to the top of your head.

Notice how your body feels as you release the tension contained in each muscle group. Take your time doing this.

Yoga Nidra Meditation

This is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage, typically induced by a guided meditation. There is evidence that yoga nidra helps relieve stress. I have found this technique incredibly effective, especially when practiced before bedtime and sometimes right when I wake in the morning.

Check out a Yoga Nidra YouTube video with Molly Birkholm here.