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Stress Busters Milestone 5: Walk your way to Happiness

Congratulations, you have reached Milestone 5 and completed the Get Zen in Hawaii Challenge. You are now at the beautiful Rainbow Falls.

Stress can be good for you at times.  It keeps you alert, motivated and primed to respond to danger.  As anyone who has faced a work deadline or competed in a sport knows, stress mobilizes the body to respond, improving performance. Yet too much stress, or chronic stress may lead to major depression in susceptible people.

Stress — whether chronic, such as taking care of a parent with Alzheimer’s, or acute, such as losing a job or the death of a loved one — can lead to major depression in susceptible people.  Both types of stress lead to overactivity of the body’s stress-response mechanism.

Exercise has such a profound effect on stress and our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. Exercise produces chemicals in the body that boost your mood and stimulate hormones and neurotransmitters, including endorphins, that can help reduce stress.

You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and improve your health.

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Stress Busters Milestone 4: 12 Ways to Keep the Holidays Stress-Free

12 Ways to Keep the Holidays Stress-Free
The holidays are supposed to be a time of warmth, joy and excitement. And for many people, they are.

Still, the anxiety of having too much to do in too little time, the pressure of unrealistic expectations and the tendency to overeat and overspend can easily overshadow holiday happiness. The following suggestions will help you enjoy the season to its fullest with a minimum of stress.

Eat smart

  • Don’t arrive at a party starving; you’re likely to overeat. Instead, before you leave home eat a piece of fruit, a small salad or a cup of low-fat yogurt. Eating a healthful snack will prevent you from overindulging on mini quiches and other high-fat fare when you arrive.
  • Avoid handfuls of anything. At the appetizer table, fill your plate three-quarters full with fresh vegetables and fruit. Reserve the remaining quarter for anything you want, even if it’s high in fat, so you don’t feel deprived.
  • Don’t feel obligated to eat everything on your plate or to have dessert. And think twice before going back for seconds.
  • If you overeat, get right back into your normal routine the next day.

Shop smart

  • Give yourself plenty of time to complete your holiday shopping. Shop with an itemized list of what you’ll buy for each person and a ballpark figure of what you’ll spend.
  • Brainstorm for gift ideas. If you’re stumped on what to buy, consider what’s important to the gift recipient. To personalize a gift that isn’t personal, give the story behind it. For a book, write an inscription that explains why you’re giving it or mention specific pages the recipient may find interesting.

Party smart

  • Keep parties simple by having a buffet instead of a formal sit-down dinner. Serve uncomplicated dishes (made with six ingredients or less) that you’ve made before.
  • Buy nonperishable party items days, even weeks, in advance. These include groceries, beverages, candles, napkins and decorations. Save the day before to buy items with a short shelf life, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers.
  • Cook ahead. On the day before your party, prepare salad dressings, stews, casseroles, cold sauces, soups, desserts and dips. That way, during the party, you can spend as much time as possible with your guests.
  • Hire a helper. To make your party more manageable, employ a teenager or a catering waiter to help you serve during the party and clean up afterward.
  • Devise games guests can play to help spark conversation. For example, tape a piece of paper with the name of a movie character onto the back of guests when they arrive. Challenge them to guess who their characters are, with clues provided by the other guests.
  • Be sociable. Attending parties when you don’t know many people can be stressful. To break the ice, elect yourself the official introducer. If you see someone standing alone, go over and ask nonthreatening openers. For example, ask these questions at a corporate function: How do you fit into the company? Are you a spouse or an employee? What do you do? What does your spouse do?

Wellness Library Health Ink and Vitality Communications © 2014

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Stress Busters 3: Stressed? Control your Breathing

Congratulations, either you or your team have reached Akaka Waterfalls at Milestone #3

Control Breathing, Control Stress

You’re stuck in rush-hour traffic, glancing at your car’s clock every few minutes as you strain to get to work on time. You may not notice, but your breathing is shallow, your pulse rate is high, and your chest feels tight. In fact, you feel this way in many stressful situations.

Sound familiar? Modern society creates more than its share of stress. It’s difficult to change some situations — but you can manage how you feel about them, experts say.

Begin with something you take for granted — your breathing. If you’re on that busy highway, pay attention to what’s going on around you, but pay attention to your breathing, too. It’s one of the few things you can control.

“Focusing on your breathing is one of the highly effective ways of reducing stress,” says cardiologist James Rippe, M.D., author of 10 books on health and fitness, including “Healthy Heart for Dummies.” “It brings you into the here and now,” distracting you from your worries.

“We’ve become addicted to moving and thinking at hyper-speed,” adds Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., wellness expert and author of the bookTimeshifting. “When we’re under stress, our breathing is short, high up in the lungs. More relaxed breathing doesn’t rely on the chest wall, but rather on the abdomen.”

Abdominal breathing, experts say, provides the lungs with more oxygen and is more rhythmic. It’s something that opera singers and other performers have known for years: Abdominal breathing allows them to take control of their breath, to sing or speak with greater power, and to help them focus on the moment.

Breathing is just the beginning. If you can adjust your breath, you can adjust other things in your life, experts say. Slow your breathing down when you walk into your office or home and you’ll notice that you won’t jump at the first problem that hits you. When your breath is quiet, you are quiet.

Practice Your Breathing

Believe it or not, most of us could use a lesson on how to breathe. Practice at home a few times when you’re not under stress. Then, try putting these techniques into practice when a stressful situation occurs.

In a relaxed setting, take three really deep breaths, focusing on your exhalations. “Really let it out,” says Dr. Rechtschaffen. “It may feel unnatural at first, but stick with it.”

Now, begin focusing on where your breath is coming from, experts say. Here’s one practice method:

  • Sit on the edge of a chair, feet flat on the floor.
  • Place one hand on your lower back and the other hand on your abdomen, with three fingers below your navel.
  • As you breathe in, your abdomen should rise, like a balloon inflating.
  • As you breathe out, your abdomen should fall, with the sensation that the balloon is losing its air.

Concentrate on your abdomen, not your chest. Practice from a few minutes to 20 minutes each day. Soon, it will come naturally.

Wellness Library Health Ink and Vitality Communications © 2014

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