Sometimes it can feel like stress is all around us. We are trying to meet more demands than ever and our self-care routine gets pushed by the wayside.
That often means bad food choices and poor sleep habits, which lead to internal stress. When we eat things like white flour, sugar, and fried foods we actually increase inflammation and stress hormone production. Since sleep dramatically impacts our pituitary gland, lack of adequate rest means an increase in hormones like cortisol and the hunger hormone ghrelin. Ever wonder why you’re reaching for junk food the day after a poor night’s sleep? That’s why.
So we’re getting external stresses from our jobs, family responsibilities, financial worries, and many other places, then we’re compounding them with unhealthy lifestyle choices. The result is an epidemic of stress and increased risk for chronic diseases: everything from Type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression.
But there’s so much we can do to stop it.
Deep breathing is one easy, accessible practice that can help to balance the mind and body and reduce the stress response. Many well-designed studies also show physical and psychological stress reduction benefits from meditation or activities like yoga and tai chi.
Pursing the things that make us happy and fulfilled is a less commonly cited way to reduce stress. My friend Dr. Rangan Chatterjee recognizes passion-deficiency as a major source of stress in his patients. Making time for the things that bring us joy gives us more resilience against stress and fatigue and an improved psychological outlook.
Dr. Chatterjee has seen the impacts of stress are such powerful indicators of health that he’s made it a key focus, alongside nutrition, movement, and sleep. His new book, The Stress Solution, explores the many other ways we can fight this epidemic, including shifting our own perspective about the hold stress has over us.
You can listen to Dr. Chatterjee and I discuss his new research on stress on last week’s episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
All of us should make stress reduction a key part of our wellness routine; I hope you’ll tune in.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD