VIP: Stress-Management Strategies (Part 1)

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt?

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

VIP: Stress-Management Strategies
Whether you on the verge of burnout or just a little tired from a typical twenty-first-century day, the last thing you may want to hear is someone telling you to “reduce stress.” I’m right there with you. Fortunately, a multitude of effective strategies for managing stress are available to you; best of all, you do not have to drastically alter your lifestyle to implement most of them. These ideas for managing stress are backed up by research that shows they can be extremely effective. Here are a few of my favorites that I have shared with clients and readers over the years, and I invite you to consider incorporating them into your daily routine to build vigor.

Manage your electronic interruptions.
The beeps, buzzes, or other sounds from your computer (not to mention those from an iPhone, Blackberry, or whatever new devices come on the market by the time you read this) can add an annoying level of stress to your day. Instead of just responding every time you get an electronic interruption, take charge of those devices and set them to only alert you at specific times. For instance, most e-mail programs are automatically set to check for new messages every five minutes (which means you’re interrupted by the “new-message beep” ninety-six times in an eight-hour day!). How do you expect to get any “real” work done? Also, consider (as I do) shutting off your e-mail program until the second half of your day, enabling you to get your “important” work accomplished in the morning when you’re mentally fresh.

Whenever possible, leave the cell phone behind.
It may be hard to imagine today, but it wasn’t too many years ago that people got along perfectly fine without cell phones. Try taking a break from your phone when possible by leaving it behind. I make that recommendation, because if you carry your phone with you—even if you tell yourself that you won’t answer it—a part of your mind still waits for it to ring (or buzz, or play your favorite ringtone). Let that part of your brain relax and forget about the phone every now and then.

Read trash.
Get a book or magazine that has no redeeming social value—and enjoy it. If this is too decadent for your tastes, then alternate a “good” book that might teach you something with a “junk” book that you can simply lose yourself in. Why? Because it allows your mind to “escape” and recharge so it comes back even stronger, more creative, and more resilient to stress. Once, on a cross-country flight, I sat next to a woman who was reading a genetic research journal. (I was reading a bicycling magazine.) As a fellow scientist, I commented on her reading material, and she laughed, because underneath her research journal she had one of those celebrity-gossip tabloids that you see at the grocery checkout stand. She explained that she couldn’t wait to “get through” her genetics journal so she could “catch up” on the latest “dirt”—it was hilarious. It turns out that we were both headed to the same obesity-research conference in Boston, and we both appreciated the importance of “getting away” for a few minutes in our “junky” books and magazines.

Take a mini-vacation every day.
One of the best ways to de-stress during your workday is to revive the lost art of lunch. Take it! Too may people skip lunch (bad metabolically and mentally) or gobble it down at their desks (which is even worse). Instead, take the hour to enjoy a healthy meal and relax your mind. Even better, use that hour to visit with friends or coworkers—you’ll have a more productive second half of the day and likely accomplish even more high-quality work with improved creativity and efficiency than if you had worked through lunch. And be sure to get up from your desk every hour or two for a quick stretch or walk around the office. You’ll be amazed at how a quick flex of your muscles and a surge in your circulation can help clear the cobwebs from your mind.

Take a full day off each week.
No work. No thoughts about work or worries about work. Take this day to relax, reflect, and recharge (regardless of whether or not a “Sabbath” day of rest has any religious connotations for you). Read a book. Take a walk. Luxuriate in the act of doing nothing. I guarantee that if you give yourself over to a solid month of “do-nothing Sundays” (or Saturdays, or whichever day of the week works for your schedule), you will feel more physically and mentally refreshed than you could possibly imagine. Doing nothing will give you back a lot.

Recreate to re-create.
Giving yourself permission to relax does not mean that you’re a slacker; it means that you’re a step ahead of the nose-to-the-grindstone automatons who are on a fast road to burnout. As a long-time nutrition consultant to some very elite-level athletes, I can tell you without question that knowing when to “go hard” and when to “ease off” is what separates Olympic champions from also-rans. Although your own life might be “too busy” most of the time, it is those moments of relaxation and decompression that allow you to keep jumping back in with renewed energy and creativity.

Get a massage or take a bath.
Australian researchers have shown that something as simple as a fifteen-minute weekly back massage reduced cortisol levels (restoring metabolic balance), blood pressure, and overall measures of anxiety in a group of high-stress nurses. Another study of massage conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine showed a remarkable 31 percent reduction in cortisol levels following massage therapy, as well as a 28 percent increase in the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. In similar studies, Japanese scientists in Osaka have shown a significant reduction in cortisol levels in high-stress men following relaxing hot baths. The men with the highest stress levels had the most dramatic reductions in cortisol levels. These studies prove that the relaxing nature of massage and hot baths is an effective approach to maintaining biochemical balance.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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