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by Patty Morell Bilhartz, M.D., M.P.H.


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What You Need to Know About Stress! 10 Ideas for Festive Fun


“How you start your day is how you live your day. How you live your day is how you live your life.” Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson from You Can Create An Exceptional Life. 

Many scientists now believe that our attitudes, beliefs, and thought patterns may have more profound effects on our health than we had previously thought.

Scientist Candace Pert, in her book Molecules of Emotion talks about the science that links the mind and body though our thoughts and behaviors, our nervous and endocrine systems, and our immune systems.

It seems that when our minds perceive stress, our bodies respond to that stress in predictable ways. For example, if we feel anxious about an upcoming meeting where we are pitching an idea to our boss, we may feel our heart racing or our stomach tightening. If someone says something that causes us embarrassment, we may note that our cheeks flush.

Our body reacts in these ways because our thoughts and emotions cause our brain and gut to release certain chemicals in our bodies. These chemicals can send messages to the blood vessels in our face to dilate (causing us to blush), and to our heart (causing it to beat more rapidly). Or, these same chemicals can cause the blood vessels in our gut to constrict (causing us to feel a knot or tightness in our belly).

Although some stressors help to save our lives, chronic stress can wreak havoc with our health. It can cause:

  • imbalanced hormones,
  • lowered or excessively heightened immune systems,
  • elevated blood sugar,
  • high blood pressure,
  • increased stomach acid and reflux,
  • increased irritability,
  • elevated cholesterol,
  • insomnia,
  • depression,
  • anxiety, and
  • poor concentration and memory.

That’s a lot of bad stuff!

I personally have done quite a bit of research on how stress in the workplace adversely affects our health. People who have highly stressful jobs can develop chronic illness that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, muscle and joint pain, insomnia and depression.

So, if what we think and feel can cause us to be less well, how can we change our thoughts and emotions for the better?

How can we ensure that our thoughts are health enhancing instead of health depleting?

There are 2 ways that we can lower stress in our lives and thus improve our health.

1. First, we can alter our perception of stress. We literally can change our thoughts about it. We can learn to put stressful thoughts in their proper place.

Most things aren’t worth us worrying about them. Richard Carlson said this best in his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff. Even the events that seem so stressful at the time often end up working for our good. “All is always well” is a great mantra for our lives.

I had a perfect example of this in my life when I started having panic attacks in my early 30s. At the time, it seemed like the worst experience ever. But in the process, I learned how to help myself. Since then, I have been able to help many persons with their panic attacks over the years because I experienced panic attacks first hand.

2. We can find ways to minimize the effects that stress has in our lives. Choosing Fabulous Foods and Fantastic Fitness is one way that we can lower our stress levels. (See my previous 2 blogs for more details.)

Here are some additional ways to bring more fun and meaning into our lives. We then can gain a better perspective of stressors and minimize their effects in our lives.

Try these 10 Ideas for Festive Fun:

1) Breathe deeply as often as you can. Especially if you are facing or in the middle of a stressful situation. Some persons find that taking a slow, deep breath while counting to ten is immeasurably beneficial. Gently exhale the breath, and repeat over the course of a minute.

Even just stopping and taking a few deep breaths throughout your day can help you to re-center and feel more calm.

2) Commit to 5-10 minutes daily of a morning or evening devotion, prayer, and/or meditation. Use your Sacred Scriptures, Jon Kabbat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living, and Belleruth Naparstek’s meditations at www.healthjourneys.com/for guides.

3) Consider taking a yoga, pilates, or tai chi class. These classes increase your focus, flexibility, strength and mindfulness, and in the process leave you feeling refreshed and more resilient to stress.

You can take a class at a local gym, or purchase a DVD or on-line class for home use. The phone app iPromise has a 7-minute meditative stretching routine that I highly recommend.

4) Take one day a week and declare it a TV holiday. On a regular basis, limit your exposure to news channels and other stressful media. Read uplifting literature instead.

5) Try a once-weekly walking meditation. This means that you walk without your cell phone, and walk alone.   Focus on the beauty of your environment as you walk if you can walk in nature. If you live in a noisy city, play quiet music through your headphones. Breathe deeply. Mindfully thank your body for its rhythmic movements as you walk.

6) Eat one meal weekly (or more!) with true mindfulness. Be thankful for your food. Chew each bite at least 5 times. Don’t talk or read during the meal. You may share the meal with another, but do so in silence. Relish the quiet.

7) Engage in belly laughter daily. Children laugh up to 300 times a day. Adults laugh about 3 times daily. Try to laugh every hour, even if you have to lighten up or fake it. You release calming chemicals when you laugh. Stress levels are reduced. Even better, attend a laughter yoga class. It’s incredible!

8) Treat yourself to a massage or reflexology appointment monthly. If your budget can’t afford to pay someone, exchange a massage or foot rub with a friend or family member.

9) Begin a dream journal. Place a pen and paper beside your bed. Before you go to sleep, envision that you will release any stress through your dreams as you sleep. Write down your dreams when you awaken. Reflect on their messages during your devotional time and throughout the day. As you make this a practice, you will find that dreams indeed will help you to release stressful events.

10) Increase your restful sleep:

  • Set aside 7-8 hours for rest, even if you can’t sleep for that full time. Some persons also benefit from a 15-20 minute nap in the afternoon.
  • Lovingly prepare your bedroom for sleep. This includes covering the windows to keep out excess light, lowering the temperature when sleeping, and saving the bedroom for rest, reading, and sex only.
  • No TV or computer use in the bedroom before bed, unless you want to have trouble going to sleep. Relaxing bedtime rituals such as devotions, meditations, and a warm shower or bath can be helpful.
  • If you truly want to increase your odds for restful sleep, consider declining caffeine after lunch, engaging in moderate exercise earlier in the day, eating a small meal at an earlier dinner, taking a short walk after dinner (even if you just walk around your living room), and saying “no” to alcohol (although it can make you drowsy, you will not get restful sleep).
  • (For more details on restful sleep, see my blog of April 22, 2015, “What Fatigue Does to You, and What You Can Do About It.” http://pattybilhartz.com/2015/04/22/new-post-what-fatigue-does-to-you-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/)

Let me know how these ideas have helped you to lower stress in your life. And, I hope you will take a look at my soon-to-come Medical Coaching classes if you want to discover even more about Festive Fun.

Please share with us in the comments below how you lower stress in your life.

Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Aimee Mitchell


    Just the deep breathing is worth the effort to remember during the day. I can hardly wait to read your book. Hi Patty. So sorry to read that Terri passed last year. What a shock.

    June 29th, I will be undergoing open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve. Please say a prayer for my surgeon, Dr. Dewey, at 10 a.m. Love you so much and Dr. Rocky and Terrianne!


    • Avatar

      Patty Bilhartz


      It is wonderful to reconnect with you! Thanks for your blessed words. I will certainly be remembering you and your surgeon. Thanks for letting me know. Please keep me updated on your recovery. Much love to you and your family!


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