Sometimes life throws you for a loop and you have little-to-no control over what happens in your life. It could be a relationship that’s falling apart, a job loss, or a loved one who’s fallen ill. While you may not be able to control these things from happening, there are some strategies that you can use to minimize the physiological damage that stress causes. Dr. Scott Gledhill, Senior Medical Consultant at Medcan, a preventive health and wellness clinic based in Toronto, shares his top tips for getting that 10-tonne truck off your chest.

Dr. Scott Gledhill
Dr. Scott Gledhill is the Senior Medical Consultant at Medcan.

He holds active medical staff positions at both Toronto General and St. Michael’s Hospital, and is actively involved in Cardiac Surgical Assisting.

Dr. Gledhill also serves as a medical consultant to the NHL Entry Draft, Firefighter Applicant Selection, and Police Constable Selection Project for the Province of Ontario.

He has practiced emergency medicine at both Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, and most recently at Toronto General Hospital.

1. Exercise

Scientists have found that regular exercise can decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize your mood, improve sleep and even self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Gledhill suggests making time to exercise 3-4 times a week, optimally for 40- 60 minutes. If you don’t exercise regularly, start slowly so you don’t get injured, ideally with a certified trainer. If that still seems overwhelming, remember that even 30 minutes of brisk walking or yoga has appreciable stress reducing benefits. “Exercise is the single most effective and safe intervention for reducing anxiety and depression,” says Gledhill. “It’s a great way to clear the mind, diffuse your stress, and release positive natural chemicals in the brain.”

2. Get Better Sleep

When you’re stressed, healthy sleep patterns are often disrupted first. Being awake and staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. is a common sign that you’re dealing with too much pressure. But poor sleep amplifies the symptoms of stress and interferes with your coping mechanisms and decision-making skills. To get some shut-eye, Gledhill suggests making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary by eliminating ambient light, blacking out windows and getting a good mattress and pillow. Consider a white noise generator if background noise is an issue. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Eliminate stimulants such as caffeine after 2 p.m. “Sleep aid medications can be effective in temporary situations,” says Gledhill, “but should be avoided for chronic sleep disturbance, as they can lead to dependence and reduced sleep quality.”

“Exercise is the single most effective and safe intervention for reducing anxiety and depression.”

DR. SCOTT GLEDHILL,
GENERAL PRACTITIONER,
MEDCAN

3. Talk It Out

Finding the right friend or family member and venting to them about the stress you’re encountering can be very calming, and has been shown to reduce the signs of anxiety. But Gledhill warns against dumping on those you care about. “You don’t want to impair these relationships by burdening those you love, and subsequently pushing them away,” he says. “Utilizing a counselor or therapist can overcome this problem.” Sometimes, it can be easier to express your feelings to a someone who isn’t close to you, without the fear of judgment. Professionals can also assist you in developing stress reduction techniques.

4. Use Stress Reduction Techniques

Learn to release your stress through proven activities such as meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, or massage. There are professionals, group sessions and even smartphone apps that can help you learn to meditate and live in the now. Meditation can reduce physiologic manifestations of stress and teach you to quiet your mind and allow for better sleep quality. Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance, and these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends; it can help carry you more calmly through your day and may improve even certain medical conditions.

“With coping mechanisms pushed to their limit, the inner voice that says, ‘You shouldn’t eat that,’ is losing out to the voice that says ‘I want it.’”

DR. SCOTT GLEDHILL,
GENERAL PRACTITIONER,
MEDCAN

5. Have Fun

Get away from it all. Gledhill gives us all permission to make time for what we enjoy. Engage in hobbies. Socialize with friends and family as long as these relationships don’t add any tension to your stress-load. Laughter is the best medicine and fun activities provide a source of “eustress,” a good kind of stress that keeps you feeling vital and alive. It’s the sense of excitement you get from completing a project, riding a roller coaster, or meeting an exciting challenge in your life. We need regular eustress in our lives and fun activities can provide it.

6. Optimize Your Nutrition

Stress makes some people ravenously hungry and for others it can kill their appetite. Both states are not great for our nutrition. Stress can lead to bad food decisions which can make you feel further run down. When stressed, the body craves more carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes, cookies and bread) and sugars for a ‘quick fix.’ “With coping mechanisms pushed to their limit, the inner voice that says, ‘You shouldn’t eat that,’ is losing out to the voice that says ‘I want it,’” says Gledhill. Rushed for time, we reach for easy meals like fast food, take out and packaged meals, rather than home prepared, well-balanced diets. Another common mistake is drinking more caffeine and alcohol to cope with the fatigue or emotional pain of life. These traps should be avoided.

No one goes through life without worries, tension and anxieties sometimes. But when those problems take a toll on your health, it can lead to more serious medical issues. When stress begins to overwhelm you, seek out a doctor’s advice to ensure you can take whatever life throws at you and come back stronger.

Denise O’Connell, MoneyTalk Life