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Published on August 03, 2021

5 ways to beat stress

Reduce Stress

Did you know that it is impossible for you to eat a cup of blueberries and be sad? Miguel Prieto, MD, an internist with Cape Cod Healthcare’s Bourne Primary Care, said studies show this to be true. He has tried it and promises it will make you feel good.

That might be great advice for people, like me, who are feeling anxious about relaxing mask mandates after more than a year of being extra careful. When I went grocery shopping last week and saw that about one-third of the customers were not wearing masks, my anxiety was measurable. My Fitbit chronicled a heart rate of up to 120 beats per minute while I was shopping.

Other people like my brother are unhappy about having to go back into the office. His office is a half-hour commute from his home. Pre-pandemic he spent the hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. in a small office with gray walls and no windows. When the record label he works for moved to remote working, he set up a home office in a lovely alcove off his master bedroom with a window overlooking his pool. 

Eating blueberries isn’t the only thing people can do to lower stress levels and cultivate happiness. Dr. Prieto identified five key things people can do to lower their stress levels.

Cultivate a Spiritual Life

Stress is extremely bad for our bodies. In a study of people under extreme stress like caregiver mothers of children with chronic illness, researchers discovered that their telomeres aged the equivalent of 10 years in just two years, Dr. Prieto said. Telomeres are the bits of DNA that are the endcaps of all 46 chromosomes in all of our cells. Once telomeres become too short, cells can no longer multiply to replenish the tissues in our body. Shortened telomeres cause a myriad of diseases like heart disease and cancer. It also shortens life expectancy and quality of life.

A similar study of caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients showed that religious involvement actually had a positive correlation to longer telomere length, thereby slowing cellular aging and damage. Any kind of spiritual practice can help, whether it is attending church with a congregation that believes in God, or practicing mindfulness and loving kindness meditation, Dr. Prieto said. Even performing random acts of kindness toward others, whether they deserve it or not, has a positive effect on mental health, he said.

Eat a Healthy Diet

In addition to blueberries, salmon, probiotics, leafy greens, oysters and chocolate are all mood boosters. Studies also show that adhering to the Mediterranean-style diet of eating, which includes vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and lean sources of protein, like seafood, can also prevent depression. The trick is to make it a permanent lifestyle choice, not a short-term fad diet, because the effects are cumulative.

“Fruits and vegetables have significant benefits for your brain,” Dr. Prieto said. He adheres to a plant-based diet himself and encourages his patients to do the same.

Conversely, studies show that the typical Western diet, filled with sugary and salty snacks and processed and fried foods, is associated with a worsening of mood and poorer brain and body health.

Drink Plenty of Water

“People don’t realize how important hydration is to the health of their body,” Dr. Prieto said. “That’s how you get rid of the toxic waste in your body. You don’t have to drown in water, but if you have one or two quarts of water a day, you significantly eliminate toxic waste that otherwise stays longer in your body. If your urine is very dark every time you urinate, that’s not very healthy for you.”

Get Regular Exercise

“They have found that when you go walking you release positive chemicals in your brain and being active outdoors in the sunshine increases your serotonin,” he said. That’s why “walking it off,” when you are upset is so helpful to relieve a bad mood.

Even just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise three times a week shows mental health benefits. An example would be brisk walking. If you want additional cardiovascular benefits, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week or a combination of both.

Do No Harm

This means refrain from smoking cigarettes and keeping alcohol consumption low or non-existent.

“I won’t be very popular for saying this, but alcohol is not very healthy for you at all,” Dr. Prieto said.