Try belly breathing to reduce stress in 2018

 In Opinion

It’s that time of year again. With the madness of holidays behind us, we’re all scrambling to find a sense of balance and routine as we grapple with the fact that a New Year is upon us. A blank slate. A fresh start. 2018, here we go!

Resolutions are one way to harness this renewed sense of energy and inspiration that the New Year brings. But as we have all experienced, some resolutions are easier to keep than others.

So, how can you make a resolution for 2018 that is realistic and will have a noticeable impact on your health and wellbeing? Here are my top three New Year’s resolutions for 2018.

Eliminate screen time before bed. Looking at your phone, TV or computer in the hour before sleep has a remarkably negative impact on the quality and duration of sleep. This is because our digital devices use a certain blue-green light that interferes with the production of your sleepy hormone, melatonin. Without your body’s natural nighttime level of melatonin, it is harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

To get more out of your sleep in 2018 make a ‘no screens in the bedroom’ rule and aim for at least 45 minutes of screen-free time before bed. Your shows and e-mails will still be there tomorrow, but so will the benefits of a proper night’s sleep.

You will feel less tired and more alert, and your risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity will go down.

Add a daily dose of probiotic-rich foods.

Your intestines are filled with bacteria that help determine the way your body functions and how you feel. Consuming probiotic rich foods is not just about improving digestive function.

These good bacteria can also support your immune system, stave off allergies and eczema, and kick your metabolism into gear. In fact, researchers are currently exploring the relationship between gut bacteria and metabolic dysfunction and obesity, so incorporating probiotic-containing foods into your diet may actually help you shed a few pounds this year. And getting your daily dose is easy. Incorporate a quarter to a half cup of plain yogurt or kefir (a fermented dairy drink) into your morning routine.

Not a dairy lover? Try adding the same amount of kombucha (fermented fizzy tea) or unpasteurized sauerkraut instead.

Start breathing from your belly. The body’s stress response, also termed the ‘fight or flight’ response, gets us through life. Without it we’d all have been eaten by tigers long ago. But problems arise when we repeatedly and continuously activate our stress response, and in the modern world this is commonplace: Financial stress, your job, the commute, relationship troubles, and on and on. Your stress hormone is probably rising as you read this. So, take a long, deep breath into the belly. Belly breathing, termed diaphragmatic breathing, sends an immediate message to the brain telling it to relax. Seriously, take a moment right now to put your hand on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose and draw it all the way down to the bottom of your lungs until you feel your hand move and your belly expand. Now breath out slowly. Repeat. Welcome to belly breathing. One to five minutes before bed will decrease stress levels and stave off illness. Want more? Five-minute ‘breath breaks’ throughout the day will help to unload your stress before it builds up. Chronic stress is linked to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and a higher rate of cold and flu, so this one is definitely worth it.

Now, what happens if you wake up on February 1st and realize that you’ve already fallen off the wagon? That’s okay. Take a moment to evaluate why you weren’t able to stick to your resolutions and re-focus your goals. Consider choosing just one resolution to focus on and make it realistic. January is a natural time for new habits but remember: it is never too late to try something new.

Maggie Pattillo is a local Naturopathic Doctor.  She lives in Dunedin and sees patients in her Collingwood practice at StoneTree Clinic.

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