Unresolved stress comes with a high price tag

01/13/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:21 AM

Everyone knows that when the Incredible Hulk feels stress, he turns into a raging green monster. But when you worry about money, work, relationships, family responsibilities or health problems, you’re more likely to get headaches, gut troubles and/or fatigue, as well as see flares of anger and impatience – all symptoms of day-in, day-out unresolved stress. And those physical responses come with a pretty stiff price tag: Half of all deaths in folks younger than 65 are stress-related.

So if you’re stressed (about 25 percent of you report dealing with extreme stress), sit down, take a deep breath and try these two surprising stress-reduction techniques.

Put stress-reducing foods on your plate. Certain foods reduce your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and that will help protect your cardiovascular system and nerves. Calming foods include: spinach, for its cortisol-controlling magnesium; white beans, barley, mackerel and cod, for their phosphatidylserine, a component of cell membranes that can calm nerves and help you sleep; citrus fruit’s vitamin C, which helps slow cortisol production; and salmon and ocean trout, packed with inflammation-quelling DHA omega-3s that may reduce stressed-out feelings.

Give yourself a massage. We suggest Ayurvedic self-massage for its immune-modulating, pleasure-producing benefits that can reduce anxiety, tummy troubles, headaches, insomnia, even TMJ. After you get out of the shower, using a light oil, rub each body part from the top of your head to your toes with a firm, gentle, circular motion. You also can use roller bars, hand-held massage sprayers and rolling balls on legs, back and feet.

Enhance your performance

What do Sammy Sosa and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common with Oliver Stone and Dixie Carter? They’ve all admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to maintain a youthful vigor and appearance. But a new report from the Endocrine Society says it’s not just superstar athletes and celebs who are frequent abusers of anabolic-androgenic steroids, human growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 and other body-building substances.

Around 3 million regular fitness buffs pop or inject these drugs. Most aren’t aware of their potentially lethal side effects or their association with infertility, sexual dysfunction and violent or suicidal behavior. So here are some safer ways:

• Do strength-building exercises plus aerobics: Use weights or resistance bands in three weekly sessions of 10 to 20 minutes; focus on core muscles. Walk 10,000 steps or do other aerobic activities daily (one minute of aerobic exercise is equal to 100 steps).
• Eat muscle-friendly foods: Drinking a glass of skim milk after exercise and eating fish soon after strength-training increases muscle mass. And don’t overdo protein (that post-workout whey powder may be too much); balance it with nine servings of fruits and veggies daily.
• Take supplements daily: 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 (1,200 IU if you’re over 60); 25-100 mcg of vitamin B-12 if you’re 65-plus and it isn’t in your multivitamin; and 600 mg algal oil DHA omega-3 or 900 mg if you’re 60-plus. (The alternative is three servings of salmon a week.) Also, talk to your doc about taking two low-dose aspirin with half a glass of warm water before and after.

What’s in a letter?

As marketing slogans like “BPA Free” have started popping up on various products, the lyrics from The Who song “Substitute” keep coming to mind: “Substitute your lies for fact, I see right through your plastic mac.” That’s because while plastic manufacturers are removing hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) from the linings of food cans and register receipts, they are replacing it with BPS (bisphenol S), a hormone-disrupting cousin of BPA. The only difference between BPA and BPS seems to be that BPS is a bit less likely to seep into food and is slightly less effective at mimicking estrogen. But because BPS is a heartier compound, it’s slower to degrade than BPA and more persistent once it gets into your body or the environment.

The effects of hormone disrupters? They can trigger developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune problems. So we suggest you reduce your exposure to BPA and BPS by:

• Cooking and microwaving food only in glass, ceramic and stainless-steel containers.
• Refusing store receipts – they are the single greatest source of your exposure to BPA and BPS. And don’t go from touching one (you inevitably will) to putting your hand on your face. If you work handling receipts all day, wear gloves.
• Eating foods and taking supplements that “manage” the bisphenols. The bee product royal jelly, black tea extract and quercetin in onions lessen bisphenol A-induced cell toxicity. Folate and probiotics, such as Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei, may reduce absorption of and degrade bisphenols.

Why insomnia can’t be ignored

Fifty years ago, 17-year-old Randy Gardner and two pals camped out in his bedroom to see what would happen if Gardner broke the world record for sleep deprivation. The teenager stayed awake for 264.4 hours (that record stands today), experiencing moodiness, hallucinations, incoherent thinking and slurred speech.

The 50 million to 70 million North Americans who have frequent trouble falling or staying asleep don’t have to go to such extremes to discover the side effects of insomnia: relationship problems, heart disease, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and stroke.

If you usually don’t get six and a half to eight hours of restful sleep, try to identify the cause. Insomnia can be triggered by environmental problems such as a TV or digital device use, or noise or light in the bedroom (only red light is sleep-compatible). Or you may have trouble sleeping because of emotional distress or a medical condition, such as chronic pain or sleep apnea. So make your bedroom sleep-friendly, and ask your doc about treatment for any condition that’s keeping you awake. Then try these drug-free ways to sleep better.

Exercise daily, but not within three hours of bedtime. Walking 10,000 steps a day dispels stress and cues your body to rest.

Soak in an Epsom salts bath, and eat a banana before bed – the combo of magnesium and potassium relaxes muscles, and hot water helps dispel stress hormones.

Drink chamomile tea. But skip late-night alcohol; it’ll spike blood sugar and interfere with sleep cycles.

If these don’t do the trick, ask your doc for a referral to a sleep specialist.

Stamps, envelopes no longer take a licking

In a 1996 “Seinfeld” episode, George’s fiancee Susan licks so many cheap envelopes (George bought them for the wedding invitations) that she poisons herself. Makes for riotous TV, but fortunately these days, or even back then, licking envelopes and stamps was never such a risky business.

There was a time in the 1960s when the gum on U.S. stamps shielded bacteria and viruses, so they could survive for months. That meant you could, theoretically, pick up a bug from an envelope you received. And back then, if you were licking stamps for 100 wedding invitations, it wasn’t a bad idea to count your calories. Glue on a postage stamp could deliver around 6 to 14 calories.

Most stamps and many envelopes don’t take a lickin’ anymore. They’re self-adhesive. Among the few water-activated stamps left, no animal products are used in making the glue (they’re vegan); those in Israel are certified kosher; and in the U.S., lickable envelope glue is made from corn, so it’s gluten-free. If you wonder about the safety of imported glues on greeting-card envelopes, for example, the Food and Drug Administration has increased its presence in China to enforce quality standards. And you can always use a damp sponge instead of your tongue.

But if you’re looking for surprising stamp sensations that can make you feel younger (great aromas do that), try these: There’s a cacao-oil infused Belgium stamp that tastes like fine chocolate, a coffee-infused Brazilian stamp and a Swiss stamp that smells like chocolate.

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