Stress Less with These Facts and Helpful Tips

November 01, 2019

Most people experience some stress in their lives. And if you live in Southern California, you probably deal with at least a little bit of stress every day. In fact, you’re so used to it, you may not even notice it’s there, even when you’re stuck in traffic, already 15 minutes late for work, and your teeth are clenched, and you’ve got a pounding headache.

Sound familiar? Take a few minutes to learn more about stress and how you can have less of it!

 

What Is Stress?

Man with stress at the office

Stress can feel different for everyone, but stress isn’t just something in your head. It’s how your body and brain reacts to a situation that causes you fear or anxiety. Sometimes the situation is in your environment or your body – even your own thoughts can cause stress.

Stress isn’t always bad and it isn’t always caused by negative situations. Stress can help you in unsafe situations, like speeding up your reflexes to avoid a car accident. Even positive life events, like getting a promotion or having a baby, can also cause stress.

Sometimes negative stress can have a positive effect on your life. For example, if you were stressed about your work commute, you might use that stress as motivation to find a better job closer to home. But any kind of stress can take its toll if you have it long enough.

 

What Are Common Stress Reactions?

Boken pencil

Stress affects everyone differently, and the toll can be both physical and mental. Common physical symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Clenched jaw
  • Nervousness and shaking
  • Digestive trouble
  • Problems with sleep

Common mental symptoms include:

  • Short temper
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Desire to keep to yourself and avoid other people
  • Racing thoughts
  • Low self-esteem

 

Why Is It Such a Big Deal?

Man complaining with his doctor

Stress can cause long-term damage to your health, resulting in new or worsening health conditions, such as:

  • High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and even heart attack and stroke
  • Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, or even permanent hair loss
  • Hormone changes that may affect both physical and sexual health

Many people who deal with long periods of stress may try relieving it by engaging in risky behaviors, including too much alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, or overeating. Even if feels good in the short term, these behaviors can cause additional stress and harm on the body.

Tips for Minimizing and Managing Your Stress

You’re probably never going to be able to get rid of all of the stressors in your life. The key is to deal with stress in a healthy way – which means trying to take control of your reaction to stress. Here are a few tips for how to have less of it and how to make your stress less harmful.

 

Just Breathe

Relaxed woman

You’ve probably heard the phrase “fight or flight.” This phrase refers to your body’s natural survival response to stressors. It’s that split-second reaction you have in the face of stress to either confront or retreat from it. This response serves you in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, sometimes your mind/body struggles to understand the difference between a tiger and a tight deadline. Too much time spent in this state intensifies your body’s reaction to stress.

So how about short-circuiting it? When you start to feel stress coming on, find a quiet space, and take a few minutes to focus on your breathing and calm your thoughts. This will help stop your fight or flight response, and allow you get back to the task at hand.

 

Stay Connected

Woman laughing with a coffee in his hand

Fight the urge to isolate yourself from others. This is the time to lean on your social network for emotional support. Even a quick cup of tea with a friend can help you shift your mindset so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. (Note: if you’re feeling jittery or on edge, limit your caffeine intake until your stress levels improve.)

 

Set Limits and Stick to Them

Woman expressing herself

Recognize the stressors that you can control in your life…like when your neighbor drops by at the last minute with her three kids and asks if you could watch them for a couple of hours, or the friend who asks you to drive out of your way to pick something up for them. Tactfully say, “No, I can’t.”

 

Learn How to Manage Your Time

Woman having breakfast in a rush

Find ways to create efficiency, both at home and at work. You might find a new way to organize things. Try creating a weekly schedule and posting it in an area where the whole family can see it. When you’re at work and you get an email with a request that you can complete in two or three minutes, do it immediately instead of letting your tasks pile up.

 

Stick to Your Healthful Habits

Smiling man with sport suit

Make sure you’re getting at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep. Almost any kind of exercise is a stress reliever – you don’t even have to leave your home to get a great workout that will leave you energized and feeling better. If you’re having trouble keeping up, you can find apps that will send you reminders and help make it easier to stay on track.

 

Get Help If You Need It

Women talking to her consultant

If stress is keeping you from enjoying life, it might be time to seek professional assistance. Start by talking with your primary care doctor. They may have some tips or advice for you, and they can also refer you to AltaMed Behavioral Health Services.

If you’re not sure if stress is your problem or if you should see a doctor, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at 855- 425-1777. We can help you find answers so you can get the care that’s right for you. Take a deep breath…together, we’ve got this.

 

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6 Top Healthy Living Apps for Your Physical & Mental Well-Being

March 01, 2019

Looking to improve your health? Join the club! Actually, with today’s health apps, you don’t need to. There are more than 318,000 health apps available to help you manage your health. From making smart food choices to exercising, and getting better sleep, these apps help turn health goals into healthy habits. So, grab your water bottle and your smartphone, and check out these six apps that can help you take control of your health.


Omada Health
Available for iOS and Android; Price: free for AltaMed Patients in Orange County
Offers Spanish language option
AltaMed people doing thai chi

Omada was created to help users lose weight and lower their risks of getting diabetes and heart disease. Omada provides the tools and support you need to succeed by helping you break up your health goals into small, easy steps. The app allows you to track your meals and activity/exercise, offers lessons on nutrition and stress, and connects you with a health coach to support and guide your progress. Plus, Omada gives AltaMed patients a valuable freebie: a smart scale that connects to the app. 


MapMyWalk
Available for iOS, Android & Samsung; Price: $0
Offers Spanish language option
AltaMed two women waling up the stairs

Using your phone’s built-in GPS, MapMyWalk tracks your daily walks and uses Google Maps to show you your route. It also collects and shows you your speed, distance, and calories burned. Receive audio updates on how you are doing while you walk, and use the website to see your history, make friends, join groups, and see how your friends are doing. 


Pillow (Sleep Tracker)
Available for iOS; Price: $0, one-time fee of $4.99 to unlock premium features
Offers Spanish language option
AltaMed older woman and husband sleeping

This easy-to-use app provides detailed information about your sleep cycle to help you get more restful sleep. Simply place your phone on your mattress near your pillow while you sleep and Pillow will track your activity during the night. You can also analyze and record your sleep, heart rate, and audio events such as snoring, sleep talking, or sleep apnea. 

Connect to Apple’s Health app to compare your sleep to other health measurements. Pillow’s intelligent alarm clock helps you wake up rested by waking you at the lightest sleep stage. The app comes with features that let you track your mood during the day, and gives you personalized recommendations. Premium features include unlimited access to your sleep history, nap modes, access to a large library of wake-up and sleep-aid programs and melodies, and the ability to export and download your data to use with other programs.  


Fooducate (Nutrition & Health Tracker)
Available for iOS; Price: $0, various premium levels available starting at $1.99
AltaMed woman shopping for fruit

Not only does Fooducate let you track the foods you eat each day, but it educates you on healthy eating choices. The Fooducate app lets you input the foods you eat to learn about their nutritional value by scanning a barcode or searching the extensive database. The app also offers a daily stream of tips and articles to help motivate you on your food journey. Look through the archive of foods, check for top graded food choices, and set individual goals beyond weight loss. Fooducate can even send you a reminder on your phone to use it while you are shopping at the supermarket.


Instant Heart Rate+ HR Monitor
Available for iOS, Android & Windows Phone; Price: $4.99, various premium levels available starting at $3.99
Offers Spanish language option
AltaMed heart app

Whether you’re just starting an exercise program or you’ve worked out for years, your heart rate is a good indicator of your fitness level. This straightforward heart rate app lets you discover your heart rate in 10 seconds or less. Just place the tip of your index finger on your phone’s camera and the app will detect color changes in your finger each time your heart beats. It then tells you your heart rate and puts the data in an easy-to-understand chart. Additional add-on features allow you to track heart health, access videos and motivational audio, and receive emails with tips on healthy living. Instant Heart Rate Monitor is used for research and trials by leading cardiologists, and is rated as the world’s best mobile heart rate measurement app. 


HabitList
Available for iOS; Price: $0, one-time fee of $4.99 to unlock premium features
AltaMed people high fiving

HabitList is designed to give you everything you need to set and reach your health goals, all wrapped up in a clear, direct format. Enter your goals and the app breaks everything down into clear steps by day and frequency to help you stay focused. The app helps you stay motivated by encouraging you to beat your own personal best at each repeated task, then rewarding you when you do. View trends over a period of time, create a flexible and personalized goal schedule, and easily check off your healthy to-do list. 


New to Physical Fitness? Start Here First.
At AltaMed, we love that there are so many tools to help make it fun and easy for people to work on their health goals. But you may have different health needs, and not every activity will be right for you. If you’ve never exercised before or you have an existing health condition like diabetes or heart disease, talk to your doctor before you start a program. They can help you determine the best options for you. 

We don’t have an app for that, but we do have a handy doctor search tool to help you find a doctor near you.

 

 

10 Easy Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

February 04, 2019

Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. Thirty-five percent of American adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and other serious health problems. Between the demands of a full-time job, raising a family, enjoying social activities, or pursuing hobbies, it’s important to give your body the rest it needs. 

At AltaMed, we know that nothing’s more frustrating than a night of tossing a turning, so we’ve created a list of 10 easy tips to help get a better, longer rest. Read on and sleep tight!


1.    Put the Phone Down


AltaMed person in bed at night on their smartphone
 
It may be tempting to check your phone one more time before going to sleep, but the blue light that our devices emit will trick your body into staying awake. Because this light is similar to the natural daylight we experience while being awake, our bodies stop producing sleeping hormones when we scroll through our phones late at night. Doctors recommend putting your gadgets away at least a half hour before bedtime. 


2.    Wash Your Sheets


AltaMed woman taking fresh sheets out of dryer and smelling them
 
    
Washing your sheets once per week has been proven to increase sleep quality, according the National Sleep Foundation. Over time, our beds collect dead skin, sweat, and other irritants, which can trigger our senses and keep us awake. Be sure to clean other bedding frequently as well. 


3.    Say No to Late Night Snacks


AltaMed two women on the couch eating popcorn watching TV

Eating shortly before going to bed will keep you up and may result in worse sleep quality. It’s best to stop eating at least two hours before you plan to go to hit the hay. If you are hungry, limit portion size and avoid snacks with added sugar. 


4.    Check the Thermostat


AltaMed man adjusting the thermostat

Ever notice that it can be more difficult to sleep during hot, summer months? This is because temperature has a profound impact in our ability to fall asleep, even more so than loud or distracting noises. Doctors recommend keeping your room at a comfortable 70 or so degrees for optimal sleeping conditions. 


5.    Stick to a Schedule


AltaMed woman laying in bed with clock on night stand

Our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm, meaning we tend to wake up around sunrise and get tired after sunset. Studies have shown that people who do not follow consistent bedtimes report poorer sleep quality. Creating and following a set 7 or 8 hour sleep pattern will help you fall asleep faster. 


6.    Relax Your Mind


Altamed woman having breakfast

It can be tougher to fall asleep when our bodies experience stress. Rather than lay awake and worrying, try writing down a “to do” list of everything you need to accomplish the next day. Organizing your thoughts will help your mind and body relax. 


7.    Try Exercising - Just Not at Night


AltaMed couple running outdoors

Exercise is one of the best ways to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. This is because physical activity can tire the body out, leading to an increase of hormones such as melatonin that helps cause sleepiness. One study showed that older adults who exercised regularly fell asleep 55% faster and slept for about 40 minutes longer. However, exercising too close to bedtime can keep your brain stimulated and overly-alert, so aim for morning or midday activity. 


8.    Cut Back on Caffeine


AltaMed cup of coffee

If you drink coffee every morning for a boost of energy, be sure to limit yourself to one or two cups. Caffeine stimulates the body’s nervous system for up to 12 hours, meaning a 3:00pm coffee break can lead to a restless night. If you need a boost of energy in the afternoon, try a healthy snack such as nuts or fruit instead. 


9.    Stay Out of Bed


AltaMed dad and daughter reading together

That’s right. Sleep experts actually recommend staying out of bed unless the purpose is to go to sleep or have sex. If you spend hours laying down and watching TV, using your phone, or reading, the brain begins to associate the bed with being awake, rather than getting rest. This can make it harder to fall asleep. 


10.    Breathe


AltaMed woman meditating

Even in the ideal sleep setting, it can still take time to settle our brains and fall asleep. Try this exercise, created by the Arizona Center for Integrated Medicine, to help your body relax:

  • Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. 

    Continue to do this until you fall asleep. 


Sleep On It


AltaMed woman sleeping in cozy bed

By following these suggestions, you’ll be on the path to a better night’s sleep! Remember, sleep deprivation can sometimes be a symptom of more serious medical conditions. If you or a loved one experiences continued insomnia without relief, talk to a doctor. Visit AltaMed.org to find a location, make an appointment, and learn more.