Q&A With VITA On Stress For Busy Professionals

In anticipation of Healthy Workplace Month (it’s October, y’all), wellness educator and holistic nutritionist Nicole Porter is sharing stress-beating tips with us (and you!). Best of all, she’s just launched a Wellness Advantage Program with an aim to change everything people, especially busy professionals, think they know about stress and their health. Read on (and stress, be gone)! —Noa Nichol

To start … tell us what a wellness coach does?!

Not all wellness coaches are the same, but in my work, I combine my background as nutritionist and healthy weight-loss coach with fitness training and stress management to create customized programs for busy professionals who struggle to fit a healthy life into a busy schedule. Basically, I outline what they need to do from morning to night. I also do corporate seminars for businesses that want to improve the health of their teams. Regardless of who I’m working with, a big piece of the conversation is about the impact of stress (obvious and hidden) on health.

Stress at work—how common is it?

For the majority of people the number 1 stress is “work,” which encompasses various things. Unfulfilled expectations are another high-ranking stressor but that doesn’t always have to do with work; sometimes it’s related to personal life.

What are the common things that make people feel stressed at/about work? What are some of the more uncommon workplace stressors you have encountered?

When you delve a bit deeper, work stress usually involves tight deadlines, struggling to find work/life balance, conflicts with colleagues or adapting to new technologies. Less common but increasingly popular stresses are: commute time (time taken away from spending with friends or family, especially children); frustration with the lack of communication in a “communication- based” world (slower communication means reduced productivity, which can leave even the best employees feeling like they aren’t reaching their potential); health problems (the worry is starting to affect people at work); and, finally, stress is a source of stress.

What are common misconceptions about stress?

Firstly, most people think stress is negative, uncontrollable, unmanageable. However, when it comes to emotional stress, our perception of that “threat” is a critical factor in determining the impact on the body. A little bit of stress is actually a good thing and can help us get things done urgently. If we can view this stress as a little bit of gas on a fire to get things done, then we and our bodies won’t overreact. The problems start when are consistently overwhelmed and end up with chronically elevated stress hormones that can put our health at risk. Secondly, people think “stress” only applies to emotional or psychosocial stresses like conflicts, finances or life-altering events, when really the body has the same reaction when you’re dieting (restricting food groups or skipping meals), dehydrated, sleep deprived, exercising too much (or too little), eating poorly or exposed to screens too often (to name a few).

What are your top tips to minimize stress at work … and in life?

Shift the way you think about stress. Our minds are more powerful than we know and how and what we think can have a physical impact on our bodies. A 2012 Harvard Study showed that changing your perception of stress (participants interpreted the stress as a positive factor helping to get things done as opposed to a negative factor making them uncomfortable) can impact the physical shape of your blood vessels during stress. Our minds and bodies are truly amazing.

Take screen breaks. Step away from your screens throughout the day and go for a 5-10 minute walk instead. You’ll calm your nervous system, breathe some fresh air and get the movement your body and lymphatic system need.

Breathe. This is the cheapest, most mobile, stress-relieving workplace wellness tip available, yet not enough people are finding time to breathe. And I don’t mean focused meditation (though I would recommend that, too!). I mean simple breathing. People aren’t realizing that they’re holding their breath throughout the day. Find pockets of time to focus on your breath: in the elevator, at your desk, at red lights, at stop signs or waiting for the SkyTrain, bus or plane.

We’re told you are able to give insight into three surprising ways to boost your wellness? What are they?

Don’t multitask while you’re eating. Digestion is halted under stress, so if you’re trying to eat while working, texting or driving, your body is under stress, which means digestion isn’t happening, ultimately affecting every organ in your body.

Don’t do exercise you don’t enjoy. Exercise is a form of stress on the body and if done in excess, could be keeping you from getting results. Find an exercise you love. Whatever it is, don’t do it for superficial reasons; do it because it’s good for you and your state of mind.

Spend more time socializing, not on social media. Socializing or doing something fun can promote production of dopamine and serotonin, the “feel good” hormones, which can help to balance out or reduce stress. And as mentioned, the less exposure to screens, the better.

How about the top three common (and perhaps surprising) stressors that are derailing your wellness plan? Can you speak to that?

First is electronics exposure. We’re exposed to screens from the second we wake up to the second we turn off the lights. When you’re consistently exposed to electronics, your nervous system is overstimulated, which can cause those same stress hormones to flood your body.

Second is lack of sleep. On average, we need 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep. You might hear people claim they only need 4-5 hours but if you tested their blood, the odds are high you’d find some overworked adrenals and high levels of stress hormones, which could result in illness further down the road.

Third, dieting. Cutting carbs, eating excessive protein, eliminating fat, or even judging yourself for not having the body or level of health you want, are stressors that can sabotage the greatest health efforts. Eat a natural, balanced diet with variety and if you don’t know what that is, seek advice from an expert, not “Dr. Google”.