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It’s The Baby Steps That Work To Reduce Stress

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Stress is a major cause of illness — responsible for up to 90% of preventable disease.

By Kathy Keenan (Director of Marketing, SweetWater Health)

Some of us at SweetWater Health recently attended the 2012 Mobile Health Conference on the Stanford University campus. The theme was “Baby Steps.” The conference was oriented to mHealth entrepreneurs, but what the speakers had to say about baby steps really applies to any human being seeking to make changes in his or her life — especially those really difficult changes, like trying to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle.

Part of the message was that behaviors are hard to change. They’re even harder when we take on a whole raft of changes at once, which is what we usually do when we’re trying to lose weight.

Here’s a sample of what many of us try to do all at once:

  • Give up anything with sugar in it
  • Reduce fat in our diet
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Cut down on or give up red meat
  • Give up or cut down on bread, cereals, rice, pasta, etc.
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Exercise for an hour a day
  • Always take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Attend some sort of weight-loss meeting every week
  • Journal what we eat/count points/count calories or carbs every day
  • Walk at least 10,000 steps a day (in addition to exercising)

Some diets demand things like eating only cabbage soup, drinking a supplement twice a day instead of eating, eating only prepackaged meals, or following a complicated diet regimen based on blood type — an endless array of exotic and difficult behavior changes. That’s a HUGE number of changes for most people! Somehow, we think we can squeeze all this in to our routine day, which includes taking care of our families, working, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Talk about feeling stressed. And the results are predictable; we blow another weight-loss effort and feel guilty. (More stress. And if you’ve been following this blog, you know stress can make you gain and retain weight.)

The underlying message was that it’s easier to change behaviors if you just take baby steps, and when something doesn’t work, don’t keep trying to make it work; try a different baby step instead.

Not everyone can walk every day, for instance. So walk when you can, and on the days when you can’t, just try to get in 10,000 steps. If you always forget your pedometer, go up and down the stairs a few times; tomorrow, as Scarlett O’Hara famously remarked, is another day.

Another thing we tend to do is beat ourselves up if we eat something not on the “approved” list. Because we’re feeling bad anyway, we figure what the heck, in for a dime in, for a dollar, and throw the rest of the Oreos down the hatch after the first guilty cookie. Although the experts tell us truthfully that it’s better not to have temptations around the house in the first place, circumstances aren’t always ideal, and some of us have spouses and children who don’t share our issues. Look, it was just a cookie, it’s not like you stole a car. Enjoy that one cookie to the absolute maximum, and go do something else — like take a walk.

You wouldn’t begin training for a marathon by running 26 miles and 385 yards the first day. Add a step, do something else if it doesn’t work, and cut yourself some slack if you slip up. Eventually, all those baby steps add up to real progress in behavioral change.

As we’ve mentioned before, stress is a major cause of illness — responsible for up to 90% of preventable disease, according to medical institutions like Stanford University Medical Center and Mayo Clinic. And as mentioned previously, stress can actually cause weight gain and retention, even when eating habits don’t change. One baby step you can take to reduce stress is SweetBeat™, the stress management iPhone app from SweetWater Health. Learn more about SweetBeat and read the app description and download SweetBeat here.

This post was originally posted at SweetWater Health.

About the guest blogger: Kathy Keenan is the director of outbound marketing for SweetWater Health. She has more than 30 years of experience working in high tech marketing, marcomm, and public relations. Most recently, she worked at Cisco, developing thought leadership across a range of media for C-level executives worldwide. She founded and managed an award-winning high tech public relations company, Oak Ridge Public Relations, Inc., working with clients such as IBM, Philips, Solectron, and Xilinx.