Coping With Disaster: Drs Recommend Sleep, Food, Exercise


WASHINGTON, DC-Researchers and physicians are calling on Americans to get "back to the basics" during this time of national unrest. With the terrorist attacks on September 11, many hospitals have reported increased numbers of depression and mental health patients.

Coping requires examining what the human body needs to deal with stress. This is broken down into three basic categories: eating healthy, sleeping, and exercising. Without maintaining a balance of these three elements, researchers report uncontrolled stress weakens the immune system and can allow the body to fall victim to chronic illnesses, including heart disease. The body also produces more hormones when under stress. Cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine are released and push the heart, cardiovascular system, and major muscles to be more alert. The human body is preparing itself for flight or a fight.

To get these hormones and stress back under control, physicians recommend beginning with a healthy breakfast. Starting the day out with a piece of fruit and some fuel gets the body going in the right direction. Plus, researchers suggest starting the day with a healthy diet propels a person to eat healthier for the rest of the day.

The National Cancer Institute is also recommending now more than ever that people eat five daily servings of fruit and vegetables. The vitamins and minerals received from eating these will feed a needed boost for essential nutrients. Vitamin C is especially important during a stressful time.

A second method of bringing life back under control is exercising. A simple 10-minute walk can lower blood pressure, improve mood, and fight stress. Intensive workouts also lower cholesterol levels and improve insulin resistance.

Exercising can also push the body and mind into fatigue, which can be a good idea when stress inhibits normal sleeping habits. Getting outside to exercise can stop overeating and serve as a method of working off traumatic feelings and stress.

The final element of fighting stress is the body's most basic method of healing-sleep. Lack of sleep can elevate hormone levels and affect every element of judgment making, appetite, and energy. While traumatic experiences often invoke nightmares and interrupted sleeping patterns, physicians are recommending people focus on getting at least eight hours of sleep each night. They argue that even short periods of troubled sleep can greatly affect a person's health.

If a person is having a hard time sleeping, they recommend eliminating or limiting caffeine and alcohol, not taking naps in the afternoon, and avoiding over-the-counter sleep aids. Instead, a warm bath and exercising in the afternoon both lower the body's core temperature, pushing the mind to fall into a deeper and more relaxing sleep.

Researchers also recommend staying in touch with family and friends to get through difficult times.

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