Understanding the Stress/Health Connection

Stress exists in your mind — but it’s also evident in your stomach, heart, muscles and even your toes.

“In fact, stress may affect every cell in your body,” says Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., a researcher at Ohio State University Medical School.

During stressful times, your body produces various chemicals, including cortisol, an immune-suppressing hormone. The more cortisol produced, the weaker your immune cells become and the more susceptible you are to illness.

“A one-day stressor isn’t going to make a big change in your risk of getting a cold, for example,” says Dr. Glaser. “But a chronic stressor that lasts a few weeks could dampen your immune response and create a risk of disease.”

Migraine headaches, sleep disorders, backaches, skin rashes, fatigue, irritability, headache, depression, worry, mood swings, chest pain, anxiety, upset stomach, ulcers, and high blood pressure are common reactions to stress.

By gaining a better understanding of the stress/disease connection, you can reduce your stress and, in turn, improve your health and well-being.

Keeping stress in check

No one can avoid all stress — and a certain amount actually is good for you. But it’s best to keep unhealthy levels in check.

The following steps can help you control everyday stress:

  • Recognize your stress signals. Once you’re aware of your stressors, you’ll have a better idea of when you’re stressed and can take steps to reduce them.
  • Notice when you’re most vulnerable to stress and prepare yourself. Are you most affected in the mornings? On Mondays? In the winter?
  • Exercise. Aerobic workouts — walking, cycling, swimming, or running — can release pent-up frustrations while producing endorphins, brain chemicals that counteract stress.
  • Eat a healthful diet. A balanced diet can help stabilize your mood.
  • Communicate with friends and family. Social ties relieve stress and contribute to a positive attitude.
  • Spend time enjoying your hobbies. Doing so allows you to focus on a pleasurable activity instead of your problems.
  • Try relaxation techniques. Meditation, creative imagery, visualization, deep-breathing exercises, yoga, and listening to relaxation tapes can help you relax.
  • Learn to set limits. Don’t agree to unnecessary, stressful obligations.
  • Get enough sleep. Stress interferes with relaxation, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep, which can lead to fatigue and a reduced ability to cope. To get the best sleep possible, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Steer clear of caffeine. Caffeine can add to your anxiety, making you feel even more stressed.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Using alcohol or other drugs to relieve stress only masks symptoms and can worsen stress in the long run.
  • Learn something new. The excitement of learning something new, such as how to speak a different language or play a musical instrument, can make your worries seem far away.
  • Take a breather. Stressful situations can make you breathe more shallowly or hold your breath. When you have to relax fast, belly breathing can be done in seconds. To do it: Concentrate on making your abdomen move out as you inhale through your nose, then in as you exhale. Using imagery as you belly breathe can help you further deepen and slow the pace of your breathing. As you inhale, close your eyes and imagine the air swirling into your nose and down into your lungs. As you exhale, imagine the air swirling back out again.

Combating serious stress

“In combating serious stress, you should first carefully appraise the seriousness of the situation and the adequacy of your coping resources,” says Kenneth B. Matheny, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., director of counseling psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

When faced with a highly stressful event in your life — perhaps the death of a loved one, a life-threatening illness or a serious financial loss — the following strategies will help you cope:

  • Avoid unnecessary changes in your life. Instead, reserve what energy you do have for dealing with the stressor at hand. If possible, stabilize your work and home environments while working out the primary problem.
  • Quiet your mind. In times of stress, the mind makes things seem worse than they are by creating endless versions of impending disaster. Because the body can’t tell the difference between fact and fantasy, it responds with heightened physical response.
  • Keep in the present. You can calm both your mind and body by keeping your mind in the present, which is seldom as stressful as an imagined future or regrettable past. To keep your mind in the present, focus your attention on your breathing, a sound or visual pattern, a repetitive movement, or meditation.
  • Courageously and aggressively face the stressor. Resist any temptation to ignore the stressor. Instead, carefully appraise the seriousness of the problem without magnifying it out of proportion. In addition, confirm your view of the stressor by talking with others. Make a special effort to speak to family, friends, or co-workers who have dealt with similar experiences.
  • Take inventory of your coping responses. Confidence is a valuable ally in combating stress, and it builds on memories of past successes. Review successes you’ve had with other stressful life situations. Recall some of the specific things you did to cope.
  • Take action. Commit yourself to a reasonable course of action to deal with the stressor. Action is a powerful stress-reducer. Research shows the body lowers its production of epinephrine, a powerful stress hormone, when a person shifts into action.
  • Take time out to relax. At least once or twice a day, take time to decompress by relaxing — perhaps by listening to soothing music, taking a walk, gardening, reading, or exercising.

The StayWell Company, LLC ©2020

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From Mindful to Mindless: How to Engage in Healthy Habits That Last for Life

Exciting as it is, the idea of embarking on a new healthy way of living can be overwhelming. We know how much physical and emotional effort lasting change requires. If you have attempted change and stumbled in the past – and who has not – even just the act of aspiring to change and risking failure can feel exhausting.  After all, most people assume that to achieve their feel-great weight, they will have to practice herculean feats of willpower that make healthy eating and exercise so very challenging.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just flip a switch in our brain that would force us to eat the healthiest foods in the healthiest amounts and get the most effective workouts? That may not be possible, but creating habits is the next best thing.

Once you become aware of the emotional and environmental triggers between you and your goals and get some perspective on your own desires and temperaments, you can use that information to create habits that set you up for success. By setting up a series of carefully crafted habits, you can put your healthiest eating and most effective training practices on autopilot.

The term habit has an austere connotation; it implies servitude and obligation. It sounds downright unpleasant, but habits can liberate us from fretting about what to eat, when to exercise and how to reach and maintain our feel-great weight. Habits are freeing and energizing. They save us from the draining and difficult work of making decisions and exercising our self-control. What is more, each time you practice a healthy habit, it gets stronger and more automatic, so you do not have to muster up as much willpower to do it.

Here are some keys to effective habit creation that can help you make your own eating and exercising life more successful than before.

  • Respect yourself: You are who you are. You can be yourself. Change is possible, but personality transplants are unlikely. So, as you are setting up habits, do so with honest understanding of your own nature. If you are a night owl, do not vow to start daily 5 a.m. workouts. Focus on changing the situation to suit your desires and inclinations.
  • Show a little compassion: Do not say anything to yourself that you would not tell a good friend.
  • Convenience matters: It is important to make anything you do not want to do inconvenient, and anything you do want to do as easy as possible. If you do not want to indulge in cookies, do not buy them.
  • No man is an island: We are influenced by other people’s habits. If you want to form a habit, think carefully about what people around you are doing. If they are engaging in healthy living, that is helpful. If they are not, or they are actively sabotaging your goals, plan how you are going to contend with them.

Need motivation to begin your healthier habits? Participate in the July 21-Day Intermittent Movement Challenge to move more and decrease sedentary behavior with minimal interruption – a manageable way to get fit without designating an hour per day for exercise.

Visit the Health Trip page on the Power Henrico website for additional information.

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Health Trip Words of Wisdom

Do Not Ignore Your Diet

One of the most common mistakes I have seen people make when they start exercising is increasing the amount of food they are eating. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that when overweight women and men started exercising, many in the study compensated for their workouts by taking in as many as 270 extra calories a day – negating more than half of the calories they burned. A typical moderate 45-minute bout of exercise burns about 250-300 calories. Enjoying a glass of wine and a few crackers with cheese is more than enough to wipe out the calorie deficit from the workout.

One of the best ways to avoid this type of weight loss sabotage is to pay attention to what you are eating when you begin an exercise program. Sticking to a quality meal plan will keep your appetite and calories under control but allow you to be properly fueled for your workouts – and lose more weight. A good place to look for reputable, calorie conscious meal plans include the American Heart Association (https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/losing-weight) and Eating Well (http://www.eatingwell.com/category/4237/how-to-lose-weight/).

Even if you decide to not follow a specific meal/diet plan, if there is any chance that your eating habits may be an issue for you, experts recommend that you start tracking your food intake. It is easier to say NO to second helpings, big portions, and high calorie treats if you know you must write them down. It is not uncommon for those who regularly record what they eat and when they exercise to lose nearly twice as much weight as those who do not keep track.

If you are looking for help in starting a healthier eating plan, join the Fitness and Wellness ‘Unlock your Potential’ Challenge. Participating with your co-workers who will support your efforts and cheer you on can give you the boost you need to keep believing in yourself when the going gets tough. For more information, visit the Power Henrico Health Trip page.

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Intuitive Eating: Am I Hungry?

Let’s face it, this pandemic has forged unprecedented challenges into everyone’s life.  However, new challenges can bring new opportunities. So, whether you are working from home attempting double duty with your job and homeschooling your kids, or you are an essential employee tasked with new responsibilities and workloads, or a mixture of both, there is something to learn in the midst of these perilous times.  I believe there is no better time than now to focus on what you can control and influence when it comes to maintaining or achieving good health and immunity. Your nutritional habits have tremendous power. Food can either be your pitfall or advantage.

Are you indulging in self-sabotaging habits such as binge drinking, late night snacking, and mindless eating? Well, becoming more intuitive, or mindful, of your eating habits can equip you with the arsenal you need to win the battle for your health. Intuitive eating is the ability to stay tuned in to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Many benefits are associated with this tactic including the following:

  • Changing your mindset
  • Achieving a healthy body composition
  • Improving the ability to choose more nutritious foods
  • Learning when you should or shouldn’t eat
  • Consuming fewer empty calories
  • Avoiding overeating or undereating
  • Appreciating your food more
  • Boosting your immunity.

It seems simple to ask yourself ‘am I hungry?’ before eating, or to stop eating before any discomfort sets in, but the key to becoming more nutritionally intuitive is through the power of intentionally and repeatedly making good choices over time—this starts with a change of your mindset!  As you make positive, healthy choices every day, your new habit will have long-term positive impacts on your health. Thus, the purpose of this article is to not only provide intuitive eating strategies for your Health Trip, but to, also, equip you with effective solutions that will make you stronger than before.

Strategy #1: Using the hunger scale.

The Hunger Scale below is an effective, yet simple strategy to discover how you should and should not feel when eating intuitively. The idea is to stay within the green zone and avoid the caution and red zones when you begin and stop eating. For example, begin eating when you are mildly hungry (zone 4) and stop when you are satiated or mildly full, with no discomfort (zones 5-6). The feeling of starved or famished (zones 1-3) and eating to the point of discomfort, or feeling sick, (zones 8-10) should be avoided.  Practicing this routinely will yield a positive impact on your energy levels and lessen negative emotions, such as irritability or being “hangry”. 

Strategy #2:  Stop and think.

When learning to become more intuitive, using the stop and think rule may help. For example, try asking yourself these questions before making the decision to eat:

  • “Is this an emotional eating decision?”
  • “Am I actually hungry?”
  • “How long has it been since the last time I ate?”
  • “What are the benefits or detriments of eating this?”

If you deduce that your reason for eating is an emotional decision due to stress or boredom, try distracting yourself by going for a walk or some form of activity. Reminding yourself of your eating schedule and understanding the benefits or detriments of your food choices can help you stay on track with your health and fitness goals.

Strategy #3:  Journal your wins!

Remember, becoming more intuitive requires a change in how you think. Try keeping a handwritten journal of your wins.  A “win” would be each time you made a positive choice regarding a food selection or food avoidance. For example, you figured out your desire to eat was due to an emotional eating response, so you went for a walk instead. WIN! When you journal your wins repeatedly, it increases the likelihood of building a new habit.

Strategy #4:  Enjoy your food.

There is truth in the philosophical quotes: “food is fuel”, “food is the way to my heart”, “food is love”, “food is life”, “food is medicine”, and “food is good”.  When you enjoy something, you are more apt to adhere to it long-term. Thus, pursue new ways you can enjoy healthy, mindful eating.

  • Try finding new recipes with ingredients you love.
  • Involve the family by preparing and cooking together.
  • Go out of your norm by exploring your grocery store. Look for new foods you are willing to try.

Strategy #5:  Eat slow and savor your food. 

Not only will this allow you to enjoy your food, but the action of eating slowly will enable you to eat less.  Chewing more, having conversation while eating, and putting your fork down between bites will increase the length of time it takes to eat your meal, triggering satiety without overeating.

Strategy #6:  Avoid restrictive eating practices.

Recently, an article by U.S. News & World Report identified the best diets of 2020, and those which were restrictive (i.e., Paleo, Whole 30, and Keto) were not at the top of the list! Restricting entire food groups is not sustainable for many reasons:  It is harder to get all important nutrients, it disrupts satiety, it is harder to promote long-term weight loss (2 years or more), is less protective against diabetes or heart disease based on available evidence, and is harder to comply with (Cooper Institute 2020).  Thus, a diet plan that includes all food groups in moderation leads to a long-term healthy lifestyle. Diets such the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet, or Weight Watchers are notable for success.

Strategy #7:  Have a plan of action.

True success or change is not achieved accidentally, but intentionally. It has been shown that individuals who set goals have a higher likelihood of being successful. This is because when you set a SMART goal it comes with a plan of action. Planning is a key factor in becoming more intuitive. Try these action plans to become more successful at intuitive eating:

  • Set SMART Goals. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
    • Break your action plan down this way:
      • This year I will…
      • This month I will…
      • This week I will…
      • Today I will…
    • Set a schedule. Review your calendar or daily agenda and schedule eating times. Anything that occurs outside of this schedule should be avoided.
    • After finding recipes, add the ingredients to your grocery list. This can help save you money and walk through the grocery store with good intentions.

Strategy #8:  Reward yourself.

Positive reinforcement, or a reinforcing stimulus, has been shown to promote the behavior you are trying to achieve. Try setting up a reward system for achieving your yearly, monthly, weekly or daily goals. Here are some examples below: (rewards listed based on current social distancing guidelines)

  • Reward yourself with an affordable pampering product purchased through the internet.
  • Reward yourself with a small delectable treat.
  • Reward yourself with new nutrition or fitness gear that encourages your journey.

In summary, becoming more intuitive may seem challenging, but the long-term benefits are priceless. When you make the decision to form a new habit remember that persistence is key, and perfection is unrealistic.  Failures may happen along the way and that is ok. Learn from your mistakes and keep pursuing your goal(s)—focused attention and perseverance pays!

For more resources on healthy habits, visit Power Henrico.

For a jumpstart into intuitive eating, join the 21-Day Intuitive Eating Challenge May 1 – 21, 2020!

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Boost Happiness by Spending More Time in Nature

            Think back to a favorite vacation. Did you spend most of the day in the sun, perhaps on a sandy beach? Or was it an escape to the mountains spent skiing or hiking? Regardless of where you went or what activities you chose to participate in, the best vacation memories come from spending time in the great outdoors.

               Medical research is shining light on the fact that connecting with nature boosts productivity, creativity, resiliency, mental focus and happiness. As Americans, we have grown accustomed to a mundane schedule of working, watching TV and sleeping. We are attached to technology, leaving us inactive and indoors. The combination of a sedentary lifestyle and not getting outside can lead to poor physical and mental health.

                While now is not the time to plan a vacation, it is the time to do our individual part to practice social distancing and perhaps self-quarantine due to our current public health crisis. It is the time to be intentional about scheduling in ‘nature time’ everyday (weather permitting). Eat your lunch outside, go for a walk, move your exercise time to the backyard, or even catchup on email in a nearby green space. Take a breath of outside air!

                Believe it or not, breathing in fresh air (oxygen) does affect your sense of well-being and happiness. Oxygen levels in your brain are tied to your levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects not only mood, but appetite, memory, and social behavior. Too much serotonin and you become irritable and tense. Too little serotonin and you can become depressed. Breathing in fresh air can help regulate levels of serotonin and promote happiness. All it takes is 20 minutes!

Boost your happiness and join the 21 Days to Connect with Nature Challenge! Visit the Health Trip page on the Power Henrico website for details.

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Wellness Screenings Start

Earn your $100 incentive when you take part in a private and confidential wellness screening with an HCA Virginia Workforce Wellness Nurse including: Blood Pressure, Blood Glucose, Body Composition, Cholesterol and Lipid Profile

To schedule your appointment or  to see a complete list of screenings, please visit Power Henrico

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Lighten Up to Live Your Healthiest Life

Research shows that there’s a surprising connection between elevating your mood and shedding stubborn pounds. It’s difficult to feel calm when you worry about what to eat, when to work out, and whether your effort will pay off – all while keeping up with your everyday obligations. So, someone suggesting you relax during this process is laughable.  

Stress, like a roll of fat above your waistband, isn’t easy to shed. But by learning a few ways to slow down, put yourself first, and yes, relax, you can get both your stress levels and your weight under control for good.  


We all have times when we fall into a self-neglect rut, but lately that seems to be almost an epidemic. The American Psychological Associated reports that 44 percent of Americans believe the level of stress in their life is increasing, but only 9 percent think they handle it well. In studying the relationship between stress and being overweight, researches have zoned in on a key hormone called cortisol. You’ve probably heard of it, but it’s not necessarily a bad hormone. Our bodies use it to maintain blood pressure, and it plays a key role in the way we metabolize both fats and carbohydrates for energy.  

The trouble happens when we are under chronic stress and secrete too much cortisol for our bodies to break down properly. A common side effect of extra cortisol is increased appetite. Being constantly hungry is bad enough, but cortisol also tends to direct pounds to accumulate in the abdomen, rather than the hips, and this belly fat is closely linked to heart disease and stroke. Stress has the biggest impact on weight gain in individuals with an already-high body mass index (BMI), making stress and weight gain something of a vicious cycle. 


One of the most effective ways to manage stress is also one of the simplest: Just breathe. You hear this a lot in yoga class, but you don’t need a mat to practice it. Simply set a timer for eight minutes and find a comfortable position. Now begin. Inhale for a slow count of eight, hold, and then exhale for a count of eight. The first few times you try this, your mind will likely wander. Be patient – when you notice thoughts creeping in, just return to counting your breaths, and when you lose track, start over.

When the eight minutes are up, stop. Shooting for eight minutes a day is an amazing first step. Health benefits will kick in with repeated practice. Sticking with a deep breathing meditation practice for 8 weeks will change how your brain responds to stress. You may sense that you become less reactive to tension and that you have stress-proofed your body.  

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Healthy for Life! How to Live Your Healthiest Life – Adding positive habits and breaking bad habits, part three

+ Eat Healthy Fats-Limited Meat and High-Fat Dairy 

Does my body need fats? 

Yes, it does. Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and support cell growth. They also protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients (vitamins A, D, E and K) and produce important hormones, too. Your body definitely needs fat.  

Fats: They’re not all the same. 

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best choices. Look for food products with little or no saturated fats and do your best to avoid trans fats. Saturated and trans fats tend to be more solid at room temperature (like a stick of butter), while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be more liquid (like liquid vegetable oil and olive oil). 

Fats can also have different effects on the cholesterol levels in your body. The bad fats, saturated fats and trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can lower bad cholesterol levels and are beneficial when consumed as part of a healthy dietary pattern. 

You can live heart healthy! 

Throughout the day, you’ll make decisions that affect how well you follow heart healthy lifestyle habits. Do I eat a hamburger with fries or soup and salad? Do I go for a walk or not? Be prepared for these moments of decision and strategize how best to guide yourself into making the right choices. Pretty soon, with continued practice, these moments of decisions will simply become habit. 

For more resources on healthy habits, visit Power Henrico.


Each February we celebrate National Heart Health Month by motivating our coworkers to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent heart disease. Research shows we are more successful at meeting personal health goals when we join forces and work toward a common goal. Register today for the Healthy Heart Challenge.  

National Wear Red Day is February 7. 

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Team Henrico Update

Team Henrico Gets Tacky 

Saturday, December 14 Team Henrico participated in the Tacky Light Run for the first time. With a group decked out in tacky sweaters, holiday leggings, goofy hats, and holiday attire lead by Santa Claus, 50+ Henrico employees and family members set off on a walk/jog/run that was full of holiday cheer. The event included Christmas light lined streets, beautifully orchestrated houses with lights and decorations, and hundreds of supporters along the route playing music and cheering for everyone. The Fitness and Wellness Division of the Department of Human Resources recognizes that events like this are vital in developing and blossoming inter-departmental relationships that carryover from an extracurricular fun activity to professional relationships. The Tacky Light Run is now behind us and we are focused on the next Team Henrico event, that never fails to disappoint, the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k.

2020 Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k – March 28, 2020 

As with all Team Henrico supported events, we are offering a discount for 50% off the current registration fee. There will be a price increase starting January 16th so make sure to sign-up now to get the best deal available. The code to utilize during registration is HenricoRuns10k20. Our standard discount code rules apply: They can only be used for permanent Henrico County employees – i.e. not for friends or family. In addition, this code will only be available to be used once per transaction so if you are signing multiple Henrico employees up at one time you will need to do so in separate transactions.   

If you are questioning your ability to complete the 10k please check out the 10k Training Program written by the Fitness and Wellness staff to get you on the path to completing the 10k in March- whether you are looking to walk it, jog it, or run it. On the off chance that the 10k just does not seem appealing to you, we welcome you to join the Team Henrico Spirit Team. Our Spirit Team is amazing, each year, and last year we had the National Champions Highland Springs Cheer Squad with us cheering on everyone- but especially any Henrico County employees we saw. 


If you have questions about the event please email Joey Pacelli at PAC037@henrico.us and be on the lookout in the near future for updates. 

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