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Well Wisconsin Radio

Well Wisconsin Radio

Hosted by Senior Program Manager, Renee Fox

A podcast discussing topics of health and well-being from experts from all around the State of Wisconsin. New in 2022, you’ll be able to tune into Well Wisconsin Radio whenever you want and wherever you are! Subscribe to Well Wisconsin Radio in the podcast platform of your choice to be notified when each new episode is released. Let’s tackle 2022 together through learning and seeking opportunities to be in the moment.

Transcript

Host
Hello and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and well-being topics with experts from all around the state of Wisconsin my name is Morgan Meinen
My guest today is Alicia Canavera.
Alicia is a health coach with Webmd Health Services she has a bachelor’s of science degree in social work and human behavior along with being an ACSM physical activity and public health specialist. Alicia has over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness field and her expertise really shines during this interview. Her and I are going to talk about a lot of great practical tips for understanding and coping with stress and she’ll even guide us through a relaxing deep breathing exercise at the very end of the episode so make sure you stay tuned.
00:01.20
Host
Alicia. Thanks so much for joining me today on well Wisconsin Radio I’m really excited to talk to you about stress management.

00:05.87
Guest
I Am definitely glad to be here. This is one of the topics that I enjoy talking about and I think is really important to dive into so people have some opportunities to learn some new tools to use.

00:18.40
Host
I totally agree and as we get started today I wondered if we could start first by just helping to explain what stress is.

00:26.99
Guest
I Think sometimes there’s a misconception about stress oftentimes people will think it’s what’s happening to them. But it’s actually more about how our body and our mind is reacting to different situations that. We feel could be harmful or threatening to us and then what happens is our body has this natural flight or fight response that kind of prepares us to deal with that situation or that stressor. Whether it’s a tiger chasing us or getting stuck in traffic on your way to some type of an event. Um, we have a response that just naturally happens.

01:15.13
Host
Yeah, and I think that you talked about reactions there in in your description and I think that’s so true and I’ll think when people think about stress a lot of times they think about symptoms and a lot of times those symptoms will fall into those emotional or physical categories like feeling overwhelmed or maybe having low energy. And wondered if you could talk about some of the other symptoms that people might experience as a result of having more stress in their life that maybe are more cognitive or behavioral.

01:40.48
Guest
Absolutely well First of all, physically I think there’s you know a number of symptoms that can happen to us that that fight or flight response that I just mentioned that heart rate increases. Maybe you start to breathe a little more rapid a little more shallow muscles even get tight. Know for me I clench my jaw. But there’s so much more that happens in the body. The physical symptoms are typically the ones that we notice first but symptoms like pretty persistent worrying or racing thoughts or forgetfulness. Sometimes it can be really difficult to just focus on things focus on a task at hand because your mind begins to wander another big one is negative thinking even to the point of catastrophizing for some people. And with our behaviors we might start noticing things in in a more physical way like appetite sometimes people eat anything and everything in sight when they’re stressed out but other people find that they just can’t eat anything. It just makes them feel kind of. Um, some other symptoms in this might not often come forward as a symptom but procrastination oftentimes we delay doing some of the things that we need to do and that might be related to maybe. Feeling overwhelmed or having that low energy. Also another common behavior that people will turn to is using alcohol using drugs to help ah with managing the symptoms but it can actually be a symptom just because of that. That overuse of it and then of course different nervous behaviors. Those can range from you know for everybody from like fidgeting to like you know I think about people that bite their lip or twirl their hair or pick at their nails so different. Cognitive and different behavioral symptoms creep up for people at different times and maybe even during different stressful situations.

03:57.40
Host
Kaberly great point. Um I’m a hair twirler so somewhere out there. My husband’s listening to this and laughing because something we joke about and but. It. It definitely seems like our stress response is connected to our own thoughts and behaviors and emotions and also that it’s really going to vary from person to person and that’s why I am so excited to have you here on the show today because I love that you always bring forward a lot of great ideas that people can use to develop their own personal toolbox. And I want I wondered if you could maybe help us to understand how our patterns of thinking can help affect or or rather can do affect our response to stress.

04:33.72
Guest
Absolutely what causes stress or what feels like stress I should say to 1 person could be of little concern to another person and some people are just. Better able to handle the stress than others and stress really comes from our perception of the situations that we’re in we talked about that earlier. Um, and I think it’s important to remember that not all stress is bad stress. Um, even things that are fun and exciting and happening in our lives can lead to some of those feelings of stress feelings of overwhelm and lead into some of those symptoms that we talked about but it really comes back to our perception. Not it not necessarily the situation but our perception of of what we’re experiencing can make it make it stressful make it feel stressful and sometimes our thinking about a situation can be right? but sometimes it can be wrong I think the real goal is to not. Allow the stress to get so chronic meaning it happens over a long period of time that it leads to a bigger impact on our health I wanted to share a little example, It snowed yesterday. It snowed again and we are so ready for spring but I woke up in the morning got on social media and all I saw were complaints about the snow. Everybody’s ready for green grass and sunshine and flowers. So I had to really quickly remind myself that I can choose to join them and see the negative feel the negative allow this new blanket of snow to really stress me out or. I can choose to see the positives I know that this new blanket of snow is going to be what’s nourishing the flowers to come that’s going to help the lakes and the rivers fill up. Um, and I think it really just comes back to having a choice making that choice. Um, and understanding that you do have a choice in how you feel and experience different stressors in your life.

07:09.51
Host
I think that’s a really great example and really got me thinking as well because I also woke up to snow myself and my first reaction was similar to what you were reading on social media where I was so disappointed and just. Ready for some sunshine ready. So for some warm weather and to put winter behind but I have 2 little boys and when they woke up their response was so different. They were very excited because they know that they’re not going to get to play in the snow for very much longer so they were able to get their snowp pants back out in their boots and they went out and they built a snowman. And April Snowman so though I think that that’s a really great point and you can see kind of 2 different examples where you have you know somebody who’s dwelling on it and somebody who’s making the most out of the situation and I think that is you know part of of what happens in stress responses. So. What are some other ideas that you have for people that they can help themselves to get out of that pattern of thinking.

08:05.40
Guest
Well first of all, it really is easy to get into a negative pattern of thinking so to think that you’re alone if you do have that negative thought that creeps up first. You’re not, um, but there are certainly some things that you can do to start focusing on. More positive or more healthful thinking first of all focus on the things that you do have control over. We clearly had no control over the snow but we could stop and think about what was going on. Ask ourselves. Is this worth it to think so negatively and then choose a different thought about it. Um, so again, focusing on what you can control and putting aside the things that you cannot control which is definitely much easier said. Then done. But um, when you can start to recognize how some of these thoughts impact our behaviors and our emotions it can be really enlightening. It can really help to lead towards making some different decisions about how we see. Ah situation I think another thing that very much relates into these pieces is self talk how we talk to ourselves is completely invaluable. This means just focusing on healthier thinking. Um, if you think positively you’re more likely to feel positive if you think negatively, you’re probably more likely to feel bad to feel negative and think about positive thinking. There’s actually research out there that says that it can. Help you to improve your health. It can actually help to decrease some of the stress that you’re experiencing so I cannot say enough about how we’re talking to ourselves about what we’re feeling and how we can approach. The way that we manage situations.

10:12.18
Host
Really great points. Especially that last one on on monitoring yourself talk I know that that can be so powerful and I think that you made such a great point which is that if you think negatively, you’re most likely going to feel negative and if you think positively obviously that can affect your mood as well. And wanted to talk a little bit about things that we can do every day so focusing in on well-being or maybe building some co coping mechanisms a lot of what we’re talking about here kind of falls into that behavior change right? where you’re helping us to recognize some of the things that might be happening when we’re having these stressful responses. So I wanted to move into what are some things that we could build into our everyday life things that could help us to reduce that stress or improve our response to it.

10:55.25
Guest
And so I’ll share a couple of ideas to help focusing on improving stress. But I really want to put out a disclaimer for maybe a reminder for myself and for anybody else that’s listening Today. You don’t have to take these on all at 1 time. This is not an opportunity for you to judge if you’re doing well or not but think about um, a way to improve even a very small step but I think it always starts out with eating well. Always goes back to that because I feel like well-nourished bodies are better prepared to handle and to manage stress so starting with you know, having a well-balanced diet. You know, including things like. Complex carbohydrates your fruits your vegetables your whole grains your lean protein and healthy fats because that’s what helps the brain um also making sure that you’re eating regularly when we talked about those symptoms earlier. Some people will eat all of the things while some people have really difficult time finding anything to eat when they’re stressed out so making sure that you’re eating regularly is going to help you to regulate your blood sugar levels a little better and help you to avoid some of those. Eyes and lows which can impact our body in a very big way and then of course water because your body needs water just as much as it needs. Food. So if you’re listening take a stepp this is a good time to make sure that you’re staying hydrated another important area is. Sleep I cannot say enough about sleep arrested body and arrested mind are going to help you to withstand the stress that you’re experiencing so this is a time when those tired muscles and the brain can have the opportunity to rest. And repair another one of my top 3 exercise now I should put it open to physical activity. It’s really important to find activities that you find to be enjoyable to help you move your body. Exercise is known I should say physical activity is known to help your body to relieve tension which we know is one of those symptoms when you’re experiencing stress I for 1 bring my shoulders up to my ears I need to make sure to relax those muscles. Um, plus.

13:35.53
Guest
When you are moving your body especially with exercise when you can get your heart rate up your body releases endorphins which are chemicals in the body that help you to feel good and they can even have a sense of pain relief for for a lot of people. I think those tend to be the top 3 that people are pretty familiar with. We’re always going to talk about eating well sleeping well and exercise. But that’s not it I think that there’s other opportunities like just taking some time to decompress. And for some people Maybe that’s in the morning where the house is quiet or maybe it’s in the afternoon when you start to feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks at hand during the day or maybe it’s in the evening where you just take a moment shut the door. Just for a couple of minutes and and find time where you can just be aware of your body. Um, be aware of your thoughts and allow yourself to just take some downtime some people find that it’s. You know their tool for managing stress is talking with other people. Um so having social connections can help you to feel less isolated this has been and can continue to be essential as we’re. You know, dealing with a pandemic people need to feel connected with friends with peers and coworkers to make sure that they’ve got someone that they know that they can turn to but that’s not. You know the only outlet some people prefer to share their thoughts with like a journal.. It’s definitely a good way to release some thoughts. It doesn’t have to be you know a bunch of paragraphs about everything that you’re experiencing I like to suggest journaling as maybe it’s just. A word that you put down for the day that you know explains how you’re feeling or a sentence or a phrase all sometimes even suggests to people to draw what you’re feeling or doodle What you’re feeling I think the biggest thing to remember is do what you enjoy because. That way you’re more likely to continue doing it Some of these things are not things that everybody enjoys not everybody likes the idea of exercise so you know maybe it’s one of those things where you turn on some music that you really enjoy and you go out for a walk because.

16:21.60
Guest
Walking is still physical activity and exercise when you start doing those things make sure that you reward yourself rewards get be really powerful and I don’t mean ah I just moved my body so I’m going to go out and eat. You know some chocolate cake or something. Maybe it’s rewarding yourself with that connection with somebody else or maybe it’s you know, buying some new shoes so that you can continue to go walking or downloading some new music so that you’ve got some things to clean to dance to move to There’s no right or wrong way to reward yourself and there’s really no one size fits all way to manage your stress what works for 1 person may not work for another may not even work for this a different situation. So remember you don’t have to do them all. But you also don’t have to just do one and that’s important to remember to find what works for you and and continue to try doing and try using new techniques in different situations.

17:32.77
Host
And I think that’s such great advice and I think especially feeding into that social part I think to your point people find what works for them. But sometimes I think talking with others letting others know that it’s something that you’re working on sometimes people share things and give you suggestions that you would have never thought of yourself. So I love that idea of kind of trying to crowdsource and use that as a way to also support your social engagement I wanted to share when you mentioned writing in a journal. It reminded me I had a good friend who purchased a journal for me that was just 1 sentence a day. It’s 5 years Um, and it’s called happiness for mothers. It’s by Gretchen Rubin and I know mother’s day is coming up so I felt like this was a good time to to kind of be plugging this one but I love it because like you said I’m not writing paragraphs. But I’m writing a sentence a day about maybe something that I experienced or a milestone that one of my kiddos hid or something funny that they said. And it has been so rewarding for me to go back in now I’m not going to say I’ve been great about writing in it every single day. Um, but I do give myself some grace and when I do go back and reflect on the things that I’ve written it brings me so much joy. So I thought that was a really great suggestion.

18:40.71
Host
Um, and I think it’s also important to remember you don’t have to be perfect with every tool that you’re using or every tool that you’re trying you don’t want this to be counterproductive and stress you out more. We want it to be something that you really enjoy and can continue to use alongside of trying new things as you need them.

19:05.38
Guest
Right? And that’s a perfect transition into my next question which is on relaxation techniques because we want stress management to be relaxing and I know part of these coping mechanisms while you’ve talked about a lot of practicality I know that there are some really good relaxation techniques that people can use. Could you help us to maybe understand those and how they can fit into the overall plan of stress management.

19:26.63
Guest
Absolutely so I would say the top 3 that we hear about when it comes to relaxation would be your deep breathing and there’s a number of different types of deep breathing. Um, there’s. Also a tool called progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery alongside of meditation. So with deep breathing. That’s just making sure that you are taking the opportunity to focus on. Your breath There’s different tools. There’s different techniques with deep breathing as far as how long you’re inhaling and exhaling and we’re gonna maybe test one of them out a little bit later but um, that’s another area to to experiment with. As far as some of the different types. Um, progressive muscle relaxation is another one of my favorites. Um, this is a tool where you are tightening up 1 of the muscle groups. And then releasing it slowly I like to incorporate breathing with progressive muscle relaxation and with this particular tool I typically will start at the head and move down with the muscle groups to the toes. So you might start even with your face like so. Crunching up your face and releasing the tension and your face slowly. Um you know, bringing like I said earlier when I get stressed my shoulders end up to my ears. So I might actually you know take a minute to bring my shoulders up tense up those shoulder muscles for just. You know 10 15 20 seconds and then slowly release them one of the perfect times that I think you can do progressive muscle relaxation is when you’re getting ready for bed because it’s just a great way to be aware of your body. Where you’re holding stress and of course you can just be more aware and work from you know, head to toe or toe head. whatever whatever you prefer the other tool is guided imagery so this is. Ah, tool that you can use um with you know, listening to a recording. Um I’ve had some people you know have like a book that they read of guided imagery an example would be. You know, being at a stream and.

22:17.90
Guest
Watching the ripples and watching. Um you know what’s around that stream and what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing is kind of engaging those senses and understanding. Course the purpose is relaxation so you want to focus on a guided imagery that really relates to you and helps you to feel good about what you’re experiencing kind of with that would be meditation sometimes people have a struggle with meditation because. Come into meditation with a lot of things on our mind a lot of things going on around us so it can be very difficult to feel like you can be successful at it. So when people are starting to explore things especially like meditation I’ll encourage them to start really slowly and know. You don’t have to be perfect at it. Um, you know, maybe it’s just taking a minute or 2 minutes where you’re just pausing and breathing in and out really being aware so mindful meditation being aware of your body. Being aware of the senses each of the senses that we have um the good news is with guided imagery and with meditation there are lots of recordings that are out there that can help to make it a little bit easier to take that couple of minutes whether it’s you know, 2 minutes 5 minutes or 30 minutes to do a meditation and all of these things take practice just a little bit at a time can really help you to bring some of these different techniques into play.

24:02.15
Host
Yeah, I’m thinking the guided imagery might have been really helpful when it snowed the other day you just wake up, get a picture of a warm sunny beach in your head and just do a couple minutes to recenter yourself and bring some warmth into your own body.

24:16.20
Guest
I Would definitely agree with that. Yes.

24:21.56
Host
Alicia, you’ve been so helpful in helping us better understand stress and how to manage it better in our lives and I wanted to circle back to the fact that you’re a health coach by trade and if somebody listening recognizes that they would like to work on their stress management maybe on a deeper level beyond some of the personal recommendations that you’ve brought forward. Maybe they’re thinking or I’ve tried those or I’m looking for new fresh ideas. How would a health coach be able to help support them and could you give us ah an idea of maybe what that conversation would look like and what kind of questions you might ask? yeah.

24:49.70
Guest
Absolutely I ah absolutely love health coaching I have my own. Um I find it to be a great tool for accountability for support for resources. When it comes to taking a coaching call and focusing on stress I think one of the benefits is that coaches can help you to really identify what you’re experiencing what are your stressors and that might be 1 of those questions that they ask you what is causing you stress right now. Um, they would you know ask other questions about where do you consider your stress level to be right now and and how well do you feel like you’re actually managing that stress because some people have really high levels of stress. And maybe feel like they’re not managing at all or maybe they’re managing it very well. Um, but a coach is going to help you to explore things like what’s actually helped you in the past or. What kind of support have you used or do you have right now to help you be successful with with managing what you’re experiencing and coaches will help you to work on identifying just some small changes that you’re actually ready to start working on and I think that’s key. Coaches aren’t going to tell you things that you have to do or that you should do coaches are going to explore some of the things that you’re interested in working on and maybe give a little instruction or a little guidance or some of the resources on what would help you to apply that tool. Or that goal we want to help you with being successful. That’s the ultimate goal and it’s always been my priority to emphasize whatever strengths that you have and and strengths that you want to build on so you know if you need additional support. We want to make sure that we. Can guide you give you the steps and ask you the who what? where when how and why and really help you to think about what’s going to help you to stay consistent when you get started with it. What’s going to help you to overcome challenges when you start working on. Pulling in some of these new techniques.

27:16.74
Host
And yeah I think a lot of times when people think about working with a health coach. They think of those more mainstream topics like losing weight or increasing their physical activity. But I always think about stress as sometimes the thing that gets in the way. Achieving those goals and I wondered if you’ve noticed the same or if you have an example of a time when you coached someone who thought they wanted to work on a different goal but it ended up that they really stress management was kind of what they needed most. So.

27:43.20
Guest
I would say when I am working with people who are wanting to make changes. It’s not uncommon that stress comes up as one of the biggest challenges and related to that I would say time. Time becomes one of the biggest challenges. But as you mentioned this one of the one of the times that I was working with somebody. Um, kind of popped into my mind I started working with somebody who initially wanted to start losing weight because. That’s always you know an area that people want to make sure that they’re doing better with they want to make sure that they’re losing weight stay healthy. Um this this person that I was working with she was determined to feel better in a uniform that was one of her. Primary motivators for making changes and after we talked for a bit and we started talking a little bit about some of the things that were making it difficult for her to be successful with weight loss. It seemed that there was definitely a theme. Of of challenges with um with stress she found first of all, we identified some of the symptoms um things that I heard from her she was you know falling into that either overeating or not eating at all. Procrastination was another one and she found that she was really struggling with staying consistent with sleep. They’re staying up too late. Um or struggling to get up in the morning. Um, and we came back to. Ah, challenge that of course the covid 19 pandemic had crept up. Um, and there was a recent loss that she experienced. So after we identified some of the things that. You know she was dealing with we were able to start prioritizing some of the things that she was most ready to work on and because she’s somebody that had been a consistent exerciser in the past and she remembered. The benefits that she experienced out of that we had to work on developing a plan. She was kind of an into that all or nothing thinking like if I can’t get out and do my 3 to five mile run then it’s not exercise. So.

30:23.90
Guest
We came back to all right? Let’s break it down in order to start Moving. You’ve got to start moving and even if it was just moving around a little bit more in her apartment or getting outside to do some walking. Is not always easy. You know when we’re you know talking about getting exercise outside in the winter but eventually when she was able to start implementing some of these things. She started noticing some of those benefits again of the physical activity and it was kind of a chain reaction that it started impacting her sleep started impacting her eating habits. It started impacting her stress. And then she started seeing the benefit with the weight loss but it had to start with taking small steps and understanding what was causing her to not make progress and it all came back to so to the stress. And and she knew that she had always felt better when she was more physically active. Um, so I I always remember that because of how things evolved with this particular person that I was working with.

31:45.70
Host
And that’s a great example and I think like you mentioned and I have a health coach myself as well. Just that accountability partner that person who’s working with you on that goal that person who’s helping you to recognize things that you maybe weren’t recognizing in yourself or allowing you the opportunity To. Experience your emotions to experience in that case grief to experience the stress to experience. Um the loss and things that have come along with the pandemic I Love that idea that you’re a partner with them helping them work towards these goals that overall are improving so many different elements of well-being which is obviously. Why we’re here in in producing this just just to help people and get this information out in front. So with that as we wrap up and before we get into our exercise. Do you have any other advice or resources for listeners to learn more about stress management or health coaching.

32:35.83
Guest
First stop I would always recommend for those who have access to the well Wisconsin Portal check it out. There’s so many great resources on there from. The daily habits program to videos and articles about stress to the opportunity to actually connect with a coach through the messaging or by scheduling your call right through the portal. So I would say that that would definitely be. Place that I would steer people to to get more information and get started on on managing their stress especially within the well Wisconsin program.

33:20.67
Host
Awesome! Well Alicia’s going to walk us through a square breathing exercise now to close out the show today. So I’m very excited and I’m going to turn it over to you to lead us into this exercise.

33:31.44
Guest
And well as I had mentioned earlier. There are a number of different tools for or different types of deep breathing and one of my favorite types is swear breathing what I love about swear breathing is that you can do this. Anywhere you can do it anytime but it can really help to get proactive with an activity like this by creating you know a relaxing environment a time when you set aside to do this so today we’ll go through this technique. I want to encourage you to take just a couple of seconds to allow yourself to get comfortable comfortable in your chair if you can lower the lights or if you want to light a candle or an incense or whatever makes your heart happy. You could lie down. You could sit in whatever position feels relaxing to you if you’re on the floor you may be sitting with your legs crossed or with your hands across your knees if you’re sitting in a chair like me you can let your feet be flat on the floor and. You know, relax your hands in your lap. What I want you to do is start with visualizing a square four equal sides with four equal inhalations and exhalations we’ll breathe through the nose. And in through the mouth with a pause between each breath. So I’m going to go ahead and guide you for the first couple and then I’m going to give you a couple of seconds to practice on your own. So first of all, get comfortable I want you to breathe. In through your nose to the count of 4 hold it for 4 and breathe out through your mouth to the count of 4 pause your breath for the count of 4 ah let’s go through this again I want you to breathe in through your nose to the count of 4 hold your breath gently for a count of 4 and breathe.

36:08.34
Guest
Out through your mouth to the count of 4 wait for the count of 4 visualize that square and go through that technique a couple of times by yourself.

36:50.79
Guest
And what I like about this technique is that you have that Visualization. You can see the four equal sides Again, you can do this anywhere. You can do this Anytime. Nobody has to know that you’re taking a pause in your day to do some deep Breathing. Um. But I think that this is one of the simpler techniques because the breath in to 4 makes it a little simpler knowing that there’s you know four a count of 4 with each breath and exhalation that you’re taking.

37:25.92
Host
Yeah, that was great and one of the best things about podcasts is that if you’re not in a space to be doing the deep breathing right now you can always rewind and go back later so you’ll you’ll have that in your back pocket If you ever want somebody to guide you through just a simple deep breathing exercise. So.

37:36.55
Guest
That’s right, That’s right.

37:44.67
Host
Alicia. Thanks again so much for being my guest today on well Wisconsin radio. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

37:47.95
Guest
Thank you for having me.

Host
Thanks so much for listening today I hope you enjoyed the show for those of you listening in as part of the well Wisconsin program the code for this episode is stress for a transcript to take our survey or to find previous episodes go to http://webmdhealthservices.com/wellwisconsinradio you can also subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice so you never miss an episode until next time take care.

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