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Ask JJ: How Can I Manage Stress Levels?

You can't eliminate stress, but you can choose how you respond to life's daily storms. How you eat and live plays a significant role.
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Portrait of stressed woman having head pain
Portrait of stressed woman having head pain

Dear JJ: I am so stressed out all the time that I can't seem to focus. With work, family, and parents who all need me, I am so at my wits end.

Chronic stress can do more than ruin your day and make you a cranky, over-caffeinated mess. One meta-analysis with over 300 studies found acute and chronic stressors could dampen immunity. Stress can also cut into valuable sleep time, creating a "wired and tired" feeling that only fuels stress.

I could continue, but you get the very ugly point. "If you really knew what was happening to you when you are stressed, you would freak out. It's not pretty," said my friend Mark Hyman, M.D.

You can't eliminate stress, but you can choose how you respond to life's daily storms. How you eat and live plays a significant role. Make breakfast a gargantuan dark roast with a low-fat muffin and you'll have a late-morning blood sugar crash, leaving you lethargic, craving sugar, and dampening your resiliency so a minor reprimand from your boss becomes blown out of proportion in your mind.

Instead, have a fast, filling protein shake for breakfast and make your meals lean clean protein, loads of leafy and cruciferous veggies, slow-release high-fiber starches, and healthy fats to stabilize blood sugar and energy levels. Optimal sleep, exercise, and bliss time can also curb stress levels.

When I say "bliss time," I mean self-restoring down time where you practice deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or just hanging out with green tea and a trashy novel. Find what works for you and prioritize it. Far from selfish, this rejuvenating time makes you more focused and aware of others' needs.

Women especially have trouble saying no, but you can't do everything. Learn to say "no" kindly but firmly. As in: "I'd love to do it but I've got a lot on my plate right now."

Don't be afraid to ask for help. When a hit-and-run driver left my son Grant for dead two years ago, I mobilized everyone I knew. I said, "Hey, I can't do this alone. I need your help."

Thousands of people rose to the occasion, offering their kindness, generosity, and medical expertise during this tragic event. When you ask for help, you help others tap into their highest potential. They feel good and so do you.

I'm always interested to hear how others handle stress. What strategy do you regularly employ to minimize stress's impact on your mental and physical health? Share yours below.

I love your questions, so keep them coming at and I'll respond to one every week.