Our Stress SWAT Team to the Rescue
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Our Stress SWAT Team to the Rescue

Try some of the stress-reduction tips the MacKenzies are using.

The Road to Relaxation

For Ladies' Home Journal's stressed-out family, the MacKenzies, the road to relaxation can't be traveled in one day. But after spending just a few hours with three members of our Stress SWAT Team -- nutritionist Oz Garcia, yoga instructor Kacy Duke, and meditation expert Beryl Bender Birch -- the family of eight just outside of Poughkeepsie, New York, was considerably calmer. As they implement the suggestions over the months ahead, we'll track their blood pressure, cortisol levels, and self-reported stress levels.

Better Breakfasts

The family's supply of soda and snacks was out of sight in the basement refrigerator during Garcia's visit -- but a giant jar of marshmallow creme that the kids use with peanut butter to make "fluffer nutter" sandwiches was in plain sight. The sugary treat caught Garcia's eye, but he was more concerned with the family's breakfast habits. Pressed for time, Robin usually grabs a frappuccino, while Katlyn, 15, 'fessed up to a brownie the day before. Sugary breakfast cereal is not uncommon for the rest.Caffeine and sugar create energy highs and lows that can exacerbate stress, said Garcia. He suggested a diet with limited sugar and caffeine, and plenty of fresh produce, whole grains, and lean protein. But Garcia said it would be unrealistic for them to go from sugary cereals and chips to a perfect diet overnight. Instead he suggested they look at what they already enjoy eating, and squeeze in a little more nutritional value through substitution. Go for whole-grain pasta over white, add fish as a lean protein, and cut back on products with added sugar. "I'll even let you keep the Fluff," Garcia said, as long as they use whole-grain bread and peanut butter without extra sugar.


Small Steps

The kids have after-school sports activities, but Robin gave up her kickboxing class last year, and Leigh stopped cycling, his exercise of choice, after their youngest child was born.Duke, a trainer for Equinox fitness clubs, had one simple goal for them: Start doing something. "Even if it's just five minutes a day, your body will start to crave it, and then you'll do 15 minutes a day, eventually 30." The first step was to remove the pile of clothes on the elliptical trainer in the bedroom. She suggested Robin and Leigh spend 10 minutes a day on the unearthed machine, then add in a modest routine of sit-ups (three sets of eight), push-ups (five for her, 10 for him), and biceps and triceps curls -- 20 minutes total.


Just Breathe

To help the family relax, Birch taught them a simple meditation technique called "ujjayi breathing." Robin, Leigh, Katlyn, 15, Christopher, 13, and Conall, 8, sat cross-legged on the living room floor to learn the technique. "Pretend you're fogging a mirror with your breath," Birch said. "For ujjayi breathing, do the same with your mouth closed." (It should sound like a quiet Darth Vader.) Birch suggested the MacKenzies try this breathing technique anywhere -- in the car, at school, work, anytime things get hectic. Accompanying the sound of five Darth Vaders was the soundtrack of Saturday: shouts, squeals, squeaks, slams, "ow, ow, ow!" dogs whimpering, toilets flushing, shrieks, laughter, thumps. When Robin finally opened her eyes, she looked refreshed. But the first words after her meditation? "I can't believe the kids made that much noise!"


Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, April 2004.