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How to limit stress: Start by examining your ‘pace’

Theresa Albert

Racheal McCaig Photography

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

Our culture values speed, achievement and excellence and yet I constantly hear the contradictory message, "slow down, you move too fast." Which led me to ask these questions, on a recent girls' weekend in the fastest place on Earth, New York City: What is a healthy pace, anyway? Am I moving too fast? Is going fast actually stressful in and of itself?

Travelling with six women with six different styles, expectations, and speeds, and having each one end up rested/exhilarated/restored/re-clothed was a fine balance. It all rested upon our perceptions of stress, our ability to communicate our needs, and the systems in place to achieve our goals. It was a specific (and rather frivolous) situation, but representative of so many people's day to day struggles with stress.

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There is plenty of evidence to support that it isn't the fact that stress exists that is the killer, but rather, it is our perception of it. How we manage our own pace and thoughts around it is a very individual thing.

External forces that are pushing, pulling or tearing will only do the damage that we perceive they can. New York City is a cacophony of sound, humanity and smells along with multitudes of demands on time and money. How we were each going to get the most out of every day, without stress, would be telling.

Lesson No. 1: Removing as many variables as possible reduces stress In this case, choosing a location that was familiar and serene meant that the pressure of navigating was alleviated. We were accommodated in a central location in an area that most had stayed in before. Making a home base on 5th Avenue at a hotel that was a known quantity contributed to our sense of ease.

Lesson No. 2 : Ask for help! I love the hubbub of a big city and the bombardment of sounds, sights and smells. I am able to embrace this without becoming overwhelmed because I have accepted that no one can possibly take it all in, do it all at once or experience it all in one trip.

The trick is to ask for help. The hotel staff can make all the difference here. Our customer care manager stayed in communication with his colleagues by talking into his wrist, a la secret service. He was the expert in making restaurant recommendations and predicting traffic patterns and he guided us with information that facilitated our movements. You can only go fast if you know where you are going.

Lesson No. 3: Take your own amount of downtime I watched as each woman had their limits of action versus rest pushed.

Some were morning people, at the gym at the crack of dawn, and others preferred to languish in luxury sheets. Some wanted to shop for hours, others got overwhelmed after minutes. The critical element was for each person to identify their own needs and get them met. The external pressure to go (or stop for that matter) is another one of those perceived tensions that can add to stress. Of course we want to keep each other happy but it is no one's job to keep everyone happy.

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In the end, it seemed to be communication as well as clear perception that helped manage the stress around keeping a pace. A healthy pace is the one each person sets for themselves, provided they engage appropriate help when push comes to shove. And then, there is the spa...

Theresa Albert is a food communications consultant and a registered nutritionist based in Toronto. She blogs here and you can follow her on Twitter @theresaalbert

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