Stressed? 10 Ways to Protect Your Kidneys

March 30, 2015, 12:12pm EDT

Everyone experiences stress. Stress can be physiological (due to infection, injury, disease), or psychological (due to anxiety, conflict, threats to safety or well-being). Psychological stress is something that we contend with every day. It has negative connotations, but we also experience stress in response to positive life events, such as getting married or starting a family, in addition to emotionally challenging events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce or financial problems. Being newly diagnosed or living with a chronic illness, such as kidney disease, can also be a significant source of stress.

When channeled properly, stress can serve as a positive motivator for handling life’s challenges. However, too much or constant stress can take its toll on your health. Physical responses to stress include faster breathing and heart rate, a spike in blood pressure, dilated pupils, tense muscles and increased levels of fats and sugars in the bloodstream. This helps the body deal with immediate dangers and crises, but over time can contribute to health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, and place you at increased risk for kidney disease. If you already have heart or kidney disease, then the body’s reactions to stress can become more dangerous. While it is very difficult to completely get rid of stress, here are 10 ways to reduce stress, protect your kidneys and maintain your overall health:

1. Eat healthier foods. When you’re stressed, it may be easy to just grab for the potato chips, but junk foods are typically highly processed and high in sodium and phosphorus additives which can have negative effects on the kidneys. Consider following the DASH diet which focuses on eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.

2. Limit salt and caffeine. High caffeine intake can lead to jitters and doesn’t always mix well with the physical signs of stress. Set aside the salt shaker and read nutrition labels to determine the amount of sodium in the foods and drinks you consume. Limiting salt and caffeine intake is especially important if you have high blood pressure, which is the second leading cause of kidney disease and also increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.

3. Set aside time to relax. Relaxation means something different to everyone. Carve out “me” time in your calendar to do something you find relaxing. This can include things you can do easily at home on a regular basis, such as yoga and meditation, or something that may be more of a special treat, such as taking a vacation or getting a massage.

4. Exercise regularly. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins – chemicals that have been shown to boost mood and reduce feelings of pain. Regular exercise can also help lower high blood pressure and even small amounts of physical activity have been proven to lower stress levels. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, lift free weights while watching TV, and park your car further from the store or get off the bus a stop early to increase your steps.

5. Reduce the amount of sugar and fat in your diet. The average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar each year, the equivalent of almost 3 pounds (or 6 cups!) of sugar each week. Fat is an important and necessary part of your diet, but should be limited because at 9 calories per gram, it provides nearly double the amount of calories per gram of protein or carbohydrates. This makes it a frequent weight gain culprit. If you have or are at risk for diabetes, heart or blood vessel diseases, it’s particularly important to monitor your intake.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and outlook. How you think impacts how you feel, so maintaining a positive outlook and reducing stress can play an important role in staying healthy.

7. Get plenty of sleep. A good night's sleep goes a long way. Being well rested is more important than many people realize. Did you know that studies have shown that not getting enough sleep may lead to an increased appetite and in turn, weight gain?

8. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Talk to a friend, loved one, spiritual leader, or healthcare professional. Write about how you’re feeling in a journal. When you put your problems on paper, it’s easier to think about possible solutions. Making a list can help you evaluate and prioritize what issues need to be addressed, in order to calmly tackle the causes of your stress.

9. Set goals and expectations. Try using the SMART method so that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Trackable.

10. Listen to music. Whether slow and soothing, or beats to get you moving, listening to music (and even dancing and singing along!) can put you in less stressed mood.