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Building Resilience to Stress

By Kathy Murray - LCSW - Psychotherapist and Integrative Health Coach

There are several different types of stress.  Acute stress is our body’s response to a situation which triggers a fight or flight response.  It is meant to activate us when there is an external threat or challenge.  It causes an adrenaline release which subsides when the threat is over.    Often, we will return to normal when the stressor is resolved.  If the stress response does not resolve, then it may be a symptom of an anxiety disorder or prior traumatic history.

Building Resilience to Stress

Chronic stress is caused by a stressor, or series of stressors that go unresolved and are long-lasting and constant.  This can be caused by ordinary life – such as difficult relationships, work situations, traffic, email, media, health issues, etc.  An early history of poverty, discrimination, bullying, growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, etc., can predispose people to mental health disorders later in life.

Chronic stress is highly related to food and weight problems.   The stress hormone cortisol increases our appetite, spurring binge and overeating.  In addition, higher levels of cortisol in the body impede weight loss and make it harder to burn fat.

Building resiliency to stress can help overcome or even prevent the potential consequences of stress.  When we are resilient, it is easier to return to a healthy physical and mental zone where we are balanced, clear-minded, and able to learn and grow more easily.

Stress resilience enables us to bounce back from setbacks and grow from these experiences.  Stressful times end sooner and calmer times last longer.

Here are some tips to help you build your Resiliency Muscle:



Deep breathing has long been known as a behavioral technique for managing stress. It turns out, however, that there is a physiological explanation for the beneficial effects of breathing. Deep breaths with extended exhales activate the parasympathetic nervous system to get us out of the fight and flight reaction.  Taking frequent time-outs to inhale and exhale slowly through the mouth is an easy, in-the-moment strategy for doing this.


Physical activity: 

Adrenaline is meant to move us into action.  Inactivity causes stress hormones to become trapped in the body, causing physical and emotional harm.  Getting up and moving often, stretching and rotating our joints, taking walks, etc., can help prevent these hormones from building up in our system and wreaking havoc.


Grounding and Settling:

When we are stressed, we often lose contact with our body and become trapped in our mind.  We can counter this by feeling our feet on the floor, our seat in our chair.  We can remember we have arms and legs and gently rotate and stretch them.  Doing regular body check-ins of the above can be helpful in keeping us in our resilient zone. There are electronic apps and websites (www.irenelyon.comwww.kellymcgonigal.comwww.tarabrach.com and www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app)  that can teach you routines to help you with grounding and settling techniques.


Sleep and Rest: 

Lack of sleep increases the amount of cortisol and ghrelin (hunger hormone) in our system.   Frequent periods of rest and rejuvenation in our life, connection to nature, appreciation of beauty and pleasure in the moment all contribute to a more stress-free attitude.



Viewing stressors as challenges which can activate us into positive action can actually avoid some of the negative effects of stress on our body and turn stress into action and positive growth.


The above strategies can go a long way toward building resiliency to reduce stress and its consequences. Ideally, these strategies would be practiced daily but even spending a little time on one of these strategies each day can meaningfully improve your mindset and quality of life.

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With more than 40-year years of experience in delivering wellness and weight loss programs, the Duke Diet and Fitness Center has established itself as one of the leading weight loss and total body health destinations for health conscious individuals seeking a residential style health program focused on natural weight loss.

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