Eric’s Goal: ‘I need to find a new way to relax, now that I’m injured and can’t do sports.

The Situation

Enrolled in a joint PhD program—educational and psychological studies combined with cognitive science—Eric Eiteljorg often feels the pressure of having too much to do with too little time. Couple that with the fact that he and his wife, Jennifer, are selling their home, and it’s no wonder that Eiteljorg’s stress is high. Eric Eiteljorg
Age: 34
Status: Married
Occupation: Graduate student

In the past, when life got too stressful Eiteljorg always knew exactly what to do: head to the squash court to blow off some steam. “Squash is something that I was good at and could do with ease,” he says. “Hitting the ball was easy, moving around the court was easy, and while playing I rarely thought about other obligations.” A competitive athlete all of his life, Eiteljorg is a three-time U.S. National Squash Championship finalist and has been team-ranked as high as eighth in the world, according to the International Squash Doubles Association.

Eiteljorg’s primary outlet for relief vanished recently when he ruptured his Achilles tendon at a squash tournament. Eiteljorg has been sidelined for months, and his injury has meant forgoing all rigorous physical activity, including biking, playing tennis, and skiing. He has been on crutches and undergoing physical therapy, elevating his stress to an all-time high. Eiteljorg now relies on others or public transportation for his hour-long commute to school. “I am sometimes running behind, completing assignments in a hurried manner, arriving places late, out of breath, and am dependent on others for getting to and from work,” he says. “I have to ask for help, and I don’t like to ask for help so often. Almost everything is an effort and a hassle. I still have the same obligations even though my life has drastically changed. And while those around me don’t expect me to carry the same load, I have not changed my own expectations.”

Hoping to ease the stress, Eiteljorg has tried other forms of exercise, but with little luck. He hits the weight room regularly to ward off unwanted pounds, but he’s frustrated maneuvering his crutches around the workout equipment. To maintain his cardiovascular health and muscle tone, Eiteljorg tried swimming and found it to be an excellent stress reducer, but an infection in his leg prohibits him from returning to the pool.

Although open to alternative methods of quelling his tension, Eiteljorg insists movement is the only likely avenue for relief. Still, he admits that eating more nutritious fare probably will make him feel better and contribute to his overall wellness. Eiteljorg doesn’t have a lot of time to prepare balanced meals, however, so junk food, such as pizza and burgers, is often on the menu. “It’s easy,” he says, adding that it’s not unusual for him to munch on two candy bars as an afternoon snack.

Our Advice

The life coach says:
Before tackling a new diet or experimenting with an alternative exercise routine, life coach Gloria Silverio says Eiteljorg must first give himself permission to expect less from himself during this recovery time. Silverio suggests building time-reserves into his day. For example, if it normally takes 40 minutes for his commute from Denver to Boulder, Eiteljorg may have to allow 60 minutes now that he’s on crutches and relying on someone else to pick him up. “Since Eric cannot do things as quickly as he could before his injury, he needs to allow more time to accomplish everyday tasks,” she says. “He may have to rearrange his schedule so that he has plenty of time to accomplish what has to be done.” Eiteljorg will need to adopt new stress-reduction techniques, such as writing in a journal, says life coach Gloria Silverio.

He’ll also need to adopt new stress-reduction techniques, such as listening to music, sitting quietly with no TV or radio, writing in a journal, or getting a massage, and starting to delegate tasks. Perhaps his buddies can lend a hand in the sale of his home by cleaning and straightening it for open houses, or they can run errands, such as grocery shopping or picking up clothes from the dry cleaner. “Having other people handle some things will free up time and energy to do the things that are important to him,” Silverio says. “No one can do it alone.”

The naturopathic physician says:
Naturopathic physician James Rouse suggests Eiteljorg lighten his load by creating a “to-lose” list. “Look at the unnecessary things in your life, such as television, junk food, toxic people—those who have a negative outlook and tend to drain all of your energy—and let them go,” he says. “Eric needs to give himself the time and space to create new, healthy habits with deep roots.”

For example, Eiteljorg should remember that a little positive thinking can improve physical health. “Optimists have greater cardiovascular health; reduced risk of cancer and other diseases; lower rates of depression, anxiety, and obesity; and stronger immune systems,” says Rouse. Constantly beating yourself up and battling stress, on the other hand, can lead to physical problems. “His potential chronic elevations of the stress hormone cortisol will hamper healing of his connective tissue, encourage his cravings for junk food, and eventually exhaust his adrenals,” explains Rouse.

Once Eiteljorg accepts that this obstacle is temporary and learns to let things go, he must then forgo the junk food for healthier options. “Diet plays a major role in stress management,” Rouse says. “You lose nutrients during chronic stress, and you choose foods that don’t replenish your nutrient stores.” According to Rouse, when the body is under chronic stress, cortisol increases while DHEA hormone levels decrease, which can “trigger negative hormonal reactions, immune reactions, or other physiological responses involving energy metabolism or brain function.” Certain vitamins and minerals help to control these functions.

The rise in cortisol and insulin also may cause blood sugar levels to drop below normal and the brain to send the “eat sugar now” signal, because the body tends to crave sugar when stressed. Eating a balanced breakfast will help maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day, says Rouse. And all of Eiteljorg’s meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—should include lean protein sources, such as chicken, grass-fed beef, or tempeh; low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as brown rice and dark green leafy vegetables; and healthy fats, such as olive, flaxseed, and fish oils. Healthy snacks might include a combination of nuts, string cheese, apples, pears, and energy bars. Whatever snacks Eiteljorg chooses to munch on, Rouse says they should contain at least 8 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and fewer than 30 grams of carbohydrates.

The herbalist says:
Herbalist Kim Erickson recommends that Eiteljorg add a few supplements to his diet to help combat stress. Adaptogenic herbs (which help the body cope or adapt mentally, physically, and emotionally), such as rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus, also known as Siberian ginseng), would help Eiteljorg’s body resist the negative effects of stress. Adaptogens are a wise choice for Eiteljorg because they do not cause drowsiness, so he can keep alert when studying late.

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata; 700 mg daily) may also help reduce Eiteljorg’s stress and anxiety, says Erickson, but she cautions that he should take the herb in the evening because it may make him drowsy. In addition kava (Piper methysticum; 120 mg daily) may mellow him out after a long day of classes and has been known to offer a general sense of well-being. But taking kava continually—more than three months at a time—is not recommended, and if taken in high doses can lead to liver toxicity. Finally, when Eiteljorg gets thirsty, Erickson suggests sipping chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea throughout the day; it may be just what he needs to bring about a sense of calm.

The yogini says:
There’s no denying movement is key to Eiteljorg’s active lifestyle, so throughout this rehabilitative period, yoga may be a viable alternative to squash. Beginning a yoga practice will help reduce stress during recovery, and will also keep Eiteljorg fit and help stave off future injuries. “If you’re holding a muscle when you are stressed, you constrict blood flow to that area,” explains yoga expert Rainbeau Mars. “When you bring breath to that body part as you do in yoga, you soften the physical tissue, increase blood flow and circulation, and therefore reduce stress.”

Even with limited mobility, Eiteljorg may practice a gentle form of yoga, but he should find an instructor capable of working with his injury—and one who can offer modified poses to keep his upper body strong, yet not hamper the recovery process. Once Eiteljorg is back on his feet, Mars suggests he try an ashtanga practice—a physically demanding style of yoga well-suited for those who have a hard time sitting still. Although participants continually move from one posture to the next, ashtanga coordinates movements with the breath, so it offers both an excellent workout and peace of mind. Practicing just three times a week, Eiteljorg will likely not only see improvement in his flexibility and range of motion but is bound to feel less stress, too.