Stress management often focuses on prioritizing your work-life balance, managing expectations, and relaxation techniques like mindfulness. While they all work, these techniques are not for everyone. If you focus on the three basics of good health – food, sleep, and physical activity. They’re just as powerful tools to help you be less stressed.
Health impact of stress
Stress is like anger – it’s destructive, and there’s a health impact. When you’re consistently stressed, your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar increase due to the extra adrenaline and cortisol that your body creates to deal with the extra load of stress. That’s just the beginning. Science also indicates it changes the size of your brain that affects your memory and lowers functions that are non-essential like your immune and gastrointestinal systems.
When you’re frazzled, it’s tough to lead a healthy lifestyle. Stress is often the catalyst for sleeping less, eating more, and having a short fuse at work and home.
You may not notice your health suffering, but it’s likely happening. You likely notice it’s more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So, reverse the chain of events and make a healthy lifestyle the focus so you can stop the effects of stress.
How a healthy lifestyle lowers stress
First of all, do not stress about being stressed. It’s a natural reaction to overwhelm and you have a lot of company. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 7 out of 10 adults feel stressed or anxious daily.
Our bodies are pre-wired for it. So, be self-aware. Observe your symptoms and don’t judge yourself for it. That will only complicate the situation by adding more stress. Remind yourself of this when you notice you’re getting stressed.
Know your symptoms of stress. Do you experience:
- Less sleep?
- Muscle aches or pain?
- Lose hair?
- Skin issues like hives or eczema flares?
- Memory impairment?
- Angry or irritable?
- Emotional lability or mood swings?
- Negative thinking and self-talk?
How many of these physical and mental symptoms do you feel? What triggers these feelings?
Identify your stress triggers and symptomatic reactions to them with these 4 powerful yet simple stress management exercises.
When you’re ready to take the next step, select one area you want to improve — sleep, nutrition, or exercise. Spend 30 minutes identifying ways to make some changes to your daily routine and then decide on one to take action and several modalities with a track record for creating the space for more.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to eat better, sleep more, and exercise. It’ll just make you more stressed. Take one step at a time.
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Keep a sleep diary. List the number of hours you sleep each day (including any naps) and rate your energy and stress levels you experience the following day.
Most people will find they are accumulating a sleep deficit during the week, which negatively impacts the degree of concentration, focus, clarity, and patience they can apply at work and home. They also find it more challenging to summon the energy to eat well and engage in some form of physical activity.
Not sure how well you’re sleeping? Wear a fitness tracker to monitor your habits.
Chronically not getting enough sleep increases your risk of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
Lower stress with healthy foods
Keep a food diary. List what you eat and drink, the time of day, and your stress level. Most people are surprised by the quality (or lack thereof) of what they are consuming and both the quantity and frequency of their intake. The connection between stress and eating mindlessly to feel better also becomes clear.
Are you grabbing fast food because you don’t have time? Try meal-planning so you have healthy options on the go.
Are you working and eating at the same time? Or checking your phone while you eat? Try to find a ten-minute break to focus only on what you’re eating. You’ll eat less and better.
Focusing on what you eat isn’t just about eating more fruits and vegetables. Some foods are proven to lower your stress, like chocolate! Foods can relieve stress, promote alertness, help you bounce back faster, calm you down, and even promote the formation of healthy nerve cells.
It’s not just the food you eat but everything else you put in your body too including cigarettes and alcohol. You may think smoking or alcohol calm you, but the long-term impacts can have a negative effect on your health. Quit bad habits too, like smoking.
Reduce stress with exercise
Stop taking medication for your stress-related headaches. Instead, get up and move!
Yet, it’s often the last thing we do because it’s another demand for our time. In a review of 168 studies on stress and exercise, almost 73% found higher stress is associated with less exercise.
While another demand on your time, the physical and mental health benefits are worth making time for exercise. Exercise reduces the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline, which over time have a damaging effect. It also triggers your body to release endorphins, which naturally lift your spirits and de-stress you.
Also, it’s a distraction from overwhelm. It allows you to remove your brain from work, emails, and parental duties. Exercise forces you to “stop” thinking about your To-Do list and focus on something else.
Exercise doesn’t always have to be a high-intensity workout and you don’t have to focus a long time on it. There are many 20-30 minute workouts that are effective. You’ll get health benefits from mind-body exercises like yoga and Tai Chi as well as from strength training, Pilates, or running.
When exercising and eating healthy, you’ll likely see other benefits like weight loss and more strength. These, in turn, add more confidence and once again serve as a stress relief.
Hold yourself accountable, whether with a personal trainer, fitness class, or an activity log. Even if you go to a group class or follow a trainer, keep tabs on what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.
If you keep a physical activity log, list any physical activity in which you are engaged and include the number of minutes, level of exertion, and a brief description of how you feel before, immediately after, and the following day. Include activities beyond the usual thoughts that come to mind with “exercise,” e.g., gardening, dancing, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Many people discover they are far more sedentary than they realized but also find that, although they may not jump for joy during the time they spend being active, they do feel better afterward and experience more energy and some dissipation of stress levels.
Make exercise fun! It can be a family activity, like bike riding, or working out with friends. Laughter is another stress management technique, and you can find that moment to laugh or have fun while exercising.
Living a healthier lifestyle
Now, it’s essential to focus on ways to take care of your body which will reduce your stress and increase your resilience.
For a more in-depth guide to better health, greater well-being, and more happiness, consider “Be Less Stressed.” It’s an easy to follow guide-book to lower your stress.
Though there is nothing particularly complicated about any of these options, as we all know all too well, it is much easier said than done to actually prioritize and therefore actually take the steps to an upward spiral which can be self-perpetuating.
Make this the day you’re going to focus on you!
The aforementioned and foregoing information, resources, links and/or references (collectively, the “Materials”) are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as medical or other professional advice. No representation or warranty of any kind is made in connection with the content of the Materials. The Materials may not be current and no one should take any action based on the Materials without first consulting their health care professional.