Many people dismiss stress as a necessary evil of modern society. But never overlook chronic stress – it’s not something you should “just live with.”
That’s because stress can have a powerful, and negative, impact on your health. In fact, it’s estimated that 75 percent of visits to primary care doctors are related to stress in some way. 1
Stress can affect your mood, energy levels, sex drive, and weight. It can contribute to heart ailments. It can also cause gastrointestinal problems, and can even suppress your immune system.
So, what can you do to avoid stress, short of moving to a deserted island with no human contact? It’s impossible to avoid stress completely. But you can manage it. As with diet or exercise, stress relief needs to become part of your daily lifestyle. Schedule it into your diary if it helps! But manage it, you must.
Here are six simple strategies for combating stress in your life:
1. Prioritize Sleep
Let’s start with sleep – the most important factor of all. Poor sleep patterns are highly associated with stress (and also obesity). So, do your best to protect your sleep.
- Limit caffeine after 3 p.m., and cut back on alcohol in the evening, as both can impact sleep patterns.
- Stick to regular sleeping and waking times as much as possible.
- Make sure your room is dark and quiet and set at a comfortable temperature. 68-72 degrees is ideal.
- Power down your computer at least two hours before bed. Staring into a brightly-lit screen before sleeping can make it harder to nod off.
2. Target Healthy Starches
Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which leads to an increase in blood sugar.2 Fluctuating blood sugar can zap your energy and lead to food (sugar) cravings and fatigue. You can reduce this by eating “good starches” like:
- Whole grains
- High-fiber cereals
- Sweet potatoes
Whole grains are also a great source of B vitamins, which are critical in combating stress. Cut down on refined grains and all those prepackaged, sugary, processed snacks.
3. Consider Meditation
Studies show that even brief daily meditation can improve perceived stress and depression. You don’t have to travel to India to get started. Sit in a quiet place, and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Or, find a quiet place and repeat a simple mantra, like “om.”
4.Think Green and Orange
Fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. All these nutrients help combat stress because they have effects on our nervous system. For example, vitamin C, and vitamins B6 and B12 are all needed in the production of neurotransmitters; while vitamin K has been linked to nervous tissue biochemistry. On the flip side, studies have indicated that chronic stress depletes vitamin B6.3 There is also substantial evidence that children and adolescents with poor nutrition display changes in their mental and behavioural functions.4
Go for deeply-colored green or orange-colored fruits and veggies, and you can’t go wrong. Top choices include:
- Citrus fruit
- Red and green peppers
- Dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, swiss chard)
Incorporate loads of color in your diet. If you find this a struggle, fruit and vegetable smoothies are a great way to incorporate more nutrients into your routine. Aim for heavy on the veg and light on the fruit, as fruits are naturally very high in sugar.
Much research has shown that chamomile tea can help to reduce anxiety.5 And don’t dismiss green and black tea – both contain a calming compound called theanine. Make sure to drink only decaf tea after 3 p.m., so that the caffeine doesn’t interfere with your sleep.
6. Embrace your inner yogi
Research shows that yoga can help combat stress as well as therapy. The best part is that it also builds lean body mass and flexibility while you’re at it! Find a local yoga studio, and put some yoga classes on your weekly schedule. Are you exhausted? Attend a deep relaxation yoga class. The minimal movement and resting will rejuvenate you.
Stress is toxic for every single part of our body. It is connected, at some level, to a large array of ailments.
We must start to take stress seriously if we are committed to our health as a whole. There’s no use in having a fit, healthy body if our mind is undoing all the good.
Factor some stress-relief into your weekly schedule, and look forward to it. Whether it’s exercise, mindfulness, or a walk in the sunshine at lunchtime, give yourself a break. And, don’t forget to breathe.