Stay, Cool and Calm—Stress Less
Last month we lost an hour of sleep with daylight savings time. This month the tax man cometh, Mother Nature is sending spring storms and the event calendar says that April is Stress Awareness Month. Now I know most of you don’t need the calendar to remind you about stress. According to the Merriam-Webster tome, “stress is a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.; something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety.”
Stress is not always a bad thing; some stress is normal and useful. Stress is the catalyst that can aid us in responding and reacting quickly and energetically. This is the fight or flight response that we need when we are in danger. It is useful and can also benefit us when we need a burst of energy to complete a task or athletic feat.
However the negative side of stress becomes apparent when we find ourselves in an ongoing pattern of stress. It becomes apparent when it affects our health—weakens the immune system, interferes with sleep patterns, causes overeating, headaches , stomach problems or back pain along with other ailments that affect good health and well-being.
Recent research by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that adults are getting fewer hours of sleep, skipping exercise, and engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors due to stress. In fact, 38% say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress, and 43% say stress has caused them to lie awake at night in the past month.
To stress less, the key is to recognize what is creating your stress and how to manage it. Here are tips to jumpstart the healthy you program.
As the research pointed out, nearly half of adults say stress causes sleep interruptions, so let’s have a look at sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep is recommended for adults. In order to get there; try making these all part of your daily routine:
- Keep your bedtimes and wake times on a constant schedule.
- Avoid spending time on the computer, smartphone or other electronic devices that are stimulating just before going to bed.
- Allow yourself 15 minutes of “quiet time” to wind down.
- Avoid eating a large meal late in the evening and balance out your intake of caffeine and alcohol..
- Reserve your bedroom for sleeping only, not as a combination dining room, TV room, exercise room, and home office.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- Make sure your mattress is comfortable—they typically wear out in five to seven years.
Stress impacts what we eat, how much we eat and when we eat. Below are tips to help avoid overeating and some of my favorite stress-reducing foods to stock up on:
- Eat several small meals throughout the day. Eating a small amount every three to four hours keeps the blood sugar levels even, keeping the mind and body calmer.
- When you feel hungry, try drinking a beverage and wait 20 minutes, often you’re thirsty not hungry. And remember that all calories count, even in your beverages, so pay attention to what you drink, too! I’m a fan of water with a squeeze of lemon, but if you’re looking for a bit more flavor, there are lots of low and no-calorie options out there like iced tea, vitamin water and diet soda.
- Make it a habit to eat breakfast because skipping this critical first meal often leads to overindulgence before lunchtime.
- Keep your cubicle stocked with pre-portioned snacks that satisfy, like a small bag of almonds or a granola bar. Rather than rule out favorites, seek them out in portion-control sizes like the Coke Mini or the Minute Maid Coolers.
- Science shows us that these foods and nutrients aid in managing stress:
- Vitamin B – green vegetables, potatoes, fresh fruit, wheat germ, wholegrain cereals, sea food, poultry, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
- Vitamin C – citrus fruits, blackberries, blackcurrants, fruit juice and fresh vegetables.
- Zinc – wholegrain cereals, seafood, dairy products.
- Complex Carbohydrates – potatoes, rice, and oats. These release glucose into the blood stream more slowly than refined carbohydrates.
The APA survey also pointed out the impact of stress on exercise; 39% said they had skipped exercise in the past month when they were feeling stressed. It is critical to include regular exercise in your daily or weekly routine. It will help you relax, and you’ll have more energy after the physical activity.
The trick is to find physical activity that you enjoy. Make it a priority, scheduling time to exercise on your calendar. Consider these other ways to keep active:
- Get a buddy, teaming up can help you stay committed and motivated.
- If you cannot set aside a 30 to 45-minute block of time, do several 5-10-minute segments daily.
- If exercising at home, minimize distractions.
- Avoid vigorous exercise about three hours before going to bed, although gentle stretching is ok.
- Always have an alternative activity that you can do, such as riding a stationary bike at home or doing an aerobics video if you can’t get to the gym or weather limits outdoor exercise.
You may not be able to do all of these immediately, but give your health a higher priority by taking steps to manage and lower stress in your life.
Take Away: Stress affects physical and mental health. Take a timeout; enjoy 15 minutes of quiet time for you. Eat regular meals with ample fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of fluids, and exercise regularly. These small changes will have a big impact on your well-being.
Michelle J. Stewart is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator better known as the Nutrition Planner who has been leading the way to a healthier you for more than 25 years. Michelle is a Certified Wellness Coach whose motto is “EAT LESS MOVE MORE”. She is a consultant for the food and beverage industry, including The Coca-Cola Company, and offers expertise in corporate wellness, weight loss surgery, menu and product development. All opinions expressed are her own.