As human beings we are not well-equipped to deal with periods of prolonged stress.
The fact is, stress kills. Prolonged stress has been linked to heart disease, depression and diabetes. But stress happens, especially in today’s always on, 24/7 news and information world. And it’s fair to say that 2020 is probably the most stressful year many of us have ever lived through.
But how can you stay healthy when you are stressed? Here are some tips to get you started
Don’t Stress Snack
Many of us reach for junk food when we’re stressed. In fact, according to research undertaken by the American Psychological Association, a third of adult Americans reach for high-fat, high-calorie foods when stressed.
Candy especially somehow make us feel better. And that feeling is not in our imaginations. Sugar rich foods provide an instant spike in serotonin, the body’s ‘feel good chemical’, but it won’t last – and neither will the fast rise in your blood glucose levels which can also provide you with a temporary sense of euphoria.
It is probably very unrealistic to expect busy people to meal-prep and create chef level packed lunches, especially during periods of high stress. However, a simpler meal plan – oatmeal and berries for breakfast, a wholegrain sandwich for lunch and pasta with lean meat and vegetables is simple, achievable and healthy.
Regular Exercise Helps
Too many of us develop an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to fitness. We work hard at the gym hard before beach season, but when life gets in the way, our fitness routines go out of the window, and we may not see the gym for weeks. However, exercise is a powerful natural stress-reliever that will flood your body with feelgood endorphins.
If you are short on time due to increased workloads you still can’t allow yourself to skip working out. You have to be strict with yourself. Say: ‘OK, on Tuesday I will clear an hour out of my schedule,’ and work out no matter what. When you’re doing so, focus on why you’re there. It shouldn’t be a treat to give yourself time to exercise. It should be a necessary thing for your health and well-being and should be treated as such.
Try to Get Enough Sleep
When you are feeling stressed, your sleep often suffers. But staying up late in order to tackle a growing to-do list is counterproductive. If you are suffering from poor sleep, that will make your stress levels higher. Getting as much sleep as possible when you’re feeling overwhelmed will help to manage your stress.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help
It is not normal or healthy to exist in a state of perpetual stress. If you feel you are approaching burnout, your first port of call should be your doctor. We all have stress in our lives, but the definition of anxiety as a disease is different from stress. In the face of COVID-19 many therapists are offering virtual visits, so don’t let worries about heading to a physical office stop you.
Even if your stress does not meet the clinical threshold for an anxiety disorder, it is a good idea to be mindful of your stress levels. And put in place protective factors to reduce the impact stress is having on you.
Working out (as we mentioned) reading, listening to music or socializing with family and/or friends all help. If you don’t have these coping mechanisms in place, what happens is that you are more likely to develop bad ones, such as drinking coffee to stay awake, then drinking wine to help you sleep.