Stress can impact everybody system, making it necessary to consider a holistic approach to managing it. While we can’t eliminate all stress, combining physical, mental, and social strategies can help build effective and lasting ways to be more resilient during stressful times.
Anytime we’re in stressful situations, it’s common to notice appetite changes. Whether we’re prone to snacking on anything in sight, skipping meals, or craving comfort foods, our nutrition typically takes a hit. However, balanced nutrition is one of our body’s top energy sources, and it can help us healthily manage stress. You don’t need to begin a strict or extreme fad diet that can cause even more stress. Instead, think about ways to be more mindful of your eating. Intentionally incorporate more colorful fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains in your meals and snacks. Make healthier options more convenient so you don’t have to spend extra time thinking about it and preparing it while feeling overwhelmed or busy. Aim to limit the intake of caffeine, alcohol, and added sugars, which can exacerbate the symptoms of stress.
Adequate Sleep and Relaxation
Another top energy source for our body is adequate sleep. However, chronic stress is known to wreak havoc on our sleep duration and quality. Taking time to prioritize sleep and rest during stressful situations can make a huge difference. It can help give you the energy and focus you need to manage situations better. It can also help keep your immune system strong! Even if you only have 5 minutes before bed, take this time to focus on relaxation. Try a few minutes of stretching, meditation, music, or reading. Turn off screens or minimize their usage at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Keep a journal by your bed to jot down thoughts or reminders for the next day so you can more easily prepare your mind for sleep. As you prioritize sleep and rest, you can be better prepared to choose healthier and more productive responses to stress.
Taking time to exercise might be the last thing on your mind when feeling overwhelmed and stressed. However, it can be a helpful way to manage stress. Not only is movement something that can help give you a mind break or physically walk away from a stressful situation for a few minutes, but it also has proven stress management effects. Exercise increases endorphin production, known as our happy hormone, and can decrease pain perception, lower the side effects of stress, and increase mood and happiness (Cleveland Clinic1). Start with activities that you find enjoyable. Any movement is better than none!
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness and meditation allows you to be more present and brings awareness to your body, breathing, and environment. These practices help you refocus on the here and now instead of letting your thoughts wander in multiple directions or dwelling on past or future worries. Exercises include deep breathing, using your senses, muscle relaxation, visualization, and more. If you are a beginner, consider starting with guided practices or videos. As you practice more mindfulness and meditation, you train your thoughts to be more responsive rather than reactive in times of stress or anxiety.
Social Support and Getting Help
Often, we try all the strategies to manage stress but find we still need a little extra help. Part of caring for ourselves is knowing when to ask for support and assistance. Talking with trusted friends or family members or joining a community group is an impactful way to feel supported. If managing stress and anxiety remains difficult or affects your daily living and responsibilities, you should contact your doctor to find a qualified therapist or counselor. You never have to navigate the difficulties alone.
Continue Reading February 2024 Newsletter: The Health Impacts of Social Connection