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Stress can be a tricky topic to address – mainly because everyone interprets it in their own way. While some people experience physical manifestations of stress, such as an upset stomach, headache, or change in appetite, other people can suffer more internally with anxious thoughts. And yet, there are those times when stress can be a good thing. A healthy amount of stress can help you to excel on the job or come to the rescue when you’re needed in times of crisis. Even so, the conversations around stress seem to have grown right alongside its prevalence in Western society.
In a report titled, “Stress in America: Playing with our Health,” released by the American Institute of Stress in 2015, work and money were reported as the top sources of stress – and the reported stress was shown to impact participants’ nutrition and eating habits, sleep patterns, and relationships.
While stress management takes a long-term commitment, the best way to cope with stress is to make self-care a priority. Here are some strategies worth trying.
There’s been a huge focus on mental health and its link to social media in the past few years. Whether it’s the “fear of missing out” or feelings of inadequacy that social media can spur, this new wave of communication has brought with it another source of stress – particularly for younger generations who report higher levels of stress than the older generations. Limit your time online, unplug completely during a vacation, or filter the content that you view regularly.
We’ve mentioned previously that healthy relationships are fundamental to long-term health, and it’s easy to understand why. Stress itself can be, well, stressful enough – but, stress has also been linked to higher rates of feeling lonely and isolated. Having someone to turn to for a listening ear or a comforting hug can make a big impact when your stress is on overdrive. Seek out support from a friend, family member, or licensed therapist.
Aside from lowering your risk of chronic diseases, moving each day is good for your mind, too. You can thank your body’s release of endorphins for the blissful feeling of euphoria, coined as the “runner’s high”, you get after breaking a sweat. Studies have indicated that exercise has been linked to improved self-esteem, reduced rates of depression, reduced stress, and improved sleep.
Speaking of sleep, chances are that you may not be getting enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adult Americans aren’t getting a minimum of seven hours of recommended sleep. In a classic case of the chicken or the egg, stress can both be caused by lack of sleep while also impairing our ability to get enough sleep. In fact, more than half of millennials say they have lain awake at night in the past month due to stress. Aim to make sleep as much of a priority as anything else by setting up a routine each night that gets your mind in gear for hitting the hay. Thirty minutes prior to bedtime, turn off all electronics, sip on some calming chamomile tea, and wind down by reading or meditating.
According to the “Stress in America” report, 41 percent of women and 24 percent of men reported having “eaten too much or eaten unhealthy foods because of stress in the past month,” and 30 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported “skipping a meal because of stress in the past month.” One of the best ways to show yourself some self-care during stressful situations is to carve out time for preparing and enjoying a nourishing meal. It could be as simple as blending up a nutrient-rich smoothie for your morning commute, taking your lunch break away from your desk to eat and recharge, or sitting at your kitchen table without the constant buzz of your mobile phone going off.
While many of us are all-too-familiar with that hangry feeling, dips in our blood sugar can also induce anxiety. If you’ve skipped a meal or snack, your body may cope by releasing the stress hormone epinephrine, essentially telling your brain, “feed me!” One of the best ways to combat hunger and its associated irritability is to eat balanced meals and snacks every few hours.
Start with breakfast, and make sure it includes more than just coffee. While coffee can give you a jolt of energy in the morning and has been linked to health benefits when enjoyed in moderation, too much caffeine can leave you feeling irritable, anxious, and just plain stressed out. Instead, enjoy your cup of morning Joe with a balanced smoothie.