Stress...it’s something most of us face to some degree on a daily basis. It’s an unavoidable part of living. How we react to difficult situations will affect how stress affects us and our health. Being aware of our specific stressors and being aware of how we react can help us better manage our stress.
Here’s an applicable quote that I believe rings true: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” Lou Holtz
We may not be able to eliminate all of our sources of stress, but we can certainly take steps to better manage our stress...we can change the way we carry it and thus lighten the load.
Chronic stress can be a barrier to living a healthy lifestyle if it’s left unmanaged. Stress, worry and anxiety can be at the root of lack of sleep, poor nutritional habits, emotional eating, and lack of motivation to move and exercise. If we don’t address the root, then we can’t repair the sleep issues, nutrition issues, etc. It all becomes a vicious cycle that we can become stuck in. Stress leads to sleep issues which leads to more stress which leads to poor nutritional choices or emotional eating which compounds the stress, etc.
Our minds are our biggest battlefield. This is where it all begins. Achieving your goals starts here. If we don’t get our minds right, nothing else will fall into place. We can manage the symptoms of a problem, but unless we treat the root cause, the symptoms will keep returning. How do we deal with an inevitable fact of life such as stress? How do we prevent it from being a barrier to making lasting healthy lifestyle changes? First and foremost, we must identify it by awareness. The Lifestyle Inventory is a very useful tool in helping us become aware of our own personal challenges. What is the Lifestyle Inventory? It’s where you take inventory of your lifestyle by describing your occupation, recreation, and daily living activities (caring for children or parents, etc.) and how each of these areas affect your nutrition, physical activity or lack of it, stress levels, and sleep. After we become aware our personal challenges in these areas, we must make use of that awareness by connecting it to our goals. How do my personal challenges prevent me from achieving my goals and what strategies can I implement to address or better manage my challenges in order to meet my goals?
I’m focusing on stress as a major challenge/barrier to address because it affects us all. None of us are immune. We can all relate and benefit from learning how to better manage it. We are all faced with it at various degrees and various points in life, and we must all learn how to cope and manage it in a healthier manner so that we are not paralyzed by its affects.
At the root of stress is often a feeling of lack of control. We are going to encounter situations and moments in life that we have no control over. So what can we do? We have to let go of controlling the uncontrollable and focus on what we can control. Truthfully, there’s so much about life that we can’t control, it makes no sense to waste all our energy on these things and then blatantly neglect everything we CAN control such as taking steps to improve our health. There is absolutely nothing about your present situation – even the aspects you can’t control – that prevents you from making progress, step by step. We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we CAN control the way we respond and how we choose to live. And in our response is our greatest power.
How can we better respond when stress calls?
Here are several natural stress relievers and things you can do today to better manage stress and take control of your mind and body:
- Exercise: One of the best stress relievers available to us is exercise. Exercise is a natural remedy for anxiety and depression because it releases powerful endorphin chemicals in the brain which act like the body’s natural pain killers and mood boosters. Exercise also alters blood flow to stress affected areas of the brain, meaning we do not relive stressful thoughts over and over. The best thing you can do to literally take your mind off something stressful is to exercise: take a walk or hit the gym. Exercise is literally meditation in motion.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Do not try to find your happiness at the bottom of a bottle. It will only further contribute to your stress in the long run. Also, it’s of important note that alcohol consumption is associated with increases in visceral fat. As you probably know, visceral fat is the most dangerous fat.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective. Do what you can but accept that you cannot do everything.
- Positive Reframing: make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. The mind is a very powerful thing.
- Take deep breaths: in times of stress, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths. Instead, try to focus on deep, slow, calming breaths. When you feel stressed, take a breathing time out.
- Choose your reaction: in most situations, we have a choice. We can always choose our reaction. We can let the stress consume us or we can see it as a new challenge and focus on the positive.
- Talk to someone. Confide in someone you trust when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Let them know how they can help you.
- Get enough sleep: stress keeps us up at night but lack of sleep feeds into our stress...it’s a vicious cycle. When stressed, your body needs additional rest. Limit daily caffeine intake. Lights out earlier. Cut off electronics at least 30 min before bed. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual: a warm bath with a book or hot shower; bedtime tea.
- Check your surroundings. Eliminate toxicity from your life. Toxicity includes toxic thoughts, toxic substances, toxic places (environments) and toxic people. Removing negativity from your life allows more room for positivity to grow.
- Do your best: instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, aim for progress! Don’t impose the stress of perfection on yourself.
- Journal: just like doing the Lifestyle Inventory helped you become more aware of what’s going on in your life and what your personal challenges are, a journal can be a daily awareness tool. Journal your goals too and what you did that day to contribute to meeting your goals.
- Last but not least: Eat well! Yes your nutrition plays a big stress reducing role or if it’s poor, then it can add to your stress. Eat well, feel better. Poor food choices only add to our stress in the long run contributing to a vicious cycle. You might think donuts make you feel better, but DO NUT be deceived. Due partially to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, stressed people tend to crave foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Poor nutrition eventually leads to poor health outcomes. Giving your body the nutrition it needs is a positive step you can take every day toward combating stress. Don’t feed your stress with poor food choices.