Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress. But, we are not equipped to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.
It can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
What are the simple everyday fixes you can do to manage stress?
Regular exercise can relieve tension, relax the mind, and reduce anxiety. it doesn't have to be anything too intense, start small, take a walk every day, once you feel comfortable you can try and slowly up the intensity with yoga, Zumba, dance or joining a gym.
Deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation are some techniques that can relax the body and reduce stress.
Spending time with loved ones
Being with people you find uplifting, resolving personal conflicts, and talking about your feelings can help.
Talk it out. Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist if your stress level is too high.
Getting your feelings out without others judging you is crucial to good mental health.
Take time out. Before you reach your breaking point, take time out for solitude.
Cut down on smoking - Smoking is very harmful to the body, but more so when you are stressed.
Nicotine, like alcohol, is a sedative, which in the short-term can have calming effects, but in the long-term can increase the risk of developing serious health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and breathing illnesses.
Looking after your health – Dietary Management
Maintain a healthy diet, ensure you get enough sleep, and avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope. Include moderate- fat, high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
They soothe us without sapping our energy and give us the nutrients we need to boost our immune system.
Here's a guide to which foods reduce stress and which foods make it worse:
Foods to Include
High-fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods - Eating whole, unprocessed carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, cereals, legumes as well as oats and brown rice will help to enhance levels of serotonin - the mood-boosting hormone that helps you to feel happy and more relaxed.
Low levels of serotonin in the body is linked to anxiety and depression, as well as poor quality sleep; so keeping this hormone in balance is key for dealing with stress. In addition, lots of fiber is helpful in preventing late-night binging.
Some examples include whole grains like oats, Barley, Ragi, Jowar, bran, Brown rice, whole fruits & vegetables
Fruits and vegetables: Chronic stress can weaken our ability to fight disease. By upping our intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, we can boost our immune system.
Eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables will ensure you get plenty of nutrients and minerals, which is crucial when your body is feeling stressed and using more nutrients than it would normally.
Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to get a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals, and focus on foods containing vitamins B, C, and magnesium.
I. B vitamins - Found in bananas, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and dairy products, these provide the body with energy after a period of stress.
II. Vitamin C - The largest store of vitamin C lies in the adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of stress hormones. Keep these healthy by eating plenty of vitamin C rich foods such as oranges, tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens, and broccoli.
III. Magnesium - This mineral can help to relax muscles and reduce anxiety, while also playing an essential role in hormone and energy production.
Nuts - particularly Brazil nuts - are high in magnesium, as are beans and lentils, whole grains, and leafy greens.
Healthy snacks -Eating healthy snacks throughout the day, such as fruit, raw vegetables, yogurt, nuts, and seeds will keep your blood sugar levels stable and your metabolism functioning smoothly.
On stressful days it is important to eat little and often to minimize peaks and drops in energy levels, and this includes eating a nutritious, filling breakfast in the morning.
For some people, stress can make them skip or forget to eat their meals, and this increases the likelihood that they will reach for processed or sugary foods when they are hungry.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) - Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and 6) are vital nutrients, which help the body to function effectively - particularly the brain. EFAs also help to moderate the effects of psychological and physical stress.
This is because they lower the release of glucocorticoids (hormones released from the adrenal gland) under stressful conditions.
To get the right balance of EFAs in your diet, eat oily fish such as salmon,sardines, herring, and mackerel, as well as flax seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Calcium-rich foods - Calcium helps to reduce certain symptoms, such as muscle tension and anxiety associated with stress.
Therefore, including plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet (such as low-fat milk, yogurt, sesame seeds, kelp, cheese, leafy greens, and broccoli) may be beneficial. Eating these in the latter part of the day is thought to help with absorption.
Foods to Avoid
Fried - foods: High consumption of processed fats can increase the risk of depression. Fatty foods make us feel tired, even lethargic.
This is clearly not a good way to reduce stress! Processed foods contain high levels of hydrogenated or oxidized fats which can block the production of essential fats needed to protect the cell membrane and nerve health.
Caffeine: A chemical found mostly in tea, coffee, and some soft drinks; caffeine reduces our ability to deal with stress. High levels of caffeine also contribute to insomnia and nervousness, which are intrinsically linked to stress.
In addition, caffeine consumption can deplete levels of magnesium (needed for energy production) and metabolism-boosting B vitamins from the body.
Substituting coffees and teas for herbal varieties or green tea can help reduce your caffeine consumption, and it helps to be mindful of caffeine content in foods such as chocolate.
Refined Sugar: As a carbohydrate, sugar tends to calm us. The problem with sugar is that it's a simple carbohydrate so it enters and leaves the bloodstream rapidly.
Cravings for processed and sugary foods may be heightened when you are feeling stressed, but it is important to avoid consuming these in high quantities.
Not only can they play a hindrance to your overall health, but they can also make you feel worse in the long-term.
Sugar for example will provide a short burst of energy and temporary relief from stressful feelings, but this will be swiftly followed by a 'low' period when your sugar levels fall.
This can lead to irritability and increased food cravings, which can put a lot of strain on the body.
Alcohol: - Many people turn to alcohol as a means of dealing with stress, but while it may have an instant calming effect on the body, in the long-term alcohol increases the amount of stress.
Drinking heavily can lead to complications such as addiction and can take a toll on overall health and well-being.
Sleep problems, nervousness, and skin irritations are common side effects of drinking because alcohol makes the body release larger amounts of adrenaline and affects blood sugar levels.
When someone is chronically stressed, it should not be taken lightly. Chronic stress tends to have a snowball effect, which slowly creeps onto problems such as excessive weight gain, metabolic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, etc.
Other problems include dry skin, brittle nails, lack of sleep, depression. Therefore we must do the things in our control to keep our mental balance in check, with eating the right things and having enough time in our day to reflect on ourselves.