It’s not unusual to feel stressed in today’s fast-paced world. In fact, for many people, it’s a fact of life. Over the years, researchers have found that a little stress in the short-term may be positive in motivating us and keeping us on track. However, too much stress in the long-term is deleterious to our health. What ends up happening is that many people find themselves turning to unhealthy ways of coping with stress. But you can turn things around and deal with stress in constructive and positive ways. Keep reading to find out how to deal with stress and develop strategies to outsmart stress.
One US study found that 43% of people suffer adverse health effects from stress. Women, in particular, reported feeling the negative effects of stress more than men. These negative effects can be physical, emotional or psychological or any combination of the three.
Deal with stress – What can you do to outsmart stress?
First, it’s important to recognize the detrimental ways we handle our stress. Secondly, it’s vital to replace these with healthier options. Developing new and healthy strategies helps us better cope with our stress.
Stress reaction #1 – Eating for comfort
Researchers have found that high-fat and high-sugar foods are the most common foods we reach for when we’re stressed. It’s understandable as many of these foods are convenient and give us a quick boost of energy.
Poor diet choices are the result of feeling stressed and needing to comfort eat. However, in the long-term, these food choices lead to an increase in the risk of health problems, including weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.
Dealing with stress: Strategy #1
Make sure you always have some healthy food at hand. Learn to plan your diet and cook batches of healthy food which you can freeze for later use. Remember, you can substitute – a couple of squares of dark chocolate are a healthier choice than a muffin or lemon cheesecake.
Stress reaction # 2 – Giving up exercise
We’ve all done it when we’re stressed out – we find excuses not to exercise. Exercising becomes effortful when we’re feeling stressed. We use excuses to be inactive. Interestingly, exercise has been found to be an effective antidote to stress.
Researchers have found that exercise releases those ‘feel good’ chemicals into your body. Not only that, but when you exercise, you breathe more deeply and take in more oxygen and that helps to calm you down. So overall, you feel better – what more evidence do you need to get moving and work out?
When we’re feeling stressed and less motivated to do our regular exercise we’re often very creative in our excuses! Resist the urge to make excuses and remember that missing out on your exercise occasionally may not be harmful, but in the long-term it can mean gaining weight, losing fitness and these can affect our confidence and well-being.
You can find exercise advice on my friend Pasadena personal trainer Leila Harper’s website.
Dealing with stress: Strategy #2
Really reflect on what exercise works for you. For one person, yoga might be the answer, for another, jogging. Exercising when you’re feeling stressed is important, but it has to be a form of exercise that you enjoy and are likely to stick with when you find your motivation waning. Don’t let other people tell you how you should be working out. It’s up to you. But, the minimum you can do – no excuses – is taking a brisk walk a few times a week.
Stress reaction # 3 – Sticking-your-head-in-the-sand
Ignoring what’s going on for you and hoping your problems will simply go away is a common reaction to stress. But, this is a flawed strategy, as you risk cutting yourself off from potential help and support. And remember, when you come up for air – you’ll find your problems are still there!
If you know you have a tendency to do this, then maybe you can develop a new habit of stepping back to assess the situation, instead of hiding from it.
Dealing with stress: Strategy #3
Stepping back from the situation and identifying why you’re stressed is a good start. Look at what you see. What are the triggers to your stress? What are the maintaining factors?
Once you’ve learned how to identify and assess your stress factors, you can add a little meditation to help you manage your stress. Progressive muscle relaxation relieves muscle tension and slows your breathing – all helping to calm you down.
If you really want to relax, think creatively about what really works miracles for you. Perhaps a long, hot bath or seeing an uplifting or funny movie can be helpful. Or – anything that gives you that nice relaxed feeling.
Read more about stress self-help strategies in Stress-less: your guide to better living.