Stress is an unavoidable part of life: in times when we feel under pressure, the nervous system sends a message that triggers a chain reaction in the body known as the Fight or flight response, which begins with increased release of adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine (a.k.a. stress hormones) and ends in cravings for nutrient-dense, carbohydrate-rich foods. Even if you manage to stay on top of an emotionally taxing situation as it evolves, long-term effects of stress are a force to be reckoned with: frequent or extended exposure to stressors can chip off chinks of your physical and mental health and cause dips in productivity. And while stress cannot be prevented, its negative consequences can be alleviated – and here’s how.
1. Breathe in the sun
Stress plays an important role in onset of anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders, especially if combined with a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, and little or no physical activity. When stress hits the fan, don’t reach for comfort foods: take a walk instead.
According to a 1998 study, increased Vitamin D absorption boosts serotonin release in the brain and reduces the risk of mood dips, cravings, and circadian rhythm hitches. This is great news for all stressed-out busy bees: you can get your share of Vitamin D by spending more time in the sun and fresh air.
2. Move it, sweat it
Stress doesn’t just wreak havocon your mind – it affects your body, too. Under stress, blood pressure and glucose level go up, and so do the risk of rapid weight gain, obesity, cardiovascular problems, heart disease, and stroke. Don’t hope you can sit stress out: get up and sweat it out.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, regular physical activity boosts endorphin release, improving mood, alertness, cognitive function, and sleep quality, reducing fatigue, and alleviating the negative side-effects of stress. For a neat bonus, regular exercise also improves hormonal balance, digestive function, metabolic rate, and overall physical shape.
3. Zen out of stress
When you’re going through a rough patch at work or home, peace is extremely hard to come by – and yet it’s essential for stress relief and prevention of productivity drops. Instead of brooding over problems and trying to stay on top of your response to stress, disconnect and Zen it out.
A 2014 study showed that even a few minutes of meditation can reduce reactivity to stressors and alleviate stress-induced anxiety, depression, and pain. And stress is not all that a brief Zen session can relieve: various studies have shown that meditation and controlled breathing have a beneficial effect on heart rate, blood pressure, insulin levels, and overall physiological function.
4. Anti-stress your menu
Stress triggers cravings for sugary and fatty foods – but before you wolf down that donut, pause for a second and reconsider your dietary options. Rapid weight gain is the only effect you’ll be achieving by drowning your sorrow, frustration, or anger in comfort food.
Instead of allowing stress to sate you on high-calorie snacks, turn to antioxidant-packed foods and do your body a favor. Emotionally difficult situations call for fresh, not fattening foods, such as berries, avocado, cashew nuts, walnuts, oatmeal, asparagus, and broccoli, which contain hefty doses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients to go with tons of yummy flavor.
5. Break the vicious cycle
Everyday responsibilities at home or work are a common source of chronic stress, and they will gradually deplete your energy over time. Instead of burdening yourself with lengthy To Do lists, give yourself a permission to be less efficient – less work may just boost your productivity.
In times when emotional crises or workplace stress are swaying you from side to side from the inside out, don’t pile yourself with extra work because multitasking will only make you more anxious. Take the advice of productive people: narrow your focus to small-scale tasks, break work hours into 90-minute time slots followed by a set of exercises, and never push yourself during energy dips. Less is more in times of stress: cut yourself some slack when the going gets tougher than usual to avoid burnout which will take weeks or even months to get over.
6. Spit it, don’t eat it
Stuffing stress down your throat will turn against you sooner than you think: negative emotions have a nasty habit of eating you out – pretty literally so. Suppressed anger or pain contribute to ulcer, gut function glitches, and internal organ problems, so don’t eat stress – spit it out instead.
According to a recent survey, over 75% of people filing for divorce in California reported intense stress brought about by the split and 180-degree change in daily routine. Apart from divorce and death of a loved one, common stress and anxiety triggers include redundancy, illness, work-related pressure, and exposure to natural disasters and clashes, all of which can be efficiently treated by mental counseling and psychotherapy. In case you notice that symptoms of stress are intensifying, seek professional help: an objective therapist can be your lifeboat that will save you quite a few mental and health problems down the road.
Stress is a mess, and if you allow it to overwhelm you, it will wreck your mental, physical, and emotional health and turn you into an underachiever despite your best efforts. Staying on top of stress may be tough, but it’s feasible: follow the steps listed above and your wellbeing, sanity, and work output will stay in the right lane even when everything seems to be veering off the track. You’re welcome.
Chloe is a young blogger in love with psychology and healthy lifestyle. She is also quite passionate about art, aesthetics and life in all its forms. Her biggest dream is to travel the world, take stunning photographs of beautiful places, meet amazing people and write down their stories. Chloe enjoys learning and covering various psychology, health and aesthetics related topics. Now and then she likes to leave her comfort zone though, and write about something totally different, personal and engaging.