Combating the Physical Effects of Stress
It seems that almost everyone in our modern world is under stress, especially in this economy. Stressors can be acute (the death of a family member, divorce, major illness, job loss) or chronic (daily life). Even positive life events like marriage or having a child can be stressors. The life events tend to be less injurious to your health in the long run than the chronic stress from everyday life - too much to do and too little time, an unhappy work situation or a difficult home life.
Excessive, un-managed stress can affect your physical and psychological health. Unmanaged stress can exacerbate illnesses like high blood pressure, depression and acid reflux/ulcers. Signals of stress overload can either be physical (fatigue, headaches, indigestion, insomnia, frequent illness) or mental/emotional (irritability, anxiety, addictive behavior).
If you're seeing any of these signals of stress overload, it's time to do something about it. Of course, the lifestyle changes that you need to make to improve things are probably the ones you've been neglecting. If you decide to make these changes a higher priority than you have been, you should see a difference.
This is one of the most important things to add to your life when you've got stress overload. You don't have to start a big, time-consuming, expensive exercise program. Walking is cheap and you can decide how much time you're going to spend. Even a short ten minute walk at work instead of taking a coffee break will make a difference.
"Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast."
Shakespeare may not have been a doctor, but it seems that he understood how beneficial sleep could be, especially when you're under stress. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, and try to stop worrying about problems at the end of the day, or they might keep you awake. Also, talk to your doctor about any medications you take that may be interfering with your sleep.
Unhealthy eating habits have a negative impact on our health, and exacerbate some of the problems caused by being under stress. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Blood sugar imbalances which can be caused by irregularly spaced meals, skipping breakfast. These imbalances can result in fatigue, trouble concentrating and mood swings.
- Caffeine side effects - anxiety, dehydration, sleep disturbance and energy crashes.
- Choosing foods high in fat, salt and sugar. High levels of cortisol can make us crave these foods. When you're stressed out, do you crave celery sticks? Probably not.
- A lot of time spent "under the weather" - you seem to catch every cold and virus that wanders by.
How You Can Change:
- Eat a nutritionally balanced diet, and don't skip meals. We sometimes underestimate the impact that nutrition has on our health, but when you are going through a stressful period, it's particularly important to eat well.
- You might be drinking more caffeine to get through the day, especially if you're not getting enough sleep. But caffeine affects your central nervous system and can have a negative impact on your sleep patterns. Try to avoid caffeine, especially after mid-afternoon. If you're a heavy coffee drinker, gradually wean yourself off of it and start drinking decaf or green/white tea.
- Make sure you eat a breakfast that includes protein, and carry some healthy snacks with you, particularly if you tend to snack when you're stressed out.