Where you live and how you live can greatly influence your ability to manage stress. I’ve identified 10 lifestyle stressors that need to be monitored, and where necessary changed, in order to give your body and mind the upper hand.
Caffeine. Are you someone who just can’t get going without a morning fix of coffee? Like a lot of people you’ve probably become accustomed to the taste and the kick that coffee provides. Be aware however that caffeine blocks the action of GABA receptors that help calm us down.
Clothing. Who would have thought of clothing as a potential stressor? Wearing clothes that overheat you, or that are too tight or uncomfortable, actually piles on the stress and cause the stress hormone cortisol to course around the body.
Natural Light. You may not regard yourself as someone who suffers with seasonal depression but pretty much everyone feels better during long bright days. We can’t control the climate but we have a measure of control over whether we stay in or go outside. Combining daylight activities with a little exercise makes everyone feel better physically and mentally.
Light and Noise. I’m thinking here of unnatural light pollution that comes from traffic lights, buildings and other sources in towns and cities. Light pollution coupled with noise can easily disrupt sleep. We’re able to accommodate certain patterns of noise and can even find them comforting but certain noises appear more disruptive and disturbing. Every single one of us can make our own list but common problems stem from noisy neighbors, loud music, traffic and aircraft.
Diet. Not just slimming diets, but the stuff you choose to eat and drink can profoundly affect your stress levels. Diets high in protein frequently lack essential minerals and fatty acids. Convenience foods are invariably full of additives that are either known or suspected of having an effect on the body and brain. The simple message here is to think about your food choices and to modify them towards more balanced and natural alternatives.
Intake. Yes, more about food and drink, but this time relating to adequate intake. For whatever reason many people don’t seem to drink enough fluid during the day. As the body starts to dehydrate it regards the situation as stressful and a release of stress hormones takes place. A similar reaction takes place when we feel hungry. The body much prefers a predictable pattern of food and fluid intake rather than a gulped coffee and a sandwich on the run. Break times are there for a reason, use them to their full effect and you’ll feel better.
Rhythm. Just because the world seems to operate on a 24 hour schedule it doesn’t mean your body can. It doesn’t really matter how old you are, the fact is your body is a bit like the old person who has a schedule for the day and likes to keep it that way. Stress hormones fluctuate throughout the day quite naturally but they can change quickly in the event of disrupted sleep (shifting time zones, shift work, light or noise pollution). Chronic stress elevates stress hormones and further disrupts normal rhythms.
Illness. During illness the body fights infection with a variety of toxins. Part of the reason your mood goes into a slump is due to the fact that serotonin is converted to quinolinic acid in order to fight infection. Viruses also disrupt essential fatty acids necessary for normal brain function and this help to explain why you find it harder to concentrate and reason. As the infection subsides the chemistry of the body returns to normal and your mood improves. You can’t avoid all illnesses but you can resist them by eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and ensuring regular sleep.
Medication. A bit of a double-edged sword this one. As we all know medication is a wonderful tool but it can also be counterproductive in ways that are not always obvious. Busy lifestyles and sometimes costs sometimes mean it’s tempting to self-diagnose and self-medicate. You know that medication has side effects but you may not know that over-the-counter products can be problematic. Anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, are closely related to the stress hormone cortisol and can cause anxiety and depression. The list of medicines is vast but the message is don’t take them unless you really need them and don’t self medicate for lengthy periods of time.
Booze. After a hard day at work one of the quickest and seemingly most effective ways to wind down is with a stiff drink, a beer or a glass of wine. The reason this is so effective and pleasurable is that it quickly over stimulates feel-good neurotransmitters like GABA, serotonin and dopamine. The grumpiness and low mood that arrive the following morning relates to the fact that these same neurotransmitters are excreted in urine to levels that then fall below normal.
This Sharepost is really about the combined and cumulative effects of the choices we make in the way we live. It’s also about taking time to stand back, look at what’s going on in your life and choosing to change. The support of others is useful and important but looking to yourself is always beneficial, even if it’s just one step at a time.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.