With the holidays behind us and a new year underway, now is the perfect time to stop, reassess the state of our health, and create a game plan for taking care of our minds and bodies in the months ahead. One of the most important steps we can take toward this goal is learning to manage and reduce everyday stress.
What is stress?
Stress is how your brain and body respond to change. It is a natural reaction to outside events meant to safeguard your health and protect you from dangerous situations. You may have heard this reaction called the “fight or flight” response, which is a sudden rush of hormones that prepares the body to react.
When the stressful situation has passed, your body should return to a relaxed state.
And here’s where humans differ from animals in the wild.
Research has found that human beings remain in this hyper-alert, stressed-out state long after the need has passed, which puts a considerable strain on the body and may contribute to a decline in health over time. A 2019 Gallup poll revealed that Americans, in particular, are among the most stressed out people on the planet.
How does stress impact the body?
When your stress response is in a constant state of overdrive, your entire body is affected. Symptoms you may experience include: your heart beating faster, clammy skin, dilated pupils, and heightened senses. Prolonged stress may take a toll on your health and quality of life.
It is important to take steps in our daily lives to manage and reduce everyday stress. Here are five simple ways to keep your stress response under control.
- Eat mindfully.
When it comes to managing occasional stress, dietary habits and good nutrition are more important than you might think. When you take the time to eat mindfully, your body and brain will thank you, and you’ll be better prepared to handle outside stressors.
Try to eat regularly throughout the day to support healthy blood sugar levels and to avoid feeling ravenously hungry. When you do sit down to eat, make it your primary focus and do your best to avoid distractions. Eat slowly and focus on each bite, making sure you chew your food thoroughly, about 20 to 30 times for every bite.
When deciding what to eat, keep in mind that fruits and vegetables contain essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Likewise, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, salmon, and flaxseed play an important role in cellular membrane structure and energy production. Lastly, high-fiber foods have been shown to support a healthy gut microbiome, which is important for our overall health.
- Take a walk.
Research has shown that being surrounded by nature also gives our tired, stressed-out brains a chance to relax and recharge. Simply taking a stroll outdoors or some type of physical activity can do wonders to relieve feelings of occasional stress and anxiousness.
- Get creative.
It may seem silly, but a little arts and crafts time can go a long way toward reducing symptoms of everyday stress.
In one study, researchers from Drexel University in Pennsylvania recruited more than three dozen adults and asked them to get creative with paper, markers, clay, and other materials while they measured the participants’ cortisol levels (since heightened cortisol typically coincides with increased stress).
In looking at the results, the researchers determined that roughly 75 percent of the men and women involved in the study experienced a decrease in cortisol levels after less than an hour of creative down time.
- Hit snooze.
Lack of sleep is often the result of stress, but it also contributes to stress, creating a vicious cycle. Most experts recommend 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night for the average adult, and the good news is that most people can extend their snooze time with a few simple tips.
First, make your bedroom into an oasis of calm. Clear away the clutter, add some soft lighting or room-darkening curtains, and leave your phone, tablet, and other electronic devices elsewhere when you come to bed.
Because developing a steady sleep-wake routine helps to regulate your internal clock, try to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. Once your body gets used to the change, it will fall into a natural rhythm and you’ll have an easier time falling (and staying) asleep.
- Don’t forget the magnesium.
Magnesium is an essential mineral found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, avocados, dark chocolate, and many other foods. It’s also an important ally in the battle against occasional stress.
When our magnesium levels are within a healthy range, our bodies are better suited to handle occasional stress. However, because studies have shown that many people may not consume an optimum amount of magnesium, taking a natural magnesium supplement is often recommended or something to consider.
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