In our fast paced society, everyone seems to be dealing with major amounts stress, both healthy stress that can provide motivation, and unhealthy stress that can cause damage. The unhealthy or negative form of stress can affect us in various ways – it can impact us physically, mentally, and/or emotionally, which makes it an important topic to dig into. Let’s take a closer look at ways to manage stress for better health.
Coping style is a factor in how each of us manages stress. Since we are all different, there isn’t one way of coping with stress that works for everyone. Here are some common coping styles:
- Sharing: Some people find that sharing what they are feeling with others can help relieve the stress. At times friends and close relatives lending a strong shoulder or a listening ear can be very helpful. Sometimes our closest friends or relatives can help us gain a different perspective on our stressful situation.
- Repressive coping: Some may find that a strategy opposite to sharing, called repressive coping, works best for them. The emotion is recognized (not denied), and then a conscious choice is made to avoid thinking or talking about it. It works better for some people to move past the stressful issue or problem quickly and get back on track with daily life, rather than dwelling on the stress and analyzing it too much.
- Shifting attention: Another very effective and powerful coping style is to feel the stress or emotion, express it appropriately, then consciously turn your attention to something positive in order to move forward.
- Extreme sharing: There is an interesting observation about extreme sharing of feelings. Researchers have found that people who continuously talk about their issues and dwell on them are at much higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.
9 ways to reduce and/or relieve stress
Here are 9 ways (in random order) that can help you manage your stress. Some of these may be obvious and others may actually surprise you.
- Nutrition is important. Vitamin C, calcium, B Vitamins, and magnesium can help reduce stress in the body. Being deficient in these vitamins can actually cause the body physical stress. Whole foods provide the best nutritional impact. Here are foods that contain these nutrients:
- Vitamin C: berries (particularly blueberries), sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries and tomatoes.
- Calcium: cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage, bok choy), dairy products, sardines, white beans, red beans, pinto beans, figs, and oranges.
- B Vitamins: meat, fish, poultry, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, some dairy products, leafy green vegetables, avocados, and asparagus.
- Magnesium: whole grains, brown rice, oat bran, mackerel, spinach, swiss chard, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, bananas, lima beans, and black strap molasses.
- Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine adds to the high cortisol levels that stress produces. High cortisol levels can also lead to binge eating, which perpetuates stress and can wreak havoc with body weight. While it may not be so easy to eliminate caffeine altogether, finding ways to reduce your daily caffeine intake would help. Substitute herbal teas or alternate one glass of water and one cup of coffee. Or simply limit yourself to one cup of coffee per day. (Don’t substitute carbonated beverages and commercial iced teas for coffee – most of these beverages contain caffeine and they are generally loaded with unhealthy chemicals and sugar.)
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is also considered to be a powerful antidote to stress. Lack of sleep increases stress and a hunger-boosting hormone called ghrelin. Fortunately, this situation is totally reversible by having a few nights of good, healthy sleep, and that will go a long way towards restoring your body’s balance. When you regularly get enough sleep, you feel more relaxed and confident in everything you do.
- Exercise – it is a great stress reliever. According to Dr. Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, exercise flushes the cortisol out of your system because it causes the blood to circulate more quickly, moving cortisol to your kidneys and flushing it out of your body. One study found that walking for 18 minutes 3 times per week reduced the cortisol level by as much as 15%. Find the type of exercise that works best for you, whether walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or going to the gym. Consistent exercise is the key here. Three times per week is recommended for stress relief and optimal health. Other areas of your health that will benefit are weight control, blood sugar balancing and cardiovascular health. Your body’s cells are the basis of your health, and regular exercise brings oxygen and nutrients to your cells.
- Time out! Give anger, upset and frustration a ‘time out’. There are situations where the best thing to do is stop, step away from the issue or have a cooling off period. During times of emotional upset a part of the brain called the amygdala signals the body to start the fight or flight response, which limits a person’s ability to be calm and think clearly. The fight or flight system can’t simply be turned off by our will. It takes a period of time for the hormone levels to physically normalize within our body.
- Help from your pet(s). Interestingly, recent scientific studies have shown that the therapeutic effects of spending time with your pet have a greater calming effect than spending time with friends or family. Pets seem to have a very soothing effect and can potentially help with stress management.
- Look for the humorous side. Having a sense of humor and being able to laugh can help. Laughter has been proven to have positive physical effects because it actually stimulates the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain. Laughter can be similar to a release valve to reduce stress, and it can also help you to gain a different perspective on an issue or a stressful situation.
- Find ways to avoid unnecessary daily stress:
- Learn to say ‘No’. Sometimes you simply need to know your limits, be strong by saying ‘No’ and sticking to it. Taking on more than you can handle will generate more stress in your life.
- Be selective in your interactions with others, if they are people that continually stress you out. You may need to plan strategically and limit the time you spend with those people.
- Plan ahead and effectively manage your time. Don’t overextend yourself or try to pack too much into one day, particularly if there is commute time involved in your activities. Being organized and planning ahead are always a good idea – with the benefit of helping relieve stress. Be vigilant and stick to your plan.
- Make intentional choices in your life to avoid known stressors. Be observant with yourself and pay attention to what stresses you. Often there are ways you can avoid known stressors. Some examples: If using a certain route on your daily commute is stressful, choose a different route that will be more relaxing; if watching the news before bed agitates you, turn the TV off and find a different time of day to watch the news; if using your computer late in the evening interferes with your sleep, turn the computer off an hour after dinner.
- Temporarily disengage your thoughts. When you are feeling overwhelmed, totally stressed and unable to move forward – doing something you love to do for a short period of time could help by releasing a mental blockage caused by the stress. Whether you enjoy meditation, knitting, a walk in nature, jogging, drawing, writing poetry, painting a picture, listening to your favorite music, or looking at fine art – it can divert your attention and help you focus on the present moment instead of the stress. The benefits? It can help calm your nerves, clear your mind and allow you to see things differently when you get back to dealing with the stressful
Everyone needs a certain amount of stress, and it is not possible to completely eliminate or avoid it. Positive stress can motivate you, help you learn new things, help you reach your goals and move forward in life. When stress becomes overwhelming and your ability to deal with it diminishes, stress can start to have detrimental effects on your health. Finding ways to reduce and/or manage stress that work for you and your uniqueness is a crucial component of maintaining good health. Using some of these ideas is a great start to building stress management skills.
Are you interested in learning more about stress and how to deal with it? Do you want to make changes in your food and lifestyle to help reduce your stress? As a Health Coach, I can help! Contact me to find out how I can assist you to move forward in life with less stress.
The Cortisol Connection by Dr. Shawn Talbott
Copyright © 2015 Cathy Ormon Health Coach. All rights reserved.