Physical health and managing stress
We live in stressful, hectic times. The demands and pressures on professionals are enormous. And even though the term work/life balance has been part of our language, many workers feel stressed and exhausted.
It is very hard to be your best at work, with family, and with friends, when you’re constantly running on empty fuel. In which case, a strong foundation of health is crucial for managing stress in your life.
It’s time to add some stress relief strategies into your routine. So, lets run through these top three healthy habits for managing stress and keeping you at your best!
Healthy Habit #1 Nutrition
When it comes to physical and mental health...we all know that eating a balanced diet is important. A healthy diet is key for stress management. Good nutrition gives you a foundation to cope with stress and counteract it.
Yet, while most of us do our very best to eat well, many of us fail in this pursuit. Interestingly enough, research by the Australian Heart Foundation in 2011, showed that 2/3 of Australians thought they ate a healthy diet. Yet only 8% ate enough vegetables.
Now, with so many healthy ‘diets’ out there, it can be confusing, frustrating and overwhelming figuring out what constitutes as nutritional health.
So, what should you do to provide your body with the nutrients it needs? Here are three foolproof ways to manage stress with a healthy diet:
Cut out the sugar
Yes, really. If your go-to food when you’re feeling tired, sleepy, grumpy, or stressed is something containing sugar, you’re putting your energy on the top of a slide, where the only way is down.
You may feel a lift initially when your blood sugar rises, but the inevitable dip will drop your energy lower than before. So, instead of an added sugar quick fix, add some more fruit and vegetables for long term energy. If you need a quick pick me up, an apple will provide you with the same energy, with the added bonus of valuable vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Up your omega 3’s
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, linseed, and chia seeds. They are essential for fighting stress and depression, boosting brain power, and improving sleep.
In fact, eat more natural fats in general like full cream dairy products (unless you are lactose intolerant), avocados, and nuts. Good fats a crucial for managing stress as they provide a steady release of energy and elevate mood levels.
Point blank: dieting is stressful. The diet mindset comes with a physical and mental rollercoaster ride. Dieting stress can often translate into other realms like work stress, emotional stress, so on and so forth.
Food stressing and weight loss obsessing can be taxing on your energy levels. Not to mention plenty of diets have “no-no” foods that are actually healthy. So, the answer to the problem is...eat mindfully! Because healthy eating comes with having a healthy relationship with food.
Practice intuitive eating; pay attention to what you eat, when you eat and how food makes you feel. Start noticing when you start to get hungry and when you are feeling satisfied. Intuitive eating will help you identify which foods make you feel more energetic and which ones drain your energy.
Healthy Habit #2 Activity
It’s no secret that when it comes to physical health, physical exercise is a core health habit to incorporate. The physical benefits of keeping your cardio, muscular, and weight health in check are undeniable.
But movement does much more than that. Exercise releases endorphins, aka happiness signals, that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Not to mention, boost cognitive thinking. So, get moving to manage stress and kick your brain into gear.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the exercise department, there are only so many hours (or minutes) that you can set aside for getting your heart rate up. What follows the brief interval of daily exercise is a whole lot of sitting.
Our bodies are designed to move, but most of us sit for most of the day...we sit to get to work, we sit at work, and we sit when we’ve come home from work. Sitting is the antithesis of a healthy habit. There is a new health scare, and it’s called Sitting Disease.
Women who sit for more than 6 hours increase their risk of dying by 94% compared to those sitting for 3 hours a day. Men increase their risk by 49%. And even if you do a workout every day for say thirty to sixty minutes, it’s not enough to counteract the damage done by sitting.
The solution? Stand more. Some simple ways to reduce your time sitting and increase your time standing and moving are:
● Turn activities like making phone calls into a standing-up activity.
● Perhaps you are able to create a standing desk setup?
● If someone comes over to your desk to ask you a question, stand up to have the conversation (not only good for your health, it may also make the conversation shorter and more effective).
● Hold stand up or walking meetings.
● Walk over to someone to tell them something, instead of sending an email.
Healthy Habit #3 Sleep
Magic happens when we sleep. A good night sleep allows time for your brain to consolidate and tidy up, for your body to clean itself, and for you to wake up stress-free, energetic and ready to face the day. A good night's sleep is the ultimate stress management tool.
But not all of us are able to get a good night's sleep. Maybe you struggle to fall asleep, perhaps you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, or you seem to get the right amount of sleep, without interruptions, but still wake up tired.
The following tips will help you improve your sleep, manage stress levels, and boost overall health:
-Create a bedtime routine and stick to it every day; Start winding down an hour before you want to be asleep. Perhaps you do some tidying up around the house; have a bath or a shower; read a little. Whatever the routine, follow it diligently to create an association between your bedtime routine and your brain’s expectation of sleep.
-Ban electronic devices from your bedroom; Tablets, laptops and smartphones emit blue light, which interferes with sleep signals and activates the brain.
-Create a sleep-inducing bedroom. Make it quiet and dark.
-Avoid foods that are stimulants, 4-6 hours before bedtime: coffee, black tea, chocolate are all stimulants and can keep you awake. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but it becomes a stimulant after a few hours as well and may make you wake up during the night.
Incorporate healthy habits, manage stress, and thrive
Creating a strong foundation of physical health will allow you to be your best at work, at home, with friends and family. It will give you the energy to deal with challenges effectively without dipping into your energy stores unnecessarily.
Nutrition, activity and sleep are closely linked: improvements in one area will have a positive impact in both other areas.
So just pick one health area that you feel will be the easiest one to make changes in. Then once you’ve mastered your new healthy habit you can start adding to this. And, by building a healthy foundation, you can manage stress and lead a life of success!
Anne-Marijke Gerretsen is a Behaviour Change Expert, who is passionate about helping leaders make small but powerful changes so they can be at their absolute best in both to their leadership and personal life. As a psychologist, and soon to be a qualified nutritionist, she takes a ‘whole of life’ approach when coaching her clients. By teaching how to create strong habits around physical health, emotional intelligence, and leadership behaviours, she provides her clients with the key ingredients to impact the lives of those around them in meaningful and supportive ways.