Stress is a prevailing issue for many people these days, as busy lives full of work, raising families and trying to balance with a social life can weigh on anyone. Many studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of stress, and while all of the outcomes are different, the same overarching issues are apparent – people are more stressed now than in the past. A 2010 study published by the American Psychological Association found that 44 percent of respondents reported increased levels of stress in the past five years. The American Institute of Stress pointed to another study that showed 80 percent of individuals deal with some form of work-related stress.
How does stress affect you?
The National Institute of Mental Health stated that some stress can be good, as it helps you handle dangerous situations. However, long-term stress can damage the same functions that come in handy during emergencies. It can manifest physically with symptoms such as headaches or a weakened immune system that leaves you susceptible to infections and illnesses like the common cold. Mental issues, such as depression, anxiety and irritability, are common for people under stress as well. Thankfully, there are many different ways to cope with and combat feelings of stress.
How can diet and exercise help?
Many times, being stressed out can lead people to eat poorly or skip a workout in favor of curling up and wallowing in those bad feelings. However, a healthy diet and moderate exercise can be key components of defeating these feelings.
According to the Stress Management Society in the U.K., certain foods that are high in vitamins and minerals can reduce stress, while others may exacerbate your symptoms. Foods and beverages that fall into the latter category don’t need to be avoided entirely, but should be enjoyed in moderation. These include coffee, tea and other caffeinated drinks, as well as fast food, dairy, sugar, alcohol and even nuts. Items that can increase stressful feelings also overlap with “comfort foods” that many turn to when feeling stressed.
Instead of grabbing a bag of greasy chips, you should look to fresh fruits and vegetables, soups and fish. For beverages, water is the No. 1 option, but herbal teas may have relaxing properties. Lavender and chamomile are two common herbs that can be found in teas and help ease stress.
Eating right is a great start, but exercising can take stress reduction to the next level. Getting your heart pumping can actually have a positive effect on the chemicals in the brain responsible for emotions. For instance, aerobic activity can lead to declines in cortisol and adrenaline, which are typically heightened during times of stress, while raising levels of good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. Along with this measurable impact, exercising will lead to improved strength, better health and, potentially, weight loss that can all have positive effects on your mental health as well.
What else can you do when you’re feeling stressed?
Spending time with loved ones, especially four-legged friends, can be a great way to burst your stress bubble. Laughter and camaraderie help you remember the better things in life, making your problems feel less significant and putting them into the perspective of the big picture. WebMD suggested cleaning up and organizing your home, as this can ease feelings of being overwhelmed by giving you a clean, uncluttered space in which you can relax. Being intimate with your partner has been proven as a stress reducer, and it may provide feelings of being connected to someone, which can be important when you feel isolated by your stress.