In today’s fast-paced world stress is an everyday thing. Unfortunately, stress can have a lot of negative effects on health. When we are stressed our body releases hormones that when chronically and continuously elevated can result in weight gain, elevated blood pressure, weakened immune system, sleep disruption digestive issues, anxiety, and so much more. Pretty much every system in the body will be affected by stress. Our bodies cannot distinguish between real stress and stress caused by our thoughts (worrying), and it will produce the same hormones and affect health similarly.
When we are stressed the body has to work harder and utilize more nutrients to fulfill the increased demands. If we are not eating foods high in vitamins and minerals a nutrient deficiency may arise from these increased needs. Stress can also affect mood and motivation influencing our appetite, and desire to plan or cook healthy meals because chronic stress increases our desire for calorically dense foods high in sugar and fats. The issue does not stop there, chronic stress affects sleep patterns which in turn can have many detrimental health effects because sleep is the time when our bodies recover and repair and without that process, our health status becomes affected.
The good news is that it is possible to lower and control stress levels. Identifying what triggers your stress is key to making progress and getting out of this vicious cycle, awareness is the first step to making changes.
There are some actions we can take to help lower stress, here are some tips on some areas you can focus on to get started-
Eat a healthy and balanced diet– Eating healthy foods regularly will provide the nutrients your body needs to balance out hormones and lower stress. Meals that focus on non-starchy veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats not only provide energy but also contribute to a stronger immune system that can help repair the damage from stress.
Stay physically active– All movement counts, from a walk to dancing, swimming, marching in place, playing sports and everything in between, staying physically active can help regulate hormones and contribute to a better night’s sleep to help repair the body.
Practice meditation or breathing exercises– These techniques are available to everyone and everywhere they are simple and can have a very positive impact for managing those feelings of stress. These techniques help reduce heart rate and make us feel calmer and more relaxed.
Seek mental counseling– Mental therapy is a great place to express your feelings, thoughts, concerns, and receive feedback on how to handle it or learn to cope with it.
Schedule activities you enjoy– We all have busy lives and it is very common to give priority to everything except ourselves, adding activities you enjoy to your calendar allows you to fill up your cup and contributes to lowering stress, things such as going on a hike, inviting a friend to for a coffee, getting a massage, taking time to journal, or taking a long bath are all things that contribute to mental health, lower stress, and improve quality of life.
Stress is dangerous but it is also manageable, you all deserve to live a happy and healthy life, remember that any time invested in your health, physical or mental, will pay off.
- Stress https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stress#:~:text=What%20is%20stress%3F,experiences%20stress%20to%20some%20degree.
- Stress https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/stress
- Stress and your health https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm
- Coping with stress https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/cope-with-stress/index.html
By Abigail Gonzalez, MCN, RDN, CDES