We read and hear about stress frequently, especially in these uncertain times. Working from home, managing kids schedules, cooking, cleaning and meeting work deadlines; all can take a toll on your physical and mental health. How do you know if you are stressed? How do you deal with it?
Stress can show up in more ways than we are aware of. Try to narrow down the signals your body might be sending; irritability, headache, and mindless hunger pangs. We tend to beat the physical or emotional distress with high fat or sugary foods that give us temporary comfort. Although studies suggest that short term stress curbs the appetite, if the stress-hormone levels stay elevated, it increases the random food cravings.
Stress is handled differently by men than women. Women tend to find comfort in food, whereas men do via alcohol or smoking. Research suggests that high cortisol (a stress hormone) levels are linked with weight gain and feeling “hopeless” even more as the waistline increases. Over-eating, mindless snacks or excessive alcohol intake and smoking is only going to negatively impact your health. Think, for example, of the awful feeling you get after eating too much chocolate cake.
Practice is required to identify stress and learn your pattern when handling it. Being aware of your body’s signals is the first step. Do not ignore the changes in your skin, digestion, eating and sleeping patterns. Being stressed for longer time periods can be damaging to your nervous system.
You can manage your stress eating by:
- Organizing your pantry/refrigerator: Avoid keeping sugary snacks, ice-creams and other packaged foods in the house. Instead, try fresh fruits, unsalted nuts, cheese, dates and raisins.
- Checking your water intake: You might just be thirsty.
- Using calming techniques: Meditation is not for everyone, but find ways that you know calm you down. Music, a quick stroll outside, a few deep breaths, prayer, 5 minutes of no gadgets or even a quick phone call to a friend or loved one.
- Smiling often: This might sound strange, but I strongly believe that smiling more helps and gives you strength to manage the situation a little better.
- Exercising: Move your body for at least 15 minutes every hour. If your current schedule does not allow you to find a dedicated time to exercise, put an alarm every hour to walk at least 250 steps. Moving your body definitely minimizes the negative effects of stress.
- Keeping a support system in place: Talk to your friends and family, whom you can share your day with. If you cannot change a work situation that might be stressful, having a support system helps relieve some of it.