Have you felt like there are not enough hours in the day, unexpected bills keep coming, or your career responsibilities are too demanding? How do you react to all these family, financial or personal situations? Have you felt as you are going to collapse at any moment? We have all been involved in these stressful and difficult situations at some point of our lives. But how is this affecting our health? And how can we handle it?
There is no question that stress can result in harmful effects to our bodies. Though little evidence exists about any direct cause-effect relationship between stress and breast cancer or heart disease, excessive stressful situations can lead to unhealthy behaviors that will contribute to risk factors of these diseases. For example, people trying to ‘manage/cope’ with stress often engage in behaviors like smoking, drinking alcohol, physical inactivity and overeating. Unhealthy stress management responses like these will increase our blood pressure and cholesterol levels. What are some healthier ways to manage stress? Let’s take a look:
Usually people relate the word ‘stress’ to something negative. However, feeling stressed is completely normal. In fact, certain amounts of stress can turn out to be positive – it all depends on how you cope with it. Our body is designed to manage some level of stress (i.e. stress that helps you get to work at a certain time). Achieving an optimal level of stress can even be motivational, increase your memory, boost your immune system and help you focus on important tasks.
Of course, our bodies are not made to handle chronic stress. Chronic stress makes us feel tired, depressed, angry, forgetful, out of control, or anxious. You might also experience headaches, back strain, or stomach pains. While we all perceive and handle stress in various ways, the key is to figure out what triggers your over-stress and how to cope with it.
Here are some great ways that may help you:
1. GET ACTIVE:
Exercise! Whether it’s a walk, a swim or yoga, physical activity will increase endorphins – the hormones that make you feel good. Lifting weights will help you drain accumulated tension. Being regularly active will also reduce your risk for developing breast cancer or heart disease.
2. BE POSITIVE:
Be self-confident. Welcome good humor. This will help you calm down, relax, and control stress. Try to turn any negative thinking into positive thinking!
3. BE PROUD:
Don’t try to be perfectionist, nobody is. Just be proud of who you are.
4. QUIT SMOKING:
Even though many people see smoking as a stress reliever, studies have shown that smoking causes more stress than it relieves. Smoking is a short-term fix with many long-term health problems as a result.
5. LIMIT ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE INTAKE:
Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption can aggravate stress and even trigger panic attacks. It can also increase your blood pressure. Instead, try substituting these for decaf coffee or tea and limiting alcohol consumption.
6. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!
Focus on eating energy-boosting foods like fruits and snacks containing omega-3, like nuts. Incorporate unsaturated fats (good fats) like avocado, salmon and seeds. Consume lots of vegetables and be sure to eat whole grain foods. Don’t skip meals and don’t wait more than four hours without eating. Never forget that maintaining a healthy diet is key to living a healthy lifestyle, thus reducing your risk for breast cancer and heart disease.
7. CHEW GUM:
Reach for a stick of gum! Studies have shown that it helps reduce cortisol levels and as such, stress. Go for “Sugar-Free” options to avoid increased sugar intake.
8. CALL A FRIEND:
This will calm you down and allow you to share your feelings, often relieving some of the pressure.
Try to sleep 6-8 hours each night. Studies have shown that people who sleep less have reduced insulin levels and increased levels of cortisol, which increases appetite. Your metabolism will become slower and stress will increase.
10. ACCEPT THAT YOU CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING
Listen to calming music, reading a book, doing yoga and breathing deeply for a few minutes each day are just a few ideas.
Studies have proven that laughing releases “happiness hormones” (such as dopamine) and decreases cortisol and adrenaline levels, making your nervous system know that you are happy!
Sources: American Heart Association, Reader’s Digest, Smokefree Women, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, National Cancer Institute