This is the third post in a three-part series on stress, in honor of Stress Awareness Month. We discussed what happens in the body when we’re stressed, then how to manage or make peace with stress eating. To round out this series, we’ll focus on ways to manage the stress response from a dietary, exercise and mindfulness perspective. 

Stress can be difficult to avoid, especially given the pandemic we’re living through. But don’t despair! While you may not be able to avoid stressful situations, you can take steps to manage your stress levels and decrease the negative effects of stress on your body. Here are a few dietary, movement and self-care tips for mitigating stress.

 

Dietary Tips

Eating a balanced diet can decrease the toll stress can take on your body and help manage your mood.

  1. Add more healthy fats to your diet. Unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies), nuts & seeds all have an anti-inflammatory effect which can combat inflammation caused by stress. 
  2. Limit refined sugars. These may give you an energy boost at first, but will leave you feeling tired and only craving more shortly after. If you do consume added sugar, pair it with fiber and protein to slow the absorption of the nutrients and provide a more stable source of energy.
  3. Choose complex carbs. Carbohydrates prompt the body to make serotonin, AKA our “feel good” chemical. Complex carbs, like whole grains and vegetables, contain fiber, which can help stabilize your blood sugar and decrease the chance of an energy crash.
  4. Swap caffeinated drinks for herbal teas, decaffeinated coffee, herbal coffee alternatives or water. Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase heart rate and exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. Try limiting yourself to one or two cups per day.
  5. Add more fruits and veggies to your diet to help boost your immune system and lower blood pressure.
  6. Be sure you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet. Low magnesium levels can trigger fatigue, headaches and stress. Soybeans, spinach, salmon, sunflower seeds and dark chocolate are all good sources of magnesium.

 

Movement Tips

Getting active is an excellent way to increase feel-good endorphins in the body.

  1. Remove the “all or nothing” mindset that can accompany working out. Small bouts of exercise (just 10 minutes a day, three times a day) has beneficial effects for the mind and body. Choose movement that feels good rather than taking part in activities that make you stressed. You don’t need to do a high-intensity exercise routine if your body isn’t feeling up to it.
  2. Experiment with yoga or meditation before bed or upon waking to help you get into a more relaxed state
  3. Get outside! Nature is stress-relieving. Even just a few minutes of walking outside can improve your mood.

Self Care Tips

Adding a small self-care routine, such as the ones listed below, can help manage stress. Think of it as adding a “tool” to your self-care toolbox!

  1. Prioritize sleep. To help promote a more restful sleep try to block out any artificial light with thick curtains or a sleep mask, power down screens 30-60 minutes before sleeping and limit caffeine intake during the day, especially in the afternoon.
  2. When you feel yourself getting worked up, take a few moments to breathe. Try the 4-4-8 breathing technique, which has been shown to calm the nervous system. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and breathe out your mouth for 8 counts. Repeat this 3-4 times, focusing on your breath and counts.
  3. Try to take your stress-provoking thoughts out of your head by journaling, talking to a friend/family member, or to a therapist. Many therapists have gone virtual in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, so you can get support from the comfort of your own home.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Studies show that keeping a written record of things you are grateful can have a positive impact on happiness and stress levels. Start small – try spending 15 minutes writing, once a week. Write about five things you are grateful for. Be specific! Focusing on details is more impactful than simply writing a list. So, instead of “I am grateful for my friends,” think of one specific friend who has made an impact on your life recently and write about that experience. Try doing this once a week for at least two weeks and see what happens!