We all know the importance of diet and exercise for our health. So we eat real food, drink plenty of water, avoid wheat and processed food, walk a lot and exercise and we should be good, right? No doubt this will promote better health and wellbeing but you may be surprised to hear to which extend the benefits can be undone by stress.
The human body is designed to deal with stress but this relates to short periods of acute stress when stress hormones help to escape from a sticky situation, a life or death scenario. In our modern society we tend to suffer from lower level chronic stress and it is the chronic nature of it that is particularly detrimental to our health. Our body produces cortisol in a daily rhythm. Increased cortisol levels in the morning help us get up and going and decreased levels in the evening help us wind down and sleep. When this rhythm is disturbed and cortisol levels are constantly high, the results are not great. The effects include raised blood sugar, leaky gut, weakening of the immune system, increased sugar cravings and hunger, reduced ability to burn fat, hormonal imbalances, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety and mood imbalances.
Tackling stress is not easy and way trickier than tackling diet and exercise but the pay-off is worth the effort. The approach should be two-fold: avoid stress where possible and manage stress that cannot be avoided. Easier said than done, but there are a few strategies that can help.
Surround yourself with people that make you feel good and avoid the stress-inducers where possible.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It is ok to say no sometimes, so think about what you can handle without stress before taking it on.
Control exposure to media, including social media. It is great to be informed and stay in touch but too much can induce stress and negative feelings. Make sure you have plenty of face-to-face contacts too.
Pick your fights. Often arguments lead to nowhere and just result in winding you up. Only engage in an argument or debate if it is likely that the result will be worth it.
Emphasise. When we try to step in someone else’s shoes we can get a different perspective on our own feelings and possibly reduce stress.
Adjust your standards. Nobody can be perfect all the time. Accepting a good enough result can help us relax and the world will still keep on turning.
Simply accept things that you cannot change rather than waste energy by trying to fight them. Sometimes a different perspective on a situation can help you feel more positive. For example, instead of being cross and stressed about a train delay, think about how you will have more time to read your book or prepare for a meeting.
Meditate. Not easy to get the hang of but I found an app that really helped me to learn to meditate. It is called Headspace and is available for free.
Also, don’t forget to make time to have fun and do things that make you laugh and feel happy. A little less stress will go a long way towards a healthy mind and body.