This week as part of AdvoCare’s 5 Pillars of Wellness series we focus on Stress Management. Additional pillars, resources and giveaways are found here, and download the entire 24-Day JumpStart Transformation Guide PDF here.
Written by Gail Cresci, PhD, RD.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic and its uncertainty can increase our stress, although we may not be aware of this stress.
What is stress? Stress is our body’s normal reaction to a change that requires an adjustment or response. A person’s response to stress can be physical, emotional, and/or mental. People respond to stressors differently.
Fortunately humans are designed to experience and react to stress. Stress can be positive and alert us to danger and motivate us with a means to avoid it. We often hear of our body’s “flight or fight” response. This refers to the body’s autonomic nervous system that has a built in response system that causes physiological changes to allow us to respond to stressful situations. However, stress becomes negative when it is chronic, without relief or relaxation between stressors. Prolonged activation of the stress response can take a toll on the body, and may lead someone to become overworked and to build up stress-related tension.
You may also like: 10 Quick Ways to De-Stress
Distress is a condition when stress continues without relief. Distress disturbs the body’s balance and can present itself as symptoms such as headaches, stomach upset, high blood pressure, chest pain, sexual dysfunction, and problems sleeping. Subtle signs of distress include dizziness, grinding of teeth/clenched jaw, appetite changes, tiredness or exhaustion, general aches and pains or muscle tension, trembling, cold or sweaty palms, or unexplained weight changes. Emotional problems can also surface due to distress and include depression, panic attacks, anxiety and excessive worry. Distress can also worsen many chronic conditions, and is linked with leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, accidents, liver damage and suicide.
There are positive and negative ways to manage our stress. With a stressor like COVID-19, we may feel a lack of control and uncertainty with continued and prolonged social-distancing restrictions and impacts on economical situations. Realizing what we can and cannot control can be a good first step in managing stress. It is best to avoid negative compulsive use of substances or behaviors to relieve stress to avoid harm. These stress management vices include food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping and the Internet. These vices result in keeping the body in a stressed state rather than relieving stress, and leave a distressed person in a vicious cycle.
Below are some positive tips for reducing stress:
- Accept that there are events you cannot control and keep a positive attitude and focus on what you can control
- Avoid the constant media updates – pick a time in the morning and evening to receive pertinent updates
- Be assertive rather than aggressive when dealing with your feelings and beliefs
- Maintain “normalcy” as much as possible by keeping your daily routine intact
- Keep a regular sleep schedule getting 6-8 hours of sleep per day of quality sleep
- Exercise regularly, getting outside in fresh air daily
- Maintain a healthy diet with well-balanced meals
- Practice relaxation techniques: yoga, meditation, tai-chi
- Maintain social relationships despite physical barriers with social media and phone calls
- Make time for hobbies and interests
As stress can induce inflammation and the production of reactive oxidative species that can gradually wear down our body’s vital organs, the above tips can help create a more relaxed state. A variety of foods may also benefit the body’s ability to manage stress-induced inflammation. Below are some helpful dietary tips for managing stress:
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meats and fish, and dietary fibers. Avoid processed and fried high-fat foods.
- “Eat the rainbow” – meaning eat fruits and vegetables that have a variety of colors. These foods such as strawberries, blueberries, kale, spinach, peppers, pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, grapes, and the list goes on, are loaded with vitamins and minerals as well as phytochemicals that can enhance our immune system and aid our body with fighting inflammation.
- Enjoy fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso – these foods are made with live active cultures (such as probiotics) and also contain the beneficial byproducts produced by these friendly microbes which exert beneficial effects in our body. A healthy gut microbiome helps support our immune system and is linked with gut-brain health.
- Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, and trout is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D which have anti-inflammatory and immune effects, but help support brain health.
- Sip on Chamomile and green tea have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and may also enhance mood by boosting dopamine levels
- Treat yourself to some dark chocolate (>70% Cocoa) not only contains polyphenols and magnesium, but also tryptophan that our body converts to serotonin, a potent chemical for the brain to aid with sleep, memory, behavior and mood.