Do you remember the last time you were stressed out? Chances are, it wasn’t that long ago.
Stress has become such a part of everyday life that you may not notice it until you experience a full-blown meltdown. This is because stress has a sneaky way of building up until it becomes a serious problem. Once that happens, it can manifest in unhealthy ways. Here are some examples that can signal that it’s time to be more proactive about healthy stress management.
You’re drinking more alcohol. If you are experiencing high volumes of stress, you may find yourself reaching for a glass of wine or a cocktail. People often feel that alcohol lowers their inhibitions and decreases their stress. But—and this is a big but—prolonged drinking can actually increase your stress over time by triggering the release of the stress hormone cortisol.1
You’re eating more junk food. Many times stress can cause a craving for comfort food or overly processed junk food. This can be a problem, especially for people who are frequently stressed. Stress eating can result in weight changes, especially around the abdomen. This is because adrenaline and cortisol make you hungry for carbs and fat. If your jeans aren’t fitting anymore and you find it difficult to lose those extra pounds, stress could be the reason why.
You’re more critical. If you frequently criticize your coworkers, your loved ones, or even yourself, it may be due to a stress overload. Over time, tis can undermine your relationships with others and can color the way you view yourself and the world around you.
You’re prone to outbursts. We’re not saying you’re more dramatic when you’re stressed. Well, maybe we are. Here’s why: Stress kicks your brain into overdrive, blowing every little problem out of proportion. As a result, you react more strongly to the heightened state of stress you are in.
What can you do to manage your stress and keep the drinking, eating, criticism, and outbursts to a minimum? Here are some of our top tips.
Get enough sleep. It can be tempting to stay up late binging your new favorite show, but shortchanging yourself on sleep can increase your stress level and affect your mood.2 Sleep allows the brain to recharge and the body to rest and repair itself. When you don’t get enough shut-eye, your body can’t reap the full benefits sleep provides. Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Eat well. A steady diet of cheeseburgers and fries can decrease energy levels, leading to a lower threshold for stress. Indulging frequently can leave you feeling tired and looking for junk food and sugary treats that an undermine good health and make you more vulnerable to the effects of stress. Instead, try to follow a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
Exercise. As little as 20 minutes of exercise each day can help reduce stress levels. What type of exercise is best to decompress stress? That’s easy—any type you enjoy and will stick with! Some options include swimming, dancing, yoga, or a power walk in the neighborhood.
Get support. Venting about your stress to a trusted family member or friend can help lighten your load. It lets you release your tension in a healthy way and can help reduce your stress. It’s important to choose a close family member or friend who you know will not judge you. Or you can seek the help of a mental health professional for guidance.
Breathe. When you feel stressed, a few minutes of deep breathing exercises can help melt away the tension. Try this breathing technique:
- Find a comfortable, quiet location and lie in a flat or reclined position.
- Place one hand on your abdomen, and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into your abdomen. Only breathe in as deeply as is comfortable (your chest should remain still).
- Slowly exhale through the mouth.
- Your abdomen should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out.
- Repeat these steps 10 times.
Consider supplements: Certain herbs, nutrients, and vitamins can help lessen the effects of stress and promote calm. Look for supplements that combine GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) along with the B vitamins. These nutrients support healthy relaxation and increased alertness. Other stress-relieving nutrients to look for include omega-3 fatty acids, the adaptogen ashwagandha, and the popular sleep-inducing herb valerian root.3
- The link between stress and alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2021 https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA85/AA85.htm
- Kim E, Dimsdale J. The effect of psychosocial stress on sleep: a review of polysomnographic evidence. Behavioral Sleep Medication. 2007; 5(4): 256-278.
- Su K, Tseng P, Lin P, et al. Association of use of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with changes in severity of anxiety symptoms. JAMA Network. 2018; 1(5): e182327.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.