Chronic stress can have a powerful negative impact on your health. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of visits to primary care doctors are related to stress in some way. Stress can affect your mood, energy level, sexuality, and weight, and it can contribute to heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and can even suppress your immune system. What can you do to combat stress (short of quitting your job and moving to a deserted island)? Here are 6 relatively simple stress reduction
- Eat Healthy Starches. Stress triggers the release of cortisol which leads to an increase in bloodsugar. Fluctuating blood sugar can zap your energy and lead to food (sugar) cravings and fatigue. You can minimize this by eating mainly “good starches” like whole grains, high fiber cereals, beans, and sweet potatoes and cutting back on the refined grains, sugary, processed baked goods and snacks. In addition, whole grains are a great source of B vitamins which are critical in combating stress.
- Try Yoga. Research shows that yoga helps combat stress just as well as therapy, and it can build lean body mass and flexibility too!
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep. Poor sleep patterns are highly associated with stress (and obesity) so do your best to normalize sleep patterns. Minimize caffeine after 3pm and alcohol in the evening, as both can impact sleep patterns. Stick to regular sleeping and waking times as much as possible, and make sure your room is dark, quiet and not too hot or cold (68-72 degrees is considered ideal). In addition, power down your computer at least 2 hours before bed. Staring into a brightly lit screen right before going to sleep can negatively affect your brain chemistry, making it harder to fall asleep.
- Go Green (and Orange.) Deeply colored fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of most of the key vitamins, minerals, antioxidants that help combat stress by helping build and support metabolism and important brain hormones. Top choices include citrus fruit, berries, red and green peppers, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, swiss chard), and cantaloupe. Summer is a terrific time to incorporate loads of color in your diet. Fruit smoothies make a delicious breakfast or refreshing afternoon snack and savory summer salads are a great way to get your greens in on a daily basis.
- Master Meditation. Studies show that even brief daily meditation can significantly improve both perceived stress and depression. You don’t have to fly to India to get started, simply sit in a quiet place and focus on your breathing for a few minutes or repeat a simple mantra like ‘om’ a few times in a quiet place.
- Sip away stress. Research shows that chamomile tea helps reduce anxiety, and green and black tea both contain a calming compound called theanine. Just make sure to drink decaf after 3pm so that the caffeine does not interfere with your sleep.