Stress is a fascinating phenomenon, not because it is what induces the fear of failure that pushes us to complete a task finally, but because it could be the root cause of every discomfort, health issue, unfavorable feeling, and/or lousy day we each encounter throughout our lives. Paying attention to your energy levels, your body’s ups and downs throughout the course of the day; understanding internal and external stressors; seeking causation and effect and finding their solutions would be life changing for many people. However, stress is sneaky, hiding behind other labels such as depression, anxiety, weight issues, and many more that distract us from succinctly separating, organizing and healthily tackling stress.
Natural energy is an easy and simple solution when we are looking for an extra boost, found Dr. Beth Frates, lifestyle health medicine expert, and creator of “Paving the Path to Wellness” program. Many of us can relate to the onset of feeling drained, causing a lag around three o’clock. The local coffee shop or vending machine down the hall begin to sound tempting, despite the sugar crash and the letdown that is an over-priced, mid-afternoon-burned coffee. Instead, Dr. Frates says that positive interactions, breathing, and movement can significantly improve stress and energy levels throughout the day compared to an afternoon caffeine-sugar snack. They are much more beneficial for a host of reasons, Dr. Frates continued, primarily because they help decrease stress levels.
Unfortunately, natural solutions don’t always work when people are trying to make significant changes to their food choices, stress levels, energy and activity levels. Each day intelligent people decide to make these major changes to their lives and doing the things needed to achieve their goal(s). These people more often than not, go back to what they were doing before, not a month later, despite their seriousness when first dedicating themselves to change. The culprit? You guessed it, stress.
Stress causes you to regress and actually perpetuates those negative-habit pathways in the brain. This is because when under pressure, the human mind goes back to what Dr. Srini Pillay, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, likes to call, “habit-hell.” Unfortunately, if this sounds familiar, you will find it very difficult to make the changes needed to move forward with your goals if you do not address the stressors in your life. Luckily for us, millions of people have found different ways to approach and successfully cope with stress, and I am glad to share a few tips:
- Make a List: To prevent becoming overwhelmed, which on its own could cause a lot of stress, making a list can help reduce the burden through organization. Organization is key because it lessens anxiety surrounding the chaos of life, and through these organizational to-do lists productivity skyrockets. You can use it as a memory recall tool, to add structure and order to your days, to prioritize your tasks, to stay accountable, increase productivity, compartmentalize, or to even delegate tasks. Through any combination of the above – making a list can help reduce your stress.
- Find Your Lilly: It is an awesome feeling, talking to a special someone(s) who sees your strengths and brings positivity into your life and puts a pep in your step. Dr. Frates believes a short conversation with these people, nicknamed Lillie’s, can bring out the best in a person by lifting them up, filling them with energy. When you’re looking for a pick me up, speak to a Lilly to improve your productivity and relieve your body of any stress.
- Improve Your Health: “By boosting your overall health, you’ll have more strength to take on stressful situations when they come along,” Harvard Medical School emphasizes. “Three ways to do that are exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep. Aerobic exercise helps counter stress by boosting the body’s [endorphins], using up stress hormones, protecting brain cells, and lowering blood pressure.” Lack of sleep can reduce a slew of essential brain functions, including attention span, memory, decision making, and learning abilities. A diet filled with great foods such as fish, nuts, whole grains, fruits, eggs, and vegetables can have a positive effect on stress levels, as well as help fight depression. Sadly, for our taste buds - processed, sugary or fried foods tend to have an opposite effect.
- Self-Acceptance: Take into account that there are things you can control and things you cannot. Take the time to reframe the situation in your mind. If you can’t find an upside, accept it and embrace the process of improvement. There is something quite poetic about having nowhere else to go but up; so, come away from the hopeless ashes as a phoenix, do what you can and rise above.
Aside from the visible indicators of stress many of us are familiar with, some would be surprised to learn high cortisol levels are caused by stress. If you don’t fall asleep at night, if you’re dizzy when you get out of bed, and if you have weight that won’t come off no matter what you do - your cortisol levels are too high.
Work towards making your coping methods a habit. Focus on one, or any number of them, each day to build your resilience. Once you have developed a strong foundation, you will be able to tackle life’s stressors as they come your way positively, and you can benefit from your hard work through improved emotional and physical health.