Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

As we go into our second month of the effects of COViD 19, many of us may be needing to look towards healthy ways to cope with stress. When we are first faced with a emergency situation, our stress hormones kick in and we are often in that “flight or fight mode”. The most reinforced or easiest coping mechanisms also are the quickest for us, whether it be food, alcohol, online shopping or something else.

After a while with many coping mechanisms, they may not be the healthiest in the long term and unfortunately with our current situation, we may be needing to cope with the stresses for at least a year or two. So, I want to discuss some healthy coping mechanisms that you might already be doing and some that you may want to try. And some that you might have done in the past but for some reason have not gotten back into them for a while.

How Does Stress Affect Our Health?

When talking about the health affects of stress, we can divide that into short term and long term impacts. The short term effects may be rapid heart beat, shallow breathing and a deep pit in our stomach.

Unless something happens in that moment like a car accident or something else in that might be a short term stress, it does not cause the damage to our health like the affects of long term stress which can lead to chronic inflammation which can increase the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune health conditions, GI disease, cancer and obesity.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-symptoms-effects_of-stress-on-the-body#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

How Does Stress Affect IBS?

Times of stress can really increase the symptoms of IBS for many people. Some of these symptoms may include cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, inflammation and loss of appetite.

What does all of this mean for us as we go through this situation?

How do we manage our stress?

If we are in this stressful event for the long haul, how can we reduce the impact of inflammation and chronic health conditions and limit the reliance of less healthy coping methods?

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987

A sheet pan of avocado toast with veggie toppings

Eating Habits During Stress

Eating for Stress Management

For many of us, food is a comfort for us during times of stress. Not only is it the thing that we were handed when we were going through a hard time like being handed a cookie when we scraped our knee but it also releases pleasure hormones like dopamine and serotonin that make us feel better. And who doesn’t want to feel better during times of stress?

During times of stress there is a lot of eating more quickly because we are in the “flight or fight response” and there may also be doing a lot of reaching for food because we aren’t really paying attention.

Tips to Reduce Stress-Related Eating

You might had noticed that I did not mention “tips to stop stress eating”. And that because food is should not be all or nothing or even good or bad. And that goes for food behavior also. Just like all foods can fit in a healthy lifestyle, a less healthy food behavior might used to cope on occasion. Learning to replace food with other non-food coping mechanisms that are healthy is a good practice. And you will get in the habit of using food as a stress relief more and more. This is especially important for long periods of stress like this.

Eating slower and paying more attention to our food when we eat will help us be more mindful and enjoy our food in the moment.

How Does Food and Nutrition Help Stress

Can eating relieve stress? Because food contains beneficial chemicals that help us reduce stress, let’s talk about how we can use them to our advantage.

Green tea in a beautiful cup

Foods That May Help Cope with Stress

  • Stress relieving foods like complex carbohydrate foods like whole grains, beans and vegetables helps boost serotonin like simple sugars but provide this boost for a longer period of time.
  • Healthy fats like fatty fish, nuts, olives, avocados and seeds help reduce inflammation in the body which helps reduce the harmful effects of stress.
  • Plant chemicals in tea may help reduce the stress hormone in the body cortisol.
  • Green leafy vegetables and other foods high in magnesium can provide a feeling of calm. Another calming food may be dairy products with their tryptophan and calcium.

Here are some posts that include some of these foods!

Eating Habits That May Help Cope with Stress

  • Be sure to nourish your body. Variety is the spice of life and by choosing a good mix of foods, we have more nutrients to choose from in our stress coping tool box.
  • Listen to your body for hunger and fullness signals that will help you decide when to reach for another way to cope with stress when you aren’t hungry.
  • Keep your body well-hydrated so you are more comfortable.
  • Lessen grocery shopping stress by making a grocery list and make a simple menu. That way you can limit the number of times that you go to the grocery store.
  • For those of us who like to crunch something to eat when they are stressed, make a beautiful veggie to much along with a high protein dip like hummus. Calming and delicious!
View from Greens Restaurant

Here Are 10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

  1. Practice Mindfulness

Being in the moment and thinking about what is happening right now can be so helpful when dealing with stress. And not thinking about something that you did 5 years ago that you wished you hadn’t or how long things will take to get back to normal from this virus. Staying present when you eat, when you walk or just sitting in your chair can do a world of good and help you feel grounded.

2. Reach Out and Talk to Someone

This could be texting, e-mailing, or meeting up with family members or friends on video chat. Having companionship and not feeling isolated is healing. You may also physically have people in your safe space or a sweet dog or cat. Sometimes personal contact is all you need. When things get more serious than a friendly chat, it may be time to work with a mental health professional. Here is a link to find help https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

3. Exercise

Moving your body helps you feel better and reduce stress. Some things that you may be able to do and keep your safe space include stretching, yoga, walking, biking or a video class with possible Zumba or Pilates. Not only does physical activity help blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar along with reducing risk of cancer and reaching a healthy weight, it also reduces stress and may even give a sense of euphoria!

4. Get Lost in an Activity that You Enjoy

This can provide distraction and spark creativity. And bring you some happiness. For you, it might be a craft like knitting or painting. Others of us love music and play an instrument or sing or both. But what you might really enjoy might be a jigsaw puzzle, crossword or board game. Other people feel satisfaction in organizing, straightening up and de-cluttering.

5. Look Towards Nature

Eco-Therapy or Nature Therapy is now being prescribed by health care professionals because the beneficial results are tremendous! Going into the woods or a desolate beach can be good therapy to relieving stress and reducing the incidence of chronic disease. If you can’t get out as far as you like, even a walk around the neighborhood or working in the yard can be healing!

6. Get Adequate Sleep

Being able to get comfortable and get a good rest is so important and it is a vicious cycle if you can’t get it. Feeling stressed so you can’t sleep and then because of lack of sleep feeling more stressed is a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep also leads to increased inflammation which increases the risks of many chronic health issues.

7. Reach Out and Help Someone

Doing something for others can help you get outside your head while helping others. For some of us, it might be making face masks for health care workers or vulnerable people. Picking up groceries for someone who is unable to get out can be so critical to that person’s life. Think about how you can make someone’s day by bringing them coffee, stopping by to take them lunch or fixing something for someone that has something broken. All with some social distance of course!

8. Find Ways to Relax

Pamper yourself with the gift or relaxation. This might be a warm bubble bath with some essential oil, relaxing music, reading in your favorite chair or doing a meditation exercise or having prayer. What are some of the things that really relax you? Here are some tips that I have put together on self-care: https://vineripenutrition.com/practicing-self-care/

9. Be as Positive as You Can

Start off with at least 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100 things that are you are grateful to have even in a time of crisis. A few things on your list might include a healthy body, clean water and an adequate food supply. Negativity can increase stress and affect our health. So, trying to have positive outlooks on some things and give positive messages to the people that you love can reduce the effects. Take time to thank someone for their thoughtfulness. We all like to feel appreciated.

10. Laugh It Off. Use Humor

Fun-loving jokes, comics, stories, funny movie or funning music that make you crack up with a big belly laugh is a good way to taking care of yourself.

I hope that some of these ideas will speak to you and help you release some stress during difficult times like these. We are all together in this and our lives are now more intertwined than ever. My behavior can impact you in a positive or negative way and vice versa. So we need to be as healthy as we can be and that includes keeping our stress levels in check.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, leaving in Asheville, NC, I work with clients helping them make positive behavior changes that improve their health and well-being!

I hope that you like some of these healthy ways to cope with stress to help you when you are feeling that you may have more things than you can handle sometimes. I would love to hear what works for you in the comments!

And I want to end with some funny pet videos. I have never spent a lot of time watching these but I think now is the time that I can sprinkle a little bit in my life!

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