By Katelynn Houger, WSU Dietetic Intern & Monika Jacobson, RDN
The topic of “stress” is relevant now more than ever – and we’re here to talk about the lifestyle strategies than can help combat the negative side effects of stress. Let’s take care of each other and be well this Winter.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s normal response to any change. Stress is normal, and the body is designed to handle it – for short bursts of time. The prolonged stress that people tend to feel right now can have negative impacts, both short term and long term. These consequences may be physical such as headaches or gastrointestinal distress, or more mental such as increased anxiety and depression. Here are some tips we’ve compiled to use nutrition & movement to reduce stress levels:
- Eat regular meals & snacks. This is important because food is what fuels our bodies & brains. Additionally, regular meals and snacks will keep your blood glucose levels regulated. Extreme highs and lows in blood glucose can impact you physically & mentally, causing side effects like mood swings and fatigue thus sometimes leading to overeating.
- Monitor your caffeine intake. Caffeine can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can be a perfect storm when coupled with high stress levels, especially if you are already prone to anxiety. Try monitoring your intake & reducing as needed, as well as working towards a full 8 hours of sleep per night. Avoiding caffeine intake after 12 -2 pm can help with this.
- Get movement daily. This does not mean you need to set aside an hour or 2 every single day to get into the gym or go out for a run if that’s not realistic – getting movement daily could be as simple as walking around the block, or following along with some YouTube yoga in your own home. Even short bouts of movement and exercise produce the “feel good” hormones! 10 minutes here…10 minutes there…. It all counts!
- Keep healthful snacks handy. This goes hand in hand with tip # 1. By keeping healthful snacks in your purse, backpack, car, and desk at work you are setting yourself up for success. This means you have something handy to snack on when you feel your blood sugars start to dip, and that it isn’t something out of the nearest vending machine. Prepackaged snacks are often filled with preservatives and have very little nutritional value – you’re not getting much bang for your buck! Some great snacks to pack include: trail mix, homemade granola bars, cut veggies or baby carrots, fruits, nuts and cheese sticks if you have a refrigerator to store them in. Having access to healthful snacks can also help with overeating & unwanted weight gain during stressful times.
- Work on your water intake. It can be so easy to breeze through your day and forget to consume any water. The issue with that is that our bodies are made up of roughly 60% water, so providing a fresh source of water for it every day is essential for good health. Work to find a good balance of water & non-water fluid intake. This can be done by limiting the amount of coffee, teas, and other drinks you take in, and by having a water bottle with you throughout the day. Try adding some fresh lemon, or maybe even some cucumber slices and mint for something new and refreshing.
- Seek out support. It’s normal to feel higher levels of stress right now. There’s a global pandemic making everything in life much harder on top of all the usual life stressors. Be sure to check in with your family and friends. This is so important since we are more isolated these days. Seeking professional help from a mental health provider is always encouraged. Insurance often covers therapy but there are even some amazing virtual telehealth services such as BetterHelp.com or TalkSpace.com that are at a lower price point than out of pocket private pay. If you are feeling suicidal, please talk with someone now or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.