Stress is often referred to as the silent killer and causes many harmful, often overlooked effects, which can introduce pain and strain into your daily activities. It can affect your work, school, friendships, relationships and even sleep habits. It can result in physical suffering as well and can manifest as a headache, upset stomach or back pain. Stress can reduce the ability of your immune system to fight off colds and other illnesses the body would normally be able to fend off. In fact, Dr. David Danskin from Kansas State University estimates that 85% of doctor visits are due to stress-related causes. It’s important to learn how to effectively identify and manage stress in your life to increase your longevity and become a happier, healthier person.
The first step in managing stress is identifying the cause. This may be a major life event that has recently occurred. A recent job change, marriage, increased workload or new baby can all lead to increased personal stress. Sometimes the causes are not obvious, such as poor time management skills, excessive worrying and ineffective coping strategies. Here are a few strategies you can use to combat the stress in your life.
Tip 1: Keep a daily stress journal. This will help identify how much stress you are under, potential stress triggers and ways to reduce stress in your life. Take 15 minutes a day to describe any event that caused you to become stressed and any resulting emotional or physical response. Over time, you will be able to identify patterns, which will help you develop healthy management strategies. Label your entries with the date and time and use adjectives! Take your stress journal to your doctor if you need additional advice.
Tip 2: Learn to say “no” when you have too many activities in your schedule. Saying no when you are reaching your limit can be very empowering! People will respect your boundaries and be more appreciative of your time when you do agree to take on a favor or additional responsibility. Be firm but polite. Practice saying “no” in the mirror to gain confidence!
Tip 3: Drink water. This may surprise you, but keeping your body hydrated will help you feel better, improve your mood and ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs! Your body produces the hormone, cortisol, in response to stress. Dehydration, even by levels as low as 17 oz (just over two glasses) increases cortisol levels in your body.
Tip 4: Eat well. In addition to drinking water, pay attention to what you eat. Diets high in fiber and low in saturated fat have a positive effect on overall mood. Diane M Becker, MPH, ScD and Director of the Center for Health Promotion at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, warns people against high-fat, high-glycemic loads meals, which “can make you physically feel dysfunction afterwards.” B vitamins, especially folic acid (folate) and vitamin B12 are known to help prevent mood disorders, including depression. These vitamins are found in spinach, romaine lettuce, lean chicken breasts, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products.