Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Stress refers to your body's reaction to challenges and demands. Stress can be positive or negative and there are healthy ways to deal with it. Sleeping well is important in stress management.
How Can We Handle Stress in Healthy Ways?
Stress serves an important purpose—it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties (for example, anxiety and depression) or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
Eat and drink to optimize your health. Don't try to reduce stress by drinking alcohol or eating too much. These actions may seem to help in the moment but may add to stress in the long run. Caffeine also can compound the effects of stress. Consuming a healthy, balanced meal pattern can help you to combat stress.
Exercise regularly. In addition to having physical health benefits, exercise has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever. Consider non-competitive aerobic exercise, strengthening with weights, or movement activities like yoga or Tai Chi, and set reasonable goals for yourself. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins which are natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
Stop using tobacco and nicotine products. People who use nicotine often refer to it as a stress reliever. Nicotine places more stress on the body by increasing physical arousal, reducing blood flow and slows breathing. Ditch this habit if you are a smoker and reduce your risk for several chronic diseases.
Study and practice relaxation techniques. Taking time to relax every day will help you manage stress and protect your body from the effects of stress. You can choose from a variety of techniques such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation. There are many online and smart phone apps that provide guidance although some entail purchase costs, many are available free of charge.
Reduce triggers of stress. If you are like most people, your life may be filled with too many demands and too little time. For the most part, these demands are ones we have chosen. You can free up time by practicing time-management skills like asking for help when it's appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself, and reserving time to take care of yourself.
Examine your values and live by them. The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel, no matter how busy your life is. Take the above small steps and reduce your stress today!