April is National Stress Awareness month—a time to rethink the way that we deal with everyday stress, and make necessary changes to ensure we are living and feeling our best. Stress is often unavoidable, but we can manage it positively to avoid feeling overwhelmed. “Stress is how the brain and body respond to demands. Every type of demand or stressor—such as exercise, work, school, major life changes, or traumatic events—can be stressful,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And if stress isn’t controlled, long-lasting health defects such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression are possible (2).
Stress can affect many of our internal systems, right down to our cells. The process of oxidation happens as our bodies process oxygen and our cells produce energy from it—also producing free radicals. Free radicals interact with our cells, resulting in damage to nearby cells, mitochondria, and DNA. Some damage is normal and necessary, but when the amount of free radicals produced overwhelms the repair processes, oxidative stress occurs. Oxidation increases when we are physically or emotionally stressed and may result in the following symptoms (1,7):
- Frequent headaches
- Neck ache, back pain, muscle spasms
- Light headedness, faintness, dizziness
- Frequent colds, infections, herpes sores
- Rashes, itching, hives, “goose bumps”
- Unexplained allergy attacks
- Heartburn, stomach pain, nausea
- Difficulty breathing, frequent sighing
- Chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
- Increased anger, frustration, hostility
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreams
- Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
- Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
- Weight gain or loss without diet
If you’re dealing with symptoms like these on a regular basis, adding antioxidants to your diet can help block oxidation and protect your cells.
Whether it’s your job, finances, health or relationships that are getting you down, here are several ways that stress can be managed:
- Inhale the good, exhale the bad. Taking mindful, deep breaths for a few minutes a day can help lower your heart rate and calm your mind. Practicing meditation or yoga allows you to manage your thoughts, and push away the negative ones—leaving you calm, cool, collected and ready to take on your next challenge.
- Stay active. Stress isn’t just a mental battle; it’s physical one as well. Exercise has proven to have physical as well as mental benefits including improved sleep, reduced fatigue, elevated mood, increased self-esteem and more. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity, five days per week. Studies show that even just five minutes of anaerobic exercise can have anti-anxiety effects (3).
Sleep well. A good night’s sleep can help you elevate your mood, increase productivity throughout the day, and manage your daily stressors better. The average adult requires seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. If you’re not getting the sleep you need, your chance of stress increases significantly (4). Here are a few tips from the National Sleep Foundation that could help:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day—even on weekends.
- Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and cigarettes before bed.
- Turn off devices and bright lights in your room 30 minutes before bed.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Make your sleep environment comfortable with a good mattress, firm pillows, and blackout curtains if necessary. The optimal temperature for your bedroom is 60 – 67 degrees (5).
- Connect socially. “When we feel connected to another person, our bodies respond in ways that help us feel calmer, particularly during a health crisis,” says DignityHealth.org. Speaking to someone about your stressors can make you feel better instantly. It’s important to have someone in your life that you can turn to for support. Whether that person is a spouse, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or even a therapist, don’t be afraid to vent when you need to get something off your chest.
- Don’t overcommit. For many people, life is a juggling game of work, family, health, leisure, and everything in between. It can be difficult to find the time to do it all, so it’s important that you learn to say “no.” It’s okay to turn down extra work or commitments that you can’t handle. When you bite off more than you can chew, you’re risking letting others down and in turn, letting yourself down.
- Make time for yourself. Keep an organized calendar of daily appointments and responsibilities, and be sure to schedule some time for yourself. Whether you spend a day at the spa, or just a few hours to binge-watch your favorite show, having some downtime can help you recharge your batteries.
Focus on Nutrition. The phrase “you are what you eat” is true. Everything you put in your body will affect you. When you eat, you have the option to choose foods that will help you feel your best, or make you feel worse. It’s not always easy to eat well-balanced meals every single day, but you can find a daily dose of stress-preventing nutrients in a multivitamin supplement which includes:
- B Vitamins to help you feel more energetic.
- Vitamin C to help produce your stress hormones.
- Magnesium to help to relax muscles, and reduce anxiety (6).
Stress Effects. (2017, January 04). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/
5 Things You Should Know About Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
Physical Activity Reduces Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st
Stress and Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx
Healthy Sleep Tips. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips/page/0/1
Stress, Nutrition and Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/stress-nutrition-diet.html
Wilson, D. (2014, February 10). 5 Signs of Oxidative Stress and 7 Ways You Can Stop It. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://doctordoni.com/2014/10/5-signs-of-oxidative-stress/