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Stress Management: Diet, Exercise, Sleep & Other Tips


Stress is something that we all deal with daily, to varying degrees. It can lead to insomnia, anxiety, and poor concentration. If high levels of unwanted stress are not properly managed, then your physical and mental health and sense of well-being can suffer.  

Certain amounts of stress are beneficial and even motivating, but when this "good stress lasts too long or happens too often, it can become harmful to your general health.  

Stress can be sparked by anything; your job, your kids, money problems, friends, etc. But ultimately, the stress comes from within yourself. Stress is our body’s reaction to the demands that we put upon it and whether those demands are physical or mental, our body reacts with natural chemicals like cortisol or high blood pressure causing us to feel stressed.  

Cortisol is a hormone in your adrenal glands that is released when you are in stressful situations. The good news is that because your body is creating stress, you don’t have to quit your job to feel less stressed! 

There are ways to relieve your body of stress, and doing some of these things will help you feel less overwhelmed in general. The three most important lifestyle choices that affect your stress levels are diet, exercise, and sleep. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in these three realms will do wonders for your stress levels. 

Diet and stress 

First, let’s start with diet. Maintaining a healthy diet will help keep you in shape, making you more resistant to everything from stress to higher blood pressure and heart disease.  

A general healthy diet is a great step, but there are also some foods that chemically will help reduce stress levels: 

  • Eating carbs prompts the brain to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that is naturally produced in our brains to make us feel good. 
  • Complex carbs like whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, pasta and oatmeal are best because they take longer to digest. 
  • Complex carbs can also help you feel balanced by stabilizing your blood sugar levels. 
  • Vitamins are extremely helpful in strengthening your immune system and helping to reduce stress hormones. 
  • Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, which is helpful in keeping blood pressure and cortisol at normal levels. 
  • Almonds are also loaded with vitamins. They contain good levels of both vitamin E and vitamin B. 
  • Magnesium and omega-3 help regulate cortisol and adrenaline levels. 
  • Spinach is a strong source of magnesium and will help reduce headaches and fatigue. Cooked soybeans and salmon are also great sources of magnesium. 
  • Fish like salmon and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease stress hormones and help protect you against heart disease. 
  • Potassium is a great chemical to help reduce blood pressure. 
  • Bananas are a great source of potassium, but avocados are even better. Half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana
  • Black tea has been found to help you recover from stressful events more quickly.
  • Studies have shown that daily black tea drinkers feel calmer and have lower cortisol levels after stressful situations compared to those who didn’t drink tea.
  • Coffee, on the other hand, can boost cortisol levels. 

Exercise and stress 

Exercise is also beneficial to relieving stress. The act of exercising releases endorphins in your brain which naturally reduces stress and makes you feel good. Even the simple act of going on a walk every day or playing sports with friends will be beneficial to you.  

When your body is in shape, it is much easier for it to fight off stress because flexible and loose muscles are less likely to become tight and painful in response to stress.  

Keeping a regular schedule of exercise will help keep you in shape but the act of maintaining a schedule for your exercise is also important. Stress often comes from uncertainty and an exercise schedule will keep your mind on track and your brain more certain about what you are doing. 

Sleep and stress 

Sleep is essential to keeping stress at bay and maintaining a clear head. Studies conducted by the American Psychological Association have shown that adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress, such as irritability or anger, feeling overwhelmed, low motivation or energy, and losing patience.  

Adults who slept eight or more hours a night reported much lower levels of these stress-related symptoms throughout the day. A good night's sleep is essential to having a clear head to take on the stress that the day might bring.  

Other stress management tips 

So diet, exercise, and sleep can all impact your stress levels. And yet, sometimes life makes it difficult to get what you need. For example, perhaps stress from the day causes you to lose sleep.  

Here are some additional ways to reduce stress and ease your mind throughout the day: 

  • Relaxation techniques are a great way to ease your body and your mind. 
  • Meditation, yoga, listening to music you like, watching a movie or engaging in your personal hobbies or interests will help relax your brain and relieve stress. 
  • Practicing thought management will help you manage stress levels better. 
  • Negative thought patterns will only increase stress levels. Think positively and productively about situations you are presented with. 
  • For example, instead of thinking “I’m a failure at my job because I missed one deadline.” Think “How can I ensure that I make my future deadlines, so that I can be more successful at my job.” 
  • Seeking out social interaction and support will help buffer against stress. 

Spending time with family and friends can be fun and gives you a break from what might be stressing you out. 

It can also be helpful to share your problems with people who care about you. 

Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs or compulsive behavior to cope with stress. 

Healthy coping mechanisms like exercise or relaxation techniques will naturally reduce stress and help you manage it long-term. 

Unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol will only make stress levels higher in the long term. 

If you find yourself consistently dealing with unmanageable stress, then seeking out treatment from a professional is a smart step to take. They will be able to help you on a personal level and give you different techniques to practice throughout the day.