Do it for Your Health: 10 Ways to De-Stress
Stress, yo. Stress is pervasive AF these days. We’re constantly overstimulated and working too much. We tend to over-exercise because society (and ahem, social media) tells us to always go harder/faster/more. Too many of us under-eat because diet culture tells us to eat less to be happier/more loved/more successful (spoiler alert: eating less is NOT the answer to happiness/love/success/and definitely not health). And we’re not sleeping because of many of the reasons listed above, plus some. It’s not wonder our list of health issues gets longer and longer.
Stress truly is at the core of so many diseases and health issues. You see, when we are stressed, our body needs to adapt. When it has to adapt chronically over a long period of time, it is stripped of vital nutrients, systems are thrown out of balance, and we start down a road of dysfunction toward disease. Our digestion can be heavily impacted, our blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity can be compromised, our immune systems can shut down, and our hormones can be thrown out of balance, leading to a myriad of health issues (think: thyroid issues, digestion, blood sugar balance, reproduction, etc.).
How then, do we avoid stress? Great question! It's not the easiest question to answer, but I'm here to offer up a few tricks that have helped me in the last few years on my own health journey:
- Go outside. When you have a spare 5 minutes between meetings, or on your lunch break, or before or after work, take a few minutes to get outside and breath fresh air. This does wonders for your head and heart.
- Take an epsom salt bath. I have been loving using Dr. Teal's epsom salts (the peppermint/eucalyptus scent is my favorite!). It relaxes my muscles, but also gives me time to just relax and zone out. Bonus points if you bring a book into the bath and leave your phone/tablet out of the room.
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses. I put mine on just as it's starting to get dark out and wear them through the rest of the evening until I go to bed, especially if i'm watching TV or looking at my phone. This helps me to feel tired sooner, which is an indicator that my body is ready for a good night's sleep.
- Eat good quality fats! This includes olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, fatty grass-fed beef, egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon, and almonds/almond butter. This helps to calm the nervous system because it helps to regulate the body's output of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. When we don't eat enough fat, our body needs to work really hard to maintain proper blood sugar levels to function, and during this process, cortisol is released. Cortisol is the last thing you want coursing through your veins when you want to feel relaxed! I recommend eating a fat-cetnric dinner and if you need a snack before bed, make it a fat snack (i.e. a scoop of almond butter, coconut oil in some herbal tea, etc.)
- Take deep breaths. This one has been huge for me. There was a time when I was actually afraid to take deep breaths because of how bad my digestion was (it hurt to breath deeply), but of course now I know that was just making matters worse. When we breathe deeply from our abdomens, we switch into our rest-and-digest mode (which is the opposite of our flight-or flight mode). When we are able to relax and get out of that revved-up mode, our stress hormones can take a breather, which allows for our other hormones to function as they should. Chronic cortisol output can actually "steal" from other important hormones and hormone precursors, so to have an endocrine system that's working properly, we have to be able to get into a restful state amidst our buzzing, crazy world. Taking deep belly breaths can switch us until a restful state almost instantaneously, so it's a great tool to use when you're feeling stuck in that fight-or-flight mode.
- Go for a walk. Don't run, walk. Running and intense exercise simulates the fight-or-flight mode we've been talking about. Walking is a way to get outside (see #1), and is also a way to move your body (we are meant to move!), but in a way that is therapeutic rather than detrimental. Sure, if the only thing we did all day was go to a HIIT class and run a few miles, we would likely be able to deal with it. But because we have so many other stressors, our bodies have a hard time maintaining balance when we add stress on top of stress. I love listening to podcasts while I walk. Bonus points if you walk on a trail surrounded by trees. Seriously, try this.
- Do something FUN! It might seem strange to recommend this, but I think a lot of people don't make time for joyful moments these days. Find an activity that you haven't done yet and give that a try! Go to a winery and enjoy a tasting with friends. Play bocce ball or wiffle ball with friends or your significant other at a park or green space near you. Pack a picnic and eat outside on the lawn. Go see a comedy show or live music at a local bar or music venue. Do something fun and out of the normal routine and you'll stimulate all the feel-good hormones that help you relax and de-stress!
- Get to a good place with your relationship with your body and freedom with food. This is a tough one. I've written a few blog posts about this and related topics (here and here are good ones to start with), but always thinking about your body and what foods you can/can't eat adds to all of your other stressors. I won't go into detail here because my other posts dive deep into this, so definitely check those out, but this piece can be so important to finding peace and avoiding stress.
- Prioritize sleep. Sleep is the mother of all healers! In order to rebuild, regenerate, and rejuvenate, we need to sleep well. This isn't always possible, but when you can, sleep until the sun starts to come up so that your body feels rested and can awaken with the natural cycle of the sun. For too many years I forced myself to wake up at 5:30am so that I could get my workout in before work, but that took its toll on my health. it's amazing what a good-quality, full-night's sleep can do for your stress. To get the best night's sleep possible, eat a fat-focused snack before bedtime, sleep with an eye mask on or install black-out shades in your bedroom, wear blue-blocking glasses (see above), and put phones and other screens away at least 1 hour before bed (I'm not the best at doing this, but it's a work in progress!) and avoid caffeine/chocolate too late in the day if you're sensitive to it.
- Meditate. I love meditation, but don't do it as much as I would like to. I've added this to the list so that I can refer back to it and remind myself of how powerful it is for stress management. This ties into the deep-breathing I mentioned earlier, but sitting still with your thoughts and focusing on breathing is such a powerful way kick stress out of the picture.
How else do you manage stress? Let me know in the comments below!