A Stress-friendly Lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle helps us maintain a level of physical and mental health that maximizes our ability to tolerate and recover from stress. Here are some examples.
Getting enough sleep
Most of us know we don’t feel at our best when we’ve gone short of sleep. And sure enough, research shows that poorly-rested people report more stress, anxiety and anger, and less ability to manage their emotions and inner tension, than well-rested people. That's partly because the stress response system can remain hyper-aroused in people who don’t get enough sleep.
Bottom line: Sleep gives our stress response system a break. So it’s important to make sleep a priority in your lifestyle. Everyone goes short of sleep sometimes but if getting enough sleep is an ongoing major problem for you, seek professional help.
Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. It can also be a stressbuster.
- Physical activity can change your mood. If you are feeling sluggish, exercise can make you feel more energized and alert. If you are anxious, angry or agitated, it can help you feel more calm and settled.
- Physical activity stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals while also reducing levels of the stress hormones that cause the physical feeling (tense and hyper-aroused) of being stressed.
- It also gives our bodies a kind of practice in dealing with stress. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise “forces the body's physiological systems – all of which are involved in the stress response – to communicate much more closely than usual."
If you'd like to increase your physical activity, here are some ideas that might help:
- Find an activity that you like. It’s easier to stick with something you enjoy.
- Make physical activity part of your routine.
- Do it with a friend.
- Start with modest goals and increase your activity gradually. Every move counts!
Wondering what experts recommend is enough physical activity? Check out Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines at www.csep.ca.
ParticipACTION offers lots of tips on how to build more physical activity into your lifestyle.
Poor nutrition can lead to health problems, but it also causes a sort of stress on the body, which uses up some of our resources for dealing with stress. Therefore, good nutrition helps to maximize our ability to handle stress. Healthy eating is particularly important when you are going through a stressful period. Research shows that stressed people are more likely to skip meals, eat junkier food, and drink more alcohol and coffee. Dietitians of Canada has information and web tools to help people assess and improve their eating habits.
Avoiding overuse of alcohol
Obviously, there are many good reasons to avoid overuse of alcohol, including the risk of addiction, liver disease and other health problems. But did you know that alcohol can also impair our ability to fight stress? For one thing, drinking alcohol can sometimes stimulate the release of some of the same hormones that kickstart the stress response system. So, if you’re already dealing with lots of stress, alcohol use puts a further burden on your body’s resources for dealing with it.
Some people increase alcohol consumption during times of stress, and at the same time, stress can also affect the way our bodies respond to alcohol. So when you are going through a stressful period, it’s a good idea to pay particular attention to how much you are drinking.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has information about Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
Wondering if your drinking is a problem? The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health CAMH has developed an online survey to help individuals assess their alcohol consumption pattern. Click here to take the Check Your Drinking Survey.
People to “lean" on
Social support, having people we can count on to help us out or make us feel better during difficult times, is one of our most important buffers against stress. Most people know this from personal experience, and research confirms that social support helps people deal with stress. Yet social relationships can also be a source of stress at times. So it is important to build and maintain a network of people who help us feel good about ourselves. For some people this is fairly easy; for others it is a challenge. Getting involved in social groups like clubs, hobby groups, volunteer work and places of worship is one of the best ways to build your social network.
Reaching out for support is one of our action strategies for coping with stress.
A healthy lifestyle is good for everybody. But if you are stressed, paying attention to your lifestyle habits and choices becomes even more important.
Making lifestyle changes is one of our action strategies for coping with stress.
If you want to read more about stress, click here.
If you want to read more about ways to cope with stress, click here.