Managing Pressure through Diet, Exercise & Lifestyle
Health experts recommend that all we need to maintain health is about 60 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week, this could include: -
- Walking (brisk or uphill)
- Organised Sports
Exercise uses up the hormones and sugars in our system created by stress and helps keep up strong muscles (especially heart and lung) which enables us to deal with stress when it arises.
Taking frequent effective exercise is one of the best physical stress-reduction techniques available. Exercise not only improves your health and reduces stress caused by unfitness, it also relaxes tense muscles and helps you to sleep.
Exercise has a number of other positive benefits you may not be aware of:
- It improves blood flow to your brain, bringing additional sugars and oxygen that may be needed when you are thinking intensely.
- When you think hard, the neurons of your brain function more intensely. As they do this, they build up toxic waste products that can cause foggy thinking (you may have experienced the feeling that your brain has "turned to cotton wool"). By exercising, you speed the flow of blood through your brain, moving these waste products faster. You also improve this blood flow so that even when you are not exercising, waste is eliminated more efficiently.
- It can cause release of chemicals called endorphins into your blood stream. These give you a feeling of happiness and positively affect your overall well-being.
- There is also good evidence that physically fit people have less extreme physiological responses when under pressure than those who are not. This means that fit people are more able to handle the long-term effects of stress without suffering ill health or burnout.
There are many wrong approaches to exercise. Some traditionally recommended forms of exercise may actually damage your body over the medium- or long-term. It is worth finding reputable and up-to-date sources of advice on exercise, possibly from your doctor, and then having a customized exercise plan drawn up for you.
NB: If you are not currently exercising regularly, seek the advice of a trained medical professional before actively engaging in any type of exercise program. Not only will this serve to further protect your health, but it will also serve to optimize your exercise efforts, creating a true win-win situation.
An important thing to remember is that exercise should be fun. It is difficult to keep going with an exercise program that you do not enjoy.
Rest and Relaxation
Rest is what we do to let stress subside. Rest at the end of a day, and at the end of a week, helps us to calm down.
Doing fun things that we enjoy in our leisure time compensates us for the stress we experience at work, bringing some balance back into life. This is particularly important if we routinely experience unpleasant levels of stress.
A good way of getting rest and reducing long-term stress is to take up an enjoyable, non-rushed sport or hobby. If you spend all your working day competing, then can be very pleasant to be completely noncompetitive for some of your free time. Slow physical activities such as sailing or walking are good for this, as are others where there is little or no pressure for performance. Reading novels, watching television or socializing can also be very restful.
Vacations are particularly important, and you really do need to take these. Where possible, take two weeks off rather than just one week. A common observation that people make is that they really do not start to relax properly until the end of their first week of vacation.
Make sure that you take your vacations and that you use them to relax. Also, make sure that you get enough good quality rest during the week to keep on enjoying life to its fullest.
A Quiet Period
Try and find an hour to yourself to wind down, learn good breathing techniques, think about your day and ask yourself positive or empowering questions to help you deal with problems.
The average person needs approximately eight hours sleep a night (although this can vary between three hours and eleven hours, depending on the person and his or her age).
If we are regularly short of sleep, then our concentration and our effectiveness suffer and our energy levels decline. We have all seen and experienced this.
This may diminish our effectiveness in our job, and can therefore increase stress. As our concentration wanders, we may start to make mistakes. As our energy declines, we may become less proactive in what we do, reducing our control over events. This means that a situation that is already difficult and stressful may become worse, needing even more sacrifice to bring it back under control.
Make sure that you get enough sleep. If you have become used to being tired all the time, you will be amazed by how sharp and energetic you will feel once you start sleeping normally.
When we are stressed and anxious, we can often find it difficult to get to sleep as thoughts keep on whizzing through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep.
If you find this is the case:
- Make sure that you stop doing mentally demanding work several hours before coming to bed — give your brain time to calm down before you try to sleep
- Try reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes, again to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that are worrying you
- Write persistent thoughts and worries down in a notebook and then put them out of your mind. Review the notebook in the morning and take action if appropriate.
- Keep the same bedtime. Let your body and mind get used to a predictable routine.
- Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. Some people find that they sleep badly if they drink coffee or cola after 4pm. Others find that if they drink alcohol to excess, they wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep.
Stress and nutrition have always been linked – it’s a fact. Someone with a healthy and balanced diet is likely to be far less stressed than someone with a poor diet.
Healthy, nutritious food and breathing exercises are the simplest methods for relieving stress. These methods are not only cost effective but readily available – and without any side effects. Foods with high vitamin and mineral levels actively help to reduces stress levels.
Certain foods and drinks can aggravate stress. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should avoid some of them completely, just consume them in moderation.
Foods and drinks that can trigger and aggravate stress include:
- Tea, coffee, cocoa, energy drinks
- Fast foods and takeaways
- Butter, cheese
- Meat and shellfish
- Soda, soft drinks and chocolate drinks
- Macadamias, peanuts, walnuts
- Coconut oil
Tea, coffee, cocoa and energy drinks should most definitely be avoided when stressed. They may be refreshing for someone that’s tired but they also contain neuro-stimulators like caffeine and theo-bromine, which are proven to heighten stress. Stress makes you anxious – further stimulation can heighten this anxiety and even cause insomnia.
Junk food and takeaways are always delicious but are a far cry from a balanced and healthy diet. They contain high levels of protein, fats and carbohydrates that don’t contain vital minerals and vitamins, which can induce stress. Reducing stress is all about a balance of the correct vitamins and minerals, so it’s highly recommended to avoid all fast foods and takeaways.
Beverages like soft drinks are packed full of calories that are useless and contain no vitamins or minerals. When stressed, a build-up of carbon dioxide and lactates in the body can result in a condition called ‘acidosis’, which is damaging to health. The high levels of carbon dioxide in beverages aggravates stress, therefore soft drinks need to be considered as an unnecessary addition to your diet. Sugar should be avoided where possible when stressed – stress causes an increase in blood glucose levels, which can in turn lead to a higher risk of developing diabetes. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as there are plenty of foods that are good for helping to reduce stress.
Foods and drinks that can help combat stress include:
- Fresh vegetables – Spinach
- Fresh fruits – Blueberry’s / oranges / avocado
- Fish - Salmon
- Soups - homemade
- Yoghurts – live natural
- Herbal products
- Wholegrain bread / pasta
- Nuts – pistachios / brazil / almonds
- Stress – busting foods and how they work.
Fresh fruit and vegetables provide an array of vitamins and minerals that are great for reducing stress. Vegetables also have a high fibre content, which is helpful in treating constipation – another long term effect of stress. Spinach is especially good as it is full of magnesium which helps regulate cortisol, which leaves us when under pressure, causing headaches and stress.
Fish such as mackerel contain omega fatty acids, which are extremely good for the heart and can protect you from heart diseases. Fish also contains choline – a great memory booster. Eat 3oz at least twice a week.
Yoghurts provide minerals including calcium, essential to maintain well-functioning nerve impulses. Calcium also contains lactobacillus, which is essential for maintaining effective gut flora (microorganisms that help you to digest food properly).
Herbal items such as Dandelion, Chamomile, and Passion flower to name but a few, will relax both the body and mind.
Oats boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical, as do brazil and pistachio nuts.
Complex carbohydrates prompt the brain to produce more serotonin, such as wholegrain cereals, bread and pasta. They also help stabilise your blood sugar.
Before bed eat a light snack of complex carbs – such as wholegrain toast with a banana. This will speed the release of serotonin and help you sleep better, but don’t eat anything too heavy as it can cause heartburn and keep you awake!
To keep stress to a minimum, design a meal plan for the day that incorporates a big meal in the morning, something relatively light for lunch and another light meal in the evening. Salad before your evening meal with fruits and yoghurts after is a sure way to satisfy your appetite.
When under intense stress, it is very natural to withdraw from the world and concentrate exclusively on solving the problem that is causing the stress. Sometimes this is a useful and appropriate reaction.
Often, it is not. This is particularly the case as the projects you take on get bigger and bigger. One person working on his or her own simply cannot achieve tasks beyond a certain size. Similarly, many stressful situations cannot be resolved without the help of other people.
We all have networks of people who can help us solve problems. This network extends professionally and socially, as well as including our family and public services. Within your organization, your professional networks include relations with your boss, mentors within the organization, colleagues, your team, previous colleagues and organizational support services. Outside your organization, they can include professional contacts, clients, suppliers (who may provide services that specifically address the problem), professional organizations, trades unions, trades associations and many others.
Your social networks obviously include your friends, clubs and social organizations. Your close and extended family is obviously important.
Finally, there is a raft of state and independent organizations whose purpose may be to help you solve the problems you are facing.
These people can give help and support in a wide variety of ways, including:
- Physical assistance: This can be financial or direct help, or provision of useful resources.
- Political assistance: Other people can use their influence and personal networks on your behalf to help with the situation, for example, by persuading other people to move deadlines, change what they are doing or help directly.
- Information: People may have information that helps in the situation or solves the problem, or may have personal experience that can help you. They may have solved the problem before, or may have seen the problem solved elsewhere.
- Problem solving: Similarly, they may be able to help you to think through how to solve the problem. Just explaining a problem clearly to someone else can bring a problem into focus so that the solution is obvious. Alternatively, other people may have problem solving skills you do not have, or may just be fresh and unstressed enough to see good alternatives.
- Reassurance: People can give emotional support and reassurance when you may be starting to doubt yourself, can help you put problems into context or can help you find solace elsewhere. Others can cheer you up when you are feeling down.
When you are under pressure, make sure that you ask for help when you need it (when appropriate, of course).
Having said this, it is worth being cautious in asking for help from people. People can help, but they can also hinder. They may unknowingly give the wrong advice or may inadvertently waste your time leading you down blind alleys. Pragmatically, if someone is going to help you, they need to have the resources you need. These might be experience, connections, or good judgment, as well as the obvious resources of time, money or willingness to help.
People can also tire of giving support if it is asked for too often. This is particularly the case when they have to deal with someone who is persistently negative in outlook. It is much more satisfying to help someone who is actively trying to solve problems than it is to try to help someone who seems to have already given up. People can also tire if support is a one-way process. You also need to provide a reasonable level of help and support to your friends, family and colleagues, particularly to the ones who help you the most.
However stressed you are, you need to keep talking to people and building your relationships with them. There are very good, practical reasons for having fun with people you like!
Research shows that risks to our health can be categorised in the following way:
Hereditary = 18% of all risk to health
Environmental = 18% of all risk to health
Healthcare = 10% of all risk to health
Lifestyle Choices = 54% of all risk to health
Conclusion – The best way to manage our health is to manage the choices we make in the way we live our lives.
Managing our Psychological Outlook
Our psychological outlook can have a great bearing on how well we manage stress. Our outlook is simply a matter of how we perceive our daily lives, this is important because stress is our reaction to real or perceived threats.
Our perception to a great extent determines our experiences. People who expect to find problems at work or at home often find them. Once characteristic of generally successful people is their optimism, the fact that they look for solutions not problems.
The Worry Factor
- 40% of what we worry about never happens
- 30% of what we worry about is beyond our control
- 20% of what we worry about is trivial
- 10% of what we worry about is within our control