How to Beat Stress with Healthy Eating and Exercise

How to Beat Stress with Healthy Eating and Exercise

By: David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.S.N., Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

You probably know someone who’s undergoing a stressful situation. Perhaps you’re dealing with one right now and are looking for ways to cope and manage. Stress affects everyone; it’s actually a natural response for how our brains and bodies react to demands or stressors. But learning to manage stress is important to our overall wellbeing.

According to the annual Stress in America report by the American Psychological Association, money and work continued to be a significant stressor in 2018. One interesting finding, however, was an increased tolerance for stress across all generations.

Truth be told, not all stress is bad. In fact, stress is part of our evolutionary “fight or flight” response, a way to defend ourselves against sudden danger or threats. Our body’s reaction to stress helps us feel more alert, focused, and motivated.

The key is to manage stress efficiently. If left unchecked, chronic stress can take a toll on our minds and bodies.

Managing Stress Through Healthy Eating

Our immune systems require adequate amounts of sleep, exercise, and good nutrition. Unfortunately, long-term stress can lead to fatigue and negatively impact our moods, making it difficult to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Many people tend to overeat during times of stress, turning to foods that are quick and comforting but often loaded with fat, salt, and sugar. And if you’re overusing caffeine or having caffeine in the evening to boost your mood and energy, that can backfire by disrupting your sleep.

Being mindful of what you eat, especially during stressful circumstances, can help you manage stress levels and change the way you respond to it.

Here are a few reminders for healthy eating:

Avoid Mindless Snacking

High-calorie comfort foods can stimulate the release of certain chemicals in the brain that make us feel rewarded, but only in the short term. They also make us want to keep eating, and in a vicious cycle, overeating can lead to weight gain, which increases psychological stress. Sugary treats like ice cream might also give you a temporary feel-good moment, but it’s always followed by a crash.

If you feel the need to eat, reach for nutritious, hard, and crunchy foods that can help relieve stress by putting tight jaw muscles to work. Better alternative snacks include almonds, soy nuts or baby carrots.

Eat Regularly and Don’t Skip Meals

When you’re stressed, it’s easy to put off meals or even skip them altogether. As a result, your mood and energy levels will suffer. Blood sugar levels can fall, leading to increased stress. If stress is an appetite-killer, try eating smaller amounts of food more often during the day.

Also, remember to keep mealtimes pleasant and separate from work or other sources of stress. If you’re eating at a desk while you work, or paying bills while you eat dinner, something’s got to give. Take a little extra time to slow down and relax while you eat. That way, you’re likely to eat less and enjoy it more.

Managing Stress Through Physical Activity

Whether you feel like it or not, exercise is a great stress reliever. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that naturally make you feel good. For some people, gentler, low-intensity workouts such as yoga, Pilates, or a relaxing walk in the park are the best remedy for stress. Others prefer high-intensity workouts such as sprinting and running.

The point is, choose the exercise that makes you feel good and accomplished. Also, don’t discount the value of working out with a friend or family member. Working out with someone can keep you motivated and accountable, and the social aspect could also relieve the isolation associated with psychological stress.

In addition to exercise, you can also plan fun activities. Looking forward to something can help boost your mood. Perhaps it’s time to take time off to go hiking at a national park – or it can be as simple as planning a bowling night with friends or family. Just as long as you plan to get out of the house for a little while, it can make a difference in the way you feel.

Don’t Forget About Sleep

When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies release more cortisol than usual. Cortisol is a stress hormone, which in excess can have us looking tired and stressed out. Sleep helps our body go into repair mode, renewing our cells. This is vital for our entire body, and a good night’s rest can help relieve psychological stress.

Collectively, nutrition, exercise, and sleep promote better health, and while they won’t take away the stressful situations, they can help you better manage stress levels and achieve a better overall wellbeing.