As I talked about in the last post, April is National Stress Awareness Month. We have already looked at bad behavioral habits that develop when we are stressed, and how we can replace these with good habits, but what about bad eating/drinking and reward-seeking habits that we may notice in ourselves?
What NOT to do…
- Binge eating junk/comfort food.
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Using pills/drugs to relax
- Drinking lots of caffeine
When stressed, hormones are released which increase appetite and the desire for rewards, so people often develop bad eating/drinking habits such as those listed above. Unfortunately, these habits have negative effects on health and on our brains- only making matters worse.
So how can we stop these bad habits? Start by reading the previous blog post, which discusses identifying the cause of stress and how to deal with it. Next, try to replace bad eating and drinking habits. It’s certainly not easy, but here’s what you SHOULD do…
We are drawn to sugary and fatty foods or ‘comfort’ food when we are stressed because our body is seeking enjoyment, and these foods are a reward. Focusing on restrictions and ‘dieting’ only causes us to binge more, which increases our stress.
So try focusing on addition. Which nutritious foods can you add to your daily diet? Try new, healthy foods each day, and get a variety from different food groups- whole, natural foods. Try to find a a balance, and don’t try to be perfect all the time, if you occasionally want a treat, then have one, but make sure you really enjoy it!
If you find yourself wanting food when you’re not hungry, try to do something else- go for a walk, or catch up with a friend, something active.
Alcohol, smoking or drugs can make people feel relaxed, and we may find that we turn to one or more of these things when we feel stressed. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, or taking drugs, however, can have extremely negative effects on our health, and in the end will cause much more stress.
Replacing these with a healthier habit will help to relax us in a way that really works. Come up with a list of healthy ways to relax. Perhaps taking a hot bath with candles and essential oils, going for a walk, spending time in nature, reading a good book, exercising, listening to music or watching a comedy. Try to do one of these things every day, even if you’re feeling good.
Stress can make it hard to focus and make you feel drained and fatigued, and many people find themselves drinking more caffeinated drinks when they feel like this. However, caffeine increases production of stress hormones, so regular intake will lead to chronic levels of stress hormones in the body.
Too much caffeine will make it difficult to focus, increase feelings of anxiety, and inhibit production of a calming amino acid called adenosine. Additionally, an increase in cortisol levels over a prolonged period of time can lead to weight gain and inflammation. So what can you do instead? If you want to cut down caffeine, be sure to do so slowly, as withdrawals will be uncomfortable!
Try cutting it down gradually, perhaps slowly replacing it with decaf alternatives. Make sure you get enough sleep, rather than relying on caffeine to keep you awake! Dehydration can also cause fatigue, so try simply drinking more water! And lastly, think about the causes of your stress, and deal with the problems, rather than simply the symptoms such as tiredness or lack of focus!
I hope these 2 posts about stress have helped you, there’s definitely some useful tips that I will be taking on board!