Healthy habits at home
Stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat.
But ask anyone with even the slightest medical knowledge about how most Australians respond to tension or anxiety and they’ll tell you it’s by sacrificing sleep, exercise or nutrition or worryingly, a combination of all three.
But there are a number of small steps you can take at home to keep your health on track in uncertain times without having to compromise your physical or mental wellbeing.
The Sleep Health Foundation (SHF) says inadequate sleep can make our feelings of anxiety and stress seem worse.
Not being able to think clearly or make sensible decisions can make it difficult to concentrate at school or work. In turn, we can become upset, angry and irritable more easily – all of which can negatively impact our relationships with family, friends, neighbours and in our workplaces.
SHF says the best way to reduce the worry and improve our chances of a good sleep is by maintaining a regular sleep/wake routine.
If the worry is still on your mind as you are getting ready to go to sleep, sit down quietly, think about what the issues are and how you might deal with them tomorrow.
It may help to write things down, the SHF suggests, including a list about what you plan to do about them during the next few days.
“Sleep is like a butterfly. You cannot reach out and grab it and catch it. If you stay quiet and still, the butterfly will come to you. It is the same with sleep. You cannot force yourself to go to sleep, so do not try. Simply allow yourself to be relaxed and quiet, and sleep will come to you.”
While exercise is a form of physical stress, it can also relieve mental and emotional stress. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School (HMS) aerobic exercise is just as important for your head as it is for your heart.
It is common knowledge that mental stress can also produce physical symptoms but if done consistently, aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your organs, and your spirits.
It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress, HMS says.
“The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts.
Ideally, you should exercise nearly every day. That doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym or training for a marathon. But it does mean 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise such as utilising nearby parks or your complex’s common areas for some walking or gentle stretching, or taking to your lounge room for some deep breathing exercises.
The third component of the holy trinity of good practices that can help you manage stress is food – or more specifically, good nutrition.
In addition to healthy guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine, there are many other dietary considerations that can help relieve anxiety.
One such example of this is complex carbohydrates. Unlike simple carbohydrates, contained in processed foods such as biscuits or potato chips containing a lot of sugar, complex carbs metabolise more slowly therefore can help maintain a more even blood sugar level, in turn creating a calmer feeling.
Timing also plays a part. Try never to skip meals as doing so may result in drops in blood sugar which may cause you to feel jittery and worsen any underlying anxiety.
It may also be worth giving your fridge and pantry a good clean out to burn some excess energy during times when your anxiety levels are high.
If you have to dig through a lot of items just to gather the ingredients to make a dish, it’s going to be inconvenient for you to create healthy meals and you may resort to easier, less nutritious options, thus repeating the cycle. And it’s a vicious cycle.