You are on your long-awaited vacation in Hawaii, soaking up the sun, then all of a sudden, you get a text message from your boss. Turns out the report you sent him before you left is wrong. All of a sudden, you are stressed out, and everything around you turns gray.
When I think about stress, I think about emotional health. More specifically, how can I protect my emotional health from modern life’s many stressors?
Just like we all know to put sunscreen before we go out in the sun, or wash our hands to prevent disease, we can all benefit from putting more attention into our emotional wellness as well.
Proactively Stop Stress Before It Begins
Below are common factors you may not be aware of that can lead to stress, and ways you can do to address them.
Get Enough Sleep
“Not sleeping enough has shown to not only affect physical health, but to also have a big impact on our mental health”, wrote Dr. Reba Peoples, in her article on functional psychiatry. As a part of the many health essentials that happen during sleep, the body also regulates the stress hormones.
This simply means that lack of sleep today, may impact your stress level tomorrow. So, before the day even begins, your body and mind are already stressed. The solution is simple, get enough sleep.
Not surprisingly, this area has been extensively studied. For example, a south korean study found a clear link between sleep duration and perceived stress. The shorter the sleep, the more stress. The researchers also commented that when we are under stress, we may need even more sleep to mitigate the stress. Ironically, stress can make us sleep less.
2. Reduce Sugars
If there was a competition for the worst advice ever, I would put my money on the following one. Given by my high school teacher, I was told to eat sugars before exams to help me focus.
As you can imagine, my friends and I didn’t need to hear anything else. We loaded up the snacks, all sort of “healthy” dry fruits goodies and hoped for the best.
Despite having the best intentions, I still remember the stress, anxiety before and during all my high school and university tests. I found myself staring at the questions, praying for my brain to wake up. But, there was nobody at home.
Thankfully, many health expert have already recognized that there’s a problem with sugars, with plenty of evidence that link sugar intake to common mental disorders that goes above and beyond stress. In fact, according to the data, sugar addictions are real. Sugars can affect our behavior and stress levels similarly to drugs like cocaine.
Add to that the blood sugar fluctuations, which can also increase stress, and we have a serious potential cause of stress here, right in every vending machine.
In my case, despite not having diabetes or pre-diabetes, I have learned that eating sugars makes me irritated. At that state, I am much more susceptible to stress. That is, an event that normally would not have any impact on my emotional health, will stress me out to a point of anxiety.
I wish my school teacher knew that. Oh well, water under the bridge.
3. Be Mindful About Your Caffeine Intake
If you read my last post about how to stop drinking coffee, you already know that I am a big coffee fan. Just like many people, coffee has helped improve my mood, energy, focus, and motivation.
Turns out, that coffee does not agree with everyone, however. Coffee or caffeine may may lead to stress and anxiety in some people. In fact, a study that explored this connection, found an association between caffeine intake and stress, anxiety, and depression.
Unfortunately, the study didn’t test the differences between the caffeine sources (coffee vs. energy drinks, for example). Still, if you suffer from stress, you may want to see if your caffeine intake has anything to do with it.
On that note, another thing to consider about caffeine, which I can personally testify, is the amount. My first cup of coffee usually brings me energy, happiness and joy. With the second cup, on the other hand, I often find myself more prone to stress.
4. Avoid Nutritional Deficiencies
Take a look at all the supplements you are currently taking. Do they actually work, or do they cause more harm than good?
Nutritional deficiencies can be very tricky. You take one supplement hoping to fix low levels of let’s say zinc, and as a result, end up with low levels of copper.
It’s a big rabbit hole with a lot things that can get wrong. So, it is best to have your levels tested by a medical professional who can also tailor the supplements to you.
Now, to the stress part. There are number of vitamins and minerals deficiencies, that research has linked to stress, anxiety and other emotional health challenges. In particular, common ones such as: magnesium, vitamin D, and B vitamins.
I personally take all these three on an ongoing basis. A cool benefit of magnesium which I can feel very quickly, is that it also helps with bowel movements, muscle recovery, and when taken before bedtime, promote a good restful sleep.
Is It All In My Head?
Going down that rabbit hole of stress even further, I came across the idea that it’s not the event or thought that cause the stress, but the way we perceive them. Ten different people for example, may react differently to the same event. Some may ignore it, others may find it amusing, and some, may find it stressful.
So, to see how this concept works, imagine that you just had the worst day ever. Your boss at work gave you hell, you had a big fight with your significant other, and your son got a speeding ticket. Again.
A tsunami of thoughts that has the power to completely wash out your mental wellness come. You are stressed out and about to explode.
But, what or who exactly is the one that gives these thoughts such power?
When you think about it, on their own, thoughts have absolutely no power. What makes them powerful, is the attention we give them. Especially, if we believe a thought may be true.
I will pause here, and say that this observation has literally changed my life.
It helped me avoid a lot of stress and anxiety, and made me a much happier person. Knowing that I can control my thoughts, rather than letting them control my life is very powerful.
You are not your thoughts, you are the one who observes them
A practical tool in these cases, which you may have heard before, is to separate yourself from your thoughts. Practice this daily, a few minutes each day, starting with times when you are not stressed. Sit in silence, and:
- Witness thoughts as they come and go.
- Do not reply back with another thought, or give them any attention.
- Do not judge or do anything at all, actually.
Before Stressful Events
You may have a big presentation at work or a test in school, stressful events are a part of life. But, is there anything you can do before?
You can try to calming teas, or natural ingredients such as ashwagandha, tulsi, CBD and others, and see if they help with your stress levels.
I personally love ashwagandha and tulsi, but, rather than using them daily, I save them for times where I know stress may be an issue.
Stress is a part of life. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should just accept living a stressful life. Especially, since multiple studies have shown that chronic stress can lead to many health problems. With plenty of things we can do to avoid and manage stress, we should all make a priority to protect our mental health, so we can live the life we all deserve.