To begin, let’s explore the foundation of a positive, low-stress lifestyle. This foundation is made up of three building blocks: diet, sleep, and exercise. No stress reduction program will be successful in the long term unless you have this solid foundation.
Related: Stress Management Course
For many people, meals have become an afterthought, made up of fast food, and frozen items in boxes. Most adults know what they should eat – they just don’t eat it. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States estimated that less than a quarter of adults get their recommended serving of fruits and vegetables each day.
Sticking to a healthy diet is a key part of managing stress. Giving your body the proper fuel will give you the energy you need to battle the harmful effects of stress. Remember, garbage in, garbage out!
Any changes in diet, sleep, and exercise must be lifestyle-oriented. There are no quick fixes. With this in mind, set small goals for yourself. Perhaps this week your goal will be to eat a piece of fruit every day. Or, perhaps you’ll swap out that lunchtime burger for a salad.
Remember that progress is very individual. Don’t expect yourself to start eating like an Olympic athlete as soon as you make the decision to improve your lifestyle. Celebrate each healthy choice: every time you say no to that bag of chips, every time you choose vegetables, every time you eat a smaller portion. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you make an unhealthy choice; just focus on doing better the next time.
Finding time to take care of our bodies is another challenge many of us face. Exercise is an important part of stress reduction for many reasons, including:
- Exercise makes you stronger, and therefore more resilient to stress.
- Exercise helps clear your mind, reducing the harmful effects of stress.
- Exercise can help you work out the negative emotions that can result from stress, such as anger and frustration.
- Exercise can also give you time alone to think through stressful situations.
There are two main ways to approach exercise: thirty minutes per day, or three to five one-hour sessions per week. If possible, try to find some activities that you enjoy. If you are having trouble finding the time to exercise, try these tips.
- Take a walk at lunch.
- Walk or bike to or from work, if possible.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. (You will be surprised at how many extra calories you burn!)
- When watching television, use commercial breaks to do quick exercises, such as crunches, planks, or stretches.
- Stand when talking on the phone. (This will also help your muscles stretch and prevent muscle tension.)
Remember, diet, sleep, and exercise are all lifestyle changes. Start slow, build your commitment steadily, stay positive and focused, and you’ve got a recipe for success!
The last building block of a healthy lifestyle is sleep. We know it is one more thing that you may not have time for. Trust us; you don’t have time not to sleep!
Here are some scary statistics taken from the 2010 Sleep in America poll (performed by the National Sleep Foundation, based in the United States).
- 43% of adults stated that they had a good night’s sleep almost every night. An additional 25% say that they get a good night’s sleep a few nights a week.
- The average person needs 7 hours and 18 minutes for a good night’s sleep, but receives only 6 hours and 40 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, but over the course of the year that’s about 230 hours of sleep debt!
- 28% of adults stated that sleepiness interfered with their daily activities at least a few days a month. 5% reported that it does so almost every day.
- About a quarter of adults have driven while drowsy.
Try these tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Use your bed just for sleeping – not for reading, watching TV, working, etc. Likewise, try to sleep just in your bed, not on the couch or in the armchair.
- Make your bedroom a comfortable place, with curtains to keep light out, an appropriate amount of blankets, and no noise or distractions.
- Try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day.
- Have a routine before you go to bed. A cup of tea, a few stretches, a few moments of meditation, a warm bath, and quiet music are all great ways to relax.