Updated 31st July 2023
Stress and how to manage it
Whether you’re worried about money, going through family issues, or just feeling burned out, managing stress can be difficult. It can also have a major impact on your quality of life.
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to danger or situations where you feel overwhelmed.
Short-term stress can be a valuable tool to motivate you or help you react quickly to danger. However, if the stress continues over the longer term, it can impact your health and wellbeing.
Long-term, or chronic stress is linked to several mental and physical health problems, including high blood pressure, anxiety, exhaustion, insomnia, aches and pains, and a weakened immune system.
Thankfully, there are things you can try that may help reduce stress and prevent some of the long-term effects.
Physical activity releases endorphins and other hormones that improve mood. But exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to help. For example, even a short walk can help you process thoughts and feelings and reduce stress.
Exercise also offers long-term benefits for your physical and mental health beyond immediate stress reduction.
Choosing whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables can help boost your gut microbiome — the trillions of bugs in your gut, which can directly benefit your mental health.
When you are stressed, your body produces epinephrine and cortisol. These hormones can stimulate the release of glucose into your blood.
Although it's normal for glucose levels to rise and fall throughout the day, if your blood sugar is consistently too high, it can damage your body over time.
ZOE’s scientists have shown that everyone responds differently to food. Our at-home test can show you how your blood sugar and blood fat levels change after eating different foods. We also analyze your gut microbiome.
From this information, ZOE can provide you with personalized nutrition advice to help you move toward your long-term health goals.
If you want to learn how your body responds to food, take our free quiz today.
3. Relaxation techniques
Whether you choose mindfulness practices, meditation, or yoga, there are many ways to relax that can get you grounded and help you process negative emotions.
Once you learn these techniques, you can use them whenever you feel stressed, wherever you happen to be.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends the simple technique outlined below. You can do it lying down, standing, or sitting in a chair that supports your back.
If you are lying down, have your arms by your sides with your palms facing up. Your legs can be straight, or you can bend them at the knee so that your feet are flat on the floor or bed.
If you’re standing or sitting, have your feet flat on the floor, roughly hip-width apart.
Make yourself comfortable.
Breath deeply into your belly without forcing it.
Count to 5 as you gently breathe in through your nose — don’t worry if you don’t make it to 5.
Breathe out gently through your mouth while counting to 5.
Repeat for 3–5 minutes.
Although some stressors don’t have a quick solution, taking the time to talk it out with a friend or family member you trust can make a big difference.
Talking about your problems can help you reframe your perspective and remind you that people are there for you. Studies have observed that when people socialize with other familiar people, their cortisol levels are lower.
Sometimes simply putting your feelings into words can help dissipate them. But even if you don’t talk about your problems directly, spending quality time with a friend or family member can boost your mood and promote relaxation.
While talking with your friends and family can be beneficial, sometimes you might need help from a professional.
A therapist can help you develop stress management skills and process difficult emotions. They might also help reframe your thinking patterns to manage stressful situations that are out of your control.
There is a wide range of therapies that can help deal with a variety of mental or emotional issues; they include:
cognitive behavioral therapy
mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
If your to-do list overwhelms you, finding motivation can be hard. And the longer you go with too much on your plate, the worse you’ll feel.
One way to improve your time management is to identify exactly what is needed to accomplish a task, schedule the steps, and check things off as you do them.
Setting work boundaries and taking breaks between shifts also helps develop a good work-life balance.
You can also benefit from spreading stressful tasks throughout the day or over a certain period of time.
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7. Leisure activities
Making time for hobbies and breaks is important and can reduce stress. The key is finding an activity you can get lost in, so you can take your mind off your worries and engage in something that absorbs your focus.
The authors of a study that looked at leisure activities and stress explain that they can build a “sense of resilience” and help prevent stress from building.
Even a single night without enough sleep makes most people grumpy. Sleep is a critical part of your physical and mental health, and even losing a small amount of sleep at night can affect your focus, memory, and mood.
Ways to improve your sleep include:
get enough exercise during the day
set a consistent bedtime
reduce your caffeine intake
make sure your bedroom is dark and relaxing
avoid large meals close to bedtime
Some people find that avoiding screen time before bed can help, too.
Research has also shown that poor sleep can impact your gut microbiome. Conversely, having more “good” gut bacteria can help you sleep better.
ZOE’s research has shown that poor sleep can even affect how your blood sugar levels respond to breakfast the next day.
If you would like to learn about the bacteria that live in your gut and how your blood sugar levels respond to food, start by taking our free quiz today.
If you are struggling to handle stress and the tips above don’t work, there are people who can help.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, there are plenty of resources online.
Stress evolved to help people get through dangerous situations, and short periods of stress can be beneficial. However, chronic stress can greatly impact your mental and physical health.
Exercise, healthy eating, and talking it out can help you cope. Taking time for yourself and working with a therapist may also have long-term benefits. It might help you manage current stressors and be prepared to handle upcoming stressors.
Your mental and physical health are intimately linked, and reducing your stress can improve your mood, boost your energy, and help you feel better in your body.
Ready to learn how to eat the right foods for your body? Take ZOE’s free quiz today.
Breathing exercises for stress. (2018). https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/breathing-exercises-for-stress/
Building resilience to stress through leisure activities: a qualitative analysis. Annals of Leisure Research. (2017). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/11745398.2016.1211943
Choosing a provider. (n.d.). https://www.mhanational.org/choosing-provider
Easy time management tips. (n.d.). https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/tips-and-support/time-management-tips/
Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports. (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31436595/
Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. (2017). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378512217308563
How leisure activities are the ticket to less stress and better health. (2021). https://uwm.edu/news/how-leisure-activities-are-the-ticket-to-less-stress-and-better-health/
Learning diaphragmatic breathing. (2021). https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing
Mental health services. (n.d.). https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/mental-health-services/
Nutrition and mental health. Clinical Psychological Science. (2016). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167702616641050
Occupational burnout, eating behavior, and weight among working women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2016). https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/95/4/934/4576846?searchresult=1
Stress and Sleep. (2013). https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep
The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing — an experimental study. Pain Medicine. (2012). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21939499/
The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI Journal. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
The protective role of exercise on stress system dysregulation and comorbidities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. (2006). https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1196/annals.1367.020
The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences. (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27995346/
Tips for better sleep. (2016). https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html
Types of talking therapy. (2022). https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/talking-therapies-and-counselling/types-of-talking-therapies/
What are friends for? The impact of friendship on communicative efficiency and cortisol response during collaborative problem solving among younger and older women. Journal of Women and Aging. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34038325/
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