In my first term of University I lived in self-accommodation halls. Unfortunately, I only knew how to cook spaghetti bolognese; boil and scramble eggs; and beans on toast. Consequently, I was a frequent patron of the local fast food restaurants, especially the fish and chip shop.
Years later, I decided to learn Diet and Nutrition and found that my poor eating habits meant that my blood sugar levels were constantly fluctuating which affected my mood as well as concentration. I was fortunate to have two different teachers: a meat eater and a vegetarian, whose diets could not have been any more different. The emphasis, though, was on a varied diet; three meals a day with snacks in between. Each meal should include some protein, carbohydrates as well as fats (preferably essential fatty acids). Protein foods release energy at a slower rate than carbohydrates and therefore sustain blood sugar levels for longer: a key principle of the GI (Glycemic Index) diet – designed for diabetics but relevant to everyone! Essential fatty acids – which can be found in oily fish and some nuts and seeds – are linked to cognitive brain function. Clearly this can help a person deal with negative stress. Water, like certain foods containing some of the B vitamins, has also been shown to increase cognitive brain function.
Here are some tips on eating / drinking when under stress and in general:
- As our digestive system slows down when we are stressed (blood is diverted to other areas of the body such as the muscles to deal with the ‘fight or flight’ response) it is recommended to eat small meals so that the food won’t ‘sit’ on your gut.
- It is important to eat every 3 hours. Our brains and bodies need the fuel!
- We need to chew our foods. The stomach does not have any teeth: IBS is linked with poor eating.
- Take a minute to allow our bodies to prepare for food. This is done automatically by some religious people.
- Focus on eating and drinking; avoid any distractions such as television or continuing to work during your lunch break.
- Eat food that is rich in nutrients and vitamins.
- Avoid stimulants. This includes caffeine.
- Record your eating and drinking habits in a food diary: what you consume, the time and why. This can show you how often you are eating as well as what food and drink your body can crave and the effect it can have.
Diet and nutrition encompasses an abundance of information and some of which I will share in a separate blog post; in the meantime, if you are interested to read more on nutrition then I recommend you obtain the book, The Optimum Nutrition Bible by Professor Patrick Holford. There also plenty of easy-to-follow books found in charity shops. Here is a link to see a version of the Glycemic Index: http://www.the-gi-diet.org/lowgifoods/.
A holistic approach to stress management does not stop at diet and nutrition. Sleep is an important factor and so is time management. Scientists show that sleep deprivation can lead to bad decisions. I watched a documentary on the soldiers of the first golf war relating to their lack of sleep. During this war 35 US and 9 UK soldiers were killed under friendly fire. Lack of sleep clouded their judgement.
Sleep deprivation can:
- Affect decision making and memory loss due to the non-activity in the frontal cortex.
- 6 days of sleep deprivation is the same as aging.
- Chronic poor sleep can equal brain damage and accelerated dementia.
- Increase fatal accidents: 2am to 6am is the most vulnerable time for drivers to fall asleep.
I found this link on the amount of hours needed each night of particular interest: http://helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm#hours
Techniques to combat sleep loss:
- Put worries to bed early
- Warm milk
- Laughing – Laughter Therapy
- Suppressive techniques, e.g. counting sheep or going through the alphabet naming countries, musicians, etc
- Repeat a word at irregular intervals while trying to sleep
- Replacing negative worries
- Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help treat insomnia as well as severe stress
Time management effects our stress levels, for instance disorganisation can make us stressed. Here are some tips:
- Set realistic targets; delegate if appropriate.
- The ABC System – in three columns titled A, B and C place things that need to be undertaken. The most important things should be in column A, and then B and those that can wait into column C. Eventually things in Column C will in turn be in column A.
- If you struggle to get started on some of the important tasks then to break those down into bite-sized bits (sub tasks) can really help. Identify the first sub-task in the sequence. Even if you have a few minutes of free time spend that time on a sub-task. You can tell yourself that since you will only need to spend a few minutes on it, it won’t matter if you don’t enjoy it.
- Make a daily to do list – set priorities again using the ABC system.
- Start with ‘A’s not ‘C’s.
- Keep asking: what is the best use of my time right now? Better to spend 10 minutes thinking about an ‘A’ than doing a ‘C’.
- Do it now! Do something as this can start the momentum.
And finally on this subject the concept of Type A and Type B personalities. Type A’s are always in a hurry. They try to fit too much into their day. Type B personalities will give themselves enough time to get to their destinations, to achieve their goals, etc.
Lastly, sometimes we just need to relax! Meditation or yoga is fantastic for clearing our minds. Also, a technique called the 7-11 breathing can help:
1) Take a deep breath and as you do count to 7 in your head (or up to 5)
2) As you breathe out count to eleven in your head (or up to 9)
3) Do this as many times as necessary to feel relaxed
I hope you enjoyed my blog posts on stress management. You might also find my blog post on happiness helpful.