To date, this series of columns has described the what, why and how of stress:
What stress is (positive and negative);
Why different stressors (situations, events etc.) affect people differently; and
How stress affects us physiologically – ie what it is doing to every major system in our bodies and why we should be concerned!
We explored a technique to help identify major stressors in your life and then started to talk practicalities in terms of managing those stressors and building your personal resilience. Self-development on any level – be it a skill, knowledge or health issue – starts with self-awareness. If you have followed these columns to date you should now have a greater self-awareness of how excess negative stress is manifesting itself with you physically, cognitively, emotionally and behaviourally. If you are ‘in the green’ – that’s great!
However, if you are in the majority who have been surprised (shocked even) of how negatively stress is impacting your wellness, read on as we delve back into the stress management toolkit and extract a few more tools.
Sleep à we described why sleep is so critical in a previous column, indeed, latest research coming out of the USA has medical insurers paying for their members to visit sleep specialists to learn how to sleep better, in much the same way as we would visit a nutritionist to learn how to eat more healthily.
- Your bedroom needs to be cool, dark and quiet. Light activates certain hormones in our bodies that aid falling asleep and waking up (namely melatonin and serotonin). We also form strong unconscious associations with places – make sure you associate your bedroom with sleep (and not working on the monthly sales report on your laptop!).
- Routine – go to bed and get up at the same time. This helps reinforce the sleep-wake cycle.
- Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep. If you are still awake after 20 minutes of tossing and turning, get up and do something mundane like fold your t-shirts or pair your socks up. Then try again.
- Log off. You are used to shutting down your computer and in some ways we need the same ‘logging off’ process. Do not engage in mentally stimulating activity at least an hour before bed. Meditate, pray or just sit quietly reading some popcorn literature.
Diet à We are essentially made up of squishy pink bits and chemicals (no, I didn’t take biology in High School) so what we add to our bodies has a direct impact on how we operate and feel. Certain foods/chemicals are known to aid a good night’s sleep and others are known to hinder it:
- Alcohol may well help you fall asleep, but it has been proven to interrupt one of the stages of sleep we need to go through to have good quality sleep.
- Foods high in the amino acid tryptophan are known to aid the serotonin – melatonin production cycle (hence promoting the sleep-wake cycle as well as the production of what is arguably the key hormone responsible for positive mood – serotonin). Tryptophan is an essential amino acid – i.e. the body cannot synthesize it and it therefore needs to form part of our diets. Foods high in tryptophan: baked potatoes (with skin), cheese, bananas, eggs, fish, pumpkin seeds, turkey, tofu and yoghurt. NOTE: this is not an exhaustive list and you should always consult with your medical professional before making any radical changes to your diet.
Small, sometimes simple changes can add up to make a significant positive difference. Try one or two of the listed suggestions, feel the benefits, celebrate them and then try a few more.