Avoid the Stress Trap
No matter what your job or your life story it is inevitable that at some point in your life you will have encountered a stressful situation or two. But exposure to stress can be dangerous and even fatal, with heart attacks, chronic fatigue and strokes being just a few of its consequences.
In fact, stress is now the biggest proxy disease killer in the world and statistics show the number of people claiming to suffer from stress is on the rise. According to our experts altering your response to those stressful situations can help you improve your overall general wellbeing.
Turning to Comfort Food
We’ve all been there. Opening a packet of crisps or having a slice of cake after a long day. But according to Dr. Daniel McCartney, Lecturer in Human Nutrition & Dietetics at DIT you might be doing yourself more harm than good.
“Food like this can lead to higher levels of stress in the long run,” says Daniel. “Burgers, sausages, pies, biscuits, cakes and takeaway foods are all hidden sources of salt whose intake should be minimised.
“Fat intake should be reduced by taking low fat and more vitamin rich alternatives.”
Replace it with: A handful of almonds. The Omega 3 in nuts may help keep stress hormones such as cortisol in check. Other key foods include oatmeal and oranges.
Your caffeine fix
Love your cup of coffee in the morning to get you going? Can’t beat the midday yawn fest without your caffeine fix? It might give you a boost but it’s been proven coffee can increase the bodies level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
“Coffee drinkers should limit their intake (especially strong varieties like
percolated coffee) to two to three cups per day,” advises Daniel.
“As many of the negative health effects of coffee consumption relate to its high caffeine content, decaffeinated varieties are a healthier alternative,” he adds.
Replace it with: Taking a nap. A 20 minute nap can trigger the hormones needed to balance excess cortisol. If you can’t take a nap, try drinking lots of water. Getting used to no coffee will mean you’ll be more alert and energetic.
Turning to booze
The single most popular response to stress is to have a drink. And while no one wants to cut back on being social, the ‘ah go on’ routine might be doing you more damage then you think.
“Women are more affected by alcohol than men are – it’s not sexist, it’s a fact,” says Fiona Ryan, Director of Alcohol Action Ireland.
“You might find you’re happy with how you drink and you might not want to change or you might think your drinking is okay but would still like experience the health and physical benefits of cutting down. Drinking will only deplete your happiness levels in the long run, leading to higher levels of stress.”
Replace it with: Exercise. The endorphins are a natural stress reliever and mood enhancer.
Being a couch potato
Are you a self-confessed couch potato? After a long stressful day with work or the kids, do you like nothing better then switching off by switching on the TV? Fifteen minutes silence or exercise can do you more good then time in front of the box.
“Luckily we don’t need to be running or doing intense exercise in the gym to
improve our health and reduce our levels of stress,” says Daniel. “Most people can get significant health benefits by doing gentle exercise like walking or cycling for 30 to 45 minutes each day.” No more excuses to getting out for that walk, so.
Replace it with: Exercise. “Running can improve our heart health, help us to control our bodyweight and help keep our bones healthy and strong.”
One of the most common reactions to stress is to light up. But smoking actually causes more stress than it relieves. Studies show that stress levels go down after quitting and people who have a lot of stress tend to have a harder time quitting. With up to 6,500 people dying from tobacco related illness in Irelandeach year its worth trying to quit.
“Smokers smoke to satisfy an addiction despite the best efforts of the tobacco industry to present it otherwise” explains Dr Brian Maurer, Chairperson of ASH Ireland.
“One year after stopping, the risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker and within fifteen years, it falls to a level similar to that of a person who has never smoked.”
Replace it with: “Decide to quit and set a date. Ring the Smokers Quitline for some excellent counselling and support (1850 201 203) Avail of nicotine replacement therapies and ask your doctor or pharmacist for help.”