This National Stress Awareness Month, it’s time to put our daily habits under the microscope – you might be surprised at how much the little things can help.
April is the month for stress awareness – though given how widespread and impactful the issue is, it’s worth extending our efforts to manage stress throughout the year. One survey found 26% of participants concerned that this year will bring even more stress than the last – and with excessive commitments to juggle like work, family, finances and health, who can blame them? You might find yourself feeling the same way – and the research shows that the more stressors we have, the harder we find it to cope with instability in our lives. It’s a no brainer, right? The problem is, many of us are stuck with these mounting elements of stress in our lives. That’s why we’ve collated a few super simple methods to cut your stress down and make life just that little bit more manageable.
But first, what is stress? We’ve all felt it but let’s unpack what’s actually happening in our bodies. Stress is a hard-wired response that can be useful to us in the short term, but long-term stress is damaging, destructive and contributes to the development of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Stress can show up in the body in a number of physical ways as well – take a look at some of the manifestations it can hold:
- Hair loss
- Aching or tense muscles
- Brain fog and poor concentration
When we’re stressed, our adrenal gland releases cortisol and epinephrine – otherwise known as the “stress” hormone and adrenaline, respectively – along with a hormone known as norepinephrine. All of these move through the blood stream, resulting in a blood-pressure increase. That’s not all cortisol does – it can also lead to dysfunction of the blood vessel’s inner lining and increase our appetite and cravings for sugary, high-carb foods. Ever notice how you rush for the chocolates when stress drops in for a visit? There’s also a change in activity in the brain – the autonomic nervous system is triggered, leading to a knock-on effect in the gut. You might notice you experience that “nervous stomach” feeling – better known as butterflies – but in the long term, you can be left with gut issues like constipation and food sensitivities. The hippocampus – the part of the brain that plays a role in memory function – can become damaged as a result of long-term stress. That’s why keeping the stress to a minimum is vital for short-term and long-term health.
How, you ask? It's believed that it takes just 30 days to form a habit – hence an entire month being dedicated to stress awareness! – so take a look at some of our easy stress-management techniques and get practising for long-term change.
Spend time in nature
Spending time in nature can lower stress-boosting cortisol and leave us feeling calmer and more serene, with a study showing that just 2 hours a week spent outdoors can significantly improve both mental and physical health. That’s just 17 minutes a day! Nature exposure has proven so beneficial to our health that it’s even utilised as a therapy – this growing field is a holistic form of treatment that can encompass everything from star-gazing to spending time with animals, cleaning our environment and walking through forests. It offers an alternate avenue for managing the symptoms of mental health conditions, which have only been bolstered by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate anxiety. With anxiety prevalence reaching 7% globally and 3.3 million Aussies experiencing this condition, we have a mental health crisis on our hands.
Plus, with 30% of Aussies not getting enough vitamin D, it’s worth getting outside for a bit of sunlight. This vitamin is essential for bone health and mood regulation – including our ability to manage stress. Exercise is another important element in reigning in stress – not only does it help us regulate our breathing and heart rate, it’s known to reduce anxiety and stress in the long term. It also contributes to improved sleep – especially if we exercise outdoors in that melatonin-boosting early morning sun – which, in turn, improves our ability to manage stress. Why not kill two birds with one stone and combine exercise with nature? Try heading out for a walk in your nearest park or nature reserve, you might even enjoy swimming outdoors – but, for some with a fear of open water – sharks and jellyfish, anyone? – this could prove more stressful than helpful! Pick an activity you know you’ll enjoy and feel comfortable with.
Meditation is another effective way to reduce stress – particularly as it helps stimulate the Vagus nerve; a nerve which regulates a number of bodily functions from digestion to heart rate and respiration, along with being a significant contributor to our mental wellbeing. It’s been proven that by stimulating this nerve, we can reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system – this then drives those “rest and digest” feelings of calmness, preparing us to engage in low-stress activities, unlike the sympathetic nervous system which prepares us for those “fight or flight” moments. Unfortunately, many of us have a hard time switching the latter off! That’s where meditation can be so beneficial. To start, find a quiet place to sit or lie down and breathe deeply, focusing on your breath. As thoughts come up, acknowledge them and then let them go – you don’t have to ignore them, but let them pass on through and refocus on breathing. By acknowledging them, they lose their power, much like the pink elephant! Deep breathing exercises can be so beneficial as it allows our brain to have some space from stressors that are not involved in the task at hand. We also know that it can help reduce a racing heart and get us back into that “rest and digest” place.
Cut out added sugar
Did you know excess sugar consumption is a major contributor to stress? One study found that people who drank 2 soft drinks a day had cortisol levels 22% higher than those who skipped the sugary beverages. Then we’ve also got the aspect of gut health – we know that excess sugar consumption can throw our gut microbiome out of whack and promote the growth of bad gut bacteria. Where does mental health come into this? There’s a reason the gut is known as our “second brain”, and this is because our gut relies on those same neurotransmitters, meaning that poor gut health can jeopardise our mental health, with studies showing an unbalanced gut microbiome spikes our risk for mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression. It also plays a massive role in skyrocketing our stress levels! Why? Because it promotes the release of that stress hormone we mentioned above – cortisol.
Need a hand getting your sugar habit under control? We’re here to help. Join us for the 8-Week Program and we’ll help you change the way you look at food – and that doesn’t mean you have to follow restrictive diets or miss out on your favourite foods; we believe you can still enjoy delicious food without jeopardising your health. With celebrity chef Sarah Glover on our panel of experts, you’ll have an array of fun recipes at your fingertips, along with our own exclusive armoury of simple, tasty and healthy recipes for everything from daily meals to impressive entertaining. We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
- Community forums to share your journey.
- Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
- Exclusive content from our panel of experts.
So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!