Happy Monday !
Did you know that the majority of work-related illnesses today are due to stress ? Last year only, about 500,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
A little bit of stress is not a bad thing actually. It can help you stay focused and alert during a presentation. But sometimes you get overwhelmed by increasing demands and tight deadlines. When stress exceeds your ability to cope, it starts causing physical and emotional damage. In the long term, it can lead to cardiovascular diseases, memory problems, hormonal imbalances etc...
Cortisol is the hormone that is commonly associated with stress. It is involved in regulating blood sugar and blood pressure and maintaining a healthy immune system and good levels of energy. Excess cortisol however can lead to anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, low immunity, digestive issues etc...
So how can we deal with work-related stress ?
In my opinion, the we think about stress is as important as the source of stress. Sometimes a stressful situation is unavoidable but learning how to control your response to it may be the solution. And this could be down to eating the right foods and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. So let me share what has worked for me when I was myself an employee not so long ago
Nutrition tips :
⦁ Get the most out of your coffee ! Dear caffeine aficionados, read on : caffeine can increase the body’s levels of cortisol but if taken at the right time and in moderation, it can actually have positive effects on mood, alertness and energy. It is best to avoid drinking coffee first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach as it may throw off your natural circadian rhythm (aka your sleep and wake cycle). Instead try to get your caffeine later in the morning but before noon as it can up to six hours for your system to flush it out. Alternatives to caffeine are dandelion coffee, matcha tea, green tea, etc...
⦁ Combine fats, proteins and complex carbs with every meal. Fats are great mood enhancers (nuts, seeds, avocado, almonds, oily fish) and protein helps slow down the release of sugar into the blood (beans, lentils, tofu, fish, lean meat). Also, it is best to choose complex (leafy vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice, millet, oats, barley, and quinoa) over simple carbohydrates because they are slow releasing. Keeping blood sugar levels steady throughout the day will increase the ability to cope with stress. A study published in 2008 by the British Journal of Health Psychology showed a link between resilience and blood sugar levels.
⦁ Up the veggie intake for mood balancing vitamins and minerals. In particular, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, zinc and magnesium are essential. Vegetables are best eaten raw or lightly cooked to avoid destroying unstable vitamins. Eat the skin too if organic as it provides fiber that can also help slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. The winners are : broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, black eyed peas, avocado ( though technically a fruit), asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc...
Lifestyle tips :
⦁ Become a mindful eater. Aim to sit down even for 10 minutes - and even at your desk if you are having a very busy day- and focus solely on your meal. Chew! The action of chewing stimulates the production of stomach acid to support digestion, which is often impaired in times of stress.
⦁ Have some ''me time''. Whether it is listening to a mindfulness talk (Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer), going for a walk after lunch or reorganizing your desk, find 5 minutes per day to do something for yourself that has nothing to do with work. Studies show that not only it reduces perceived stress at work but it also increases sleep quality, focus and job satisfaction.
⦁ Move. Regular exercise pumps up endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters, helps relieve stress and anxiety and can improve sleep. Though HIIT classes are great, they can also put extra stress on the body. Try swapping one of your hardcore sessions for brisk walking, yoga or Pilates. No time ? That's ok, take the stairs everywhere you go.
⦁ Avoid over-committing yourself. Scheduling meetings and other tasks back-to-back can be another source of stress. Learn to make the distinction between what you should do and what you must do.
⦁ Express yourself : Unexpressed feelings can lead to depression. Nowadays, free counselling programs such as the EAP are available to employees in most companies.