By Beth Romanski
In today’s overscheduled, more-is-better, faced-paced world, we often feel unfairly controlled by stress and overwhelm. The “disease of being busy” has left many of us feeling burned out, stressed out, frazzled, unproductive, and unhappy.
Without discounting life situations that can raise our stress levels, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, challenges at work or a job loss, unexpected health diagnoses—or a global pandemic—many of us are in a state of chronic stress simply trying to be a superhuman day in day out.
Lacking proper tools to move through stressful situations and foster resiliency, we may find ourselves turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with our emotions, such as drinking, smoking, avoiding exercise, overworking, or overeating processed foods or sugary treats.
During an extended global pandemic where our “normal” lives are disrupted, we can also feel a sense of ongoing anxiety from the unknowingness of what the future holds for ourselves and our loved ones.
By taking a proactive approach, we can still take our health and wellness into our own hands and a few simple steps to manage our mindset to adapt through times of uncertainty more easily, better manage stress and avoid burnout. A few simple shifts can move us from a place of merely surviving to one of greater resiliency and thriving.
Maintain an Attitude of Gratitude
When we feel a sense of irritation with a disruption of our schedules or a sense of scarcity due to fear of the unknown or a loss, it can be challenging to feel grateful for what we DO have in our lives. Focusing on what we can be grateful for, even if it’s the very simplest of things, can be an easy, immediate tool to take us out of our brain’s internal ruminating spiral. To be perfectly frank, everything might not be particularly rosy one hundred percent of the time, but life’s ups and downs are a part of life and the one thing you can control is how you react to circumstances.
How to put this into action in real life? You can keep a gratitude journal where you write out your thoughts daily, or you can compile a simple list of things your grateful for as things come to your mind. You can tell other people why you’re grateful for them by sending them a note or a card. You can thank a stranger for a kind act. You can post daily on your social media pages be a positive inspiration to others. You can close meetings by sharing what everyone is grateful for in that moment. Or, you can create a gratitude jar with slips of paper with notes of what you’re grateful for each day and read them at the end of the month.
Simply seeing how many things in your everyday life you are grateful for add up can be an instantaneous boost to your mood.
Turn off the News and Social Media
It’s wise to remain aware of what’s happening in the world and to care about important issues, but taking a break from the constant feed of negativity can bring us back to the present and realize what’s really happening in our own lives. Taking a certain level of detachment can be helpful, looking at situations from an objective observer’s lens. You can’t act on your own health and wellbeing goals without taking time to disconnect from the media messages to focus on YOU and your own reality. At a time when technology can keep us connected, a brief break from technology and a few minutes in nature can be a tremendous mental boost.
Schedule Time to Worry
Most of us have experienced repetitive thoughts that take us in a spiral of worry. As a result, we usually have a difficult time focusing during the day and sleeping at night when we’re concerned about a situation or encounter. Meditation, yoga, exercise, participating in a hobby or craft, getting out in nature or engaging with others in a phone call or virtual chat can all be helpful healthy strategies to divert our attention during times of anxiousness. Distractions can be useful strategies to take our mind off the issue that’s making us uneasy, but in addition, intentionally scheduling time to process these thoughts and getting to the root cause of our emotions so they don’t continue to damage our mental wellbeing can be ironically liberating. Ideally, this “worry time” will not be right before bed, but if you do find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts, you can keep a small notebook at your bedside to write them down to get what’s on your mind out during the night. (Usually, when you wake up in the morning these fears are much less monumental.)
If you find it impossible to sort through your worrisome thoughts or anxious feelings yourself, working with a licensed counselor or a trained Health Coach can be beneficial, as we can help you identify the underlying issues and a positive plan to move through them with ease.
Practice the Pause
Stress, anxiety, and worry not only raise our cortisol levels, causing weight gain and obesity along with a myriad of other chronic health issues, so it’s not something to take lightly if you find yourself in this state the majority of the time. If your stress is tempting you to turn to unhealthy processed foods, high in refined carbohydrates and added sugar, you’re only fueling the cycle of cravings. The perceived dopamine hit you get from refined carbs and sugar is unfulfilling and short-lived and usually makes us feel terrible about ourselves afterward.
While following a specific dietary plan may be the perfect solution to give you the structure you need to manage your healthy eating choices, you don’t have to add more stress to your life to eat healthfully. My personal mantra is that “Being Healthy Doesn’t Have to Be Hard” and that small changes can add up to BIG results.
In my opinion, emotionally eating is a strategy that is nuanced and not always “bad” – truthfully, I feel it’s more about your awareness and intentions when eating certain foods that matter most. When you find yourself craving sugary foods when you’re stressed out, or during a sugar binge without thinking, you can take a very simple step and practice a 4-step PAUSE.
- Put the food down
- tune into your Awareness
- Understand the real cause (i.e. your boss just sent you an urgent email with an impossible deadline)
- State your feelings
- Engage in 4 deep breaths to put a stop to the mindless eating you started.
Providing our bodies with nourishment from real, whole unprocessed foods is a form of self-care, which is needed most during times of stress and anxiety. Buffering your emotions through food is never the satisfying solution and tuning into your actions and the reasons behind them is the first step to ending the cycle of self-sabotage.
In addition, if you’re overeating (or undereating) due to stress and anxiety, you may want to consider keeping a food journal for a short period of time to be more mindful of your intake and nutritional choices. Or, you might want to follow a more personalized or formalized meal plan working with a nutritionist to take the impulse option off your mind. If you need accountability to keep you on track, working with a Health Coach is essential as a guide and partner to stick with your healthy habits!
Focus on What You CAN Control
It’s human nature to want to have control over our lives for a sense of security, but the reality is that it’s not possible to control everything that touches us as human beings. The one thing we do have control over is ourselves, our choices, our behaviors, and our minds. The power is within you to create the life you want – hiding behind excuses will only continue to hold you back from the health and happiness you deserve.
Self-care includes self-compassion, self-awareness, and reflection. When we focus on our own health and wellbeing it can often feel like an impossible indulgence, but self-care doesn’t have to be daunting. The tiniest of shifts like turning off your digital notifications, eating lunch away from your desk, taking a 2-minute stretch break, or setting boundaries with yourself and others for when you’ll be checking email and responding to messages can bring immediate relief. If you find yourself overly anxious about aspects outside of your realm of control (which is often the case) it’s time to take action to reduce your stress-cycle by keeping your focus on the essentials and letting the rest go.
Action item: Make a list. What is the biggest source of your stress? Could you do anything to revolve them? What brings you joy? How can you incorporate more of that into your life? Commit to making yourself a priority for even just a few days, and you may just find a ripple effect in multiple areas of your life.
In closing, please rest assured you are not alone on your wellness journey. We all need support systems from time to time and staying connected to others can be the difference between staying stuck where you are or living the life that you’re meant to live as wellness warriors.