Eat, sleep, live
The correct sleeping and eating habits can go a long way to reducing your stress levels and enabling you to deal with life’s daily grind.
To date, this series of articles has described the what, why and how of stress: what stress is (positive and negative); why different stressors (situations, events, and so on) affect people differently; and how stress affects us physiologically – for example, 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 articles 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 part of the majority, who have been surprised (shocked even) at how negative stress is impacting your wellness, read on as we delve back into the stress management toolkit and extract a few more tools:
Previously we described why sleep is so critical in maintaining overall physical, mental and emotional health. Indeed, latest research coming out of the United States 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. Some tips are:
• Your bedroom needs to be cool, dark and quiet. Certain types of light activate 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 folding your t-shirts or pairing your socks up. Then try again to get to sleep.
• 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.
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 and 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. The body cannot synthesise it and it therefore needs to form part of our diets. Some foods high in tryptophan are baked potatoes (with skin), cheese, bananas, eggs, fish, pumpkin seeds, turkey, tofu and yoghurt. This is not an exhaustive list and you should always consult with your medical professional before making any radical changes to your diet.
• Try not to eat at least two hours before going to bed.
• Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Keeping yourself “fuelled” or maintaining your glycemic index (GI) helps keep hormones balanced and hence mood, energy and mental acuity.
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.
The next article will offer some more practical tips and techniques to assist with stress management and your personal resilience-building.
FREE Personal Stress Assessment
Don’t forget to take your confidential stress self-awareness survey – compiled by several doctors and business executives. Go to www.vitalstest.com – enter sheq759 as the “employer code” and follow the simple on-screen instructions. Towards the end of this series of articles we will bring you the aggregated results; but don’t worry, your confidentiality is assured – your answers will be known only to yourself.
Richard Hawkey, author of Life Less Lived and founder of equilibriumsolutions, spent many years pounding the corporate treadmill until literally falling off; diagnosed with burnout and clinical depression. Now, Hawkey has combined his general management and leadership experience with lessons learnt from mismanaging stress, to become a self-styled anti-stress evangelist. He specialises in identifying stress in oneself and others; the personal and professional impacts; and how one can break out of the negative spiral and emerge vigorous and vital to realise quantifiable benefits.