We all experience stress and anxiety on occasion (some of us more than others as our personality predisposition), but there are situations in our life 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 simply doing too much and trying to be superwomen/men day in day out.
Often, we might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with our emotions, such as drinking, smoking, avoiding exercise, overworking or overeating unhealthy comfort foods or sugary treats. While a Sugar Detox might necessarily not be possible during these times, we can still take our health into our own hands and a few simple steps to manage our mindset to get through times of uncertainty, overwhelming stress and anxiety.
Focus on 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 more difficult to feel grateful for what we DO have in our lives. Focusing on what we can be grateful for, even if it’s the simplest of things, can be an easy, immediate tool to take us out of our “woe is me” spiral. Sure, everything might not be particularly rosy one hundred percent of the time, but life’s ups and downs are a part of life. How to put this into action? You can keep a gratitude journal where you write out your thoughts, or you can compile a simple gratitude list. You can tell other people why you’re grateful for them by sending them a note or a card. You can post daily on your social media pages to be a positive inspiration to others. Or, you can create a gratitude jar with slips of paper with notes of what you’re grateful for each day. Seeing how many things in your life you are grateful for add up is 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 but taking a break from the constant feed of doom and gloom and 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 the situation from an objective observer’s lens. Plus, 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. Find ways to get accurate information (as much of what is displayed in the media may not be the facts), take what works for you and disregard the rest.
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 FaceTime 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.)
Practice the Pause
Stress, anxiety and worry not only raise our cortisol levels, causing weight gain and obesity1 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 comfort foods, high in refined carbohydrates and added sugar, you’re only fueling the cycle of cravings. The perceived dopamine hit you get from carbs and sugar is unfulfilling and short-lived and usually makes us feel terrible about ourselves afterwards.
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 matters most. When you find yourself craving sugary foods when you’re stressed out, or in the midst of 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.
Focus on what you CAN control
It’s human nature to want to have control over our lives for a sense of security, but it’s not possible to control everything that touches us as human beings. If you DO have control over something that’s making you anxious or unhappy, then you need to own up to it and take action to change it. The power IS within you to create the life you want and hiding behind your excuses will only continue to hold you back from the health and happiness you deserve. On the other hand, if you are overly anxious about aspects outside of your realm of control, which is often the case, it’s better to realize that fact and let them go because the weight of the world will literally bring you down.
1Hewagalamulage, S., Lee, T., Clarke, I., & Henry, B. (2016). Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity. Domestic Animal Endocrinology, 56. doi: 10.1016/j.domaniend.2016.03.004
Beth Romanski is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and founder of MyHealthyTransitions Health Coaching. Beth emphasizes the concept of bio-individuality and personalization in her practice; specializing in guiding her clients design their unique Personal Nutrition Blueprint, breaking free from “one-size-fits-all” diets that don’t work. With her supportive and motivational style, Beth provides an educational approach to empower clients with the knowledge and simple tools necessary to promote healthy lifestyle changes that are effective and sustainable, creating lasting results with ease. As a sugar detox expert, Beth has helped countless people overcome the sugar and carb stronghold to balance their blood sugar naturally using real, whole foods through her popular Wellness Warriors Sugar Detox Program. Beth is the creator and co-host of the Wellness Warriors Radio Podcast, a recognized sugar detox expert, published blogger, and professional health educator as Director of Professional and Continuing Education at Maryland University of Integrative Health. In addition to 1:1 and group health coaching, Beth has developed several wellness courses and frequently presents workshops and lectures on nutrition and living a healthy, balanced life. Learn more at www.myhealthytransitions.com.