8 Easy Ways to Beat Stress

Practical solutions for stopping stress in its tracks.

You’re exercising, eating healthy meals, and snacking smart, at least most of the time. But when you get stressed out (and who doesn’t!), you may be tempted to mindlessly munch on whatever’s on hand — which of course can derail your diet if it happens too often. The solution? Stop stress in its tracks and stay focused on your weight loss goals by adopting some workarounds.


  1. Don’t skip meals and snacks. Choose foods that will fill you up and keep you energized and that may have a calming effect. For instance, almonds are a good source of magnesium, which can positively affect the production of mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain. Spinach also contains magnesium, so treat yourself to a spinach and mushroom salad with up to 2 tablespoons of a healthy dressing. Eating three meals a day, and at least two snacks, is important for keeping your blood sugar stable. When you skip meals and snacks, you can be subject to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can make you weak, irritable—and hungry.


  2. Get moving. Studies show that exercise enhances mood by affecting neurochemicals in the brain involved in the body’s stress response. Even moderate exercise seems to reduce stress, so it pays to start moving. Plus, it’s amazing how much better you will feel just by getting out of the house for some fresh air and sunshine.


  3. Spell it out on paper. If you try to beat stress with food, writing down what triggered the stress (and what you ate at the time to combat it) in a food journal will make you more conscious of your stressors and have a positive effect on your diet. Instead of using food for comfort, you'll soon learn to substitute deep breathing or a quick walk instead.


  4. Breathe deeply. Anyone can learn deep breathing, and it’s free! Not only does it relax your muscles, it decreases your blood pressure and your heart rate. While there are any number of techniques you can use, one called abdominal (or belly) breathing is particularly effective at increasing the supply of oxygen to your muscles and brain and thus reducing stress. You can find instructions for this technique online, but basically, you’ll sit in a comfortable, quiet place and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, letting the air move down into the deepest part of your lungs. As you do so, your abdomen, right below your ribcage, becomes fully expanded. Pause briefly and then exhale fully through your mouth. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale. Inhale and exhale about 10 times, keeping your breathing smooth and regular throughout.


  5. Take a music break. Research indicates that relaxing music reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, decreases anxiety, blood pressure, and heart and respiratory rates, and may even have positive effects on sleep. Many people prefer classical music for achieving a sense of calm, but you should listen to whatever music works for you. CDs with bird songs, or the sound of ocean waves, can often be as soothing as music.


  6. Enjoy some scents. Aromatherapy can be an effective stress reduction technique, and certain aromas, like lavender, bergamot, vanilla, and rose, are especially effective for enhancing relaxation. You may either inhale an aroma, or apply it to your skin in the form of a lotion or an oil. Read labels carefully before applying, however, as some should not be applied full strength.


  7. Get yourself into some hot water. Maybe it’s a long, steamy shower or perhaps a relaxing bubble bath. Either way, the warm to hot water can be extremely relaxing for both your muscles and your mind. So go ahead, run a tub and don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some bath salts. Then watch those cares go down the drain.


  8. Go for a massage. Besides feeling great, a massage can be effective at reducing muscle tension and stress, some research shows. So next time you feel anxious, and maybe get the urge to start eating for comfort, call your nearest spa and splurge on a massage instead.

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Jennifer K.

Jennifer K. Lost 110 lbs with The South Beach Diet!

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