De-stress Your Lifestyle

De-stress Your Lifestyle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress


De-stress Your Lifestyle



In times of stress the resolve to live a healthy lifestyle is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside. I mean, have you ever tried to stick to a sensible diet when you’re under an intense deadline or after an upsetting spat with a co-worker? Most people don’t reach for a carrot to calm jitters in these kinds of situations.

Actually, overeating is a perfect example of how stress breeds some of the worst lifestyle behavior. A lot of emotional eaters use food as a form of self-medication, literally soothing feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and sadness with too much food. On a chemical level, stress increases output of the hormone cortisol, which stimulates cravings for fatty, sweet and salty “comfort” foods. And for some, stress eating has been their go-to coping mechanism since childhood and might even be considered a family tradition.

Other weak moments tend to follow similar patterns for similar reasons. Anyone with an undesirable health habit will be the first to admit that stress and vice seem to go hand in hand — and round and round. One of the most common reactions to a highly stressful episode is indulgence in the wrong things. This weakens the mind and body in a myriad of ways that open the door to additional stress and in turn, ups the urge to overindulge again. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.

I definitely think it’s worth taking a look at your lifestyle practices as part of any serious stress reduction effort. Healthier living is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to cope with stress and counteract its negative effects. In fact, it’s essential. I think all of the storytellers in this chapter would agree! So let’s review some basic changes that can make a significant difference in how you respond to life’s pressures.


Clean Up Your Act

Obviously food isn’t the only way people self-medicate. Smoking, excessive drinking, drugs and self-harming behaviors are other common less-than-healthy coping mechanisms. Self-medication is an attempt to relieve problems such as anxiety, pain, sleeplessness or perhaps the symptoms of something bigger such as clinical depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The benefits of self-medicating are usually short lived while the additional problems it stirs up are potentially long-term and highly destructive.

Are you concerned that your self-medicating may be getting out of hand? If so, ask yourself the following questions: Has anyone ever questioned your self-medication? If you told your doctor about your self-medicating behavior, would she question it? Does your habit of self-medicating cost you more money than it does ten other people you know? Do you need more of the substance or activity each time to get the soothing benefit? Is self-medication disruptive to your relationships, work or other major aspects of your life? If you answer yes to any of these questions, I recommend you speak to a professional to help you get your behavior — and stress — under control.


Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

Just as stress weakens the resolve to be healthy, it can also sap your ability to enjoy life. Busy, stressed out people report having less time for their families, hobbies, sex with their partners — or really, any fun at all. That’s a shame because there’s a scientific notion that doing something pleasurable can do more than just bring you pleasure.

A brand new area of research shows how enjoyment reduces stress by inhibiting the brain’s anxiety response. Catherine Ring Saliba with her ladies at the gym and Malinda Fillingim with her Lady Gaga are good examples of how this works. As for the research to back this up, when University of Cincinnati researchers fed rats tasty foods or gave them free access to the opposite sex they had lower levels of stress hormones and slower heart rates than rats that weren’t allowed to live the high life. The happiness benefits lasted for seven days.

True, humans aren’t rats. But the researchers believe the same rules apply to people. Taking some time to do something for the sheer joy of it can turn out to be a pretty effective way to blow off some steam. Even the simple act of getting in a good belly laugh on a regular basis has been shown to significantly decrease stress hormones.

I realize that in this productivity-driven, multitasking world of ours it’s hard not to feel a twinge of guilt when you stop for 15 minutes to read a book or take a walk “just because.” Do what Lisa McManus Lange eventually did — ditch the guilt and do it anyway. Having a hobby, a passion or even just time for yourself will allow you to decompress and tune into something other than your problems.


Sleep It Off

If you lie awake at night tossing and turning, replaying negative thoughts over and over, stress is definitely taking a toll on your health. An occasional sleepless night or one extra-long nap probably won’t do you in but it won’t do you any favors either. A recent University of Pennsylvania study found that subjects who slept only 4.5 hours for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, their moods improved. Numerous other studies reveal that persistent sleep problems hamper your ability to deal with stress as well as affect problem solving, memory and a host of other cognitive functions.

On the flip side, feeling agitated isn’t conducive to sleep. Stress often translates into being aroused, awake, and alert, which is why people who are under constant stress or who have abnormally exaggerated responses to stress tend to have sleep problems. Difficulty with sleep is often the first sign of depression or some other mental issue.

Experts aren’t sure what the magic sleep number is for health and stress reduction. Research indicates that it’s probably somewhere between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night but what’s optimal can vary widely for each individual. If you frequently feel groggy and unrefreshed and feel this hampers your ability to manage stress, it’s worth addressing your problems with sleep.


Sweating Off Stress

You may recall that in Chapter 6, I explained how stress activates the sympathetic nervous system’s flight-or-fight response to elevate heart rate, spike blood pressure and increase blood flow. Our ancestors depended on this reaction to flee the physical dangers they faced on a daily basis but in today’s world this reaction usually has nowhere to go, so instead it churns through the mind and body wreaking physical and mental havoc.

Exercise is one of the few ways we have of clearing the chemical byproducts of stress from the body. In essence, it provides the opportunity for flight — or if you practice a discipline like martial arts, fight — and this helps restore the body’s systems to their pre-stress state. Some experts also believe that exercise promotes the release of endorphins, the so-called happy hormones that elicit tranquil feelings; however, current research has shown this effect may not be as powerful as was once thought after the first few weeks of regular activity. One new theory that deserves further attention is that the positive stress of exercise prepares cells, structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms.

It really doesn’t matter why exercise beats stress since it’s crystal clear that it does. Studies correlating stress levels to health status find that fitter people are more capable of managing stress than people who don’t move on a regular basis. And in surveys gym rats usually report lower levels of stress than couch dwellers. Many people experience immediate mood improvements after a single, moderately paced bout of exercise. More lasting stress reduction benefits appear to kick in after just a few weeks. A consistent exercise routine is probably what helped Rachel Moore adjust to being the family’s breadwinner.

The research indicates that cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging and swimming works best for calming the nerves, but I suspect this is because it’s the type of exercise most often examined in studies. As scientists turn their attention to the stress-busting benefits of stretching, strength training and stop-and-go activities like tennis, I think the evidence will mount in their favor too. Most experts recommend doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity you enjoy as many days of the week as possible.


Edible Stress Busters

Though there’s some solid evidence certain foods help neutralize stress, I’m a little skeptical of stress busting diet plans. There’s no proof that putting specific foods together in a specific combination will magically melt away negative emotions and thoughts, any more than they will melt away pounds. That said, I do believe it makes sense to load up your diet with foods that give you a fighting chance of fighting stress — and living a healthy life.

Different foods help counteract stress in different ways. Some reduce stress by raising the level of feel-good hormones that help you feel calm while others lower the levels of stress hormones that rattle your nerves. Others contain natural sedatives such as tryptophan or nutrients that enhance your autoimmune response, counteract cell damage or reduce blood pressure. Some good examples of edible stress relievers: Foods high in vitamin C such as blueberries, oranges, and leafy green vegetables have been shown to help reduce tension. Studies indicate that fish, walnuts and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help fight depression. Peaches, poultry and dairy all contain different types of natural sedatives that may help reduce anxiety. Also, anything that’s high in fiber (fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains) can help regulate blood sugar to prevent mood swings. In general anything that’s good for your body in others ways will help combat stress.

Many foods can help mellow you out but not all of them in a healthy way. Simple carbohydrates, fats and super salty treats may serve as comfort foods in the moment; however, they can lead to weight gain and poor health sapping your defenses to deal with stress in the future. Studies provide a strong hint that the magnesium and other substances found in chocolate keep you happy but too much of a good thing will dump an excess of fat, sugar and calories into your diet. (Dark chocolate is the best choice since it’s lower in fat, sugar and calories than other chocolates and also boasts the highest levels of feel-good chemicals.)


Chicken Soup for the Stressed-Out Soul

Grandma was right when she told you there is nothing more soothing than chicken soup. Now she has the science to back up her words! In a recent experiment, University of Buffalo researchers discovered that feeding someone a steaming bowl of chicken soup helped decrease feelings of loneliness and reminded people about close relationships. I love this research and I’d like to suggest chicken soup can nourish your stressed-out soul in many ways.

I’ve created a recipe here for you (with the help of my friends at chock full of antioxidants, vitamin C and other stress-busting nutrients. Why not cook a pot for yourself — or better yet, to share with your loved ones — on a regular basis?

Think about how relaxing it is to stroll down the aisles of a supermarket or farmers market, selecting these wonderful, health-giving ingredients. Picture lovingly chopping, dicing and preparing the recipe. Imagine the delightful smell filling your home as the soup simmers on the stove. Now, dress your table in its finest tablecloth, china and silverware. Add a fresh loaf of bread from your local bakery. Then sit down and share the goodness of your creation with the people you love. Has there ever been a more beautiful ritual for easing stress and reaffirming all that it is important in your life?

Chicken Noodle and Sweet Potato Soup

This chicken noodle and sweet potato soup is a stress-busting powerhouse. It’s loaded with veggies rich in antioxidants and fiber to keep you feeling your best all the time.

Serves 6

Serving Size: 2 cups


16 oz low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 chicken bouillon cube

1 cup sweet onion, chopped (contains flavanoids, polyphenols, chromium, vitamin C, and fiber)

1 1/2 cups celery, chopped (contains vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, folate, fiber, and molybdenum)

1 1/2 cup carrots, chopped (contains carotenoids, polyacetylenes, vitamin C, and fiber)

1/2 pound chicken breast, cooked and diced (contains protein, niacin, selenium, vitamin B6, and phosphorus)

6 oz egg noodles

1 medium sweet potato, diced (contains vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber)

1 tsp garlic, minced (contains manganese, vitamin B, and vitamin C)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp rosemary, fresh (contains compounds that have been linked to increasing blood flow to the brain, improving concentration)

1 tsp thyme, fresh (contains vitamin K and iron; considered to have healing effects because of carvacolo, borneol, geraniol, and thymol compounds)

Pepper, to taste


1. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a stockpot.

2. Add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pot. Sauté for approximately 2 minutes or until onions become translucent.

3. Add the chicken broth, bouillon cube, garlic, rosemary, and thyme to the pot. Bring ingredients to a steady boil.

4. Add the chicken breast and the noodles to the pot. Cover and let simmer on medium-high heat for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

5. Sprinkle with pepper.

6. Serve and enjoy!

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 140.5 kcals; Total Fat: 6 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 grams;

Carbohydrates: 17.7 grams; Fiber: 2.4 grams; protein: 5.1 grams;

cholesterol: 11.9 milligrams; sodium: 165 milligram. (49% Carb, 14% Protein. 37% Fat)

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