Think of a stressful event – a fight with your partner, an extra demanding day at work, children driving you crazy, a tight deadline. How do you make yourself feel better?
If you answered treating yourself to ice cream out of the tub, pouring a large glass of wine, or breaking out the lollies, chips or chocolate, chances are you’re one of the many people who reach for comfort foods when life gets stressful.
Comfort foods are so aptly named because they reconnect us with memories we value. We can envelop ourselves in the sense of familiarity, comfort and sometimes even safety. While food plays an important role in our social interaction, the distraction that mindless eating provides is short lived and on the whole, never really as satisfying as we think it will be.
If you’re reaching for food to try to comfort yourself through times of stress or distress, it’s time to consider some new emotional management strategies.
Here are a few you can try.
Sweat it out
Celebrity trainer Bill Phillips was right on when he said: “Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug and exercise is the most potent, yet under-utilised antidepressant.” Research shows that exercise has great mental health benefits, helping to reduce tension, improve alertness and concentration, decrease levels of stress hormones, boost your mood and improve your sleep.
So when the stress-odometer starts rising, try heading out for a run or brisk walk to release some tension, or calm yourself with slower and more meditative exercise like tai chi, qui gong, or yoga. And to cope better with stress every day, factor exercise regularly into your week.
Hit the pause button
When we’re stressed we can get caught up in the ways things have played out in the past or catastrophise about what the future holds. The best place to be is here, in the present, and the best way to refocus to here and now is to practise mindfulness.
Take a moment to focus on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose, fill up your abdomen, hold it for a few seconds and breathe out through your mouth. As you repeat this pattern start relaxing your tensed muscles, your clenched jaw and hunched shoulders – become aware of where you’re holding your tension and let go.
You can also get creative with mindfulness – colouring in for example is another great way to de-stress.
Break it down
Feeling overwhelmed? Forget the finish line – break down the task at hand into bite size pieces and focus only on completing each step, one at a time.
Flip your self talk
When you’ve had a demanding day, it is easy to believe negative self talk about your abilities. Interrupt the internal barrage and focus on your strengths instead. Make a list of all the things you are good at, and all the things you are grateful for. It helps put all your stresses back into perspective.
Take it outside
Ecotherapy (also called nature therapy) encourages us to spend more time outdoors to relieve stress and ease anxiety. Finding just five minutes of green time each day can benefit your mood, and well as giving you the opportunity to practice mindfulness and top up your Vitamin D.
Life is going to challenge you. Next time you need some help coping, step away from the fridge and try these positive and more effective ways to manage stress.