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Unhealthy Ways We Manage Our Stress




Yesterday, we learned there are many ways to manage our stress but what does managing stress with unhealthy habits look like?


How does it show up in our life when we aren’t taking care of ourselves?


And what can we do to begin practicing healthier behaviors?


First, let’s start with something simple and that is restful sleep of at least 7 hours.


One of the first stress-related changes you may see is an impact on your sleep which in turn effects your mood during the day, your attention to detail, and careless behaviors that potentially lead to accidents at work. A continuous lack of sleep may eventually cause symptoms that look like a mood or brain health disorder, some as severe as signs of dementia! That’s how important our sleep is as it’s the time our brain and body heals and restores itself in preparation for the next day. It is a time to recover.


Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the first step you can take to managing your stress. Our smart phones have great built-in tools to help you manage and track your sleep habits. Get off screens at least an hour before bed and listen to some soothing music or even play a bedtime story on an app like Calm.


If you wake up too early and don’t quickly fall back to sleep, go on and get out of bed. Ugh, I know! Read a book (not the news), play some music. Go for a walk in your neighborhood. Meditate or pray if you are so inclined. Quieting your mind is crucial to restful sleep. DON’T check email. If you write, start a journal or diary to check in with how you are feeling. Oftentimes, purging your mind of whatever is troubling you is a great way to manage your stress and you may see an improvement in your sleep! Establishing a morning ritual that is just for you is also a proven technique to healthfully manage your stress and improve your sleep habit.


Aside from poor sleep habits, we often engage in other unhealthy behaviors to deal with our stress. We may even self-medicate to manage our stress or “lift our spirits” through:


·       Food

·       Alcohol

·       Gaming

·       Social media

·       Misusing prescriptive and using non-prescriptive drugs


The high is always temporary and the after-effects are usually negative, which only continues the cycle of living with stress.


What are some alternatives to these obvious stress managers?


Food

Continuously engaging in unhealthy eating habits can lead to many harmful effects on our bodies, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even depression. Did you know that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine? That’s why our craving for sugar is so strong because we are addicted to it, with sugar it’s all or nothing. And it’s in a lot of our foods. Unfortunately, moderation doesn’t really work here. Whole foods are the best. The least processing, the better. Eat fruit in place of candy or a smoothie in place of ice cream. Eating a piece of fruit instead of a fruit juice provides the fiber our bodies need for a healthy gut and is more filling with less sugar than a bag of M&Ms.


Use your food as energy and nourishment, focus on eating fruits and vegetables to receive the benefits of their natural healing properties. Make a brightly colored salad for dinner with meat on the side (if you eat meat), consume healthy grains, like quinoa and brown rice, and then have a smoothie for dessert. Swap out your soft drink for water or an iced herbal tea. Your body and cholesterol levels will thank you!


Drinking

I know that a cold beer, a glass of wine or a margarita sounds like a really good idea after a long and stressful day. Doing that every day isn’t moderation though. It’s drinking every day and there are better ways to deal with your stress. Daily drinking may lead to stroke, heart and liver disease, certain cancers, packs on unwanted pounds, and definitely impacts your mood. Not to mention the hangover you have the next morning as you get ready to come to work. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation, which is 2-3 drinks a week, not a drink or 2 a day.


Sometimes we practice moderation and often that doesn’t work with alcohol, no matter how much we want it to and try our best to do so. If you can’t drink in moderation or tend to binge drink on the weekends, then it may be time to reflect and decide if drinking is the choice for you anymore. There are many free resources including our EAP, SupportLinc that can help you quit drinking and learn more effective ways to manage your stress. Go for a walk instead of going for a drink. Pick up a new hobby or revisit an old one. Call a friend.


Did you know that as we get older our bodies no longer process alcohol like it did when we were younger due to hormonal, enzymatic and other changes our bodies experience as we age. If you really like the taste of beer or wine, go for an alcohol-free alternative – there are some really great choices out there now! And if you like to go to the bar with your friends and alcohol isn’t a temptation for you, try a club soda with lime if you’re subconscious about not drinking. Feel free to talk to your HR team as some of us live the sober life and are happy to talk more about it!


Gaming

Gaming is an easy escape from reality, but if it’s done in excess, it may be time to ask yourself, what am I escaping from? If it’s your life, find someone to talk to about why you are happier online than outside. Reach out to your company EAP for help on what is causing you to check out. Limit your time on your games, limit your screen time to an hour a day and a few hours on the weekend and then go outside for a walk along the river, a hike in the woods, a drive in the country, or spend time with your family and friends. They will be happy to see you! Again, it is all about moderation and finding a healthy balance for you and also eliminating the stressors in your life.


Social Media

The same advice for overdoing gaming goes for social media. Delete the apps off your phone as a starter. Going to the web browser to get on Facebook, Insta, and the bird app will slowly but surely tame the habit. And TikTok, rarely even lets you watch a video unless you are on the app.


We get a dopamine hit every time we hop on social media or games. Today, that is what the apps are built to do and boy, does it work. 10 minutes somehow turns into the whole evening gone by! If you get your news from social media, try going to several news sources with different perspectives (such as CNN, Fox, MSNBC, BBC, Al Jazeera) and using critical thinking skills then make your mind up on how you feel on particular topics. Even better, stay off the news and stick to what’s happening in your community where you have the greatest reach and impact. Reach out to your friends via phone and connect with them rather than following their feed. Creating stronger connections with your community is the ultimate stress manager out there.


Overusing prescription drugs

Misusing your prescribed medication is a bad decision that truly may be a life-or-death choice, for yourself or someone else. We recommend that if you are misusing your prescription drugs to seek help to stop today. Again, there are free resources available to you in your community and through your EAP.


We know that prescription drugs are prescribed to help treat our medical conditions. We also know that some of these drugs are over prescribed, especially pain medication resulting in dependencies that are very tough to break. If we mix our prescribed painkillers or anxiety meds with alcohol that is a recipe for disaster. And something that was originally meant to help you has now harmed you.


If you think you have a problem or want to talk to someone, please reach out to your community, your church, your family, and your friends and let them know you need some help. If you are experiencing any dependency, trust me, they know it too and will welcome the opportunity to help you.


And remember, if you need any guidance on resources for self-care, a licensed clinician is available to you for FREE via EAP.

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