6 Tips to Fight Stress Before It Becomes a Perfect Storm

Dealing with stress is especially important during a pandemic.
Stress is all around service members. (Photo by Spc. William Hatton/7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, photo illustration)

​Stress makes us stronger physically, mentally and spiritually so it is not all bad.  However, stress becomes chronic if not dealt with properly or metabolized over time. Consider stress like a perfect storm of events that can hit all at once and break the strongest of wills.

Stress physiologically wreaks havoc on the body. The same thing happens to your body when you are stressed at work or have a family issue as it does when you are in an emergent fight-or flight-situation. However, when in an emergency, usually you are able to exert yourself physically to help relieve the stress hormones that are rushing into your bloodstream that some say is equivalent to 5-6 Red Bulls.

In a nutshell, adrenaline and cortisol are some of the stress hormones that affect our response to a stressful situation, but stress also can affect our health long term if not dealt with properly. When at a home office or cubicle during work, it is difficult to exert yourself physically in order to reduce these stress hormones.

Don't get me wrong. There are good things that come out of stress hormones, such as getting pumped up for a presentation or competition or the rush of adrenaline before a fitness test. These hormones help you perform better, but after several years of not actively adding in recovery periods, you will break physically, emotionally or both.

Long-term issues resulting from dealing with stress properly include:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Increased body fat

  • Decreased immunity

  • Uncontrollable mood and attitude

  • Decreased muscle tone

  • Decreased sexual desire

We never will make stress completely go away, but you need to attack stress on many different fronts, just as it attacks you daily. Here is how to beat stress at its game before it becomes a perfect storm:

Sleep: The number one recovery tool is sleep. If you are missing out on sleeping 6-8 hours each day, it does not matter how perfect your diet, exercise program and home/work life balance is. You still can see the chronic side of stress very quickly. So get some sleep.

Nutrition: Eat protein-rich foods like meat, nuts, eggs and beans, The amino acids will help you metabolize the catabolic effects of stress. Just as a protein shake or​ meal after a hard workout helps you recover, it also does the same for stressful days. Also add fruits and​ vegetables rich in antioxidants to help aid in recovery and deal with the formation of cell-destroying free radicals developed from stress.

Hydration: Stay hydrated with water and make sure your electrolytes are balanced, especially if you are in arid environments or sweat profusely during the day. Add in more Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts, oils or pill form. These have natural inflammation-reducing benefits that will help you battle stress as well.

Caffeine: Reduce caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. All three are diuretics (dehydrate you) and can alter your mood and produce many of the same stress hormones you are trying to deal with. Yes, these three increase stress.

Breathe: Find time to relax and breathe deeply. Taking deep, relaxing breaths will slow your daily stress and anxiety easily and naturally. Take a few moments each day to laugh or cry. Both are natural stress relievers and produce stress-relieving hormones, just as sex does.

Exercise: By far, exercise is the best remedy to fight a stressful day. Many like to exercise after work. This is a great way to burn off the stress, even if it is as simple as a 20-minute walk before or after dinner. However, exercise also causes a temporary increase in cortisol, which can leave you a bit jittery if you are trying to go to sleep within an hour or two of exercising.

So if you exercise in the evening, arrange it so that you will have 3-4 hours before you are trying to fall asleep for a more restful night. *Note: Your cortisol levels actually will be lower in a few hours if you exercise than if you skip working out.

The bad news is that stress can attack you on many levels -- from traffic in the city to even thinking about stressful events in the past or future. Once it grabs hold, you have to attack back, using not one or two of the methods above but all of the methods to help you relieve stress properly.

Stress is natural -- not all bad -- but can come at you when you least expect it and from all angles so you have to have several weapons to fight it.

If you have several of these symptoms, take a good look at your daily schedule and find out what is out of balance. This game of stress is a delicate balance of hormonal responses from the speed-up and slow-down sides of our autonomic nervous system. Even though they are automatic responses to life that are difficult to control, we can control how we deal with stress with some serious thought and action.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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