Saturday, November 10, 2012

5 steps to improve your health, particularly during times of stress

"Particularly during times of stress..."?
Exams, I'm looking at you.
For those of you past your school years (a little jealous right now, though I'm sure you'll tell me how much you miss it), you can totally apply these little tips to your daily life. I do even when I don't have exams, essays, and more to do for school!
(Disclaimer: this is one of the reasons why I haven't blogged in so long.)

So, what normally happens during times of school stress? You have 3 essays due within 3 days and don't know which one to prioritize, you have 3 midterms back to back over 4 days (that was me), you have tons of teachers and teaching assistants to see in between, you still need to find time to sleep... (What was that thing we used to do? Sleep? Hmm, I don't recall...)

Anyways, as you can all expect, your body gets all out of whack from all this stress, whether it's from school, work, or family-related issues. Adrenaline spikes up not only right before and during an exam, but in the week before while studying, while discussing the class material with your friends and realizing you're ridiculously underprepared...
You also don't have as much time for healthy eating and exercising. I love to cook and take care of my body and even I barely had time to cook myself a decent meal. I'd be about to hastily throw together a salad...and the ramen soup would be calling my name.
I'd be about to chop up a bowl of strawberries...and the chips would call my name.

Part of this could be contributed to dehydration - your body is telling you "damn, I really need water in my system, and I'll get it in me in any way I can, even through chips!"...but stress also kind of impairs your judgement overall - you start asking yourself, "do I really need to sleep?", "do I really need to exercise?", "do I really need to get some air?", "do I really need to get up from my desk chair and do a few stretches?"

Here are a few ways I like to beat that stress. In my opinion, everything that goes into your body affects how you feel. Because, honestly, you feel better eating a bowl of strawberries than a bowl of chips, right? You feel better eating salad than ramen soup with sh*t loads of salt, right?

So here are a few tips that I've found have really helped me in the past few years:

1 - Drink water!!!!!

I know, you probably hear this in every single health and wellness article you read out there. But, seriously - not only are you not dehydrated and less likely to eat unhealthy stuff, but I like to imagine cold water hydrating my brain, too. (Bear with me.) Water fuels every aspect of your body, and is cold, so it's almost like a jolt of energy going to the head. Also, it gives your mind 10 seconds to chill while you drink. Win-win, no?

2 - Craving chips? Find alternatives!

Source: via Oralia on Pinterest

I love dried edamame. Edamame is a soybean, and can usually be found in the frozen section of the grocery store either shelled or unshelled, but I love that dried edamame has the crunch aspect of chips and peanuts without the insane calories, salt, chemicals, and more.
Dried edamame not cutting it for you? (Try it before deciding this. Trust me.)  Try snacking on almonds. According to this article , almonds release acetylcholine, which increases your ability to pay attention. Almonds also have the typical crunch of chips, and are much more filling!

3 - Spend 10 minutes outside everyday.

That's if you can stay outside for only 10 minutes ;). Unless it's frigging cold where you are (here, very soon), go for a short walk outside, at least. Anything goes, though - you can go for a jog, walk your pet (so they get exercise, too!), go for a walk on your own, go outside and take a 5 minute break to talk on the phone with your best friend, you can go into the backyard and meditate...the list goes on and on! Gosh, you can even go study outside if you're that short on time. The sunshine, fresh air, nature around you (even if it's only a little) can all help clear your mind.

 4 - Make homemade salad dressings instead of store-bought one!

Store-bought salad dressings contain chemicals, especially asparthame, and though they may say "low-fat", that aspect is usually compensated by through copious amounts of salt and sugar. You end up feeling bloated and on a sugar high when you're supposed to feel refreshed after eating a salad! Trust me, take a few minutes a week to prepare a bottle of salad dressing. It made a huge difference for me! Also, after only using homemade dressing, the store-bought stuff tastes, well...gross.
I love this article of a roundup of all different kinds of dressings - from ranch dressings to oil/vinegar-based dressings - with directions on how to make them! I love the oil/vinegar ones, especially.

5 - Cut out soda, the sugar-laden and diet ones.
 This infographic explains the whole situation really well. However, I know that for me, diet soda and caffeine have been key to late night studying and essay writing! So, if you need that caffeine rush, drink plain coffee, it's already healthier than diet soda. Even better, though? Water! (See #1). Need something a little sweeter than plain water? Try coconut water! Although it's more calories than water (obviously, since water has 0 calories), it has electrolytes in it, which is always good after a workout (and I know study marathons can sometimes feel like workouts, but without the brain-boosting benefits), and contains no chemicals. Just make sure to check the label says coconut water, not coconut soda or coconut jelly!

I hope those tips have helped you! I have more, but these are my main ones specifically during stressful times. Any tips you guys want to add? I really want to add more health content to this blog - health is so important to me! I try and live as much of a healthy lifestyle as I can, and although I don't always succeed, I can feel the difference for every single little step I take to improve my life through my food and exercise habits.
Hope you enjoyed this!

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