It’s likely that you will feel stressed at work at least once per week or more. The American Psychological Association took a nationwide poll on stress (APA, 2012) and found that over two-thirds of Americans list work as a significant source of stress. So, it’s no surprise that when we’re working with companies to help plan their wellness programs, the two most requested topics that we are asked to create events around are managing stress and helping employees eat healthier when they’re tight on time. There is so much about these two topics that are inter-connected that we often combine them.
Why stress less? While a little bit of stress can actually be beneficial to helping you get things done (we’re talking to you procrastinators!), chronic stress, that which occurs over a long period of time, is not good for your health and well being. In fact, it raises your risk of several serious diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, stress is something that you DO have control over. While you don’t have control over many of the factors that cause your stress levels to rise, your reactions and how you deal with those situations (which you do have control over) ultimately determines your stress level. Eating the right foods at the right times, exercising regularly, knowing your limits (i.e. when to say no), and practicing breathing techniques are all ways to help yourself de-stress at the office on a regular basis.
Here are 6 ways to help you stress less…
- Snack Well: Follow the rule of 2. Include two of the three major nutrients (high-fiber carbs, protein, healthy fats) in each snack. This combination enhances energy levels and battles fatigue without the roller-coaster effect.
- High Fiber Carbs: fruit, starchy veggies, whole grains, whole grain products (pita, crackers, English muffins, tortilla, bread), beans
- Protein: low/nonfat Greek yogurt, string cheese, turkey/chicken, low-fat cottage cheese, beans, hard-boiled eggs, tofu, canned tuna/salmon
- Healthy Fats: avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, olive oil, nut butters, hummus, salad dressing
- Snack Ideas: string cheese + a pear; an apple + 1 tbsp peanut butter; 14 almonds + 2 dried apricot halves; 2 ounces tuna mixed with light mayo over whole grain crackers
- Be Less Refined (with your food): Foods made with refined flour, such as white breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, and other sweets contain carbohydrates that digest very quickly once they’re eaten. This may give you an initial burst of energy, but leads to a crash and low energy levels soon after. Low energy levels are the last thing you want when you’re dealing with a stressful situation at work. Instead, focus on eating balanced meals that include a good source of lean protein, whole grains, and fruits or vegetables. Some examples are:
- Steel cut oats topped with blueberries and walnuts
- Roasted salmon with a side of white beans tossed with sautéed kale
- Whole grain penne tossed with roasted tomatoes, and canned tuna or salmon
- Smoothie made with plain non-fat yogurt, strawberries, and almond butter
- Get Your Omega-3s: Omega-3s are important for brain function and may reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can contribute to increased stress. Foods high in Omega-3s include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna), walnuts, and chia and flax seeds.
- Eat Regularly Spaced Meals: Going too long in between meals, or skipping meals entirely, mean a dip in blood sugar levels that leave you feeling fatigued, and when you’re fatigued, your brain doesn’t deal with stress as well. Aim to go no longer than 3 hours without eating a meal or snack.
- Get More Stress Busting Nutrients: Some studies report higher rates of depression in people low on folic acid and vitamin B12. Make sure to include foods rich in these nutrients at each meal. Folate rich foods include fortified cereals, lentils, sunflower seeds, black-eyed peas, wheat germ, broccoli, dark leafy greens, and oranges. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include wild salmon, shellfish, lean beef, low-fat cottage cheese, low/nonfat dairy, and eggs.
- Just Breathe: Although this isn’t necessarily a nutrition tip, your overall health is the sum of many parts. There is no aspect of relaxation more important than breathing. Many people’s breathing becomes very shallow when hyper-focused at work, or if stressed. Deep breathing alone can have a huge impact on your state of mind. It’s like hitting restart to restore calm, clear thinking. Plus, you can do it anywhere (during your commute, in a meeting, at your desk…)
- Sit in a comfortable, upright position on the floor or in a chair.
- Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, with the tip of your tongue hitting just before your front teeth.
- Inhale through your nose for four counts.
- Hold that breath in for seven counts.
- Exhale through your nose for eight counts.
- That’s one cycle. Repeat for 3 cycles, going at your own pace: Inhale 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Exhale, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
How do you create a stress-less environment at work?