By Moksh Mehta
Raise your hand if this scene is familiar: you're frazzled after work/study, so you come home and binge on comfort foods that taste amazing but make you feel bloated and tired. When you try to go to sleep you lay awake. You start the next day feeling sluggish, which makes it even harder to face obstacles at work/school and at home. Repeat... ugh.
Stress is an epidemic. We all know that. A recent study by Optum found that 46% (1) of the Indian workforce reports suffering from some form of stress. In fact, millennials in India lead this ranking as 'the most stressed in the world.' 95% of them admit to being stressed, and work is the main trigger. It is this stress that in turn has many detrimental effects on our physiology.
According to a study from Yale, "Stress May Cause Excess Abdominal Fat In Otherwise Slender Women" (2). A paper published in the American Academy of Dermatology (3) reveals that stress can cause acne breakouts, hairfall, and nail problems. Don't think that this stress only stays with you: stress for a pregnant mother can "affect the baby through amniotic fluid." (4) Additionally, "Infants' brains may be shaped by levels of stress their mother experiences during pregnancy" (5). In fact, researchers at Columbia University have shown that stress can "turn hair grey." Luckily, those same researchers show that it's reversible – "hair color can be restored when stress is eliminated." (6) So, how do we do that?
To tackle this, we must get to the root of the problem. Stress is a lifestyle condition, so lifestyle changes are required to bring our body back to normal. I'll suggest practical tips and techniques that can help you banish stress and live a more focused life. I've come up with a list of habits, tips, and techniques to do so – please take some time to see which ones work for you!
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Sugar may taste good, but it stresses you out – especially your digestive system. Instead for reaching for the pizza, reach for the apple. Research (7) has shown that "Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is associated with less stress." A good way to do this if you lead a busy lifestyle is by making fruit and vegetable smoothies. They are an easy way to get lots of vegetables in your body without spending too much time or making a mess in the kitchen.
Meditation and Yoga
Yes, the Indian classic! Meditation, yoga, and other mind-body practices don't simply relax us. Research (8) shows that they can "they can 'reverse' the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression." There are many ways you can incorporate these practices in a busy lifestyle. Try doing 3 sun salutations every morning, or perhaps sit for 10 minutes and take deep breaths before you go to bed. You can also listen to an audio meditation, such as my favourite, Anapana meditation.
Go to Sleep
It's the simplest one but arguably the most important. Quality sleep does wonders: it regenerates your hormones, allows your body to repair itself, and improves cognitive function. A lack of sleep on the other hand increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which increases your risk of chronic disease. Instead of watching that last episode, dedicate another 30 minutes to restorative shut-eye, and you will see the benefits.
Take a Nature Pill
A recent study published in Frontiers for Psychology (9) has solidified something that we all feel: spending time in nature lowers stress. They say "taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels." This does NOT mean traveling to escape an urban environment, since this study was specifically done to research stress levels in the "urban nature experience." For example, you could spend time at the park, at the pool, on a walk with your pet, or in a lawn. At the end, nature will nurture.
Our body was built to move, and we know that it has many beneficial effects on human health. Exercise and movement will help you feel better when life is stressing you out. Exercise literally improves brain function so that you are more resilient to stress and anything else that comes along in your life. Researchers (10) at Karolinska Institute in Sweden show that "show that exercise training induces changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of a substance that accumulates during stress, and is harmful to the brain." No joke! To do this, you can pick up a sport, dance, or an activity with your family or friends. Otherwise, you could take a jog, lift some weights, or do some bodyweight exercises. Just move!
Now, you're equipped with the knowledge to tackle any sort of stress in your life. A hectic workday? No problem. A last-minute task? Bring it on.
(The author is a Grade 12 student at the International School of Hyderabad)