Better Choices When You’re Feeling Stressed

Our world is filled with things that cause stress. Whether it’s money worries, a bad day at work, health anxiety, family conflict, or even boredom, stress causes us to respond in ways that aren’t necessarily good for us. What do you do to feel better, and are there more helpful solutions?

Your stress habit: the daily drink

An occasional alcoholic drink to calm your nerves isn’t going to do you any harm. But drowning your stress in a bottle of wine isn’t doing your body any favours in the long term.

We know that alcohol is linked to a wide range of disease including cancer, liver disease and heart disease. Alcohol can also be damaging to your emotional health, especially if you already experience depression or anxiety.

And if you drink before bed, your sleep quality may not improve, says the Sleep Health Foundation. While you may fall asleep quickly after drinking, alcohol is associated with waking in the night, night sweats, nightmares, and headaches. And without sufficient rest, you’re less able to handle stress.

The solution: Tempted to reach for the beer or wine? Get out of the habit and explore non-alcoholic options. If you want the taste of an alcoholic drink, try non-alcoholic wines, distilled spirits and beer. You’d be in good company. According to a DrinkWise study, more and more of us are saying no to alcoholic drinks with 20 per cent of us abstaining from drinking in 2017.

Make a note of when you’re reaching for a drink. If it’s early evening after a stressful day, taking time out for yourself, even as little as 10 to 15 minutes (for a walk, meditation, quiet read, quick workout or listening to music) can work to calm your mind and reduce your stress.

Your stress habit: comfort eating

There’s nothing like a period of stress to throw your good eating intentions out of the window. Since we were children, we’ve known how effective food can be to comfort us during difficult times. The problem of course, is the kind of foods we turn to. Anxious, worried, lonely or bored? It’s easy to reach for sweet or salty snacks or a bowl of ice cream.

But don’t be too hard on yourself. Making bad food choices from time to time is something we all do, and it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your healthy eating habits. Emotional eating is only really a problem when it’s your only coping mechanism. Once you’ve acknowledged that your choices aren’t doing you any favours health-wise, you can start making some switches.

The solution: If it is comfort you’re after, sometimes a hot drink can be what you need. A cup of tea, a low-calorie hot chocolate or a miso soup may work as a pick-me-up. Take a brief time-out too if you can – maybe listen to music or a podcast, go for a short walk, or read a few chapters of a novel.

Are you after the satisfying crunch of salty chips? Opt for a small handful of unsalted nuts instead, and throw in a few tamari almonds or wasabi peas to give you an added flavour hit. Otherwise you could make your own popcorn. Popcorn is a high-fibre healthy snack provided it isn’t covered in sugar or salt. You’ll find recipes for healthy homemade popcorn online or choose the healthiest option in the supermarket.

Fruit doesn’t always hit the spot when you’re feeling stressed, but a small bowl of chopped banana mixed with natural yoghurt, a drizzle of honey and a light sprinkling of granola will fill you up and may satisfy your cravings.

Your stress habit: retail therapy

Many of us go shopping to fill a void or to feel happier – in fact the ‘shopper’s high’ has been likened to the endorphin surge of the runner’s high. While a little retail therapy is fairly harmless and can lift your spirits, if it becomes a regular habit it can seriously make a mess your budget and cause you to buy things you don’t even need. And with online shopping so accessible, it’s easy to get your fix, even if you have to wait for the product to arrive. You don’t even have the experience of handing over your money – it’s all done with the click of a button.

Buying things on a whim makes us feel good, with studies showing it lights up the pleasure centre in the brain. A 2011 study in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing supports this, finding that a shopping spree does have a positive effect on mood.

The downside, of course, is that too much spending on non-essentials can lead to debt we can ill afford.

The solution: Wait 24 hours before making an impulse purchase. If you still want the item the next day, and you can afford it, then buy it. But by then you may have forgotten about it or decided to wait until you’ve saved up. If you recognise you often reach for your credit card or favourite online store to feel better, stop and consider what else can give you the same feeling. Perhaps you can get the same happy endorphins with exercise – whether that’s a brisk walk, yoga, or kickboxing. Or you may find satisfaction from cleaning out your wardrobe and giving away unwanted clothes to charity.