Our medical experts answer your questions about handling stress, keeping your diet on track and making sure you get some rest when life gets busy.
Question: My mind always races at the end of a super-stressful day. What are some techniques to help me wind down? — Xondra, 39, St. John's, N.L.
Answer: It helps to get off of your devices and out of your head, and to try to focus on each of your senses. Look out the window at a tree. Listen to soothing music or take in nature's night sounds. Touch a soft blanket or a cozy pillow and appreciate how it feels. Choose a scent you love—lavender is soothing—and light a candle or apply an essential oil or a moisturizer. We use our senses to help centre ourselves; when we step out of our worries to appreciate a comforting smell or sound, it gives us more breathing space.
— Rebecca Higgins, community educator for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto
Question: What are the long-term effects of stress? — Jen, 34, Toronto
Answer: Stress is unavoidable, but if we change how we react to or recover from it, then we can think, feel, eat and sleep better. A prolonged and heightened degree of stress can wear down our bodies and minds. In the long run, stress can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease, and it can negatively impair our immune system and lead to sleep and digestive issues.
— Eli Puterman, assistant professor at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Question: When I get stressed, all my healthy eating habits go out the window. How do I make sure I eat well when life gets busy? — Robin, 52, Lethbridge, Alta.
Answer: Eating foods that are high in fat and sugar seems to have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in parts of the brain that produce stress. They truly are comfort foods in that they appear to counteract stress—which may contribute to people's stress-induced cravings for sweets or junk food. However, there are some easy ways to keep your diet on track.
1. Mindfulness meditation. Take a mental timeout (even 10 minutes can help!) by practising meditation. This time for reflection can help you create a space between stress and your response; you'll be more likely to react in a compassionate, rational way.
2. Exercise. When we experience stress, negative energy builds up inside of us. Physical activity can help alleviate that buildup, so listen to your favourite soundtrack (the musical Hamilton is my pick right now) and hit the street or dance it out in your living room.
3. Talk to someone. When going through a difficult period, use your network of support and connect with others, or speak to a therapist who can provide you with the necessary tools to work through that stress.