Breathe, Eat Well to Reduce Stress

Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives. Whether it's cramming for finals, managing a large project at work or dealing with relationship ups and downs, chronic stress can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

Good news! You have lots of options for managing or even reducing unhealthy stress. Experts from around the university will be sharing tips during Stressfest on April 10 at the Gregory Gym Concourse. Here's a preview:

Laura Ebady
Dr. Laura Ebady 

Dr. Laura Ebady, Counseling and Mental Health Center

The first step is to recognize when your stress levels are building. Sleep disturbances, irritability, frequent pessimistic or self-critical thoughts, muscle tension, headaches and difficulty concentrating are all indicators that stress is taking its toll.

Take some deep breaths. When we're stressed, our breathing becomes shallow, which results in greater muscle tension, headaches and anxiety. You can counteract this and put your body in a more relaxed state by slowing your breathing and making a point of breathing deeply. The beauty of this strategy is that you can employ it anywhere, anytime, and it works in just a matter of minutes.

Take a few minutes at the start of each day to figure out what your priorities are. Make a list of things to do and then do them, one at a time. Start with your most important task. Keep in mind that urgent-seeming tasks may, in reality, not be that important. Can the laundry wait another day? If so, let it!

You know the old saying about "all work and no play?" Balance is crucial for managing stress. Each of us needs a balance of work and play, social and alone time, excitement and relaxation. Try to carve out time for each of these, even if it's only for 10 minutes each day. Just 10 minutes of quiet time alone, or a 10-minute conversation with a supportive friend, can give you just the boost you need to regroup.

Susan Hochman
Susan Hochman 

Susan Hochman, University Health Services

Get enough sleep. Sleep and stress are closely connected. You may be aware that stress can lead to sleep problems, such as the inability to fall asleep or oversleeping, but did you know that establishing good sleep habits can help mediate symptoms of stress and ward off bad moods?

Research clearly shows a link between sleep deprivation and stress, irritability and moodiness. We know it's challenging to get enough sleep during the night with everything you have going on, so consider taking a 20-30 minute nap during the day to help you relax and boost your energy.

relaxing student
Lindsay Gaydos Wilson 

Napping can also help you better focus on your work and retain what you learn, meaning you may not have to worry as much about your grades. Check out the Healthyhorns Nap Map for some favorite student napping spots at The University of Texas at Austin!

Lindsay Gaydos Wilson, Housing and Food Service

When stressed we often make poor snack and meal choices. That can lead to unhealthy eating or even overeating. What many people don't realize is that adequate nutrition can help the brain and body function at their best, resulting in reduced stress levels, better concentration and a more productive day.

Lindsay Gaydos Wilson
Lindsay Gaydos Wilson 

Protein breakdown leads to the release of dopamine and epinephrine, which help to boost mental alertness and energy. Good protein choices include egg whites, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, soy and tofu, salmon, chicken, lean beef and pork.

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which the brain uses as its main source of energy. That means glucose levels should remain steady throughout the day. Eat only when you are hungry and include mindful snacks that have a mixture of protein and carbohydrates. Examples include fruit, whole grains and vegetables. Try to avoid sweets and soda because they are digested quickly and only result in a short-lived burst of energy without providing any nutrients.

And remember that nutrients are carried throughout the body by the blood, which is 83% water. Aim to drink at least eight cups of water each day.

Betsy Baker
Betsy Baker 

Betsy Baker, Recreational Sports

Some modes of physical activity that are common de-stressors include mind/body classes, which include yoga, T'ai Chi, Pilates and cardiovascular exercises such as running and swimming. Breathing techniques used in these exercises help increase the amount of oxygen to the blood. Creating this mind/body awareness tends to enhance the feeling of relaxation and wellbeing.

Being active can also boost your feel-good endorphins as it affects the neurotransmitter systems in the brain, as an antidepressant would. The American College on Sports Medicine recommends that individuals should engage in 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (moderate intensity) each week. Create a fitness routine, grab a friend to join you and get moving! Your body can fight stress better when it's fit!

To learn more about lifelong stress management and other resources at the university, stop by Stressfest April 10, an interactive event for students, faculty and staff, hosted by the Counseling and Mental Health Center.