How This Registered Dietitian and Mom Keeps Her Cool, Even on the Most Stressful Days
I consider myself lucky to have no major stressors at the moment-my family is healthy, we're safe, and we don't worry about meeting our basic needs every month. I'm so grateful for that. But that doesn't mean that I don't get stressed out from time to time. I have a job that keeps me pretty busy as the Digital Nutrition & News Editor for EatingWell. I'm a fairly new mom to a beautiful baby boy (OK, fine, toddler. They grow up so fast!) with my husband. While most of the time that's wonderful, it's not all sunshine and rainbows.
Whether I'm worried about a work deadline, trying to take care of a sick kiddo or figuring out what we're going to have for dinner-there are definitely times I feel more frazzled than others. Here's what helps me stay sane when life feels like it's getting a little crazy.
Related: 7 Foods That Secretly Stress You Out
Why it's important to manage stress
Stress can have a huge impact on our mental and physical well-being. At its core, our stress response can help protect us (thanks, adrenaline). A dangerous situation can trigger our fight-or-flight response to help get us to safety. But chronic and constant stress can also take a toll on our health. Most of us have stress in our day-to-day lives in some way, shape or form. Too much stress can increase your risk for heart disease and inflammation (learn more about how stress can hurt your health in surprising ways). There's no way to make stress itself disappear, but we can figure out better ways to manage it.
What helps me manage stress
There isn't really a one-size-fits-all approach to stress management. Making a to-do list might help one person (having everything written down and ready to prioritize and check off), and it might actually stress someone else out. (Wow, that's a lot of things. I feel overwhelmed just writing them down.) For me, it's been a bit of trial and error figuring out what helps me, but it typically comes down to a little planning, some form of exercise and getting outside.
I'm a bit of a control freak, so I don't love when life throws me curveballs. Turns out, life is a little unpredictable-especially with a toddler. I'm learning to let go, but I'm still a work in progress. It doesn't surprise me that the things that help me feel less stressed also involve planning ahead. When time is crunched I have things (mostly food) prepped and ready to go. Exercise and being outside are my other go-to stress-busting strategies.
I'm not the world's biggest meal-prepper, but I like to have some foods ready to go to make weeknights easier. One thing I always do is prep my son's lunch the night before (his day care takes care of snacks, which is amazing). Our mornings are pretty rushed, so all I need to do is grab his lunchbox and stick it in his bag. I share some of his lunches on Instagram stories with the hashtag #lorenzoslunchbox to give ideas and hopefully inspire other parents. I usually include a mix of foods I know he'll eat and others that I'm waiting for him to come around on (exposure is so important!).
I also write down a rough idea of 3 or 4 dinners for the week. I don't necessarily prep them on Sunday, but just knowing what we're going to eat lets me go on autopilot versus scrambling to come up with a plan. Another prep strategy that's saved me on busy weeks is making a big batch of energy balls so I have a quick snack always ready to grab.
These energy balls are made with oats, nut butter, dark chocolate and honey. Complex carbohydrates, nuts and chocolate are all stress-busting foods. Mainly, I love these so I don't get hangry at work. The combination of fiber and fat also fuels me up for the rest of the day. When time is tight, it can be easy to grab processed foods that may not leave you feeling your best, but by prepping ahead just a little bit, healthier options become just as easy.
Get more: Healthy 20-Minute Dinner Recipes
I'm still a fairly new CrossFitter, but I've always loved high-intensity workouts and strength training. It took me a little while to find my exercise groove after having a baby. I wasn't sleeping and it was hard to prioritize working out. During that time, I walked a lot-while pushing a stroller and holding a dog leash-and fit in some yoga and running when I could.
I did miss pushing myself and the endorphin rush that a super-sweaty workout will give you. I'm very glad to be sleeping more (knock on wood) and finding a local CrossFit gym that was welcoming and encouraging was a great fit for me.
I wake up at 5:15 on the mornings I go to the gym. It's a little bit painful to hear my alarm go off, but once I'm finished, it's only 6:45. I have the rest of the morning to get home to play with my son and get him ready for school, before getting myself ready.
Exercise has been shown to help reduce stress by boosting endorphins and lowering stress hormones. If CrossFit isn't your thing, find something that is. Yoga, walking, dancing-anything goes!
I am beyond lucky to live in a place where there is easy access to nature. Vermont has great parks and trails. Most days after work, I rush off to day care and do the whole dinner, play, bedtime routine with my son. But on weekends (and rare weeknights) we head out to the trails with the whole family in tow! Juniper, my puppy, loves hiking (and is by far the fastest) and everyone else just tries to keep up.
Nature helps relax me. I don't look at my phone or listen to music or podcasts-it's my escape. If you don't have hiking trails near you, any green space helps! Research shows that nature helps calm us down and boost our moods.
Dealing with stress requires a little trial and error to figure out what works for you. If you notice stress is impacting your overall well-being, you may want to ask for help. Lifestyle and diet changes can only do so much; sometimes therapy or medicine is needed (and there is absolutely no shame in that).