5 Habits That Are Making You More Stressed, According to Science
You're not alone if you've been extra stressed since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. As you continue to practice social distancing and work from home in 2021, it's important to learn how to manage your stress levels to the best of your ability to keep your mental health and immune system in tip-top shape.
While you can't always control what happens during your workday—and you certainly can't predict what happens across the world—there are small lifestyle changes you can make in your day-to-day routine that could actively lower your stress levels. (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work).
From cutting too many calories to not getting enough shut-eye, here are five habits causing you to feel more stressed every day, plus suggestions for how to break them.
Your caffeine consumption is too high
There are plenty of health benefits of drinking coffee, but there is also such a thing as drinking too much coffee. In fact, consuming high amounts of caffeine can elevate your cortisol levels, which can then intensify the effects of stress on your body. One 2013 study suggests that routinely high caffeine consumption could lead to weight gain or changes in mood—or even more serious chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The solution? Limit yourself to just one to two cups of coffee per day.
You're following too strict of a diet
Do you ever feel stressed while following a restrictive diet? Chances are your cortisol levels are higher than normal. One 2010 study revealed that limiting calories increased the total output of cortisol, suggesting that dieting could be detrimental to psychological well-being. Intermittent fasting, which operates on strict windows of eating and long fasts, can cause blood sugar levels to drop, prompting you to become irritable or stressed.
In short, if you're trying to lose weight, it may be best to start by looking at the quality of the calories you're consuming versus the quantity. If you begin eating healthier foods, chances are you'll end up eating fewer calories without having to sacrifice feeling full.
You're not eating enough gut-healthy foods
Did you know that 95% of your body's supply of serotonin, aka the "feel good" hormone, lies within gut bacteria? However, if you're fueling your gut with heavily processed foods (i.e. high in sugar and saturated fats), this can negatively affect healthy gut bacteria and ultimately hike up your stress levels—and you may not even realize it.
To avoid this, make sure you're eating plenty of probiotic-rich foods, including yogurt, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh. In addition, eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids (think salmon) and vitamin C (think dark green vegetables) can also help keep cortisol levels in check. For tips on what foods to avoid, be sure to read The Worst Foods for Gut Health.
You're not getting enough daily movement
Oftentimes, we forget to make it a point to get up from our desks during the workday simply to move our bodies. Not only does regular physical activity help to support your immune system but also it helps you manage stress and regulate cortisol levels. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Healthy Living Guide 2020/2021, scheduling 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to four days a week is the minimum you need to prevent various health conditions.
However, it's ideal that you engage in a range of different physical activities each week in order to work different muscles and keep your bones strong. For example, on Monday you could walk or jog for 30 minutes, on Wednesday you could do a 30-minute yoga session, and then on Friday, you could do a half-hour HIIT workout.
You're not getting enough quality sleep
Not getting enough quality sleep each night can be extremely detrimental to overall health. According to the CDC, inadequate sleep can lead to myriad health issues, including depression, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It can also hinder immune function, cause weight gain, and contribute to higher stress levels. If you can't get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, try taking two 30-minute naps to help manage stress levels and offset other adverse side effects of sleep deprivation.
For more, be sure to read Can't Sleep? Avoid These 17 Foods That Keep You Up at Night.