How to stay healthy when you’re stressed

Human beings are not built to endure prolonged periods of stress. We live in stressful times, though. More people are scratching a living in the gig economy, without paid leave or long-term job security.

Austerity has ripped through communities like bullets through plasterboard, destroying the mental health of those forced into dehumanising encounters with the machinery of the welfare state.

The fact is, stress kills. Prolonged stress has been linked to heart disease, depression and diabetes. But how can you stay healthy when you are stressed?

Eat well

The salty-sweet smack of snack foods is often the only thing that gets many of us through stressful times. But the crisps you inhale as a deadline looms will make you feel rotten in the long term.

Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates such as porridge or wholegrain bread, which will give you the energy you need to face a difficult day.

Taking 10 minutes to eat lunch away from your desk will reduce stress levels and prevent unhealthy snacking. Eat mindfully and get away from your desk, chew your food slowly and savour the flavours.

Exercise helps

Many of us are guilty of an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to fitness. We hammer the gym hard before a holiday, but when life gets in the way, our fitness goes out of the window. However, exercise is a powerful natural stress-reliever that will flood your body with feelgood endorphins.

To motivate yourself, the personal trainer Maiken Skoie Brustad advises you to “remember how good you feel after you train. After exercise, you’ll always feel better.”

If you can’t afford to visit a gym, or have responsibilities that keep you at home, there are plenty of free home-based workouts that can be squeezed into a few minutes. “Write down a cardio circuit of five exercises – three high-intensity exercises, such as running on the spot or squat jumps, and then two ab exercises such as planks or crunches – stick a timer on for 45 seconds and do each exercise for two rounds.”

Don’t feel guilty about taking time out to exercise. “You have to be strict with yourself,” Brustad says. “Say: ‘OK, on Tuesday I will clear an hour out of my schedule,’ and train no matter what. When you’re training, focus on why you’re there. It shouldn’t be a treat to give yourself time to train. It should be a necessary thing for healthy human beings.”

Try to get enough sleep

When you are stressed, your sleep often suffers. But staying up late in order to tackle a growing to-do list is counterproductive. “If you are suffering from poor sleep, that will make your stress levels higher,” says Dr Guy Leschziner, a neurologist and the author of The Nocturnal Brain. “Getting as much sleep as possible when you’re feeling overwhelmed will help to manage your stress.”