Stress is inevitable. It happens to everyone. And when you’re trying to make lifestyle changes to improve your health and prevent diabetes, stress can quickly derail you, causing you to skip the gym, eat too much or too little, have trouble sleeping, or even smoke or drink more than usual.
Staying on track to reach your health goals involves recognizing what causes your stress and learning how to cope with your stressors, whether they are within your control or not.
Start by updating your action plan to capture what you know causes you stress today. Next, make a plan for how you might reduce stress. Here are some ideas you can try:
- Ask for help! Friends and family are often willing to step in when asked. They care about you and want the best for you. And you can pay them back when they need help, too.
- Stay organized. When clutter accumulates in your environment, or your schedule is jampacked, it’s common to become distracted or overwhelmed. Set aside time each week to put things in order. Making a to-do list can help you prioritize.
- Do something you enjoy. Go for a walk with a friend, read a book, take a hot bath, watch videos on YouTube — do whatever makes you happy.
- Say, “No.” A lot of stress stems from a fear of repercussion for turning others down, says Danielle Repko, an ACE-certified health coach at OhioHealth Group. But it’s OK to say no, just explain why. “If someone asks you to dinner, but you’d have to skip the gym to go, then tell them that and suggest an alternative, like coffee another day,” says Repko.
- Take time for yourself. If you’re someone who puts others’ needs before your own, you’re probably absorbing their stress and worries in addition to yours. Take some time to distance yourself, unwind and focus on your needs, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.
- Give yourself a pep talk. You are your worst critic. So, become your biggest cheerleader instead. Find motivation in reminding yourself of what you do well.
- Breathe deeply or mediate. Focus on what you find calming, relax your muscles and take slow, deep breaths through your nose. If other thoughts get in the way, that’s OK. Just focus on your breathing and return to your calming image.
- Stretch or exercise. This might be the last thing on your mind when you’re stressed, but exercise releases endorphins, a chemical in our body that triggers positive, relaxing feelings.
Focus on Progress, Not Setbacks
If stress gets in the way, and you make unhealthy choices, welcome it as a learning opportunity instead of feeling guilty. Over time, you will recognize your triggers and resulting behaviors and begin to find ways to modify them.
“Just acknowledging the fact that I’m a stress eater has helped me,” says one diabetes prevention program participant. “Now, I ask myself, ‘Is this going to make me feel any better if I eat this?’ And even if I eat it anyway, I’m starting to make more conscious decisions. Being able to think before you act is a process.”
Or, join an official Diabetes Prevention Program. Check with your employer (OhioHealth offers a program for associates), your local YMCA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of recognized locations to find a program near you.