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Stress Management

February 21, 2016

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve had a very long, stressful week – maybe it’s issues with work, family, health, relationships, something else – and you hit a wall. You realize you need a break or you’ll snap (or at least come close). You think of what you can do to unwind, and something immediately comes to mind.

 

Food.

 

Maybe it’s something comforting and creamy, or decadent and chocolaty, or crunchy and crispy. But you know it’s there, and it will taste good, and you deserve a treat after the way things have been going, so why not indulge?

 

This is something I think a lot of us struggle with, that sense of needing to relax and automatically going for the food. After all, it’s easy, it does give us a break, it’s yummy (if we pause to taste it), and it can sometimes help calm us down.

 

Except – it is also easy to carry it too far, eat more than we need, and inhale the food rather than savor it, which can then lead to feelings of guilt and physical discomfort and potentially more stress. But what to do instead?

 

I faced this question yesterday, at the end of a very hectic and stressful work week. Although food is no longer normally my go-to, I did start thinking about it. And I already planned to make brownies for a potluck. Surely I’d want to test them beforehand?

 

I’ve been down that road in the past often enough to recognize the danger signs: I was looking for ways to justify the food, which meant it wasn’t truly what I needed, or at least not the only thing. I might have gone for a walk, but it was cool and gray and rainy, so I didn’t think it would particularly lift my spirits. What else might help with the stress?

 

Then I had it. I decided to go ahead and make the brownies, as well as some soup, but while doing so, I put on music. And not just any music. I wanted songs with a strong beat, perhaps even a little angry, with lyrics I knew well enough that I could sing along, as loudly as I wanted.

 

Having that outlet for the pent-up stress helped enormously. My tension eased and my mood shifted, so by the time the food was done, I not only felt better, but it was lunch time and I was actually hungry. After some soup, I did do a taste-test of the brownies – and I was happy with the result – but because I had relaxed, I could have just one, and truly enjoy it, then put the rest away for the potluck.

 

Even better, it was a good reminder of how stress can wreak havoc on us – and how we can find ways to successfully manage it that may or may not involve food.

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