Prairie Fare: Cope with stressors to protect your physical and mental health
“Mama said there’ll be days like this/ There’ll be days like this/ Hey, don’t you worry, Mama said.”
Those are some of the lyrics from a hit song by the Shirelles in the early 1960s.
Whenever times are stressful, parts of this song play in my mind. Sometimes it helps.
Unfortunately, the song has been playing in my mind more often than I would like during the past several months. Some of my extended family members and friends have experienced serious illnesses, and we have lost two family members.
Most, if not all, of us experience stress from time to time.
Stressors come in many forms and affect people in different ways. Stress can affect our body and mind.
We might be challenged by financial issues as we pay for our groceries, gas, utilities or medical bills. Our job or educational work may be stressful. Our personal health issues can be difficult on several levels, especially if they remain unresolved or unknown. Coping with long winter months can be trying.
When confronted by stressors, we might have stomach upset or pain in the neck, back or shoulders. We might experience headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite or overeating.
We might clench or grind our teeth, and our heart may be racing. We might not feel like doing anything. We may not feel up to eating healthfully or getting regular physical activity.
Stress can make us feel anxious, irritable, overwhelmed or depressed.
If stress is not addressed and managed, it can promote heart health issues, obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
What can you do to help yourself in times of stress?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides excellent ways to address and cope with stress, which I summarize below. In addition to my own “musical therapy,” I have tried to keep these tips in mind. See https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/index.html for more information.
- Tune out from 24-hour news. If news reports and social media make you anxious, take a break from it or disconnect.
- Take care of your body. Concentrate your calories on healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Limit added salt, sugar and saturated fat. The food you consume can nourish both your body and mind.
- Accumulate 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Take a walk, a swim or go cross-country skiing if you are so inclined. Get up and walk a few minutes every hour if you have a sedentary job.
- Aim for at least seven hours of sleep at night. If you consistently have sleeping problems, let your healthcare provider know.
- Limit or avoid alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol provides no nutrients and can lead to health and/or addiction issues.
- Take prescription drugs as prescribed.
- Unwind through stretching, deep breathing and other relaxing activities such as a warm bath or massage.
- Connect with your family and friends. Share your thoughts and feelings.
- Never feel bad about reaching out for professional help. It’s a sign of strength.
Several of my colleagues have expertise in mental health, so I encourage you to check out these NDSU Extension resources about managing stress. These were especially developed for those who work in farming. See www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/ag-hub/ag-topics/farm-safety-health/managing-stress for more information.
A soothing bowl of soup always makes me feel a little better. If winter is getting you down, the title of this recipe may make you feel hopeful that winter will lead to spring. This recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is chock full of colorful, nutritious vegetables.
Spring vegetable soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or your favorite salad oil
- 1/4 red cabbage (medium head, about 2 cups, finely shredded)
- 2 ripe tomatoes (medium, seeded and chopped)
- 1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts (drained and chopped)
- 1 cup green peas (frozen or fresh)
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable juice (low sodium)
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- Salt and pepper (freshly ground black pepper, optional, to taste)
In large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Saute cabbage, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and peas for 10 minutes. Add vegetable juice and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, add basil and simmer for 10 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender and soup is piping hot. Serve in individual serving bowls. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes four servings. Each serving has 136 calories, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrate, 6 grams of fiber and 73 milligrams of sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.