Stress is no stranger to us. We experience it when placed in difficult situations, and while it is usually thought of negatively, good stress positively pushes us and gets specific tasks done. In this article, Dr. Victor Kwok, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, shares useful tips on managing stress.
When asked for signs of burnout and stress, Dr. Kwok said: “ Psychologist Christina Maslach defines burnout as a cumulative stress that causes one to develop exhaustion or chronic fatigue and develop feelings of low accomplishments."
“When we experience burnout, symptoms such as poorer productivity, poor physical health tend to surface. However, not everyone can spot these signs in themselves.”
“When we are very tired and exhausted, we sometimes turn to food that are not very healthy for us. We may even binge-eat too,” Dr. Kwok shared.
Dr. Kwok said that binge-eating and unhealthy food choices could be one of the many signs that happen in people under a lot of stress. In addition, external factors such as having no time for meals and feelings of tiredness or even loneliness can also trigger binge-eating.
According to Dr. Kwok, eating healthily when stressed can improve one's resilience to stress.
“The Mediterranean diet in particular, is one that I advocate for. There are evidence-based studies that show how it helps increase one’s resilience. It also helps with depression, anxiety, and even reduce the risk of dementia.”
Emphasizing the importance of fruits and vegetables, Dr. Kwok also noted the effectiveness of opting for plant-based foods and limiting the intake of red meat, alcoholic drinks, and caffeinated drinks.
Even though alcohol is present in the Mediterranean diet, it is best to keep it to zero or limit it to seven units a week for Asian women and not more than 14 units a week for Asian men.
Mindful eating can be defined as the opposite of binge eating. Instead of swallowing food fast, mindful eating means savoring the food slowly and focusing on it.
“An example would be eating an expensive mao shan wang durian. Instead of swallowing it whole within seconds, one takes time to savour and appreciate it. This is effective in helping one to decrease binge eating and unhealthy eating,” Dr. Kwok explained.
“Put down your phone, eat slowly and savour your food. Mindful eating is one of the little things you can do to take a break and focus on self-care,” he added.
Keeping ourselves active is another way to help our body manage stress. Simple activities such as walking, cycling, or perhaps planning a trip to the zoo or visiting a nearby island are healthy activities that can create positive experiences and lift our mood.
When starting a new lifestyle, Dr. Kwok said it is best to start the routine with low-impact activities.
“Just like how we go slow when starting our patients on medication, it is best to identify activities and rank them according to their level of difficulty. Begin with the easy ones and monitor your mood before getting on with the rest,” Dr. Kwok advised.
“Studies have also shown that if you pair up with a coach or personal trainer, outcomes can be better. While not everyone can afford to hire one, you can perhaps start by exercising with a friend who can monitor you while you engage in those activities or exercises. This helps in ensuring a higher success rate,” Dr. Kwok added.
Exercising increases our endorphin levels, remodels our brain down to the cellular and DNA level, and can help boost our self-esteem, especially after we finish an exercise or workout routine. In addition, taking time out for self-care allows our minds to break from life's difficulties.
“When managing stress, self-care plays a huge role. If you notice yourself experiencing difficulties sleeping or eating, and find yourself experiencing more mood swings than ever, it is time to pause and evaluate your psychological wellbeing,” Dr. Kwok advised.
While stress is commonly experienced, too much stress can be overwhelming and detrimental to our mental health, especially if it is experienced for an extended period. At this point, consider getting help from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist. They can work together with you to get back on track.