Eat well, sleep well … be well

Many university students report having felt overwhelmed by work (Photo: Shelby Banks)

By Shelby Banks

“While stressed I feel anxious, tired, worried about a lot of little things, and sometimes I can get angry very easily,” says third-year Dalhousie student Claudia Gutierrez.

A lot of people feel like her sometimes.

“Stress can decrease your immune system, making you more prone to sickness”, says Dr. Colin MacLeod, a naturopathic doctor who practices in Halifax.

MacLeod, who held a talk on stress management at the Alderney Gate Public Library in Dartmouth on Jan. 27, says stress can be caused by a variety of factors.

Physical, mental and emotional stress can all play a role, but     MacLeod says being stressed from work, not getting enough sleep and an unhealthy diet are some of the biggest factors.

“When you are eating healthy, it downplays our stress and increases our motivation to get work done,” says MacLeod.

MacLeod tells patients to maintain a healthy diet, which includes a lot of vegetables, fruits and keeping up with your daily vitamins.

He suggests taking micronutrients such as zinc (which can boost your immune system), iron supplements if needed, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C.

“It seems that the type of food I consume during exam time last semester was farther away from these symptoms, simply because I was eating a lot healthier even when I was under stress,” says Gutierrez.

“That made the biggest difference in my mood and energy levels, but I am not always motivated to eat well.”

But be careful – eating too many calories can contribute to stress levels rising.  MacLeod says this can occur if you are eating a lot of ”non-foods,” meaning fast food restaurants and junk food.

Besides maintaining a diet, he also suggests exercising on a daily basis and doing something active.

“But just don’t overdo it,” says MacLeod. “You need time to rest and give your body a break because if you don’t, over exercising will also increase your stress levels.”

For Gutierrez, stress is a weekly problem due to her heavy workload, but she has ways of coping.

“I like to listen to music to relax, and perform to keep my stress down,” says Gutierrez.  “I also try to go to the gym and have recently gotten into yoga, which has helped control my stress.”

Besides exercising too much, being sick is also a factor of being stressed.

“When you are stressed the body goes under a certain amount of pressure, causing your immune system to decrease,” says              MacLeod.

“When this happens, you are more likely to get sick. On the opposite side, when you are sick you are more likely to become stressed.  So it is just better to live a healthy lifestyle and try to avoid not getting sick too often,” says MacLeod.

Staying relaxed and being organized are a couple other great coping mechanisms for stress.

“The one thing would be keeping myself organized, because I am involved in various things and that sometimes becomes a juggling act,” says Gutierrez. “I often find my balance with art too; incorporating visual art into my life helps me stay sane.”

Meditation, MacLeod says, is another great way to combat stress.

“Our body doesn’t do well if we push it too much, so we need to take a break once in a while.”

“I take naps, I shower, I walk outside to get a breath of fresh air. I also write, pray and love to watch movies,” says Gutierrez. “I like to have great life chats with my best friends and laugh a lot. Laughter is my best friend.”