Anxiety and stress are one of the reasons people choose to overeat. Eating comfort foods calm the nerves and help to settle us. It is just one of many coping mechanisms that support us through our day, but one that is readily available, cheap and VERY pleasurable. Not a coping strategy we’re likely to give up soon and I’m not suggesting you do.
There are other ways though, of triggering our autonomic nervous system (the nervous system that calms us down after a fight or flight response) and allowing it to do its work that don’t involve too much effort, and are enjoyable too.
Of course NOTHING can compete with what food has to offer but the benefits of these alternatives (below) should be enough impetus for you to try incorporating at least one of them into your week.
What ISN’T walking good for?
To start off, regular walking is great for your back and helps manage any pain in that area. Walking also helps flush out fats in your bloodstream so that they don’t deposit and accumulate along your artery walls and on your organs. Walking also burns calories, helps stave off disease, is good for your memory and the list goes on …
To realize the soothing effect of walking you need to make sure that you are doing it at a steady, moderate pace. No power walking, listening to energizing music, shopping, texting or doing anything that takes any of your attention. Just relax and go.
Enjoy the Non-Doing
The soothing comes from the steady and consistent lull of your body going side to side, rhythmically, as your feet move your body forward. It is that simple. Think of how easily a baby falls asleep when being taken for a walk in a stroller, or when taking a long drive. Both of those examples involve minimal stimulation and continuous, consistent movement.
See how you feel after 45 minutes.
Eating Protein and Plants
I know that advice contradicts the title of this blog post, but what the title really should read is, “Ways to Soothe Yourself without Resorting to Carbohydrate and Sugar Rich Comfort Foods.” But since that is too long a title and most people don’t soothe themselves with chicken breast and broccoli dinners, I assumed everyone would know what kinds of foods I was referring to.
So yes, eating meat, fruit and vegetables do help to calm you. They activate your parasympathetic (autonomic) nervous system mildly, and, unlike sugary desserts, happen to be good for you.
Try to make sure you eat these foods at the start of your meal before getting to your chosen comfort foods, and you may ‘feel’ like needing less dessert afterwards.
Being Hugged, Touched and Caressed
The hardest part of getting that type and quality of contact is that it requires TWO people to BOTH slow down, and have the same window of time available. Not easy to accomplish with our fast paced life as it is these days but it is simple to do, free, and offers many emotional and health benefits.
Yoga, Meditation and Deep Breathing
I don’t imagine I need to go into much detail since these topics are very popular right now but I will say that you needn’t spend lots of money or make any of the exercises too fancy.
Simple works just as well with the above.
This is something we do naturally to help us decompress and is healthy in small to moderate doses. Unfortunately it is often seen in our culture as time wasted, or a lazy habit – can’t slow down!
It also produces an annoying behavior in others, who seem to think they are doing you a favor when they open their eyes wide, position their face in the path of your gaze and wave while saying, “Hello? Earth to Joe!!” Then they smile contentedly as if, without THEIR help, you may have been trapped there for ETERNITY …
Then you instinctively say, “sorry” or thank them for taking you away from that tropical paradise you were just at.
Let them Dream
Moments like this throughout your day are like mini breaks for your body and mind. Your breathing slows and becomes regular, and you are in a sense shut off or disconnected from reality for just a few moments.
Ideal times to day dream are when you are in the bus or car (as a passenger) and when you are in transition from one activity to the next (i.e. waiting in the dentist’s office).
Light & Sound
Aside from sunlight which can be very soothing, lights from screens and other sources in your home and work place are stimulating and so if you are trying to relax and unwind, it’s best to turn off as many as you can.
You can keep light levels low while you do dishes, read, make phone calls or just prepare for the next day.
Listen to soothing sounds
Just like with walking, you need to be focused on the activity alone (listening) and doing nothing else. Get comfortable and figure out what kind of music you think you can listen to for awhile (enjoy it), that also is soothing. Aside from the obvious styles like classical and jazz, there’s:
– Zen and native flute
– Nursery rhymes (orchestral versions)
– Christmas music
– Ocean waves
– Relaxation Music
… and more. Any genre you currently like will likely have an easier, softer version of the music that you can listen to to calm down.
On the topic of music, there is a good book I read years ago that explains the whole music-brain connection:
In it you’ll find loads of information explaining the ‘why’. It’s also a fun and interesting read, as well as being educational.
Last Word Hopefully you’ll find something in that list that you can use as part of an overall plan to help manage your stress or anxiety. Getting a handle on those emotions will go a long way to helping you with emotional eating or any other behavior that stems from them.
Do a Little Less.
- Read the Free Guide