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Too much work, not enough money, and all round stress. When we’re feeling unreasonably tense, we are all familiar with the usual culprits. But what if they are not the only issues to blame? What if there were simple, silly, smaller things which were pushing your baseline anxiety through the roof?

Researchers have found that the following factors can be substantial – albeit surprising – sources of stress:

stress / Longevity Live

1. Food

No, I don’t mean that you’re anxious about whether you have almond butter in the cupboard. Your diet’s role in stress is much more subtle. What you ingest – from coffee to cabbage to cookies – has to be metabolized.

In order for this to happen, your endocrine system activates and deactivates hormone secretions and bodily systems in order to identify and deal with the substances which you put into your body. Coffee, cabbage and cookies all elicit a different reaction.

Some foods, for instance coffee, can make us stressed out. Cookies, too, can cause instability in our blood sugar levels which leads to moodiness. If you are what you eat, then the key to de-stressing your diet involves being clean: eat as close to the source as possible and beware of additives, sugar, and chemicals.

2. Alcohol

This is not a call to join Oc-Sober. Rather, it is a call to be mindful of how much alcohol – and which alcohol – you ingest. Alcohol is a stimulant and – technically – a poison. But despite this, the odd glass of red wine here or there – or other, small doses of your favorite drink – can be fine, and even good for you. It’s when those few drinks become a few too many, or a crutch to relieve your stressful day.

3. Smoking

Nicotine is a stimulant. The substances which are released in your body when you smoke are also stimulants. What’s more, these substances congest the body in a way similar to cholesterol. Stimulants make you stressed, especially if you are already a bit anxious. Bizarrely, then, alongside alcohol, smoking is the number one thing most people use to relieve stress. Stopping smoking, though, rather than taking another drug, is what will really curb your anxiety and diminish your stress.

4. Other People’s Stress

Stress is contagious. Humans are empathetic by default and become attuned to stress without willingly doing so. For instance, one study found that people who simply witnessed another person completing a task that was stressful experienced an increase in their own cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress chemical in our bodies.

5. Sitting

Sitting too much may not seem like something which is stressful, quite the opposite, actually. But, although sitting itself doesn’t cause stress, when it comes at the expense of being mobile, it really does. Exercise – even taking a walk or climbing the stairs at work – strengthens muscles and teaches the autonomic nervous system to control the interaction between bodily systems more effectively. More energetic efforts – liking a brisk walk or a jog – release endorphins.

Exercise not only assists in digestion, prevents injuries by improving core strength, and makes you more flexible, but it is also key to your general wellbeing.

6. Lack of Sleep

Here’s the problem: many of us react to stress by becoming more restless and having difficulty getting to sleep. However, studies have shown that, when people are deprived of shut-eye, they become more easily anxious. Thus, it is rather easy to get into a negative cycle where anxiety fuels lack of sleep which fuels anxiety.

The importance of effective – and reliable – sleeping patterns should never be underestimated. Luckily, there are things you can do, and – as most of us sleep best after we’ve had a bit of fresh air – it is relatively easy to incorporate two stress-busters in one: having a bit of physical activity will also help you sleep better.

7. Messiness

stress | Longevity LiveClutter makes most of us uneasy. Even if it is unconscious, mess can play a large role in how we feel. Messy homes and messy workspaces can leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.

Why? Clutter is stimulating – it overwhelms us with stimuli which makes being calm near impossible. Further, if we are trying to be productive, clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what we should be doing, which leads to stress as we become less productive.

8. Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: who would have thought that these simple social networks could lead to so much distress and discomfort? And yet, social networks can make you aware of stressful situations in your friends’ lives, which make you more stressed about your own. What’s more, social networks like Facebook can encourage you to compare yourself to others, leading to dissatisfaction and distress.


Xanthe Hunt

Xanthe Hunt is a journalist and writer with a special interest in mental health and health-related writing. She graduated from Stellenbosch University in early 2014, and has been travelling and freelancing since. Currently based in Cape Town, she is now interning for ELLE Magazine Online.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.