Habits of Healthy People: Stick with It, Especially When Life Gets Stressful

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This last month has been perhaps one of the busiest and most fun of my life. Since late August, I've traveled to Detroit to help my grandparents move, spent a long weekend in Chicago, signed a lease for a new apartment with my boyfriend, packed up and cleaned our old place, moved and unpacked. We moved the same day as the Spark Your Life Convention, which meant I missed most of the heavy lifting. The next day, I ran my first 5K with several SparkPeople, then I ran another one last weekend. Now I'm in Vancouver on a quick business trip.

Despite all that activity--and most of it was fun and exciting--I stuck with my healthy habits. I tend to get stressed out rather easily, but I survived with only one minor meltdown. I very easily could have relied on takeout, pulled all-nighters and skipped workouts to free up more time for everything else I had to do, but I knew that in the long run, it wouldn't be a good choice. Looking back, I realized that a few simple steps saved me from letting stress get the best of me. Here's how I stuck with it when the going got tough.

Schedule your workouts, but be flexible. I only missed three days of exercise in September. Whew. (I have already taken two rest days in October!)

When life really started to get hectic in mid-September, I planned my schedule for the rest of the month. Exercise is more than just a way to maintain my weight and keep my clothes from getting too tight. Two of my primary motivators for working out are stress relief and keeping my mood on an even keel. When I miss more than a day of working out, I get cranky. So when times were tough last month, I shook up my routine a bit. I didn't have time for my thrice-weekly 75-minute yoga classes, but I had time for a 20-minute yoga session at home a few nights a week. I wasn't able to make it to Spinning class on Tuesdays and Thursdays as I usually do, but I could get up 30 minutes early and run three miles before work.

One shopping trip for healthy fast foods can prevent disaster later. I loaded up on apples, hummus, salsa, almond butter, frozen broccoli, eggs and whole-grain bread so that I could eat meals even when I was short on time. I might not have cooked a fancy dinner most nights last month, but heating up a bag of frozen broccoli, cooking up a couple of eggs and toasting some multigrain bread meant I had something substantial and healthy to fill my belly on nights when I didn't get home until late. Hummus sandwiches, apples with almond butter and hard-boiled eggs kept me fueled throughout the day.

Getting a good night's sleep is more important than clearing out your to-do list. Though my to-do list should have kept me up until the wee hours most nights, I climbed into bed by midnight so I'd be ready for my 7 a.m. alarm. When you short yourself on sleep, your motivation often suffers. Losing sleep can adversely affect your weight-loss or maintenance efforts, and it can trigger cravings and overeating. Your concentration and focus are impaired when you lose sleep, so chances are your work will be better after a full seven or eight hours.

When life gets tough, remember:

"Don't let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries."
--Astrid Alauda

These tips aren't really new or ground-breaking, but they're tried and true. I hope that the next time life gets busy, these simple steps can help you slow down and not veer off the course of your healthy journey.

How do you stay focused when life gets tough? Are you more likely to sacrifice sleep, healthy eating, or exercise? What's your best stress-relieving tip?

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Great ideas Report
Thank you for a great blog. Report
I destress by doing something for myself. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it's pleasurable for me. Report
Life is a little tough right now, job is stressful and I hate going every day. I unstress by making working out a top priority. I feel so much better getting a good workout and going to the gym. So I've learned it pays to keep your good habits going even when times get tough. I'd go nuts without it.
What I might not do on hard days is track food or eat "right", and I definitely need more sleep...hard to do with hubby's sleep apnea roaring all night! Report
This is so important as we all know, life happens and how we deal with it is oh, on so many differnt levels. It's refreshing to regroup and to stay on track. I also pray, let go and let God. Exercising is a good way to pound, walk, run those stressful moments out of your life! Report
Great help Thanks! Report
this was a great post! unfortunately, my healthy habits are the 1st to go when i get stressed. i am trying to remind myself how much these habits affect my stress! Report
Thanks for a great blog. I am just starting to learn that when I feel the most stressed, busy and tired, is exactly the time I need to exercise. Knowing it is one thing though, motivating yourself to follow through is another. I like your idea of just doing something, maybe not doing it to the level you want to. Thanks. Report
since I have been sleeping better I feel better and it help me to be motivated to want to work out more and also to eat better and I'm not as moody as I use to be Report
great blog thanks !! boy you sure did have alot going on and you got to miss out on some of the move.. i hate hate to pack and then unpack yuck Report
Steph loved this......
Don't let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries."
--Astrid Alauda

Thank you for the insite Report
I dont worry - it does not help the situation. I pray. I sleep. I eat well.
Life will be what it is going to be. I deal with things head on straight forward. Report
Thanks for the great tips. I am just getting back into good habits so this advice really helps. Report
I needed that info...I'll definitely put it to use! Report
You are right, the reminders are nothing new, but if we were all doing them we wouldn't need the reminders! Thank you for helping me remember what is important and I know I must again make working out a priority and not let life get in the way. Report
Coach Stef - I'm so glad you were at convention instead of moving - meeting you was one of my highlights- my roasting guru!
Great blog!
Frances Report
Thank you for sharing! I am reading this at the perfect time because the next two weeks are going to be very hectic for me. Not only will I be packing and moving to a new home, but I will also be putting in lots of overtime hours at work. It is so easy for me to give in to my emotions and skip exercise, overeat and choose fattening foods, and get less than enough sleep. This blog is a great reminder for me to not give up on my goals. I have already scheduled workout times for this upcoming week in my calendar, so that all I have to do now is follow-through with my commitments! Report
Thanks for sharing your insight - it will help the next time I'm super busy... Report
My best stress reliever is exercise. I am a middle-school teacher and I make exercising my TOP priority before starting each work day. It is the BEST way I know of to prepare myself for what can be at times a very stressful job.

For 8 months starting last October, I worked more than 70 hours a week. I had only 2 days off in all that time - one was Christmas Day, the other was a Saturday. Even on my "vacations", I worked up to 15 hours one day. During that time I managed my stress by making my workouts not just a priority, but a lifeline. I stopped using the nutrition tracker simply because I didn't have time, and it was increasing my stress levels, but I maintained my weight within a few pounds of my goal.

I'm happy to say that during that time my husband and I decided our lives would be better if I quit my job. We could handle it financially, thankfully. I've now been "retired" for four months, and life is great! My husband enjoys having me around and now I spend my time working out and volunteering. Had it not been for my workouts I don't think I could have made it through those trying times. Report
omgosh sleeping more is a must and the hardest part of my day Report
I go hoem on my lunch and workout then.. my nights get hectic, so I make sur eI do them when noone is home...

I just bought a new workout DVD, so I can stay motivated. Report
Working out is my best stress reliever!

Stressed, angry, anxious? I put 'er on the 'mill and grind it out...often other ideas and inspirations come to mind while I'm moving...woo hoo!

Don, Co-Leader of All Health Professionals, Binghamton Area Losers and Laid Off But Staying Strong SparkTeams Report
Thanks for the great tips. I'm going to put them into practice this upcoming week. Report
Well done! It's such a downward spiral when we let stress and busy schedules squeeze out exercise and good nutrition. Thank you for some very good reminders for keeping our priorities straight. Report
I really enjoy walking which helps me boost my self confidence. But these days I am struggling with finding a balance between work and life. My husband never seem to appreciate that I need to take my workout seriously.. and I get really mad at him when he becomes the obstacle.. Two things I am looking forward for is a regular sleep atleast 7-8 hours and an hour for exercise daily.. I know I need these to recharge me and to keep me healthy and productive the next day.. Wouldn't it be nice if I can have a couple more hours in addition to the regular 24 hours a day? Report
When my husband was giving 4-way bypass surgery, I went to the gym before heading up for a day at the hospital...it helped me to deal with the stress, especially during the first days. I also ate healthy and would choose a soothing place on the grounds to eat...not in the hospital room with my spouse although I speny many hours in there. With other hospital incidents, I've done the same and it really has helped me not go bonkers. Now I "need" daily exercising and some healthy choices for me to feel good. I've got a nasty cold and tried to exercise today ... but got dizzy...and I feel out of sorts from having it cut short...who would have ever believed "I" would miss not exercising even when I didn't feel well! Report
I needed to hear that someone else "gets cranky" when they don't work out. I am not sure that my hubby gets why this is so critical to my balance as a career woman and a mom. I need the stress relief and the added benefit is that I'm losing weight! Report
Awesome column! All of us get stressed or too busy at times, and you gave some great tips on how to deal with that. We also need to not beat ourselves up too much if we do have to miss a day or two of workouts. Sometimes work and life just get the best of us and it is best to give in and skip a workout. I always have to remember to not get too hard on myself if that happens and to get back at it as soon as I can. Report
Good article. I agree with what your wrote. when life gets stressful it's always the right thing to do by working out and eating right. Being a one of 3 caregivers for my hubby I make sure I go on my morning run and that I also keep up on my strength training. I also try hard to eat right. By doing those things I am feeling better and the stress is less. Report
Just thinking about how you only took 3 days off of exercising in September stresses me out. If that's what it takes to be healthy, I'm screwed. Report
Thanks for sharing your information good reminders to stay flexible shop all at once then not tempted to eat something should not and getting enough rest are so important best wishes as you continue your running Report
I think exercise gets the short stick during stressful times for me - unless I'm on a training plan - then healthy eating slides a bit. It's odd to see this on the screen - because I'm a total endorphin addict - but lately my workouts don't lend themselves to be broken into more manageable chunks (I can't swim three times per day, for example) so I can get into an all or nothing mode of thinking. Doing a workout video doesn't check off any boxes in my duathlon training - perhaps I should revise mine to include cross-training (a free square, so to speak) and see how that goes.

I'm useless without enough sleep - so it's a rare time when I skimp on that. Report
What a great blog. Working out every day. That is a goal of mine. Thank you for helping me keep it in the front of my mind. Report
Great blog. I love the quotation. Visualization of a peaceful place works for me to reduce stress. Report
I make myself a schedule, and I stick to it. Right now, I'm working full time, planning my wedding, completing my teaching certification portfolio, and keeping up with the housework since my fiance works longer hours than me (and only has one day off, whereas I have 2). To keep my head of straight, I gave myself a schedule that allots time for workouts FIRST THING in the AM so I have no excuse to skip them, and all my other projects for after I get out of work. Even "do whatever I want time" is scheduled in, so that I'm always feeling sane, haha.

Oddly enough, I'm so used to this super-busy lifestyle that on Sundays, when there are no more errands or jobs to do, I feel WEIRD -- I'm always trying to schedule something else on my days off so that I'm not bored, hahaha! Report
I agree that eating, sleeping and exercise are the best ways to combat stress. And afterall that's what we have the most control over anyway! Report
This summer while working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week I increased my jogging distance from 3 KMs to about 6 KMs. Running was the only thing that kept me sane. Report
I've found out about stress this past week. I've been working overtime and it cuts way into my workout time and and mealtime. I've all but given up on the gym this week, am really struggling with diet, but I never sacrifice sleep or I would be a total zombie. I have no stress relieving tips, but would appreciate any that are posted here! Report
OMG, I am so with you all being cranky when a workout is not accomplished....that was me last night and this AM, but later today I will accomplish what I missed yesterday and finish today's workout! Woohoo! Thanks for that great article Stepfanie! Report
My life is always busy and often stressful - so I've learned to sneak in fitness when I can. I'll take the long way around the school to go to the office - voila, a 10 minute walk (with a hill) instead of just a 2 minute walk up the stairs. I do 100 calf raises and 200 pulsing squats each morning while blow drying my hair - then I do quad stretches while brushing my teeth. My DH thinks I'm nuts, but it's the only way I can squeeze in exercise some days - I figure it's better than nothing! Report
Stepfanie: I get cranky when I don't exercise too. It's been very tough for me to have any type of exercise routine lately, but I try not to miss my Body Combat classes on Saturday mornings and Monday nights. Still working on the rest of the week. But you are so right that exercise is a major stress reliever and mood booster. I need more of it. Report
I use to sacrifice sleep and inhale my food so I could get back to doing the many things that were piling up. Now I prioritize what needs to get done and healthy eating along with a good night's sleep fall very high on the list. I still have a problem prioritizing working out. I got out of the habit when I had surgery and a lay-up a couple of months ago and I REALLY need to get back it back on the higher priority list.

To be honest, the best stress relief comes from spending quality time with my family, my animals and working out. Once again, I need to get the work out back into the routine.
Stepf, thank you so much for this blog. I am also learning that the items you talked about are the most important habits we can attain and actually they are quite simple. I am setting new habits one at a time by taking them in baby steps as it does no good to glob them together all at once. It becomes too daunting and you are not successful in the end. SparkPeople is teaching me how to change my life entirely and I will be forever grateful. Report
My best stress relieving tip is to take a walk. I find walking a great way to clear out the cobwebs that can accumulate and clog my brain. The fresh air does me good too.

Some days when I'm feeling very stressed, I'll hit the gym. I find a vigorous workout really does help relieve any tension I have.

I've had some very stressful days at work. And some times, I've taken a nose dive into the chocolate. What I haven't done is over indulge. I have been able to moderate my portions even during high stress times.

I've been living a fairly healthy lifestyle for so long now, I just like the way I feel. I can't imagine giving something up just because life gets a little stressful. I think that living a healthy lifestyle helps reduce those stressful moments. I do seem to handle them better today than I did when I wasn't so healthy minded.

I admire you. I need to be more organized. Report
I saved this post so next time I start floundering and am desperately searching for something to hold on to, maybe I'll see this and get some perspective. Losing focus during busy or emotionally trying times is my biggest problem. It's the piece of the puzzle I'm working hardest to find. Thanks for sharing your story. Report
How do you stay focused when life gets tough? I put my head down and keep plowing through.

Are you more likely to sacrifice sleep, healthy eating, or exercise? Unfortunately, all three! Prolly the first to go is sleep.

What's your best stress-relieving tip? Exercise! Get out of the house for a brisk walk. Last night, I went to my Irish Step class - you wouldn't believe how much sweat I worked up! Afterwards, I felt completely relaxed and went home feeling great, even though I'd gotten some very stressful news yesterday. Report
Exercise releaves my stress.I take it out on my treadmill on my jogging / running!! This gives me time to have my self talks too.Thanks for the artical. Report