Keeping Healthy Lifestyle Focus in Times of Stress

In my practice, stress and coping are topics I regularly address. I try and help patients see the connection between their life stressors, coping skills and overall health.

The goal is to help patients cope more healthfully and keep the positive focus they need to maintain their healthy lifestyle habits.

If life stressors impair your ability to keep your healthy lifestyle focus, here are some tips to guide you:

1-Improve Your Sleep Routine

High stress levels and poor sleep habits often go together; both can negatively affect your health, well-being and body weight.

To improve your sleep, I recommend following a healthy sleep routine such as limiting screen time, and avoiding doing work and discussing anxiety-producing topics before bed.

You can search ‘sleep hygiene’ online for more tips for better sleep.

2-Try De-Stressing Techniques

According to renowned psychology expert Dr. Gary Foster, author of the new book, The Shift: 7 Powerful Mindset Changes for Lasting Weight Loss, habits come in handy when we’re stressed, tired, or otherwise taxed.

When you’re feeling stressed, Dr. Foster suggests you try one of The Shift’s techniques to help you stay focused on healthy living:

  • Be kind to yourself. Practicing self-compassion has many wellness benefits; for instance, it can help you better maintain a healthy diet, take care of your health (e.g., eat well, be active) even when you’re ill or stressed, and feel more motivated to be active for positive, internal reasons (e.g., it’s fun, it makes you feel good) rather than feelings of guilt or external pressure.
  • Practice gratitude. When stressed, it is easy to focus on the negative, but take this time to think about things you’re grateful for. Gratitude helps shift your perspective toward the bigger picture and lean into what’s going well – and enables you to find pleasure, even if it’s in a small or seemingly routine thing (having a great cup of coffee, the night sky).
  • Focus on your breathing. During this exercise, observe rather than judge. It might take some getting used to, and no one is great at it at first. Start small by putting 2-3 minutes aside and then build overtime.
  • Head outside. Even if it’s a walk around the block, focusing on what you see, hear and smell can reduce feelings of stress.
  • Recognize what you can control and what you can’t. Focus on things you can do and can control, such as your schedule, what you’re eating, activity, etc. Having a sense of control can help reduce stress, in turn.
  • Reach out to a friend or family member. Make time for connection and reaching out to the people you’re closest to, even if that’s via phone or video chat. Research shows that receiving support from others can help you shift how you think about stressful events.

3-Hold onto Core Behaviors

In times of stress, the goal is to weather the storm by holding onto your core healthy lifestyle behaviors that are most meaningful.

Core behaviors are the most important eating, physical activity and stress management habits you follow day-to-day that keep you feeling in control of your health; these vary from person-to-person. Some examples:

  • Starting each day with a breakfast meal
  • Keeping trigger foods out of the home
  • Wearing an activity tracker
  • Self-weighing at home on regular basis
  • Using meditation app when stressed

I hope that better sleep habits, trying Dr. Foster’s de-stressing techniques and holding onto your core behaviors can help keep your healthy lifestyle focus, even in times of stress.

Better self care and better health often go together.


Robert Kushner, MD

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