With digital and technological advancements at our fingertips, the traditional nine to five workaday schedule is waning. We can check and send work emails from our smartphones at any time, even during our out-of-town vacations. We can read business proposals on our iPads while waiting at the dental office. We can do our work as long as we have our laptops with us whether we are at home or at a local coffee shop. The possibilities are limitless and we are full of countless ambitions. We are always on list-mode accomplishing one thing after the other in order to follow our career paths. We are on the verge of becoming “work-machines,” rather than being a healthy human being.
We often neglect to care for our physical and mental health. Exercising, eating healthy and getting the required eight hours of sleep becomes a luxury, as we push it further and further down our to-do list. If we could pick one word to describe how we feel during most of the year, most of us would probably choose “stressed”. Debbie Mandel, stress-management expert and author of Addicted to Stress, discusses how simple acts like cooking can be therapeutic.
RTBB: From your experience and observation, what do you see as the leading or predominant causes of stress?
Debbie Mandel: A long to-do list which keeps growing, overwhelmed with technology and unrealistic expectations contribute to stressful perception.
RTBB: I have often heard that some stress is good for the body. At what point does it become harmful?
DM: Acute stress is good for mind and body. It jump-starts the immune system and gets you to perform better. However, chronic stress causes fatigue, illness and emotional sadness and anxiety.
RTBB: For some people, stress is a significant part of their life or it is even hardwired into their personality. What advice can you give to them in order to lessen or at least manage their stress levels?
DM: I recommend carving out some time for the self to reboot one’s system. Activity alleviates anxiety so: Exercise away stress hormones to achieve clarity and better health; engage in a creative hobby to counteract the destruction stress causes; eat balanced healthy meals as food and mood correlate highly.
RTBB: Is it true that simple acts and hobbies like cooking relieve stress?
DM: Yes, because life is a balance and creativity helps you lose time and space to return to the self – to accomplish just for you as opposed to accomplishing for everyone else. Cooking is a creative pastime which involves food selection, recipe choice, implementation, and presentation. You get to enjoy the “fruits” of your hobby with immediate gratification.
RTBB: What is it about cooking that makes it relaxing?
Debbie Mandel: It is an art form which keeps you focused on just cooking. You get a break from your worries and negativities. When you cook, you are in control and so this activity is empowering. Then you can share what you cooked with others to achieve good energy and circulate happiness. Cooking becomes social and loving.
RTBB: In relation to cooking, I often find myself eating more than usual when I am stressed. Can that be considered food therapy (i.e., a way to decrease my stress levels)?
DM: When you cook quality ingredients and fill up on creativity instead of junk food to self-soothe, you are able to eat mindfully. The point is you don’t want a fill a hole in your heart with junk food. Cooking fills it with creativity and you get to select healthy ingredients as opposed to artificial, multi-syllabic chemicals.
RTBB: Is it healthy to do that?
DM: A quick way to decrease stress levels and improve mood is to eat complex carbs and then follow with protein and fiber to sustain your mood. Complex carbs help generate serotonin.
RTBB: What would be better after a stressful day: Eat out in my favorite restaurant or go whip myself up a gourmet meal?
DM: My vote is for whipping up a gourmet meal: You are aware of what is really in the food – no hidden ingredients which do not agree with you; you are not tempted to order what you know is not good for you; you save money for something special; you have the satisfaction of creative accomplishment; if you have a family, make it a family affair with everyone sharing in the positive experience – happiness is contagious.
Career and education are important aspects of life, but as Debbie Mandel advises, we need to enjoy our lives. So if work or school is just too much to handle, step back and make yourself some hazelnut pancakes!