By Zonya Foco, RD, CHFI, CSP

Why is it that some very happy and healthy people have chronically-demanding lives, yet the daily stress is like “water off a duck’s back” to them? Meanwhile, others with similar stressors suffer overtly with anxiety and even depression, often leading to more colds and flu, high cholesterol and blood pressure – not to mention aging faster too. None of uswant any of that! So, what is it that successful stress managers know, and how can we get some of that?

I will be sharing seven Habits of Highly-Effective Stress Managers in my STREZZ-FREE presentation at the 7th Annual Greater Fort Wayne Workplace Wellness Symposium on April 14, but would like to start by first imparting this central core habit: Effective stress managers eat right, whether they are stressed or not.

How? By having certain rituals or habits in place that carry them through time-crunched, stressful moments.

Some of those practiced and automatic fueling habits look like this:

  • They hydrate with water (or diluted juice) first thing in the morning before having tea or coffee. They do this not just “when they are dieting” and not just “when they have time,” but automatically, every single morning. Their “detoxifying ritual” might be to drink:
    • a cup of hot or cold water with lemon while their coffee brews; or
    • a shaker glass of water with an Emergen-C packet (containing 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C) and a scoop of “greens” powder – plus a teaspoon of chia seed. (This is my routine.)
  • They (without measuring anything) throw together a nutrient dense-breakfast that they actually enjoy, like the following:
    • Two eggs and one cup of baby spinach scrambled in a cup, then microwaved one minute, with salsa and maybe leftover cooked rice or quinoa added. Eaten with a banana, orange or pear.
    • A bowl of oats microwaved with water, cinnamon, raisins, nuts and/or frozen blueberries – plus any combination of a super food, like chia, flax or hemp
    • A single-serving carton of Greek yogurt (like Siggi’s, which has more protein than sugar per serving) mixed with Grape-Nuts, oats, flax seed, fruit and nuts
    • If they do visit a drive-thru, it’s oatmeal with fruit and nuts, or an Egg McMuffin and a piece of fruit brought from home.
  • They have a tried-and-true repertoire of nutrient-dense lunch options from which to choose, such as a salad with dark greens; stir-fry; vegetable soup and half a sandwich; or a bowl of chili and fruit.
  • They stock their fridge at work with a bag of baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and celery.
  • They carry with them a bottle of water in addition to almonds, dried fruit, fresh fruit (grabbed from the fruit bowl prominently displayed on their kitchen counter) or smart granola bars like the low-sugar “Kind” bars.
  • They know how to make quick dinners using their George Foreman Grill or their wok by making stir-fry in minutes flat from bags of mixed frozen vegetables, jarred sauce and quick-cooking brown rice. Or they whip up a super simple “pita pizza” by using whole-grain pita bread, spaghetti sauce, chopped ham and vegetables plus one-fourth cup of mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. They even know how to supercharge flavors and nutrition by making a spinach pesto pita pizza with artichokes and pineapple.
  • Even if they succumb to ordering pizza for dinner, they are practiced at “diluting” the meal by snacking on baby carrots and an apple before the pizza arrives so that having just two slices is no problem. And bingo, the meal is high fiber and nutrient rich too. (Not to mention deprivation-free!)
  • They understand that sugary, processed foods don’t in reality reduce stress, but instead create more stress in their bodies by elevating insulin levels, which causes a cascade of negative metabolic changes that create stress from the “inside out.” With this knowledge in hand, they have learned to appreciate fresh fruit as their dessert of choice, paired with an occasional ounce of 60% cocoa (or higher) dark chocolate, which they enjoy more than “too sweet” milk chocolate.
  • Instead of coping with feelings of stress or anxiety by attempting to “change their state” by reaching for comfort foods like cake, cookies, candy and milk chocolate, they “change their state” by stepping outside for a minute, doing stretches, drinking water, crunching an apple, sipping tea, playing with a pet or listening to music.

Can you see yourself evolving into this kind of highly-successful stress manager? Adapting these habits so they are your own and “automatic” no matter what comes your way takes practice. Say yes to picking one or two to work on for a week or more and keep at it until it’s instinctive. Before you know it, you too will be a Highly-Effective Stress Manager!

Zonya, host of Zonya’s Health Bites on public television, is the author of the best-selling cookbook Lickety-Split Meals for Health Conscious People on the Go (which is the ultimate stress fighter) as well as numerous other books and DVDs on nutrition, exercise and DIET-FREE weight management. Visit for more tips, recipes, videos and simple solutions to de-stressing and balancing your life.