If the taste of chocolate chip cookies helps you manage the state of things, let no one declare cookies off limits. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Scared. Overwhelmed. Anxious. Angry. Bored.

These are just a few of the more challenging emotions we often find ourselves dealing with in the face of a worldwide pandemic.

In response, many of us have engaged in a variety of stress-relieving behaviors.

A common one: stress eating. This is when someone chooses to eat in response to challenging feelings, versus eating in response to hunger cues.

Stress eating is a coping method.

It serves to help us “check out” or “numb” anxious feelings, or it provides a temporary moment of comfort during an otherwise overwhelming day.

And I am here to say, “It’s OK!”

Stress eating is a normal human behavior. Savoring the taste of some cookies while tuning out the news might be the best thing for our mental health in the moment.

To make the most of it, practice being intentional.

Choose a comfort food, portion out an amount that feels reasonable to you and eliminate other distractions—even if that means hiding out somewhere for a few moments if you have small children.

It is important, however, to recognize that stress eating is not your only tool in your stress management toolbox.

Take a moment to list some alternative coping mechanisms so you can decide what will truly make you feel better.

Some suggestions:

  • Get outside. Go for a walk around the block or even just sit on your porch for some fresh air.
  • Even if you are not artistically inclined, an adult coloring book or paint-by-number kit will place your focus on being in the moment.
  • Take a few minutes to check in with someone. Send them a quick text or email, call them, or engage in some good old-fashioned letter writing. We all benefit from connecting.
  • Try a fun game or app. Right now I am enjoying a phone game called Tiles Hop, which involves bouncing a ball on tiles to music.
  • Play your favorite song or re-watch a favorite TV show or film. Familiarity is calming, like an old friend.
  • Try a new recipe. If you have a go-to comfort food, try making it yourself. The process of making it should be part of your stress relief.

When the world is in crisis, it helps to slow down and savor life’s little pleasures.

The feeling of the sun warming your face. The sound of birds chirping at first light. The smell of the breeze off Lake Michigan.

The way a smile lights up a loved one’s face.

The taste of freshly baked, still-warm-from-the-oven cookies.

Do what you need to do to stay safe, manage your emotions—and enjoy the cookies.

Sarah Flessner, MS, RD, CSP, has been a registered dietitian with Spectrum Health’s Nutrition Services for more than half a decade. She specializes in pediatric nutrition and eating disorders. She obtained her master’s of science in nutrition from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington, and she is a board-certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. In her free time, Sarah enjoys cooking, yoga and spending time with friends. She resides in Eastown with her husband, son, daughter and two dogs.

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