We are all so. Stressed. Out. As I try to improve the health and wellness of others and myself, I have come to find that one commonality seems almost ever-present. Stress. Stress is at the root of many of our issues, and on most of the risk factor list associated with chronic diseases.
If you are too stressed to read on, scroll to the bottom for 5 Simple Tips to help you reduce your stress!! Maybe come back to read after you’ve done a few J
What Is Stress?
Stress comes in three major categories, that, primarily, includes anything and everything. Work, time crunches and family responsibilities pose one certain type of stress, a life altering change such as the loss of a job, divorce, illness or death, another, and traumatic episodes that may include natural disasters, war, accidents, assaults, and minor yet constant stress inducing events round out the ever present stressors we all face. There is no shortage of events that have the possibility to cause us stress throughout our day.
Stress is your body, specifically your brain, responding to any demand, and the stress response is a necessary survival function. Stress can be triggered by change, positive or negative, as well as real or perceived, and can be immediate or long term, a one time event or recurring. Stress affects humans in every stage of life, young and old. No wonder it affects everything we do! The stress is not going away, you won’t outgrow it, and it won’t pass. The specific stress inducer may, but something will step in to take its place.
What actually happens when I feel stressed?
When you feel stress, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which ready the body for action. This is a lifesaving benefit when a threat requiring us to jump into action is present, like the infamous saber-toothed tiger always threatening the poor cavemen, provoking the stress response. However, in addition to traumatic events, other modern day events can create stress, some acute and some lower level and chronic. Chronic stress can build when we are unable to restore our stress hormones to a non-ready state before the next stressor arrives. This allows the stress response to stay engaged, in the “on position”, burning valuable energy and resources, and disrupting normal body functions.
One of the most important functions turned off by our stress hormones is thinking. Um, kinda important! In survival situations, we have no time to debate if we should stay and fight or if we should run left or right. That could cost us our lives in the face of a life-threatening situation.
If thinking is minimized, what else is affected by chronic stress?
Everything. Everything is affected. You are:
tired, distracted, have decreased executive function, lowered cognitive ability, altered appetite and poor food choices, mood swings, increased plaque aggregation in blood vessels, increased blood pressure, poor cardiovascular health, decreased ability to process information, unclear thinking and problem solving, decreased fertility, disrupted sleep, increased irritability, decreased problem solving, the list is endless…
How bad is stress really?
Lets take a look at the following cycle.
Chronic Stress =>Sleep Deprivation =>
Poor nutrition – (sugar and caffeine) =>
Lack of Exercise – (exhaustion) =>
Obesity exacerbates: poor nutrition, lack of exercise, poor sleep quality and perpetuates chronic stress
Not only do we have a stress response from the brain that inhibits our thinking patterns, but the stress hormones also disrupt other functions, like sleep. Sleep is one of the body’s ways to reset and restore, and cortisol, a major player in the stress response, stays elevated when sleep cycles are compromised. When sleep is compromised, we are tired, our cognitive function decreases more, we reach for sugar and caffeine to stay alert and awake and disrupt our endocrine system, even more. We avoid exercise when exhausted and this combination typically results in weight gain that increases sleep disturbances, poor nutrition choices, fatigue and lethargy, situational depression all exponentially increasing chronic stress.
Stress is relative.
I consistently remind my children that they will wait a long time should they choose to wait for a time and place where no one bothers them ever again. The best defense against chronic stress is not to wait for the stress to be gone, but to create and implement tools and strategies to help you reduce the perception of stress, or develop strategies to allow the body and brain to pause and reset. Someone or some thing is sure to present a stressful situation. We can still face the demands of the day, stressful or not, with less of a stress response by training ourselves to have a plan or to help it reset afterwards. We can create tools to oppose the instinctual and habitual response from our brains.
How do I know if I am stressed?
Many people exhibit different signs and symptoms of stress ranging from digestive symptoms, anxiety and panic, headaches, muscle aches, weight gain, mis-regulated energy (high speed or sluggish) sleep disturbances, altered mood, anger, and irritability. Stress can negatively impact many aspects of your mental, emotional and physical health.
How do I decrease my stress?
Decreasing stress is not tough! The tough part is prioritizing it, believing that “putting your own oxygen mask on first” is beneficial. You are a more effective you if your stress is lowered, so invest the time to feel better. Avoid the grind to get it all done. You are more productive with lowered stress. Mindfulness is another word for meditation. Meditation is an intimidating word for most Americans and so practitioners have now begun to use the word mindfulness. Whatever you prefer to call it, fine, but do it. One minute a day. Everyone has one minute a day. Sometimes, even two.
First, create a mental basket to deposit “to do” items in for another time. You aren’t throwing them away or forgetting about them, just holding off on dealing with them until you are ready. Choose 1, 2 or all 5 of these simple tips to help you lower your stress levels throughout your day.
- 1-Minute Meditation – a beginning meditation can be as simple as counting your inhales up to 10 and then start over. If you get distracted, just start over. One minute is plenty to start.
- Visualization – recall a snapshot of a happy experience in your life time. Close your eyes and see every detail, inhale the smell, listen to the sounds, enjoy any taste that may have been. Hold this in your mind for a minute.
- Walking – Take a noon time or after dinner stroll to increase physical activity and lower stress.
- Avoid refined sugars and excess caffeine – External stimulants can disrupt the natural energy patterns of our bodies sending us on a roller coaster ride.
- Stretch – Incorporating a few stretches can release fatigue in tired muscles, increase blood flow, and signal “me time”. At your desk, retract your shoulder blades (opposite of leaning over your computer) and stand at least once an hour to stretch your flexors.