We all deal with stress. That’s a fact. We have work stress, relationship stress, driving in traffic stress, family stress, etc. The list could probably go on forever right? Stress is different for everyone. What stresses me out (driving in the snow and rain) might be something really fun for someone else (who owns a Jeep).
Stress can be broken down into two categories: eustress (good stress, which is defined as “moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer”) and distress (bad stress). Distress is the type of stress that ideally we would like to avoid because it makes us feel worse. Eustress is the fun stress (jumping out of a plane if Skydiving is your idea of fun or regular old exercise if you don’t like jumping from planes). Eustress, like distress, can be different for everyone. From here on out when I say stress what I'm talking about is distress.
So what’s so bad about stress (besides the obvious that it doesn’t make us feel good)? Stress causes your body to redirect its resources away from necessary functions to instead focus on the stress (think fight-or-flight and your digestion for example – your body is too busy worrying about surviving that it’s not worried about breaking down and absorbing your food). Stress can suppress gut function, leading eventually to intestinal permeability (or otherwise known as leaky gut). Intestinal permeability leads to food sensitivities, inflammation in the body and potentially even to autoimmune disorders. Gut issues can cause decreased serotonin (the majority of serotonin is made in your gut) as well as decreased melatonin (also made in the gut). Decreased serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety and insomnia. Decreased melatonin can lead to trouble falling and staying asleep.
Prolonged stress can lead to extended periods of elevated cortisol levels. When your cortisol levels stay elevated it can lead to weight gain (especially around the middle) and increased blood sugar levels leading to an increase in insulin resulting in increased appetite and cravings. Excessive amounts of cortisol can also slow your body’s production of thyroid hormone and slow the conversion of T4 to T3. As well as cause loss of muscle mass and decreased sex hormones (low libido and low energy), not something any of us want right?
I could go on and on about how stress affects the body but that’s a topic for another blog post. Plus, I think after hearing weight gain and low libido you are now well aware it can have some undesired affects.
I used to tell clients to reduce stress, as if that’s easy. But the fact of life is, you can’t always just reduce stress. You can’t just stop doing the work at your job that stresses you out (unless you’re okay with being fired). You can’t just snap your fingers and your roommates will all of a sudden start washing their dishes everyday. You can’t blink and make all the other cars on the road disappear. So, if you can’t reduce stress what can you do?
You can offset stress and reduce some of its effects. What helps to counteract stress will be different for everyone, just as what is defined as stressful is different for everyone, but here are a few of my favorite methods:
1. Have a morning routine – I can’t stress enough of how much of a difference this has had on my life. I notice a major difference between the days I start my day with a routine compared to the days I just hop out of bed and start working. My favorite routine lately is doing a few minutes of yoga followed by a couple minutes of journaling. Sometimes my morning routine just involved reading while sipping my coffee.
2. Take a break – If you’re thinking “but I have too much to do, I can’t take a break!” you need to take an even longer break. I don’t know about you but the more stressed I am, the less work I get done. So I take frequent breaks. Every 25 minutes or so I take a 5 minute break. Maybe this isn’t realistic for you, but aim to a take a break at least once or twice throughout your day to just sit with your eyes closed, breath, or take a quick walk.
3. Exercise – this is the good kind of stress, remember? Find a type of exercise you can enjoy. If you do something you absolutely loathe it will probably just increase the distress in your life.
4. Disconnect – We spend so much time on the go and on our phones (and our laptops, tablets, etc.). When was the last time you took 5-10 minutes to disconnect? Sit with your eyes closed and just chill? Or talk to your family without simultaneously scrolling through Instagram?
5. Get outside in nature- This always helps me. There’s a trail just a few minutes from my house that I can walk in about 15 minutes and it always calms me down and centers me. If I can’t make it there I just take a five-minute walk around my neighborhood. Find a friend and go for a hike regularly. Or use part of your lunch break to step outside and get away from your work for a few minutes. Your adrenals will thank you, I promise.
Remember, this list isn’t exhaustive. If doing one of these things causes you more stress then it isn’t the right thing for you. Experiment until you find something that’s easy to stick to and you enjoy. Have other methods of offsetting stress I didn’t list here? Comment below, I’d love to hear them.
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