Is Stress Holding You Back?
Let's talk about stress. We’re all pretty familiar with it. As adults stress becomes a part of our life. We have responsibilities and deadlines to attend to. Although we often think of stress as a bad thing, in small doses, it’s actually quite beneficial. It motivates us to meet those deadlines at work, finish a school project, stick to our diet, or get to the gym first thing in the morning. But sometimes, stress becomes overwhelming. It accumulates and eventually we can’t take it anymore. This build up and constant stress is the kind that’s harmful to our health. This is the type of stress we want to talk about.
Chronic stress is detrimental to our health for many reasons. That's why, as nutrition coaches, we’re always concerned about our client’s stress levels. Prolonged stress can negatively impact almost every function of the body, including digestive, cardiovascular, reproductive and brain function.
When we become stressed, our adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones spike. Other systems slow down, and our bodies basically go into protect mode. When the stressor is no longer there, our bodies systems return to normal and everything levels out. The problem happens when the stressor sticks around, and our stress levels remain elevated. This can lead to things like:
- Lower immune response
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive issues
- Muscle tightness
- Sleep problems
- Skin breakouts
- Emotional irritability
People who are chronically stressed tend to exercise less and either over eat or under eat. When the body is stressed, it has a higher chance of becoming sick and has a much harder time managing chronic diseases.
If we’re high stress or struggling with something mentally, our diets are much less effective and we find ourselves making slow or no progress. But we know some stress is inevitable. So how do we manage it to ensure stress levels don’t stay elevated? Each and every one of us is unique in how we analyze stress and how we let it impact our lives. What one person might let roll of their shoulders, another might hold on to and let build up inside. Just like with our nutrition, we need to create balance and find what works for us individually. Enough stress to get us through our day productively, but not so much that we’re constantly in the ‘fight or flight’ mode.
Here are some of our tips for how to manage stress:
- Figure out and admit what is specifically causing you to be stressed.
- Break down the tasks and obligations you have and prioritize them. Often times when we have too much on our plate, nothing gets done, and that’s when things get worse.
- Be realistic with your time and obligations. If you’ve spread yourself too thin, take a step back. Reevaluate and prioritize what’s realistic for you. If you have to get rid of something, get rid of it. You can’t be multiple places at once no matter how hard you try.
- Turn off distractions. We live in a world with constant distraction. Phones, computers, social media, etc. Put the distractions away and work on the task at hand. It’s amazing how much you’ll get done if you aren’t checking your email or instagram every five minutes.
- Mediate - meditation provides mental clarity and can reduce stress hormones.
- Workout - exercise helps to reduce stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins.
- Go for a walk - get your blood flowing and a nice dose of vitamin D.
- Get more sleep - if you’re experiencing chronic stress, you’re probably having a hard time falling asleep at night. And if you aren’t getting enough sleep or your sleep quality is poor, you probably find you’re more stressed the next day. It’s a vicious cycle. Make your sleep routine a priority.
- Journal - this is another great way to clear your mind and to better understand your thoughts and emotions.
- Avoid or reduce caffeine - caffeine has been shown to increase cortisol levels. If you’re already stressed (aka cortisol is high) you’re just adding fuel to the fire.
- Take a bath - a great form of relaxation.
- Do yoga - like meditation and light exercise, yoga can clear your mind, reduce stress hormones and get your blood flowing.
- Talk to a friend, family member or coach. Connecting with others and having a support system is important. Allow yourself to talk about what’s causing your stress. They can listen and offer a fresh perspective.
- Socialize with people who are positive and supportive.
As we mentioned in the beginning, some stress is healthy. Think about how to turn all of your stress into the healthy kind by prioritizing and taking on only what you can handle. Are you stressed because you have a project due next week? That’s okay, it will motivate you to get it done. Don’t allow it to negatively impact everything else in your life though. Find a way to manage it and calm yourself. Do you have a technique that works for you?