Stress has been an integral part of life since I can remember. Do you know how to reduce the impact of stress so it doesn’t cause long-term damage to your body and mind?
As a kid, I suffered from intense social anxiety, which turned into plain old ‘life anxiety’ as I got older. Little did I know back then, all of the constant stress in my system was causing havoc on more than just my mindset. How often do you tell yourself that you’ll get to decompress once a particularly stressful time is over?
That became my rallying cry for years. “Just get through this big project and I’ll let myself recover,” I’d blindly proclaim. Yet, that promised recovery time never materialized and chronic stress started to take its toll. I developed ulcers. Psoriasis became an issue. I gained weight. I simply couldn’t relax. Even worse, I would hide my anxiety with a mask of “no worries.” Cool as a cucumber on the outside; frazzled like frisée on the inside.
In the past few years, the impact of stress was magnified by multiple miscarriages, early menopause, and losing our home in a wildfire. It was time to face it head-on and proactively heal my battered self. My propensity to hide the weight of my stress was the worst thing I could be doing; as it simply exacerbated the physical impacts that I was suffering.
Here’s How Your Body Responds to Stress
Did you know that upon the initial onset of a stressful event, your body responds with an instant surge of adrenal hormones? We’re all familiar with the raised heart rate, sweaty palms, and pumping blood pressure that stress hormones adrenaline and nor-adrenaline give us.How aware are you of the aftermath of this surge of power from your stress response?
This reactionary process triggers the production of inflammatory cytokines in your system and then reallocates your resources by shutting down digestion. Fine. The stressful moment passes and you’re ready to move on. Yet, your stress system isn’t done with you yet.
Once your system is ready to turn your digestive system back on, it tries to counteract energy depletion with increased cravings and a reduced metabolic rate. (Hello couch time with ice cream and fried food.)If left unchecked, your stress-related binge eating can lead to an increase of dreaded tummy/adipose fat. Other than giving you a dandy muffin top, adipose fat also secretes more of the cytokines I mentioned before… increasing inflammation further.
WARNING: The onset of adipose fat is even worse if you’re a 40+ woman. Charming, right? (There is a long chain of reactions related to continued inflammation… I’ll get into that on another post because I want to shift the focus to the impact of perpetual stress.)
Chronic Stress? Negative Health Impacts Multiply
If your stressful ‘event’ continues longer than 10 minutes, your body signals to the endocrine system to kick-in. Your HPA (Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal) Axis is the part of your endocrine system that begins pumping out the hormone cortisol. This hormone is designed to produce the energy you need for the ‘flight or fight’ mess you’ve gotten yourself into.
You can thank cortisol for increased blood pressure, boosted blood glucose, and reduced sex drive. Fun stuff, right? Can’t get off the stress train? Well, your body keeps cycling through this process. Chronic stress keeps your HPA Axis switched on; depleting dopamine, reducing immune function, increasing oxidative stress, heightening inflammation, introducing the risk of disease, triggering weight gain, and opening the door for depression.
Basically, chronic stress can wreck nearly every aspect of your health. I can personally vouch for most of its impacts.
What the Heck Can You Do to Reduce the Impact of Stress?
So great, I’ve basically told you’re outta luck if stress is a part of your life.
Since stress is an ongoing part of everybody’s life, we all have to keep an eye out for detrimental impacts. Thankfully, you can activate a host of tools to help you fortify against stress and its unhealthy implications. The process that has worked for me involves four steps: control, nourish, recharge and grow:
Step 1: Control Your Situation
Taking control of a potentially stressful situation gives you confidence, which helps reduce the reaction phase of the stress cycle. Have a problem? Face it head-on and organize the crap out of it! Kinda like facing the monster under your bed when you were a kid.
Step 2: Nourish Your Body
Through your encounter with stress, the foods you choose have a big impact on how your body reacts and heals. Likely, you’ll get stressed and increase inflammatory cytokine production and enter a phase of cravings. Choosing anti-inflammatory ingredients and healthier comfort food options can make a big impact. There is also a big play for increasing adrenal health, anti-oxidant, gut health, and dopamine-boosting ingredients into your diet.
Step 3: Recharge Your Wits
One of the best ways to battle the impacts of stress is to consistently get 8 hours of sleep. This is the time for your body to recuperate from the day and rebuild resources. If you shortchange this precious cycle, then you’re not maximizing your stress resilience. Simple steps such as reducing screen time, trying mild sleep aids (I love tart cherry juice) or using earplugs can make a bit difference.
On the opposite end of sleep is another form of recharge: movement. Simply walking for 30 minutes per day or engaging in a yoga practice can help your body reduce inflammation caused by stress. An added perk is the feel-good hormone dopamine, which your body gets to enjoy after a daily exercise routine. You don’t even have to complete the 30 minutes all at the same time.
Step 4: Grow Your Foundation
When we’re overly stressed, it can be easy to neglect the things that help ground ourselves. Quality time with family, chilling with friends, or simply finding mental peace can be priceless. Each of those activities can help to diffuse the power of stress and give us much needed relief.
Try scheduling just 15 minutes in your busy schedule to do something creative. Watercolor has always been a fav of mine. I set-up a travel watercolor kit (with a self-contained water brush because it’s cool) so I can chill-out whenever necessary. Because it is easy to set-up and clean-up, there are no excuses.
Reduce the Impact of Stress in Four Steps
Face it, you will have to face various levels of stress throughout your life. Yet, simply having the confidence to know how to fortify yourself against the impacts of stress is my kind of winning. To recap:
- Control Your Situation
- Nourish Your Body
- Recharge Your Wits
- Grow Your Foundation
Please don’t stress about doing all-the-things all-the time. Simply be conscious to incorporate a few of the above tips into each day. Next thing you know, you’ll have an upper hand on how you react to and heal from stress. No worries, right?
If you’re interested in learning more about Stress Management, you may also be interested in these blog posts: