Stress has been the topic of the month with my clients. As the year thunders on, and our to-do lists grow ever bigger, I thought it was a good time for quick time out for chat about stress, what it’s doing to your health and how to fix it.
Have you been stressed lately? We all experience stress from time to time and we all know the impact it can have on mood and behaviour, yet most of us have no idea of the damaging impact stress can be having on our health and vitality.
Most people these days live with a certain amount of ongoing stress. We are stressed about our careers, our relationships, our kids, our finances, our families, our weight, our friends, our inbox, our to-do list and the list goes on.
While it has become incredibly common for stress to be a regular part of our lives, being common doesn’t make it normal and certainly does not make it healthy.
When I talk with my clients about their stress levels, most can acknowledge that they have chronically high stress, but don’t know what to do about it, and quite frankly, don’t always know why they should. It simply seems like one more thing to add to an already full to do list!
As an expert in helping people make healthy changes in their lives, I know that the most important part of making any change, is to have a very compelling ‘why’.
When it comes to WHY you should care about your stress level, you need to first understand what stress does to your body.
So here we go… a little simplified science lesson.
When you are stressed your body produces stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are there to save your life, but unfortunately don’t know the difference between life threatening ‘I’m being chased by a bear’ stress and less life threatening ‘I forgot to send that important email’ stress. When these hormones are released, they have a very specific purpose.
Adrenaline is for short term stress and is there to help you fight or run away from a threat. To do this, it sends blood flow away from your other bodily functions to your arms and legs. It also wants you to be able to move as quickly as possible away from any threat, so signals your body to switch from burning fat for fuel to burning glucose for fuel as glucose burns much faster.
Cortisol on the other hand comes along with chronic and long term stress. This hormone tells your body that there is likely an ongoing environmental threat, which historically would have been a famine or war, but these days is more likely just that you’ve had the same horrible boss for a year and go to work stressed every day. Cortisol also just wants to save your life, so begins storing more calories as fat to survive the famine, shutting down your reproductive system to ensure a child isn’t born into an unstable environment and keeping you from sleeping deeply and putting yourself at risk of attack.
While we can all agree your body has your best interests at heart, are you beginning to see the problems that could arise when your body is receiving a steady flow of adrenaline and cortisol because of your ongoing stress levels?
Some of the common complaints I hear from clients when adrenaline and cortisol’s are holding the reins….
With all your blood being diverted from your digestive system to your limbs, your digestion can slow down, nutrient absorption worsens and you can end up with all number of uncomfortable symptoms from bloating and constipation to pain and trouble digesting certain foods.
2. Fertility issues
Your reproductive system needs blood flow to stay healthy and can miss out when redirected by sneaky adrenaline. Cortisol can also block progesterone (pregnancy hormone) receptors, which is bad news for female fertility.
3. Weight gain
When your body believes you are in danger and you need to run away, adrenaline helps your body to switch from burning your own fat stores for fuel, to burn sugar as it can be used much faster in an emergency. This means you wont be burning your own fat stores and will be craving sugar. Which means, hello weight gain. On top of this, if cortisol comes to play, any calories you eat will be more likely to be stored as visceral fat (dangerous organ fat) to protect you from starvation. Thanks body, but no thanks!
4. Poor sleep + fatigue
If your body believes you to be in danger, it simply wont allow you to drop down into deep restorative sleep which is vital for all your bodies repair mechanisms, including immunity. This can leave you not only fatigued but run down and susceptible to infections.
How to begin reducing your stress levels…
I love guided meditations and there are some absolutely amazing ones out there. One of my all time favourites though is the Mama Goddess Guided 7 Day Meditation. By receiving a short 10 minute guided meditation every day for 7 days, it can be a wonderful way to kick start a habit of starting your day relaxed, calm and peaceful. The best part is, you can listen to it again at any time during the day if you feel your stress levels creeping up. You can access this wonderful guided meditation here…
2. Deep breathing
Breathing diaphragmatically is one of the best ways to switch off your ‘fight and flight’ response and can be employed whenever you feel your stress creeping up. Simply sit or lay with your hands on on your belly and make your belly rise with your in breath, and fall with your out-breath. Do this for a round of at least 10 breaths and check in and see how you feel.
Moderate exercise can help to reduce stress levels and helps release feel good endorphins. Yoga is a particularly good option due to it’s emphasis on linking your movement to your breath.
4. Reduce the coffee/ caffeine
Caffeine stimulates your body to produce stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Switch to herbal tea or water instead.
5. Nurture your sleep
Sleep is a key player in helping your body remove excess stress hormones from your body. You can help support your sleep by switching off your screens and devices at least 2 hours before bed, aiming to be in bed by 10pm and including relaxation techniques into your nightly routine like meditation and deep breathing.
6. Essential oils
Certain therapeutic grade essential oils can help support calm and relaxation. My favourites are dōTERRA’s lavender, balance, frankincense. Keeping your choice of calming oil on hand and applying diluted to pulse points, add to a vaporiser or simply breath in from the bottle can be a wonderful tool in keeping stress at bay. If you would like to know how you can access doTERRA oils at a discounted rate, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the link to my online store here.
7. Evaluate your perceptions of pressure
Remember that the way you think about the things that stress you, has a huge impact on how much stress you feel. If there is something in your life that consistently sends you into a stress spiral, have a think about what it is about this type of event that upsets you so much. Is it feeling out of control? Is it feeling criticised? Is it feeling you have to do it all? Is it a difficulty saying no? Having an understanding of what your stress triggers are, can help you to change the situation or to talk yourself down when you are in a pickle. e.g. reminding yourself that you don’t have to do it all alone, you can ask for help, or reminding yourself of all the times you have done something well when you feel criticised. Remember YOU have control of how you see the things that occur in your life and the amount of stress you allow to take hold. Employing your relaxation strategies on top of changing your perception can be a potent combination I invite you to try.
If you feel you would like support to better understand your relationship with stress and how to begin taking control of it and your health, I’d love to help you. Click below to schedule a complimentary 45 minute clarity session to discover how Health Coaching can support you.