I have decided to claim February as the month of self-care/love! I know you love so many people in your world... But are you loving YOU, too? You should... You are SO worth it!
STRESS. It sucks. It just does. There’s no way around it. Unless we dig a very, very deep hole, crawl into it, and hide away for the rest of our lives, stress is as much a part of living as breathing. BTW: in the above scenario, the digging of the hole would be a stressor, as would the isolation, lack of sunlight, and a host of stressful environmental conditions associated with “deep hole living.” So that’s not really an answer.
Let’s attempt to define stress. Some experts say that stress is our response to a demand—the way we respond to either internal forces (our heath and fitness levels, emotional well-being) or external forces (our physical environment, challenges, difficulties, relationships). Stress can save our lives (fight or flight), but it can also wreck our lives when we live under too much for too long. That’s kind of the story of modern life, right? Most people I know are chronically and abundantly stressed out.
What happens when our bodies are under stress? I love the way Dr. Joseph Mercola explains: “When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which prepares your body to fight or flee the stressful event. Your heart rate increases, your lungs take in more oxygen, your blood flow increases and parts of your immune system become temporarily suppressed, which reduces your inflammatory response to pathogens. The problem is that when stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes less sensitive to cortisol, which may heighten the inflammatory response. This increases your chances of becoming sick and getting cold symptoms, such as coughing and sneezing.”
So the problem is not so much that initial response to stress, it’s when the stress becomes more of a chronic condition that we are at risk for a host of health problems. Stress also wreaks havoc on our nutrition and fitness goals. When we are stressed, we often eat from emotional needs, not true hunger. We are more inclined to reach for high calorie, or sugary snacks. Additionally, when we are under stressful events, our bodies release the hormone cortisol. Although cortisol has some positive effects on the body, when it stays for too long, the effects become negative. Cortisol causes the body to release insulin, which can lead to an appetite increase. So the longer cortisol is at work in the body, the more hunger we will feel. There’s more…(ugh). When we are stressed out, the hormone cortisol increases our blood sugar levels and the extra glucose circulating in our bodies gets stored as fat. To make things more frustrating, research indicates that the hormone can actually direct fat stores to the abdominal area.
Ok, enough. Reading this is probably stressful. So, what are we to do? Although some stress factors are within our power to avoid by intentionally and mindfully doing so, we are not going to avoid stress entirely. Instead, we have to manage it. Here’s a list of some of my go-to methods for dealing:
Reach up and out: To God (aka your Higher Power), and to your people: friends, family, support system.
Get up and out: Off of the couch or chair or bed and move your body. Walk, run, do push ups, sweat, just don’t be still. Movement will release your “feel good” hormones.
Relax: Get a massage, go to a yoga class, have tea with a friend, or watch a hilarious youtube clip, take a bubble bath, diffuse essential oils (Doterra Serenity Blend!)
Breathe: Deeply… inhale for 7 counts, exhale for 7 counts. Repeat until you feel better.
Eat nutritious foods: Avoid added sugars, processed foods, alcohol (usually makes a bad problem worse), and caffeine. Deep stress requires deep care, so focus on clean, whole foods.
We are in this together. Be good to yourself today. Take one moment at a time…that’s all we are promised and all we are equipped to handle. You are amazing.