“I’m just SO stressed out!” has crossed all of our lips in one form or another, especially over this last year. Stress is a growing epidemic in the world that we all have first hand knowledge of in what it feels like, however you may not understand exactly what stress is and the negative effects it can have on your physical being.
You may not realize it, but stress can be good and bad. We also know a small amount of stress can actually yield optimal performance. However, chronic stress (oh hey, Covid pandemic of 2020) is the most harmful type of stress. If chronic stress is left untreated over a long period of time, it can significantly damage your physical health and start to deteriorate your mental health as well.
When we refer to stress, what we’re actually referring to is a very intricate process of our brains signaling hormones within our body to go off in order for us to function in a way to combat that stress (fight or flight sound familiar?). But when we experience chronic stress, our bodies can burn out and/or become flooded by these hormones that are only meant to be there temporarily. That prolonged, continued exposure to these hormones can really mess with almost every other major system within your body.
Stress is known to weaken your immune system, increase blood sugar blood pressure, & heart rate, can contribute to insomnia, and can have negative effects on your sex hormones (think fertility, sex drive, ED) and your gut health (GERD, gastritis, IBS, ulcers).
Knowing that our bodies can be so negatively effected, we have to turn our attention to combating and mitigating chronic stress in our lives to be our healthiest selves. Here’s some tips for cutting stress:
- Take Inventory: pause and reflect on everything that may be contributing to stress in your life and how it may be showing up. This may seem simple, but I encourage you to actually write it down (as crazy as that might seem). The goal is to externalize and reflect on everything at one time. Just do it. Two columns- all the stressors, and how they’re showing up on your body/life. And remember- include good stressors (like planning a wedding, a new baby, a new job, etc) and any physical stressors (training for a marathon, on a special, new, or restricted diet,
- Make a plan: This should include what (if anything) you can cut from your stressor list, even if it’s a strategy on how to knock something off (making extra loan payment here or there might add stress up front but decrease chronic stress overall).
- Exercise. Even 20-30 minutes a day of walking is a great stress reliever and a good way to get your mind off your daily worries.
- Relax: Meditation, journaling, yoga and breathing exercises are just a few ways to help relax
- Nourish your body. The gut and brain are constantly sending signals to each other, so by keeping your microbiota (the bacteria in your gut) healthy, your brain feels less stressed.
- Prioritize sleep and rest. To relieve stress before bed, try a bedtime routine and disconnect from technology as much as possible an hour before bedtime.
- Have fun! Spending quality time with family and friends, or simply watching your favorite sit-com can often be just the distraction you need
- See your Therapist! IF going at it on your own isn’t working, it may be time to seek professional support.