March 28, 2016

How Stress Affects Our Bodies and Realistic Ways to Manage It

Stress is one of the most overlooked aspects of overall health, yet it can have profound effects on your body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Emotional stress is a perceived emotional feeling that can literally translate to negative physical impacts on the body. I don’t think we give chronic emotional stress, the emphasis it deserves. This might be because we can’t see it like food, exercise or sleep.  Sure, you can “handle it” as in, you can survive with it, but you certainly can’t thrive with chronic high level stress. If you want to look and feel better, this topic should be addressed.

Defining “stress” can be tricky, because it can be completely different from one person to the next (remember, it’s an emotional state that’s perceived). Stress comes in many forms and typically gets a bad rap, but it isn’t always a bad thing. When punctuated (not chronic) it acts as a great “get up and go” response. Without it, the human race wouldn’t have survived this long! Stress causes physical changes like increased heart rate and blood sugar, to help us “get away” from the threat.  Although this response is necessary and good, it’s often put into overdrive by our nervous system. This means that we are perceiving things to be bigger stressors than they actually are, causing our brains and bodies to think we are constantly in danger. This cycle is what causes chronic stress, which can lead to some serious health consequences like increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression, just to name a few. Chronic stress also impacts sleep quality and quantity, exercise performance and motivation, hormone balance, and blood sugar.

This article focuses on dealing with emotional stress, however it’s important to note that there are many underlying “stressors” that effect the body the same way, but may not be perceived as such. Some examples of chronic stressors that aren’t emotional, include: maxresdefault

  • Unstable blood sugar
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Digestion issues
  • Over or under exercising
  • Health conditions that may be unidentified or not well controlled

Needless to so say, managing your emotional stress can be a deal breaker for your overall health and body composition goals. Take it from Function Medicine Expert, Chris Kresser, who said:

“If you’re not doing some form of regular stress management, you will sabotage all of your best

efforts with diet, exercise, and supplements. ” 

 What I want you to realize is, stress is based on how you perceive your situation.  It’s relative and you do have some control over how you perceive it and react to it. The expectation is not that you “get rid” of your stress, but rather to recognize it and take action to manage it, better.

Here are some some of my top TIPS FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT:

  • Commit 5-10 minutes per day on most days, to some type of mind-body based practice, like breathing exercises, yoga or guided meditation. Try to find a consistent time of day to do it. I suggest the morning, if it’s possible
    • Consider trying one of these techniques:
      • Insight timer, IBreathe, Headspace or Calm app. All have 10 minute or less, options
      • youtube video– you can easily google more like this. You can also google more specific ones for sleep, anxiety, etc.
    • Breathing techniques
    • Free Yoga videos
  • Learn to say “No” and stop overcommitting yourself when it’s not necessary
  • Prioritize sleep
  • Get out in nature for 15-20 mins (ideally away from a road)
  • Take note of the people that surround you. Who makes you happy and feel good? Who doesn’t? Try to limit exposure to negative influences when possible, and increase time with positive people
  • Go to bed earlier to get more and better quality sleep
  • Get outside in the sunlight (without sunglasses) in the AM, even for just 5 mins
  • Be mindful of your stress levels throughout the day and asses if the situation could have been prevented or mitigated. If it was unavoidable, could you take some deep breaths, acknowledge it, and move on in your brain? (example- sitting in traffic. Acknowledge it, but also realize there is nothing you can do at the present moment to fix it, and try to enjoy the time to yourself)
  • Seek counseling if you have a large emotional issue that wears on you. Attempt to find resolution with someones help if necessary
  • Consider trying some adaptogenic herbs. Ashwaganda and Rhodiola are two popular choices to start with. Pick one or the other to try


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