Some would say that we are experiencing a stress epidemic. In a course I took for IIN, a teacher made a great point – people have started placing their self-worth on their productivity and stress levels. Yes, how stressed they are. AKA, the amount of discomfort and strain in their life. WHAT?
To be completely honest, I can relate to that. I remember in college, and when I first started my career, having the same thoughts. I’m not that stressed – so I need more work and more stress so that I can reflect better on my peers! What an unhealthy view.
Unpopular opinion, and a fact: stress is a good thing. Correction, SOME stress is a good thing. Stress, after all, is partly a source of our motivation! Motivation to complete a project, make dinner when you’re hungry (hangry?), and just generally finally do that thing you’ve been meaning to do but procrastinating. You’re in a near accident, and your quick reflexes save you from hitting the car in front of you – HI, that’s stress and adrenaline saving you!
Ongoing stress, on the other hand, is not a great thing. Stress puts your body in a fight or flight mode. In the situations I listed above, fight or flight can be a good thing as it tells your body how to respond! Daily, when you are sitting at your desk, it is not a good thing. Stress can affect you in several ways including:
- Weight gain (especially around mid-section) and/or weight loss: In short bouts of stress, you typically lose your appetite. You may be distracted, focused, etc. When stress lingers and becomes chronic, your body remains in fight or flight mode. Your body is signaled to retain weight as a reaction to the stress.
- Sleep loss: When your brain is working overtime day and night for days on end, your body has a hard time relaxing in the evening. Your body and brain need a restorative reset each night, and this is lost when the body and brain struggle to return to a relaxed state at the end of the day.
- Digestive issues: While in fight or flight mode, the body signals for blood to go to areas of your body that support your reflexes, strength, etc. This means the blood moves away from your digestion, slowing down your system.
- Lack of immunity: As mentioned before, your body is focused on protecting itself while in fight or flight mode. Your body’s defenses are down, meaning intruders like bacteria and infections have a better chance of invading and getting you sick.
SO, here are some things you can do if you are experiencing chronic stress:
- Practice meditation: A simple 5-minute meditation or a three-cycle 4-7-8 breath each morning or evening can do wonders for your stress. This returns you to yourself, bringing the focus in, and calming your nerves.
- Talk it out!: Phone a friend OR write your thoughts/stressors in a journal. Talking to someone and writing acts to “clean your slate.” Some people even write down their stress/anxiety on pieces of paper and just throw them out. Literally throwing away what may be bothering them, and then moving on!
- Get a workout in: Working out raises your endorphins and feel-good hormones in your body. While it depends on the person, when you are stressed, I generally recommend low-intensity workouts such as yoga, cycle, or walking. While things like CrossFit are great workouts, they can sometimes add stress to the body since they can be so intense. Low-intensity workouts provide the same benefits – getting your heart rate up slightly to increase your mood.
- Be aware of what you are eating: Ensure you are eating tons of healthy fats and proteins, fruits, veggies, and specifically leafy greens. Try to minimize added sugars, simple carbohydrates, and things like soy. Note that I say “minimize.” The focus on healthy fats, proteins, fruits, and veggies will provide your body with the necessary vitamins to fuel your body and nourish your brain.