Stress puts a huge toll on our health and we don't even realize it. Let me explain what happens when we stress. When we are stressed, our brain signals the release of stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Cortisol is the primary "fight or flight" stress hormone that provides us with a rush of energy to help us fight or run away from a dangerous situation. The release of cortisol causes an increase in blood sugar, increase in blood pressure, and weakens the immune and digestive systems. This increase in blood sugar causes insulin to be excreted, which is the hormone that takes sugar from the blood and stores it for later use. In our modern world, our brain identifies most situations as dangerous and/or very stressful. We stress over little things such as having a full email inbox or waiting in traffic. This was not the case hundreds of years ago.
Our body does not differentiate between physical and emotional stress, so it reacts to both by producing more and more cortisol.
When cortisol is elevated for long periods of time, it can lead to chronic health issues such as weight gain (even if you're eating healthy and exercising), diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Candida, insomnia/sleep issues, IBS, cancer, and increased risk for heart attacks.
Stress also affects our mood, attitude, productivity/focus, language, work, and relationships. It carries on to all areas of our life even if we don't intend it to or don't realize it.
Most people come to me because they want to lose weight and adopt healthier eating habits. I like to start by looking at their stress levels and address that fist if needed, because no matter how healthy we eat, we cannot lose weight if our cortisol levels are constantly high.
Under stress, our body feels like it's being attacked and it holds onto fat to protect itself. Stress = weigh gain.
Here are my top tips for reducing stress:
- Yoga & Walking – We know that exercise can help lower stress levels. This is true, however, strenuous exercise such as running and biking actually create more stress in the body and have the same effect as mental or emotional stress do. To really melt stress off, take a yoga class or go on a long walk. This type of movement will help keep your cortisol levels low and also help you burn more fat.
- Deep breathing & meditation – Whenever you feel stressed and overwhelmed, pause and 5-10 some deep breaths. A deep breath consists of inhalation through the nose that fills the belly completely, and then slowly the air is released through the nose as the belly contracts again. As simple as it sounds, this completely calms the body and brain and puts us in a state where we can actually think about our actions and rationalize better.
- Aromatherapy oils - You can simply smell them, dab them on your neck, burn them, or dab them on your nose. Read labels to make sure it's okay to apply on skin. My favorite blends are from Moonrise Creek Herbal Apothecary: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MoonriseCreek.
- Get more sleep – Sleep deprivation creates stress in the body. It is important to get a good night sleep to stay healthy.
- Drink herbal tea – Tea has calming and relaxing components that could help you through times of stress. Make yourself a pot of tea while you work, or better yet, take it outside and enjoy it under the sun.
- Call a friend or a family member– Sometimes we just need someone to talk to about what we are experiencing. Don’t hesitate to call a friend or a family member before you reach for that sugary drink or food item. Maybe all you need is support or a different perspective on a subject.
- Journaling – This is a great way to get rid of negative thoughts and patterns that are getting in the way of your success. Write down your thoughts, but also visualize what you want for yourself and connect with 3-5 things that you are grateful for in your life. When we focus on what we are grateful for, we have no space for feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
- Relax – Plan for relaxation. Whether it’s a day of lounging around your house, going on a family hike, or getting a massage, make sure you make this time for yourself. When we are stressed, we feel like we have no time to relax, but relaxation is what will actually. help .you feel balanced and keep cortisol levels at bay.
- Stay well nourished (Eat your greens!) – I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Food directly affects our mood, thoughts, productivity, and stress levels. It’s common that we crave sweets and fatty foods when stressed because we often relate them to comfort. These foods in particular will actually feed cortisol levels and keep you on a vicious sugar-craving roller coaster. Instead, stay well nourished throughout the day to avoid crazy mood swings and stress eating. Take a look at some of my recipes for meal and snack inspiration.
- Have a dance party - Probably my favorite one of all so these. Really, just get up and dance when you're stressing at work or at home. My sister and I do this a few times a day and it's the best way to snap out of it. Even if it's only for one song, it's worth it.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. Try a few and see which you like best and you can implement into your daily life.