Did you know Americans are among the most stressed people in the world? According to the New York Times, about 55 percent of adults said they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior. Unfortunately, symptoms of stress and anxiety continue to rise.
Stress is a response to a real or perceived threat. Anxiety is a reaction to chronic stress. The two are a destructive duo if left unchecked. The good news is there are steps you can take today to better manage the stressful, anxious situations you face in your life to best support your health and wellness.
The health consequences of unmanaged stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are the root cause of many health aliments. Chronic, unmitigated stress will keep you from feeling and looking your best.
Stress is just part of being human. We are very capable at handling urgent, acute situations, think of a tiger chasing you in the jungle. You’d run like mad! Anxiety is the result of chronic, unmitigated, and unmanaged stress. Think running for days and days from said tiger. Stress refers to your body’s response to a threatening physical, mental or emotional situation (tiger, tight deadline, breakup, move, fight with a friend, important presentation), which triggers a chemical reaction. This reaction signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol which allow you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight”, or sympathetic nervous system activation.
The autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic):
The autonomic nervous system has two parts, the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest).
The body is designed to stay in the sympathetic state for a short period of time. Yet, many of us keep the sympathetic nervous system perpetually activated which leads to adrenal fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances, weigh gain, increased risk for heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
By contrast, the “rest-and-digest”, or parasympathetic nervous system, is where the mind-body like to be most of the time. It creates a state of calm which supports healthy rest (restorative sleep) and digestion (assimilation of nutrients). It makes it easier to respond to situations, versus react, improves communication and increases clarity.
Stress can be perceived or real, acute or chronic.
Perceived stress refers to your individual interpretation of a situation. What may provoke a stress response in you (a public speaking engagement) may not in your coworker (who relishes public speaking opportunities).
Real stress is a tiger chasing your in the jungle. That is a universal stressful situation.
Acute stress refers to a stressful event we experience for a brief period of time, such as presenting on stage for 20 minutes, going on a blind date, having difficult conversation with your partner.
Chronic stress refers to stress that is experienced continuously over an extended period of time, typically over the course of months or even years. Examples would be a toxic marriage, unhealthy work environment or an ailing parent.
The intent is not to banish stress from your life, but to develop healthy ways to respond to it. This is called stress resiliency. Of the 10 listed below, find three go-tos that you can consistently rely upon to bring you back to center. Creating balance of mind, body and soul for optimal health is grounded in part by stress resiliency.
1. During times of stress develop body awareness. Often during stressful times we reach for high-fat and high-sugar processed foods. This “comfort” food actually perpetuates the negative impact of the stressful situation. If you feel a craving coming on, have three healthy options to crowd out the unhealthy ones. Swap wine for Kombucha, Coffee for tea, a piece of fruit with nut butter for crackers or chips, trail mix for ice cream. To learn more about the health benefits of a plant-based Mediterranean Diet, click here.
2. Practice breathwork. Having a consistent breathwork practice is a quick way to relax the sympathetic nervous system. Simply place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly and take several (as many as needed) deep belly breaths.
3. Prioritize your sleep with nurturing pre-bedtime self-care rituals. Journal, light a candle, meditate, take a warm bath with Epsom salts, listen to soothing music, practice an activity that will induce calm.
4. Voice journal. If you feel like venting but you don’t have anyone to vent to in the moment. Vent to your smart phone. Verbally expressing your thoughts around a situation is cathartic and can help with critical thinking. Recording yourself also gives you the gift of reflection. Go back and listen once you have calmed down. Reevaluate your trigger. Learn from it. So next time when a similar trigger presents itself (it will) you have a plan in place.
5. Meditate daily. Meditation is the practice of self-awareness. Observing one’s thoughts is a superpower. It creates space between the trigger and your response. You begin to consciously respond to stressful situations instead of mindlessly reacting to them. To learn more about the importance of meditation, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Meditation. It’s a practical guide to help you develop and maintain a meditation practice.
6. Cultivate a growth mindset. A growth mindset is rooted in possibility. It is the belief that everything that happens to us is a learning and growth opportunity. Approaching stressful situations with this mindset shifts you out of victim mode (life happens to me) and into empowered mode (life happens for me). Do this exercise to figure out what is out of balance in your life so you can make changes and feel empowered.
7. Move your body each day. Consistent exercise is a great way to blow off steam and process physical stress. Stress can be stored in the body and it is important to have exercise to release it. Read 12 Ways to Stick with an Exercise Program so you can develop a regular exercise program to have more energy and focus.
8. Book a massage. Bodywork, such as massage, brings the body back to a parasympathetic state. It relaxes the mind-body and cultivates body awareness. Cultivating self-care habits is critical to your well-being. Are you curious about where to start, I’ve got you covered. Check out this article to learn more.
9. Connect with a close friend. Sharing your experiences with a trusted friend, can give you perspective and support that you’re not alone. Receiving support through connection releases feel good hormones, serotonin and dopamine, which can help to regulate the stress response.
10. Consider coaching. If you are out of balance and your wellness is suffering, working with a holistic health coach can be a game changer. It’s important to do your homework and connect with one who is educated in a holistic approach. You are integrated being and to create balance and harmony there needs to a holistic approach.
Stress can be managed; it doesn’t have to manage you. Try these tips with the intent to create stress resiliency. Remember not all stress is bad, and much of it is how we perceive it. If you still feel stuck, reach out for support. An integrative health coach can guide you to develop healthy habits that fit into your hectic, over scheduled lifestyle.
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As an integrative health coach, I help busy women like you move beyond limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging behaviors and bad habits to create a healthy, balanced, aligned life that allows you to show up each day feeling your best!
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