Stress: the seemingly four letter word that many people wear with a badge of honor. The view is generally that the busier you are, the better, more productive, and fuller your life is. Being stressed is what life is all about. But is it really? Are we supposed to be stressed to the point that our health is affected? Why is so much emphasis placed on being busy? Why do we judge those who aren’t as busy as we are? Could it be that they value their health and sanity more than doing what the rest of the world is doing? I think there is something to be said for slowing down and taking time out to just be.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. It can help us focus and get things done or be aware of potential dangers. That said, it is not a state we should chronically be experiencing. We are all under some sort of stress from our daily lives, but the key is how we handle it and learning to let go.
Your health is the most affected by stress. It is estimated that 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems (Rosch, 2005), e.g. hypertension, chronic fatigue, depression, and chronic sickness. Stress isn’t always recognizable in ways we can immediately identify—it can be a sneaky beast. It might not always be present because of the obvious stressors, such as financial burdens, busy schedules, or meeting deadlines at work. It can show up because of an overload of nutrient poor foods, skipping meals, chronic inflammation, the toxins in your environment, or not getting enough sleep. These factors along with how you handle them contribute to your body going into overload and not working at optimal level. When you allow your body to become chronically stressed, chronic diseases start to occur. Diseases such as hypertension, chronic fatigue, weight issues, or blood sugar imbalances can be a result of stress on your body.
We don’t often talk about or hear about specific glands that sit on top of our kidneys, the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands regulate our stress response. They are little triangle shaped glands, but don’t let their small size fool you—they are extremely important. Among some of the many hormones they produce are epinephrine and cortisol. Approximately 80–90% of our stress response occurs from the actions of epinephrine and cortisol (Merson, 1999). For such a tiny organ, it can cause a lot of problems when unbalanced. When the adrenal hormones are unbalanced they can cause other hormones to become unbalanced, such as insulin regulation, thyroid, and neurotransmitters. Blood sugar imbalances, an underperforming thyroid, and depression are all indicators of chronic stress. When adrenal glands are functioning normally, they will secrete the extra cortisol in response to a small stress episode and then will return to normal levels when the stress has passed. With chronic stress, the stress response is constantly activated and doesn’t return to normal very often. This leads to adrenal fatigue and many different physical issues, such as brain fog, sleep disruption, craving salty foods, inflammation, low thyroid function, and blood sugar imbalances.
Are you worried now? There is hope! There are strategies to help combat the road you have been heading down, both through food and physical activities. The biggest key to help recover from chronic stress is to balance your blood sugar. That will go a long way in recovering your health and healing your body. Chronic stress doesn’t have to be a way of life; it can be reduced, even if it can’t be eliminated. Beginning with balancing your blood sugar can help replenish nutrient deficiencies, help stop refined carbohydrate cravings, and help hormone function. Proteins and healthy fats are key in helping accomplish this. By adding a form of protein and a healthy fat to each meal/snack, you can help maintain balanced blood sugar. Chronic stress doesn’t have to be a way of life, it can be reduced, even if it can’t be eliminated.
One thing to remember about being under constant stress is the amount of nutrients you are using up. This does not necessarily translate to calories, dang it. This is one of the reasons that you are constantly tired when you are constantly under stress. This is where it becomes important to make sure you are eating the best you can. It’s hard to cook or even think about food when you are under stress and tired, but this is where planning ahead becomes important. Finding quick nutritious meals or batch cooking are the key to keeping up.
Finding stress relief tactics is as important as eating well. Everyone is different and relieves stress in different ways, some use meditation, others use yoga or running or lifting weights. I know some that use crafting as a way to disconnect and focus on something other than what is causing the stress. Find what works for you, it may take a bit to find it so don’t give up! You can find ways to help your mind and body deal with the stress of everyday life!
Merson, J. (1999, Nov 9). The anatomy of stress: Part 1 of 3 [Transcript]. Science Show No. 1199. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au
Rosch, P. J. (2005) America’s no. 1 health problem: Why is there more stress today? American Institute of Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org