Having played quite a role in my own health journey, stress management has become a key aspect in my life and health. In this Stress 101 series, I'm going to delve into the sources of stress, nasty effects of stress, and how to manage and reduce stress. It definitely is a constant battle, and the physical desire to reduce stress can sometimes become a stresser itself! However, starting the journey of stress management is crucial to any healing and health journey.
The Sources of Stress:
Obviously, one of the biggest and most common stressers in our lives today comes from the foods we eat. Vegetable oils, gluten, soy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods - these are all so prominent in our diet and are not helping the stressed state in our bodies. When we are under stress, our body burns through nutrients at a much faster rate than normal. Thus, if we aren't replacing those nutrients from real, whole foods (aka meat, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats), we are simply asking too much of our bodies, creating more stress. Plus, those foods are also inflammatory to the body as well, and as we've discussed before, inflammation = stress = the cause of all disease in the body.
Undereating and overeating can also be stressers to the body as well. Funny enough, I see more people undereating in my work as a health coach than I do overeating. We are told over and over to eat less and exercise more, so we take that statement and run with it (literally run and eat nothing). This act of undereating further depletes our bodies of the nutrients they need to combat stress. Undereating also messes with our hormones, creating another host of issues with the adrenals, thyroid, sex hormones, and hunger hormones.
If you are working in a toxic environment or are in a career you absolutely hate, this can be a huge stresser on your body. We spend most of our time at work or doing work, so it makes sense that if we are dreading going to work or are drained and overworked in our profession that we would suffer health effects as a result.
This is another obvious stresser - if you are struggling to make ends meet or have the perception that you do (regardless of whether it's true or not), finances can have a huge impact on your stress levels. Typically, we spend a lot of time thinking about finances if this is something we are struggling with (creating anxiety, worry, and fear) or we are unable to afford some of the items that make living a healthy lifestyle attainable (higher quality foods or a gym membership). However, I do want to hone in on the point about perception of financial struggle. Often, what really needs to occur is a reallocation of our financial resources. More money doesn't always equal more happiness and less stress. Trust me on that.
Similar to your work environment, if your home isn't a place where you feel welcomed, safe, or literally at home, this can be a stresser on your body. It is important that we feel like we have a place in our lives where we are free to be ourselves and relax. If you are coming home to a messy home day in and day out or are in a home situation that isn't safe or ideal, your stress levels will definitely increase.
Our relationships with our family, friends, co-workers, and anyone else that we are in contact with on a regular basis is a huge factor in our stress levels. We've all had the experience of walking away from a person or conversation that left us feeling stressed and drained, both emotionally and physically. Sometimes, these people are toxic to our well-being, and honestly, limiting your exposure or cutting them off completely is sometimes necessary. Easier said than done, especially with family, but some people will never, ever, ever change. The harder we try to change them, the more stress we experience.
Environmental toxins are everywhere; they literally surround us! Our cleaning and beauty products are loaded with chemicals and toxins that are creating a huge inflammatory problem in our bodies, which in turn creates a stressful environment. The plethora of sprays, scents, and products that we use on a daily basis is overwhelming. And when you add on top of that all of the chemicals that are in these products that are banned elsewhere in the world, you really start to feel the stressful effects.
Exercise can be a twofold stresser. Not exercising enough or having a sedentary lifestyle is a huge stresser on the body, as well as overexercising or exercising too much. When we underexercise, we miss out on the amazing benefits that exercise affords us, including increased dopamine response and the building of muscle mass. However, overtraining places too much of a demand on our body because exercise is a stresser, and any stresser (even a good one!) in excess is still a stresser. Too much exercise effects our gut health, immune system, nutrient level, sleep, and mental health.
Poor gut health
Our gut health is literally the powerhouse of our entire health. If our gut health is off for any reason due to antibiotic usage, stress, too much/too little exercise, poor food choices, or lack of sleep, our ability to fight off stress suffers significantly. There is more and more research coming out that shows the power of our gut health on all other aspects of our health, including blood sugar regulation (basically the development of diabetes or Alzheimer's), mental health, and hormonal health.
Not getting enough quality sleep is a huge source of stress on our bodies. Sleep is a time of repairing and recovery for our bodies, and when we deprive our bodies of sleep, our inflammation levels rise, creating a stressful environment in the body. We live in a society that praises staying out late and running on as little sleep as possible. We simply self-medicate with caffeine and other stimulates, but really, that isn't fixing the root cause problem. It's only making it worse!
Other minor sources of stress:
Anxiety and depression
Overuse of NSAIDs
Physical or emotional trauma
Erratic blood sugar levels
Fear of the unknown, worry
Poor body image or self-confidence
The sources of stress in our modern lifestyle are numerous and overwhelming. I don't want this list to become a stresser for you as you consider all the factors that are impacting your own personal stress levels. Instead, I urge you to use this list as a guide to objectively reevaluate your stress levels and what your main sources of stress are. Everyone responds to stressers differently, which is why it is critical to determine which factors play the biggest role in your health. From there, you can start the plan to manage and reduce the impact of those stressers.
In part 2 of this series on stress, we will be covering the effects of stress, many of which are similar to the sources that we talked about today. Part 3 will cover how to manage and reduce stress in order to take back your health!