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What’s STRESS got to do with it? How stress is sabotaging your wellness goals (part 1/3)

This article was originally published November 2019. A few revisions have been made to reflect new branding, etc. However, the guts of the article have not changed. Please consider the pandemic, social, and political events as major, long-term sources of stress, and perhaps even trauma, as you read this article.

If you've been following me on social media or here on the WL blog, you know I'm obsessed with talking about stress and ways to tackle stress in your life. With this series, I want to get deep and connect some dots between stress and your problems like- hormone imbalances, energy levels, weight loss, etc.

So, here we go!

First- let’s talk problems… the issues and complaints I hear most from women are things like:

  • Not being able to lose weight, no matter what they do

  • Being utterly exhausted all of the time

  • Not being able to get sleep on track after their littles are sleeping through the night

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability, and/or mood swings that are either new or on the rise

  • Forgetfulness, brain fog, inability to focus

  • wacky periods

  • new or worsening body aches and pain- arthritis, low back, neck, etc.

  • low libido or decreased ability to reach orgasm or find pleasure in sex

Not one of these things are normal or acceptable, and ALL of these things can be addressed with lifestyle approaches.

Not one of these things are normal or acceptable, and ALL of these things can be addressed with lifestyle approaches.

I wrote it twice because it’s that important to understand, accept, and fully invest in the belief that this is TRUE… and this is SCIENCE, not voodoo. (If you know me, you know I can get down with some woo woo shit, but that’s not what this is about).

Next, let's define stress so we’re all on the same page.

Hans Selye, an endocrinologist who was the first to really research stress and its connection to disease, defined stress in the 1930’s, and his definition still holds

strong: “the non-specific response of the

body to any demand for change.”

Let’s unpack that:

  • “The non-specific response of the body” basically means that there’s no one way the body will respond consistently in the same person or across a population… essentially ANY bodily response.

  • “any demand for change” equals any stimulus, internal or external, that gives the body no option but to adapt to the exposure. This can be as simple as sunlight (external) or one of your own thoughts (internal). Your body will almost always react.

It’s also important to know that stress can be GOOD or it can be BAD, and is present in ALL aspects of our lives. Technically, these are labeled eustress or distress, respectively. An example of eustress is taking on a new project, client, or job that lights you up. This inherently brings additional responsibilities that takes up some of your bandwidth, but the net physiological effects are beneficial.

On the flip side, distress would be something that produces a negative net physiological impact. These are usually negative associations and are things we typically think of and refer to as “stress,” including the death of a loved one, inability to get ahead on debt, a hostile work environment, etc.

I like to think of them on a continuum.

On one end, we have the absolute worst thing you can imagine- the death of a child, spouse, or loved one perhaps. The negative impact on a person’s body is quite obvious.

On the other end is the hands-down best thing you can imagine- perhaps raving success of your business venture or coming into an unexpected inheritance at the same time a loved one’s disease is cured and you are rocking life. While these things are dreams-come-true status, they come with their own consequences. Many examples exist of how this good stress can become destructive. Lottery winners whose boons ultimately ruin their lives comes to mind, but of course, it doesn’t have to be that extreme.

As you move to the middle, the intensity of impact on your system gets smaller and smaller. So, maybe the driver who lets you over in the traffic jam is a notch above the zero, and spilling coffee down your shirt is a notch or two below the zero. When you look at stress from this perspective, you can see it’s like a big mathematical equation, where we want the sum to be at optimal levels as often as possible so good things happen in your body allowing you the capability to really enjoy life.

Now, let's talk basic physiological impact without getting too deep. What is actually going on when you're hit with something that demands your body to respond or adapt?

Your body kicks into fight-or-flight mode which is your sympathetic nervous system’s job. What happens if you see your child run towards the street after a ball? Adrenaline kicks in, your heart rate sky rockets, and your muscles are primed so you can run faster than you’ve ever run, yelling louder than you’ve ever yelled, to scoop your baby up before she is taken out by the car going way too fast down your road.

When you’re in this mode, your body could care less about pooping, peeing, eating, sex, anything fun. It’s purely about survival.

Problems come when we get stuck in this mode by either one negative thing after another, or by something BIG like a move, job change, or a loss. And pregnancy? Well, it’s one major 10 month stress test.

This is when your adrenal glands really amp up cortisol production. Cortisol is your primary stress-buffering hormone for long-term stress management. Cortisol negatively can impact blood sugar stability, inflammation levels, gut function, fat deposition, sleep, and more.

Now, we’re not absorbing nutrients very well, and we start to get tired, have muscle spasms, stiffness, or pain. Our brain isn’t as sharp as normal, and we start forgetting things. We’re not talking about macros here- we’re talking magnesium, vitamin D, omega 3’s, zinc, vitamin C, polyphenols, vitamin A, selenium, antioxidants, amino acids… I could go on and on here.

We start to lack the essentials for creating neurotransmitters and hormones and for physiological processes that produce relaxation of muscle fibers. At our most basic cellular levels, we are in survival mode.

Because of these disruptions we start to experience:

  • Mood swings, panic attacks, and/or depression from changes in serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters that regulate emotions

  • Water retention from the disruption in the chemical messengers between the brain and adrenal glands

  • Hair loss from lack of nutrients due to poor absorption

  • Acne, loss of libido, weight gain, or pelvic pain related to sex hormones being out of balance

  • Sleep disruptions due to low levels of melatonin

  • Fatigue often occurs from either altered thyroid function or simply because our body is working harder on less fuel, or both

And this is just a fraction of what’s going on inside of you!

Ready to dig into all of this some more and figure out how to make this meaningful in your life??? Check back for the rest of the series soon.

Can’t wait for some ideas on managing your stress? Grab my free ebook here:

Also, head over to Facebook and join my exclusive community of like-minded women here:

And of course, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @mywellnesslove


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