Hello again! Welcome to my diatribe on all things stress, why I love talking about it so much, how it’s sabotaging your wellness goals, and just what the hell you can do about it.
If you missed Part 1 of the series, head back to the blog and check that out. There you’ll learn all about what stress REALLY is and how it impacts basic physiology. Don’t worry, I don’t regurgitate physiology 101. I help you see the connection between YOUR crazy symptoms and stressful stimuli.
In this part of the series, I'm going to help you explore and identify what triggers may be activating the stress responses in your body.
Yes, we know that no one can escape going a little crazy when they lose their job, experience grief, go through a divorce, take on a new job, or anything else big like that. BUT, there are certain things that are GOOD for one person and DEVASTATING to another person’s well-being.
One word example: KALE
Yup, that’s right. 1) Food can be a stressor. And 2) Kale may be the devil for a group of folks who deal with chronic inflammatory conditions, chronic pelvic or bladder pain or those who deal with repeated kidney stones due to its high oxalate content. Yet, for the rest of the general population, kale is a superfood!!
So, let’s dig in and see if any of the following potential triggers resonate with you. What things are contributing to the inflammation, to the cortisol production, to the degradation of gut function, etc.
Simply by addressing any one of these areas, many women may make huge progress towards their wellness goals since these are often sneaky or less obvious triggers. Seriously, these devious little details can induce massive chaos in some bodies. EXTERNAL STRESSORS:
Lack of support: If you don’t have people to vent to, to delegate to, to HEAR and SEE you, my friend, you must be intentional about creating a tribe for yourself. (Here’s my shameless plug for the free WellnessLove Facebook community I’ve created to help you find connection with other like-minded women). AND- did you know that if you reach out for support and are rejected, your physiological stress response is amplified? As women, we are wired to be averse to asking for help which makes it imperative to cultivate safety in your relationships.
Environmental: Chemicals in our food, water, cleaning + personal products can trigger immune responses and/or disrupt hormonal processes in our bodies. Being aware of and avoiding pesticides, phthalates, parabens, and other synthetic/harmful ingredients in these products is so important! If you’re not yet curious about ingredients and their sources, start looking and learning.
Something as simple as how organized your living and work spaces are can be a huge impact on your stress levels. Research has shown that people are more anxious when they are surrounded by disarray. So, start making your bed in the mornings. Teach your kids to pick up their toys on a regular basis. Put your clothes away when you take them off. Make the effort!
Exposure to sunlight or lack thereof: As soon as you wake up or as soon as it’s light outside in the morning, stand by a window. Get outside for at least 20 minutes a day. This not only helps with melatonin production and your sleep cycle, it also helps with vitamin D production which is essential for proper hormonal function.
Exercise: Not enough or too much exercise impacts our bodies negatively. Be sure you’re choosing to vary your routine in terms of type, intensity, and duration. Most people have an all or none philosophy here, but magic happens with consistency and variety. Often, especially for women, doing less really is more!
Try cycle syncing your workouts for the ultimate stress balancing training regimen.
Poor Sleep Hygiene: Hopping on your phone or turning on Netflix when you crawl into bed is the number one bad habit I see. Not only does the blue light emitted from the electronics disrupt our sleep cycles, but we usually end up spending more time than we plan scrolling through the news or social media or watching our favorite show, so we get way less sleep than we really need (and often stressed out by what we are viewing).
We do these things thinking they will help calm us down and distract us from the chaos of our days, but they really just displace those thoughts and prime our bodies to return to those thoughts once we turn off the light. Enter Racing Brain Syndrome… when we can’t stop the barrage of thoughts running through our head no matter how exhausted we are. We’ve ALL been there I’m sure.
Inappropriate eating schedules: We’ll get into the actual food choices later, but this one is all about timing. We get busy in the mornings, and grab a quick bite at a drive-thru or a starchy granola bar. Skip lunch, and then gorge ourselves when we finally sit down to eat dinner, only to head to bed an hour later. This is the perfect way to destroy any semblance of blood sugar stability…. Hangry much??
When bood sugar levels are unstable, we get moody, weight gain happens- especially around our waistline from the cortisol spikes necessary to keep our blood sugar levels from bottoming out, and then our reproductive hormones get wonky from the adrenal glands producing that cortisol instead of the sex hormones.. whew! I didn’t even mention the role of inflammation, lack of chewing, or being distracted here either! INTERNAL STRESSORS
What you think can absolutely impact your physiology! When you think negative or fearful thoughts, your body responds accordingly. If you think hard enough about something you are afraid of happening or perhaps a traumatic event you already experienced that involves embarrassment, ridicule, shame, loss of a child, failure, pain, etc., it’s easy to feel your muscles tense, your heart rate increase, perhaps you even get a stomachache thinking about these things.
These changes in your body are all prompted by signaling hormones!
These same physiological processes can be sparked by something as simple as worrying about gaining weight or having stomach cramps from eating the food you’re putting in your mouth. Internal self-beratement or self-doubting chatter will do the same thing. Working on changing your self-talk can make a bigger difference than you think on your health!
Unaligned choices: Making choices based on expectations set by others or letting your ego take the lead can be so unbelievably stressful! Knowing what you truly value in life is essential to your emotional, mental, and physical health. This is what keeps us going in jobs that burn us out, toxic relationships, or positions that cause stagnation.
Lack of contribution and/or fulfillment:
We often don't realize how taxing it is to NOT be living our purpose, NOT feeling like we are contributing to the greater good, or NOT feeling fulfilled from our efforts. These ideas can take the form of so many things: raising children, crushing your career, serving in your community, supporting your spouse, caring for family members or loved ones- whatever lights you up.
If your passion isn’t sparked in a way that you feel you’ve paid it forward somehow, your overall wellness is impacted. When this happens, you can feel disconnected from your world, and that is dangerous ground for your nervous system.
Nutrition: I include food on the list of internal stressors because of the biological war that can happen inside of our bodies in response to food. Our genetic makeup, our most fundamental building blocks that establish our physical bodies also plays a role here.
Most people understand severe allergies: a person eats a particular food like shellfish, and they immediately swell up, stop breathing, and potentially die. Some individuals have this same type of allergy, but they can tolerate a certain amount of exposure before they experience this level of severity. For instance, they may get a few hives, a rash, or a little puffy eyes, and then they are perfectly fine. My mom is like this with chocolate- at Christmas, she can continue her tradition of making vats of fudge for gifts as long as she doesn’t eat any. Just being around the chocolate causes her eyes to swell and a few hives to appear. She takes some Benadryl, and then she’s fine again.
Everyone accepts this idea of a negative cause and effect from a food or substance like pet dander or latex. However, what the general population is still struggling to accept is that certain foods and ingredients can stimulate other physiological processes whose outcomes are also not pleasant, yet not immediately deadly. This is where we get into food sensitivities that can appear at any time, but are particularly popular when our bodies are stressed to a certain degree because of its impact on the gut.