What's STRESS got to do with it?? How stress is sabotaging your wellness goals (Part 3/3)
Hi there, lovely! Thank you for stopping by and checking out the latest installment of this stress-focused series. This is where I give you some ideas on what the hell you can do to get yourself feeling fine again.
I mean, this is the part that folks REALLY want right?
First, a few things to lay the groundwork...
This is all about getting your fight-or-flight systems (or sympathetic nervous system) to calm the eff down and giving your peace-loving parasympathetic nervous system the boost it needs to keep your blood pressure + heart rate down, your stress hormones in check, and your brain calm.
There's no "right" way to do this. There's definitely better ways than others, but keeping the main ideas intact, you do you, my dear.
Your brain and body NEED and CRAVE safety. Your survivalist instincts immediately engage when the fight-or-flight switch has been flipped. Of course, this occurs if you (or your loved ones) are in immediate danger. However, the majority of the time, it's very subtle triggers that create a sense of insecurity- or even being attacked- deep within your body that drives your brain to activate or propagate the stress response.
So, as you read through these strategies for controlling your stress, consider how they are contributing to a sense of physical, mental, or emotional safety in your body. Sometimes, people do not get their health back on track until they’ve properly processed traumatic events in their lives. While the food, and the sleep, and the movement, and all of these other things are important pieces of the puzzle, if you don’t address your emotional state by releasing the shit you are holding onto, you may always feel a lack of control over your health, ultimately never being as well as you CAN be.
LET’S START WITH BREATHING. Everyone needs to breathe, but it’s shocking at how many people barely fill their lungs. Oxygen is important! We can’t live without it. Another function of breathing is waste removal, so if you’re not oxygenating your body on the regular, that hot bod of yours is just not going to work as well.
Additionally, deep breathing reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and that pesky stress hormone cortisol. That’s just science, folks, so let's use it to your advantage.
You have got to activate the diaphragm, expanding your rib cage in all directions as you fill your lungs with a nice long, controlled inhale AND exhale on the daily to keep stimulating your peaceful parasympathetic nervous system.
I know, I know... deep breathing is nothing new. You know it's essential, but how many of you forget, feel silly, or question if you're doing it right. Some of you may think you're doing it right, but compensational muscular recruitment patterns occurring at an electrophysiological level are unwittingly throwing you off.
Here's some effective, tried and true ways to get your breathing working for you and not against you.
Set an alarm or reminder on your phone or computer- this can be repeated throughout the day or just once for a longer breathing session.
Even better, tie the act of taking a deep breath to something you do daily so you no longer are reliant on reminders. Bonus points for combining it with something stressful, creative, or when you need extra focus. Examples: every time you see a red light and/or stop sign, right before you check your email, when you plug your phone in every night before you go to bed, turning on the light when you wake up in the morning, waiting for the shower to warm up, waiting for your coffee/tea to brew (or be brewed), putting your shoes on… it can be ANYTHING
Use an app on your phone like Insight Timer, Calm, etc. Some have visual prompts to guide you through even inhalations and exhalations, while others verbally take you through breathing exercises prompting you as you go.
Feel silly or are worried of people watching you? You breathe alllll day long in front of people. This doesn’t have to be any different. You don’t HAVE to shut your eyes. You don’t HAVE to be in any particular position. You don’t HAVE to spend any specific amount of time breathing. (PS- the women in this pic? They’re breathing! And no one cares!)
TRY THIS: CLOSE YOUR MOUTH AND BREATHE IN THROUGH YOUR NOSE FOR 4 SECONDS. HOLD IT FOR 4 SECONDS. BREATHE OUT SLOWLY FOR ANOTHER 4 SECONDS. HOLD THAT.
There. You did it! That’s called Box Breathing, and even 1 cycle of this will help you. If you have the time, repeat that. Want an added boost to the vagus nerve, the nerve that carries the brain’s messages to the heart, lungs, and gut to calm down? Breathe out for 6-8 seconds instead. Don’t like the holding? Don’t do it.
You know I could talk about deep breathing all day long, but let’s move on!
Move your body, lady. It’s a must. Daily. Get up and walk. Turn on YouTube and try a free workout… there’s something for everyone there, I promise. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re not exercising regularly now, don’t worry about how long you do this for or what you’re doing. Just listen to your body. It will tell you what feels good!
Now, for my ladies who are the go-getters. Often, these women are addicted to the gym but not seeing much results in terms of weight loss, energy, or mood. Other times, they may be getting these type of results but have frustrating health issues. You love an intense workout to let go of your stress and to feel like you really accomplished something. For you, less really is more.
This is hard to accept for soooooooo many women. But, you are adding to your overall stress level by these constant brutal workouts, and it’s taxing your body. Important note: you don’t have to be an elite level athlete to overtrain. You can be a regular 'ole Jane working out at your local gym, studio, or your own basement.
For you, it’s time to take some rest days. They can be active, but the key is REST to allow your body to recharge itself. This is what restorative exercise means. Restorative yoga, a slow flow, or gentle hatha practice can be wonderful (AND you get the deep breathing benefits, too!). Walking will keep you moving and can give you more benefit than you might imagine- even for my endurance athletes out there.
Throw on a podcast or audiobook to keep you from being bored if you need to. A lower level pilates class can also be a great way to get a solid workout it in, challenge your deep stabilizer muscles, and give your adrenal glands a bit of a break. Love to dance? Take a ballet, jazz, modern, or lyrical dance class.
Not only will this support your body’s ability to recover from your higher intensity workouts so you can hit your goals, it’s also a great way to lessen your injury risk.
Remember, it's ok for some things in your life to be easy. FOOD + WATER
Like oxygen, this is also necessary for survival. If you don’t have enough of the needed nutrients or water, the body gets a bit scared and the ole sympathetic nervous system can kick in.
Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Half of your body’s weight in ounces is the recommended minimum needed daily. (You weigh 150lbs, then you need at least 75 oz of water). If you sweat a lot, you may need more. Keeping an eye on your urine output and color of your urine can be helpful in gauging this. Also, consider things like sodium intake, water source (filtered water is often depleted of minerals), and electrolytes to optimize your hydration.
Watch your blood sugar, especially if you get HANGRY, sleepy, light headed, or headaches when it’s time to eat. You can have fantastic blood sugar levels for your annual physical and still have some subclinical issues here. Your body uses cortisol (hello, stress response!) to help raise blood sugar when it’s low. So, this can disrupt your sleep, pack on abdominal fat, create weight loss resistance, and impact reproductive hormones. Try not to let yourself get any of those symptoms by eating a well-rounded meal/snack (a little fat, protein, fiber combo) at the first sign of hunger or slightly before. Get lost in your work? Set an eating alarm!
Gut health: When the gut isn’t healthy, some foods can cause the body to think that those food particles are dangerous invaders requiring the immune system to attack. Remember how I mentioned the body’s need for safety earlier on… if the body think it’s under attack, it’s not going to feel to safe, right? So, figuring out what foods stimulate that fight-or-flight response in your body is critical for many women's wellbeing.
This one is powerful, yet often overlooked by mainstream medicine. Did you know that negative thoughts about your food as you are eating will activate that fight-or-flight system?? It’s crazy to think something that is such a small part of your day can play a big role in your health.
Gratitude practices, rewriting your beliefs, reframing perceived weaknesses as superpowers, brain dumps into a journal, + practicing forgiveness are all great ways to work on your mindset and create some massive changes in your life. Sometimes, you simply need to spend some time thinking about what you really want out of life, what your values are, and if you are living in a way that aligns with those things.
As busy women, life goes by fast. So fast. One day you wake up and realize that you are not the wife, mother, person that you always thought you were, that you lost your own identity along the way, or that you no longer know what independence feels like.
All of these things matter. If you ignore your thoughts and the way you perceive the world, you are neglecting a vital aspect of your health. You deserve more, my dear, because you’re pretty damn amazing.
While these are all great places to start, always know there's deeper places to go, especially if you're struggling with autoimmunity and feel like you've done everything. I've been there, and yet I'm continually challenged with getting deeper. For example, a more active analysis of your environment, a closer look for undiagnosed infection, unrecognized and thus, unprocessed traumas and microtraumas, and energy blocks are some other avenues that could be explored to help your body become more resilient to stress.
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