In this post, I discuss the reason why we are stressed more today than ever! I discuss the physiological reasons why women are especially susceptible to stress. The physiology of the stress response is broken down into phases and explained. I also discuss the scientifically-proven tried and true methods for stress relief and dealing with stress.
Let’s talk some more about stress. Everyone is talking about it these days because everyone has it. It has become the social norm with the overwhelm of our task lists, e-mails, being at the beck and call of many people, pressure to become our best self, etc. But rather than use stress in short bursts to get things done, we are creating daily stress levels that our bodies are unable fully resolve. We are becoming increasingly affected by burnout. Stress has a negative impact on sleep, diet, our spare time and our self-care. Ironically, it is the combination of these very things that help to modulate stress. Our happiness is suffering because we are “too busy” for the things that matter. When we lack the ability to modulate our stress we weaken our immune system, gain unwanted weight, develop digestions issues, become irritable, experience decreased energy, sexual dysfunction, bone loss, increased cravings, accelerated aging and it can even cause premature death.
WOMEN AND STRESS:
Here’s the double whammy. Women have less stress resilience than men and women with high cortisol levels shorten the telomeres or the caps on the chromosomes that best determine our biological aging capacity. The effect of the shortening of these caps was discovered by Elizabeth Blackburn a researcher at UCSF. Women under chronic stress (in this case taking care of an ill child) had chromosomes that aged 10 years faster.
To make matters worse, women are even more vulnerable because we have double the ratio of insomnia than men. Sleep is one of our best stress modulators. We have less serotonin and this neurotransmitter is necessary for buffering stress chemicals.
WHY ARE WE SO STRESSED OUT?
Why are we at such a frantic pace? It turns out that work-related stressors are becoming increasingly more complicated. We work more overtime and spend 2+ hours e-mailing every day. The boundaries between our work life and our down-time are becoming blurred or non existent. Our daily lives now include too much FOMO from social media. We have a new addiction (our phones) that take up most of our spare time. Our to-do lists are never-ending. We have more social pressure to be attractive, fit, healthy, financially successful, socially happy, etc.
Let’s talk a little about the physiology behind stress. Our stress response is part of the HPA axis which includes our hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain and the feedback loop from the adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys. Inside the adrenals are the medulla and the cortex. The medulla releases catecholamines called epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline). The cortex releases glucocorticoids such as cortisol for glucose metabolism in the blood in response to stress. The cortex also releases mineralocorticoids (aldosterone) to help regulate levels of sodium and thus regulate blood volume and blood pressure. The cortex also releases androgens or sex hormones such as DHEA and testosterone.
THE ADRENAL PHASES:
In a normal cortisol rhythm, the peak level should be about 30 days after waking and slowly decline until it is at its lowest level when you fall asleep. However, if the stress response is not properly regulated, it can lead to progressive levels of dysfunction, In phase one, cortisol is elevated and in an alarm phase. In phase two cortisol is continually unhealthfully elevated and one may start to feel “wired but tired” in this on-going alarm phase. In phase three cortisol levels and stress hormones continue but hormone production drops and the person starts to feel more tired. This is the resistance phase. The final phase is what we call “burnout” and both stress hormones and sex hormones are in low production mode.
No matter where you are at of the four phases, addressing stress is the most important skill you need to develop. I want to discuss some of the tried and tree scientifically-proven methods for addressing stress.
- SLEEP: Sleep 7-8 hours regularly and keep a regular sleep and wake schedule. In other words, go to bed and wake up the same time every day, even on the weekends (within an hour or so of your normal time).
- DIET: Decrease sugar and keep your sugar grams under 30 per day. Get tested for food sensitivities The stress of the immune system and subsequent inflammation from foods that your body is mounting an immune response to, can put undue stress on your metabolism overall and prevent weight loss and stress resilience. Another reason to address food sensitivities is that you produce more than 70% of your serotonin in your gut. If your intestines are mounting an inflammatory response, you can’t make enough of the buffering neurotransmitter needed to modulate stress hormones. Decrease alcohol as it effects stress tolerance and caffeine as it exacerbate the cortisol release. Eat at the same time each day and at regular intervals of every 2-3 hours. If your cortisol levels are not regular, then intermittent fasting or fat diets may not be the answer for you.
- MINERALS: Increase mineral intake by getting lots of green vegetables and supplement with magnesium. This is one of the key minerals that will become depleted under long-term stress.
- VITAMINS: Increase your intake of B vitamins and Vitamin C. Vitamin B1 , B5 are key to adrenal health. Take a quality multi B vitamin in the morning and at lunch time.
- HERBS: Increase intake of adaptogenic herbs such as lemon balm, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Holy Basil, and maca root. Adaptogenic herbs help your adrenals because they will increase or decrease cortisol as needed and adapt to your personal stress levels, hence the term adaptogenic.
- SCHEDULE: Schedule a sabbath on a weekly basis. There is a reason God made this part of his commandments. Rest was not a suggestion. I’m pretty certain he knows what he is talking about. If you want to argue this, you can take it up with the Big Guy.
- MEDITATION: Practice mindful breathing and meditation, daily. Set reminders on your phone if you have to. One of my favorites is a yogic breath that involves taking a 4 count breath in, hold for 5 and release for 6. Repeat this over and over for 5 minutes. Make it part of your morning routine and schedule it at least one time, mid-day. If you have to use the restroom, so be it.
- LAUGH MORE: Watch less news reels and watch more things that make you smile. In fact, give yourself limited times to be on social media every day. USE AN APP: Train your body to modulate stress by using an app to monitor your nervous system like Inner Balance by Heart Math Institute.
- JOURNAL: Keep a daily gratitude journal. It takes just one minute to write down three things that you are thankful for. Even the small things such as a hot cup of coffee, a morning kiss, a sunrise can all help to increase your awareness of the joy around you.
- DECLUTTER: Declutter your surroundings. Studies of hoarders have found that there is a correlation between the mess we keep and the state of our bodies. Have you ever noticed that it is rare to see a hoarder who is in excellent shape? Even an unaddressed pile of papers or laundry or shelves of tchotchkes is information that our brain takes in and has to process. If the space is not clear, your brain dwells on this as something that needs to be addressed later, without you even knowing it. Do your mind a favor and get rid of the excess. Make your work space, your kitchen, your den, a place of zen. You deserve this feeling after a hard days work.
Here is the solid truth: Either you deal with your stress or it will deal with you.
And that my friends is why I founded my website: journey toward joy. That is why I wrote The Forever Fat Burner. That is why I do everything that I do: because I don’t want anyone to suffer the same way I did by trying to do it all, trying to climb the corporate ladder, trying to please everyone whilst ignoring the signs that the person who needs care the most is me!
If you are like me and you are on a journey toward improving your life, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below and share this post with a friend that you know is struggling with stress. We need to support each other and encourage each other more. Also, I want you to check out the free pdf I have linked for you HERE with my best stress reduction tips.
Until the next post, my friend, please know that you must address your stress so you can fulfill your thrills.