Life in the Fast Lane – How Stress is Impacting Your Health and Why You Should Do Something About It
Guest post by Sara Widdowson, Dietitian and creator of Your Monthly Club.
When did stress become our impression of success? Ever notice how often you answer “how are you?” with “oh my goodness, SO BUSY”. We are doing more than ever before, and as modern women we are living with more pressure than our grandmothers and even our mothers ever had to. The career, building your business, social demands and relationships – we do it all!
Stress is normal, in fact it’s actually a survival response. When we are stressed we release hormones that change our breathing, heart rate and blood flow to get us away from danger, fast. The trouble is, our body can’t tell the difference between real danger (i.e. burning building) or perceived danger (deadlines at work). Cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones, are released regardless of the source of our stress. Cortisol in particular has a huge impact on our health when it is present in our bodies for a prolonged period. Some of the health impacts include:
Weight gain or inability to lose weight
Cortisol promotes use of glucose (sugar) as fuel, not fat, leading to long term weight gain or inability to shift weight. Cortisol makes us more insulin resistant, meaning that our body has to make more insulin to clear blood sugar levels after a meal, and insulin is a fat storage hormone. Our body is also trying to be clever, holding onto reserves of fuel in case your stress is being caused by a famine situation. Survival mechanism remember!
A missed period is not to celebrated unless you are trying for a baby! If you are constantly stressed, the likely cause of longer cycle duration (missed period) is high cortisol levels. After all, why would your body make a baby if it thinks it would be born into a stressful situation such famine or conflict? (remember real versus perceived threat)
Cortisol diverts blood from nonessential processes such as digestion, towards our limbs so we can run from danger. This can cause bloating, and starves our good bacteria of oxygen and nutrients.
Insomnia or poor sleep quality
Cortisol levels should naturally fall away at night time so we can sleep. If you are chronically stressed this can lead to an inability to fall asleep, or to achieve that deep restorative sleep we need to feel rested the next day. And what is the first thing we reach for if we are sleepy in the morning? COFFEE! Increasing stress hormones further, and around the cycle goes.
If any of the above sound like they might be relevant to you, you may want to evaluate sources of stress in your life and how you can reduce them! Here are some easy tricks to get you started:
- Be more of a no person. Have the power to say no, and without explanation. You do not have to say yes to every opportunity (social or business) if it is not what you truly want or if it doesn’t light you up!
- Step away from caffeine. While a small amount of coffee every day has both physical and mental health benefits, we are likely all overdoing it. If you are relying on more than one coffee per day your likely experiencing adrenal fatigue, and should reduce your intake. Start with the decaffeinated stuff if needed, or better yet try a herbal tea! I know it doesn’t taste the same but trust me when I say your body will appreciate the change.
- Have boundaries when it comes to technology and social media. Turn your phone on to flight mode from 8pm at night, turn it on silent or only check emails once or twice per day. When was the last time you had a technology free weekend? Give it a go and notice how peaceful it is!
- Move your body. Find gentle movement that you enjoy! High intensity training further promotes raised cortisol levels, so if you are a highly stressed person, HIT workouts may not be the best choice for you. If you love HIT workouts, you don’t necessarily need to give it up, just try and incorporate slow restorative movements such as yoga, Pilates or walking. YouTube has great free classes (yoga with Adriane is a favourite)
- Support your body with good nutrition. We use more B vitamins to convert our food into energy when we are stressed, so focusing on B vitamin containing foods is a good place to start. Think colourful vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Taking time to look after your mental and physical wellbeing by reducing stress should be considered an investment in your business or career, so reflect on your current stress levels and see if you can make some positive changes.
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