If the title of this blog post didn’t already give it away (and have you running to close this tab – please don’t), today we’re going to chat about STRESS and stress management. Super fun topic, yeah!?
I know this won’t be the first time you’ve heard about the impact of stress on your health, or to be encouraged to “find healthier stress management outlets”. There will be some of that, but I hope this article brings a new, fresh perspective on stress management techniques – making them feel more practical for the every day gal like yourself.
Here’s why I want to talk about stress (and hopefully in a way that is super, duper practical for you):
- It is an inevitable part of life – obviously.
- Oftentimes, the very ways that we try to lower or deal with our stress only add MORE stress to the equation (whether we know it or not…), and things start to get even messier.
- When we have better stress management techniques, we are better able to thrive and live out the life of abundance we were created for.
So, grab your fav hot tea blend, pop on those blue light blockers, and stop the multitasking for a few minutes to join me as we uncover the many sneaky ways stress can creep into your life (that could be sabotaging your metabolism or weight loss), how you can become more aware of it, and the BEST part: I’m sharing a handful of practical techniques that will help you decrease stress when you can and build resilience when it’s inevitable.
Ready to show stress the exit door? Same – let’s get to it!
Ok So What IS Stress, Really?
When we think of stress, most often the idea of an impending work deadline, tense relationship with a family member, or running late in traffic for a very important meeting pop up.
And yes, these are all sources of stress. But stress is a multi-faceted creature of sorts that can sneak into our lives in more ways that we realize.
Technically, stress is anything that disrupts homeostasis in the body. Stress can be real or imagined, external or internal. Stress is also cumulative, meaning it adds up over time if not dealt with appropriately.
That last part is worth expounding upon for a second: stress is cumulative. Over time, stress can compound into what is referred to as allostatic load. When the level of stress we are facing exceeds our ability to cope (healthfully), allostatic OVERload occurs. THIS is when stress becomes a real issue and threat to our health.
Stress isn’t inherently bad – in fact, we NEED to experience stress in our lives so that the body (and the mind) can grow stronger and more resilient. For example, working out is technically a stressor, but when we recover appropriately (by refueling, sleeping, hydrating, and taking rest days for example), and have managed stress from other outlets in life, the stress from working out can actually lead to us getting stronger in the gym….yay!
(And on that note, avoiding all stress is NOT the goal. Complete elimination of all stress from your life isn’t just unrealistic, it’s also not healthy, or helpful!)
Back to the concept of cumulative stress. A simple way to picture this is like a bathtub: when you have the bathtub plugged up and the water running, if you don’t find a way to unplug the bathtub, then eventually the water continues to pour in from the faucet until it overflows and makes a very large mess to clean up, and could potentially cause more damage. The water represents stress. Removal of the plug represents using the healthy outlets that you have in place to let the stress drain away. We don’t want our stress to outweigh our ability to respond and deal with it in a healthy, supportive manner! That’s when things get messy.
I mentioned that stress is multi-faceted – stress can pour into our lives from many different sources…as you’re probably aware. I like to break those sources down into 6 main domains, and each of those 6 main domains will then have many different sources within it! Here’s a simple breakdown of each domain and what some of the different sources within each can look like:
- Undereating and chronic dieting
- Fasting, eating at erratic times
- Nutrient-depleted diet, imbalanced meals
- Imbalanced blood sugar
- Excess caffeine intake
- Poor, insufficient sleep
- Illness or infection
- Certain medications like birth control
- Too many cognitive demands
- Decision fatigue and info overload
- Comparison (like from scrolling social media)
- Social rejection
- Unsupportive relationships
- Lack of community
- Lack of purpose
- Lack of meaning
- Poor sense of self
- Disrupted light-dark cycles (like from blue light/screens at night)
- Toxins and pollutants
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals
Of course, these lists are not exhaustive. As you read through each domain, take a pulse on your current overall stress level. Where do you land? Are you experiencing more stress in one domain than another? Is there stress that you’re experiencing that you weren’t aware was considered a stress?
Perhaps you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed now that you are even more aware of even MORE stress. Take a few moments to close your eyes, take a deep inhale through your nose, hold it for a few seconds and exhale. Feel your shoulders and jaw relax. I know it’s not fun to be awakened to yet another stressor – but it’s kinda like facing a termite problem. Better to know about it and nip it in the bud then let it go unnoticed and untreated 🙂 We’re about to get to the fun part!
Remember, not all stress is bad. Remember also that some stress is simply perceived. This is good news because it means you have the ability to control that stress just in how you think about it or respond to it!
Speaking of how you respond to stress, let’s take a look at how our response to stress can help or hinder us.
Are Your Stress Management Efforts Causing More Stress?
How helpful are your current stress management techniques? Like, how helpful in the long run are they?
For many of us, our go-to coping mechanisms to deal with stress may look like:
- Turning to food to distract us or comfort us
- Pouring a glass or two of wine
- Numbing out by mindlessly scrolling social media
- Binging the latest Netflix show for 3 hours until it’s past our bed time
- Online shopping at 1 am
- Going out to eat at the end of the week to treat ourselves with a large margarita and basket of chips with queso
Sure these may curb the feeling of stress in the moment, but more often than not they’re only adding even more fuel to the stress fire. Think of the bathtub analogy from earlier. How might each of those be contributing specific stress to the body?
And listen, I KNOW these feel good in the moment. But are they really helping you, really? Or are they just allowing you to avoid and numb out the tough situation, feeling, or emotion in lieu of a cheap fix?
If you could learn better, healthier stress management techniques, not only would you have less stress but you’d also be more resilient to the stress you DO face, AND more often than not would have an easier time reaching your health goals…even WITH those unavoidable stressors.
When you learn how to better deal with your stress (and implement it!), you’re less likely to struggle with low motivation, laziness, or sticking with your healthy eating and exercise habits.
If that sounds enticing to you, it’s a really good thing you’re reading this blog right now because we’re about to dive into some healthier and more supportive stress management tips right about…now!
Techniques to Manage Stress
When it comes to healthy stress management techniques, there’s a few things to consider:
- What causes stress for one person may not cause stress for another. Stress, and how we manage and deal with it, is individual! None of these suggestions are set in stone or prescriptive. While some are pretty universal in that 99.9% of people WOULD benefit from them, others are more individual.
- You have to know where your stress is coming from!! Using the list provided above can be helpful to “take inventory” so you can put a face to your stress. You may need to intentionally carve out time to evaluate this.
- Have patience with yourself! More than likely, you’ll have to learn and adopt new habits and ways of living and dealing with stress. This takes time, practice, and patience to essentially “reprogram” how you respond.
That being said, here are some of my favorite suggestions that will help to either decrease, eliminate, or better deal with, some of the common stressors we face day to day:
- Prioritize 7-9 hours of sleep in a dark room
- Limit blue light exposure after sunset or at least an hour before bed
- Workout regularly (join us in the Redemptive Health Membership for a monthly workout guide!)
- Take rest days regularly to recover from workouts
- Fuel properly based on your needs (focus on eating ENOUGH to promote health, not just cutting calories to lose weight)
- Eat balanced meals consistently through the day that include protein, carbs, fat, and fiber from real, whole foods
- Spend time with the Lord daily
- Root your worth in Christ
- Minimize mindless scrolling on social media
- Minimize listening to podcasts and taking in tons of information
- Clean up your skincare routine to reduce exposure to harmful toxins
- Include play/leisure activities in your week
- Walk outside
- Journal your thoughts or feelings
- Turn to prayer instead of eating your feelings
- Weekly sabbath
- Moments of silence/mind-body scan
- Engage in a craft or hobby you enjoy
- Listen to your favorite music
- Join a connect group at your church
- Quit jumping on diet fads, detoxes, and restrictive programs
- Call a friend to chat
- Take a hot shower
- Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Read a book instead of scrolling social media before bed
- Stop striving for perfection in everything you do
My Top 4 Healthy Stress Management Techniques For Anyone
Goodness, I could go on and on with that list, but if I had to distill it down to my top 4 actions that I’d recommend for almost anyone, they’d be:
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast within 1-2 hours of waking up, and before coffee
- This promotes stable blood sugar and starts your day off with a full tank. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach and going long periods without eating is a big stress on a body that is already stressed. You’ll love this protein-rich breakfast – it’s one of my favorites!
- Turn to God/prayer before you turn to food or alcohol when actively stressed
- Why is our gut reaction so often to turn to food or a glass of wine when we are stressed out? They may help ease the pain in the moment, but usually leave us feeling even worse in the long run. And more often than not, when we’re stressed, we typically need more SOUL care – and food just can’t do that like God can, as cheesy as that is.
- Get outside every day, even if it’s a 10 minute walk
- Studies show that getting out in nature can lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone in the body). But I don’t think we need studies to prove to us that getting outside in some fresh air and sunshine (even if it’s chilly!) helps us feel better. If you work in an office, make this one a priority – you’ll notice a huge change! Get out for a short walk after lunch to break up the day!
- Limit screen time/blue light exposure after sun down
- When we are exposed to blue light in the evening, it sends a signal to our brain that it’s day time and we need to be awake. This leads to melatonin suppression, and this leads to a whole cascade of hormonal shifts that impact every other facet of the body – even down to thinks like fertility, hunger, and blood sugar control. If you must be on screens, use blue light blocking glasses and turn your screen to night mode.
These 4 actions will do a lot to decrease overall stress load on the body and support your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and environmental well-being. While we can’t control everything and will inevitably face stress in our life, healthier outlets like these 4 (and the ones listed above) will help you build resilience in the face of stress. What that means for you is that stress doesn’t have to derail you anymore. You can control it, rather than it controlling you.
Put It Into Action
Chances are, you’ve heard some, if not all, of this before. Are you doing it? You can take in all the information, but at some point you have to put it into action. A few tips:
- Take stock of your current stressors using the list of 6 domains provided earlier.
- Make a list of healthier outlets you could implement or habits you could adopt to decrease, manage, or better deal with stress.
- Practice with patience! Maybe you need to set an alarm or put out some post-it note reminders.
- Still not sure where to start but sick and tired of your stress getting in the way of you reaching your health goals? Reach out about 1:1 coaching – much of our nutrition choices are driven by our stress, so we can work on both together so that you can better manage your stress and your food choices and get back to living the way you want to live.
Think I missed something about stress, or is there more you’d like to know? Shoot me an email and I’d love to cover it!