This post was written by Leah Campián, who is a Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach, Certified Culinary Nutrition Expert and author of the best-seller, Ditch the Diet: How Your Frustration Can Lead to Freedom and Permanent Weight Loss. She offers private coaching, online programs, cooking workshops, customized meal plans and public education on holistic health and wellness. She’ll be teaching our online class about why and how to deal with stress on May 27.
If this pandemic has you feeling stressed, I want you to know two things…
1. You’re not alone.
2. That’s normal.
Even though it may be our body’s natural way to respond to “our new normal,” knowing that fact doesn’t make us feel any better and stress can, in fact, cause both short-term and long-term negative effects on our health, inside and out, from head to toe and especially the middle!
It’s important to understand that stress is natural. The word eustress means “good stress,” the kind that motivates us to take action. Distress, on the other hand, is the type of stress that we find ourselves in too often, unable to manage it, watching it wreak havoc on our health over time.
Here’s what happens when your body experiences distress:
- Stress turns on our sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight response,” pumping out epinephrine from our adrenal glands and cortisol, which raises blood sugar levels and blood pressure to get us out of the situation. While this is a natural mechanism, its overuse can be detrimental.
- Cortisol is actually needed in higher levels earlier in the day, to get us going, then wanes off in the evening so we can sleep, but if it’s in high gear at night, trying to help our bodies handle stress, we won’t sleep. Its overproduction can also cause excess belly fat.
- After a surge of glucose released by the liver, our pancreas starts secreting insulin in an effort to maintain our blood sugar levels. When we later hit a blood sugar dip, our bodies need to replenish the loss, so what do we tend to go for? Anything that will give us immediate energy: donuts, coffee, cookies, sweet tea, anything sweet! This creates a cycle that I’m sure many of us are familiar with.
- Once we have “escaped the danger” that ignited the distress in the first place, the body seeks balance. That’s when the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, in what’s called the “rest and digest phase,” but only if we allow it to happen.
After “surviving an episode,” I can just hear our bodies now: “Whew, we survived another attack!” Many of our days are consumed with putting out fire after fire, and we don’t give our bodies the chance to rest. As you can imagine, attack after attack will soon put the body into a state of adrenal fatigue, where it can’t respond properly, which is another reason we need to learn how to deal with stress. You might feel sluggish, lack energy, feel unmotivated. This adrenal fatigue can also cause other hormonal imbalances, which could lead to low thyroid—where our metabolism slows down and we experience weight gain, dry skin, loss of hair, loss of motivation and infertility, just to name a few.
Not only do we wear ourselves out, putting ourselves in the worst position to make the best nutrition choices, but when we undergo stress, we can experience indigestion, gas, bloating, diarrhea and even malnutrition. Think about it: when you are trying to run from a tiger, all of your energy is there: blood pumping to the heart, legs and arms, helping you to run faster, and in our current situation, it sends a message to our brain to try to solve the problem, not to digest food. So even the healthiest eater could have health issues if her body is not able to assimilate the nutrients she consumes!
At this point, you may be thinking, “Now I know why, but I need to know how to deal with stress!” And I couldn’t agree more! Here are some helpful guidelines to get you going:
- Re-evaluate every decision and commitment that you’ve made, then prioritize them. If they do not rank high enough on your valued items, scratch them off!
- Learn to say, “No, thank you.” Over-committing is a big culprit of stress!
- Make plans and preparations. This is especially important when it comes to nourishing ourselves, in all ways: food, movement, spiritual practices, mindset, self-care, etc.
- Know your triggers and try to avoid them or learn how to respond to them. Prepare yourself by imagining the outcome that you desire. Even when unusually stressful situations arise, having previously envisioned a positive response to a stressor will likely encourage you to take the appropriate next-step action, such as deep breaths or a short walk instead of running for a cookie or coffee.
- And finally, for those “type A” personalities, don’t sweat the small stuff! I know that’s so much easier said than done, but it all starts with knowing your purpose and values, keeping an open-mind and curiosity about life, embracing each experience as an opportunity for life to teach you and consistent practices that allow you to explore who you are and allow you to express yourself.
For an in-depth understanding of why and how to deal with stress, join me Wednesday, May 27 for a Zoom workshop hosted by the Co-op. All participants will receive a free mood-boosting meal plan as well! You can find details and tickets here.