When you read the title of this post: “Why reducing stress is crucial to your health and happiness…” what was your first thought? Did you roll your eyes, because stress reduction AGAIN…really??
I get it. You’ve been told over and over that being stressed is bad, that it will give you wrinkles and grey hair. And maybe you’ve tried to reduce your stress, but you just don’t have time for spa dates, massages and bubble baths? Well I’m here to tell you that stress reduction isn’t just about bubble baths and grey hair.
Today I want to explain why reducing stress really is CRUCIAL to your health and happiness… and what you can do today to create a more peaceful life. Because you guys…it’s time.
Let’s start off by defining stress:
STRESS: “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
There are two types of stress:
1) Acute stress (sudden, intense stress such as the death of a loved one)
2) Chronic stress (daily accumulation of stressors, which are sometimes not recognized or perceived as stress. Examples of this include under eating, over exercising, sitting in a traffic jam, living with a chronic health condition, working at a job you hate, being in an abusive relationship, etc.)
Today we’re focusing on chronic stress. If you’ve experienced acute stress in your life, I’d recommend seeking professional help such as a therapist to work through the healing process. Acute stress, if not addressed, can morph into chronic stress.
Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic State
I think it’s important for me to first explain that there are two branches of our nervous system…parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight). If we’re dealing with chronic stress, we’re basically living in a sympathetic state. THIS IS NOT GOOD.
I lived in a sympathetic state for YEARS of my life, and my health suffered dramatically because of it. Someone who’s living in a sympathetic state may feel antsy, anxious, busy, panicked, and a general sense of “go-go-go.” They may eat very quickly, feel rushed all the time, always have a to-do list, and seemingly run through their day, physically and/or mentally.
When we live in this chronically-stressed state, it can affect our health in many different ways. Here are just a few of the physiological effects stress can have on our bodies:
1) Impaired thyroid health. When we’re chronically stressed, our thyroid is one of the first things to be affected. Common symptoms of a thyroid disorder include: brain fog, anxiety, dry skin and nails, thinning hair, feeling cold all the time, digestive issues, unexplained weight gain, trouble sleeping…and the list goes on. I struggle with hypothyroidism because of the years I spent in a chronically-stressed state.
2) Impaired gut health. When our body is stressed, our digestive processes basically SHUT DOWN. If you’re wolfing down your food, eating while driving, working or watching TV, you will not be in the parasympathetic state that you need to be in to rest and digest. This results in gut issues such as IBS, bloating, heart burn, etc.
3) Immune dysregulation. Your immune function can be impaired during times of stress, which can lead to widespread inflammation and autoimmune conditions. I experienced both of these because of chronic stress.
4) Hormone imbalances. When we’re stressed, our hormones can be affected, specifically female sex hormones. This can cause issues such as PMS, mood disorders and infertility. Our bodies will also produce more cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This can cause adrenal dysregulation/”fatigue.”
And this is just the beginning! Stress wreaks havoc on every part of our physical and emotional well-being, and over time can seriously run us into the ground.
So, what do we do about it?
Here are some suggestions that can make a dramatic difference in our stress levels:
1) Deep breathing/meditation. Remembering to take deep breaths throughout the day will make a huge difference. This is especially important before you eat a meal. Sit down in front of your food, take 5 deep breaths and focus on the delicious smell of your food. This will help you get into a parasympathetic state and turn on your digestive system.
If you’re chronically stressed, there’s a good change that you’re a “chest breather.” You want to learn to become a “belly breather.” Here’s a helpful article that explains the difference and teaches you how to breath with your belly.
Meditation can also teach you to be in-tune with your breath as well as other relaxation strategies. Even five minutes a day of mediation can make a huge difference in your day! Try the app Insight Timer for guided meditations you can do anytime.
2) Yoga. I used to hate yoga. But when I finally realized I needed to make some dramatic changes in my exercise routine, I started practicing yoga regularly. I was very surprised how much it helped me with my stress. I felt more calm and in-tune with my body, and it brought an overall feeling of peace to my morning routine. Trust me and give it a try. I like to use the app Down Dog because I can do it anywhere!
3) Snuggle and take a walk in nature. Human touch increases a hormone called Oxytocin, which is our “feel good” hormone. Try to get at least 8 “snuggles” in a day…this can be hugging your partner or kids, or snuggling with your pet. Walking in nature also helps you to feel a sense of ease and peace and can help reduce stress hormones.
4) Get a therapist/write in a journal. I’ve been seeing a therapist for the past year, and it has helped immensely with my stress and anxiety levels. I also keep a regular journal where I vent my frustrations and talk myself through my emotions. Writing is incredibly therapeutic! Not a big writer? Try doodling or sketching in a bullet journal.
5) Learn to say NO. You can’t do it all. You shouldn’t try to do it all. Sit down and make a list of any responsibilities you can eliminate or outsource. Learn to say “no” when someone asks you to do something that will only add stress to your life. “No” is enough of an answer…you don’t need to offer any other explanation.
6) Set the mood. When you come home from a busy day, instead of turning on your fave crime show to de-compress, try lighting a candle and turning on some soothing music. Creating a relaxing mood in your home will help you release any stress from the day.
Those are a few of the things that have helped me DRAMATICALLY reduce my stress in the past year or so. I have felt my body and mind transition out of living in a chronically-stressed state, and into a parasympathetic state. It’s been incredible to experience the peace and fulfillment that living slower and more intentionally can bring.
I hope that these suggestions were helpful for you in your journey to a more peaceful life. Just choose one thing to work on at a time, and slowly you will transform your life and your health!
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