Building Resiliency Against Stress Series, Part 1: WTH?!?!?!?!?!!
Listen Up! This is an unprecedented and stressful time. Anxiety levels are high around the globe, and we have all been thrust into uncharted and uncomfortable territory with no known end in sight.
Sounds pretty dismal?
WAIT! Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! We are all going through this together. This unique fact provides the opportunity for us to reach out and connect with others to both lean on each other and lift each other up!
With that in mind, I want to empower you by providing knowledge and tools to help you build resiliency against stress and anxiety! First, let me lay the foundation. Keep scrolling...
Part 1: WTH?!?!?!?!?!!!
Often, as we navigate our day, we encounter a variety of situations that put stress on the body - some that we label as good, some as bad, and some that might fall into either category depending on the type of stress and current state of being.
Context matters when it comes to stress
Rewind 30 days when COVID-19 was just some mysterious illness that was happening in a distant land. Life was simpler. You could hit a 'snag' in your day, and it would be fine. You'd evaluate the situation, come up with a solution, and then move on with your day.
Fast forward to present day. You are surrounded by uncertainty in the midst of a pandemic. You're not sleeping. You're snacking non-stop throughout the day. You're homeschooling your 3 children while continuing to work your regular 9 to 5. Snags, even seemingly tiny ones, can derail your day.
Stress is Additive.
Stress builds in your body. The more stress we have, the harder it is to respond in a rational, healthy manner. This might show up for you as a curt remark to a loved one, taking another trip to the kitchen, or a sleepless night. This could also show up as an upset stomach, tension in your shoulders, or not being able to recover from exercise.
Your body responds to protect you
This is key to understand. Your body is wired to be able to respond to stress. In fact, the process by which your body responds to stress is called Allostasis, and when we evaluate a persons total stress burden, we called it their Allostatic Load. The allostatic load includes ALL types of stress - emotional, physical, psychological, chemical, etc.. Translate that into real terms and that is stress caused by the news, relationships, food you eat, thoughts in your head, and even exercise. It's very likely that you have a higher allostatic load now, then you did a month ago and your body is working in overdrive to triage and bring you back into some sort of balance.
We'll dive deeper into acute versus chronic stress, good vs bad stress, and when good stress becomes bad at a future date. For now, let's look at what you can do to help your body manage the current situation.
Focus on what you can control
This is KEY! With everything going on, there's only so much that you have actual control of and this could be different for each person. Here are three suggestions of ways to reduce stress on your body and build resiliency:
Meal plan healthy food. Remember, food is information for the body. Refined, processed, or inflammatory foods can tax the digestive system, disrupt the gut microbiome, and impair the immune response. Instead, choose a variety of colorful vegetables, lean proteins, and a moderate amount of fruit.
Limit excessive caffeine and alcohol. Note the word 'excessive' here. Let's face it, excessive consumption of either of these beverages put strain on the body and can burden your body's detoxification pathways and impair your immune system. Try to limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day and reduce alcohol consumption. While the CDC recommends no more than 1 alcoholic beverage a day for women and up to two for men, I would urge you to consider making that a weekly versus daily amount or even eliminating it all together. Try swapping out a glass of wine for a cup of herbal tea in the evening.
If you have to choose between exercise and sleep, choose sleep. Wait, isn't exercise healthy? Yes, it can be and most often it is. However, when overall stress is high, exercise can have negative effects on the body by further increasing inflammation and suppressing the immune system. If you compound that with restless sleep, it's a recipe for disaster. As soon as someone tells me they are experiencing disrupted sleep, I ask them to start backing off their exercise volume and start swapping in breath work and naps. Sleep is where your body repairs, restores, and rejuvenates itself. If you continue to push exercise when sleep is poor, your body is not able to benefit from what would normally be a positive stress on the system.
That's all for now! I hope you enjoyed part 1 of this series. I'll continue to dig deeper into stress and how you can build resiliency.
Know that I am thinking of you and am here for you if you have questions or need support. Stay tuned for some news on upcoming workshops to help you reduce stress even further.