Stress is a hot button word these days. Well, stress and all of it’s friends… stressFUL, stressED, stressING. The answer to your typical questions like, “How’s work?” “How are you feeling?” and “How’s your holiday shopping coming along?” might be met with these responses. Stress has become so commonplace in our daily lives that we’ve begun to lose sight of what it actually means to be stressed, and what it’s effects are. Let’s look at the literal definition: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances, become tense or anxious, worry. I don’t know about you, but when I read that, I don’t see that as a state of being that I want to find myself in on a regular basis. And yet, many of us know no other state… in fact, we relish in it. Living in a state of stress makes us feel like we are working harder, that we are achieving more, or that we are doing better than others. While those immediate feelings may bring about some sense of accomplishment, there’s one important thing to consider. This perspective neglects to look at how stress truly affects us.I know what you’re probably thinking.
“Anna, this is the life I live. I can’t do anything to decrease the amount of stress that I experience in my day. Telling me to reduce my stress is like telling me to cut off one of my arms. Even the thought of that just stresses me out, and…” *Deep breath*
Listen. I know you can’t suddenly eliminate all of the stresses in your life. But let’s look the effects of doing NOTHING about managing that stress.
What happens if you decide to do nothing? Here’s the top three things that are impacted:
- SLEEP: Your sleep is going to be negatively impacted. The mind will have a hard time winding down, and the amount of sleep you get, as well as the quality of that sleep, will be diminished. Sleep is a magical thing because it’s our body’s opportunity to reset from the day. Our digestion amps up, our hormone levels replenish, our muscles recover, and our brain filters through the day, holding onto important interactions and pieces of knowledge. If you’re getting less than six hours of sleep per night, all of these processes are being affected. The consequences of this over the course of days, weeks, months, and years can be detrimental. This feeds directly into our body’s ability to function properly, and therein, lose weight. Simply… our bodies can’t put forth enough energy toward speeding up metabolism and dropping excess fat.
- MOOD: When you’re experiencing high levels of stress, you aren’t exactly feeling like sunshine and rainbows. You can fake a smile for al little while, but deep down, you’re not at peace.This ties directly into your lack of sleep as well. (Have you ever woken up 15 minutes BEFORE your alarm and been absolutely ticked off? If you could have just stayed asleep for a little bit longer!) The lack of a positive attitude ripples into every other aspect of your life. When you can’t be happy for yourself then the likelihood of being happy for others is very low. This has a negative impact on your overall well-being All because you are allowing your stress to control you!
- SELF-DISCIPLINE: This ties into sleep AND mood. Self-discipline isn’t a quality that you are either born with or without. It is cultivated through your own life experiences. If you want to have more self-discipline, you need to practice self-discipline. When you’re under high amounts of stress and don’t do anything to manage it, you are taking that opportunity away from yourself. The act of practicing self-discipline will not seem like a priority in lieu of the mountain of things that you need to accomplish. So not only are you feeling stressed, but this lack of self-discipline may lead to poor health choices. You may not seek out the healthiest options for your meals. You may not choose to head to the gym for a workout. No longer do you get to make conscious decisions that will help you. The stress creates a mental barrier that causes you to seek the easiest options, instead of the best options.
These are some of the reasons WHY stress derails us. When we do these things that don’t contribute to our health, we are subjecting ourselves to the risks letting that stress go unchecked. You see where I’m going with this. Each of these aspects of your life that are caused by stress, feed into one another. You can’t suddenly eliminate the amount of stress that you experience. But, there are probably better ways for you to MANAGE your stress. Get real with yourself for a second, do you even think about how you mange your stress? Do you drink a bottle of wine every night? Do you smoke? Do you eat something sweet (or salty) most days of the week? Do you binge-watch television on your couch for hours on end? These are just a handful of common coping behaviors that many of us engage in, sometimes unknowingly. Any one of these are indicators that you may be experiencing high levels of stress… even if you don’t feel like you are.
What can you do about managing your stress?
- Prioritize your sleep above all else. Do whatever you have to do to ensure you’re getting between 6-9 hours every single night. This will have a positive impact on your ability to stay awake, focused, and develop more self-discipline. The self-discipline will give you more CONTROL over your life. (In truth, it’s the seeming lack of control that causes us stress in the first place, isn’t int?) It feels like life is just happening to us, instead of us experiencing it.
- Set aside time in your week to consciously manage your stress. This could take form in a variety of ways… think of things that will allow you to be more mindful, instead of going through your days and tasks without awareness. Practice yoga, take your dog on a walk each night, workout out a designated number of days each week, go on a hike, ride your bike, spend quality time with your family, cook yourself a healthy meal. Managing your stress means that you are taking yourself OUT of your regular routine and doing something that brings you peace and joy. Think of things that you’ve always WANTED to do but just haven’t made time for. That’s a good indicator that it could be a stress-management tool for you!
These are just a couple of general tips to help you understand how stress affects you. When your sleep, mood, and self-discipline are affected, the consequences are far-reaching. It’s not hokey to say that self-care is a necessity, because frankly, without it we are victims of our own realities. If we want to take control and experience our life (rather than just survive it) we must take conscious steps to manage the stress in our lives. I believe in you!
Anna (Rhino Nutritionist)