Did you know that over 60% of all illnesses are due to stress?
If there’s one thing that most of us have in common it’s stress. Over 95 million Americans experience a health problem caused by stress each week! That's HUGE! I see this playing out every day in my patients’ health and lives.
Over the past three decades I’ve eaten well, learned to meditate, I try to do yoga and exercise, and know that I can find great peace and restoration in nature. While I do my best to live a healthy life, sometimes stress gets the best of me, too. My biggest weakness is taking on too much at once. I love to say yes to opportunities to inspire and improve health in women’s lives – but sometimes I overextend, forgetting that healing starts at home – with myself!
I try to recognize my early stress warning signs: First I get this feeling that a motor is stuck in the on position in my gut. If I don't shift something, then I start to worry a lot and my thoughts veer toward the negative. Eventually I get bitchy to my husband and may even pick a fight. Then I want to run away from everything.
That's when I know I have to catch myself and reboot.
What is Stress, Really?
You likely know your own stress symptoms, too. Perhaps your heart might start racing, your chest might feel tight, your shoulders are tense and your head is pounding with pressure, you may feel fatigued, or like me, you may become overwhelmed and know that motor running feeling. You may find yourself wanting to scream at someone, to suddenly run away to the Bahamas, or to just curl up into a little quiet ball and be left alone.
These “symptoms” are all part of the “fight-or-flight” response that happens as a result of stress. Your body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol to help you respond effectively to stress, especially when you are juggling more balls in the air than you feel like you can manage.
A small amount of stress, even on a regular basis, might not actually be a bad thing. Those same chemicals, in tiny doses, improve our ability to focus, give us energy, and even boost the immune system. The problem is – and what most of us experience – is stress that just won’t quit. And it's when stress persists that it leads to health problems.
Stress Comes in Many Packages
Stress comes in a lot of forms – worry, anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, weight gain, and frequent colds, to name a few. A whopping 25% of women suffer from anxiety – that's 9% more than men! The ability to multitask is a blessing and a curse for most of us, especially when it's combined with trouble saying no to projects.
Learning to recognize stress in your life, and admit to it, is one of the fastest ways to get a handle on it!
There's also the double whammy. When we’re stressed we tend to reach for the cookies and candy, eat too much, live on coffee to keep on going or we may even drink more alcohol than we probably should or end up making bad relationship choices! We actually do things that compound our stress in the long run.
Stress is No Joke
Stress really can kill.
Conditions associated with stress include: Alcoholism, Anxiety, Autoimmune conditions, Cancer, Depression, Digestive problems and diseases, Drug addiction, Eating disorders, Frequent colds and infections, Headaches, Heart disease, Herpes outbreaks (including cold sores), High blood pressure, Infertility, Inflammation, Insomnia, Irregular periods, Low libido, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PMS, Smoking addiction, Stroke…to name just a few. Stress even increases our risk of having accidents!
Half of America is on Medications for Stress-Related Problems!
More of us than ever are taking medications because of the emotional effects of stress – for example, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Hundreds of millions of prescriptions are written each year for these conditions alone. While they do benefit some people, most of these medications help only 30% of the people who take them, and they can cause many minor and some serious side effects including fatigue, irritability, weight gain and diabetes, loss of libido, suicidal thoughts, and dependence on the medications.
5 Methods for De-Stressing…Naturally
One of the things I’ve learned is that while I can’t control everything in life, I can control how I respond. And this is something I’d love to pass on to you.
I try to do a few things everyday to prevent stress. When it does get to me, I try to recognize the signs early and recalibrate quickly. For me, this means scaling back on what I’m doing and pacing myself better.
The techniques I use to prevent stress are the same ones that I use to get myself back on track.
Here are my top 5 stress reduction tips:
1. Get an Attitude Makeover: Be the Author of Your Own Life!
Make the choice to identify the things that are causing stress in your life and change them – you can write your own script! It isn’t always easy, but the truth is that if we are in perpetual inner conflict about a job, a relationship, or another situation that causes us stress, we have to shift the situation – or our beliefs about it – to get ourselves feeling right.
Most of us can also use help learning how to change our thought patterns – often it is our own thoughts and beliefs that are keeping us stuck in stress patterns. Thought patterns can be retrained and it doesn’t even take that long – often just a few weeks of learning to “rethink” and react differently. Sometimes we even need help just knowing when to say “No” or how to speak up about things we are stuffing down inside that are eating away at us. A life coach can be a tremendous asset in helping you to find your voice, change your coping skills into power skills, and gain the tools you need to make the changes you so want to make.
If there are deep life stresses – major financial hardships, a family member with an illness, or something of this magnitude, consider seeking support from friends, or professionally if necessary. Regardless of the level of stress, make time to laugh, cry, vent, and get your feelings out in a healthy way.
Create a worry journal – grab a notebook and write down the things that are stressing you out for 15 minutes evening before bed. You’ll get a load off of your mind and this will make room for an attitude shift. This exercise can also help you identify recurrent themes – generally the things that are stressing you out the most and therefore most in need of change!
For stress in the moment, change the scenery – take a breather, go outside for a few minutes, take a walk, or change your location – for example, go to a coffee shop, a museum, or go to a movie. A change of scene helps us to reframe stuck thought patterns.
2. Eat Well! (& Take a Few Helpful Supplements)
Sugar, caffeine, and empty calories from processed flour products cause you to be on a blood sugar rollercoaster. This causes your body to be in a constant state of stress and inflammation. When we’re stressed, we’re more apt to reach for these kinds of things, creating a vicious cycle. To break the cycle and also get the nutrients your body needs to fight stress, eat regular meals each day, making sure to get a good breakfast, try to skip the coffee, and trade the sugar and empty calories in for healthy choices including good quality proteins from low-mercury fish, grass-fed beef, organic chicken, free range eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and good quality oils such as olive and coconut oil.
While you're at it, taking a fish oil supplement along with B-complex and magnesium daily, can help to calm your nervous system.
3. De-Stress with Meditation & Enough Rest
There is abundant evidence that meditation effectively prevents and reduces stress. It can also help you slow down enough to observe your thought patterns – which is the first step toward changing them. Further, meditation helps to calm down the adrenal stress response which leads to that fight or flight feeling, and reduces your risk of developing more serious stress-related chronic diseases.
My favorite meditation is called “The Quickie” and it just that and it is also remarkably effective. Wherever you are, sitting or standing, get comfortable and take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you are sitting, close your eyes. On the next inhalation, which you will do to the count of 4, say to yourself “I am” and on the exhale to the count of 4 say to yourself, “at peace.” Repeat this cycle of inhalations and exhalations, each to the count of 4, 3-4 times. I love this exercise because it can be done anywhere – even while driving (with your eyes open, of course!). It cuts stress and irritability in a flash!
Like meditation, sleep puts us into a resting rather than stress pattern. A goal for most adults is 7 hours each night. If sleep is a problem, head over here to Sleep Well: 7 Natural Tips to Get Great Zzz’s.
There’s nothing like getting your blood moving to help you de-stress. It doesn’t have to take long – a quick run, 15 minutes of yoga, even 5 minutes of vigorous dancing or jumping rope can help clear your stress hormones and your mind! Even some basic stretching can relieve tension in your body and your mind.
5. Remember to Enjoy Life!
It’s so easy to forget that life is meant to be enjoyed. Too often we get stuck in situations and patterns and habits that cause us undo stress, and we stop doing the things we enjoy in life. But giving yourself permission to hit the pause button for long enough to do something that you enjoy can re-energize you, give you a fresh perspective, and can reboot your happiness.
Laughter is one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and happiness is our best medicine!
Is stress affecting your life? Do you have tips you use for stress-busting? Make sure to share them below! I love hearing from you in the comments section, and if you found this blog informative, please let me know by clicking LIKE!
PS: Coming soon! The Best Herbal Medicines for Reducing Stress