Stress…we all experience it and we all deal with it differently.
How we deal with, handle, or manage our stress differs, depending on the strength of both our stress response and how our brains have been wired to respond to it.
Stress comes at us in so many ways these days and, simply put, the human body hasn’t yet evolved to keep up with all the stressors life throws our way. Most people also haven’t learned how to strengthen their stress response nor how to effectively master their mind when it comes to stress.
The flip side to this problem is that when you’re chronically stressed (like almost all of us are), it can feel overwhelming to try to find the time to take care ourselves and reduce the effects of stress.
But, to those of you who say you don’t have the time to practice self-care or stress management, I want you to know that you probably need it most!
Our Bodies On Stress
Most of us are aware of the physical symptoms of stress:
- Fast heart rate
- Mood swings
- Jittery, shaky feelings
- Temperature changes
- Loss of appetite
- Cravings for carbs and sugar
But what many of us aren’t aware of are what’s happening inside our bodies when we are constantly under stress.
Repeated exposure to stressors means that your adrenal glands are constantly triggered to release your main stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline gives you that “fight or flight” response, you know, a bit of extra energy and alertness. Cortisol is there to get your muscles and organs ready for “fight or flight”.
It’s cortisol that’s the real problem. Cortisol is great for acute or temporary stressors; however, chronic stress means chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which leads to a whole bunch of health imbalances over time:
- Brain fog
- Insulin insensitivity or resistance
- Belly fat
- Sluggish liver and potentially fatty liver disease
- Low thyroid function, leading to autoimmune Hashimoto’s
- Chronic low-grade inflammation
- Brain fog
- Imbalances with reproductive hormones
Stress and Your Brain
Your brain and nervous system are quite sensitive to stress. With chronic stress and a weakened stress response, changes in your brain can happen.
This rewiring can strengthen the parts of your brain that trigger anxiety, depression and irritability, while weakening the parts that help calm and soothe the mind.
Ways You Can Restore Your Energy
It doesn’t take much time to start restoring the parts of the brain that help keep you calm and centered. Nor does it take drastic changes in your diet to strengthen your physical stress response.
If stress, anxiety and fatigue are a struggle for you, start with 1-2 of the tips below and work on making them daily habits. (TIP: If creating a new habit is difficult for you, pair the idea with a habit you already have, such as brushing your teeth or eating a meal.)
1 – Deep breathing
Sit comfortably in a quiet room (the bathroom works if that’s all the quiet-time you get) and set a timer for 5 minutes. Concentrate only on your breath, breathing deeply into your chest and belly, holding the breath for a moment, and then releasing it. Work up to 10 minutes of deep breathing exercises each day.
2 – Coconut oil
Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil to your daily diet. Try to add this at breakfast or mid-afternoon. Coconut oil helps to refuel your stress response so that it has nutrients it needs to handle stressors, which, in turn, helps reduce the blood sugar crashes that cause major energy dips.
3 – Epsom salt bath
Not only does a hat bath calm the body and put you into a state of relaxation, but the Epsom salts help pull toxins from your body to boost energy. (Note that if your liver is sluggish, you may notice you feel more tired after a bath. This is a sign to continue these baths regularly to help remove the fatigue-causing toxins.)
4 – Guided meditation
Similar to deep breathing, guided meditation is helpful to keep you focused on your own breath. The words and phrases in relaxation mediation also help to rewire the brain’s neurology to help improve how you perceive stress.
5 – Laugh
Whether it’s watching a funny TV show or movie or learning to laugh at your own mistakes and mishaps (stick the milk in the pantry again???), laughter is one of the best ways to stimulate your relaxation nervous system – the parasympathetic nervous system.
6 – Get creative
Creative activities, such as adult coloring books, scrapbooking or knitting, again stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system while keeping your mind occupied. This helps reduce the negative thoughts that often pop up while stressed and rewires your brain to improve the strength of your calmness centers.
7 – Dance
Any physical activity that feels good to you helps boost your feel-good neurotransmitters. Dance is great because it also stimulates your creative brain. Even a 10-minute dance party in your kitchen does wonders!
8 – Get grounded
If you’re able to, walk outside in bare feet often, especially on the beach. The ions from sand and dirt reset your nervous system and restore your calmness centers of the brain. Another great reason to schedule your next beach vacation (and hope you can get there!).
9 – Affirmations
Search for or create your own daily affirmations. Focus on the positive thoughts and experiences you want to have and repeat each affirmation 3-4 times out loud. An example of an affirmation is “I breathe in relaxation; I breathe out tension”.
10 – Enjoy more vegetables
A number of high carb foods, including sugar and artificial sweeteners, often trigger either your stress response or inflammation in your body. We need to avoid eating foods that do this because we’ll just stay stuck where we’re at since those are the two root cause imbalances behind anxiety, chronic fatigue and brain fog. So, “crowd out” the higher carb foods by adding more vegetables to your meals. (Pro tip: The nutrients in vegetables are exactly what your body needs to restore the stress response and reduce inflammation, too!)
We can’t really “manage” or “reduce” stress because, well, stress is here to stay. And, in order to regain energy, your stress response needs to be refueled and strengthened first.
We do this by eating the best, most nutrient-dense food possible. And, working on improving the function of the parasympathetic nervous system and rewiring the brain to heal emotional wounds will help keep anxiety and stress at bay.