We’ve all been in more stress than normal over the last year or so. But what is a normal amount of stress anyway? Sometimes we are equipped and prepared to deal with it easily, but others it can be difficult. Our bodies deal with it in different ways as well. There are so many factors that go into though. As we approach the holiday season, many think about how stressful it can be with shopping, holiday travel, and family gatherings. Now is the time to start thinking about how we can prepare ourselves for any additional stress that may be added during this time and how to potentially avoid it.
Different types of stressors
Over the last few years, I’ve adopted the school of thought that the external environment impacts what happens to and inside of the physical body. There is lots of research now where studies show the body responding to external stimuli and adapting...it’s fascinating. And also supports the premise of everything being energy. For simplicity purposes, I’m going to keep the way I think about stressors as two categories: external and internal.
- Internal - I see these as the things that we put in or on our physical body to impact what happens inside. They can cause chemical and physiological changes in our bodies. These can be food, liquids and toxins that enter through the mouth or skin and are digested or processed by the body in some manner.
- External - I see these as the things external to our physical body and can impact the way our body performs or responds. Examples of this include physical home, people, media, or the environment. We exist around these things, but never consume them like food.
Within external stressors, I also like to break these out into sub-categories because of the way the body can experience them (and one thing to keep in mind is they all impact each other).
- Oxidative - This is the toxic stress that our bodies process from air pollutants, cleaning substances, chemicals on our foods and in the products used on our bodies
- Mental - This can be when you have lots of decisions or are overextended with obligations and are unable to be alert or quickly access “normal” brain function.
- Emotional - When you’re overwhelmed and unable to process your emotions to release them. Whether they are your emotions or someone else’s, they can cause duress and impact the ability to think clearly
- Physical - When your body is under stress from something like exercising or even physical duress from a trauma.
What happens in stress response?
We typically think of stress response as fight or flight. This is when our bodies respond to a potential threat by adjusting hormones to prepare us for action. Imagine you are out in the wild minding your business, enjoying the fresh air and scenery. All of a sudden, a big bear appears off to the side. Eeeek! Your heartbeat gets fast, body temperature rises, blood pumps faster, hands get clammy. What do you do??!?!
That reaction is your body triggering fight or flight...and you have a decision to make in the name of survival. Your adrenaline surges, as well as cortisol and other hormones, which allows you to quickly act and get to safety. But when this happens, your body’s sole focus is on getting to safety, not making smart decisions. Blood rushes to the limbs to rrruuuunnnnnn!!!!! This is great if there’s a quick situation that threatens your life, like a bear, but what if there is a heightened sense of stress and elevated levels of stress hormones over time? That can’t be good for the body, right?
Stress over long periods of time
It’s good to know our bodies have this innately programmed in for safety, right? The problem is our bodies (and minds) can register any type of stress as threatening. We get hormone spikes anytime our bodies perceive there is a stressor. A loud noise. A bear. A hard decision. Uncertainty. All of these things qualify as a stressor. And, what if there is stress over long periods of time?
Our bodies can adapt to a heightened state of stress, but over time there can actually be reduced performance and even damage to our body systems and their ability to operate effectively when we really need it. Think about this, when you’re tired, you can’t react as fast as you’d like or complete tasks in the same manner as when you’re well rested. The systems of our bodies are very interconnected and act the same way. When we experience heightened stress over time, it weighs on our body.
Some of the things the body goes through with extended periods of stress are:
- Immunity - As described in the bear example, blood rushes to our extremities in fight or flight, which means all of the systems and organs that aren’t responsible for running from the bear are left out. This means that just about everything gets drained and the focus is no longer on digesting lunch or resting for sleep, it’s all on survival. Our nervous, digestive, immune, and circulatory systems aren’t able to communicate, filter, and transport substances through and out of the body as designed. When all of these systems can’t talk with ease, some organs/glands overwork and others shut down or under produce. Problems arise.
- Decision Making - You know when you’re tired and not able to think clearly? The feeling of brain fog and not being able to find the words you want. Well stress does that too. Stress limits our ability to focus in many ways. In the example of running from a bear, the blood goes to the arms and legs to run! We’re getting out of dodge because our life depends on it. But with prolonged stress our blood and hormones are
- Weight - When our hormones are out of whack, this can automatically lead to weight issues. The thyroid produces hormones that help the body understand how much of these hormones to excrete in digestion and basic energy production processes. When the thyroid doesn’t have proper communication from the brain and to/with other glands and organs in the body due to stress-induced confusion, weight gain or loss can be the result.
- Disconnected - When we have prolonged periods of stress, we tend to worry more and potentially have more anxiety. There is less of the feel good hormone, or dopamine, being produced. We tend to have more fear and pessimism about life with the bad feeling more bad when it happens. This can also lead to feelings of isolation from others and not taking care of our well-being.
What can you do about it?
There are so many things you can do to help your body release, reduce, and respond to stress. Here are seven ways that I use for myself:
- Clear your space - From clutter (e.g. physical, emotional, mental, digital etc) and stress if you can. When we are bogged down with clutter we can’t focus on what matters most, but our bodies can feel the pressure from it, physically and energetically. Having a supportive and peaceful environment for sleep (at the very least) is helpful for that rest and digest I mentioned earlier. Also plants are known to filter particulates from the air and are great for a more peaceful, calm, supportive environment.
- Eliminate toxins - Speaking of particulates, we are exposed to a variety of toxins in our environment daily. But, I’m not talking just about the air or water, I’m talking about the products we consume. They’re literally everywhere! Being able to educate yourself on common toxins that lurk in our food, cleaners, and beauty products, and then neutralize them in your home, can do a world of good when it comes to your health and stress.
- Mind your diet - There are foods you can eat that help your body calm down. Antioxidants are prime right now and always, so those are always good to have. Vitamins and minerals like D, C, B, Zinc, magnesium all help. But being able to use food as medicine and as a tool instead of mindless or unconsciously eating what is easily accessible will help your body.
- Exercise - The natural way to boost the feel good hormones! Moving and getting your body pumping is an excellent way to deal with stress.
- Work on connection - Things like journaling, meditation, getting out in nature, and even playing are all ways to improve your connection to your body. These also help with reducing stress on the body
- Increase controlled stress - Yes, this is a thing! There is lots of research on the benefits of putting ourselves in controlled stressful environments so we can build up resilience for the real stress. Cold/hot therapy, reprogramming your thinking, and lifting weights are all ways to add more stress to the body but in a way where you can control the stimulus to build up resilience when the really hard stuff comes along.
- Check your energy - With extra stress comes a tired body and with a tired body we can welcome energetic factors that don’t serve our highest purpose. We may even find that the source of our stress or the way we’re dealing with our stress is not something that originated in this lifetime (yes, that’s a thing too!). Working with an energy healer can help uncover and release these things so you no longer need to deal with them.
That was a lot, huh?! Stress is such a big topic and this was just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, the goal is for us to be educated about stress and how our bodies respond to it, then find ways to both eliminate stress where possible, but also increase our resiliency because stress isn’t actually going away. But, where we can control our environment and things we expose our bodies to, we can be one step ahead of the game to living more balanced and free. If you’re dealing with stress and need help managing it, let me know. I’d love to help you develop a plan to get your environment in check so you can build up your toolset in this area and get that resilience up. Feel free to shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’d like to set up some time for a consult, you can click here to do that.