You jerk awake to a blaring alarm clock, jump into the shower, and rush to get dressed. You grab some sort of food to shove in your face as you head out the door. You hop into your car after noticing someone has sideswiped you and left a huge scratch. You then merge onto the freeway, narrowly missing 2-3 collisions, only to sit in traffic for 20 minutes. You're late to work and receive multiple eye rolls from your co-workers, an irate email from a disappointed customer, multiple IMs about your project that's had its deadline moved up three weeks, and a call from your kid's school about a lice outbreak.
1/2 the day has flown by with you in a full-on state of stress.
Did you know your body only has ONE way to deal with stress. It doesn't differentiate between stress that's physical or emotional, or if it's real or perceived. That means whether you're sprinting for your life from a lion, worrying about financial woes, navigating the non-ending traffic, or have chronic inflammation from eating less than ideal foods-- the physiological reaction is the same. Your body is signaled to produce and release stress hormones, primarily cortisol.
These hormones get your body ready for action. This means blood moves to your extremities, blood sugar increases for quick energy, the pupils dilate to enhance vision, blood vessels constrict, and heart rate increases. You are now primed to either fight or flee and are in full blown survival mode. Once the stressor passes, your body calms back down and things go back to normal.
But what happens when you experience stressors upon stressors and your body never has a chance to recover? When stress becomes chronic and you have an excess of cortisol circulating, it can have a devastating effect on the body. Since we move to survival mode during stressful events, all non-essential functions are put on the back burner. This means things like digestion, fertility, immune function are not top priority and can become compromised in times of chronic stress.
The Downsides of Chronic Stress:
- Lowered immune function
- Compromised digestion and nutrient absorption
- Lowered sex drive
- Depletion of important minerals like magnesium
- Increased fat, especially around the middle.
- Sleep disruption
- Reduced ability to burn fat
You can see how stress affects so many different areas. Lowered sex drive, suppressed immunity and compromised digestion? No, thanks! Remember that your body deals with stress the same way whether it’s physical, emotional, or dietary. This means there are many opportunities to reduce stress throughout the day.
How to Battle Chronic Stress:
- Always bring a quality snack! Crashes in blood sugar stress you out so make sure to balance your blood sugar throughout the day
- Don’t add fuel to the fire by consuming inflammatory foods like refined sugars, damaged fats, and processed grains. Chronic inflammation only adds to the stress on your body.
- Prioritize sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of a sleep per night. Chronic sleep deprivation increases your stress hormone cortisol.
- Skip the 3 p.m. coffee run. Reducing your intake of alcohol and caffeine can help lower your stress levels.
- Practice meditation, yoga, or tai chi. Don’t have the time? Simply take 5 deep belly breaths to trigger relaxation.
- Order a kale salad for lunch. Dark leafy greens are full of important minerals depleted by chronic stress.
- Turn that frown upside down and give me a smile. This simple act can reduce your stress.
- Have some fun! Crank up the tunes and break out your best dance moves.
We live in a fast paced, busy, appointment-filled modern world and there are many stressors that we just can’t avoid. This is why it’s even more important to consider all aspects of your life and pinpoint any stressors that you can control. So throw an apple and a packet of nut butter in your bag before heading out and crack a huge smile knowing these small actions are supporting your health.
Karen is a certified nutrition consultant, trained chef, and real food enthusiast. She earned a B.A. in anthropology from University of Colorado-Boulder in 2000 and a professional Food and Wine certification from CookStreet in 2007. After adopting a primal-type diet in 2009 and finding great health improvements, she attended Bauman College in Boulder, CO to receive her certification as a nutrition consultant in 2011. She has been working with clients since then, helping them learn what foods to eat, how to cook them, and how to find greater health and vitality. For more information, check out her website, Go Primal by Karen.
Main Photo Credit: baranq/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: kurhan/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Syda Productions/shutterstock.com