How many of these statements fit you?
“I feel tired in the morning, even after getting 7+ hours of sleep.”
“I get easily annoyed or agitate.”
“I feel exhausted most of the time.”
“It’s difficult to cope with with smallest of issues.”
“I have trouble making clear decisions.”
“I’m lacking the motivation for work, exercise, socializing, etc.”
“I have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.”
“I wake up anxious.”
“I tend to over-react to everyday things.”
“I crave sweets, salty, fats and/or alcohol.”
If you checked 4 or more, chances are you’ve turned into the stress-monster. The tricky thing about the stress-monster is that you don’t grow two heads, (even though people may look at you like you have) your skin doesn’t turn green, and you don’t really grow fangs. The stress-monster is a sneaky, harmless-looking creature who wakes groggily out of their cave, rubs their bloodshot eyes, broods over morning emails with their cup of coffee and screams expletives in commuter traffic. The stress-monster is far too busy being stressed to worry about eating properly, grabbing a danish here, a sandwich there, perhaps a meek co-worker as an afternoon snack. Ending their day with takeout and half a six-pack, jumping back on their laptop, sneering at all the ‘happy people’ on Facebook, and finally dragging itself back to its cave only to have a very restless night.
Sound somewhat familiar? We’ve all been there at some capacity, burning both ends of the candle, loading up on stimulants to help us meet deadlines and crashing in the final hours. This is how many people live their daily lives. So why not scale back on work hours or things on the to-do list? The problem is that stress isn’t necessarily uniform in its scope.
Stress isn’t caused so much by too many things on our lists or striving to meet deadlines. Stress is anything which upsets the body’s natural equilibrium….uh-oh. This could be anything right? And depending on our body’s makeup or constitution, the stress we have and are able to manage varies from person to person.
For instance, my beau is his own personal firestorm. He wakes around 4am, drinks a pot of coffee before 6a, works in his studio on a multitude of design projects (usually about 8 at one time), whenever there is an errand to do, he declares, “Honey, I’ve got to race into the city to drop off these plans.” or “Honey, I’ve got to race over to the printers.” “Honey, I’m gonna race over to pick up Madeleine from school.” There’s alot of racing in his world. He’ll allow himself a 20min powernap during the day and then it’s back to work until about 10pm. All so he can get up and do it all over again. His constitution is Pitta-Kapha, meaning he has a lot of fire and earth in his makeup. Meaning he can go at breakneck speed and always be in a good mood, never gets sick, never getting exhausted. There is no mindfulness, no real quiet time, no exercise, no drinking plenty of water. I tell him he has two speeds, full throttle or emergency brake. The few times I have seen him sick it is literally less than 24hours. I’ve witnessed this man with 102 degree fever, bundle himself up in his man-cold and literally burn through it over night to the point where I swear he would spontaneously combust! Compared to him, I’ve been dubbed, the ‘delicate flower’, needing my nature hikes, my quiet time, my green smoothies, my 8 hours sleep. If I don’t get those things then my body’s equilibrium becomes very upset with me.
Danger Will Robinson!
We have these little glands called adrenals and they’re located right over the kidneys. They help the body adapt to stress by releasing hormones into the bloodstream to help rewire it into a hyperaware state. This served us well as hunter-gatherers because while most of our time was pretty mellow, on occasion we’d come a cross some gnarly predator. Therefore we’ve evolved with a ‘fight or flight’ response thanks to epinephrine releasing into the body at this time of danger. Its job is to rush blood carrying oxygen and sugar around the body to feed the brain and muscles so we were able to make the decision to get the hell out of dodge when something with big teeth was chasing us.
These days we rarely encounter something with big teeth chasing us (your boss does not count). And we rarely escape stress by utilizing this fight or flight action. Instead, we face a constant stream of our stressors which still cause our bodies to release epinephrine in an equally steady stream. This forces our bodies into a horrid cycle of taut muscles and chronic tension.
Ahhh but wait, there’s more! Epinephrine has a partner called cortisol. They live happily in the adrenals, but unlike epinephrine who busts out like The Rock when all hell breaks loose, cortisol is takes her own sweet time moving with our circadian rhythms. Cortisol levels rise in the morning, helping us feel alert and gradually decrease by the evening so we are ready for sleep. Again in our fast-paced lives, this rhythm becomes disrupted and affects our sleep, immunity and energy levels Over-production of cortisol can also inhibit the the production of the good mood boosters, serotonin and dopamine causing depression as a result.
Luckily there are some very simple ways to emerge from the jaws of the stress-monster.
Eat! One of the top causes of stress in the body is unbalanced blood sugar. When the body experiences low blood-sugar it doesn’t know that you’re going to soon feed it energy. It’s only aware that stress is being placed on its system and therefore stress hormones get released.
Most of the country wakes with coffee. Because coffee is a stimulant it spikes blood sugar regardless of whether we use sweetener. Take a look at this!
One cup (8oz) of coffee = 95mg caffeine
Starbucks Tall 12oz= 142.5mg
Starbucks Grande 16oz = 190mg
Starbucks Venti 20oz = 237.5mg
*And by the way, decaf still contains roughly 3mg of caffeine in an 8oz cup.
I’m not knocking coffee, I happen to love my ritual cup in the morning. However it’s important to backup that buzz with something substantial in the stomach, preferably protein, to prevent blood sugar crash.
I could on about this, but simply said it’s important to eat 5-6 small nutrient-dense (meaning protein, fiber & a good fat) meals a day to help balance blood sugar. This will keep the body from freaking out and the stress hormones at bay.
Avoid Over-Stimulants. We think these things are going to make us perkier, but in fact they do the opposite, so avoiding or cutting way back on the use of coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, sugar and/or refined processed foods. All of these spike the blood sugar and leave us feeling lower than before.
*By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why you suddenly wake up at 2am after drinking red wine with your 7p dinner, it’s due to the sugar content of the wine. The alcohol may leave you feeling dreamy, but the body is still trying to process the sugar of the wine which is boosting the cortisol levels in the body. So at a time when your cortisol levels should be decreasing, they’re actually increasing making it more difficult to sleep.
Boundaries: Pay attention to what your body needs. Know your tolerance levels with workload, family time, socializing. Rather than pushing your limits, set healthy boundaries. If you know you have an upcoming deadline, make time before and after to balance and restore.
Move! Nothing releases stress better than moving the body. It moves the stored energy, giving it a place to go rather than holding it all between the scapulae.
Unplug: Do you remember life before smartphones? I do, heck I remember life before the walkman! We don’t need constant outside stimulation. We’re stimulated so much from the outside that we’ve forgotten how to be stimulated from the inside. Our innovative, creative spirit cannot come from an overloaded brain. So like our parents used to say, “Turn it off and go play outside!”
Talk about it: If you’re going through a stressful milestone in your life, share it, talk about it..even if you talk to yourself and journal about it. Trust me, the hills I hike are the best secret-keepers ever! I also have my support-team (BFFs, my Reiki therapist, my acupuncturist) on speed dial whenever I need them. Get the thoughts out of constant replay and take the time to sort them out.
I’m listing some other goodies which you can pick up to help you reckon with your own stress-monster:
B Vitamins. If you have a good multi one-a-day, it normally has a good assortment of the Bs: B3, B5, B6. All of the Bs are integral in managing stress.
Tulsi Tea: Those of you who know me, know I love this tea for its adaptogenic effects. Adaptogens are what help the body adapt to the incoming stress. Tulsi Tea is made up of Holy Indian Basil which is a lovely tonic for those hardworking adrenals.
Vitamin C: uber-beneficial in boosting the immune system which gets taxed during attacks of the stress-monster. 1000mg is a great daily dose.
Flower Essences: I love FES 5-Flower Remedy for stress. Bach Rescue Remedy is also a good alternative.
Adrenal boosting herbs: Gaia has a nice assortment of adrenal-health herbal remedies. I particularly like Sleep-Thru to help balance cortisol levels and improving sleep.
Finally if you find these simple remedies aren't doing the trick then it could be time to speak with a certified herbalist, naturopath, nutritionist or an Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who can do further testing and prescribe a good herbal regimen and/or nutritional supplementation. I also found this article on hormonal balance very helpful
How do you manage stress? Tell me about it in the comments below!