Stress and Your Health: 3 Easy Steps Towards Healing
For as long as I can remember, I have lived my life in a steady state of stress. If I'm being honest, I’m not even sure I realized that I was constantly in stress mode, (the "red zone" as I like to call it), until a few years ago. You see, when you grow up with a younger brother with severe special needs, life tends to move fast. REALLY fast. Growing up in my household, that hyped-up behavior was just how we handled things! We were always on-the-go and always running on full speed.
As adorable as this kid is, he doesn't sit for ONE second. Constantly running around and always getting into things ... but always laughing! We sure do love him, stress and all :)
This quick-paced life was my family's "normal," and I carried this subconscious energy with me for years. It became a part of who I was, and truly, it shaped me into the person I am today. But, what I didn't realize for all those years, was how taxing this high-energy was on my mind and body. I let it bleed into all aspects of my life: school, work, social activities ... I just lived life FAST (and stressed).
It wasn't until a few years ago, when my body decided it wasn't going to put up with my nonsense anymore, that I started to make some necessary lifestyle changes (and I'll share them with you below!) Eventually, I began to notice a common theme:
What I had thought of as my "family's normal" was actually "society's normal." We are ALL running around in a constant state of stress and many of us are ignoring the signs and symptoms until it's too late.
So, what do we do about?
Start with 3 easy steps: Blood Sugar balance, Belly, and Breath (The 3 b's)
You may find it challenging to eliminate your top stressors at the moment, (especially if they are work or family related), so let's start small! There are so many ways you can find balance in the body from a nutritional and holistic standpoint.
Below are my top 3 components for reducing stress in the body. These are the 3 steps I focus on first when working with my clients (and myself!)
Step 1: Balance your blood sugar
Blood sugar balance has become a bit of a buzz word in the wellness world, and for good reason! But what does that actually mean?
For starters, when you eat foods that spike you blood sugar (think refined carbs, sugar, and even natural fruits) it triggers a stress response in the body. Not only does your blood sugar rapidly increase, but it takes a dive back down, shortly after. This quick fluctuation in blood sugar makes you incredibly sleepy, more stressed, and makes you crave ... you guessed it... more carbs and sugar. The cycle repeats.
When your body is already in stress mode, the last thing we want to do is make it worse with your nutrition. Balancing your blood sugar is one key step in helping your body stay balanced, energized, and satiated. And it all starts with a good breakfast!
Swap out your granola bar, muffin, or bagel for something high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Try a nutrient-packed smoothie or an oatmeal bowl, instead. Making sure you eat before you reach for your caffeine is another HUGE, too!
I created a template to help you build a powerhouse breakfast that works for YOU. You can download it by subscribing on my homepage!
Step 2: nourish your belly
Did you know that your belly is home to something called a microbiome, which consists of 100 TRILLION tiny organisms? And don't be fooled, these tiny organisms control A LOT. From your immunity, weight, and appetite, to your moods....your microbiome impacts a host of functions in the body.
But what does your microbiome have to do with stress reduction?
Research has shown that 90% of your serotonin is housed in your gut. So, if you're not nourishing and caring for your microbiome, fluctuations in your ability to handle stress may become a problem.
We want to make sure that our microbiome is filled with more of the "good gut bugs" as opposed to the bad. And luckily, we can do this in a variety of ways!
By reducing inflammation and focusing on diet and lifestyle, you can begin to heal and repopulate your microbiome:
1. Chew, chew, CHEW! Chewing your food fully helps your body absorb and digest all of the wonderful nutrients from your diet. Less work on your digestive tract, means less stress on the body! And who doesn't want that?! Chewing until liquid is preferable.
2. Incorporate fermented and pickled foods in your diet. Organic sauerkraut, kimchi, and grass-fed or non-dairy yogurt are great choices.
You might also consider trying a good probiotic. Make sure the two important strains, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, are included.
4. You may even want to consider a "gut reboot." What foods can you eliminate for a couple weeks in order to heal? Common triggers include: gluten, dairy, eggs, nightshades, and sugar (coffee too...). Notice how you feel and incorporate the items back in slowly.
If you have any questions regarding fermented foods/probiotics or beginning a gut reboot -- feel free to reach out. I am happy to help!
Step 3: BREATHE
When we are stressed, our bodies enter a sympathetic state (aka fight or flight mode). This response causes the body to release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Your blood pressure begins to rise, your heart starts pounding, and you become incredibly alert. You may even notice changes in your appetite and digestion.
This stress response isn't a bad thing in small doses, but too many of us are triggering this cascade of hormones on the regular. Whether you're stuck in traffic, checking a stressful work email, or getting chased by a bear (yes, really...) your body's stress signals respond in the SAME way.
The goal is to bring our body back to homeostasis, (it's balanced and natural state of being). In order to do that, we need to switch our system from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state ...our rest and digest mode!
One incredibly easy and quick way to do that is through DEEP BREATHING. Follow these steps to get started:
1. Find a comfortable and quiet seat. Put one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
2. Now, close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. Let it flow in and out freely.
3. When you're ready, breathe in deeply through your nose for 4 counts. Fill up the belly!
4. Breathe out slowly for 6 counts, letting your belly deflate.
5. Continue with this pattern and feel your body begin to soften and relax. You may also increase your counts (5 & 7 or 6 & 8). Whatever feels good to you.
Consider checking out this 3-minute video that guides you through a wonderful breathing exercise, too!
Prioritizing these 3 steps will help calm the body and bring it back to it's happy and healthy balance. Stress reduction takes time and commitment, but once you become comfortable with your new routine, you will never go back!
As always, I am here to help, reach out any time :)