Disclaimer - THIS POST MAY CAUSE STRESS!
Stress is everywhere. In fact, any shift from homeostasis(the normal internal environment) causes stress. Stress can be either good or bad and depending on which kind, has an effect on different parts of our nervous system.
A quick look at our nervous system
Our nervous system is broken down into two parts. The peripheral nervous system controls conscious movement and the autonomic system controls those body functions that you don't have to think about, like breathing, digestion, hormones, body temperature, etc. The autonomic system is further broken down into two branches the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. These two systems work antagonistically meaning when one is up the other is down and vice versa.
The sympathetic system is responsible for the fight or flight response and when activated releases stress hormones including cortisol, which increase your heart rate and blood pressure and decrease the digestive and repair processes of your body.
The parasympathetic system, when activated, stimulates digestion, metabolism and the release of tissue building hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, Growth hormone, and estrogen.
It is hard to say that one is better than the other because we need both. Unfortunately our lifestyles have evolved in a way that we are under constant low level stressors that activate our sympathetic system and mute our parasympathetic system and this is where the trouble starts.
Where dose stress come from?
You may be surprised to know that stress comes at us from many different angles. In his book, How To Eat, Move and Be Healthy, Paul Chek breaks down stress into six types and these six types can be either good or bad. The six types of stress are:
- Physical Stress- Good = Beneficial exercise Bad= Over exercising
- Chemical Stress - Good = Clean Food and balanced hormones Bad = Processed foods, drugs, pesticides and environmental toxins
- Electromagnetic Stress - Good = Sunlight Bad = too much sunlight
- Mental Stress - Good = Goals, positive mental outlook Bad = negative thoughts, abuse, anxiety
- Nutritional Stress - Good = Real quality food to meet your energy demands Bad = too much or too little food, poor food quality.
- Thermal Stress - Good = Maintain body temperatures Bad = irregular or prolonged exposure to extreme body temps.
- Stress makes you hungry - Cortisol stimulates appetite. Even worse it stimulates your appetite for starchy, sugary, fatty foods that provide quick energy.
- Stress gives you belly fat - There are four times more cortisol receptors in the deep layers of abdominal fat as compared to fat directly beneath the skin.
- Stress causes insulin resistance - Chronically elevated cortisol causes chronically elevated blood sugar and the resultant rise in insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone for fat.
- Stress inhibits thyroid function - proper thyroid function is critical for energy, mood, memory, body temperature, hormonal balance, and fat loss.
- Stress effects your sex life - Cortisol and the hormones responsible for sex drive are antagonistic as cortisol goes up, they go down. Does not necessarily make you fat, but still sucks.
The first step in reducing stress in your life is identifying where stress is coming from. You can then set out to make a plan to reduce that stress. Often times the big stressors such as work, traffic, and family are difficult to change, but focusing in on the smaller things that you do have complete control can make a big difference.
Finding ways to reduce stress can be a very personal thing as what works to reduce stress for one may cause stress for another. We have a few tricks that we have used with some success that we can share. Try different things out and see what works for you.
5 Minute Brain Dump - Dawn and I have started practicing a nightly 5 minute brain dump where we talk about all the things we completed that day and write down the most important things we need to do for the next day. It has been incredibly helpful in keeping us focused on things that are important throughout the day as well as getting things off of our mind before going to sleep. Initially it took about 15 or 20 minutes, but we have it down closer to 5 now.
Be in the moment - We spend so much time worrying about what is coming up next that we miss out on what is happening right now. Not only does this effect the quality of your interactions with others, it makes you less effective on whatever task you are trying to accomplish. A short, focused effort on anything from playing with your kids to paying the bills will be a more enjoyable experience if you clear everything else out and stay in the moment.
Schedule your life - This one helps with the last one. Knowing what you are going to do and when you are going to do it makes life run more smoothly. I used to fight this one pretty hard, thinking "I don't want to schedule my life, I'll just take what comes and make the most of it." But with work, training, Dawn's schedule, the kids activities, and every other thing that pops up out of the blue, I have found that a strict schedule helps me get things done. Getting things done leads to less stress.
Cut the electric cord - Set limits for yourself on how the electrical devices in your life will be used. Break free from the need to check every e-mail as it come in and the resulting stress of needing to respond. Set limits on your computer time so that facebook, pintrest, blogs, youtube, or any other random "net junk" does not turn into a time suck. Limit your TV time, especially close to bed time.
Seek out social interaction -Talking to other people feels good. We can get caught up in the day to day of life and our own little world and forget to take time to meet up with some old friends or find ways to make new ones. During these interactions we often realize that everyone is dealing with many of the same stressors and even if they don't have any resolutions, it helps to know your not alone.
Breathe - Simple, I know, but most of us are not doing it correctly. Test yourself right now. Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly and take a deep breath. Which hand goes up first? If it is your chest you are not getting the full benefit of deep breathing. There are many benefits of deep breathing from detoxification to stress reduction. You can find tons of info about the benefits and how to breathe correctly on line. Here is a post I found helpful.
Eat and Drink right - Do we need to go any further with this one?
Move and Exercise - Dawn talked last week about the need to change up her exercise to match what was going on in her life, but we all need to move. Find activities that you enjoy doing. Ones that give you energy rather than suck it out of you. Are you taking that spinning class, or riding the elliptical for an hour because you enjoy it or because you feel like you have to in order to be healthy? Long walks or hikes can be more effective than a workout.
Be a positive person and treat others the way you want to be treated - Ah the golden rule, but are you following it? Especially the be positive part. When you are faced with a new situation or circumstance, do you immediately think what is wrong with it and how it will have a negative impact on you or do you see opportunities and a chance to grow? I read a book called The Winners Manual a while back that had an effect on how I look at things. In the book, Jim Tressel say's, "heaven is where you are right now." Stop running around searching for the next best thing and make what is going on right now a positive thing. A little positivity does wonders to change your mindset.