There isn’t a single person alive who isn’t stressed. Even the Dalai Lama has things to worry about!
That’s because the stress response is instinctual. It’s not just us humans who experience it, either; much of the animal kingdom has some sort of built-in “fight or flight” response.
The thing about stress is that we only see it on a surface level. When we feel threatened, scared, or overwhelmed, we’re almost always aware of making some sort of choice: to run away or to fight through it. What we aren’t aware of is all the things going on in our bodies that alert us to the sensed danger and prepare our bodies to respond to it.
How the stress response works
Here’s how it works: Your brain realizes something is wrong. As you consciously begin debating what you’re going to do in response, your brain automatically kicks off a chain reaction. That reaction produces a few different hormones, the most important of which is called cortisol.
This response pushes your body into a higher gear. To do that, though, it puts other important functions on the back burner like digestion and the immune system as it raises heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and breathing rate.
Why it’s important to limit stress
The reaction I mentioned above evolved to supply your body with more energy in preparation if you’re being attacked and you need to run for your life or put up a fight. After an acute stress response the body bounces back to normal function in about 30 minutes.
When stress is consistent over long periods of time, the body stays stuck in this response. The stress might come from challenging and repetitive situations at work or home, or through undetected internal infections or food sensitivities and it creates a cascading imbalance of hormones that affect your body, including:
- Chronic fatigue and adrenal dysfunction
- Sluggish digestion
- GI imbalances, uncomfortable symptoms and impaired function
- Suppressed immune system
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Mental and emotional issues
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Hormone imbalances
The more stress you experience, the more you’ll feel the long-term impacts of stress on your health and energy levels. Stress can make you eat more, sleep less soundly, and react aggressively. It can also create a debilitating cycle: you’re stressed, which makes you anxious about the stressors, which makes you even more stressed, which makes you even more anxious.
That’s why it’s essential to identify the causes of your stress and do what you can to minimize them. Maybe it’s a commute at peak traffic hours. Maybe it’s the clutter in your bedroom closet or the “clutter” internally from eating too much sugar. Or maybe it’s the people you interact with 24/7/365.
I call these long-term sources of stress “soul suckers.” If we want to heal, we need to look at them as stressful situations we can place limitations around rather than problems we have to live with forever.
The #1 stress-relief technique: creating boundaries
The best way to deal with your stressors is to create boundaries that govern how, when, and why you interact with the situations and people that stress you out. Planning out your boundaries before you encounter your stressors will make the encounter less stressful in the moment.
Here are a few types of boundaries to consider:
- Limiting communication to a single form (like phone or email) or a time (weekdays during business hours) or even once a month with a family member that might leave you drained every time you communicate.
- Heading off conversations with people in your life who LOVE to talk at you with a standard phrase (think: “I don’t have time to talk, but good to see you or hear from you.”)
- Putting an end to drop-ins (like your in-laws who live around the corner or a coworker who is constantly popping in to chat.)
8 other stress reduction techniques
Sometimes even the best-set boundaries are squashed by soul suckers. Here are other tried-and-true stress reduction techniques for when you really can’t avoid them.
- Deep breathing
- Practicing mindfulness
- Talking it out with a trusted friend
- Practicing gratitude
Having trouble pin-pointing your stressors (and figuring out what your boundaries should be)?
I help my clients establish boundaries with stressors every single day.
The thing about stress is that it doesn’t discriminate—and it affects everything in your body and your brain. Can't get your ZZZ's? Stress and hormone imbalances could be the culprit. Want to lose weight? Stress can put up a roadblock. Struggling with the symptoms of a chronic disease? Stress can cause a flare. Trying to eat better? Stress can throw your best intentions out the window.
I can help you target the sources of your stress and work bit by bit to manage or eliminate them, and stay on track toward achieving your goals.
Ready to toss stress in time-out? Book a free discovery session with me to learn how I can help you live a better, healthier, less-stressed life.