Do you ever notice that you can go, go, go, and go until you can’t?
Have you ever experienced burnout?
Are you someone who does everything for everyone else in your life?
Do you feel like you are burning the candle at both ends?
I think we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve experienced at least one of these things.
Stress has so many faces. It can affect us physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically. Some may even say it affects us spiritually. These days, it seems like stress has increased. In the last few years, it may have even been more intense for some people. There are many possible causes. What we do know is that stress, whether short-term or long-term, can affect our health in many ways.
Here are three ways that stress can affect our health.
sleep and stress
Sleep is one of the things that can be affected by stress. A good sleeping regimen is needed to maintain optimal health. Some people are able to function well with less sleep than others, but it’s something that the body needs to be able to carry out tasks effectively.
One of the things that stress does to our bodies is it makes our bodies utilize nutrients faster than when we are not under stress.
These days, we are not literally running from a predator—but stress is still received by and activated in the body whether there’s a physical threat or not. The mind is a powerful thing. Watching a movie can generate the same stress as making a presentation or going for an intense workout.
We need to rest and recover from our stress, and if our body or mind doesn’t allow us to do that, then we get more stressed. And so the cycle begins. Lying awake wishing we were asleep.
mood and stress
Mood can also be affected by stress, making us more impatient, agitated, or unhappy. Stress can take us out of the present moment and cause us to ruminate on the past or the future.
Many people believe that living in the past is a form of depression, and living in the future can be a form of anxiety. The gift of the present is peace. Have you ever thought about it that way?
How often do your moods get hijacked by stress? Is it event-driven stress, or is it a chronic form of stress, like pain or work environment, or relationship stress?
Starting to be aware of the possible causes of your stress can be the start to figuring out the best way to support yourself in those situations.
Blood Sugar and Stress
Stress can also affect your blood sugar, causing it to become unbalanced.
When under stress, some people eat more than their body needs. Others may avoid eating so they don’t actually provide their body with what it needs to cope while under stress. People may also be driven to eat more sugar and drink more alcohol during stress, which can further contribute to the vicious cycle.
Sugar is needed for energy but it’s fast burning so we can go from low to high blood sugar, and back again very quickly. This cycle puts our mood in a state of instability, making us more likely to feel angry, sad, or anxious. This increases the likelihood of us making the wrong choices when it comes to food or alcohol.
Here are three lifestyle changes we can make to help our bodies better cope with stress.
Tend to the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is 1 of the 12 cranial nerves in the body and its job is to regulate our sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. The vagus nerve is getting a little more attention lately in some circles and for great reasons.
Our lifestyle of stress without rest can cause us to remain in a continuous state of fight or flight (sympathetic) without being able to enter into the parasympathetic system (rest and digest). There are a few things that you can do to help bring yourself into that system and keep your body in a more regulated state.
Humming, laughing, singing, deep breathing, alternating between cold/warm/cold showers, holding your jawline with your palms while your fingers rest in front and behind your ears, and reminding yourself that you are safe are great ways to do this.
Another thing that can help is to become aware of the room or location you are in by seeing all the details around you. This last technique helps to bring you into the present moment and be in a more grounded state.
Get In Tune With Nature
Getting outdoors in nature can profoundly help with stress. Try connecting with nature, whether through gardening without gloves, touching the trees during your walk, walking barefoot on the beach, breathing in the smell of the flowers around you, or doing mindful walking (placing your heel, midsection, and then toes on the ground slowly one step at a time while you walk forward). All of these can really help with grounding and bringing you closer to the present moment.
Becoming more mindful of what’s around you can help with stress. Try picking a tree and note down all the details about it as the seasons change. This can be an interesting exercise if you don’t have a lot of access to nature where you live.
Nature has natural rhythms that stress takes us out of. Getting more connected and observant of nature helps us reconnect with ourselves and reduces our stress.
Support Your Blood Sugar
Supporting your blood sugar through dietary choices that enhance their balance is another way to support your body during stress.
How do you do that? Eating enough protein and good fats during your day can help. Make sure that you’re digesting your food properly to ensure that your body gets access to the nutrients. This may involve taking a digestive enzyme from a health food store or eating more slowly to allow your body to better break down the food.
Ask yourself, what kind of fuel are you putting in your body? If your body was a car, it would be the most expensive car on the planet because it’s meant to last you 80-plus years. What kind of car does that? So, with that in mind, consider the kinds of food you are putting in your body. It’s the same thing as making sure your car receives regular maintenance to function at its best.
Do you put nutrient-dense foods in your body 50 to 80 percent of the time, or do you settle for processed food, full of fillers that don’t have the qualities to sustain life in the long term?
How many additives or ingredients are in the food you eat? What kind of stress do those actually put your body through when it could be doing other things?
These factors are just a few things to consider as you look at how your health is affected by stress. With stressors in every area of life, it’s hard to achieve a life completely free of stress. What we do have control over are the choices we make to reduce the stress in our lives. Making choices to better support our bodies can also help to manage any existing stress.