Is Stress Getting in Your Way?
You don't have to look very hard to find a million and one articles about the many problems associated with stress, from belly fat to chronic disease and everything in between. I know you know this already. But are you assessing your stress level accurately? Is an unknowingly high stress level holding you back from the results or the life that you want?
But first, a *very* brief excerpt for anyone that doesn't think we need to care about chronic stress. Chronic stress causes the consistent release of cortisol, our "stress hormone" produced in our adrenal glands. This hormone raises blood sugar levels (to give you the energy for fight or flight) and over time can cause unwanted belly fat, blood sugar regulation issues and a loss of lean muscle mass. Cortisol also contributes to fluid retention, can disrupt sex hormones and menstrual cycles, suppresses your immune system and contribute to the development of chronic degenerative conditions.
Alright now that we've got that out of the way, what you might not realize is stress is cumulative and can come from a LOT of different sources:
- We've got the mental/emotional stress that comes to mind first (i.e. stressful job, difficult relationships, taking care of kids, financial stress, a jam packed schedule, etc).
- Next we've got physical stress.
- Exercise - is a type of stress that is typically a good thing but when overdone or used incorrectly (too frequently and/or too intense) it can quickly become a bad stress.
- Dieting - Since the body needs consistent energy to maintain homeostasis, chronically eating less than the body needs is a form of stress on the body.
- Sleep - we repair, process and recover while we sleep. When we don't get enough sleep cortisol is released as a last ditch effort for energy.
- Chronic inflammation - whether it is from poor gut health, food sensitivities, poor dietary choices or lingering sub-clinical infections, inflammation places a major stress on the body
- Last but not least, the stress you place on yourself to achieve a particular goal (work related, weight related, performance related, etc)
As you can see, there are a lot of different things that contribute to your overall "stress bucket". It is when that bucket overflows that we run into issues. Genetically speaking we all have slightly different size buckets or capacity to buffer stress, but we all have the ability to empty the bucket by either decreasing stress input or increasing our stress management/self-care techniques that effectively drain the bucket.
The common scenario
All too often I see (primarily women) who work a stressful job or have families to care for + workout HARD 5-6x/week + restrict their diet in an effort to drop body fat + don't leave much time for sleep. They aren't seeing results and they are SO stressed about it that they try to restrict more or exercise more. I've been there myself and it is a truly exhausting, self-destructive place to be.
If you think about this from your body's perspective, it is stressful in every way possible. Since your body loves you, it will desperately hold onto body fat and retain water because it wants you to survive this stressful season. When we ignore the distress signals from our body (difficulty shedding fat, poor sleep, low motivation/mood, poor exercise recovery, getting sick frequently, cycle irregularities, skin issues, digestive issues) we get in our own way of ever seeing the results we want. Then we stress about why we're not getting these results and the cycle perpetuates. See the issue here?
Empty your Stress Bucket
Different "seasons" in life will require reevaluating your own stress bucket situation and course correcting as necessary. There will be times when overall stress is low and you'll be able to blaze full steam ahead toward a particular goal. Other times, stress will be high and you will have to decide what stays and what goes in the best interest of your health.
This is what this stress-bucket-negotiating looked like for me recently. As most of you know, I got married on May 12th which was the absolute BEST day/week of my life. What was not the best was the intense stress leading up to that day. I had no idea how much work went into planning a wedding - between the time constraints, decision fatigue, financial stress, anxiety about putting on an event this large and the pressure to look absolutely perfect, it really caught up to me. Add to it the other stressors of grinding it out in entrepreneurship, working out, eating right, trying to get enough sleep and leaving room to nurture relationships.
I started to notice some red flags from my body ~2-3 months before the wedding that included poor exercise recovery (sore for DAYS), cycle irregularities and changes to my mood and motivation. In previous years, I would've just ignored these things and pushed harder but fortunately I know better now and have a much better relationship with my body. Instead here's what I did:
- I decided to decrease stress from the workout category by reducing the frequency of intense metcons to once maybe twice a week and replacing them with lower intensity/more restorative exercise like yoga and long walks.
- I prioritized sleep over everything else.
- I checked in with my diet to make sure I was meeting my body's needs and consuming nourishing foods.
- I was much more intentional about completing a daily 10 min meditation from my Calm app.
- Added in some self care where I could: infrared sauna sessions, massage, reading and even something as simple as a charcoal face mask helped to recharge my batteries.
- Incorporated my go-to stress supporting supplements*: extra vitamin C, B-complex, ashwaghanda and L-theanine
These little changes made a HUGE difference in how I felt, performed, looked and connected with others. Now that the wedding stress is behind me, I'm feeling myself naturally increasing the intensity of my workouts and enjoying them again (ayyy, CrossFit Shorebreak!).
Take it easy
The "I'll sleep when I'm dead"/hustle mentality is super trendy but you can't live your best life when you're running yourself into the ground. If you suspect stress may be getting in the way of the results or life you want, start by evaluating the stressors and getting in tune with the way your body is feeling. From there, tone down the stress sources that you have control over and ramp up the self care. Next, consider adding in some stress supporting supplements and adaptogens as needed. Beautiful things happen when we take care of ourselves and your body begins to take care of you in return.
This post is your friendly reminder to check in with your body. How are ya feeling? What's your body trying to tell you? Are you listening? If you need to take it down a notch in the name of self care DO THAT. Let's take care of ourselves, k?
*you can find stress supporting supplements at FullScript and powdered adrenal adaptogens at Thrive Market below :)