HOW STRESS IMPACTS YOUR BODY, AND HOW YOU CAN MANAGE IT BETTER

Stress is a normal part of our lives, but it’s how we react to it that makes all the difference in how it impacts our health. Here are a few simple ways to help.


BY: VICTORIA YATES, RN

In case you haven’t heard, stress is killing us as a nation.  So naturally, talking about how to “manage it” is a hot topic. But the fact is, stress is one of those things we’ve been dealing with most of our lives, and over time, it can accumulate its impact on your body.

So what do you think of when you hear the word stress? Maybe you think of a crazy work assignment or getting through TSA at the airport. But there are other things that cause stress on your body that maybe aren’t the first to come to your head:

Doing a spin class.

Eating too few calories.

Doing a juice cleanse.

Losing weight quickly.

What stress does to your body is that it sends it into “fight-or-flight”, or sympathetic mode where your nervous system kicks into high gear. Heart rate increases, breathing increases, eyesight becomes more keen.  What else does it do?

  • Slows your digestion
  • Reproductive function stops or becomes irregular
  • Thyroid function decreases

All in all, stress inhibits your body’s normal functioning. Basically, your body focuses on getting you through whatever it is that’s putting stress on it, so its normal functioning is put on hold. So while stress is normal and a part of life, it’s not meant to be a constant in our lives.

While stress is normal and a part of life, it’s not meant to be a constant in our lives.

So what does living aware of stress look like? Each of us has a different threshold for what we can tolerate when it comes to stress on our bodies.

A woman’s body, in particular, can be more easily affected by stress. We see this when women develop hypothalamic amenorrhea, or loss of their period due to exercising too much or eating too little.

We see it when women develop thyroid issues due to adrenal fatigue, a condition where hormones secreted by your adrenal glands such as cortisol (your body’s stress hormone) are continually released keeping your body in a “ready to fight” type mode. With the constant stress on your adrenals, studies show that the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) is depressed, leading to depression of thyroid hormones as well.

Here are a few ways to be more aware of your everyday stressors, and how to decrease them.

1.  GET ENOUGH SLEEP.

8 hours is ideal, but know that you should be feeling well-rested throughout the day. If you’re not, it may be an indicator that you need more sleep. On this note, make your bed and bedroom a place you want to rest in. Treat yourself to a new pillow or, if it’s been a while, a new mattress may be something to consider.

Be sure to decrease blue light before bed by turning off computers, putting your phone away, and have some time away from all screens before you head to bed. This helps tell your body it’s time to sleep.

2. DON’T RUSH OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Be sure to wake up with enough time to not rush out of the house. Give yourself some extra time in the morning to fix yourself breakfast, drink your coffee, and have some quiet time.  Whatever your morning routine looks like, make it happen.

Rushing out of the house sets your day up for stress, so consider taking a few moments while you’re putting on your makeup to do some deep breathing. Find a way to slowly start your day.

3. BREATHE THROUGH THE DAY.

Practice the simple act of deep breathing throughout the day. However, this isn’t just your normal breathing.  Take a deep inhale with as much air as you can, hold for a second at the top, and then slowly release until all the air is pushed from your lungs. This type of breathing should be much deeper than your normal breathing.

This action will put your body in more of a parasympathetic mode, or your “rest and digest” mode. This will naturally help with improved digestion, lower blood pressure, and less cortisol coursing through your body which has its own benefits. Whether you’re the “meditative type” or not, deep breathing should be something we’re all doing.

4. BE INTROSPECTIVE.

Learn to tune into your body and recognize that your stressful states requires you to slow down.  It takes practice for some, but practice asking yourself questions throughout the day about how you’re feeling. Ask yourself:

“Am I stressed out right now?”

“How am I feeling?”

“Am I doing too much?”

“What do I need right now?”

5. MEET YOUR MOST BASIC NEEDS.

When your basic needs are met through sleep and rest, adequate nutrition and calories, plus relationships and community, you’ll be naturally less stressed and able to manage your stress better. What needs do you need to meet right now that will help you decrease stress?

Totally getting rid of stress is just not going to happen. It’s a part of life. But not living the majority of our lives in stress is an important step,

One that helps us connect with our best health and wellbeing.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: LISA FOTIOS

Victoria Yates, RN is a Registered Nurse & Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor based in Westchester, NY who focuses on helping women reach a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. She is passionate about guiding others reprogram negative thoughts around food and body image so they may experience a truly joyful life. 

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