When it comes to managing stress, does fitting in a yoga class or a massage sound like one more thing you don’t have time for? How To Turn Down Stress & Stop Freaking Out.
Here’s a different approach – one that doesn’t add more to your to-do list…
How To Turn Down Stress & Stop Freaking Out
What does fight or flight look like?
Years ago, I was running a nutrition program. It was a friendly, positive group, but one of the women was full-on glaring at me. I was confused. Had I offended her?
That’s when Natalie looked me dead in the eye and announced:
“I’ll never stop eating cheeseburgers.”
Now, no one had even mentioned cheeseburgers. But for Natalie, everything was a trigger for animosity. She was constantly stressed out, rolling her eyes and getting mad. Until…a week later when things started to shift.
At our next group meeting Natalie actually smiled. She said:
“I don’t know why, but I’m not feeling as much road rage.”
Maybe Natalie didn’t know what had changed, but I had some ideas.
First, though, let’s take a deeper dive into stress and the body.
What is the body’s stress response?
The body has a built-in stress response system called the HPA Axis: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
The HPA Axis exists to protect you. If you were attacked by a tiger, your HPU Axis lights up like a Christmas tree and prepares your body to fight or run away from danger.
But not all stressors are tigers. In fact, in our modern world, it’s never a tiger. Your HPU Axis is working overtime due to things like your job, your relationships, financial problems. . . you know, all the stuff that stresses you out.
For Natalie, talking about food made her feel like she was under attack. Her stress response kicked in, and she bared her teeth like an animal getting ready to bite my head off.
Natalie – and women everywhere – are living with chronic stress and feeling like we’re in danger even when there isn’t a physical threat. We’re reacting to the “danger” of not doing enough, not being good enough, or not keeping up. Basically, our stress response is always turned on.
When stress goes haywire
When the HPA Axis gets fired up, your system gets flooded with sugar so you have that much-needed energy to run from the tiger.
But what if you’re not doing any running (or fighting)? There is no tiger, after all.
This is an example of a maladaptation. Elevated blood sugar isn’t helping to keep you safe in our modern world. Instead, chronic stress leads to insulin resistance and increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Your body also shunts energy towards your muscles to help with the fight or flight response. In the process, it diverts energy away from other necessary functions like digestion and reproduction. (Cue more problems for modern-day women. Hello, digestive problems and infertility.)
What else is stressing your body?
Things we recognize as stressful– getting attacked by a tiger, losing your job, fighting with a loved one – aren’t the only things activating the HPA Axis. In other words, the stress you know about is only part of the problem.
What else does the body perceive as stressors?
- Food intolerances
- Food allergies
- Poor diet — too much processed food or a diet low in nutrients
- Environmental chemicals
- No exercise
When Natalie focused on eating better, she took away some food items she was allergic to or intolerant of. She increased the nutrient density of her meals. And by eating fewer processed foods she was exposed to fewer harmful chemicals.
As a result? Her body experienced less stress.
And like magic, she felt less road rage, stopped lashing out and started smiling more.
How To Turn Down Stress & Stop Freaking Out
Maybe you don’t have time for yoga, meditation or other “stress relief.” But making small tweaks can begin to tell your HPA Axis to chill out.
For example, you could:
- Swap your morning bagel for a hardboiled egg. They’re both quick and easy, but eggs are FAR more nutrient-dense.
- Try using real milk or cream in your coffee – not powdered, flavored creamer stuff. (If it’s organic, even better because there are fewer environmental chemicals.) Real cream tastes amazing and there’s no extra time required.
- Try asking for olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper on your salad, and skip the salad dressings that are full of sugars and preservatives. Easy.
- Take the stairs to your office instead of waiting five minutes for the elevator. Same time, but movement allows the body to burn off stress.
- Swap out your body wash for a version without artificial fragrance. You still get to enjoy your shower, but without exposure to harmful chemicals.
Every time you make the healthier choice, you are choosing to minimize the stress your body – and you – are feeling.