You’ve finally got this exercise thing down. You know how much better you feel when you get some form of exercise most days and you’re loving the changes in how your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror.
You’ve really made some amazing changes in your diet too. You’re eating more vegetables than ever before, cooking at home more often and eating far less processed food. Your digestion is better and you have more energy.
You feel pretty good about all the changes you’ve made in the last year and you’re less worried about your long-term health now that you’re doing all the right things.
But there’s something really important that you haven’t given much thought to in regards to your health. Stress. Sure, you wish you had less of it and know you should probably find ways to manage it better, but if you’re eating well and exercising, it doesn’t really matter, right? Nope. It does matter and it matters more than you think.
Increases Risk of Disease and Complications
Both long term chronic stress and shorter term stressful events increases the risk of cardiac events, high blood pressure, stroke, makes blood sugar harder to control for diabetics, and so much more. People with stressful lives more times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Chronic stress interferes with the speed at which wounds heal. A quick internet search will give you study after study that confirms the links between stress and health issues. There’s no doubt that our stressful lives are adding the skyrocketing costs of health care in this country (though that’s a topic for another day and time).
Mental Health Issues
Chronic stress not only leads to the health problems mentioned above, but it also can cause anxiety, depression and sleep issues, all of which can increase our perceived feelings of stress and cause health problems of their own.
Being stressed can even interfere with digestion so even if you are eating better, your body won’t be able to utilize all of the good nutrition you put into it. Stress can reduce gut motility, gastric juice production, is a risk factor for diseases like IBD and GERD and can even increase permeability of the gut. In the short term, immediate stress can cause bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea as anyone who has tried to eat a meal when feeling stressed can confirm.
It ages both our DNA & our outward appearance
Chronic stress can age us too! Researchers have found that stress can shorten telomeres (a structure on the ends of our chromosomes that affects how quickly our cells age). Telomere length is important because each time a cell divides the telomeres shorten and when they get to a certain length, the cell dies. Anything that shortens telomeres, increases the speed at which cells die, which is associated with aging and a shorter life. Here’s an easy to understand description of what telomeres are (if you’d like more details that I’m giving here). Another reason stress may age us is because when we are stressed, we are more likely to take part in activities that can show visible signs of aging (as well as increase health risks), like smoking, drinking, not exercising or eating poorly. Or we may find it difficult to sleep and a lack of sleep absolutely makes us look tired and older.
Making changes in my own life
I’ve been neglecting this area in my own life. I exercise 5 or 6 days a week, eat whole organic foods from nature for about 90% of my diet (much of it fruits and vegetables) and yet I know I don’t spend nearly enough time managing stress. It’s ironic, as I spend my days helping my clients make goals around taking better care of themselves, including reducing their stress levels. I find that many of the women I work with are resistant to doing the recommendations we come up with that are designed to reduce stress. When asked why, it’s usually “I’m too busy”, “I just didn’t have time.” or “Something else was more important.” Perhaps my clients are able to read my mind because I find myself sometimes thinking the same things. For several months now, I’ve just been chalking that up to “This is how business owners feel” and figured I need to get used to it. But I know that doesn’t have to be true and it’s certainly not something that I want to be true, especially since I work in a field where taking care of the whole person is the goal.
The worst part of me ignoring my stress levels is that I’m a health coach who has high blood pressure. I’ve had it forever. I was diagnosed many many years ago and my dietary changes, supplement additions and even major weight loss (90 lbs at one time) have never resulted in lower readings. In my case, it’s caused by my genes – BUT I know better than anyone how much worse stress can make blood pressure issues no matter the cause. It’s essential that I make reducing stress as important as my diet.
In 2015, I’m making a commitment to myself to do more to reduce my stress. I haven’t worked out the specific details of when and how yet, but I’m committing to:
1. More quality meditation
2. More cups of herbal tea, hot water with lemon and apple cider vinegar
3. More regular dry brushing and time in the bath (with a good book).
4. Cutting back on my internet time when I’m not working (no more phones in bed!)
5. More breathing exercises
6. Eating slower. (on my busy days I find I’m wolfing meals in between tasks too fast)
7. Be more selective about how much “news” I allow in my life. It’s not that I want to be uninformed, but it’s not healthy to hear about nothing but bombings, kidnappings and hostage situations on a daily basis.
What can you commit to doing to reduce your stress?
Some of you may feel it’s not something you need to work on because you don’t think you have a right to be stressed. Maybe you have a cushy job, maybe you have lot of free time, maybe finances aren’t something you have to worry about. Stress doesn’t just affect those who are at their wits end. On the outside, it may look like you have the perfect life, but you might be perceiving serious stress or anxiety anyhow. Some of us make our own stress (natural worrier? perfectionist?), some of us are sensitive and feel stress from the pressures other’s put on us and some have physical or situational stressors happening. It doesn’t matter where your stress is coming from or whether or not you think you have a “right” to feel the way you do, if you perceive stress and it’s affecting how you feel or perform, you can bet it’s affecting your health. I tend to make some of my own stress by putting pressures on myself. In some ways, that’s great because it helps me reach goals, but sometimes it can be stifling and silly to feel like I have to do something just because I set a goal. Sometimes goals can be chucked out the window if they no longer fit your needs, especially if the only reason you’re trying to meet it is because of a need to be perfect. So, I’m a work in progress just like you.
I want to be able to help you relieve stress too so I’m working on some exciting stress relief related programs that will be released in the coming months, including a workshop, group programs and even an online meditation program that you can do from the comfort of home! I’m super excited about them. I’m absolutely not veering away from my focus on healthy cooking and the relationship we have with our bodies, mind and food but this is an important area that needs some attention, not just in my life, but in all of our lives.
If you want to be among the first to be notified when my these programs go live, make sure to get on my email list if you’re not already. You can sign up in the green box at the bottom of this blog post (you’ll also get a download of my free eBook as a bonus). You can also become an active member of my Facebook community. I say “active” because Facebook only shows posts to those who comment/like on posts on a regular basis.