By Kate Richlin-Zack
Recently, I have been very stressed out. It comes from a variety of sources. At the moment, my biggest stressor is Hurricane Sandy — she’ll have torn up the eastern seaboard by the time you read this. Suffice it to say she has been incredibly disruptive to my usual routine and my inner peace over the last few days — as I’m sure has been the same for many others. I braved the supermarket, making my way through a panicked crowd to purchase bottled water, canned goods, and three cases of wine. Hey, a girl needs to be prepared!
But besides the occasional natural disaster of epic proportions, life in general can be stressful. Everything from finances to your job (or lack-there-of) to relationships can literally make you mental. There is nothing fun about not being able to pay your bills or avoiding collection agencies. It feels like you’re 12 years old and have gotten called into the principal’s office. Dealing with unreasonable bosses who don’t have a life outside the office or petty coworkers who just want to gossip about the next round of layoffs is not how anyone wants to spend the majority of their waking hours. And when it comes to love and relationships, no matter how much you adore your significant other, at some point they’re going piss you off and/or hurt your feelings. And if you’re not currently in a relationship but want to be, that too could give you a complex wondering whether or not you’re dateable. Life is full of stress.
Turns out, all this stress is really bad for your health. BIG SURPRISE! But here are some of the gory details anyway so that you can stress out about how your current stress level is potentially ruining your life.
When we’re stressed, our bodies release adrenaline along with corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol as part of our fight-or-flight response. The adrenaline provides instant energy so we can either fight off our stressor or flee. Thousands of years ago, adrenaline was helpful when we had to run from saber tooth tigers. In the present day, we don’t generally have that problem so instead we end up with a racing heartbeat, the desire to hide under the covers, or a tendency to hyperventilate. Once the adrenaline wears off (or we’ve escaped that tiger) our bodies are programmed to replenish our energy levels, usually through food intake, thanks to the cortisol. The increased caloric consumption is fine if you just ran for your life, but since that’s generally not what happens, we end up eating an excessive amount without expending a comparable amount of energy. In other words, you’re shoveling bear claws from the vending machine into your face after your boss yells at you.
Sadly, that bear claw isn’t going to flow through your digestive system too easily. Digestive problems can be triggered and aggravated by stress. It can make your digestive tract the perfect host for infection, disease, and inflammation. Gnarly stuff like peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and esophageal reflux may be the result of stress. All of these issues can cause bloating and discomfort, impair your body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients, and wreak havoc on your immune system. So not only are you malnourished and constipated, you’re probably going to catch that nasty flu bug that’s going around. Awesome.
Your mental health
And if the physical problems weren’t bad enough, stress can impact your mental health too. Depressed mood, anger, and irritability are common responses to stress along with insomnia. If I don’t get enough sleep, I am incapable of handling my life. To further illustrate that point, simple tasks like figuring out what to wear and taking the garbage out feel like impossible tasks if I’m sleep deprived. Basically the more stressed you are, the less equipped you are to handle the stress and the more stressed you become. Talk about a vicious cycle!
That’s why it’s so important to reduce the amount of stress in our lives. But how?
When it comes to exercise for stress relief, it almost doesn’t matter what type of exercise you choose. Pretty much anything that gets your blood circulating will help. That endorphin high is pretty amazing and when you’re focusing on a physical task, your mind can’t worry about everything else. My favorite stress-reducing workout is yoga. Holding poses, focusing on my breath, and stretching really help me relax whenever I get overwhelmed with life.
I’m definitely a stress eater. The only time I ever avoided food as a result of stress was in the midst of wedding planning. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to drown my sorrows in a pint of ice cream or shovel pizza in my face until I was uncomfortably full, I was stressed out about fitting into my wedding gown. It was a backless, sleek, and satin and didn’t hide any sin. Unfortunately now that it’s winter and bulky sweaters are in season, I find myself opting for fried foods and tubes of raw cookie dough. The problem with stress eating is that the more crap I eat, the more crap I crave. I also know for a fact that heavy carbs make me moody and depressed. If I could stick with a healthy diet, I’d be so much better off.
A practice that dates back thousands of years, meditation was originally meant to help deepen one’s connection with and understanding of sacred and mystical forces of life. Today, it’s more commonly used as a method to relax and reduce stress levels. There are many different types of meditation including guided, mantra, and transcendental. Regardless of the type you choose, meditation can provide a sense of peace and balance that will benefit your emotion and physical health. The best part is, even after you’re done meditating, that feeling of calm and well being will stay with you throughout the day.
While most experts would agree that you should avoid turning to alcohol during stressful situations, if you’re in the middle of a full blown panic attack, having a beer to calm your nerves may not be such a bad idea. If you find yourself using alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety, you may have a bigger problem and should seek help from a qualified physician or licensed therapist. Which brings me to my next suggestions.
Talk to someone
Sometimes you just need to get it out. Calling a trusted friend, sympathetic family member, or contacting a trained professional are all great options if you feel you can’t handle everything that life throws at you. Even if you opt out of a vent session, sometimes being distracted by your best friends latest hilarious story can provide some relief.
“The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Health and Fitness” is written by the irrepressible Kate Richlin-Zack and runs every other Tues on Kate-book.com. She is a former plus-sized model turned fitness enthusiast who lost about 50lbs in the process. She loves food and views exercise as a necessary evil in her quest for looking good and feeling confident in hot pants. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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