Stress has taken on a new meaning for many of us over the past months.
Whether you’ve been impacted financially, emotionally, medically or a combination of all three and then some, living through the unprecedented events of recent months has taken its toll on all of us.
But what is stress, really – and is it really that important from a health perspective?
When we feel stressed, it’s not just something that happens in your head. Your whole body gets involved as stress hormones do their thing. Stress hormones affect your digestion, reproductive system, immune system, heart rate and blood pressure, and the way you metabolise nutrients – just to name a few. So how does this manifest in your body? Some of the most common things I’m seeing in clinic at the moment are very much stress-related, for example:
- Insomnia or poor quality sleep;
- Feeling more irritable or anxious, or your fuse is even shorter than it used to be;
- Experiencing more aches & pains than usual;
- Just feeling more tired and fatigued;
- Hormones and cycles have gone haywire
- New digestive symptoms – can be increased or decreased appetites, intense cravings, bloating & discomfort after eating, reflux/heartburn, diarrhoea or constipation (or both if you’re really lucky)
All of these can be a sign that your stress hormones are running the show.
Stress, anxiety and overwhelm affect women of all ages; in fact in Australia, one in three women will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. That’s a lot. Add to this the normal everyday stress of the average woman’s life, and you have a recipe for some significant mental and emotional health issues for women.
So, what can you do?
I usually work through a 6-step process with my patients when we are focusing on the effects of anxiety & stress:
- Become familiar with how these feelings express themselves in your body – do you get butterflies, palpitations, sweaty palms, an upset stomach, or headaches? Learning to notice these physical symptoms gives you an early warning system and help you use your tools to reduce the impact of stress and anxiety on your body.
- Identifying the major sources of stress in your life – some may be obvious, others can be quite unexpected. We work through strategies to first identify these various sources, and then develop tools to help you manage their impact on your life.
- Resilience – what is it and how do we develop it? Resilience is basically our ability to respond to stressful circumstances without becoming overwhelmed. We work through the various lifestyle, diet and mindset factors that influence resilience. This is where you start to develop your own personal ‘resilience toolkit’.
- Food & nutrients for resilience – we look in more depth at the impact of diet & nutrient status on stress and resilience. What foods & nutrients support resilience, what is deleterious.. .wrong word! We also discuss digestion and absorption of nutrients to ensure you’re getting the most out of your food, and then look at nutritional supplements that can support your body to recover from the effects of long-term stress.
- Sleep – the missing link when it comes to stress management, resilience, and reducing the impacts of stress on the body. We work on developing healthy sleep routines that work for you, ensuring you are getting both enough hours AND good quality sleep so you’re waking feeling refreshed in the morning. Nutritional and herbal support is often useful here to help re-establish nourishing sleep routines.
- Putting it all together! The end result of this work is to have a complete and flexible “resilience toolkit” that works for you, and gives you a resource you can use while you’re building your resilience and learning to manage stress more effectively. You can then refer back to it whenever you’re starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed again, and of course it will change over time so you can update it as you need to.
So, what’s the ultimate goal when working with stress in the 21st century? I think it is to better equip ourselves to manage the physical and emotional impacts of stress. There’s really no way to completely eliminate stress – and life would be pretty boring with zero stress I guess!! – but we can learn to live in a way that feels calm, grounded and with a sense of control, rather than one that feels like constant overwhelm. I know which one I’d prefer, and I’d love to help you find your way to that too.
If this approach sounds good to you, and you’d like to discuss working with me to manage your stress and improve your resilience, I’d love to help – book in a free call here and let’s chat!