I AM SO STRESSED OUT!!
Does this sound familiar?? Is this your refrain throughout the day? Your response (spoken or unspoken) when someone asks how you are?
We are living in constant stress. As women, we’re expected to get up early, work out, shower every day (but only wash our hair twice a week!), contour our faces, cook for our families, work, manage virtual school, have our kids involved in activities that we must drive them to, keep our homes marie-kondo’d and bleached, have girlfriends we invest in, give back to the community and somehow still DO SELF CARE?!?!?
And that’s just status quo. Try throwing in a child with special needs, caring for an aging parent, doing it all as a single mom, being sick or in pain yourself: the list could go on and on.
Stress is not inherently a BAD THING. In fact, STRESSORS- those things that disrupt our sense of equilibrium- and our response to them- is what makes us STRONGER and more RESLILIENT as human beings. An intense workout is a stessor, and then afterwards, we’re stronger, fitter and able to work harder next time. When the dishwasher goes out and you fix it- whether by your own two hands or by calling someone- you are more confident next time a minor kitchen or bath emergency pops up. Stress contributes to making us the people we want to be: when we can recover and come out better on the other side. The problem comes when our TOTAL STRESS LOAD becomes so high and so constant, we CAN’T recover and come out stronger. Once our total stress load exceeds our ability to recover, stress begins to take a major toll on our bodies, our mood, our productivity, our relationships, our immune system and our quality of life. And you know what else it affects: our weight.
Without weighing you down with scientific terms, simply put, chronic stress disrupts our hormones. When our hormones are downregulated, it slows down our metabolism. This is why when we are chronically stressed, it is almost impossible to lose weight, and we can even GAIN weight at an alarming rate, despite low calories or a ton of exercise. Plus, so many of our ways of dealing with our stress involve excess calories- those extra glasses of wine you NEED at the end of the night, the snacks on the couch after the kids go to bed, nights out with girlfriends that involve Mexican food and margaritas- all are ways to deal with our stress that greatly increase our caloric intake.
Well that’s terrifying! What can we do?? Stress in our lives is not going anywhere!
My good friend, and fellow NINJA, Cassie Owens, is a licensed therapist and we chatted about how to handle the high amounts of stress in our lives.
First, simply acknowledge you are stressed! We can’t cope or deal with things we don’t acknowledge, and one of our stressors is that we’re supposed to have it all together! And we all know that’s not the case.
Have a growth mindset. See stressors and challenges as opportunities for good change. Do not get caught in the downward spiral of shame and regret and self-criticism, but rather be kind and gentle with yourself and use persistence and learn from these times.
Exercise. Our bodies were made to move. Every system in our body works better when we move our bodies. Go for a walk. Take a class at the gym with friends. Ever go for a run and feel like you could solve the energy crisis?? That’s a real thing. Movement changes our mood and bodies.
So much of our stress comes from being BUSY. While there’s not much we can do about that, we can find moments within our busy schedules to focus on ourselves. Download a 5 minute meditation/mindfulness/breathing app. Take a long, hot shower and INTENTIONALLY feel the hot water on your back. Write out a list of things you are grateful for every morning. We do have time- look at that screen time total at the end of the week- yikes! And take 10-15 minutes out of that each day to breathe and focus on yourself intentionally.
Replace some of those not so helpful coping habits with slightly more helpful ones. Replace your second or third glass of wine with sparkling water in your wine glass with lime. When we get super stressed we tend to forget the basics, and being just slightly dehydrated can drastically increase feelings of depression and anxiety. Instead of scrolling social media and mindlessly eating, put down the screens and read a book. Or color. Or go for a walk.
Turning off the screens at night will also help with one of the MOST important ways to deal with your stress: sleep. Sleep is the single most needed thing for your body to recover (second only to nutrition, which you’re aware of, since you’re here in the first place). Sleep can be a tricky thing, and we can’t guarantee ourselves great sleep, but we can set ourselves up for success. Have a bedtime routine and be consistent with it. Turn off the screens an hour before bed, cut off caffeine 8 hours before bed, set a “bedtime” alarm, dim the lights, cuddle a loved one or pet, journal and “dump” all those thoughts that could potentially keep us awake. Sleep helps us lose fat, gain muscle, recover, and regulate our hormones. Prioritize your sleep. Guard it MERCILESSLY.
Most of us would do well to talk to someone too. Having a therapist or counselor in our corner is not admitting defeat, but rather proactively part of taking care of yourself and those you love. But even if it’s not a professional, have a friend or parent or spouse who will listen. We often feel better after a good rant to someone who cares.
Stress isn’t going anywhere. But you can work towards making it something that makes you stronger and more resilient, not defeated.