Stress can be a good thing; it gives you that kick in the butt to perform well. The on-going, negative, daily stresses building up over time is what results in feeling unwell and unhappy. Unrealistic deadlines, “not your favorite” co-workers, traffic, arguments with a loved one, aging parents, childcare, illnesses or injuries, unexpected repairs, insomnia, watching the news = STRESS! Just reading that list made me feel it! We all have variable doses of stress throughout our lives and when it's not well-managed, it adds up. If we look at women with very similar situations and sources of stress, we’d still find differences in perceived stress levels and how each is affected by them.
How do you address your stress? Do you open a bottle of wine, grab some pizza, and complain to a friend? I’m not gonna lie, that sounds ideal when you're dealing with an unexpected rough patch. However, for ongoing day-to-day stress that is affecting your life, you've got to have some other strategies. Several forms of coping, such as reliance on alcohol, will eventually make you feel worse. And it matters because chronic stress can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.
Chronic stress has been shown to have numerous effects on the body. Immune function, cardiovascular health, and gastrointestinal processes can be negatively impacted. Stress influences hormones which influence metabolism and appetite, leading to changes in weight and energy levels. Hormones also affect recovery rates from illness or injury, ability to sleep, mood, and more.
Chronic stress can impact relationships at home and at work. According to the American Psychological Association Stress Survey in 2014, 48% of those polled said stress had a negative impact on their personal and professional lives. Social support increases chances of succeeding in exercise and healthful eating efforts. If relationships are strained, it will be harder to find dependable social support.
When under chronic stress that is continually pushed down or ignored, it will likely manifest in changes to your health, energy, mood, and/or relationships. That's kind of a big deal! If you are working on improving dietary and exercise habits but you don’t address chronic stress, you aren’t likely to get very far. Even if exercise itself helps; addressing stress is an essential part of a comprehensive fitness plan.
Ultimately, you can deal with stress in two ways: Changes to lifestyle and changes to mindset (preferably a combo of both).
Lifestyle changes involve evaluating what is causing stress and figuring out what can be done in day-to-day life to eliminate or reduce it. Sometimes we don’t want to admit that our actions are contributing to stress levels, but many times we can make a few relatively minor changes that yield big results. Start by writing down your biggest sources of stress and brainstorming possible, realistic actions you can take to reduce or eliminate them. Areas of consideration include sleep habits, interactions with others, morning/evening routines, and planning and scheduling.
As I've mentioned in previous posts on social, your fitness program shouldn't add to the negative stress in your life. If find yourself feeling stressed ALL of the time, something's got to give. If you are regularly training, sometimes that will mean allowing yourself to take a step back from your routine. Don't quit completely; find the minimum that you can manage. Once you've got a better handle on things, you will likely be feeling more than ready to get back into it!
What about those events or situations out of your control? No one can eliminate all stress sources. It's become a bit of a cliché but mindset matters! If you can’t change the situation, you have to change how you think about it and react to it. Do you say things like, “this always happens to me!” when bad things happen? Do you lose sight of the positive aspects or the lessons to be learned? Are you aware of the entire situation or just stressing out about the part you know? It may be beneficial to talk to someone else if you aren’t seeing other perspectives. (Maybe that family member who somewhat annoyingly always finds the silver lining 😉) Occasionally, the only solution to particular stressors is time and eventual acceptance.
The following simple daily acts can have an enormous influence on overall stress levels:
A few resources:
Information about stress can be found at the American Institute of Stress.
Work problems? Check out Ask A Manager for a fantastic advice column on everything from work overload to horrible bosses.
Feel too overwhelmed to do anything? Talk to a professional. Start your search for a licensed psychologist here or talk to your doctor for a referral.
Stress-free lives don't exist but you can prevent stress overload by being proactive. Addressing lifestyle and mindset factors will put you in a much better place to reach your wellness goals.