Until now I’ve dedicated this series to managing the stress we can control, but the reality is that sometimes there is stress that is outside of our control. Maybe it’s the heartache of ending a relationship or the everyday strain of caring for a dying loved one. Just living in this world and being somewhat aware of current events is enough to send us all hiding under the covers. Just the other day, my sweet little girl told me that she prefers lockdown drills (the drills they do at schools in case of a mass shooter) in her art class because the floor is more comfortable. I wanted to grab her and run home and hide for the rest of our lives. But I didn’t, and, no matter how heavy these external stressors are, we don’t. We all have to go about our lives with significant weights tied around our neck.
Our bodies are designed to react to stress so that we can survive things like wild animals attacking us. When our ancestors were being hunted by a saber-tooth tiger, their bodies would release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that shut down processes like digestion and the immune system and switched the body’s energy source to glucose (sugar). All of this was a way to divert the body’s energy to the task of getting away alive. But we aren’t dealing with a saber-tooth tiger that we can get away from and then allow our body to go back to normal. We are dealing with stressors that don’t let up, and so we experience chronic stress, meaning these hormones are being constantly released.
For those of us with chronic stress, we experience difficulty sleeping (your body won’t let you sleep if you need to be on guard against danger), inability to lose weight (our bodies burn sugar under chronic stress, which puts us in a cycle of burning and eating foods that can be easily converted into glucose while our fat stores stay untouched), and we have digestion problems (our body prioritize getting away over digesting when we are in danger). With our bodies in a state of constant vigilance, it’s no surprise that so many of us are sick, overweight, and drained.
We can’t magically make someone love us or heal their broken body, and we can’t stop all the horrible things happening in the world. But we can do things to mitigate the impact of those things on our lives and on our bodies.
- Manage what you can. In part 1 through 4 of this series, I’ve provided several tips on how to reduce manageable stress. By adjusting those things you can control, you reduce your overall stress burden.
- Connect with others. Healthy friendships allow us to process things we are going through because we have someone to listen to us. Hanging out with a best friend has shown to actually reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
- Tap into your spirituality. For some of us, this might just mean getting more involved in our church, synagogue, or mosque. For others this might mean going for a hike, meditating, or some other practice that reminds us that our problems and the state of the world are just temporary.
- Breathe deeply. By practicing deep breathing several times throughout your day, you give your body a break from the stress response and clear your head. Find time to take a breath through your nose for a count of four, hold it for a count of seven, and then release it through your nose for count of eight, and then repeat for 5 to 10 cycles.
Stress is a part of our lives no matter how privileged we are, but we don’t have to allow it to run our lives and ruin our health. I hope this series has motivated you to take control over your stress and has helped you create a more healthy life.
For more post in this series, check out Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joy, Stress Part 2:What if it is your circus and those are your monkeys, Stress Part 3:Sometimes you have to rethink the whole thing. Stress Part 4: Don’t feed the stress.