Basically anything that challenges the normal steady state is considered stress. There can be emotional, physical, chemical, structural or environmental stressors, but the one we think of most when we hear the word "stress" is the emotional state of overwhelm.
Some people actually thrive on a little bit of excitement, like paramedics or stock brokers. Those people are exposed to stress, but it doesn't bother them as much as it might someone with a different personality.
The thing is, we all have difference levels of tolerance, and different levels of perception of stress; which is what makes the impacts of stress incredibly difficult to figure out on your own.
Signs you might be stressed
- trouble sleeping, either falling or staying asleep
- muscle tension, especially the neck, shoulders & back
- change in your weight or appetite
- hair loss
- racing heart beat
- feeling dizzy
- a sense of overwhelm
- low energy
- digestive issues: loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea
- weak immune system (getting sick often)
- loss of libido
- racing thoughts
- easily irritated, low tolerance
- jaw clenching or teeth grinding
- inability to focus or concentrate
- constant worry
- trouble being optimistic
- feeling down or low mood
- nervous behaviours like nail biting, pacing
- increased dependence on substances like alcohol, drugs
The thing is, stress affects many, many body processes because of the far reaching effects. You see, the stress response is designed best to handle immediate and urgent danger. If we were to encounter a bear in the woods, we need our heart rate to go up, we need energy available to us, we need quick thinking, we need or muscles to tense up and act rapidly to get us out of there - fast!
Our modern stressors are often very different; they are constant, and less physical. Over time, the systems that protect us from immediate danger start to degrade or work against us when we're dealing with unrelenting issues like rush hour traffic, busy lifestyle, work deadlines, shift work, raising teenagers or caring for elderly parents. It is at this point that stress becomes impactful on our health.What can I do?You know me, I don't like highlighting problems without offering solutions. To get you started with managing your stress levels, I have found these things to be extremely helpful. Choose the ones that resonate with you the best.
- gratitude journal - record 1-3 things you are grateful for each day (to change your perspective)
- make to-do lists and then prioritize (not everything needs to be done today, and not everything is important, this also frees your mind of clutter)
- move your body - walk, kickboxing, yoga, spinning (get that negative energy OUT)
- keep a regular bedtime, preferably 10-10:30pm
- deep breathing or guided imagery - there's lots of Apps, Books or other resources for this to help get out of that fight-or-flight mode (e.g. Headspace, Calm, read Jon Kabat-Zinn)
- recognize your own needs (e.g. sleep, food, me-time, social time, baths)
- epsom salt baths
- diffuse lavender essential oil
- chamomile or licorice root tea
You're right, those suggestions might not be enough. I like to begin with lifestyle adjustments because they're easy and they help maintain balance. If you are at a point where you are definitely out of balance, though, more strategic tactics might be needed to support and nourish your body back into harmony, in addition to the ideas mentioned above.
- 300mg per day of Magnesium glycinate - helps to reduce muscle tension and support the adrenal glands (that manage the stress response)
- 100mg per day of Rhodiola rosea - nourishes mood and reduces the feeling of overwhelm
- 300mg of Ashwagandha - supports the adrenal glands and thyroid, feel more resilient
- 100mg L-Theanine - brings a feeling of calm
... and many other options depending on your unique needs, be sure to discuss the best action plan for you with your practitioner
There are some wonderfully informative tests that really help to break things down for us. One is a saliva test that measures 4 samples over the course of the day to determine where and when our cortisol (stress hormone) levels sit when we wake up, in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Another test is a urine test that also checks the 4 times of day, but also looks at other hormones and neurotransmitters that can be at play as well. The interesting thing about hormones is that they are not stationary, they are actually released in different amounts all the time. This is why blood tests aren't the best way to get a full assessment of what's going on with our hormones. Your practitioner will help you to figure out which test is right for you.
I believe that stress management is one of the areas where Naturopathic Medicine really shines. There are many different herbs called Adaptogens that help your body to manage the stress response with ease, while you implement strategies to build a more balanced life. The reality is that some aspects of our life are not quite controllable (yet) and we need to be able to support ourselves in the meantime, in order to function at our best.
Stop feeling like you are on a tight rope, and do not accept that you are destined to live with these symptoms. There's another way.
Take good care,