During these uncertain time so many stressors are being thrown our way. Our anxiety levels are out the roof, and it is our responsibility as mothers and wives to set the emotional tone of the house. When we're stressed, our family is stressed. BUT--if we can manage our response to what we feel, we can set a tone of reassurance in the presence of the people we love. My hope here is to help you understand what is physically happening in your body when you experience stress, and to give you real, practical tools to combat it.
What happens when you stress:
Stress is a natural physical response that we NEED for survival. If you were being attacked by, say, a lion, your body would instantly activate your sympathetic nervous system. In school we called this fight or flight. Your heart rate would increase, and you'd be delivered a shot of cortisol and adrenaline to give you the best chance of survival. These hormones allow you to run faster, farther, and harder for a short burst of time. Like I said, if you were being attacked by a lion, this would work in your favor.
The problem is, when your stress level spikes, your body can't tell the difference between you reacting to bad news and you being in real physical peril. The physical response is the same: your sympathetic nervous system activates the fight or flight response. In a very real and tangible way, we have all felt when this happens. It's the quickening of the heart rate, the shortening of your breath, the sweat on your brow, and the rush of a million thoughts in your mind. Whether you're in real danger or not, your body will react to protect you in the same way.
Raise your hand if you feel like you've tried so many ways to lose weight but nothing has worked? Yeah, me too. Many times your high stress level can keep the weight on despite your best diet and exercise efforts. Why? Because cortisol, one of your stress hormones, is often to blame for the storage of excess fat (especially in and around the belly).
Long story short: stress is inevitable. But we need to do what we can to limit the amount of stress we experience daily in order to maintain our physical health.
So what can we do? How do we use what we can control to give ourselves the best chances of reducing stress? In my experience, there are 2 variables that we always have control over that can either help or harm us: our food and our thoughts.
One of our first responses to this type of stress is to change the way we eat. The good news is that you can actually help to decrease your stress levels by eating food that is high in specific vitamins and minerals. The bad news is that many of us, when stressed, either forget about eating entirely, or binge eat all the wrong foods. As a general rule of thumb, processed food and foods high in sugar are overall detrimental to your body as well as your mind. I know we all want to go there, but in the end, they do more harm than good.
Moving on to the positives. There are many foods that can help you feel less anxious and less stressed. For instance, Zinc is a mineral that helps control your body's response to stress and has been proven to help reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system. Foods high in zinc include: meat, shellfish, chickpeas, beans, nuts, and eggs.
B Vitamins also reduce inflammation, which helps to eliminate stress on your body. You can find B Vitamins in salmon, leafy greens like spinach and kale, edamame, chickpeas, and eggs.
Click Here for a great recipe to try (and to save time, just use a pre-made teriyaki sauce)!
Aside from what we eat, the other thing we need to try to control is our thoughts. This is quite possibly the hardest lesson to learn, but with practice and patience, it can be a lifeline in times like these. Remember when I talked about the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system? Well, you also have a parasympathetic nervous system that does the exact opposite. This system is responsible for bringing your heart rate back down and relaxing your muscles.
Did you know you can actually activate this stress-busting mechanism all on your own with one quick activity? It's called 4-7-8 breathing and it is a total game changer. How to do it:
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold that breath in your lungs for 7 seconds
- Exhale through your mouth (like you're blowing up a balloon) for 8 seconds
Repeat these steps and you will be able to feel your heart rate slow down in a matter of minutes. This is a tried and true method of what I like to call "being the boss of your own body". You can even teach your kiddos this trick; this is a great family-friendly video that explains the technique.
We all get stressed, we all hear the news and feel our heart start to beat quickly, but we don't have to stay there. We can come back down and do our body and our family a huge favor.