This is the last blog in a series delving into the Eight Pillars of a Nutritious Life, the support system I incorporate into my nutrition coaching because good nutrition includes more than just what we eat. More blogs on more nutrition topics coming soon!
All of us experience stress in our lives. A job change, a move, or an illness are a few common examples. The effects it has on our bodies is a huge topic and one I’ll write more about in future blogs. But for now, I want to emphasize why it is an important Pillar of a Nutritious Life.
Stress increases the hormone cortisol which tells our body to store fat. While stress can lead to overeating (or under eating), you don’t even have to eat more to gain weight, the increased cortisol alone can do it.
It’s important to differentiate between stress and chronic stress. Our bodies are created to handle short term stress – like getting out of dangerous situations or studying for a test. We are not made to tolerate constant or chronic stress – like a high stakes job, poverty, or a pandemic. Chronic stress can lead to diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease.
If being healthy is a priority, we want to be aware of the role stress plays in our lives and do what we can to manage it.
Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re stressed. It could be because we haven’t developed awareness. Or, maybe our stress levels have been so high for so long, it’s hard to notice that we’re experiencing chronic stress (this is something I recently realized about myself!)
Stress can manifest in our bodies both physically and mentally. Physically we may have a hard time sleeping, have chest pains, grind our teeth, or clench our jaws. Mentally we may feel anxious, have negative or worrisome thoughts that won’t slow down or go away. We may experience depression, irritability, or have panic attacks.
Being aware of our stress levels and how we individually experience it takes practice. But it is worth the work if we want to be healthy and feel good. It also helps to know some ways to handle it. So here are some ideas you can preemptively practice or use when the shit hits the fan!
Breathe deeply and slowly into your belly (as opposed to your chest,) letting it inflate like a balloon. Imagine the breath going down and the belly filling up. Then imagine the breath doing a somersault and swimming back up and out of your mouth or nose as your belly deflates. This type of breathing encourages your nervous system to calm down.
If at all possible, physically slow your movements. Stress typically winds us up and has us move fast – recall fight or flight. Slowing down acts as a counterweight. Combining slow movements with slow breathing has even better results! This helps me the most. I pretend I’m moving in slow-mo.
Be gentle and compassionate with yourself
Everybody experiences stress. You are not alone! Be compassionate with yourself and know the emotions will pass; especially if you acknowledge them. Thank them for what they are telling you and then let them go.
And I have to mention one more. Exercise.
You will hear a LOT from me in this blog about moving because it is good for our brains and bodies. Exercise is a great way to blow off steam. So punch that bag, run that hill, breathe into that pose. Whatever you love to do that feels good, is right for you.