Life today is a constant state of engagement. The body doesn’t know the difference between an inflammatory Facebook post and a tiger sneaking up behind you — and so it’s in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Unless you are doing things to mitigate your stress responses, your body is constantly producing adrenaline and cortisol. Unless you are feeding and caring for your body properly, stress will wear you down and make you sick.
The Stress Response
There are different stages of the stress response. Adrenaline is a short-term danger response — like running from a tiger, which you have probably never had to do. When adrenaline is released, blood pressure goes up and the blood supply is diverted from the digestive process. That compromises nutrition. Adrenaline also disrupts your body’s ability to get deep sleep, as well as nonvital things like hair and nail growth. With the constant output of adrenaline, your body responds with cortisol to reduce the adrenaline.
Cortisol slows metabolism, causing you to store fat around the middle, back, and arms. Cortisol used to be helpful to the body in times of famine — another thing you’ve probably never had to deal with. If high cortisol production continues without interruption, your body becomes deeply fatigued.
The first thing you can do to combat stress in your body is to get optimal nutrition with food and supplements. When you are stressed, your body burns glucose for fuel. Glucose is fast burning, and once it’s used up, your body will crave carbs and sugar to replenish the fuel. It won’t even realize that you’ve got slow-burning fat stores that are potential for energy production. This can lead to weight gain.
Next, you need to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the one that is calming and repairs the body. The way you can engage it is to increase the length of your exhales. Deep belly breathing communicates to every cell in your body that you are safe. Taking 20 deep breaths a day will get you into the safe zone. Better yet: a regular yoga practice and/or meditation practice.
The Action Plan
Here is your plan to reduce stress and support your body:
1. Eat healthy whole food meals and more fat at lunch.
2. Take omegas to reduce inflammation.
3. Work with a doctor or nutritionist to determine which nutritional supplements you need.
4. Spend more time in the safe zone with breathing, yoga, meditation, chi gong, etc.
5. Start your day with warm lemon water to assist the body’s elimination process.
6. Focus on gratitude and kindness. You can’t feel gratitude and stress at the same time.
Donna Parker is an San Francisco-based health coach. Learn more about her at healthcoachdonna.com.