When you think of “stress relief,” what comes to mind… Yoga classes? A massage? All sorts of stuff that you probably don’t have time for? Here’s a different idea for you – one that I’ve seen work like gangbusters. Have a listen to this latest episode of the She’s Got Power podcast, or read the article below.
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The Fight Looks Like This
Years ago I was running a nutrition-based program in Boston. I was in my 2nd trimester of pregnancy.
Veronica was in her mid-20’s, sitting across from me. While most of the ladies in the room were smiling and excited…Veronica was not. She was the dark and stormy type. I remember thinking, “This woman hates my guts! Why is she here?”
We started discussing the program and talking about food. And Veronica turned, looked me dead in the eye, and announced to the entire room:
“I’ll never stop eating cheeseburgers.”
Hmmm. We weren’t even talking about cheeseburgers.
I started to wonder…had we met before? Did I steal her boyfriend? Where was this animosity coming from? Usually, if anything, people are extra sweet towards pregnant women. Maybe I was just taking it too personally.
But Veronica was the type of woman who huffed and puffed through life. Everything was a hassle. Everything was a problem. She would close her eyes and tell you how stressed out she was. And she did actively hate people…though luckily I wasn’t one of them. (I don’t think.)
Truth be told, I don’t know how much of the program Veronica actually followed. But I do know that within a week or two, she was smiling. She said:
“I don’t know why but I’m not feeling as much road rage.
Meet Your Stress Response Team
Did you know your body has a dedicated stress response team? This team is comprised of the hypothalamus in your brain, your pituitary gland and adrenal glands.
You don’t have to remember that. I’m going to call it your HPA Axis for short.
The problem I saw with Veronica – and the problem I see in women everywhere – is that we are often behaving and truly feeling like we are in constant danger. It usually isn’t physical danger, but rather the danger of not doing enough, not being good enough, or not keeping up.
Veronica thought she was under attack in some way when we were talking about food, and she bared her teeth like an animal getting ready to fight.
Our stress response team is working ALL the time due to our jobs, relationships and financial problems. But that’s only part of what’s activating the HPA Axis and making women feel so chronically stressed and burnt out.
In other words, the stress you know about is only part of the problem.
We’ll get to the other part in just a minute.
How the Stress Response Works
Our HPA Axis exists to protect us. If we were getting attacked by a tiger, we would need all of our energy and inner resources to fight or flight.
When the body perceives a stressor or an attack, glucose is released into the bloodstream to fuel our muscles as we sprint away from danger. That’s a good thing.
But think about what happens when we don’t start running because our stressor has nothing to do with a tiger – it’s something else entirely. Yet we’ve still flooded our blood with sugar, similar to having eaten a doughnut. And this happens many, many times per day. The mechanism meant to protect us in a stressful situation — higher blood sugar — is now making our cells insulin resistant, putting us at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
The word for this is maladaptation. Our bodies have evolved to work wonderfully for our cavewoman ancestors. But in modern times? The stress response can cause more harm than good.
Here’s another example:
Your body, in all of its wisdom, knows that it has to protect itself. So when it perceives a stressor, it shunts energy towards your muscles for battle, or for sprinting away from danger. In the process…it shunts energy away from functions like digestion and reproduction.
If this happened for a few minutes each week, the body would bounce back without a problem.
But it’s chronic, every day, all day. Unsurprisingly, digestion and fertility issues are huge issues for women in our modern world.
The Million Dollar Question
We’ve talked about a few obvious potential stressors:
- Getting attacked by an animal.
- Losing a job.
- Fighting with a loved one.
But guess what else is perceived as a stressor in the body?
- Food intolerances.
- Food allergies.
- Poor diet — too much processed food or a diet low in nutrients.
- Environmental chemicals.
- No exercise.
This is why Veronica could change some of her food choices and suddenly…she’s smiling. She stops lashing out at pregnant women. Like magic, she feels less road rage.
This is common when someone shaves off at least a percentage of the HPA Axis activation going on in the body. Veronica perhaps took away some food items she was allergic to or intolerant of. She upped the nutrient density of her meals. And by eating fewer processed foods she was automatically exposed to fewer chemicals.
Boom. Stress goes down. Smiles appear.
It happens. Like clockwork.
What You Can Do
You may not feel like you have time for yoga, meditation or other “stress relief.” But if you are already eating breakfast, lunch and dinner…why not try eating something slightly different?
For example, it takes the same amount of time to eat a hard-boiled egg for breakfast as it takes to eat a muffin. You can buy both at the store, you don’t have to make them at home.
Choose the eggs.
Or, try using real milk or cream in your coffee – not powdered, flavored creamer stuff. (If it’s organic, even better.) Real, cream tastes amazing and there’s no extra time required.
Or, let’s say you’re eating a salad at a restaurant. Ask for olive oil and lemon. Use salt and pepper. And skip the salad dressings that are full of sugars, preservatives, and a whole list of processed ingredients.
Every time you make this type of choice you are choosing to NOT put your body into a state of stress.
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