How full is your plate right now? Do you feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day? Do you have financial or family concerns that make your life more difficult? Have you said yes to more things than you can manage? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you are probably under some stress.
Did you know that stress can have a negative impact on your body?
The body doesn’t work well under stress
Many people consider stress to be a psychological problem, but they don’t think about the consequences of stress on their body. And while stress does have an impact on your mental health, it can have harmful effects on your body if it’s unmanaged. In other words, the body doesn’t work well under stress.
A metaphor for the effect of stress on your body
Consider this metaphor for the effect of stress on the body. Imagine yourself as an water glass. Every time you encounter something stressful, you pour a little water in the glass. Get a parking ticket? Pour in a little water. Didn’t get the promotion you wanted? Pour in a little water. Babysitter falls through? Pour in a little water. Can’t pay the bills? Pour in a little water. Have a flare up in your chronic disease? Pour in a little water. You get the idea.
For every demanding, difficult, or challenging thing in your life—big or little—you pour a little water into the glass. With some water in the glass, you can be fine physically, even if life seems hectic. Eventually, if the stress is constant and left unmanaged—what is called chronic stress—the glass spills over. This “spilling over” can show up in the body as hormone dysregulation, weight gain, infertility, poor blood sugar control, skin issues, lower back pain, high blood pressure, brain fog, catching a cold, slower healing from aches and pains, and more. Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?
The physical symptoms of stress are your “check engine” light
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, consider them your “check engine” lights for your body. These symptoms could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition or one that will appear in the near future. More than 6 in 10 US adults have at least one chronic disease and the majority of Americans die of heart disease or cancer. Many of these diseases and deaths are preventable. Managing stress is a big part of an effective prevention strategy.
Create a Plan to Manage Stress
How do you manage stress effectively? Its starts with a plan and requires a mindful approach and commitment to taking care of yourself. I firmly believe that a plan for stress management should include building a healthy body and strong foundation, simplifying your life, and creating contingencies for when things don’t go as expected. Let’s break these down in more detail.
Build a strong foundation through diet, exercise, and lifestyle
Your body is much better able to handle the effects of stress and bounce back from stressful events when you take care of it. Getting 8 hours of sleep, moving throughout the day, and eating a whole food anti-inflammatory diet are critical to building a strong foundation. Stress is inevitable but people with a strong foundation can bounce back from its effects faster and are less likely to see physical effects of stress.
Simplify your life
Having fewer tasks and responsibilities in your life can help you avoid stress. It also gives you time to deal with stress when it arises. Most people who have a full plate can’t imagine taking things off of it, but did you know that 20% of your actions are leading to 80% of your results? This is called the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. Imagine accomplishing most of what you do now but doing a fraction of the work? Some things you do can be cut entirely, some can be delegated to other people, and some can be optimized to take less time and energy. Take an inventory of what you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis; decide what 20% is contributing to happiness, fulfillment, and success; and cut, delegate, or optimize the rest.
Create contingencies for when things don’t go as expected
Having a plan is great but things don’t always go as expected. What if you plan to stop snacking between meals, but then you have a particularly challenging day and you can’t stop yourself from having a snack? Creating a contingency for situations like these by having healthy snacks at the ready in the places where you are most likely to get stressed. Do you usually reach for chips or cookies in the afternoon at the office? Try keeping an orange, some nuts, or no-sugar beef jerky in your desk drawer as a healthy option when you need a snack.
Bringing it all together to manage your stress and stay healthy
Stress doesn’t just take a toll on your mind but it can do harm to your body, too. People who manage their stress by building a healthy body and strong foundation, simplify their lives, and creating a plan for when things don’t go as expected will often not only decrease the negative effects of stress when they encounter it but also avoid some stressful situations altogether.