Stress can impact your health! Tell me if you’ve heard this before: “stopping stressing so much, it’s bad for your health!” If you’re like me, hearing that only stresses you further. Then I stress about being stressed. I begin to wonder if I’ve already stressed myself sick, or if I’m about to do it. I wonder if that one time in college when I had that big paper due took a year off my life already. Before I know it, I’ve bought a one-way ticket to stress-ville, and I’m taking everyone around with me! Here’s the thing, though. We actually get a choice here.

We can set ourselves up for stress success with just a few tweaks in our daily routines. That way, when the bills pile up and the kids scream and the job is busy and life feels hard, our bodies are better equipped to handle the stress storm. Don’t wait to establish a stress management routine until you are already stressed. Do the work now to understand stress and start reducing it. Take a deep breath, put on some relaxing music, and let’s non-stressfully talk about stress. 

First… what is stress? 

Stress doesn’t have to be a big, scary word. The NIH defines stress as “how the brain and body respond to any demand.” This response involves hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Stress is actually a good thing in the right context. Think about it: wouldn’t you like for your heart rate to elevate and adrenaline to pump if you were hiking and came across a bear? Technically, that’s a stress response, though you would certainly welcome that stress if it meant survival. 

How does it impact my health?

The issue with stress arises when it occurs in the wrong context. If there’s no bear in front of you but your heart rate still shoots up and adrenaline still pumps, stress becomes harmful instead of helpful. It’s as if your body is preparing for “fight or flight” mode, but there’s no one to fight and nowhere to run.

As you can imagine, having these chemicals pump through the body is going to throw things off. Warning signs that you are in hormonal imbalance due to stress include: dizziness, general aches/pain, fatigue, problems sleeping, racing heart, cold and sweaty palms, teeth grinding, muscle tension, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain or loss.

What can I do to prevent it?

Other diseases, the best way to reduce stress is to prevent it from happening in the first place. And while there’s no magic formula, there are some easy things you can start doing today to set yourself up for success. Some of the top ways to prevent stress:

  • Exercise regularly. This releases happy hormones to counteract those stress hormones threatening to sneak in. 
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Sitting down to a carb, protein, and fat at each meal satiates your hunger and gives you a clear head. Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are far more nutrient dense than processed products. 
  • Get adequate sleep each night. Sleep is your body’s chance to repair cells, process the events of the day, and prepare yourself for the next day.
  • Seek out social support. Sometimes speaking out loud the thing that feels so huge takes away its power. Confide in a trusted friend or counselor. 
  • Accept what you cannot control. Identify the things that yours to manage, and delegate or forget about the rest. 

Here’s the good news… 

The tips above to prevent stress are also just as helpful to manage existing stress. If you feel overwhelmed by incorporating exercise and eating balanced meals, reach out for help. Maybe this is a part of your life to delegate to a trained, trusted professional.

Let an RD or HE assist you in managing your health, and start feeling more stress-free today!

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