“Stress has become such the new normal for me that I don’t know how to not feel stressed,” a friend recently confessed. “It’s almost like if I didn’t have a zillion things to worry about, my mind would start creating stressful thoughts.”
She’s not alone. Relationships, kids, and finances become major stressors for just about everyone. So does maintaining steady employment. One study found increased work demands and worrying about work during free time could disturb sleep and impair awakening. Older folks (45 and up), females, and people with higher body mass indexes (BMIs) were especially susceptible to work-related stress that impaired sleep.
Not finding that work-life balance often means you sleep less, neglect exercise, and down-regulate "me" time, all while grabbing a high-sugar impact muffin with your morning java jolt to keep you going.
All that neglect poses a serious whammy to happiness, health, and hormones. Adrenal hormones like cortisol stay ramped up, leading to a miserable "wired and tired" feeling. One study found even one night of poor sleep can knock your hormone insulin out of balance, triggering insulin resistance and diabetes.
Chronic stress also makes you sick. A meta-analysis of 300 studies found chronic stress could seriously crash your immune system. Studies also show stress can make you fat and increase your risk for serious problems like cardiovascular disease.
You can't eliminate stress, but you can learn to become more resilient to its detrimental impact. These five strategies can help you downsize stress naturally while up-regulating your quality of life.
- Go low-sugar impact. You've had the day from hell, so you order an apple pastry with your latte. Unfortunately, high-sugar impact foods only worsen stress as metabolic havoc ensues. "Consuming refined sugar... [and other] refined carbohydrates leads to a spike and then drop in blood sugar levels, which can result in anxiety, nervousness and irritability," says Trudy Scott, author of The Antianxiety Food Solution. She notes a study that shows chronic stress sometimes triggers comfort food binges. Trade the processed, high-sugar impact foods for lean protein, healthy fats, lots of cruciferous and leafy veggies, and slow-release high-fiber starches to steady your blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to consistent energy and mood levels.
- Workout smartly. Studies show stress impairs your efforts to stay physically active. The opposite is also true: Staying active reduces stress. You've likely felt that post-workout stress-zapping endorphin rush. That's because, according to Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen, Ph.D., a kinesiologist at the Yale Stress Center, exercise can boost hormones like norepinephrine that elevate mood and even improve stress-damaged thinking. Burst training, also called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), becomes my favorite efficient, effective exercise to beat stress, and you can do it in just minutes a day. "When stress hits, our physiology is designed to fight or flee," says Dr. Jade Teta, co-author of The Metabolic Effect Diet. "Short, intense exercise engages recovery aspects of physiology and helps the body learn to reengage the parasympathetic nervous system." I combine burst training with resistance training with my 4 x 4 Workout, which you can do in just 15 minutes, three times a week. Grab a free 4 x 4 here.
- Get 7 – 9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep. I’ve written about seven hormones that become out of whack with too little sleep. On a practical level, sleep deprivation makes morning rush hour traffic miserable as you imagine your boss reprimanding you for being late while devouring your third dark roast. Frustrating episodes throughout your sleep-deprived day become monumental events that leave you even more stressed. A chicken-or-egg cycle ensues as stress cuts into your sleep. Among other problems, studies show chronic stress and sleep loss increase your risk for depression and other mood disorders. Make time for seven to nine hours of high quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. You'll find you're more productive and capable of rolling with whatever stress the following day throws at you.
- Create bliss time. Relaxation gets short shift as our work-more mentality pervades. Schedule "me" time and prioritize it just like you would an important client. One study shows a massage could lower your stress hormone cortisol while boosting your feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Another study among the elderly found acupuncture could reduce stress and boost lymphocyte production. Studies also show regularly practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) can be effective against chronic stress. What matters most is what works for you, even if that means watching a silly movie or having a coffee date with your beset friend. Find it and make it a daily habit.
- Optimize gut health. Stress plays more of a role in gut health than you might realize. One study showed stress-induced prolonged combat-training increases intestinal permeability (more commonly called leaky gut). Chronic stress can also contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and numerous other gastrointestinal conditions. Repopulating healthy microorganisms with a probiotic supplement is among my gut-healing protocol. One study found stress suppressed inflammasome, required to maintain healthy gut flora. In this mice study, probiotics reversed that detrimental effect.
As you can see, chronic stress creates a domino effect that can wreak serious havoc on your life. You can't eliminate stress, but you can learn to reduce and even become resilient to its impact. What one strategy do you find works reduce stress levels? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
© 2015 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc.
Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food intolerances and crushing their sugar cravings. She is author of New York Times Bestsellers The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days, The Virgin Diet Cookbook: 150 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Lose W...
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