Hi friends! We're back for another post in the Abundantly Enough series (join us on Facebook to gain access to content + FB lives!) and this time we're talking stress management + health. I used to think that stress was something you either had or didn't, and therefore having any was bad. That mindset led to a lot of tears during college, as I struggled through the idea of having any stress, and felt like I could never be free of it. But what if the question isn't "How do I get rid of my stress?" and rather, "How do I manage my stress in a way that makes room for my life/values?"
How do I manage my stress in a way that makes room for my life/values?
Realizing that stress is something that ebbs/flows but is fairly constant in my life helped me A) make peace with busy/crazy seasons and soak up slower ones, and B) realign my thinking towards what levels and kinds of stress I can tolerate. I want to note that I'm no expert in stress management, but learning about it and giving it focus is helpful - stress management looks different for everybody!
TOTAL STRESS = ALLOSTATIC LOAD
The sum total of your job/relationship/physical/etc. stress is called your allostatic load. I think recognizing the categories or sources of your stress can be helpful in realizing where you're overloaded and what areas you can decrease stress to decrease the total load.
Each of us has a different level of stress at which we're comfortable, as well as a different maximum load we feel like we can't handle. I think it's important to note that your own individual level can change depending on your life and situation. For example - sometimes I thrive under pressure and crave being busy, and sometimes the idea of having even one thing to do on the weekends gives me anxiety. It's okay to roll with it.
GOOD VS. BAD STRESS
I think it's also important to talk about good and bad stress - especially since we typically see all stress as bad. But certain types of stress can be helpful - like if you've ever felt extra-productive before a deadline, or the short stress our body goes through when we exercise. Good stress adds to your life. Bad stress takes away from your life.
In short, good stress is like a small roadblock that we can tackle and move on from. Bad stress, on the other hand, creates a fight-or-flight response and raises cortisol (our stress hormone). That cortisol can go on to disrupt several bodily functions, like women's cycles and mood regulation.
Note: I'm not explaining the physical effects of stress to scare you or add stress to your life! I think understanding that stress can affect hormones and body functions actually helps us prioritize self-care and stress reduction - because we know that stress is more than an unpleasant tense feeling.
STRESS MANAGEMENT: HOW TO
One of the keys to reducing stress is to recognize that there's some stress you can manage and some you can't - so the most effective thing to do is to focus on what you can change. I was chatting with a friend in medical school this weekend, and she put it like this: "I can't take time off from class. I can't change our test schedule. But I can pick up some frozen meals so I don't have to cook, and I can direct my time towards school instead of the gym."
I think this is maybe the best way of looking at stress, because not everything is changeable. Medical school/residency is a combined ~7 years, so yes - it's a chronic stressor. But it's also something she has a passion for, which moves the stress away from being completely negative. She'll also get to be a great doctor one day. But right now, she can focus on reducing stress in other areas of her life to support this goal.
One helpful way to reduce stress is to first categorize it as physical, mental or emotional. From there, you can "make up" for stress in each category. For example, if you don't sleep well one night, that's hard on your body. From there, you can reduce your physical stress by skipping the gym and nourishing your body well with carbs, fat, and protein. (It's actually counterproductive to exercise on inadequate sleep - more on that later)
I made a quick infographic to show the different ways to reduce stress by category:
I also like to have a self care box at the ready for stressful situations.
What's your favorite method of stress management? Let me know in the comments below!
This post is part of the Abundantly Enough blog series, where my girl Amy Shen and I chat about all things HAES, intuitive eating, and wellness. Join us in our Facebook group for more discussion + weekly videos!