Most people think of stress as emotional stress, like death, divorce, and loss of a job to name a few. Those definitely are stressful experiences, but if we don't become aware of stresses that affect our health daily — from lack of sleep, to excess sugar and carbohydrates, to exposure to gluten, toxins and GMOs — then our health is greatly at risk.
Life makes demands on us at every moment that we’re awake. Standing up is more demanding than lying down. Eating is more demanding than sitting quietly. Being hungry is more demanding than feeling full. Having an idea, a thought, a wish, or a feeling is more demanding than being completely blank (which is why meditation is such an excellent de-stressor). To be alive is to be stressed; that’s a biological fact.
Under optimal conditions, our bodies welcome stress. In fact, they were built for it! Part of the joy of being alive is to use your body, mind, and spirit to the fullest — hiking up a mountain, solving a challenging problem, or engaging fully in a loving relationship with a partner, child, family member, or friend. But under suboptimal conditions, when we're hit with more stress than our resources can handle, or when we don’t give our bodies the support they need, our bodies suffer and become less able to recover.
Here are five simple, yet essential, ways to get our bodies back on track, especially under high stress, suboptimal conditions:
1. Avoid sugar and excess carbohydrates, including bread, pasta, cookies, and candy.
They spike your blood sugar levels, challenge insulin function, and ultimately lead to weight gain and inflammation. Each time you ingest sugar and/or excess carbohydrates, you are adding stress to your metabolism.
2. Avoid gluten, including anything made from wheat, barley, spelt or rye.
Gluten is not easily digested by humans and is known to cause leaky gut and inflammation in at least one out of four people. Even if you aren't one of those people, gluten is still likely to stress your whole system as it is a known irritant to the nervous system, skin, thyroid, joints, and more.
3. Eat organic, non-GMO foods.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) — such as pesticides and industrial byproducts — are known to cause oxidative stress and hormone dysregulation. Meanwhile, genetically modified foods trigger damage to the digestive tract, immune system, and DNA. Both create stress for the human body.
4. Clean up your environment.
Toxins to which you are exposed must be detoxified by your liver and eliminated — the more toxins, the more work for your body. Take steps to eliminate toxins from your home, office, and car. Take off your shoes when indoors, quit smoking and avoid cigarette smoke, choose only nontoxic cleaning products, avoid barbecues and plastic water bottles, and use an air purifier (to name but a few).
5. Choose optimal stress for you.
Everything from the time you go to bed, to the length of your commute, and the way you spend your weekend are opportunities for you to choose your optimal stress. It's only when we choose to become aware of how our bodies respond that it becomes clear which choices are best for us.
So here's what you need to know about achieving the above goal.
Sleep, Eat, Exercise, Breathe, and Drink Clean Water
Yes, those simple basics have also been shown to help the body endure the types of stressful episodes that are expected in a busy daily life — rushing to work, getting children ready for school, meeting deadlines, and negotiating agreements. We can’t expect that stress will stop. We have to learn how to minimize the stresses within our bodies, by giving our bodies what they need, and not what they don’t need.
Commit to Change at Your Pace
For those of you who are new to all this, I know it can be overwhelming. So I want to encourage you to find the style of changing that is right for you. Some of us jump right in, feeling exhilarated with the prospect of change. Others prefer baby steps. If you are more comfortable at a slower pace, rest assured, you would still reach your goals. Just make one change each day that takes five minutes or less, and do only that. Over time, I promise, your small steps will add up to big steps.
Stress is an essential condition of life. By fully understanding the scope of what is stressful to our bodies, we have a chance at preventing health issues even while we are stressed.
I encourage you to take April, stress awareness month, to examine your stress levels, ask yourself some poignant questions about your health, and make the changes necessary to live a happier, healthier, more energetic life.