"If you really knew what was happening to you when you are stressed, you would freak out. It's not pretty," I said during the 2013 Third Metric women's conference.
I wasn't exaggerating. Chronic stress has become epidemic in our society, where faster seems better and we pack more obligations into our ever-expanding schedules.
Research has confirmed the havoc stress can wreak, with one meta-analysis involving 300 studies finding that chronic stress could damage immunity. Another study found stressed-out women had significantly higher waist circumference compared to non-stressed women.
Experts have connected stress with blood sugar and belly fat. Chronic stress raises insulin, driving relentless metabolic dysfunction that becomes weight gain, insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes.
Insulin isn't the only hormone that becomes out of balance with stress. Your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that flood your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain's memory center, increasing belly fat storage, and generally doing damage to your body.
Want to reduce stress? Start with your diet.
The right diet can do wonders to reduce stress's impact. When you eat whole, real foods, you restore balance to insulin, cortisol, and other hormones.
Eliminating mind-robbing molecules like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars and eating regularly can help you avoid the short-term stress of starvation on your body. You maintain an even-keeled mindset throughout the day, even when things get hectic.
You'll replace those foods with clean protein, healthy fats, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries and non-gluten grains. Food is information that controls your gene expression, hormones and metabolism. When you eat the right foods, you balance blood sugar, restore hormonal balance and reduce stress's damaging impact.
Stress is a thought, a perception of a threat, even if it isn't real. That's it. No more, no less. If that's true, then we have complete control over stress, because it's not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.
Here's where it become interesting. Stressors can be real or perceived. You might imagine your spouse is angry with you. Whether or not they are, you raise stress levels. Real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body.
Fortunately, a wide variety of techniques and tools can help effectively manage stress. Among them, these 10 are most beneficial:
1. Address the underlying biological causes of stress.
Find the biological causes of problems with the mind including mercury toxicity, magnesium and vitamin B12 deficiencies, and gluten allergies. Changing your body can change your mind.
2. Begin actively relaxing.
Humans remain primed to always do something. Even when we're not working, our mind is on work. To engage the powerful forces of the mind on the body, you must do something relaxing. You can't just sit there watching television or drinking beer. Whether that means deep breathing or a simple leisurely walk, find active relaxation that works for you and do it.
3. Learn new skills.
Try learning new skills such as yoga, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation or take a hot bath, make love, get a massage, watch a sunset, or walk in the woods or on the beach.
4. Make movement your drug.
Exercise is a powerful, well-studied way to burn off stress chemicals and heal the mind. Studies show exercise works better than or equal to pharmaceutical drugs for treating depression. Try interval training if you're short on time but want a powerful, intense workout.
Take a multivitamin and nutrients to help balance the stress response, such as vitamin C; the B-complex vitamins, including B6 and B5 or pantothenic acid; zinc; and most important, magnesium, the relaxation mineral.
6. Reframe your point of view.
Challenge your beliefs, attitudes, and responses to common situations and reframe your point of view to reduce stress.
7. Find a community.
Consciously build your network of friends, family and community. They're your most powerful allies in achieving long-term health.
8. Take care of your vagus nerve by using deep breaths.
Most of us hold our breath often or breathe swallow, anxious breaths. Deep, slow, full breaths have a profound affect on resetting the stress response, because the relaxation nerve (or vagus nerve) goes through your diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath. Take five deep breaths now. See how differently you feel?
No matter how much or little time you have to commit, find a practice that works for you.
Lack of sleep increases stress hormones. Get your eight hours no matter what. Take a nap if you missed sleep. Prioritize it, and if you feel like you're not getting high-quality shut-eye, find strategies to improve it.
What one technique or strategy would you add to this list to manage stress levels? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.