Stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition.
They all have to be jiving together to maintain healthy hormonal balance, a healthy set point weight, and a healthy metabolism. They’re all important, but I’d say the most important is stress, while the least important is exercise. If we can’t manage stress and get adequate sleep then it doesn’t matter how great our nutrition + exercise are. And if we’re getting good sleep and managing stress, then it doesn’t matter how many hours we sweat a day if we aren’t nourishing our bodies well.
But what’s even more important is managing stress. We experience stress from all different areas of our life. Work stress and financial stress and emotional stress and school stress. Our bodies can also experience high levels of stress if they don’t a) get adequate calories and b) get adequate nutrients. And also from exercise. Too much exercise without sufficient rest and recovery and nutrition leads to a whole lotta stress on the body.
That’s nutritional stress and exercise stress. Those are both things we can control and it’s why we have to ensure we are nourishing our bodies well and exercising appropriately. Restricting calories and increasing exercise can easily backfire over time and lead to our bodies not being able to settle into their healthy set point. It’s just too much stress on the body.
And then there’s all the life stress. How do we manage it? How to keep our bodies healthy and happy without sending them overboard?
I think that’s really hard. Definitely one of the hardest things for me to manage. We live in a society that’s go go go and do more and push harder. And if you’re not being productive then you’re just being lazy.
We often think we have a platter sized plate when in reality we’ve got a salad plate. And then we try to fill up at the buffet line on a salad sized plate and things start overflowing and falling off the plate and then we end up frustrated…and friggin’ stressed out.
Our bodies stress response is our survival mechanism. It’s actually a really good thing. It’s what allows us to respond to emergency situations. If you were escaping a car accident your blood pressure would increase to get blood to your muscles to get you moving, blood sugar would increase to mobilize sugar to fuel your muscles, your pupils dilate to help you see better, heart rate increases, and processes that your body doesn’t really need in an emergency situation slow down- such as digestion. Soon after, you’ve escape the crashed car and are out of danger and then your body begins to relax again.
Now, your body reacts to all forms of stress in the same way. So the body elicits the same response whether you’re escaping a car crash or your pushing to make a deadline at work. The body doesn’t differentiate between the source of stress, it just knows it’s stress. So what happens if our stress becomes constant? What if you’re stressed out about getting something turned in on time, or pleasing another person or making sure you wake up on time for work or even making sure you get a workout in that day?
This chronic, constant stream of stress is where things get crazy and problematic. When we are stressed out that often, the body doesn’t have time to recover from the stress response. So your primary stress hormone [cortisol] never comes back down and normalizes and your left with chronically elevated cortisol levels. And your adrenal glands which are responsible for the “fight or flight” response can become burnt out. And since your adrenals release cortisol and are responsible for metabolism you don’t want then to get tuckered out. That’s how stress leads to health problems.
And that’s why stress management is so, so important.
I’ve been thinking about how to manage the stress of school and how to balance school with Nutshell and blogging and still having a social life. Because I’ve certainly experienced weight gain from too much stress and then my body being all whacked out and it’s frustrating. Really frustrating. In a society that pressures us to do all the things it can be really hard to find balance.
But like my momma always says, “pick two things that are the most important and just do those, and then after that pick two more things.”
Stress management can be one of the trickiest things, but our bodies depend on it.
So cheers to eating well, sleeping more, letting go of the things that don’t matter, giving ourselves some grace, and not doing all the things.