Stress can be good and bad. Your body doesn't recognize the difference between running away from a bear, starving, or just feeling stressed out all the time. You want your body to be stressed when you are running from a bear. If you were in fact starving, and not on a diet, you would want your body to be stressed then as well because that would help you stay alive. However, if you simply have a stressful lifestyle or feel stressed, that is not a good thing. Chronic stress is linked with an inability of your body to regulate its inflammatory response, which leads to development of many diseases. Not good.
So, even if you are eating all the right foods and exercising regularly but you aren't sleeping enough, you are feeling angry all the time, or suffering from depression, those healthy habits won't really matter. Living in a state of chronic stress also makes it more difficult to sleep better, feel less angry, and manage depression.
The kind of stress I'm talking about is not the kind you feel from busy schedules and deadlines (although those things do play a role here), but the kind of stress that gets internalized after a negative or traumatic life event. Feelings of fear, anger, and depression.
Most of us have experienced physical manifestations of stress, anything from appetite loss to increased blood pressure. Most often, these are brought on by a negative emotion that we may or may not be aware of. While major life events can be easier to identify (death, divorce, or major financial stress), these feelings are more often caused by smaller issues that you might not think would have such a negative impact in and on your body. Things like an argument with your spouse, disliking your job, or being overwhelmed during a busy or stressful time in your life.
Feeling stressed? Let me help you! I've got 5 ways for you to decrease stress and be on the road to optimal health!
Here are three ways that stress might be keeping you from reaching your goals without even realizing it:
1. Relationship conflict. Social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. Depending on the relationship, this can be either a good or a bad thing. However, the effect of these relationships starts early on in life and accumulates as you get older. If you've had a lot of unhealthy or stressful relationships in your past, you may still be dealing with the physical manifestations of that stress. If you feel that you are having conflict or stress in social relationships, try to identify where or why it's occurring and fix it! That may not be as easy as it sounds and in some cases, it may involve stepping back from people who you consider to be your friends.
2. Internal stress. This is the kind of stress we think of when we "feel stressed." Managing internal stress is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. It is equally as important as getting enough sleep, eating a nutrient dense diet, and getting plenty of exercise. If you know that you feel internal stress but are unsure where it is coming from, keep a journal where you write down your negative feelings that arise throughout your day. You may start to see patterns of people or situations that will help you identify your triggers. It can also be helpful to talk with a close friend or family member as they may notice a pattern that you do not. Managing internal stress can be done in many ways (yoga, exercise, meditation, behavioral therapy), but the first step is identifying where it is coming from.
3. Reactions and choices. Internal stress causes us to react to certain situations without thinking about them. Being aware of this can help you be mindful and choose how you react to a situation. If your relationship with your family is stressful and you eat dessert every time you have family dinner night, even when you went there with the intention of sticking to your healthy eating plan (I'm not saying dessert is bad, this is just for the sake of an example), then you may be unconsciously reacting to the stressful relationship by eating sweets. Being aware of this can help you to identify the problem and work on ways to solve it. Once you know that you are reacting automatically in a way that you do not wish to, you can choose to react in a mindful manner.
Identifying these issues and taking responsibility for your feelings is a challenging, but extremely important first step in managing the stress in your life. If you are having difficulty meeting your goals even though you are eating all the right things and getting the right amount of exercise, I can almost guarantee you that it's due to stress (or lack of sleep). So, take a big deep breath and try to identify those things that are causing negative emotions and stress within your life.