January was a loonnngg month this year. Not in a bad way, just in a long kind of way. Hopefully, it was a month that kicked your year off in fantastic form, but there’s no denying that our common daily stressors settle back into place as the revitalized gusto of the New Year starts to wear off. That’s what we want to talk about today: the daily stress, the little things that add up. But stress is such a loose word, and what does it actually mean? We have to look at the biological response to stress to understand why all those little things get to us after a while, and why common stressors can make us feel so. dang. rundown. If these ongoing stressors lead to difficulty sleeping or struggling to get out of bed in the morning, feeling completely overwhelmed for no particular reason, or trouble thinking clearly, you may want to take a closer look at how stress could be slowing you down.
So the “stress” that we feel is really a response to an external stimulus. There is a steroid hormone called cortisol, which you’ve probably heard of, that is released by our adrenal glands in three primary situations: 1) when we wake up from sleep, 2) during exercise, and 3) in stressful situations. Cortisol is often called “the stress hormone” but it’s not an inherently ‘bad’ hormone, because we need cortisol for regular functioning. When cortisol does become an issue is when we are overloaded with it. Too much of anything is never a good thing. So when we experience chronic stress, those small daily stressors that we can’t kick, it can lead to a constant, low-level release of cortisol. This is when stress can be damaging to our health and a draining experience.
If you feel stress is slowing you down, there are some easy things you can try to help you manage stress better and get your mojo and energy back. Of course, a huge part of stress is our emotional and mental response to it. Your brain is controlling those physical sensations you have, so tackling the problem from the top is the best place to start. The #1 thing we’d recommend trying if you haven’t already is mindfulness meditation. Even one session can help you feel more in control of your situation, and that feeling of control is a major stress combatant.
But what else can you work on in the meantime to raise your energy levels from the drain of daily stressors? Diet and exercise, baby! You probably saw that coming, didn’t you? Here are three quick dietary hacks that can help…
- Take a coffee break. The caffeine in your cup of coffee releases hormones that put your adrenal glands to work, producing more adrenaline and cortisol – adding to the stress cycle, and weakening your systems. That caffeine may help wake you up in the mornings, but it’s important to think about how it’s affecting your body over the whole day. Not surprisingly, moderation is key here.
- Go On A Sugar Cleanse. One of cortisol’s jobs is to regulate energy levels. When we eat a sugary snack, our blood sugar levels rise rapidly, which causes a spike in insulin. Eventually, this leads to a sugar crash and that’s when cortisol kicks in big time. Be mindful of your sugar intake by starting with refined, processed sugar. If you can start by eliminating foods that have added sugars or artificial flavoring that’s a fantastic place to start when cleansing your body of sugar. Of course, you’ll encounter natural sugars in fruits, so keep in mind how much fruit you’re eating on a daily basis. Chances are you have absolutely nothing to worry about because the nutritional value of most fruits is well worth the natural sugars it presents. You can swap higher-sugar fruits (mango, figs, cherries, and grapes) with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and avocado.
- Power the probiotics. You’ve probably heard about the benefit of probiotics on gut health and digestion, but recent research has examined the connection between gut health and its role in modulating stress. The results suggest that while you shouldn’t rely on probiotics as sole treatment for depression and/or anxiety, probiotics do seem to have a promising benefit to stress levels. Yogurt is always one of the foremost recommended foods for getting healthy probiotics in your diet, but there’s something else you may want to try: fermented foods. Although it might not tickle your appetite right away, fermented foods have become an increasingly popular health trend and their health benefits have been well documented (read Benefits of Fermented Foods on page 96!). Here are some great fermented foods to try today: kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, miso soup, kefir, and tempeh.
We can’t finish this post without talking about exercise as well, which is vital in managing stress and keeping your energy levels up. You may be thinking: doesn’t exercise increase cortisol levels? Yes, it does, but in a healthy way. Cortisol is meant to be released when your body is working hard physically, it’s not meant to be in your bloodstream during rest, which is what happens when we have chronic stress. Even though intense workouts will increase your cortisol levels temporarily, regular exercise actually lowers your normal, circulating cortisol levels – which is why it’s a natural stress reducer.
Alright, now you may be thinking: I’m so tired already, exercise will just make me more tired. We have to say, that’s a myth that’s just not true… in most cases. There is such a thing as over-exercising, and if you’re dealing with extremely low energy levels, you definitely don’t want to work yourself to a fatigue during exercise, because that will make you more tired. But if you know how to exercise based on how you’re feeling (read this post!!), then exercise can and will raise your energy levels. If you’ve been feeling drained lately and it’s kept you away from working out try easing back in with activities like swimming, yoga, and power walking to give you the circulation boost and endorphin rush without the physical fatigue.
Keep fighting the good fight mama!