Thank you so much to Jenny McGuckian , one of our community members, for writing today’s guest blog on the subject of stress. Jenny McGuckian helps women who feel tired, irritable and hormonal to understand their bodies and reclaim their health and vitality. As a registered Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach she sees clients both online and in her clinic in Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK. She can be found at www.go-nourish.com.
Stress isn’t all bad
As a Nutritional Therapist I help women who feel tired, grumpy and hormonal to reclaim their health and vitality. I’m sure you can imagine the subject of stress comes up a lot!
But before I launch into the negatives, I think it’s good to recognise that stress isn’t all bad. Moderate, short-lived stress can improve alertness, performance and boost memory. Exercise is another type of short term moderate stress that’s good for our body. Both these can help us adapt and grow, physically and mentally.
The key is that it should be moderate and short term. When you have long term ongoing stress without time to time to wind down and recover, that’s when you run into issues.
It starts in our mind
The next thing that’s helpful to understand is that ‘perception’ is an important element. All stress starts by our brain being alerted to a real, or a perceived threat. Unfortunately the part of our brain that responds to these threats is still ridiculously primitive. It genuinely can’t tell the difference between you being chased by an axe murderer and having a massive to do list. If you feel overwhelmed by either it’s going to tell your body to pump out the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline like your life is in danger.
So how we think about or ‘perceive’ our stressors really does have a huge impact on how resilient we are and explains why what may feel completely overwhelming to one person may feel mildly annoying but manageable to the next. Working on having a healthy attitude towards stress and developing tools to manage it can really help you cope and feel more resilient.
A lot of stress comes from the thoughts swimming around our head, but it’s estimated that 85% of the things we worry about never actually happen!
When is stress a problem?
Stress becomes problematic when we don’t have the time or ability to stop, rest and recover. When it is relentless, it becomes chronic stress, the type that leads to health issues.
In modern life we tend to engage in a lot more ‘respond and do’ activity and not enough ‘rest and be still’ activity. To manage stress we need a good balance between the two to give out body time to disperse the constant stream of stress hormones. Regular movement and gentle exercise can help to shift stress hormones through our system too.
Get to know your signals
People really know about it when they’re in a state of acute stress. Adrenaline is high and you’ll feel wired. Lower level chronic stress can be harder to detect though as it’s not as in your face. Here’s some of the things that often happen when you’re struggling with chronic stress:
- Sleep – your sleep may worsen. One client told me ‘I can fall asleep, but I then wake up around 3am with thoughts going around my head. It makes me extremely sensitive and emotional and even more stressed the next day’. Frequently waking between the hours of 3-5am is linked to struggling adrenals as a result of ongoing stress. This can leave you feeling really fatigued
- Digestive complaints – heartburn, indigestion, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, IBS flares. When your body is stressed your digestion is pretty much switched off and energy is directed elsewhere to help you escape danger
- Wonky sex hormones – in much the same way as your body isn’t interested in digestion, it’s also not interested in reproduction. You may lose periods, experience cycle changes and have a diminished libido
- Appetite changes – you may find that you lose your appetite, or you might overeat and crave refined, starchy and sugary foods
- Mood changes – restlessness, feeling low, negative or irritable. Short term stress may make you more alert but chronic stress can impact your mood and make concentrating and making decisions difficult
- Poor immunity – you catch bugs easily and autoimmune issues worsen
How can we manage it?
- The most obvious and simple answer is make time to stop and rest! Find ways to create space between what’s stressing you out and try to switch off from it. As entrepreneurs we can be the absolute worst at this. Sometimes it can be helpful to plan in regular appointments like a massage, hypnotherapy or acupuncture
2. Try and shift your perception. Is this good stress or bad stress? Is there a finite end to the stress after which you’ll be able to relax and recuperate? Try writing everything down, it’s cathartic and creates distance by getting the thoughts out of your head
3. Talk to someone. Social connection and talking to others who understand your experience can be really valuable. This is where as an entrepreneur groups like Tabono can be really helpful! Obviously if you really feel very overwhelmed you may need to talk to a professional
4. Practice gratitude. This can be a really powerful way to shift your perception
5. Take a regular movement snack to shift some of the stress hormones from your body. It could be short walk in nature, a short yoga sequence or this stretching and posture routine from Dr Chattergee https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwAWbIQiqJ0AZcdJuWXR7uH1siYMk7pCO
6. Find mindful hobbies, the type that you completely absorb yourself in… for me it’s ice skating or paddleboarding. I don’t want to fall on the ice or end up in the river so it’s difficult to think of much else!
7. Learn to say no and mean it, without any guilt. Yes it’s hard and takes practice but it’s worth it
Of course with one to one clients there is a lot we can work on to support your body from a nutrition perspective. I look at every system of the body and support you to make easy to follow diet and lifestyle changes. We can then consider supplements and where appropriate I use laboratory testing to look at areas like your adrenals, thyroid and immune system to get you to a place where you can feel calm, happy and rested.