Episode 064: Is Stress Really Such A Big Deal?
We deal with stress on a daily basis. We hear about all the time on the news, read about it in magazines and hear it talked about online. And we’ve become immune to it, accepting it as a normal way of life. But most of us don’t truly realize the tremendous impact daily stressors have their health.
In this episode, I'm talking all about stress, including:
What're our sympathetic vs parasympathetic nervous systems
How stress affects our hormones and leads to a plethora of health problems
Five ways to manage our daily stress
Listen to the Episode:
Click Here to Read the Episode Transcript...
Welcome back to the show!
So it’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and I have to be honest with you - and if you follow me on Instagram and watch my Instagram stories, then you already know this - this episode is being recorded the day before it goes live.
Now, usually, I’m not such a “fly by the seat of my pants” kinda girl. But, this podcast is 100% produced by me. I don’t have someone helping me plan the episodes or someone to edit the recordings, or an assistant to schedule my social media posts. It’s all 100% created and produced by me, partly because I’m such a control freak - I admit it. I’m a Type A through and through.
And this past weekend, I needed a weekend to “just be.”
Because although it was a four-day weekend from my full-time job, when you’re also side-hustling and a side-hustling entrepreneur, there’s no such thing as four-day weekends on the busiest weekend of the year.
It was already crazy busy supporting my team and clients with the Beautycounter holiday sale that’s going on. But it was also Thanksgiving, which in and of itself, is all-encompassing too.
I spent all day Thanksgiving morning cooking. I made some gluten-free, dairy-free broccoli mushroom casserole, roasted some Brussel sprouts and bacon, gluten-free stuffing and gluten-free gravy, oh and I steamed four huge Dungeness crabs (because crab season just opened and they’re a Thanksgiving stape here in San Francisco!).
And then on Friday, my cousin, aunt and sister continued our 26-year tradition of spending Black Friday in downtown San Francisco. Although it's become less about the shopping, because we do that online these days, but more about taking in the hustle and bustle of the season and spending the day at the spa.
While that sounds relaxing, and it was, it was still a lot to have going on, and I don’t know about you, but anytime I have to be somewhere at a certain time, well that takes a whole lot of my energy too.
I have a point to all of this, I promise…
Last week during my personal training session with my trainer, we had a super interesting session. I haven’t mentioned this before, but a few weeks ago, I injured myself. I don’t know how it happened, but I pulled my groin, so my workouts have been really limited.
So during last week’s training session we focused on mobility and did a lot of stretching and strengthening exercises focused on mobility. Not the typical personal training session, but I have to tell you - it was pretty amazing because my body felt so loose and opened up.
But during that session, as my trainer stretched me out doing a lot of resistant type of stretching (I forget the actual name for it), he asked me to focus on my breathing because I really needed to tap into my parasympathetic system.
And that really struck a chord with me, because 1) rarely do you hear a personal trainer at the gym talk about taking it easy and tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system and 2) being a Type A person who’s brain NEVER turns off, that’s a really hard thing for me to do.
Now if you’ve never heard of your parasympathetic system, let’s spend just a few minutes on this.
There’s your central nervous systems - I think most everyone is familiar with this and it includes your brain and your spine. But there are other parts of your nervous system too.
You have your peripheral nervous system which has two areas - one that serves your limbs, muscles, skeleton, and exterior sensory organs, and another one that’s called your automatic nervous system that serves your involuntary muscles - the things that work that you don’t even have to think about - like your heart and your digestive system.
Well, your automatic nervous system is also broken into two parts - your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Your sympathetic system is also referred to as your “flight or fight” system. Its what releases your adrenaline so say you’re getting ready to get on stage to speak to a large crowd, or you’re running from a tiger that’s chasing you - when stuff like this happens, it's your sympathetic system at work.
Opposite of that is your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system. It works to put your body in a calmed and relaxed state.
And all of these systems work together to keep your body running smoothly.
Now, being a Type A person, my sympathetic system is always at work. My brain is always going, I’m always thinking and doing, and if I’m being honest, I actually don’t really know how to truly relax. You probably know someone like me, or you might even be someone who’s like me.
I mean, I can have a Fat Dog Day, which is what I call days where I just lie on my couch and watch TV all day (which is totally what I did yesterday, binge-watching Big Little Liars, which by the way is a GREAT show!), but I can’t say that it was a relaxing day because I still had my computer on my lap doing some mindless work while I watched tv. So I was still in a sympathetic state.
But here’s the thing - our bodies NEED to also spend solid time tapping into our parasympathetic system, being a calm and relaxed state because remember, it serves things like your heart rate and your digestion. So if you’re not spending a lot of time there, those things can get neglected and remember, when we take a functional approach, gut health is the foundation of all things, and if we back it up, then stress is at the root of all things.
This is why people who have struggled with adrenal issues are typically those who have Type A like personalities, and many of them also tend to have gut problems. Because their body spends way too much time in fight and flight mode versus being calmed and relaxed, rested and digested.
So back to my session with my trainer - when he told me that I really needed to tap into my parasympathetic system that was a big wake-up call.
Those of you who’ve been with me for a long time, and know my backstory, you know how when I was really into long-distance running and marathon training I was always, always injured.
So, let’s back things up and take a functional approach to my current injury so you can see how it's connected.
Since I’m someone who has a long history of always being in a flight or fight state - my sympathetic nervous system is always active, my calm and relaxed state, not so much.
So you could say that I’m always in a state of stress right? Type A’ers, we tend to internalize and almost even take pride in the amount of stress we’re able to tolerate.
Well, remember, your body isn’t able to differentiate between the different kinds of stressors you experience - the hormonal response is the same, which is something we discussed in Episode 002 if you want to hear more on this.
Now my body tends to always be in a chronically stressed state. And what does stress cultivate?, It breeds inflammation. And you know that chronic inflammation causes all sorts of problems, including making your body susceptible to injuries - among a ton of other things.
So it makes perfect sense to me that when my trainer was trying to rehabilitate he, he asked me to stop talking his ears off and focus on deep breathing to tap into my parasympathetic state. He said it in a nicer way than that, but that's what he basically meant.
All of this to lead into our topic for today - stress!
Because, not only has the holiday season arrived, and I know we all love it, but with it comes the season of stress.
From all the extra things we have going on - the holiday parties, gift-giving, holiday decorating, to the pressure that can come from having to making food choices with all of the extra treats that come with the season to being in family situations that can bring about enormous amounts of stress.
We deal with stress on a regular basis. We hear about all the time on the news, read about it in magazines and see it talked about online. But its magnetized this time of year.
And yet, we’ve somewhat become immune to it, accepting it as a normal way of life. Myself included.
Most people don’t realize the tremendous impact stress is currently having on their health.
Unfortunately, in our fast-paced world, while we’re all running around in panic mode from everyday worries.
We deal with disagreements, work overload, financial worries, sickness, tragedy, new babies, traffic, social media and always being connected, under or over-exercising and eating foods that our body can’t process or tolerate all contribute to our stress load.
Having to continually battle these things put us in a chronically stressed mode which then disrupts the natural balance we need for optimal health. It prematurely ages us and compromises our immune system making us susceptible to illness and disease.
It’s super easy to minimize the effect that our daily stressors have on you because you may not even be fully aware of some of the things that’s causing you stress.
I mean, we’ve been led to believe that multi-tasking is a good thing and we glorify being busy. But with your never-ending to-do lists and constant notification on your phone, your mind is never allowed to shut off completely. And like I said, I’m speaking from first-hand experience here.
But I’ll tell you, and I’m speaking from first-hand experience here, if you know that this is you, or someone that you love, then you’re on the straight and narrow path to adrenal dysfunction.
So at the base of your brain is your hypothalamus. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, it prompts your adrenal glands, which are tiny glands that sit right on top your kidneys (ad-renal) and those glands to release surges of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and boosts your energy. Think about how you feel when you’re being chased by an animal.
Cortisol is your primary stress hormone. Too much or too little alters your immune system, digestive system, and reproductive system ability to function how its intended to. It also communicates with areas of your brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.
When you always in “fight or flight” mode aka as being chronically stressed, your adrenal glands have to work in overdrive to manage cortisol and your other hormones, and it disrupts almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk for things like:
Nutritional deficiencies because your body's not able to absorb nutrients from your food Other hormonal imbalances, like ones that regulate your appetite Lowered metabolism and increasing fat storage Pre-mature aging from too much oxidative stress
These things can ultimately lead to:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Anxiety + Depression
- Digestive distress
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- And a whole lot more
If these things aren't addressed, it then leads to autoimmune conditions, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
So when people say, “Oh I’m so stressed out” or glorify being busy and stressed, pause for a minute and think about what can happen if you don’t do anything about it.
When my trainer told me to stop talking so I could tap into my parasympathetic state, it made me realize just how much time I WASN’T doing that.
On top of that, during my massage at the spa on Friday, the massage therapist asked if she could be direct with me. I love direct people, so I said, “Yes of course.” She then told me that the tightness I feel in my should blade area was directly tied to the extreme tightness in my neck and shoulder that I had become immune too.
You see I’d lived with it for so long, I didn’t even realize that it was knotted up. And she said that I was one of the worse cases she’d seen and if I don’t seriously do something about it soon she could predict that I would start to have numbness in my arms and it would affect other areas of my body - which truthfully, it already has.
She then proceeded to work on my neck and shoulders which was enormously painful but something that had to be done.
Now I know that it’s not realistic to eliminate all stress, and in fact, some stress can actually be good for you, but it's important to be able to manage it.
The first step in doing this is deciding that it’s actually important enough to do. Make a commitment and a priority to work on managing your daily stress.
After you do that, here’s five ways can do to manage it:
- Plan your schedule using a daily or weekly planner:
You can go old school and analog and use a physical planner.
Or you can be like me and go digital using an app on your phone like Google calendar or Asana. I use both.
Having some system or form of organization will give you a realistic view of what’s on your plate and what capacity you have, if any, to take anything else on, or if you have to “say no.” which is a whole ‘nother conversation in and of itself.
- Prioritize your to-do list and focus on one thing at a time:
There used to be a time when the “ability to multitask” was an attribute everyone put on their resume.
But in reality, trying to do too many things at once adds to your stress level and ultimately makes you unproductive because you tried to do too many things at once, which usually results in nothing being accomplished at all. Am I right?
So stop glorifying the ability to multi-task and focus on quality over quantity.
- Delegate when possible:
This is a struggle for me because I am such a control freak. It’s hard to let go and what it really comes down to is the ability to trust others.
But it’s important not to try to be the hero (or the martyr) at the expense of your well-being.
Delegate tasks not only at work but also at home - I’m going to try to take a piece of my own advice here.
- Declutter your space:
This is a big one - clutter creates stress! I hear this all the time from my friends. They literally can’t get anything done because the clutter in their homes stresses them out.
So take a day or even an hour in your day, or heck, set your timer for 10 minutes before going to bed and pick things up and throw things out.
Do what you need to do to create a peaceful environment at home and where you work.
- Practice calming activities like deep breathing, meditation, and exercise:
If you’re like me and find it hard to “quiet your mind,” then you may find meditation apps like Calm, Headspace or my personal favorite, “Rituals” helpful. I set it for 1-min, 3-min or if I’m being extra ambitious, 5 or 10 minutes - which sometimes can be a real challenge - and just sit in silence and focus on your breathing.
Don’t estimate the power of the breath. When you start to feel overwhelmed or start to go into overdrive, pause and take some deep breaths. It will do wonders to calming your nerves, slowing down your heart rate, quieting your mind and making things feel a little more manageable.
This is how you tap into your calm and relaxed state.
Now like I said, I am terrible at this, but I recognize it, and it's helpful to be reminded about it too as my trainer did for me. And I’m committing to you, but more importantly, I’m committing to myself to make this a priority. Will you join me?
Come on over to the show notes, or find me on Instagram and tell me, how will you tap into your parasympathetic system and let your body settle into a calm and relaxed state?
You’ll find the show notes for this episode at www.livefablife.com/064.
And while you’re there, be sure you join my email list for insider exclusives and weekly updates and check out my new program, set to be released in early 2019. You can even sign up to be notified when the beta group is set to open up!
You can also connect with me over on Instagram, which is my favorite place to hang out daily on social media.
As always, thanks so much for listening. I appreciate your time and your attention, and I’ll see you back here again next week!
Naomi Nakamura is a Functional Nutrition Health Coach. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, programs, coaching services and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop!
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