This series was created to provide a solid foundation of knowledge, skills and strategies on stress before my upcoming learn-by-doing Attorney Wellness Webinar: Stress-Busting, Energy-Boosting Desk Moves, where I will guide you through techniques that can quantifiably lower your stress at your desk in two-minutes.
Over the past two posts, Science of Stress and Master Your Mind, I led an in-depth exploration of stress and strategies for effective long-term management. I saved some of the best for last in today’s post, Balancing Physiology. As you will see this post could just as easily been titled Balancing Lifestyle as I am going to show you how six lifestyle factors directly impact stress levels!
The big takeaways from my first post, Science of Stress were: 1) the stress response (fight or flight) begins when we perceive a threat to our safety and 2) powerful hormones are released to prepare our bodies to best run or fight for our lives. The key learning from the second post, Master Your Mind was that without careful and consistent management our negative thoughts will produce emotions and can set off the stress response as well.
In today’s post, Balancing Physiology, I’ll demonstrate how specific lifestyle factors shift your hormones putting you into a stressed state which impacts your thoughts, emotions, actions, perceptions and reality. Since stress summates, the greater number of factors you have out of balance the more stress you will experience daily.
As an Executive Wellness Coach there are six foundational principles that I help my clients balance to support their health, fitness, and productivity goals: Nutrition, Hydration, Sleep, Movement, Thinking, and Breathing.
1. Nutrition – Yes, food can stress you out! All foods break down into chemicals that travel to the brain and body. Many common foods create low-grade (smoldering) inflammation on brain cells, which cause the stress response. Consuming these foods make it more challenging to have balanced brain chemistry and to relieve stress.
Foods that create brain inflammation are:
- Commercially-raised animal products
- Refined carbohydrates
- Vegetable oil
- Processed foods
2. Hydration – Guess what is made up of 85% water? Your brain cells, that’s what! The two major fuels for the brain are sugar and water. When you are dehydrated the brain becomes stressed and sends signals of thirst and hunger simultaneously to you. Two unfortunate things happen: the individual will respond to the hunger signal by eating when the body doesn’t need food and/or they will satisfy their thirst with coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks or pasteurized juices – not by drinking water.
Many of the drinks above act as diuretics that may satisfy one’s thirst, but remove water from the body increasing dehydration. Also, many of the beverages listed will spike the blood sugar causing an inevitable crash that releases the stress hormone cortisol.
An important final note is that the dry mouth sensation means you are already dehydrated, as it’s the last signal sent from the body that you need water. Even a 1% loss of total body water leads to many physiological and psychological conditions.
3. Sleep – Sleep is our main repair, recharge, and rejuvenating process. The mind and body are healed during sleep due to growth and repair hormones that elevate when in deep rest. Missing out on the optimal number of hours of sleep per night (7.5 to 9) and ideal sleep times can be very stressful.
Our physical repair happens between the hours of 10:00 pm and 2:00 am followed by our psychological/neurological repair from 2:00 am to 6:00 am. What this means is that if we are going to bed at midnight we are losing 50% of our physical repair and if we are waking up between 2:00 am and 6:00am we are disrupting our mental repair. All of this throws our hormones out of whack! Even our appetite hormones inverse making you hungrier when you have poor quantity and quality of sleep as a way to give you more energy. You also will have higher levels of inflammation through the mind and body.
4. Movement – The human body was designed to move, but the average American sits for 13.5 hours per day! A sedentary lifestyle deteriorates the mind and body because if you don’t use it – you lose it.
One of the many amazing physiological effects of exercise is that it can lower anxiety, depression, stress and even panic attacks levels. Aerobic exercise specifically releases a brain chemistry cocktail similar to that induced by antidepressants for up to 2 hours.
5. Thinking – Negative thinking is such a major contributor to stress that I dedicated an entire post to sharing two thought management strategies in Master Your Mind. Our brains are wired to have a negative bias as a survival mechanism, but the average professional spends more time thinking about what they don’t want and obsesses about the one thing that didn’t go right in their day compared to the hundreds of other things that went right. Negative and self-limiting thoughts release a stress response.
6. Breathing – There is nothing more important to human survival than respiration. Anything less than ideal breathing will be stressful on the body and mind. The average person takes 23,000 to 25,000 breaths per day and 90% of people have what is called an inverted breathing pattern.
Optimal breathing is in-and-out through the nose and belly, but today’s professional breathes through the mouth and chest. This inverted pattern happens when we are stressed because it brings in the most oxygen possible when running or fighting for our life! An inverted breathing pattern, remarkably, mimics hyperventilation. It’s scary to see professionals taking short, shallow, and quick breaths all day long.
21-Day Stress Challenge
So there you have it, the six-lifestyle factors that directly impact your hormones, physiology and stress level. Now it’s time for you choose which one (or up to four) you are going to focus on for the next 21 days and what specifically you are going to do to balance it. I recommend picking the principle(s) that most resonate with you now and can have the biggest impact on your current state of stress.
I am going to go to bed by 10:30pm on weekdays by moving my bedtime back 15 minutes at a time and taking 30 minutes before bed to unplug and unwind each night.
Complimentary Stress Assessment: If you would like a comprehensive snapshot of your current state of wellness and stress please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares legal professionals for the most productive and healthy work-life through online/on-site training in four areas critical to wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.