Stress 101

Mention the word “stress” and everyone around you will nod their heads vigorously while muttering “oh yea, I’m stressed.”  Even before the global pandemic and its many ripple effects, people were overworked, overwhelmed, and not taking good care of themselves. But what is stress? 

Stress at a physiological level is an increase in stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, and neural activity leading to a heightened state of arousal as our nervous system believes we are in danger.  Our bodies then revert to the infamous “fight or flight” response where we prepare to literally run or fight. Blood rushes to our extremities in preparation to act, reducing blood flow to organs and often resulting in nausea, shallow breathing, and the inability to think clearly.

This biological response is what keeps us alive when facing a real physical threat. When prolonged in response to our modern-day stressors, we feel an onslaught of the physical effects: dizziness from the lack of oxygen to the brain, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, digestive problems, inflammation, and lowered immunity.

A more typical definition of stress would include emotional and psychological symptoms: feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, irritability, worry, sadness, anger, etc. This list is one that many can, unfortunately, relate to. 

This definition illustrates the point that stress very much affects both mind and body. When learning to identify how stress is impacting you, you must look at the whole picture and consider changes to your thoughts, behaviors, and/or your physical body and environment. For example, a common trigger to stress that many people do not think of is the noise level in their environment. Background noise can be stimulating and cause an overactive nervous system to really go into overdrive. Minimizing noise by wearing headphones is a straightforward way to reduce your body’s stress response.

Consider the following questions to help in identifying your own triggers. It may be difficult to pinpoint if you feel like you are experiencing a lot of stress but try to think of a time when it felt really overwhelming:

    • What is the first thing you remember – the physical response to the stressor or the emotion?
    • What was going on for you at the time? Was it around a holiday, the weekend, etc.?
    • Where were you?
    • What did you hear, see, smell, and feel?
    • What were you thinking about?
stress management

Once you have a better understanding of what triggers YOUR stress, you can better decide what tool may work best in the moment. Below are a few options to experiment with, along with a quick definition of why they could help:

    • Just Breathe: focus on taking deep inhales and longer exhales to restore oxygen levels to your brain, improving your thinking and concentration. 
    • Step Outside: changing your environment helps both the mind and body to reset, while also increasing the feel-good chemicals in your body.
    • Write it Down: no need to formally journal, just jotting down your thoughts and worries can help to ease them from your mind.
    • Practice Gratitude: writing or saying at least three things you are grateful for shifts your focus to the positive and is a reminder of all that is going well. 
    • List of Accomplishments: similar to gratitude, focusing on what you have already accomplished helps you to remember your strengths. 
    • Move your Body: no surprise here – even a quick walk or a few minutes of stretching helps send the message to your nervous system that it is ok to relax. The quick hit of dopamine may also be just what you need!
    • Talk it Out: reaching out to someone to problem solve around your stressor or just chat about something else can increase oxytocin (the connection hormone) while also providing a plan or distraction. Extra points for having them hold you accountable to trying one of the other above tools! 

Stress is inevitable but it does not have to take over your mind and body. Understanding your triggers, as well what helps YOU to decompress, can make the difference between a stressful moment and a stressful month. A willingness to experiment with new tools and commit to using them consistently will also help you avoid the physical and emotional effects of chronic stress.

Ready To Change Your Life? Let’s Get Started

Well-Choices Health & Nutrition Coaching

Digital Health Coaching
Monthly Video Coaching

Monthly coaching sessions to support progress, overcome obstacles and celebrate success. Health Coaches identify missed health goals and communicate through unlimited messaging.  

Monthly Video Health Coaching
Bi-Weekly Video Coaching

Your coach develops and communicates personalized health plans with you via; bi-weekly virtual meetings, unlimited messaging, and weekly emails, while seamlessly tracking your progress in the Well-Choices App.

Weekly Health Coaching
Weekly Video Coaching

Weekly coaching sessions reinforce positive change with support & guidance — personalized planning and program structure, as well as automated tracking, unlimited messaging, and weekly emails.