The truth about stress and your health

Stress.  (The S-word!)

It’s not new.  It’s not sexy.  But it is the cause of an estimated 90% of chronic health issues in the US.  It may not be a fresh topic, but it is a game-changer.  And it’s hard to talk about health and wellness without using the S-word.

When you think about stress, what comes to mind?  The usual answers are things like paying the bills, a job situation, an unhappy relationship, an illness.  We usually think of the hard or negative things in our lives.   

So, is stress always bad?  I would say no.  Quite honestly, there is some amount of physiologic stress with everything we do.  Have you ever heard that weight-bearing exercise helps strengthen bones?  Because you’re putting micro-stress on the structure and the body responds by reinforcing the bone which makes it stronger.  When you do aerobic exercise, you’re stressing your heart and your muscles…so they will grow more blood vessels and, in essence, stronger muscle fibers. 

The key is not overdoing it.  It’s staying aware of what is going on so we don’t push so hard that our body can’t compensate for the stress we’re causing.  We don’t push to the point of breaking a bone.  We don’t push to the point of causing damage to the heart or other muscles.  Our body gives us some pretty clear signals that we need to cool it – slow down – take a break. 

And that is the challenge with day-to-day stressors.  It’s so much easier to push through or ignore feeling tired or emotional or overwhelmed.  We take some Tylenol or Motrin for a stress headache.  We have a glass of wine or get a massage.  But ultimately, we don’t make any changes to the amount of stress in our lives. 

Because THAT’s stressful.

We’re in a bit of pickle, aren’t we?  So now what?  This is where self-care becomes a major tool for health.  Self-care is making choices that support our mental, physical and emotional health.  (You know I’m a bit of a self-care nerd!)  This is how You change your health.

We have all sorts of reasons why we don’t have time, energy, or money for self-care.  Or, deep down inside, we don’t believe we deserve self-care.  Self-care has turned into a luxury that many of us have decided we can’t afford. 

Let me quickly add another perspective to this self-care conundrum. 

When I talk with you about self-care, I’m looking at your mood – because chronic stress can change how your body uses its neurotransmitters.  I’m looking at PMS and peri-menopausal symptoms – because chronic stress changes how your body clears hormones from your system.  I’m looking at how well you sleep – because stress changes how your body makes and uses melatonin, the sleep hormone.  Do you have allergies that have gotten a lot worse lately?  Stress changes how your body gets rid of histamine, that stuff responsible for allergy symptoms. 

All of those things, plus many more, are impacted when we practice daily self-care and stress-management.  It’s not indulgent.  It’s not selfish. 

It’s simply doing what you can to improve your health, on your terms. 

So…what is your favorite self-care activity or practice?

Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip...

If you find yourself in a stressful situation, give this breathing technique a try.  It can help calm you down as it helps calm that stress response.  And you can practice it absolutely anywhere!  

Box Breathing

Step 1: Slowly breath in through your nose as you count from one to four;

Step 2: Hold your breath as you slowly count from one to four;

Step 3: Slowly breath out through your nose as you count from one to four;

Step 4: Again, hold your breath as you slowly count from one to four.

The concept of "box" is that each step of this process takes approximately the same amount of time, e.g. counting from one to four.  If you are new to this practice and counting to four is too long, choose what works for you - count to two or to three instead!  Repeat until you feel your body calm down.  

And if you need some additional ideas for your own self-care practice, my 7 Self-Care Activities You Can Start Today resource can give you some ideas!  


60-second self-care, self-advocate, self-care, stress

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