We tend to think of stress as something that affects us psychologically or mentally, but stress also has a physical side?
How you feel physically will affect how stress gets it’s grips on you. Consider this, when you get a good nights sleep and you feel rested, you can deal with the hectic demands of work and your life. Stress doesn’t bother you as easily, but if you’ve been working fifty, sixty, or eighty hours a week it’s a different story. When you’re exhausted even little things can put you over the edge. That’s why I say that there is physical side to stress
So if you want to get control of the stress in your life you have to pay attention to your physical body. Let’s examine some of the physical issues that might be playing a role in the stress in your life.
1. First is sleep. Nothing is more vital for feeling good than obtaining quality sleep. Most people need get seven or eight hours of sleep most nights to feel rested and energetic. Yes, we can go on six hours of sleep or even five hours for a few days. But I would bet that most people can’t do this on a consistent basis and feel their best. If you’re someone who needs limited sleep and can still perform at their peak level then this is great- my hat is off to you. Yet, for most of us performing our best requires that we’re bedded down for longer than five or six hours.
The amount and quality of your sleep will play a big role in your ability to ward off stress. Scientific studies have shown that the old adage- “early to bed and early to rise makes a man or woman healthy and wise” is quite true. The body’s physiology works best when we go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Its best if you can get to bed by 10:00 o’clock. Now this might seem difficult for you to do, but if you get to bed earlier and get up earlier most people will find that they feel more rested.
Your sleep also needs to be of high quality. If you’re someone who wakes up a lot during the night you really need to examine the foods that you’re eating during the day. Are you eating too much caffeine or drinking alcohol? Are you eating too much sugar. Are you overeating in general?
All of these factor can play a role and influence your quality of sleep. Another thing to consider is a sleep disorder. If you’re overweigh you might be suffering from a medical condition called sleep level. Sleep apnea is a real illness that leads to broken and dysfunctional sleep. Fatigue is a common complaint among sleep apnea sufferers. Talk to you doctor to see if you need to be evaluated for sleep apnea.
2. The second physical factor that can affect your resistance to stress is your exercise habits. Did you know that regular exercise been shown to reduce stress? It’s true. Regular aerobic exercise such as swimming, biking, walking, jogging, or exercise that really get your heart pumping has been shown to elevate a persons mood. Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and even is a treatment for depression.
How does exercise help reduce stress?. Exercise probably helps ease stress in a number of ways. Most importantly, it has been shown cause an important release of the “feel good” brain chemicals called endorphins. These are neurotransmitters that have been shown to be able to reduce anxiety and help depression.
Regular exercise also has a detoxifying effect of the body’s physiology. When you exercise you dramatically increase your respiratory rate. The lungs are one of the organs of elimination. So increasing our breathing will throw off carbon dioxide and improve our blood oxygenation. Exercising also leads to improved blood flow to the kidney’s another organ of elimination. Exercising lowers the blood sugar and lead to more effective metabolism in the muscles.
All of these things will improve our over bodily function and help reduce stress.
What type of exercises is best? Of course any exercise that makes us sweat is going to be good. For best results you’ll want to be exercising four to five times a week for at least 30 minutes. However, some recent medical studies have shown that even a ten minute walk is useful. Yet, you don’t have to be an athlete to get a benefit from exercise. Simple activities such as gardening, going for a walk in nature, and other activities that push us to move more than we normally would move are also good. The idea is to just be more active than usual.
If you do this you’ll find your stress becoming more manageable.
3. The third factor and perhaps the most critical for taking control of your stress from a physical standpoint is modifying what you eat. You might not normally consider what you eat to be related to stress, but what you eat can play a powerful role in how you manage and deal without the stress in your life.
Feeling fatigued is one of the biggest obstacles that we face in managing our stress. How we eat plays an important role in our energy level.
As I said earlier, if you feel fatigued or tired then your ability to control your feelings of stress is limited. How we choose to eat is a key determiner of our overall sense of energy. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates in the form of sugar is one of the worst things you can do to maintain your energy. When we take in most simple carbohydrates-white bread, soda beverages, white potatoes, french fries, white rice, or many of the processed snacks, it leads to a quick rise in our blood sugar and then a dramatic fall off. We might feel good for a brief moment, but soon there is a drop in our blood sugar which is followed by a plunge in our feelings of energy and well being.
Many people have jittery feelings, headaches, and feelings of lethargy shortly after eating high carbohydrate foods. If you want to keep your stress in check, its best to maintain a balanced diet. Eat a preponderance of vegetables with protein. Try lean cuts of chicken or fish as your best alternatives. Nuts are also a source of good fats that have been shown to keep our blood glucose levels on an even keel. Always try to include fiber in any meal. This generally means vegetable and fruits that won’t raise the blood sugar excessively.
In addition, I recommend that people try to eat small. By this I mean try to keep from eating meals that are large. We all know the bloated and tired feeling that comes a few hours after eating an excessively large meal. Learn to push your plate away before you feel stuffed. Another good trick is to share an entree when you go out to eat.
Split the main course with your spouse or friend. By doing this you’ll seriously reduce your intake of food. If you’re at home you can also use a smaller plate. Rather that using a dinner plate try using a salad plate for your main course. Don’t eat more than the salad plate can hold. Eating Small is a practical way to boost your energy and reduce your stress.
If you follow these simple rule when it comes to what you eat, it will have a major impact on your ability to take charge of the stress in your life.
I hope you now have a better idea about how what happens to your physical body can be linked to your feelings of stress. Take a look at your life as it relates to stress and what you are doing with your body.
You’ll be glad you did.
Dr. Kirk Laman
The WholeHearted Cardiologist and Stress Reduction Expert
Seek. Knock. Open Your Heart.