Our modern society has somehow had “stress” built into it as something normal we must live with. With so much more stress, it is important you know how to build your resilience, and stay strong when things are thrown your way.
Back in the day, our stress was generally acute. This means it was short term, like running from a tiger. We would have a burst of adrenaline to allow us to flee and survive, then we would relax and return to day to day activities normally.
Our modern lifestyle of excessive work hours, cost of living, chronic disease and disconnection has made stress a more dominant feature of our lives. We are always told to stress less, but not given tools to use that will build your resilience.
Cortisol is the hormone that was responsible for getting us away from that tiger earlier. Cortisol is a hormone that works with our daily wake/sleep cycle, and takes over our energy when we are stressed.
So what happens when stress lasts for too long? We don’t have tigers threatening us anymore, but we have long hours at a job that barely pays the bills, family issues, relationship issues, chronic health issues. However stress is manifested in your life, it can bring with it an exacerbation of cortisol release.
Cortisol in a nutshell
We need cortisol. But in moderation. Cortisol works with melatonin as part of our wake/sleep cycle. It should wake us up in the morning, and ease off in the evening to allow sleep.
When we have chronic stress, cortisol can spike or peak at the wrong end of the day; have you ever felt exhausted all day then wide awake when you get into bed? It can also flatline, which means you have no peak of energy at any time of the day, so you just generally feel flat, drained, and fatigued.
Why does this happen?
Remember the tiger analogy? Well if said “tiger” is on your tail 24/7 then your body would be in a fight or flight response constantly due to the threat of danger. When we replace the tiger with the stress of work, or finances, or emotional relationship breakdown then you can understand how your body can be in this “danger” response constantly.
Long term implications of this can include chronic fatigue syndrome, and a weakened immune system. Yes that’s right, cortisol can cause immune suppression when elevated in long periods of time. Do you get sick when you’re really stressed or working to deadlines for work/uni/school? Makes sense huh?
Cortisol also causes us to store fat on our belly, also known as central adiposity. This is so it has “easy access” to energy for when that bloody tiger comes. Of course in our modern life, there is no threat of a tiger actually coming to get you (unless you’re Carole Baskin’s ex-husband), so this fat deposit never even has a chance to be used.
Common causes of stress – some are obvious, some not so much:
- Work deadlines
- Family conflict
- Relationship breakdown
- Health conditions
- Disputes amongst friends
- Study pressures
- Financial strain
- Public health/ pandemics
- Calorie restriction
- Housing issues
- Natural disasters
- Over exercising
- Inflammation due to chronic disease
There can be so many various causes of stress, some we can avoid, and some we have no choice but to combat. The important thing is that we remember stress can help us remain motivated, but it needs to be in healthy little amounts.
We do have some control over our resilience to stress. Here are my top 3 tips to build your resilience
1. Eat a healthy balanced diet
Your dietary intake has the potential to make or break you. Sure stress comes and goes, but we need a strong fort to combat it right? When we are stressed, our food intake becomes sporadic, unhealthy, sometimes non-existent. Do the most to keep your meals healthy and regular and build your resilience through your diet. Clean protein (especially at breakfast) to keep your blood sugars stable. Complex carbs to give you long lasting energy, and feed your adrenals (they love carbs!!!). Lots of vegetables for their micronutrients, fibre and flavour.
Be wary of caffeine – if you’re stressed and not sleeping, too much caffeine could make you feel wired and anxious. Also be aware of your sugar intake. Sugar cravings are common because we are often also fatigued, and sugar provides a fast hit of energy. Too much sugar will cause blood sugar crashes, which make you feel irritable and tired, reducing your ability to combat stress.
2. Relax, rest and restore
Scheduling some rest time will really do you wonders. It can be hard to switch off, but it gets easier the more you try. Take 30 mins – 1 hour out of your day to be still. Here are some ideas:
- Spending time outside in nature
- 10 minutes of legs up the wall (literally lie flat and put your legs up a wall for 10)
- Yin yoga
- Soak in a bath – add magnesium flakes/Epsom salts if you can!
- Watch a movie
- Beauty treatments like facials, massages, mani pedi
- Meditation – try my favourite app Insight Timer
- Read a silly magazine cover to cover
- Laughing and sharing a meal with friends
Another tip I encourage here is to switch off from smartphone and work technology at a scheduled time each night e.g. 8pm. Your boundaries are important.
3. Have good sleep
You can read my previous blog post about sleep here. A major role of sleep is restoration and healing, particularly for our adrenal glands. IF cortisol isn’t behaving and following its regular cycle, then I understand sleep may not be the easiest thing to come by. Here are some tips to assist you:
- Get up from bed at the same time each morning. This will help synchronise your AM body clock, and encourage cortisol to reflect that.
- Take a short afternoon nap for 25 minutes. Be sure to set an alarm so that you do not exceed this time as you can then feel more groggy when you wake up.
- Regulate your diet – allow at least 2 hours between dinner and bed time. Don’t consume caffeine after 12pm.
- Exercise regularly in the morning.
If you feel like your resilience has been compromised, consulting with a naturopath will allow you to reinforce your stress response. We can work on any areas for improvement with your nutrition, as well as incorporate some of the many amazing herbs that support your adrenals and nervous system.
I hope that you take something from this that helps you to remain strong and build your resilience. Our world certainly has had a multitude of changes this year already. Remember that this too shall pass, and it’s okay to feel affected by your surroundings. Your ability to let it go and continue to move forward is what is important.