Dialing Down the Drama and Amping Up the Chill

Thanks to the last lesson on sleep, you already know that stress influences the release and balance of various hormones, creating a cascade effect that influences various bodily functions such as appetite, muscle repair, and therefore our metabolism🌀 —so there's no need to repeat those complexities in this lesson, too.

The overarching message is clear: excessive stress isn't conducive to our metabolism OR our overall well-being.

Instead, I want to touch on an overlooked aspect of stress management—a little something I personally had been getting wrong in my 20s, and surprise, surprise, I've seen many clients struggle with too. Well, two things, really:

1️⃣ Certain Factors of Nutrition and Physical Activity ARE Stressors

That deficit and fasted cardio? Yup, those are guilty of putting stress on your body. But, a balanced meal and a leisurely walk? Not much stress there. Basically, the farther we wander from homeostasis, the more stress it puts on our body.

2️⃣ Stress IS NOT Always A Negative Force

In fact, some stress is necessary for growth and improvement. Take a peek at the pressure performance curve below.👀⬇️ Ideally, you want to hang out between the "comfort" and "growth" levels of pressure/stress. This is the sweet spot where everyday pressure motivates, keeps us on our toes, and challenges us to become better.

Imagine your stress levels are already soaring due to financial worries, job instability, and concerns about your child's health. Now, imagine piling on more stress through rigorous dieting and an intense exercise routine. The result of your stress-o-meter turned up all the way? A recipe for potential disaster, chaos, and “rock bottom” as shown in this meme:

On the flip side, picture a life with minimal external stressors. In this scenario, introducing elements like dieting and intense exercise becomes much more manageable. The key is finding that delicate ~balance~ where stress (both from life and intentional lifestyle choices) acts as a driving force for positive change without falling over the edge into overwhelming chaos. It's a delicate dance but it’s a much more realistic way of managing stress and regulating your nervous system.

Adjusting the Stress Dial:

When it comes to thriving, let's face it, aiming for a stress-free environment in today's chaotic world is a bit of a stretch. Instead, we’re better off striving for that sweet spot where stress is neither too low nor too high – a Goldilocks situation, if you will.

Sure, it's a great idea to cut down on stress where we can. But let's be real—some stressors are non-negotiable. Whether it's the stress we willingly take on, like moving to a new home or planning a wedding, or the stress that hits us without asking, such as financial strains or grief, in which it's not always as simple as "removing" or "reducing" or "getting rid of" stress.

Instead, let's shift our focus to mastering the art of dialing down extra stress when it's not necessary and cranking it up when we need that extra push. That means if life or mental stress is soaring, it might mean easing off the physical stress from fitness or diet, at least for a while.

Because here's the thing... your body doesn't "care" about your body composition goals the same way that your brain does; if your body could speak, it'd tell you that it only cares about surviving and creating babies. Even if your priority is looking fit as f*ck, and your body will prioritize biological goals before your personal goals—hands down, no exceptions, period.

Consequences of Unmanaged Stress:

Consistently dieting by eating too little or pushing yourself too hard with intense workouts can can dysregulate the stress response system, leading to prolonged activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increased cortisol levels. It's like hitting the panic button too many times, causing your stress levels to go haywire and your body to be in a constant state of high alert (even if your brain is chill).

This can leave you feeling totally wiped out, cranky, and unable to sleep well, not to mention messing with your ability to think straight. Basically, your body's stress response is stuck on overdrive, making it hard to chill out and recover properly. This can slam the brakes on your fitness journey, opening the door to potential setbacks and triggering a whole slew of other health issues (hello amenorrhea, high blood pressure, autoimmune illness, gut issues, etc) or even burnout – definitely not a cute look.

In this state, your body prioritizes survival over your fitness goals, using up what little energy you provide just to keep you going.⁠⁠ (This is where we get the phrase "survival mode.")

So, whether you're dealing with the exciting stress of a big move to a new home or the not-so-fun stress of job hunting, it's crucial to recognize that deficits and HIIT workouts can trigger unpleasant side effects in no time. So, ease up on the physical strain when life throws you curveballs, prioritize some R&R to restore balance, and steer clear of feeling like a tired, stressed-out mess.

The Most Common Ways Stress Shows Up:

1. The Bloat Mystery:

Stress often manifests as bloating, a very natural defense mechanism triggered by your body to protect important organs when it senses a threat. If bloating occurs, it could be due to:

a) Internal Inflammation thanks to something you consumed, such as food, drinks, supplements, or medications. Something’s just sitting well in your tummy. If this is the case, it’s time to play detective! This is one reason why it’s super helpful to keep a daily food journal.
b) Stress and Anxiety: Your body's response to stress or anxiety could be triggering bloating, even if the threat is not physical but rather psychological. In this case it’s best to address the external stressor and/or just let time do its thing. 

📖STORY TIME: Back in one of my bodybuilding competitions, the silly stress I put on myself to qualify for nationals showed up as bloat. On stage, I looked soft, and my usual muscle definition took a backseat, all thanks to that stress. The very next day, like magic, the bloat and edema vanished. It's a clear example of how stress can play tricks on your physical appearance, only to fade away when you let go of that pressure.

2. The Cortisol Cravings:

Stress prompts the release of cortisol, the notorious stress hormone, disrupting blood sugar regulation and increasing cravings for sugary and high-fat foods. THIS could be why you might turn to emotional eating as a way to cope with your emotions. (And hey, it's kinda nice knowing there's some legit science to back this up, right?) Staying mindful of your stress levels and recognizing the likelihood of cravings helps you identify when your mind might be playing tricks on you. This awareness is your defense against becoming a complete victim to stress. So, the next time you're tempted by that tub of ice cream, consider taking a moment to pause. Instead, think about going for a work, brain dump journaling your thoughts, calling a friend, or giving one of the practices below a try.

3. Energy Drain and Workout Woes:

Stress can leave you mentally and physically drained, sapping all motivation for exercise and meal planning. When this happens, it's perfectly fine to listen to your body and take a break. In the meantime, it’s helpful to use the additional practices below. 

4. Sleep Sabotage:

Stress can either trigger or exacerbate difficulties in falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or attaining a restful, deep sleep. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Sleep disturbances not only interfere with your body's recovery from exercise but also wreak havoc on hunger hormones and a whole bunch of things we've already covered. The question arises: Is poor sleep causing stress, or is stress causing disruptions in your sleep patterns? Consider addressing the root cause of what’s got you up at night and/or go to bed earlier, use blackout shades or a sleep mask, avoid screens before bedtime, or try sleep-promoting supplements.

5. Hormonal Imbalances:

Constant chronic stress can throw your hormones out of balance, messing with things like your menstrual cycles, fertility, and how your body handles insulin and thyroid functions. Often, these signs sneak up on you quietly and get worse little by little until you just can't brush them off any longer. To tackle this, you've got to take a well-rounded approach, looking at your lifestyle, nutrition, and mental well-being — most of which we’ll cover in this course. But hey, coming from someone who's had their fair share of hormonal imbalance struggles, I strongly suggest seeking some one-on-one support from different specialists, whether it's a therapist, ob/gyn, functional medical doctor, thyroid specialist, or whoever fits the glass slipper.

6. Weight Fluctuation OR Stalled Progress:

Elevated stress levels can put a damper on your fitness and nutrition journey by slowing down your metabolism and impeding muscle repair. This might manifest as drastic weight fluctuations—either gain or loss—or a frustrating weight plateau. I've witnessed this firsthand with clients facing the challenges of losing a loved one, job uncertainties, or even relocating across the country. If you find yourself in a similar situation, consider seeking mental health support, and be patient with the process. Reaching fitness goals will be smoother and more rewarding when external stressors are dialed down. 

Additional Signs of Stress: 

  • Skin Conditions: like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and hives.
  • Muscle Tension and Pain: leading to headaches, neck pain, and back pain.
  • Weakened Immune System: making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Cardiovascular Issues: including high blood pressure.
  • Hair Loss or Thinning
  • Cognitive Impairment: memory issues, difficulty concentrating, and mental fog.
  • Emotional Changes: anxiety, depression, mood swings, and irritability

When you're dealing with these stress issues, it's important to get to the root of the problem and ease up on the added stress that can come from your diet and exercise routines. While we can't always control external stressors, we can tweak how we approach our workouts and what we eat to find a better balance. If it helps, instead of thinking of them as stressors, see them as tools to create more harmony. Adjust the intensity of your workouts, throw in some relaxation techniques, and embrace mindful eating to make choices that lead to a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.🧘🏻‍♀️💆🏻‍♀️

Additional practices to help manage stress:

  • 💊Supplement with magnesium: it is known for magical stress-reducing properties. Opt for magnesium glycinate, known for being the most absorbable form available. I also like using this topical spray.
  • 😮‍💨Breathing: When out-breaths are longer than in-breaths, it slows the heart rate and calms the body.
  • ✍🏼Journaling: Whether it’s brain dumping or using appropriate prompts. I like to use DayOne
  • 🤝Turning to others: Whether that's family, friends, or professionals
  • 🎧Guided meditation: Full-on meditation is a bit too "out there" for me for a while, but guided meditation is way easier. I like to use Insight Timer
  • 🤩Experiencing Awe: walks on the beach, mesmerizing performances, starry nights, or moments of sheer beauty. It's your ticket to escape the daily grind and embrace the grandeur around you.
  • 🧘🏻‍♀️Slow and low intensity movement like walking, stretching, and Vinyasa Yoga
  • Nervous System Regulation Practices like EFT tapping and vagus nerve stimulation

Complete and Continue