Stressed out? Constantly frustrated, tired, depressed? Don’t be surprised if you come down with something. Even if you don’t notice it, our mental health can directly affect our physical health and research shows that stress has a direct impact on weakening the immune system.
Most of us spend our days putting out fires and trying to control stress. Whether it’s handling household tasks, responding to work demands or wiping little noses, our lives are full of stress.
Here’s the thing…
Many of us thrive on those demands. We’re wired to put other people first and tackle epic to-do lists.
That is, until our energy runs out and we realize we don’t have anything left to help ourselves. One day we find ourselves mentally and emotionally drained, craving sugar and junk, canceling our workouts and feeling run down.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to break the cycle.
Control Stress for a Happy Gut
Before we dive into a few realistic tips to help you reduce stress. I just want to touch on how stress affects our gut. Most of us know that stress affects our nervous system, but many of us may not realize how much stress can affect our digestive system.
Did you know that you have more nerve cells in your bowel than in your spine. 80-90% of serotonin is made in our gut.
Healthy gut = happy you.
Under normal circumstances, our digestive system goes about its daily task of breaking down food and sending nutrients to our body while preventing the entry of toxins. But, when distressed, we experience permeability in our gut wall, and it can also lead to irritation and inflammation.
Now our gut can’t act in our defense.
Our gut communicates with every cell in our body, which means that disruptions in the gut can show up as disruptions in the brain (and vice versa). Stress (both acute and chronic) directly influences gut health and can manifest itself as seemingly unrelated symptoms such as night sweats, joint pain, headaches, fatigue, fever, etc.
In addition to learning how to control stress with the strategies listed below, we can take control of gut distress by removing common food offenders such as:
- Lectins– This is a type of protein most commonly found in grains, legumes and peanuts that are categorized as anti-nutrients since they block the absorption of some nutrients.
- Gluten– Commonly found in found in wheat, rye, and other grains, gluten is pretty much a buzz-word now (and requires its own post), but can lead to leaky gut, inflammation and limit nutrient absorption. Many of us are gluten intolerant and may not even realize it.
- Casein, lactose, and other immunoglobulins in dairy. It’s estimated that between 65-75% of us are genetically unable to properly digest dairy. Being lactose intolerant can lead to digestive problems, headaches, irritated skin and in increase in mucus.
Get the root cause of your gut troubles. Take the time to learn about your body and what it’s trying to tell you through symptoms.
True, for some people, especially athletes, small doses of stress can stoke the fire for performance-driven motivation, alertness and focus. But, too much stress can end up having the opposite effect and lead to digestion troubles, increased anxiety, poor sleep quality and a depressed immune function which can potentially lead to some pretty serious health consequences.
From clearing out the clutter and getting outside to laughing more and spending time with a loved one, here’s how you can find a greater sense of calm and clarity in your day.
Clear the Clutter
Being in any space where we have more things in front of us than we can manage, sends a visual message that our life is out of control. That can be your closet, your office, your computer desktop, etc. For most, clutter leads to procrastination which in turn becomes chaos and added stress. This cycle repeats endlessly.
Declutter in 3,2,1…go:
- Tackle one (only one) small project and start with just 2 minutes at a time.
- If it doesn’t bring you joy (it’s neither useful or sentimental) get rid of it.
- If you feel like you just can’t part with it right now, put it in a box labelled with an expiration date. If you don’t open by the expiration date, give it away.
When was the last time you genuinely took some time to enjoy the sights, sounds and smell of nature? Research shows that ‘forest bathing,’ the practice of spending time in a wooded area is good for your mind, body and spirit.
Step outside for a moment and take 10 deep breaths, read, meditate, eat without distraction or even add in some exercise. Go for a bike ride, walk or jog…without your headphones, or even your phone.
It’s all about the state of mind that you achieve while you’re there. This will allow you to focus more on how your body feels, control stress and tap into the vital energy of the great outdoors, yes…even in the winter.
Connect With Loved Ones
If you ever needed a reason to schedule a date night, here it is!
Many of us have heard the advice before about how date nights can help keep relationships strong. But, we all know that’s easier said than done. Especially with kids. Especially during a pandemic.
So, be realistic about how it can work for you and your partner. Whether it’s simply sitting outside together after the kids have gone to bed to talk uninterrupted or scheduling a “walk and talk,” make a date with your partner…and make every effort not to cancel on each other.
Studies show that time invested in being alone — together, without the kids or the chores — results in happier couples. Plus, if that time alone is spent getting freaky, you could reduce the stress response even more, see a boost immunity, relieve pain and sleep better, too.
A good laugh can place most stressful issues into a different light and help turn something negative around.
It really is the best medicine for controlling stress.
Laughing increases endorphins released by your brain, stimulates circulation and aids in muscle relaxation, improves immune system and even relieves pain. But, we don’t need studies to tell us that laughing can help reduce anxiety and ease mental stress, making us happier, healthier and just more fun to be around!
Go ahead, read a funny joke…then share it with someone; watch a funny movie with a friend; or just act a little silly and experience a mood lift asap.
Take Control of Stress Before It Controls You
Take perspective of stressful situations surrounding you right now. If the nightly news elevates your heart rate, turn off the TV. If traffic makes you tense up, use that time to listen to something calming, listen to an educational podcast or audiobook.
If there something in your life that’s making you anxious, how can you focus your time and energy elsewhere and take control of your environment?
For example: choose a small section of your house to declutter, do the dishes, download a playlist for your drive to work.
Go ahead…do it now!