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  • Writer's pictureJackie Morrill-Faucher

Take control of your stress

Stress can be overwhelming and will take over your life if you let it.  It can affect your mental and physical health, as well as your relationships and work.  However, it's important to remember that you have the power to take control of your stress levels and not let it ruin your life.  With the right tools and techniques, you can manage your stress and live a happier, healthier life.  Don't let stress dictate your life – take charge and live your best life. There seem to be two kinds of people and their thoughts regarding stress.  1) Those who deny having any stress or say that it is always very low, or 2) People who see everything as stressful and truly feel that stress is 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5, but think that they are handling it very well.  In this article, we’ll discuss why a little stress is good, but chronic stress is not.  We'll also talk about how to handle stress on a day-to-day basis so that it doesn't become a problem for you.

First, we should talk about the two types of stress:  Positive and negative, and a couple of different kinds within those two types.  Positive stress is stress that helps us in some way or ways.  It could be that it motivates us  - getting on the scale and seeing results could motivate us to eat right again today.  Feeling physical pain could remind us and motivate us to continue exercise or physical therapy to heal it.  Exercise itself is another type of stress - internal and under most circumstances positive. It helps our body rebuild and regenerate cells which helps our entire body as well as our immune system which is another benefit of acute stress:  For the first hour of stress there is an increase in immune system response in white blood cells, but that disappears after about an hour. I mentioned that exercise is a positive internal stress because the stress happens inside our bodies on a cellular level.  Remembering that some stress (about an hour's worth) is beneficial, we'll move next to when and why stress become harmful (negative) and how to deal with it.

Negative or harmful stress can be broken down further to internal and external.  Internal stress can be from things like unrealistic expectations, uncertainties, low self esteem and apprehensions about situations. External stress can be caused by relationships, work, school, social pressure, diet (if you eat the wrong foods it WILL cause physical stress on your body), lack of sleep, etcetera. Chronic negative stress takes a toll on our immune system, increasing our risk of developing an autoimmune disease (where our body attacks itself), heart disease, weight gain, and addiction.  Stress also causes our bodies to release chemicals (hormones) to help us get through the challenge.  Two of the biggest hormones released are cortisol and adrenaline – and cortisol is directly to blame for belly fat.  Unbeknownst to most people though, at the same time the fight or flight system is being activated in response to our stress, our body is releasing another hormone not usually associated with stress -oxytocin.  That's right, when stressed your body releases the cuddle hormone to encourage you to seek out other people.  Not surprisingly women have more oxytocin than men, which may be part of why they (in general) prefer to talk about their stresses or problems more so than men do. We know that some stress can be good and that too much or chronic stress can be bad, but research has now shown that how we view our stress is as actually as harmful for us as the stress itself.  In a study of 30,000 people over eight years, researchers found that people had a 43% higher risk of dying if they believed their stress was harmful. Wow! Just believing that the stress was harmful caused a significantly higher risk of death.  Conversely, there was a study done in which some of the participants were told that their physiological responses to the stress (increased heart rate, increased respiration) were good, and in those people, their bodies responded differently - blood vessels stayed open and didn't constrict.  So blood pressure stayed lower among other positive outcomes. 

So how should we deal with our stress to gain the most positives from it while minimizing the negative consequences?  I'll break this into two parts, each with a few things you can do to help your mental state with stress and help your body deal with its physiological responses. 

1.) First, deal with the stress. 

- Take constant stock of what’s going on in your life and prioritize everything. Not everything can happen right now, or today, and not everything is an A priority.    Remember that your body and brain are less capable of handling busy when you are in stress response.  Stress hormones inhibit the executive function of the prefrontal cortex.

Our ancestors had far fewer stressors than we do, and if stress came into their lives they needed to fight or flee, not much thinking was required, so executive thinking shut down.  Studies have shown that people who can't prioritize have twice as much stress hormones in their blood!

  - Expect (and plan for) the unexpected!  The Boy Scout motto is to be prepared, and any good leadership course will tell you to plan for contingencies.  Look at your upcoming day, week, or month:  Try to identify anything that could go wrong, and plan for it.  Do meal planning and prep on weekends when there is time so that Wednesday night dinner is a snap.  Find ways to reduce options and decisions – especially for the end of the day when you don't feel like thinking or deciding anymore.  Put easily misplaced items, like keys, headphones, or wallet, in the same place every time - and if that place isn't convenient, move it.  Keep items that you use at the same time together.

Then, when it's time to go to the gym you only have to go to one spot to grab everything.   Sounds counterintuitive; but if you’re prepared for the worst, then it won't be so bad when it comes and you start dealing with it.  The worst is what you haven’t planned for.

  - Get out of your head.  Psychologists and counselors use the term catastrophizing and we’re probably all a little guilty of envisioning the worst possible outcome.  We all get scared in stressful situations – it can be overwhelming, but it's what you do next and how you respond that matters.  There are almost as many techniques for this as there are people and what works for you may be different for the different situations. One great way is a simple two-minute breathing exercise or meditation – it will take your body out of stress response and free up your prefrontal cortex to do some more serious thinking and make good decisions.  If the stress is less immediate a great way to get out of your head is to focus on helping someone else.  Either doing something for someone or just listening to and talking with someone who may have a lot on their mind.  Try it out and if you can't think of or find someone to help consider some of the volunteer opportunities in your community. 

  - Get in tune with your stress or stressors.  If you know what eats away at you, or makes you tense you’ll be more able to deal with it and reduce its hold over you and therefore how many hormones your body shoots out in response to it.  Get into your stress - remembering that some stress can be positive and that it motivates us, helps us get stronger, or even reminds us to take a break. We also need to be welcoming of the physiological changes that stress causes and recognize that they prepare our bodies to deal with the stress and that if we view these responses as good, our blood vessels stay open and dilated so that we have fewer negative effects from the stress.  Again, people who viewed their stress as bad for them were 43% more likely to die early.

2.) Give your body the best chance of fighting back against stress:

-Create and follow a good eating plan. Eating a balanced healthy diet, consistently, is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.  By balancing our blood sugar and eliminating the blood sugar roller coaster, we eliminate a huge internal source of stress as well as give our bodies the tools to cope with stress as it comes, as well as tools to recover and rebuild from it after the fact.  While you're at it consider adding nutritional yeast to your diet. Studies show that supplementing the diet with the amount of beta-glucan in one to two teaspoons of nutritional yeast combined with exercise improves the immune response to the common cold by reducing the severity and number of symptoms.

             -Hydrate.  There is a reason this comes up in almost every blog - it's important!!  Our bodies are more than 60 percent water, and most mature adults lose 2.5 to 3 quarts of water per day.  The best way to replenish that is to drink water!  The easiest recommendation is still eight glasses a day:

If you're a big person eight big glasses, if you're a small person eight small glasses :-)  Being properly hydrated improves everything from sleep to digestion and bowel function to cognitive ability.

-Finally, sleep.  More than 90% of people NEED 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.  Read that again – 90% of people need 7-9 hours sleep per night. If you think you’re special because you ‘only need’ six, you might want to think that through again. Getting less sleep than needed puts your body in a stress response, disturbs blood sugar balance and cognitive ability, and disrupts cell rebuilding and regeneration. That's right: Lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes.  People getting less than their needed amount of sleep also perform more poorly on cognitive tests. You are doing your physical and mental health a disservice if you aren't sleeping enough. How do you know if you are?  You should be sleeping enough that you would wake up without the alarm most of the time. Can't get that much during the week? Make it a priority to add 30 minutes or an hour per night for a week.  Your body will thank you and when you see the difference, you'll start looking for ways to keep that extra sleep in your schedule.


Stress is all around us.  It’s there every day and has been for tens of thousands of years.  We may not have to respond to Saber tooth tigers chasing us anymore, but our physiological responses to things like juggling our schedules, kids’ school activities, work, finances, family, and social connections are just as stressful to modern man as the tiger was to our ancestors.  So too can be having to give a speech or respond to a letter from the IRS.  Hopefully this article has given you some insight into what stress is how it affects us and how to deal with it, proactively, and after the fact. 

Written By: Doug Davis, CHC

If you're interested in a more in-depth look at your stress and how to deal with it, reach out and schedule a free consultation.

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Mar 11


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