You roll out of bed exhausted — but there’s no way you are skipping the 60 minute Peloton ride you have planned. So, you head down to the bike and push your hardest through the workout, always chasing your PR. You finish feeling great but by 3pm you are crashing. You spend the afternoon tired, groggy and unable to focus. Luckily, your second wind kicks in after dinner and then it’s full speed ahead until you hit the pillow at midnight. You wake the next morning and do it all over again. Sound familiar?
We live in a world where pushing ourselves to the limit is the norm and rest is relegated to that one week per year we can spend on a beach somewhere. But what’s missing in this fast paced world is the pitstop for refueling our bodies so desperately need. Our bodies tell us on a regular basis what is needed to stay healthy, happy and functioning optimally. Unfortunately, many ignore the clues until they turn into symptoms that are harder to ignore. Let’s discuss how we know that our body is stressed out and some possible ways to bring it back into homeostasis.
The constant grind puts us in a state of chronic stress. When we experience stress, our bodies go into a “fight-or-flight” response triggered by our sympathetic nervous system. This stress response is the same whether we are being chased by a tiger, trying to meet a tight work deadline or even running late to meet some friends.
And while being able to push through challenges can build emotional resiliency —living in a state of constant stress will eventually take a toll on your overall health. Chronic stress is linked to many diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. Taking a step back and allowing for recovery will actually be of more benefit in the end.
What are some of the ways our bodies speak to us?
- Physical symptoms: Sore, tense muscles, a racing heart, clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep, a nervous stomach, insomnia, frequent illness, low libido — these are just a few of the physical signs that the body gives to tell you that something isn’t quite right.
- Emotional symptoms: If you find that you are lacking motivation, are easily upset or moody, experience a racing mind, constant worry or brain fog, these are symptoms that your body is in a stressed state.
- Behavioral symptoms: Do you tend to stress eat? Or maybe you unwind with a few too many drinks at the end of the day? Overconsumption of sugary, processed foods, emotional overeating and alcohol abuse tend to be more prominent under stress.
Tune in and chill out…
- More isn’t always better when it comes to exercise. If you are tired, a rest and recovery day may be in order. Take a walk outside, do some restorative yoga or stretching. Pushing through the fatigue places more stress on the body and will set you back in the end. If your goal is weight loss, the added stress means increased cortisol, which in turn, inhibits weight loss. If your goal is building muscle, you could be risking injury. Take a few days off and you’ll be amazed at the strength and endurance you feel when you return to the gym! But on the flip side, if you’ve slept great and you feel rested and energized — absolutely go for that max on the bench. If you are someone who hits the gym no matter what, there is nothing wrong with proceeding as planned. Do a few squats with the bar. Feel ok? Cool…keep going. Feel fatigued and your form is suffering? Back off. It’s that simple. Listening to your body also means knowing when you can and can’t push yourself —so if you can, go rock that workout!
- Prioritize sleep. I know this is easier said than done - but I promise you will feel better if you choose to go to bed and not watch “just one more” episode of that Netflix show. Sleep is important for rest, recovery and regeneration. It benefits our cognitive and mental health, metabolism, cardiovascular system and more. Work on your sleep hygiene — turn off your phone, try to hit the pillow at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning.
- Fix your diet. Every individual has different dietary needs so what is right for one may not work for another. However, what is universal is that a diet rich in real, whole, nutrient-dense foods is the best choice. Processed, sugary foods lead to inflammation and stress on the body. Prioritize protein and balance the plate with carbs from a colorful mix of veggies and a serving of healthy fats, such as avocado or good quality olive oil.
- Eat in a state of calm. Digestion is impaired when we are stressed. Eating on the run, while working or standing at the kitchen counter is the norm for so many. However, doing so puts us in that “fight or flight” stage. If our body is busy producing stress hormones to deal with whatever urgency there is, it reduces blood flow for digestion and that process suffers. Proper digestion is critically important to every other process in the body. If we can’t digest, break down and absorb the food we eat, everything else will suffer. Before eating, take a few deep breaths, turn off your phone and sit comfortably. All of these steps will help to put you in a parasympathetic state, also known as the “rest & digest” state.
- Keep a journal. When I’m first working with clients, I often ask them to keep a “Food & Mood” journal. Many people track their food with apps like My Fitness Pal, which can be a great tool. What I ask takes this a step further. It incorporates how you feel throughout the day and can be great for finding patterns. Had some oatmeal for breakfast then felt fatigued a few hours later? Probably a sign you needed to balance that breakfast a bit more with a few eggs and some avocado. Struggled to fall asleep? It could be that red wine you had a little too close to bed time. A journal can help you become aware of how your body is feeling and what you can do to feel your best.
- Practice Meditation. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Even 5 minutes in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. And remember — that’s why it’s called a practice. Sitting still and quiet is not easy but will become easier the more you do it. By adding this to your day, you may find that over time, you have an easier time of tuning in to your body’s cues.
- Incorporate stress relieving foods. Stress causes an inflammatory cascade in the body. One way to protect yourself from the effects of that is to eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids. Foods like salmon, oysters, walnuts and pastured eggs are great sources. Consider foods high in antioxidants like blueberries, artichokes and even dark chocolate. And finally foods rich in Magnesium, as this mineral has been shown to help regulate mood and emotions. Food such as pumpkin seeds, almonds and dark, leafy greens are great choices.
- Add targeted supplements. There are a number of vitamins, minerals and herbs that have been shown to have positive effects on stress reduction. Here are just a few:
- Magnesium Taurate tends to be calming and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain.
- Magnesium Glycinate can improve sleep quality and act on neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Magnesium Malate is one of the better absorbed forms and can be helpful with symptoms of fatigue.
When starting any new supplement, it is important to consult your healthcare provider.
Even though the world moves at breakneck speed, it is critically important to take the time to slow down a bit and tune in to your body. Over the next week, take a walk outside, sit and meditate or just even take a few slow, deep breaths before you sit down to dinner. You may just be able to hear what your body is trying to tell you.