How stress blocks us from reaching our health goals
We have all heard about the whole ‘work-life-balance’ saying and most of us aim to achieve this in some way or another, but I can tell you the majority of people I work with prioritize work over their health.
I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with someone that really wants to see changes in their health, but their work consumes their schedule. The same thing ends up happening – we work on changing their diet to one that is whole foods based, they start exercising, and overall they start to notice small differences in their energy, their skin, their digestion improves, however, the familiar pattern I see is that their waist line stays the same.
What people don’t understand is that working long hours and having it consume you, greatly impacts stress levels (ps- this can also apply to having family). I am going to use my client Janice here as an example, try and see if you resonate with her daily routine.
Before Janice gets out of bed in the morning, she is already on her phone checking her emails. She gets her first hit of cortisol before her feet even touch the ground. She showers and gets ready while thinking about all of the things she needs to get done. She enters her workplace, and works solidly until 2:30pm, not even realizing she hasn’t taken a break yet. When she stops she realizes that she is starving. She quickly eats her lunch at her desk while she works, barely paying attention to what she is doing. The rest of the afternoon carries on and she gets home around 6:30pm. She can feel the charge of energy in her and she feels wired, but also tired. She eats while she watches TV, sometimes takes a call after dinner, regardless the thoughts and worries of the day are circulating around in her head. She goes straight from the screen to her bed. She is so exhausted that she falls asleep immediately, but wakes up at 3am unable to sleep because her nervous system is so wired. She then repeats it all the next day.
Sounds exhausting when you read it right?
I can’t tell you how many women I have worked with that tell me this is their story, whether the time is being spent at work, taking care of their family or both. Stress has been proven to increase our weight and is the number one cause of disease. What happens is that our body over produces cortisol which causes our blood sugar levels to rise. Our blood sugar levels cause insulin to spike, which makes us store more fat, especially around the midsection. Excess cortisol offsets our other hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The general trend is that our estrogen levels increase, and estrogen make us gain more weight. What’s even worse is that this becomes a vicious cycle. The more fat cells we have, the more estrogen we produce, the more fat we store. On top of that cycle going on, the more blood sugar spikes from stress and processed food, the more our hunger hormones are offset, which causes us to not get the signal that we are full, ultimately leaving us to crave and eat more food. It is a lose-lose situation all around folks.
Weight is more complicated than you may think, and I can’t stress enough how the whole “eat less, exercise more” belief does not work. Believing this is true, makes us end up disappointed and causes us to feel like we are the problem. How many times have you said to yourself “why can’t I just stick to my diet, what is wrong with me”? This belief puts too much pressure on one factor. Human beings are complex, and we need to look at the whole picture in order to get the results you want. PS- this is how our negative relationship with food starts because we put so much emphasis on it.
Here are a few things to think about in this scenario:
1- Our body needs to be in a state where it is able to lose weight. When we have cortisol soaring through our body and our nervous system is on overload, there is very little chance that your hormones would be in a state to release weight. Our hormones play an important role in weight loss as I showed you in the example above.
2- Don’t you feel tight just reading about that person’s day? I’m pretty sure my tension level increased as I wrote it. There is an energetic quality to this type of stress. The energy is tense, constricting, and holding in. If you don’t think energy would make a difference, then guess again! We are literally made up of energy, so the quality of it has an impact on our body.
3- In this scenario, this person is consumed by work. In other words, they are a workaholic. You may be thinking, no way! Working hard is a good thing… but think again. People get addicted to all sort of things that may seem good, but the purpose is to escape or distract themselves. Some (not all) of the most common reasons I see people get addicted to work are:
a. The other areas of their life are harder for them to deal with, so they bury themselves in work.
b. They have a subconscious belief that they need to prove themselves or learnt at a young age that getting to a certain level of success would make them ‘good enough’ in their parents’ eyes.
c. Focusing on their health or putting energy towards themselves is an uncomfortable feeling they avoid. They focus on helping others, in an attempt to avoid looking at their own needs.
d. They feel that they are so far gone, that it feels impossible to get to where they want to be. This discourages them from looking at the areas of their life that need work, so they stick to what they are good at, which is work and tending to other people.
If you resonate with Janice’s story, and you know that your stress levels are negatively impacting your health, then here is an exercise you can do. You may be expecting that I will tell you to go for more walks or to meditate, but I am going to get you to do something that will be even more impactful. Don’t get me wrong, adding in stress-relieving practices into our routines is extremely important for management of stress all around, but if we don’t get to the root of our stress, not much will change, and we will be constantly trying to manage the same stress levels.
1. Get a piece of paper and a pen. Pick the top 2-3 areas of your life that are causing you stress.
2. Write a few points under each of them and write down why this area of your life is causing you so much stress.
3. Now pick one area – the one that has the most charge for you. Ask yourself, if one thing changed in this area, that would make a difference to my stress levels, even if it seems really small, what would that one thing be?
4. Take the necessary actions when you’re ready to work on this small step towards decreasing stress in this area of your life.
5. If you are feeling inspired, you are welcome to do this in the other areas you wrote down. Remember that small changes add up to big differences over time. We don’t need to do something drastic to in order to see the benefits we want.