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Stress Sucks (the life out of you)!

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Dr Libby Weaver coined the phrase “Rushing Woman’s Syndrome” and wrote a book about how to manage your time more effectively.  http://www.amazon.com/Rushing-Womans-Syndrome-Libby-Weaver-ebook/dp/B008N2KUWK   

My clients are all women over the age of 45.  They’re working, generally have a family, and have numerous commitments over and above those two things.  They rush, rush, rush.  Like most women, they all put everyone ahead of themselves.  What does this do?  It means that they are stressed, fatigued, constantly in a ‘fight or flight’ state in their bodies and end up running around like crazy all day, every day.  Where’s the time to think about what they need for a balanced life?

So how does all this affect your body?  The physical response that we have hasn’t changed from when our early ancestors were struggling to survive in the world.

 

These days we don’t have tigers chasing us but we have a lot of stress.  Our stress coping mechanism is the ‘fight or flight’ response which floods our bodies with adrenaline and other hormones that raise our blood pressure, speed up our heartbeat, tense muscles and put other systems on alert.  Our metabolism quickens to provide extra energy (for running away!); digestion stops as blood is diverted from the intestines to the muscles.

 

In a nutshell:

  • After your fight or flight response your central nervous system should settle down and get back to normal.  If you’re under constant stress, the CNS can’t return to normal which takes a toll on your body.  Symptoms of chronic stress include irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia.
  • Stress hormones affect your respiratory and cardiovascular systems.  Frequent stress makes your heart work too hard for too long, resulting in increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack.
  • Your liver produces extra blood sugar when you are under stress to give you a boost of energy.  Unused blood sugar is reabsorbed into the body.  If you are under chronic stress, your body may be unable to keep up with the extra glucose and you could have an increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.  It also means that you can put on weight or are unable to lose it.  You can also suffer from heartburn or acid reflux which may cause abdominal pain, stomach ulcers, diarrhea or constipation.
  • Your muscles tense up under stress and if the stress is relentless they don’t get a chance to relax which leads to aches and pains.  Over time you may stop exercising and turn to pain medication. 
  • In women, stress can affect the menstrual cycle and the physical symptoms of menopause can be magnified under chronic stress.  In both sexes, it is not unusual to lose your desire for sex.
  • Stress stimulates the immune system which, in the short term, is good as it helps keep infection at bay and heals wounds.  Over time, if cortisol is continually in your body, your immune system is compromised and you are more susceptible to viruses such as flu and the common cold.  It can also increase the time it takes to recover.

So what can you do?

Prioritise!  Don’t try to do absolutely everything in one day.

I use an analogy with my clients about stones and gravel fitting into a jar.  The stones represent the things that you do in the day that will give you a balanced life, eg. I need to meditate for 10 minutes every day for my sanity and the safety of those around me!  The gravel is then poured in and around the large stones.  This is the stuff that you might get to but doesn’t necessarily have to be done today.  You could postpone it, eg. cleaning the finger marks off the glass door, mopping the floors or volunteering to bake a cake for yet another charity cake stall.  But, if you do all the gravelly things first, what room do you have for the big stones?  They don’t fit in the jar; we get stressed and then the things you need to do for your healthy life get pushed to the wayside and you just get more stressed.

You are important.  Your health is important.  Without your health you have nothing and then your family don’t have you.  They have a red faced basket-case to deal with who is unhappy with herself and getting more tired and pissed off by the minute. 

Take a leaf out of Lucille's book:

  • Learn to say "No".  Do you really want to do what you've just been asked to do by your friend, or are being coerced into by your kids? No? Then say say so.
  • Find time every day to be on your own to be quiet, to read, to lie on your bed and deep breathe – whatever it is you need to keep you sane. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
  • Do a 10 or 15 minute meditation every day.  I find it very hard to quieten my mind to meditate so I use a phone app called “Calm” which teaches you how to meditate and then does ‘guided’ meditations with you so you’re not just left alone with your eyes shut trying to not think.  I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier than I have to get up and sit and do one in bed to help set me up for the day. http://www.calm.com/
  • Exercise.  Work out a schedule for your week of what and when you will do to get your feel good hormone fix.  Don’t say you haven’t got the energy.  Expending energy in exercising creates more energy.  Truth.
  • Eat well.  Plan your meals and shop accordingly.  Always have good, healthy food in the house and avoid sugar.  Sugar will give you a high for 5 minutes and then you’ll crash again and feel even worse than you did before.
  • Sleep.  Just go to bed earlier and get lots of it - sleep that is!
  • Try not to drink alcohol regularly.  This can exacerbate your mood and interfere with your sleep.  Try to restrict yourself to one or two glasses of wine once or twice per week.
  • Make quality time with your family and friends.  What's the biggest thing to reduce heart attack and cancer and to increase longevity? Good relationships and a sense of belonging and community.

If you invest in yourself, it's an investment in your family, too.  You are important; prioritise YOU!