If I could fix anything for my clients with the wave of a magic wand, it would be stress. This is what most people struggle with when they’re not seeing their desired progress: too much stress.
This story about me last week will hopefully demonstrate what I mean.
Last week, I was in a car driving for most of the day Sunday and then got home that night fairly late after being gone for the weekend. This meant I went to bed late. I didn’t have time to prepare for the week as I usually do. Then I was up at 4:45am to coach the morning classes. I worked out afterwards, ran to the store on my way home, met with a local gym for an hour, then at 3pm I finally started my business work. I wasn’t done until 9pm that night, so I went to bed late…again…only to have to be up at 4:45am Tuesday for more coaching, another meeting with a local gym, and more coaching in the evening.
I’m a morning person and have always been one. Even though I work from home and make my own hours, I wake up every morning at 5:30am so I can get up and get grinding away. I’m most productive and I can turn off my phone and have no distractions. By the time I typically look up from my computer, I’ve written multiple blog posts, answered all my emails, finished my bills, organized my social media for the week, and it’s not even 9am yet.
Last Tuesday, though, I got home from the gym at 7:45pm, 15 hours after leaving my house that morning and was beat. I cooked dinner, turned off electronics, watched some TV to get my mind settled, and went to bed. I knew I should get up at 5:30am and begin the day… but I couldn’t. I knew I needed sleep and that my body needed to recover. Whatever work I had to do would get done better if I gave myself the time to sleep, so I turned off all alarms and slept in…until 7am. Fortunately, that Wednesday, I only had 1 class to coach and then decided to do a laid-back workout. When I got home, I finished my work for the day and turned my mind off immediately at 5pm. By this point, my body was screaming at me so I decided to take care of myself. I took an Epsom salt bath, diffused some essential oils, drank some Yogi Stress Away tea, ate 2 dinners (this will be important in a second), and read a book that my mom and I are reading together (yay mother daughter book club <3). I went to bed at 9pm and woke up at my usual 5:30am.
Guess what happened? Thursday morning I woke up and weighed myself… and lost three whole pounds… literally OVERNIGHT!
Scientifically, it is impossible to burn fat overnight. We monitor fat loss in weeks and months… not in hours or days.
So what was going on??
I STOPPED STRESSING AND ALLOWED MYSELF TO RECOVER!!
I recognized my body was wrecked on Tuesday. 1. I felt terrible and my eye was twitching. 2. My weight was up more than it usually is. Wednesday, I made it a priority to calm things down and get my body back to normal. I allowed myself to enjoy some self-care practices and lost all of the weight I had been carrying merely from being so stressed!
A couple months ago, one of my clients experienced the same thing. She had a crap week and noticed she was 6 lbs. heavier than she was when she weighed herself to check in with me. She and I have worked a lot on stress and so she took the weekend to calm down and take care of herself. By Monday the following week, she was down 7 lbs. and feeling so much better.
So what is the deal with stress then? Why does it exist? What happens when we are overstress? What causes stress? How can we control it?
Stress is any event or action that results in activity within your sympathetic nervous system by the release of cortisol (our stress hormone). This part of your body gives you the adrenaline to outrun a bear, lift a car off a child, or write your thesis overnight the day it is due. We need stress. Cortisol is what wakes us up in the morning and tapers off by the end of the day, allowing you to go into a restful sleep.
Stress is somewhat subjective. There are some objective events that cause cortisol to be released such as exercise, light (natural and artificial), and your natural biological clock waking you up during the day. The rest of stress, though, is mostly subjective. If you deem you’re stressed, then you will have a stress-response within your body. If you’re in traffic and getting worked up, you will have a stress response. If you’re running late to work and panicking the entire time like I used to do, you’ll have a stress response. A spider lands on you, stress response. You hate your job, the environment you live in or spend most of your time in, the people you surround yourself…massive stress response. Too little sleep… stress response. Eating too little food or too far apart…stress response.
The more stressed we are, the more time our sympathetic nervous system is working and the less time our parasympathetic nervous system gets to repair the damage. We end up going into overdrive and cortisol remains elevated in our bodies. When cortisol is elevated from stress, we end up retaining a lot more fluid in our muscles. We also start to crave sugar and sweets because our appetite is ramped up. Why? Because food is one of the keys to reducing those levels. However, if we’re not increasing our activity to match this increased intake, then this food will get stored as fat.
Did you know we have the most cortisol receptors on the lining of our stomachs? Ever seen a “pooch” on someone’s lower belly? Almost everyone has one. Even Camille LeBlanc Bazinet, 2014 Fittest on Earth has one. You know who doesn’t? People who manage their stress. That stomach pooch is not an indication of a weak core or even a poor diet. I would bet money that CLB has an amazing diet, yet she’s got the “power pooch”. It’s a sign of stress. That fluffy feeling you sometimes feel? That’s cortisol telling you to slow down.
This is because the more stress you have going on in your body, the more inflammation that is being created. Have you ever had a cut on your finger? It swells up, right? If we are overstressed, then our whole body is going to “swell” up like our finger does when there is a cut.
Don’t be discouraged, though. There are A TON of ways to manage your stress that let’s you live the life you want and need. I have had people tell me that professionals have advised them to quit their jobs, separate from their spouses, take a weight loss pill, etc. all to help manage their stress. Although there are definitely situations where these may be appropriate (except the weight-loss pill), we have so many other things to try first that are practical. I mean come on, you can’t tell a doctor to just stop being a doctor… unless they are ready to give that profession up.
10 ways to manage stress:
1. Yoga – this one at least once a week if not every day. Yin or vinyasa flow is going to get your parasympathetic system going and help tremendously with your recovery. Even if it’s just 5 minutes at your house where you do 10 sun salutations. Hot yoga doesn’t count because that is a sympathetic nervous system activity.
2. Meditate – even just 5 minutes/day sitting in a quiet space. Headspace is a great app to help you if you’re new to the meditation realm!
3. Sleep – get 8 hours/night and no less than 7 hours. Go check my most recent post for how much you should be sleeping/night.
4. EAT! Carbohydrates shut down the cortisol response. After you train, you HAVE to eat carbohydrates. During the day, you HAVE to eat food. The more you let your body experience blood sugar crashes and periods of fatigue and hunger, the more cortisol you’re letting your body release. Stop skipping meals. Stop punishing yourself for a treat by not eating for the rest of the day. Properly fuel your body.
5. Spend time with friends and loved ones. I can’t tell you how amazing I feel after a date night or after a gal’s night. Seriously, even though gal’s night means I don’t get to bed until 3 hours past my usual bedtime, I can’t tell you how amazing it feels the next day. I mean what’s better than 3 hours of laughing about the stupidest stuff??
6. Epsom salt baths – sooths achy muscles and gives you time to care for yourself. Read a book, drink some tea, watch scandalous TV shows, you do you.
7. Massages – get a good massage. One of the best ways to get into parasympathetic activity.
8. Walks out in nature – go for one long walk/week and/or 10 min walks every day. Get out in nature. I’m fortunate to have lived my first 20 years in the mountains and the past 2-3 at the beach. Even when I was in college, my roommates and I did weekly Sunday “mom-walks” and they were the best.
9. Chocolate – dark chocolate is actually really good for your cortisol levels… sign me up, right?
10. Mindset – this is a big one. Change how you view seemingly stressful events. South Carolina drivers are the worst. Driving stresses me out and now that I’ve moved further from downtown, I have a 20 minute drive. I use this time to jam to my favorite country songs, call my amazing mother and catch up on life with her, or simply turn off all music/distractions and just use the guaranteed 20 minutes to think and be present. Take negative and stressful events from your life and find a positive spin? Have to be up at 4:45am? Use that time to enjoy being up when no one else is up! Turn off your phone and jam some tunes or simply grind away at work. You’ll be amazed at how many “bad” things can be turned positive.
You may feel resistant at first about changing old habits, but if your weight-loss has stalled and you’re at a loss of things to do, give these a shot. Not only are most of them free, but they’re guaranteed to help you. Think of all the stress you feel now and then imagine how much better you would feel if they were all gone?
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