You consider yourself a clean eater, you exercise, you buy organic kale and make a big smoothie every morning, yet that dreaded muffin top still lingers.
Cortisol, our stress hormone, can take over many of our systems, including digestion, our sleep-wake cycle, reproduction, even our immune system. It is our flight-or-flight response that gets us through our next stressful meeting at work, that presentation that your next big account relies on, even when you got maybe 4 hours of broken sleep. How do you think we manage to get through these stressful moments? Cortisol.
We need cortisol! We produce it for very good reason- it keeps us alive. But, when cortisol is high due to chronic stress (the stress that is not managed and always exists), our body goes in to crisis mode and starts to store fat as a reserve for the next crisis you might face. And, this fat is in the belly.
We can’t always take the stress away. Unless you quit your job, go live under a rock or in a hammock on the beach in Bali, we will encounter stress. The difference is how you manage your stress. As a Health Coach who presents Workplace Wellness programs in Vancouver offices, I know that chronic stress and burnout exists. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome due to unmanaged chronic stress. So, how do we manage stress?
Adaptogens: Herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola, and holy basil have specific therapeutic effects relating to stress. You can incorporate them into teas, baking, tinctures, and supplements. Try this Moon Milk before bed to help relax and regulate those cortisol levels.
Meditation: The power of meditation is huge. It’s a time to be still, become aware of your body, surroundings and thoughts, slow your heart rate down and clear your mind. Even a few minutes during your coffee break is an effective way to re-set and go on with your day with a new mindset. Try this 5 minute coffee break meditation this week.
Gratitude Journal: Sometimes, when we are stressed, there doesn’t seem to be much to be grateful about. We only see the negative and those thoughts can take over…”I’m too busy to make a nice meal”, “I never get to go to the spa with my schedule”, “I don’t get to enjoy the nice things I work so hard for”. Taking the time to journal is as important as taking the time to “enjoy your nice things” or schedule in a spa treatment. Simply keep a journal by your bed and commit to writing one, two, or three things you are grateful for today.
Gentle Movement: Yoga, walking, swimming, gardening, forest bathing are all gentle ways to move your body, reduce stress and clear the mind. Many find rigorous exercise, especially when you are chronically stressed, to be too stimulating. Focus on quieting and slowing down with your movements, but know that you are still cleansing and grounding yourself through breathing.
Eat your vitamins: Vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, and squash will help to keep your immune system up. Remember, when cortisol is high from chronic stress, your immune system is suppressed. This is why we often get sick once we finally go on vacation. We are so stressed to finish work and get it all done before we travel, so, by the time we put our feet in the sand with a Margarita in hand, we start to feel the aching neck and tickle in the throat. During times of stress, focus on your immune system, and eat the rainbow.
Meal plan: I cannot stress enough how much meal planning, and a bit of prep, reduces stress immensely. I often suggest to my clients to not plan a whole week of meals, if that feel overwhelming. Take a Saturday or Sunday to plan out just 3 days of meals, with grocery list. Come home with your ingredients and prep just some of those meals and snacks. Maybe it’s roasting a big tray of veggies that you will use in all 3 of those meals, or maybe it’s baking a batch of healthy muffins for the week. Give it a try! You will feel so much more prepared when you get home from that busy day, plus your dietary choices are that much healthier when you aren’t stopping through the drive-through on your way home because you’re too tired to cook.
Get your zzzz: I’m talking about quality sleep here. When cortisol is high, you won’t produce melatonin, which we need in order to fall asleep. Create a sleep hygiene routine for yourself that is consistent, if possible. Eat dinner earlier so your body can rest and repair during sleep, instead of digesting a big meal. Draw a bath, meditate, journal, do a little prep for tomorrow so your morning is less stressed, and sip on some herbal tea.
Here is to a less stressful week ahead! Be easy on yourself. You are doing the best you can.