Feeling a little stressed out? You aren’t alone.

Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s the kids. Or it’s the economy. Maybe it’s that high-drama family situation that gets your blood boiling every time you think about it or the highly-charged political climate that has everyone at each other’s throats. 

But whatever the cause, chances are your STRESS is actually making everything worse….including your health.

And that means that the question isn’t really, “are you stressed,” but rather, “what can you about being stressed out?” 

Are you ready to create the ultimate 12-month blueprint for reaching your health & weight loss goals this coming year?

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That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today!

We’re taking a deep dive into this issue of chronic stress, how it impacts our health, and what we can actually do to help DEstress ourselves in order to live a healthier, happier life.

Stressed Out? You’re Not Alone.

Today I want to talk about a topic that affects nearly ALL of us on a daily basis, regardless of your age, weight, sex, or any other factor.

It’s STRESS, and it’s a big deal—now more than ever before.

According to the American Psychological Association, 76% of Americans report feeling stress that affects us physically somehow. If that wasn’t bad enough, 33% (basically one-third of the population) consider their stress levels to be “extreme.” 

More than half of us—55%—say we feel stressed on a daily basis. And two thirds of us—73%—feel like our stress impacts our mental health. 

That’s a LOT of stress, you guys! 

The Impact Feeling Stressed Has On Our Health

We’re literally DROWNING in a sea of stress! And not surprisingly, all that chronic stress has a BIG impact on our health.

In fact, stress has been linked to a wide range of health problems and diseases, including: 

  • depression and anxiety
  • high blood pressure 
  • high cholesterol
  • migraine headaches
  • digestive problems
  • heart disease

…and the list goes on.

So what can we do about it? How can we DE-stress ourselves and get our health back on track?

The Stress Doom Cycle

Honestly, there’s a part of me that hates talking about stress because I almost feel like just using the WORD “stress” can instantly make us feel MORE stressed out. Do you know what I mean? 

It always feels like one of those things that the more you focus on it, the worse it gets.

It’s like a doom cycle. You feel stressed, so you start focusing on how stressed you are. You start saying things like “I’m so stressed, I’m so overwhelmed,” and then it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And yet, I think we HAVE to talk about it—hopefully in a productive way—because it really is a big deal that affects SO many of us on a daily basis. 

And it’s impacting our health in a big way.

Taking steps towards improving your health—like reading this blog—is a good start. Changing the way that you eat, cutting out sugar and carbohydrates, adding in more healthy fat and working on healing your gut– that’s important. 

But, if you’re NOT dealing with any of the underlying chronic stress that’s impacting your health in a big way, it’s going to be that much harder to make real progress. You won’t see the results.

Because honestly, it’s all connected.

What is chronic stress?

I think it’s important to start with a clear definition of what we’re talking about here so that we’re all on the same page. Because the reality is that not all stress is created equal. So what is stress?

Stress, as a general term, is our body’s response to any kind of demand or threat. 

It can be something that’s external—like a job interview, an argument with a friend, or the traffic jam we got stuck in on the way home from work. Or it can be something internal, like worrying about money or feeling overwhelmed by all of your responsibilities.

Whatever the source, stress is basically the body’s response to these demands and releases flood of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that increase our heart rate and blood pressure, suppress our immune system, and cause us to go into a “fight-or-flight” mode. 

This was an incredibly useful response back in the day when we were cavemen and had to literally fight or flee from physical threats. But these days, most stressors we face are not physical threats—they’re emotional, financial, social, job-related…you name it. 

Yet our bodies still respond in much the same way as if we were threatened by a wild animal!

That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of stress. Although it can feel like a part of everyday life, the reality is our bodies are actually responding very acutely to all these demands and threats. When that’s happening all the time, day in and day out—that’s when it becomes chronic stress. 

Chronic stress is when the body’s constantly in this heightened state of fight-or-flight, pumping out all these hormones nonstop, and that starts to take its toll on our physical health.

How Chronic Stress Affects Our Health

So what exactly IS the toll chronic stress is taking on our health? Well, it’s significant. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, studies have linked stress to a wide range of health problems and diseases, from depression and anxiety to high blood pressure and cholesterol, migraines, digestive issues, and even heart disease.

In fact, it’s estimated that 75-90% of all doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments and conditions! 

Feeling stressed out is literally killing us.

And here’s why. Chronic stress throws our body out of balance in lots of different ways. It can weaken our immune system, make us more prone to inflammation, mess with our hormones, and even contribute to daily fatigue. 

When we don’t feel good physically, that only contributes to our stress level because it makes everything feel harder.

It’s no wonder so many of us are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted all the time!

That being said, it can be hard to recognize all this because often we don’t even realize that we’re stressed. It feels like just a normal part of life.

Stress and the Gut-Brain Connection

Because you already know I’m obsessed with gut health, I think it’s important also to understand the connection between chronic stress and our gut. Believe it or not, the two are intimately connected.

A few weeks ago, I talked about depression and anxiety and how it’s connected to our gut health and shared about something called the gut-brain axis. 

Basically, this is a phenomenon where the brain and the gut are communicating back and forth all the time. As I’m sure you can imagine, chronic stress plays a big part in all of this too.

When our brain is stressed out, it sends signals directly to our gut, which in turn, manifests into a whole host of seemingly unrelated symptoms.

It turns out that when we experience chronic stress, it can cause inflammation in our intestines. This triggers an overgrowth of bad bacteria in our gut. And that can lead to any number of digestive issues (which we’ve all probably experienced at some point), not to mention mood swings, fatigue, and a weakened immune system.

So it’s really important to address stress levels when we’re talking about gut health because they are so closely connected.

Stress and Hormones

Then, of course, there’s all the hormones. Feeling stressed chronically throws our hormone levels off balance in a big way.

Remember how I said before that when we experience stress, it floods our body with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline? Well, those two hormones actually play a huge role in regulating the other hormones in our bodies—like insulin, thyroid hormones, and sex hormones. 

When things get out of balance with any one of those hormones, it can wreak absolute havoc on our overall health. This includes the ability to actually lose weight. 

As we’ve talked about many times before, managing your insulin levels and reversing insulin resistance is a HUGE part of being able to successfully lose weight. If your insulin levels are high, it’s actually sending a signal to your body to hold on to fat—you literally CAN’T lose weight until you get insulin levels under control.

If your cortisol is high because of chronic stress, that can wreak major havoc on your insulin levels. Because, like I say all the time—it’s all connected. Our bodies are one giant interconnected system, so when something gets out of whack in one area, it’s always affecting something else.

You’ve got to look at the whole picture.

Suffice it to say, there are a lot of different ways that chronic stress is connected to our overall health—from affecting our hormones and gut-health, to increasing inflammation in the body, and even contributing to serious diseases. 

It’s worth taking a look at the role feeling stressed is playing in your life, and starting to take steps to manage it better.

Feeling Stressed? Try These 6 Practical Strategies for Managing Chronic Stress

So what can we actually DO about all this stress? What are some practical steps we can take to help mitigate the damage that stress is causing…..without actually feeling stressed even more?

The reality is that for those of us who tend to be a little Type-A, sometimes the so-called “cure” just makes things worse because it feels like it’s just one more thing to do on an already way too long to-do list.

Here are 6 practical strategies to try instead. 

1. Manage Your Mind

The very FIRST thing you’ve got to focus on is MINDSET and managing your thoughts. Because in the end, it ALWAYS comes down to mindset, doesn’t it? 

What we choose to think about and how we interpret those thoughts makes all the difference in how we feel and how our bodies respond to stress.

Back in my twenties, when I went through my long battle with depression, I spent a lot of time doing something called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, more commonly known as DBT. It essentially focuses on mindfulness and learning to manage your thoughts in order to better handle stress. 

It teaches you how to OBSERVE your thoughts without attaching judgment to them—basically learning how to let those thoughts come and go, but not necessarily needing to be controlled by them.

It’s a practice I’ve now worked on occasionally with my teenage daughter, who sometimes struggles with anxiety and emotion regulation. And I tell you what, it really works! 

If you can simply allow yourself to be aware of your thoughts and yet choose not to go down the rabbit hole of fear and worry, then you don’t have to get stuck in that spiral of negative thinking.

There’s so much more I could say about just this one thing, but if it’s something you are interested in trying, then I recommend looking for a therapist who is specifically trained in DBT and more practical emotion regulation. Or look for a book or workbook (they have them on amazon) to help you practice it in your own life.

So to me that’s really the first and most important step in reducing stress—just learning how to better manage your thoughts and your mindset

2. Create a Process for Dealing with Overwhelm

The second step is a lot more concrete, and that is to develop an actual process for how you deal with overwhelm, especially when your stress is related to just having a lot of stuff on your plate.

For me, it’s a process I call power planning, and I’ve gotten into the habit of doing it every week. In fact, it’s something I teach in both our Tame Your Time program over at Living Well Spending Less, and in our ACTIVATE business coaching program over at Elite Blog Academy. 

I think it’s a 4-step process that is helpful for EVERYONE, regardless of what’s on your plate.

Step 1: Brain Dump

The process starts with doing what I call a brain dump—getting everything that’s floating around in your head, all those thoughts and tasks and to-do items, OUT of your head and onto a piece of paper where you can actually make sense of them. 

Oftentimes, we’re just letting this mental list of all the things pile up in our brains. And the problem with that is that it not only takes up a lot of space and energy (which causes stress), but it also makes it impossible for our brains to sort and prioritize. 

In our heads, EVERYTHING feels big and equally important, but that’s not always the case. So you gotta get it all out onto a piece of paper.

Step 2: Prioritize

Once it’s all out in front of you, you can decide what needs to happen in what order, and you can put off or delegate the less important stuff. You can do this by highlighting things in different colors, or numbering things in order of priority, or what I do is identify what I call A tasks, B tasks, and C tasks.

Step 3: Make a Plan

I created a tool called the Weekly Wizard that we sell in our Living Well Shop that basically separates out your weekly to-do list into high, medium, and low priority tasks. And it’s amazing how helpful that can be.

Step 4: Get it Done

My final step of the process is to actually block out my time on my calendar to get stuff done. I usually do this on Friday afternoon for the following week, because then I can go into the weekend knowing that I have a plan to get things done, which then allows me to actually relax and chill out on the weekend.

Like I said, this is a process that for me has just become a habit, because I do it every week. One time might not change your life, but over time, doing it consistently will dramatically lower your stress level because not everything will feel so pressing all at the same time.

3. Practice Radical Acceptance

My third recommendation goes right back to mindset, but in a slightly different way, and that is to practice what I call radical acceptance. 

It’s a little bit like the serenity prayer that they use in 12 step programs like AA—God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

And what radical acceptance basically means is that you stop trying to fight against what IS, while at the SAME TIME, taking full responsibility for your own response and for the things you CAN actually do to make a difference. 

You accept the fact that you can’t always change circumstances—the things that happen to you or how people treat you—but you CAN control how you decide to respond.

And then you choose to focus on the things you actually have control over.

Simple in theory, but it takes practice.

4. Be Still and Breathe

Consciously take the time to be still and breathe. Because so often, especially when we’re stressed, we DON’T do this. We just keep moving, and it’s almost like we’re running away from our feelings or whatever uncomfortable emotions are coming up.

If that’s the case for you, I want to encourage you to take a few moments each day (or multiple times throughout the day!) to literally stop what you’re doing, sit down, and just be still and breathe. 

For me, this is sometimes just taking the time to read my Bible for a few minutes and to pray. Other times it’s just listening to music or sitting in front of my red light. Sometimes it’s literally just focusing on my breath or taking a 5-minute mental break to play a game on my phone.

For other people, it could be light yoga or meditation. Honestly I don’t think it really matters as long as it feels relaxing to you.

What happens when we focus on breathing, even if just for a few minutes, our nervous system calms down. The extra oxygen floods into our system and helps to lower our cortisol levels and relax our body. 

That’s a big deal. So I know it’s probably a little cliche but honestly, we all need the reminder—just breathe.

5. Eat to Nourish, Not Punish

Along those lines of dealing with the physical side of stress, the next thing is to be conscious of what you’re putting into your body in terms of food. You need to eat to NOURISH your body, not punish it, especially when you are feeling stressed!

This isn’t really about weight loss. A lot of the time, the pressure that we put on ourselves to lose weight and get healthy can become a huge source of stress.

Instead, it’s about eating the foods that will nourish your body and help it to heal from the inside out. 

The foods that will help keep your blood sugar and insulin levels low, the nutrient-dense proteins that will give you more energy, the fermented foods that will help to heal your gut, and the healthy fats that will regulate your hormones.

I know we talk about food a lot so I won’t harp on it today, but the reality is that this way of eating that we teach and advocate for in our program isn’t JUST about fitting into your skinny jeans. It’s about healing your WHOLE body from the inside out. 

Because it’s all connected. And so just like when one thing is off, it throws off the whole, when you start to improve one part, you’re actually improving the whole.

It needs to be something you do because it makes you FEEL GOOD. If you’re trying to restrict calories or deprive yourself, or focusing on all the things you can’t have, it won’t feel good–it will feel like punishment. And that’s counterproductive.

So eat to nourish, not to punish. 

6. Do Things That Feel Good to Your Body

And then finally, along those same lines, do the activities and exercise that FEELS GOOD to your body. Maybe it’s yoga or taking a walk. Maybe it’s riding bike or swimming or going for a hike. Or maybe it’s none of those things because you hate them all.

But don’t do things you hate. Forcing yourself to do exercise you hate is SO counterproductive for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it only ADDS to your stress, rather than helps alleviate it.

If you hate running, don’t do it! If you hate burpees, then don’t do them. Find something that feels GOOD for your body and DO THAT INSTEAD. 

Even if it’s not the most calorie-burning activity out there, who cares? It’s better to have some activity than none at all.

Because studies DO show that physical activity not only helps to reduce stress, but that it also helps to improve your mood and mental health. So be kind to yourself. Do the things that feel good for your body.

Final Thoughts on When You’re Feeling Stressed

And so there you have it—my 6 big tips for managing your stress. Check your mindset, develop a process for managing your overwhelm, practice radical acceptance, BREATHE, eat to nourish NOT to punish, and just do the things that feel good!

Hopefully there were at least a few helpful takeaways for you in that list. But remember that you don’t have to do it all at once! Just focus on one thing at a time, and start small.

If you found this content helpful, I would absolutely LOVE it if you would pass it along—send the link via text or email, or share it on social media. I’m SO convinced that healing our bodies from the inside out is the way to change the world, and I hope you’ll help me with that mission!

Finally, don’t forget to grab our FREE starter guide and I will see you very soon!

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