A big focus in the hormone balance world is stress. This is for good reason since stress has a significant impact on our hormones because of how it changes how the body functions.
The idea of stress has been around for a long time. Hans Selye presented his theories and research on stress in 1950 to the American Psychological Association. Stress is defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand.”
Our bodies are always trying to achieve homeostasis. They want to survive so they adapt to our environment. I’ve talked about this in the past with the idea of compensation. When the body compensates for too long for something like under-eating for example, it eventually leads to slow thyroid function and hormone imbalances. It’s not because our bodies don’t want us to be well, though. It’s because they want us to survive, so they slow down our metabolism to match the energy entering the body. Since we need thyroid hormone for our ovaries to produce adequate levels of estrogen and progesterone, when we don’t get this, we will experience imbalances. This leads to things like exacerbated PMS symptoms and heavy, painful periods.
There Will Always Be Stress
There is an infinite number of possible stressors out there. Stress will always be a consideration, and it’s not that stress is inherently bad. There are plenty of good stressors. Issues arise when we are trying to deal with stress on an empty tank.
If you’re exhausted and depleted and then also dealing with a significant amount of stress, that’s a recipe for disaster. That’s why doing things that fill your cup (aka self-care) is so helpful–it makes you more resilient. Since there will always be stress and stressors will continue to evolve, it’s important to not only look at how much stress you have, but how resilient you are to it. And start identifying things you can do to make you more resilient.
I also think it’s essential to take into consideration exactly how we each personally react to different stressors. What causes a significant amount of stress in one person may not impact another. For example, cooking a bunch of food and planning out nutrition ideas for the week could feel like a massive task to one person and lead to mental/emotional stress. Still, another person could enjoy this process and have it feel like filling their cup.
These are two very different reactions to the same activity. When thinking about your amount and type of stress, you want to keep this in mind. It’s easy to want to look at what other people are doing and think you need to do the same thing. I recommend thinking about your stressors and what you feel impacts you most instead of trying to minimize a specific type of stress because someone on Instagram said it’s the best thing to do.
Becoming More Resilient vs. Reducing Stress
Since dealing with stress is inevitable, I don’t always think it’s best to think about how you can reduce your stress. Of course, minimizing unessential stressors is helpful, but improving your ability to respond to stress is what will keep you healthiest long term.
What makes us resilient to stress? The first area to consider is that you are meeting your most basic needs. If you look at the image below, you will see our most basic needs are food, water, warmth, rest, and safety.
I got quite a bit of pushback when I recommended eating throughout the day regularly (every 3-5 hours depending on your health status/history), but this is why. We can reduce stress on the body and build resiliency at the same time just by making sure we are fed AKA meeting our most basic need.
We also cannot ignore rest. Rest means adequate sleep but also rest for our minds. If we are continually going nonstop every day then we eventually burn out and then react very poorly to stress. Rest is often looked down upon in our society, where we always have to be doing something, working for more, and documenting all of it on social media or it never happened. This is exhausting. We have to give ourselves space just to be. We are only human and require rest. Resting more is the number one thing that makes me more resilient and is what I’ve spent the last year working on. It’s been challenging as an entrepreneur and military spouse, but the more I do it, the happier I am, which makes sense since it’s one of my most basic needs.
Building Up Resiliency To Stress
So how do we build up our resiliency to stress? As you probably guessed it is unique to each person on some level, but there are things we can all experiment with to meet our most basic needs.
1️. Feed yourself regularly throughout the day with balanced meals.
2. Taking time to recharge–purposely put some white space in your calendar where there is no pressure and you can do whatever you feel like. Preferably something you enjoy.
3. Do things you enjoy. Sounds simple but creating more happiness usually is. When we prioritize things we enjoy in our day to day it helps us deal with other stressors so much better. If you only do one thing, I think this is the most important. Feel like you don’t have time? I’m going to ask you to take a hard look at your schedule. Are you constantly doing things for others? Is there any way you can get help or remove some of the unessentials? I know this is hard, but digging into this and making your time for yourself is one of the best gifts you will ever give yourself. You deserve it.
4. Reflect on how you personally respond to stress and your environment. If you respond poorly and can’t handle stress, make sure you are doing enough of numbers 1-3. If you find you don’t deal with stress well, it could be helpful to get some help from a trained professional. It’s not always easy to change our environment or how we deal with what’s in it and it doesn’t hurt to have support.
Stress is much more than self-care. It’s meeting your basic needs and taking care of yourself. I hope this gave you another perspective and helps make you more resilient.
Check out a couple of podcast episodes I did to learn even more about stress and how to handle it. Stress & building resiliency with Kaely RD, and a brain-based approach to healing with Alyssa Chang, she discusses how to work on healing the nervous system to support the body better.
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