How often do you think about how your daily habits affect your stress levels? Part of building a self-care plan involves accepting the fact that what you do impacts you.
In this article I want to dive into biochemical and physical stress to highlight how small actions in these areas can improve the overall impact of your stress.
BIOCHEMICAL + PHYSICAL STRESS
Physical stress occurs when there’s a lack of movement. I’m sure we all can think of some ache, pain, or something physically uncomfortable we feel after sitting all day and looking at a screen. This kind of stress can also occur from a lack of movement in general. If your life is more sedentary - meaning you don’t get out and regularly move your body - you’ll feel the effects of physical stress.
Biochemical stress involves our sleep and our nutrition. From my experience as a trainer, lots of us don’t realize that our sleep patterns and our nutrition affect our stress. From what I’ve observed, when we are stressed, we don’t prioritize our sleep or nutrition or movement; those seem to be the areas we tend to sacrifice first.
But here’s the truth - everything is connected. So if you’re feeling emotionally stressed, it can manifest as physical and biochemical stress. But, the second part of this truth is that you CAN improve your overall feeling of stress by working to improve the other areas where stress can arise!
When you focus your attention on improving the impact of physical and biochemical stress, it will make it easier to manage emotional and mental stress.
WHERE TO START WITH NUTRITION
According to the Health Coach Institute, biochemical stress occurs when your diet is consistently high in carbohydrates and sugar or when your body isn’t regularly receiving necessary nutrients. Our bodies crave a balanced plate. I’m not saying don’t eat this or don’t eat that; what I’m suggesting is to invite a little more mindfulness into your eating habits to discover how food makes you FEEL.
To make things as easy as possible I’ve included a worksheet at the bottom called “The Magic Plate.” It breaks your plate into sections that are ideal for your digestive system.
In my health coaching practice I work with clients to help them evolve their current eating habits into lifestyle habits that energize them, make them feel better, reduce their biochemical stress, and help them lose weight. The Magic Plate is at the core of all my work.
When we don’t feel well it’s harder to do everything, but we’ve grown up in a society that uses food more for comfort than fuel. In order to improve your total stress impact, focus on balance. Be mindful of what you’re putting in your body. Instead of thinking about what will taste good in that moment, think, “What will taste good AND make me FEEL good once I finish eating it?”
WHERE TO START WITH SLEEP
As for sleep...all of us are screwed up! Who doesn’t like sleep? Sleep is amazing. Yet when the pressure is high and the stress consumes us, our sleep suffers. Instead of prioritizing rest and relaxation, we’ll spend an extra 20 minutes on social media or watching TV. Why?
There are two factors that cause the most disruption for our sleep patterns: our discipline and structure. Because so many of us don’t truly value all the benefits sleep holds, we fall into old habits, wasting precious sleep time on our phones, devices, and other stuff that doesn’t nourish us. So, we need to get disciplined and add some structure to our sleep patterns.
Here’s how: Create a bedtime routine. I understand many of you have children, so get creative! Include them when you can. Here are some common supportive habits for a bedtime routine:
Mealtimes end at least two hours before bedtime
Start your routine 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed
No screens during your routine
Focus on something relaxing (reading, meditation, yoga, baths, breath work, etc)
WHERE TO START PHYSICALLY
In regards to moving your body, I encourage you to let go of all you think you know about exercise. (Mind you, I’m a personal trainer and I’m still suggesting this.)
That’s because I have found throughout COVID, old exercise expectations are adding to our stress. Exercise is meant to be a stress release, right? But these days we can’t work out the same way we used to (i.e. without a mask, at a gym, with our friends), meaning this is another thing we need to adapt to.
My suggestion is to focus on moving and having FUN! When you were a kid you didn’t think “I need to go outside and get tagged 3 times to make sure I run enough to hit 10,000 steps?” You just went outside and had fun! So I invite you to move with the same energy you used to use at recess.
Here’s a little survey to give yourself:
How often do you LIKE to move a day?
What type of movement do you enjoy?
How long do you enjoy moving for?
Does that change depending on the time of day?
How do you notice movement affecting your overall energy and mood?
Let’s bring back recess and have some fun!
Think about it: when have you moved your body and regretted doing it? When have you eaten healthy and felt guilty about it? When have you prioritized sleep and NOT felt better?
We need to stop treating ourselves like segmented pieces to fix. We work as a singular unit.
By looking at ourselves as a unit and helping balance certain areas when others are struggling we get to have a better life experience. So I challenge you to choose TODAY to take one small step to improve your overall stress impact!
Use this worksheet to help guide you towards better habits: MAGIC PLATE