We can all agree that adapting to the changes brought by the coronavirus has been stressful for all of us. But what does it mean when we acknowledge that we are “stressed out”? And what can we do to cope as we continue to navigate these unusual times?
For almost a year now, we’ve had to rearrange our schedules, homeschool our children, isolate from our loved ones and deal with empty store shelves. The most stressful part is likely living with the fear that our loved ones could be harmed by this virus.
Of all the things the pandemic has taught us, we’ve learned that what is most important to us as human beings is our health and well-being. And while we’ve been adjusting to keep ourselves and our families safe, we’ve had to endure an incredible amount of stress along the way. How does that affect our health?
Let’s paint a picture … imagine you’re camping, and you encounter a grizzly bear. Your family is in the tent, but you’re outside making a fire before the sun goes down. You lock eyes with that grizzly bear, and your body immediately releases the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, and the more critical measure of stress, cortisol – lots of it. Your heart races, your breathing quickens, your pupils dilate, and you focus on nothing else but the situation at hand.
Your automatic response will be one of two things: Stand your ground and scare off the grizzly, or slowly back away and get the heck out of there with your family. This response is what is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Now, that’s an extreme example, but that same physiological response is triggered on a lesser scale when you encounter daily stressors. When that becomes chronic, your body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, which can lead to a slew of health problems down the line. There is a reason stress is called “the silent killer.”
How stress manifests day to day
You might be thinking, “I can handle my life. I don’t feel stressed out.” The problem with chronic stress is that it manifests in small ways that we become so used to, that we don’t even realize it’s happening! Here are some ways you can tell you’re battling chronic stress:
- You wake up feeling unrefreshed.
- You have difficulties getting out of bed in the morning (even after 8-plus hours of sleep).
- You have difficulties falling and/or staying asleep.
- You find yourself unable to keep up with work the way you used to.
- You are experiencing “brain fog.”
- Exercise makes you more tired.
Nutrition and digestion
- You often crave salty or sugary foods.
- You have difficulty digesting your food.
- You often have heartburn or reflux.
- You are constipated and/or have loose stools.
Physical and mental health
- You are gaining or losing weight (without trying).
- You are less interested in sex.
- You often get sick or acquire infections.
- You are becoming more irritable and impatient.
- You are starting to experience more physical pain.
- You are experiencing low moods, making it difficult to find joy in life.
- You are having panic attacks.
If any of these seem familiar to you, you could be dealing with symptoms of chronic stress and maybe even burnout. The response I talked about earlier – the release of adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and cortisol – is an adaptive response that helps us survive.
The problem is, when we are chronically stimulating the release of cortisol, it affects how our bodies function by influencing changes in our hormones, the function of our gut (think: gut-brain connection) and changes in the neurotransmitters in our gut and brain. This negatively affects our mood, our energy, our sleep quality, our blood sugar and blood pressure, our digestion and so much more.
What you can do to ease your stress
Taking a step back from daily duties to allow yourself to heal would work wonders; but, as a professional, I know that’s nearly impossible. Gathering with loved ones, going out for a social outing, or travelling are usually great stress relievers for people, but these, too, are near-impossible in the world’s current climate.
But there are some measures you can take that are proven to decrease stress and help get you back as much normalcy as possible:
- Meditate! If you haven’t yet tried it, or are skeptical, it can be difficult to get into. However, studies have proven that meditation can decrease cortisol levels. As a stress-relief method, it’s both effective and free!
- Try a cortisol-managing supplement. Just remember to always first get advice from a naturopathic doctor (ND) on which supplement is right for you. Each supplement marketed for stress will affect your cortisol levels in different ways.
- Decrease your caffeine intake. I know, I’m sorry. Caffeine can mimic the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Try to keep it to just one cup of dark roast, black or green tea per day.
- Have a regular bedtime. Melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep, works on an opposite cycle with cortisol: When melatonin is high, cortisol is low, and vice versa. Try wearing some blue light-blocking glasses to get that melatonin flowing every evening!
- Do nothing for 15 minutes per day. And I mean nothing. Don’t eat, clean, read or use your phone. Find a spare 15 minutes to allow your mind to rest. This is an alternative if you’re resistant to meditation.
- Exercise. Unless you are at the point where exercise exhausts you, 30 minutes of exercise per day is a proven way to decrease your cortisol levels and help manage your stress. You can combine this with the previous 15-minutes tip – go for a walk and, instead of listening to music or a podcast, let your thoughts keep you company.
While we cannot change many of the factors that are causing us stress, these small lifestyle adjustments are still within reach.
The information provided on this page is intended to provide general information. The information does not take into account your personal situation and is not intended to be used without consultation from accounting and financial professionals. Allan Madan and Madan Chartered Accountant will not be held liable for any problems that arise from the usage of the information provided on this page.