In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, April 1-30, 2016, I wanted to share my personal story of how stress has drastically affected my health my entire life and the one thing I’ve found that makes the biggest difference in how my body deals with that stress.
Hint: It’s not yoga or meditation.
Let the stressing begin
My body has found interesting ways to deal (albeit poorly) with stress since the very beginning. I was a very intense child (read: type A personality, overachiever, cr-aaaaaa-zy perfectionist). My mom has told me that she used to come into my bedroom and see me practicing my figure skating moves in my sleep! I would pull my arms in tight to my body and turn like I was executing a jump or spin.
Even then, the way I channeled my stress was not healthy. I ground my teeth in my sleep (I DID tell you I was intense!) and in the process managed to grind my baby teeth down to the gums and had to start sleeping in a retainer. Stress is definitely not the sole domain of adults.
Jumping and spinning into adulthood
Before my husband and I were married, we moved back to his hometown. I had a string of terrible jobs, each lasting about 6 months each. The pay was lousy and I hated what I was doing. I had some pretty horrific bosses and spent many a commute (and a few meetings) in tears. The pressure of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life coupled with the need to pay bills and plan a wedding was overwhelming. I was completely stressed out!
Large amounts of stress for prolonged periods can do terrible things to your body.
For me, it manifested as chronic fatigue syndrome. I was severely nauseous every morning and could barely stay awake for more than a few hours. During the week, I would come home from work at lunch and sleep for an hour and was still barely able to make it through the day. On the weekends, I would go to sleep at 7:30 p.m., sleep until noon, get up for two hours, and be so wiped out I’d have to go back to bed. I was so tired, I had no energy, and I would actually feel ill if I didn’t lie down and sleep. It was extreme.
For two years my condition went undiagnosed. I had blood tests and thyroid tests. Both came back normal. Then the doctors said I must be depressed. I told them I was not depressed, I was just unbelievably, abnormally, crazily tired ALL THE TIME.
Finally, when we were at our wit’s end, with the wedding just 5 months away and the bride barely able to get out of bed, my sister-in-law referred me to a nutritionist who was able to diagnose my condition right away. She said that because I was under so much stress for a prolonged period of time that my body had stopped making cortisol. Basically, cortisol helps you get out of bed every morning and helps the body deal with stress. When that stress is constant, cortisol production can be shut down and that causes BIG issues.
The nutritionist was able to correct the issue in just a few short weeks, and I was actually feeling better right away. She put me on a low carb diet with exercise, no soft drinks and lots of water, loads of vitamin C, and a drug called mitochondrial resuscitate (taken for only a month) which helped increase my cortisol production. it was amazing! I had more energy than I had had in two years, I was lean and strong, and ready to fit into my wedding dress!
Fast forward to the present
Last year I completed my master’s degree. It was 18 months of weekly classes, group projects, presentations, research, and paper writing. You called it – LOTS OF STRESS! Although I was worried about my chronic fatigue returning, my body had other creative ideas of how to deal with the stress this time. Enter irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS.
I’m not going to go too TMI here on this one. Let’s just suffice it to say some very unpleasant digestive issues result from this disorder that can keep you home from work and out of everyday life. Anxiety also comes along as a side effect, which is great, considering you are already suffering from the disorder due to stress. Let’s just add more on shall we?!
Again, it comes down to diet
My IBS had gotten so severe that I had actually made an appointment with a gastroenterologist, worried that my symptoms could be related to something else like the colon cancer my dad had passed away from several years ago.
Two weeks before my appointment I decided to try an experiment based on things I had read about diet and IBS online. I again went for a low carb diet with no processed foods, cut out my favorite thing in the whole world, Coca-Cola, started drinking a lot of water and green tea, and exercised more to control stress. By the time my appointment rolled around I was completely back to normal in just two weeks!
The thing is, you really ARE what you eat
Never have there been words more true than “you are what you eat,” and I have seen this first-hand many times now. If you have trouble dealing with stress as I do, then equipping your body with the right nutrition to stay healthy becomes of the utmost importance. I often fall off the wagon when it comes to eating right, and I tend to notice it very quickly. I have less energy, I start to sweat the small stuff, I get anxiety often for no apparent reason, and I get very, very tired.
Along with diet, there are lots of ways to deal with stress. Here’s a free e-book the sponsor of National Stress Awareness Month is offering with some great ways to reduce your stress.
I’d love to hear what ways you have found work the best for you when dealing with stress. Leave them in the comments below.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.