Your mental health is reflected in your physical wellbeing. Whatever goes through your mind affects your physical self also. In this blog, we will talk about one mental health issue that affects your physical and emotional health and also disturbs your daily routine life – stress.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s natural response to being unable to meet or cope with specific demands, challenges, and events. It can also be referred to as the degree to which you may feel overwhelmed as a result of unmanageable (and often unidentified) pressures. Being overly connected, too busy, not sleeping enough, and even improper training can cause stress.
Stressors have a major influence on mood, our sense of wellbeing, behavior, and health. Acute stress responses in young, healthy individuals may be adaptive and typically do not impose a health burden. However, if the threat is unremitting, particularly in older or unhealthy individuals, the long-term effects of stressors can damage health.
The relationship between psychosocial stressors and disease is affected by the nature, number, and persistence of the stressors as well as by the individual’s biological vulnerability (i.e., genetics, constitutional factors), psychosocial resources, and learned patterns of coping.
Psychosocial interventions have proven useful for treating stress-related disorders and may influence the course of chronic diseases. Managing cortisol and insulin levels throughout the day will enhance sleep quality and lower the risk of the disease!
How Stress Negatively Affects Your Health
There is a deep connection between cortisol, insulin, and stress. Why is it that we have a hundred times more stress victims today as compared to our ancestors? We are neither living in a war situation nor are the living conditions as difficult as they used to be. Even then, earlier, fewer people were stressed out or going through mental pressure. Think about it. Is it because we are highly disconnected, or are we always connected?
The invention of cellphones causes us to always be connected, reading emails, using Facebook, and sending text messages. While we are so connected to the world through digital platforms, the habit of socializing seems to be diminishing every day. We are falling victim to a sedentary lifestyle.
The business of daily life is stressful. As the world around us changes every day, it sets a new hallmark of achievement, expectations, and standards that we need to compete against. Living in this fast-paced world, we are constantly battling the human range of handling stress. Our lives have become more complicated, and today, we have many stressors that we can’t control. But what about the stressors we can control?
Stressors are certain triggers or situations or pressures that can induce stress. Don’t think of stressors as negative all the time, as stressors can also be positive. Stressors are anything that puts you under a lot of pressure. Diet, prioritizing sleep, too much training, training the wrong way, and poor stress management strategies can all contribute to stress one way or the other if we do not have control over it.
Stress affects insulin more than insulin affects stress. When we are stressed, our blood sugar instantly rises and increases cell resistance, along with your chance of getting diabetes. And for the people who already have diabetes, stress can cause serious damage to their health.
Speaking from experiences, a few years back, I was training a bodybuilder. We were struggling to get him stage-ready. He was training extremely hard and following a dietary plan as well. He went almost an entire year on a lower-carb diet, which definitely requires a lot of determination. I finally convinced him to get a blood panel. To his shock, the results of his tests revealed that he had diabetes. I remember the very question he asked me was, “How is this possible? I train five days per week, have under 10% body fat, and eat extremely well”.
As it turned out, he was a single parent raising three kids on his own, worked 60+ hours a week, trained five days per week, and was averaging only 5 hours of sleep per night. The stress of doing this for an upwards of 8 years created insulin resistance and led to diabetes. So yes, stress affects insulin more than insulin affects stress! No matter how much of a ‘balanced’ diet you take or how many hours of the day you train per week, you need to account for your overall routine.
Cortisol is Released When Stressors Hit
Have you ever noticed the individuals that suffer from high-stress levels are those who have the most problem sleeping?
Cortisol is a stimulating, alerting hormone. That means that it’s the body’s primary stress hormone. Urged by a complex network that incorporates elements of the central nervous system and the adrenal system, cortisol drives the body’s fight-or-flight response, in the presence of a threat or stressor.
Cortisol’s primary functions range consists of several tasks, such as:
- Contributing to the cardiac system function
- Influencing inflammation
- Balancing blood sugar
- Regulating blood pressure
- Regulating energy levels
- Helping to control the sleep-wake cycle
Our adrenal glands release cortisol when stressors are triggered. If stressed too long, it can lead to adrenal fatigue and energy issues. Prolonged cortisol can also inhibit growth hormone production making it very difficult to get lean regardless of how much you work out. Too much cortisol can even oxidate our brain and make it age quicker!
Stress Management or Attention Management!
Manage stress to regulate hormones and get better results!
It is a deliberate approach that enables you to regain control over life. Practicing attention management means fighting back against adversities and creating opportunities that support your priorities.
As you can see, stress plays a huge role in your health and wellness. It can lead to several diseases and is also in control of hormonal imbalance. People these days are so calorie-minded, but this isn’t always a sustainable solution. Hormones will always trump calories. Managing cortisol and controlling insulin are the secrets to optimal health and fitness, regardless of how much you work out.
Stress management is the key to happiness. We must become more attentive and consistent. We must also learn to manage stress better. Mindfulness equips us with awareness and the opportunity to make wiser decisions and balance the negativity bias by controlling our attention.
“Take a moment each day to focus on the good, and then try to carry that with you throughout the day, because while bangs don’t look good on everyone, confidence does.”
– Lauren Conrad
To be on the lookout for happiness is one of the simplest things we can do to become aware of our current conditioning. By happy moments here, we do not mean that you have to make unnecessary trips or work out for longer periods or eat only the leans. This happiness could be derived from anything – from enjoying warm sunlight and coffee on a chilly morning to finding money in your pockets to feeling relief from depression or anxiety.
One thing about uncovering happiness is that we can practice igniting our natural anti-depressants. I often talk about not relying on meds for happiness, as this is just temporary gratification. You can experience true contentment and gratification only when you manage to wipe out all the stress. These tiny bits of happiness accumulate to create small shifts in the brain that, if repeated, can encourage positive neuroplasticity and a healthy mind.
Go step by step. Take out time today. Maybe you can use this moment to consider the good that’s happening in your life right now. Most of us tend to believe by assuming and accepting what is happening to us as if we cannot do anything about it. We believe that our circumstances shape our lives. However, research has concluded that skillful attention management is the sine qua non of a good life. It is the key to improve every aspect of your life and its experiences.
Our brain is a powerful tool that can shape realities. It creates a vision of our lives according to what we pay attention to. Everything results from what we focus on, what we think about, what we do now, how we react, how we feel, etc. The good news is that you control all of this. You can decide what you pay attention to and what you should ignore. Ultimately, you will be happier and healthier if you learn to focus on the positive.
Stress management works on every scale. At any moment of your day, you can decide what you want to give attention to and what you should let slide. One is always in charge of selecting if they want to pay attention to something productive or refrain from something that consumes their time. Negativity blocks people from paying attention to the good things in life.
If you focus on deadlines, you are more likely to be stressed out by the day’s end. Your productivity will also decrease. Your experiences are determined by what you pay attention to, and those experiences determine the life you live.
By attention management, we mean practicing to control distractions. By being present in the moment, and maximizing your focus, you can unleash the genius in you. Attention management is the ability to realize and recognize when your attention is being stolen or diverted. It is the ability to keep yourself focused on the activities you choose.
Cortisol Levels Linked to Belly Fat
Several studies pose a link between Cortisol Levels and Belly Fat. The results/findings of two such studies are mentioned below:
Study Finding 1: Cortisol stimulates an enzyme in fat cells that increases visceral fat storage.
Study Finding 2: Symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, psychosomatic illness, and life satisfaction are positively correlated with an increased waist to hip ratio (belly fat).
Is Poor Sleep the Ultimate Stressor?
“Sleep is for the weak.”
You might have come across this irrational motivational quote. However, the reality is actually the opposite. As important as staying active is for you to perform well in life, sleep is equally important. Sleep is our body and mind’s time to rejuvenate and repair. The people that sleep the most live the longest!
That said, lack of sleep is the ultimate stressor! You now know that one of the keys to weight management and overall health is managing the cortisol in your system. It is the key hormone that signifies stress.
If you do not sleep at least 7 hours a night, your body produces too much cortisol, causing it to stay in stress mode. This ultimately affects your health negatively and can even prevent you from losing weight. Sleep has a bigger impact on our metabolism than food or exercise!
What Are The Consequences Of Sleeping Less Than 7 Hours?
Good sleep is an essential element of living a positive, healthy life. Waking up from insufficient sleep makes one feel exhausted and experience rapid mood swings for the rest of the day. When we don’t get enough sleep, we start developing more negative thoughts.
Sleeping 7 hours or more per night makes you less hungry, decreases stress, increases metabolism, and increases your lean mass! On the contrary, if a person is not taking enough sleep, they become prone to diseases such as:
- Oxidative stress
- Endothelial dysfunction
- GI problems
- Cancer risk
- Sex and thyroid imbalance
- Bone loss
- Aches and pains
- Weight gain
- Food cravings
Undisturbed Sleep Is the Key
How would you describe an undisturbed or ‘good sleep’? Well, good sleep is lying down and falling asleep within 5 minutes and not waking until the morning. Every time we wake up, melatonin production is disturbed, and deep REM sleep is disrupted. Even waking to use the bathroom is a sign of disturbed sleep.
But what if I am Only Getting 4 Hours of Sleep per Night?
Six hours or more is the minimum requirement for an average body to operate healthily. If you get less sleep than that, then your body may mimic the effects of aging and early diabetes!
A study shows striking metabolic consequences when sleep is cut to only 4 hours per night. Some of these consequences are:
- It takes your body 40% longer than normal to regulate blood sugar after a high-carb meal.
- Insulin secretion and response decreases by 30%
- TSH secretion is reduced
- Cortisol is increased
Also, lack of sleep can have a drastic effect on testosterone levels:
- One week of short sleep (5 hours or less) resulted in a 10-15% drop in testosterone levels (2-10 pm on restricted days)
- A self-reported decline in the mood by study participants corresponded to the decreased testosterone levels
Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
As we read, good sleep plays an integral part in maintaining the overall health of a person. No matter how hectic of a routine you have or how ‘healthy’ habits your daily life consists of, having at least 6 hours of sleep is a must. It helps regulate several essential bodily chemicals and also plays a role at the back end of hormone balancing. Keeping into account the importance of this aspect, here are some tips for you to experience a good night’s sleep:
- Remove all electronics from the bedroom. This includes TVs, computers, tablets, cell phones, and even landlines!
- Set up your room like a bat cave. Make the room as dark as possible by covering windows and all lights from devices, including your alarm clock.
- Minimize clothing. Light, breathable clothing is best, or none at all! Don’t forget to remove your jewelry too. Make sure your bedding isn’t bunched up.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Stretch or meditate for 10-15 minutes, read a book, or make a grateful log for the day. List 10 things you were thankful for that day.
- Sleep in a cool environment—lower the air temperature before bed and your body temperature to by avoiding hot showers beforehand.
- Support with supplements.
Gratitude – the Number One Defense against Stress!
Why gratitude? Shouldn’t we be doing something more physical rather than mental? Well, if you remember, in the beginning, we talked about how your mind is a powerful tool. Its wonders are reflected in your physical health. Approaching stress through gratitude leaves a deeper impact on your mental habits that last longer and helps you manage stress for over greater periods.
Let’s discuss the importance of gratitude. Being grateful is the easiest way to live a happy and productive life. Gratitude is like a muscle; the more you work on it, the stronger it gets!
Change Your Mindset to Reach Your Health Goals
People tend to have one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Someone with a fixed mindset just accepts things the way they are and believes they cannot do much about their current situation. Whereas a person with a growth mindset believes they can change their situation and succeed, that there is a solution for everything and work to find it.
A person’s mindset is often the limiting factor when working towards health and fitness goals. Comparing clients who succeed and those who fall short of their goals, someone with a growth mindset always excels, even if they are both eating and exercising the same!
Make a Gratitude List to Get Started
A great way to instill a growth mindset in your everyday life is to do a gratitude log at night. It leaves you with a positive outlook on life, reinforcing that you deserve good things, which will set you up for success. (We will further discuss some points on how to be grateful and how to instill growth mindfulness in the latter part of this chapter).
Simply jot down a few things that you are grateful for that day. Do this right before bedtime to lower cortisol and sleep better.
Gratefulness improves happiness too! If you are mindful of being grateful, focusing on the positive, and being a blessing to others, it makes it that much more difficult for anything or anyone else to steal your joy and prevent you from achieving your goals.
What Are You Grateful For?
A few years back, I read a book called 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute. It revealed a great way to complete a gratitude log. I thoroughly enjoyed the differences from day to day. It keeps the process ‘fresh’ and makes the daily practice more engaging by preventing just going through the motions.
Instead of keeping a record of the past, this diary encourages you to write about topics that will help create a happier future. This is one way of being grateful. I would like to reinforce the idea that gratitude provokes a growth mindset, which shuns any kind of mental hurdles that are keeping you from reaching your goals.
Be Grateful, and Great Things Will Happen To You!
Being grateful means being contented. When you are thankful, you are satisfied with what you have. You stop chasing materialism, and your mind is finally at peace. You are no longer affected by the negativity in life. Here are some ways you can be more grateful in life:
Practice Present Moment Awareness: It is the habit of being in the present and not wishing for something in the past or the future. Be grateful for wherever you are and whatever you have right now.
Think Bigger than Yourself: Get involved in causes that are important to you. You will start feeling a more profound sense of appreciation for what you have when you become aware of the people who are less fortunate than yourself.
Replace Complaints with Gratitude: Retrain your focus. If you find yourself focusing on the areas where you think you lack, you must try and shift your focus on things that you are thankful for.
Wake up each day with a positive attitude and mindfulness to achieve new goals and learn something new. Stressful mornings can lead to a stressful start of everything for the rest of the day, and the stress will follow you to your bed as well. To start your day on an optimistic note, here are some tips and activities that you can adopt: Ask yourself a gratitude question.
- Read some positive information online or in a book or a newspaper.
- Take out a few minutes from your daily routine and perform meditation. A few minutes of meditation can do wonders for your health, the effects of which are long-lasting. According to a Harvard researcher, Matt Killingsworth, a wandering mind will not make us happy. Meditation helps us to concentrate and pay attention to the present and accept it without judging. It is useful in forgetting about the past and not worrying about the future.
Develop a Perception of Positivity
Life is unpredictable, and it is not always at a high point. Everybody has their fair share of lows, so there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect life.’ Perfection is what you make out of it. All of us encounter obstacles throughout their day, most of which are unpredictable and unexpected. Here’s a healthy tip on making the best out of your bad days.
Focus on the benefits and the possibilities of things turning out better. Opportunities are often concealed under the thick layer of stress and confusion. To recover them, you need to look beyond it.
Learn Lessons From Mistake and Grow, As This Is What A Mindset of Growth Does
There are times in life where you win, and then there are other times where you learn. Remember one thing: you never fail.
No one on this earth can claim to be perfect or declare that they have never made a mistake. Even as we make mistakes, there are always hidden lessons in everything that happens to us. It is wise to look for messages in every situation and learn from them to improve.
Seeking lessons from adversities teaches us to be more positive and optimistic about future challenges. We learn that nothing in life happens to us, but happens for us. According to studies, you should quickly notice the difference in mood and happiness, changes that may persist for months. If you feel the effects wearing off, simply repeat the exercise:
There are many things in your life to be grateful for. Life is all about these little things that come with a sense of gratification. These might include having close friends, being in a wonderful relationship, benefiting from sacrifices that others have made for you, being part of a supportive family, and enjoying good health, a nice home, or enough food on the table.
Alternatively, you might have a job that you love, have happy memories of the past, or recently have had a nice experience, such as savoring an especially lively cup of coffee, enjoying the smile of a stranger, having your dog welcome you home, eating a great meal, or stopping to smell the flowers.
When You Focus on the Good, the Good Gets Better
– Abraham Hicks
Think back over the past week and list three of these things. According to the Law of Attraction, you get what you focus on – be it positive thoughts or negative thinking. When you have negative thoughts, you are constantly trapped in a vicious cycle of having more and more negative thoughts. You end up stressing yourself about the problem that didn’t even exist in the first place.
The positive change you have been looking for all this time can only be driven from the inside. It is not going to happen until you break the loop of negative thinking to shift your cognitive paradigm and attract better outcomes.
Tuesday: Terrific Times
Think about one of the most wonderful experiences in your life. Perhaps a moment when you felt suddenly content, were in love, listened to an amazing piece of music, saw an incredible performance, or had a great time with friends.
You can get started by trying to do it right now. Do try it out for yourself: by praising the littlest of the things you have, you bring an attention shift in your thinking. If you keep focusing on the bad aspects of life, you can observe your perspective becoming more and more negative. Consequently, those negative thinking patterns will attract bad things in life, putting you in deeper misery, i.e., higher stress levels.
To stimulate this experience, you can focus on the positive aspects of your life instead and be thankful. Think about the things you are hopeful for or want to happen, but not from a place of regret. Often people say they think about the things they want, but it does not materialize for them. It is because their thoughts come from a place of lack, and so they attract more lacking.
Choose just one experience and imagine yourself back at that moment in time. Remember how you felt and what was going on around you. Now spend a few moments writing a description of that experience and how you felt.
A bonus tips: If you struggle to come up with something to feel grateful for, put yourself in the shoes of someone who is experiencing misfortunes greater than you. For instance, recalling that a colleague has a debilitating physical condition will inspire gratitude for your healthy body, which you may have taken for granted otherwise.
Wednesday: Future Fantastic
Spend a few moments writing about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone really well. Be realistic, but imagine that you have worked hard and achieved all of your aims and ambitions. Imagine that you have become the person that you really want to be, and that your personal and professional life feels like a dream come true.
All of this may not help you achieve your goals, but it will help you feel good and put a smile on your face. By changing perception, it does not mean that the problem does not exist anymore. Rather, you find the strength and ability to cope with the rising challenges and demand without falling into a vicious stress cycle.
Think about someone in your life who is very important to you. It might be your partner, a close friend, or a family member. Imagine that you have only one opportunity to tell this person how much you care for them and the impact that they have had on your life.
Develop the habit of saying thank you to your partner. Couples who share expressiveness and gratitude set a powerful bond of intimacy and trust. Both partners feel that their needs are being met and they feel fulfilled in their relationship. This breeds transparency and happiness, which strengthens your immune system to fight any traces of stress.
Let people know what they mean to you. Tell them that they are important. Life is too short to hold back on things that matter. Let them know that you are grateful for them and for what they do. Whether it is about helping you around the house or inviting you to dinner, you can make things more joyful by being grateful.
Friday: Reviewing the Situation
As discussed earlier, you need to inquire yourself about the progress you have made so far. Think back over the past seven days and make a note of three things that went really well for you. Something new that you learned, maybe? Or maybe you did something productive? The events might be fairly trivial, such as finding a parking space, or more important, such as being offered a new job or opportunity. Jot down a sentence about why you think each event turned out so well.
Once you do that, you will be better equipped with knowledge about yourself. You will have better control of yourself, your mind, and your life. It is imperative to recognize your thought and emotions. You must not give too much significance to all the thoughts that cross your mind. Every thought we think has an impact on our body, behavior, health, and relationships.