Stress 101

Stress 101

I always knew I was an emotional eater, but it wasn’t until I gave up sugar did I understand the full extent of it:

Had a bad day at work – come home eat chips, drink wine
Feeling moody – eat chocolate
Wanting a night in – eat chips and ice cream
Having a good day – buy treats from the bulk barn
It’s Tuesday – margaritas
It’s Wednesday – latte and a cookie
Tired from a long day – order a pizza
Grass is green…. You get the idea.

As you can see, sugar played a large role in how I dealt with stress. I was allowing myself to use my feelings as an excuse to eat foods that I KNOW would make me feel worse. I’ve hadfoodiesfeed-com_gelato-al-pistacchio to kick a lot of old habits to the curb and focus on dealing with my emotions more responsibly this last month and a half.

I actually hate admitting all this, which is why I was putting off writing this blog. I would rather believe and have you believe that I eat what I should eat, when I should eat it, and that I love and dream about kale every night – isn’t that what nutritionists do? I’ll let you all in on a little secret though, I am still a work in progress. I’m not perfect and that is okay – nobody is.

I do however,  commit myself to constant improvement. This year of no sugar is all about finding ways that I can improve my life. As a holistic nutritionist, I am aware that we are complex creatures and there is more to optimal health than what’s on our plates. Part of this complexity is our body’s reaction to stress. I have trained myself throughout my life, to react to stress by shutting down and turning to food for comfort. I tend to isolate myself and let the worry and anxiety build up inside, setting myself up for a losing battle. After a quick look at the mechanics of stress, I’ll talk about some of the methods I’ve been using to deal with my stress since quitting sugar.

First off let’s take a quick look at the actual physiological changes in our bodies that occur when we are feeling stressed. You may have heard of the “flight or fight” response. We evolved this response as a survival mechanism so we can react quickly to any threatening situations.

When we encounter a stressful event, our brain sends out a distress signal which activates our sympathetic nervous system by sending signals to our adrenal glands. These glands that sit atop our kidneys jump into gear and send out epinephrine, better known as adrenaline, into the bloodstream. This surge of adrenaline causes our heart to beat faster to get more blood to the muscles, our pulse and blood pressure goes up. We start to breathe faster and airways in our lungs open up a little more so we can take in more oxygen, which then gets sent to our brain to increase alertness. Adrenaline also triggers the release of blood sugar and fats from storage in our body, this supplies extra energy to all parts of our body. All of this happens before our brain can even fully process what is going on. If we continue to perceive stress, a second system jumps into place to help us maintain. Our brains, pituitary gland and adrenal glands communicate to release cortisol. This keeps us on high alert. When the stress has finally passed, our parasympathic nervous system will dampen the stress response and get us back into a state of “rest and digest.”

This all sounds really cool, why wouldn’t we want to remain at this super human level of alertness at all times? Unfortunately, prolonged levels of stress and elevated adrenaline can damage our blood vessels and arteries and elevated cortisol contributes to the buildup of fat tissue and leads to weight gain.

Think of it this way – our fight or flight response disrupts any non-essential body functions. Digesting your lunch becomes unimportant if you trying to outrun a bull. However, our bodies can’t really distinguish between running from a bull and running from deadlines, traffic, or your boss. Many of us these days find ourselves in a constant state of low grade stress and because of this we are put ourselves at risk of health problems: depression, anxiety, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and of course problems with digestion.

With all of this in mind, I have committed myself to deal with stress in a more appropriate way. What does this mean? First off, prevention is key. So avoiding any unnecessary stressful situations and finding activities that help to build me up. Apologies to anyone whose parties I’ve been missing so far this year, but I’ve been trying to fill my time with things like book club, a new bootcamp at the gym, swimming, hikes with my family, reconnecting with friends at cool new restaurants and even just keeping on top of chores and renovations going on at the house. These things help to ease stress instead of adding to it.

I’ve been working on a bit of momentum of “just do it” since September and it has actually been helping! If there is something looming in the back of my mind, I tend to worry about it and if I don’t really want to do it, I put it off and continue to worry about it. The first thing I’ve been doing when I get to work in the morning, or sometimes before I leave at night, is to make a quick to do list of all the things I want or need to get done that day. I can then do a quick scan and see what is most important and work on those tasks first. Also crossing things off on that list makes me feel awesome!

Physical activity is an amazing way to deal with stress. I posted a question on my Facebook page about how you all deal with stress and most, if not all the responses, related to moving! Going for walks, hitting the gym, yoga or stretching, these are all amazing ways to help our bodies calm down. There is always something about going for a nice long walk that makes you forget about your problems and breath a little deeper.

Meditation is another way I’ve been trying to quiet my anxious thoughts. I’ve been going through the free first 10 series on the Headspace app and I’ve been loving it. It’s only 10 minutes per session, but it helps me to chill out and focus on the present.

Being prepared. When I take the extra time to plan out meals for the week and pre-make someDeath_to_stock_photography_farm_8 side dishes or even a few meals on a Sunday, supper becomes much more enjoyable and gives me more time at night to go for a walk or do some yoga. Also packing up my gym bag and making sure lunches are packed before bed allows me to have a much calmer morning. Nothing is worse than starting off the day rushing around like a giant stressball.

Just doing things you like. It seems like we deprive ourselves of enjoyable hobbies, like painting, reading, knitting, woodworking, birdwatching, drawing, etc. Whatever it is that floats your boat, allow yourself to work on it a few times a week.

Watch what you eat. Some foods can aggravate your stress and some can help to alleviate it. I’ve had to cut back my coffee intake to one a day at the most and try to go without a few times a week. Although I love it, it is far too stimulating for me and I can warm myself up with a nice cup of tea instead. Foods like: dark chocolate (yay), leafy greens, turkey, organ meats, asparagus, and chamomile can help our bodies deal with stress. To avoid this post becoming more of a novel. I will leave you with this link which talks about more foods that can help ease anxiety: Mindbodygreen

Thanks for reading, stay awesome!
Susan

Perfection – what I learned from wood

 

Walnut Display Board - Keane Woodworking

Walnut Display Board – Keane Woodworking

Perfection – something many of us strive for. But what does it really mean to be perfect? Think about it. Your idea of the perfect body can be wildly different from the person next to you. The perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect family – all of this is subjective. Your perfect life belongs to you.

Let’s take a moment to think about that. Your perfect life is unique to you and you alone.

So what is it that is holding you back from your perfection?

Perhaps it has to do with our perceptions and feeling gratitude. The past month or so I have set an alarm on my phone that just says “gratitude.” It goes off at 7:30 in the morning when I am getting ready for work or at the gym (and usually quite frustrated that I’m not still cozy in bed). It is a gentle reminder to take a deep breath and truly feel grateful. I try to focus on one thing and really bask in the feeling of gratefulness. Some days are harder than others, but it always calms me and puts me in a better mood.

It is so important for me to remember that right now, I am grateful for everything and everyone I have in my life. Honestly, it is making me realize that perfection is absolutely everywhere, I just need to choose to see it and appreciate it.

An amazing lesson my woodworker husband taught me was to see the beauty in nature’s “flaws”(shameless plug: www.facebook.com/keanewoodworking).

Manitoba Maple Wood Slab

Manitoba Maple Wood Slab – Keane Woodworking

When we were dating, he was showing me some of his projects from school and some of his favourite types of wood, one of which was a piece of curly maple. He was going on and on about how awesome the curl was and it made the wood so unique and beautiful. Then he looked at me and said, “Your stretch marks remind me of it.” It completely threw me off. Something I was absolutely ashamed of and hated about myself and here he was telling me that it reminds him of something so beautiful and unique. Does that mean I am beautiful and unique? Of course, we all are!

We can find beauty in imperfections in nature so quickly, but we ignore or hate those imperfections in ourselves.

Spalted Beech Coffee Table – Keane Woodworking

At one of my husband’s shows he had a cutting board made of spalted beech (similar to the coffee table above) that customers were nearly fighting over because of the different patterning. When wood is spalted, it is because the tree was diseased. How many of us end up with scars or battle wounds from life, but hide them and hate ourselves for it? We need to stop seeing all of these things as flaws and view them just as we would view nature. Flawed, but perfectly beautiful and unique.

 

Stay healthy my friends, 

Susan Keane