Here’s a guest blog post from Ashley, who has volunteered for the NCVA and is now a certified health coach.
By Ashley White
“You seemed stressed out, have you been getting enough rest?”
If this question irks you ask much as it irks me, then you may be among those people who get that stress is complex, multi-factorial and is a function of more than just “enough sleep.” Historically, human stress is the result of threats from predators or lack of food, water, shelter or space, and even disease. These stress triggers either made earlier humans ‘fight’ – take that, sabre tooth! – or ‘flight’ to address the stress.
In order to summon the super human energy it took to fight or escape, the evolution of a physiological chain of events occured, orchestrated by the central nervous system. The objective of that chain? Bring as much glucose and oxygen (and other fuels) to the major muscles and organs. Who loses in this tug of war? The digestive system, which does not get the blood supply required to do the mulching, churning and breaking down of food particles that it must to in order to get fuel to the cells.
The fight or flight response is both short lived and results in the release of the cortisol hormone. In our modern ecology, human stress is less likely to require a major physical response – going for a run seems like a counter intuitive way to meet a project deadline, no? Well, yes. But, no. Cortisol does not discriminate. Our central nervous system has not yet evolved enough to tell the difference between the sabre-tooth and the big deadline at work. So, either way, stress involves a cortisol respnse. And, unlike with the tiger, where the stressful event ends in death or escape, modern stresses can be so darn complicated and never-ending. Thus, soon, the right amount of cortisol becomes too much, and the cortisol “on switch” gets stuck. This makes proper sleep hard to come by.
What’s the problem with that, you ask? Cortisol promots fat storage (a throwback to those long, food insecure caveman winters) and can be moderated only through diet, exercise and stress stewardship. Typically, in periods of prolonged stress, we are inclined to spend more time at our desks, move less and borrow energy from coffee and energy drinks. Eating at your desk to meet a 3 p.m. deadline, then washing it all down with espresso? Pretty much the worst approach. Even if you’re noshing on quinoa tabbouleh with a green juice, because your body is in stress mode, not digestion mode, the benefits of the food cannot be realized.
So, how do you handle a stressful afternoon deadline? Take your lunch break to go for a brisk ten minute walk, have an easy-to-digest green non-dairy smoothie with some healthy fats (avocado is the creamiest!) for your afternoon meal, sit after your meal in a quiet reflection, and then get to work. If you need a extra kick, make like an Argentinian and sip yerba mate, which stimulates without burdening your adrenal glands. I can guarantee that your productivity will soar and you’ll leave the office ready to go dancing or hopping about with your children.
This, my friends, is stress stewardship. Stress stewardship is a concept I developed that is contrary to stress management in that it presupposes that stress is a good thing, and it’s not going away, no matter how rich, thin or happy you become. So, get inside your stress and realize that unlocking your stress stewardship code is the first key to living with energy.
Ashley White is a certified health coach with a Master of Public Health. She is the Founder of Learn to be Well, and is offering a four week workshop called Rethinking Stress & Energy, starting May 9 in collaboration with Santosha Yoga Westboro.