Recently on the blog, Dr. Hartman has been talking about the profound health impact of cortisol imbalances. His number one recommendation for excessive cortisol, which is so prevalent in our culture, is stress management. So, let’s talk about where you might start on your journey to building stress resilience in your life and improving your ability to bounce back when life gets harried.
We all know that chronic stress can elevate our cortisol to unhealthy levels, but what can you actually do about your stress short of quitting your job and heading to a tropical island? Our lives are demanding. Our families, vocations, responsibilities, and even our health can pull us in different directions and we often simply don’t have control over the sources of our stress. While we often can’t remove the stressors in our lives, we can change how we respond to them by building resiliency, which improves our ability to bounce back from stressful situations.
To Build Resiliency, Start with the Foundations of Health
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Hartman’s podcast on stress. In that podcast, he lists four major ways to build resiliency:
- Adequate sleep
- Adequate exercise
- Proper nutrition
- Self-regulatory practices
We sometimes forget that, in order to build resiliency and feel less stress in our bodies, we need to give our bodies what they innately need: especially sleep, movement, and quality nutrition. Without meeting these basic needs, our bodies just don’t function optimally – which causes us to be less resilient to stress. Eating an inflammatory diet of processed foods and seed oils, for example, can be very stressful for the body.
If you were to put orange juice in the gas tank of your car, it wouldn’t run well. If we aren’t getting the nutrients we need, don’t prioritize adequate sleep, and don’t move our bodies, they’re not going to respond well when we demanded a lot of them.
When much is expected of us, when we have many roles and responsibilities in life and people depend on us, that is when we need to double down on these foundational needs and focus on them even more, not less.
Be Your Own Coach: Questions for Self-Discovery around Stress
So, how does a health coach approach stress with a client? What does it look like to work with a coach on your goal of building resiliency and balancing hormones? Below are some questions a coach might walk through with you. But you can also process them on your own through journaling, discussing with a friend or partner, or just setting aside some time to think them through.
Where to start? We can only take one step at a time, so these questions can help you find the most effective place to begin.
- Which one of these four basic needs above do you feel needs the MOST attention?
- Which one are you most READY to tackle?
- Which one offers the best low-hanging fruit that will allow you to be successful and build your self-efficacy?
Exploring the stress in your life and how you might approach it:
- What situations trigger the most stress for you?
- Where do you usually feel that stress in your body?
- How do you respond? What coping strategies have you used in the past?
- What activities, people, or places help to fill your tank? What kinds of things have you tried? What would you like to try?
- If you frequently find yourself having conversations with people in your head, i.e. ruminating on past or future conversations, tell me about one of those.
- Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone to whom you need to apologize?
- Tell me a story of a time when you experienced a significant trigger but were able to manage the situation well, then move on quickly, without ruminating.
- Tell me a story of a time when you experienced a relatively minor trigger, didn’t manage the situation well, and felt very upset and challenged by it.
The answers to these questions can help you find the keys to unlocking more resiliency in your life.
If you feel that stress is impacting your health, I would highly recommend that you process some of these questions through journaling, with someone you trust, with a therapist, or with your health coach. Writing out the answers and reading them can be very powerful, as can speaking them out loud and having someone reflect them back to you. You might be surprised to see patterns and find new insight.
Beyond the Basics: Self-regulatory Practices
While the first three above – sleep, nutrition, and movement – are some of the foundations of health, we don’t often think of them as stress management. We tend to think about things like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or other practices. Self-regulatory practices can be very helpful, but they may not be as effective if your basic needs of quality sleep and nutrition and regular movement are not being met.
In the podcast, Dr. Hartman discusses several self-regulatory practice possibilities including prayer, meditation, and even some biofeedback devices that can be helpful in training our brains to be more present and our bodies to be more calm. Check it out to learn more!
There are also several books around stress and trauma from our recommended reading list that can be helpful as you work toward a healthier response to stress.
Health is built on the foundation of the small, seemingly insignificant decisions we make everyday. It can be challenging when we are busy and stressed, then ask ourselves, “Is eating a salad instead of pizza for lunch, then taking a 10-minute walk REALLY going to fix my (insert health challenge here)?” Because the answer is probably not. Neither health nor resilience is developed in a day. It takes time to install healthy habits that affect real change and healing within our bodies.
Perhaps a better question might be, “Will eating this salad instead of the pizza and taking a 10-minute walk in the sunshine support my body in health and healing?” Each meal, each moment, and each interaction is a fresh opportunity to make a choice that supports our health and emotional wellbeing. Building resilience is not about going on a zen retreat or taking an exotic vacation, and can be achieved even in the midst our busy, messy, active lives!
I hope that this post has encouraged you to do some self-discovery around your own resiliency for more vibrance, energy, and health. What are 1-2 small, simple things that you could add or tweak in your life that are, in themselves, rewarding, enriching, and perhaps may even help you connect more with others or with a deeper purpose? Experiencing a more quiet, “rest and digest” state within the body and a more healthful cortisol curve as a natural result would be a lovely bonus.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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