Cortisol junkies take note

Stress is ugly. I’ve had to remind myself of that more than I’d care to admit lately. You see, I enjoy a full schedule. If I really dove into therapy, we’d probably find that I get a high on riding the edge of thrive/dive. What I mean by that is a certain level of pace in life keeps us (me) engaged, sharp, productive, progressive, and joyful. We’re (I’m) at our (my) peak. And then there seems to be a sharp drop-off where we become (I become) edgy, forgetful, distracted, less patient…and let’s be honest, bitchy.

The good news is that my self-awareness is improving more and more all the time where I can make adjustments when I see the less redeeming me rearing her ugly head. Some members of my family still wish I would see her a little quicker.  I say maybe they should be more self-aware about the dirty dishes they’ve just left in the sink. Just sayin.

I digress. The point of my post today is that chronic stress is not only detrimental to our health (and our relationships), but it also wreaks havoc on any kind of physical transformation we may be pursuing.

Many of you out there may be a bit of a cortisol junkie like me. We’re a little or a lot type A. We’re responsible. We’re able. Some may say controlling. I, however, would not. We’re totally capable of pushing through…but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.

From a historic/evolutionary point of view, think of it this way. Back in the day, low to moderate chronic levels of stress pointed to one thing. Food scarcity. Our bodies adapted to that stress by slowing our metabolisms, holding on to body fat, and wasting muscle stores. But as we know, there is no food scarcity for those of us trying to lose weight in modern day, hence the issue! We’re surrounded by hyper-palatable, calorically dense food 24/7, AND because we’re stressed and tired, we have greater cravings and less willpower to make any redeeming choices.

So as you can see, stress makes us a hot mess, yet not a hot mama. As busy women, we’re going to ride the edge of thrive/dive. It’s going to happen. But here’s my acronym that can act as our safety harness to keep our bodies from plummeting towards their demise. In a word - STRESS.

Set boundaries. So cliché, I know. But no one is going to say “no” for you. And if we don’t know our priorities and act accordingly, we’re going to be living someone else’s life. It’s stressful enough to live the fullness of our own.  One of the most mindful phrases that we can offer when our child, spouse, coworker, or well-intentioned do-gooder asks something of us is, “let me think about it” or “let me get back to you”. Either variation allows us space and pause to reflect on whether the request aligns with our priorities and values. When we do say “yes”, we can give of ourselves joyfully and generously. 

On the other hand, I also know that I’ve given of myself too generously when I no longer have space and time for the other five strands of the TRESS….

Twenty minutes of peace. Time with nature is ideal, but on days when it’s stressful in and of itself to be outside because of rain, heat, or ice, it’s helpful to find some other form of therapeutic time; a moment to be grateful; a moment to feel small; a moment to be connected to a purpose, power, or people that enrich your soul.

Resistance Train. Cortisol junkies love to burn it off and sweat it out, but when the body is beaten down, pounding it with high intensity cardio or  “running off” the calories is not what it needs. You’ll shoot yourself in the foot with that mentality and not progress the way you want. Especially when time is a constraint, focus instead on making the body stronger and building the metabolism with muscle. And if you are really struggling with fatigue and a sense of “broken-ness”, gentle mobility exercises to promote movement and blood flow is ideal.

Eat. Similarly, it’s also important to avoid calorie restricting too much during times of stress when the body is more apt to expend calorically needy muscle tissue. Instead, focus on consuming nutrient dense, high quality foods to signal to the body that it’s in a mode of muscle and metabolism building… versus breakdown.

Stop your vice. When we’re stressed, many of us turn to alcohol to unwind. But here’s what you should know. One drink of alcohol in the evening has been shown to decrease the nocturnal release of human growth hormone by 63% and by as much as 81% with two drinks. HGH is considered the “hormone of youth” as it helps us retain muscle mass, decrease bodyfat, recover from exercise, and prolong longevity. And though alcohol can help GET us to sleep, it prevents us from experiencing a deep restorative sleep, further exacerbating our fat and frazzled state. In today’s frenzied pace, relaxing with a glass of wine is becoming more and more the norm, but from a body building perspective, it’s a good reminder to know that it is indeed an actual waste to the body.

Sleep. It’s so important. Do whatever you can do to protect it. Establish a relaxing evening routine. Omit the blue light of the screens. Make it cool. Make it dark. Make it quiet. Make it a priority.

As I close out this post today, I’m overcome with the notion that we live in an age where opportunities are limitless and distractions are infinite.  It really takes concentrated mindful practices to live a life of authentic wellness. Not any one of us is going to get it right all the time. I know for me, when I write these articles, the coaching is as much for me as for you. The lessons always remind me of how I hope to live. My hope is that when you read, you’re reminded as well.



Erin Henry