I wanted to do a webinar on the topic of stress because this is something I hear about every single day in my Maryville office, and as I do more and more of these I really want to focus on the real life, applicable struggles that virtually all of us can relate to, no matter what our circumstances.
While the main focus is stress, it is important to note that it's completely related to things like anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses which I’ll touch on briefly as we go through. If we look at children’s health, we see that anxiety has increased astronomically over the past few years and is the leading mental health issue for children between the ages of 6 to 17. It’s very difficult for me to imagine life as a 6-year-old with anxiety, but things have changed a lot in the last 20 years! It doesn't get any better with age either, as anxiety affects 1 in every 4 children between 13 and 18. This is because there are more pressures on children to perform in school, excel in sports, look like the girls on social media or magazines, and BULLYING. For us adults, we have the pressure of taking the kids to all their activities, jobs, finances, and relationships. We as women especially have a hard time saying no to people or activities even when our plate is already overflowing.
I often hear people, moms especially, talk about feeling overwhelmed, drained, surrounded by chaos, like they have "mom-brain," and have low energy. They often feel frustrated because they don’t know how to get out of the cycle that’s causing all of their stress so they just feel “stuck.” I understand there are certain seasons that are crazier and maybe even inevitably stressful, but after those seasons, such as back-to-school or the holidays, there should be a calmer season because our bodies cannot sustain the constant crazy season. If we push it and try making our body sustain it, that’s when we “feel stuck on” and start to see anxiety, an inability to sleep, depression, mood swings and low energy levels. I’ll talk more about this being “stuck on” a little later.
When we talk about “stress” I want you to think about more than what we tend to think of in the sense of "I have so much to do," "I don't want to deal with my in-laws," or "I'm never going to catch up to all the bills." I always explain that there are actually three different ways that our body gets stressed out. I refer to these as “The 3T’s” which are thoughts, traumas and toxins. In other words, you can think of these as mental or emotional, physical and chemical stress.
Emotional stresses are essentially the ups and downs of life, and is what tend to relate to being stressed. It's meeting schedule demands, financial strain, the rush that we just finished of the holidays, making sure all the kids are clothed and fed to be to school on time, and we know all too well that this list could go on and on.
Physical stress comes from spending hours at a desk, driving kids around, hunched forward breastfeeding, sleeping weird, past injuries and maybe even carrying a baby inside of you! In kids I talk about the repetitive falls while learning to walk, sitting in a "W" position, and especially the birth process.
Chemical stress is anything that we put on or in our body. Think toxic makeup, Starbucks or other energy drinks, shampoos and soaps, cleaning products, fast food, sodas and alcohol.
As we experience more and more physical, chemical and emotional stressors we begin to ramp up that stress mode. I call this stepping on the gas pedal. When we’re in the stress mode for long periods of time, and we're going through life with our pedal to the metal, it becomes our new normal and it gets harder for our body to shut down and manage stress. To demonstrate this, I showed a handout during the webinar (video time 9:15)
We can think of our stress load as ad odometer, progressing from green on the left to red on the right. When we get to the red zone from being on the gas pedal too much, we know we’re to the tipping point of how much our bodies can handle and deal with on a normal level. That’s when the stress response really kicks in.
This stress response is actually a really good thing……..in short periods of time. But the more we add to our plates or the longer we go without addressing certain things and just shove it to the back burner, the more our bodies get STUCK in that mode.
The short-term reaction is stress is like an alarm. This is the part of stress that's a GOOD THING, but your body can only handle it in SHORT bursts. This is the part of stress that is actually life-saving in some instances; like your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and adrenaline increase if you were running away from a tiger at the zoo!
After the alarm wears off, our body goes into an adaptation phase, and “gets used to it” so to speak. Once the limits of adaptation are exceeded (or this stress stays in your system and becomes your new normal) the body can no longer appropriately respond, and we experience the third phase of stress response: exhaustion or a shutting down effect. At this point you can’t even really experience the ups and downs of life because your body isn’t responding to the various demands and stimuli anymore.
Think of a time you were in the office or at church or at a PTA meeting. Let’s say someone with really nasty strong cologne walks by you and plops down right next to where you’re seated. At first you have a very strong response to this: maybe sneezing, coughing or some people gag. Pretty soon it isn’t as bad, but you might develop a little headache as your body gets used to it and eventually what happens? You don’t even smell them anymore. That is your body saying “forget it, I’m not going to deal with this nasty smell anymore” and actually blocks it out altogether.
Once your body has had enough and blocks out the different forms of stress mentioned above, we see a “dip” so to speak. We can think of the dip as depression. This makes sense: initially, anxiety is high stress and causes a very go-go-go behavior and mentality, and likely can't stop or relax. After a while, our body gets exhausted and starts to shut down because it can’t handle it anymore. At this point you don't even feel the ups and downs but now you feel fatigued, unable to sleep, and unable to meet the demands of your emotions and/or life. Depression literally means down, and we see that happens because the system has been stressed for so long.
Most people I talk to have heard about the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that comes from our adrenal glands. Cortisol can be life-saving, like in the case that it tells us to run from a tiger. However, when it’s in our bloodstream for long periods of time, it actually becomes pretty detrimental and can be blamed for weight gain, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, heart disease and diabetes. It is what’s keeping you awake at night and making you feel exhausted. Many of the moms I speak to have heard about adrenal fatigue as they search for answers to their low energy and stress complaints. This happens when we’re pumping out stress hormones for so long that our body literally fatigues out and cannot pump out any more so it shuts down. This often leads to secondary effects: more fatigue and sleeping issues, hormone imbalance, girls with irregular periods, and mothers struggling with infertility as they attempt to have a second baby. She is so stressed out from taking care of her first baby that her body's hormonal system gets imbalanced and it cannot support the growth of another baby.
Stress mode shows up in kiddos as emotional imbalance, constipation or digestive issues, inability to focus, fighting sleep, and yes-anxiety.
When we see these imbalances, it’s showing us that your body can no longer keep up with the everyday pressures of your life and we need to do one of 2 things: remove as many of the physical, chemical and emotional triggers as possible (which can be next to impossible for you super-moms out there!) or increase the amount that our bodies can handle. So now, instead of your body getting overwhelmed at 7 on our "stress odometer", your new threshold is more like 8.5 out of 10. Keep reading to learn more about increasing that threshold.
Even if you don’t “feel” stressed out, here are 3 other indicators that your body is no longer adapting to stress as is should:
1. Irritability. I sometimes hear moms say “I don’t know what got into me but I screamed at my child last night…NO, like REALLY SCREAMED.” How many of you ever "lose your cool" or you experience a "mom snap"? If you feel like you're on edge all the time or if you find yourself getting agitated from things that wouldn't normally irritate you, it's a strong indicator that we need to get your stress level checked out.
2. Sleep. In the office I talk all the time about making sure kids are getting their sleep, but it is also very important for us as adults. You likely can talk to anyone in your circles at work or church or family that struggle with sleep, but just because it is common does not AT ALL mean that it's normal. Sleep struggles can range from difficulty falling asleep, restlessness while asleep, or an inability to stay asleep; but it IS NOT NORMAL to not be able to sleep. So if your mind is racing, that is a sign your gas pedal is stuck on!
3. Mood. You’d think this could tie in to #1 but let's talk more about mood in the sense of swings or ups and downs. If you're on fire and really productive and all of a sudden you drop off/shut down and can't maintain one or the other, it may be another indicator that we need to look deeper and check your stress levels. Your emotions should not be a roller coaster ride.
Roller coasters are like gas pedals, and they mean stress. Brake pedal means rest, relaxation mode. We ALL need more brake pedal in our lives. However, how can we possibly get off the gas pedal when we have families to run, budgets to manage, meals to make, shopping to do, and...and....and?!
Here are 5 little ways to combat the stress already in your life in a better way:
1. Don't sweat the small stuff!
- I know we try to, but we don’t HAVE TO do EVERYTHING. Truthfully, we CAN’T so make sure you know what must be done now and don’t beat yourself up about the other stuff that doesn’t get done right away. Prioritize was must get done and do the other stuff as you are able.
- One of my mentors likes to ask: will it matter in 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 months, or even 5 years? If not, it’s not worth getting worked up about!
-You can also think of motherhood (or parenthood-we don't want to exclude the daddy's!) as a marathon: one step at a time and with the big picture in mind. If your whole household is fed, clothed, and still alive at the end of the day, consider it a success!
2. Fill your cup first!
-Every time we get on a plane they remind us to put on our own mask before helping those around us. The same idea should be your goal in life because without you, your children aren't going to be able to take care of themselves.
-Some examples include regular exercise, eating right, meal-prepping, reading a book, making sure YOU get sleep, or taking a bath or shower ALONE.
-Ripple effect is that everyone around you gets taken care of even better!
3. Don't feel guilty for taking time for yourself
-As mentioned above, this could be as simple as taking a shower or bath alone after putting the kids to bed.
4. Remember parenthood is a team sport (and life in general)
-It doesn't matter WHO is on your team as long as you have a team!
-I know it sucks asking for help but WE MUST! This is especially difficult as women. It may be difficult to delegate because "nobody can do it as good as I can" but you can accomplish so much more by splitting up the workload. The way your husband, mom, friend, etc does it may be different but at least it's getting done!
5. Lean on your tribe! (FIND ONE if you don't yet have one!)
-As they say: it takes a village to raise a child.
-My one word for this year is "community" so this is really my passion this year. I want you all to feel that you are part of a community that you can rely on when you need help, advice, or just someone experiencing the same things as you are. Whether it is difficulty breastfeeding, walking through your first pregnancy, not having time for yourself, or whatever it may be; I am here for you and would be honored if you joined this community to create your brightest future...it will help you raise your family to have a bright future as well!
I mentioned above that I would share how you can increase your threshold of dealing with stress. This is done through specific Chiropractic adjustments to the areas of your spine that have been holding and bottling up your stress. These adjustments also stimulate the brake pedal-which means more rest and relaxation! Also, I have a set of technology that shows us how your body is (or isn’t) adapting to stress, how your body is working at a glandular or organ level, and how efficiently your body is using its energy.
Lastly, I want to inspire you with a story of a mom who started care at Bright Futures before Christmas. Even after just a week of care she reported a ton of improvement including less irritability and better sleep. Even better, what she told me last week at her re-examination is absolutely remarkable. She said “it’s like I got my life back.” Call us at 865.995.6208 or send us a message to see how YOU can get YOUR life back instead of letting stress continue to control you.
-To watch the full video, click here.