How Stress Damages Your Health, plus Ways to Build Up Your Resilience

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” – Jodi Picoult

The life I live often results in hearing things like “I could never do [that]” or “I don’t know how you [do it].” My response is typically a laugh followed by something like, “I don’t know how I do it either.”

As my focus for my blog and business have become clearer, I’ve been thinking a lot about relaying to my readers how I actually did it. How do I cope with being a stay-at-home mom even though I have a college education? How do I manage moving frequently and the burden it places on my family? How do I prioritize my life to avoid neglecting one area? How am I able to find time for myself when there are always a million things to do?

How, how, how.

Firstly, I’m human just like you and I do what I think many people do: try one thing and if that fails, try something else. There isn’t a handbook for navigating through life’s inevitable stresses (like how there isn’t a master bible on how to parent). We sort of just have to stumble our way through it, figuring out what works and what doesn’t along the journey.

Secondly, I’ve developed a tough skin – a resilience – to much of those reoccurring stresses that I face. Basically, I’ve faced those challenges so many times that I don’t even really see them much as challenges anymore. I feel like much of life is like that.

Today, I want to give you a few tips to help you build up your own resilience to some of life’s stresses. But before we dig into that, I want to back up and explain why it is important for you to develop a tough skin.

How Your Body Responds to Stress

Between television, radio, phones, and internet, you have access to stimuli that our ancestors never imagined. The only thing a caveman had to worry about was what was happening right there where they stood (and maybe his family back in the cave if he was out gathering). That was it! He used his own six senses (taste, smell, sight, sound, touch, and intuition) to determine if he was in danger.

Fast forward to today where we have numerous flashy, noisy gadgets that buzz, chime, and ring numerous times per hour (and always within arms reach). We no longer appreciate silence. Back then, silence was a great thing since it meant you were alone, not being chased by an omnivore.

Our biological makeup is designed to protect us, help us survive. When under stressful situations such as being chased by a predator, watching the evening news, or even hearing your phone’s notifications sound off (your brain can’t tell the difference), the message the brain gets is one of urgency so it alerts the rest of the body.

Brain: We are under attack! We are not going to make it unless we act quickly! I am sending a signal to the adrenals to commence cortisol production.

And the body responds….

Body: You heard the man! Blood, redistribute flow to the muscles! Abort all cellular rejuvenation processes! We don’t have time for healing right now. We’ve got to high tail it out of here!

Now, imagine how your brain and body are acting on a regular basis. Are they receiving messages of peace and tranquility or are they getting hammered by stimulation 24/7 (yes, while you sleep next to your phone that’ll continue to sound off notifications all night long)?

And technology is not our only stressor. There are the kids, your boss, the neighbors, the other drivers on the freeway, the barista who messed up your order, your bank account, politics, hurricanes, Kim Jong-un, your to-do list, polar bears…

Our minds have the capability of keeping us in a constant state of stress when we are surrounded by this many things to stress about.

So then, you ask, what happens when you are stressed 24/7 and your body doesn’t come down from that tense state?

You fall apart. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

This isn’t a theory. This is fact. Scientific fact.

Our bodies are capable of self-rejuvenation and healing, but not while we are in a state of fight or flight.

But you’re probably thinking, “Hey, Lauren. Our body has developed processes for handling stress. It’s all good. Our body knows what to do.”

While you are correct in your understanding that our body is smart enough to handle the stressful times, the catch is it isn’t designed to sustain itself in defense mode long-term. Short-term is its sweet spot. Keep it in gear for too long without rest and you risk burn out. Literally.

Your adrenal gland can only pump out so much cortisol before it gets tired of pumping. When this pumping action slows down, your body’s number one defense against stress stops working. That’s what happened to me.

Ways to Build Your Resilience to Daily Stress

In my e-book “Life Spark: How to Overcome Stress, Anxiety & Feelings of Low Worth” (available free to my monthly subscribers), I go deeper into ways to revive your life after extreme periods of stress. For this post, here are some ways that you can begin to build up your resilience to the stresses of your daily life:

1. Improve Your Nutrition and Brain Health

When I started my journey of healing from my own stress and anxiety, I began by looking into health and nutrition as a possible cause for my symptoms. As I mentioned earlier, under long-term stress, your adrenals could suffer. In addition to that, other hormonal imbalances in the brain can occur and, according to New York Times bestselling author and psychotherapist, Dr. Mike Dow, you must address those or else nothing else you do will work.

Because I started with my health, I truly believe that one of the keys to building resilience against stress is to ensure you have adequate nutrient levels. If my brain doesn’t get the food it needs, it can’t function. If my brain can’t function properly, I tend to react with more hostility when challenged by daily stresses. As long as I eat right and get enough sleep, I know that I’m setting myself up for a better chance of overcoming stressful moments.

2. Exercise

The thing about exercise as it relates to building a resilience to stress is the power exercise has to create dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a hormone that helps you feel good. You definitely want more dopamine flooding your brain to help counter all the cortisol. And the exercise need not be strenuous. Just get moving.

How should you incorporate exercise into your busy day? Just go for a short brisk walk after lunch. Start with just 5 minutes.

3. Nature (aka sunshine)

Double boost that feel-goodness by taking your walk outside, in the sunshine. Most of us are deficient in vitamin D, so getting a few minutes of sunshine daily will help boost those levels naturally.

Taking a little bit of time to spend outdoors can help you collect your thoughts and recharge. My dad would do this after work, taking time to do things around the yard to help him unwind from a stressful day at work. This sort of acted as an energy dump for him so that he didn’t bring that stress into the home. If you can fit a little bit of nature into your every day, you might feel the same effect.

4. Meditation or Yoga

Science-wise, meditation and yoga practices help to reduce anxiety and stress. This is because of the hormones that are triggered when we practice these. Over time, practicing these has helped me to carry on that calm state into my daily life so that I don’t react aggressively as much. Granted, I have three kids (going on four) and my buttons will be pushed. However, I’ve discovered that meditation and yoga help me to recharge and release negative energy so that I’m not piling it up. When I regularly practice, I react more rationally to things. Therefore, it appears as though I can tolerate more.

In reality, meditation and yoga help me by acting as a place for me to go to refocus. I enjoy guided meditations with affirmations or ones that take me on a visual journey of healing. I also believe in balancing chakras, so I will seek specific meditations depending on which area of my life I need clarity in. I rely on meditation more for stress reduction and yoga for stretching my tight muscles as a form of pain management. However, there are some great yoga practices I’ve done that included lots of quiet time that doubled as a form of meditation.

5. Understand Your Triggers

Why do certain things flip your switch? What can you do to think about the situation differently so that you have less of a negative response? Know your triggers and avoid them whenever possible (quit hanging out with that coworker at lunch who drives you nuts). Who’s life are you living anyway? You are fully in charge of what and who you invite into it.

The mental aspect of rewiring your thoughts and negative patterns of thinking will stick better once you’ve done the rest of the work (the diet, exercise, sleep). I realize that everywhere you turn you hear people talk about changing your thoughts, but it’s hard to do if you’re depressed, stressed and exhausted due to a hormonal imbalance (I should know).

When I ask you to think about what’s triggering you, I mean to take a holistic approach to what’s happening in your life right now. Is there something that is especially tipping the scales for you?

Working towards improving those circumstances and seeking outside guidance from professionals when necessary will help you to round out your goal of building resilience to stress in your life.

Lauren Sainz is a wellness customer service coach and inspirational blogger. As a work at home mother of 3 (soon to be 4), she hopes that her writing can be a positive voice for other women so that they don’t have to stumble through their own messy life feeling alone.


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2 Responses to How Stress Damages Your Health, plus Ways to Build Up Your Resilience

  1. Nadine Eby says:

    This article reminded me that my response to the stressors in my life and the state my body and brain are in are closely linked. I appreciate the advice to priortize diet, exercise, meditation and other stress releieving strategies as an ongoing lifestyle change to make me more resilient to life’s stresses.

    I have to admit that I once believed that I could keep going and push my body to do more than was reasonable for my energy levels. I have been working on the strategies you recommend, for both brain and body health. However, the results are slow due to my immune system being depeleted by frequent illness resulting from pushing through in times of high stress and demand. So, a lesson learned the hard way is to apply self care and activities to reduce the stress response in my body, before it is depleted. Thanks for your timely article to remind me how important this is.

  2. laurensainz says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Nadine! I’m glad that you are doing what you can to stay resilient to the stresses of life.

    You make a great point about progress being slow. I definitely noticed this! It took many months of active self-care practices to recover. I hope that you’ll bounce back soon from all the years of stress you put your body under.

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