Important: The Unexpected Impact of Stress on Your Life

What causes stress?

We used to be running away from tigers or other predators in the world to keep ourselves safe. This would activate a stress response so we could run faster and know we were in danger. Today, we live in a modern world surrounded by “tigers” in the form of urgent deadlines, pings to our phone and a constant never-ending to-do list. In this blog, you’ll learn more about the stress cycle and what causes stress in your own life. For high achievers and emerging leaders, understanding stress is crucial. As you climb the ladder of success, stress becomes an unwelcome companion. Recognizing the signs of burnout and chronic stress allows you to recalibrate, consistently access your peak performance and avoid burnout. You can maintain resilience, focus, and well-being by mastering stress management techniques. After all, true leadership lies not only in achieving goals but also in nurturing your vitality.

Understanding Stress

The Stress Response: Fight or Flight

Stress is our body’s natural response to external pressures or threats. When faced with a stressful situation, our body activates a well-orchestrated sequence of physiological changes. This response, often called the “fight-or-flight” mechanism, prepares us to confront the threat head-on or flee to safety.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)

Understanding the stress cycle and the nervous system by learning the differences between the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The ANS plays a pivotal role in stress regulation. It has two components:

  1. Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS):
    • Acts like a gas pedal, triggering the fight-or-flight response.
    • Boosts energy levels, heart rate, and blood pressure.
    • Prepares us for immediate action.
    • DOING
  2. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS):
    • Functions as the brake, dampening the stress response.
    • Regulates heart rate, breathing, and other involuntary functions.
    • Promotes relaxation, recovery and digestion.
    • BEING

The sympathetic nervous system is only meant to be triggered occasionally. However in our modern world with push notifications, urgent deadlines and a constant stream of tasks, we live primarily in the sympathetic nervous system. Our bodies are in a constant state of not feeling safe. This has become our new normal. What this means is that we have to find more ways to train or stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. It has to be something that we are aware of and actively find ways to break the stress cycle. How can you encourage more BEING in your life?

Chronic Stress and Health Implications

Acute stress (or short-lived) stress is actually very healthy for our bodies. Just like we do strength training, lifting heavy weights to cause little tears in our muscles which then rebuild to become stronger and more resilient, creating short moments of stress in our lives does the same thing. It make our mind and our immune systems more resilient. However, when you’re repeatedly activating the sympathetic nervous system in a continuous state of stress, this becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress is this everyday feeling of pressure and overwhelm, a constant cycle of being busy and saying yes. A state of always doing yet never feeling like anything is getting done. Chronic stress on our bodies can ultimately lead to burnout and takes a toll on our bodies. Chronic stress has been linked to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Brain Changes Associated with Anxiety, Depression, and Addiction
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Cancers
  • Obesity (Directly or Indirectly)

And an array of other health issues and conditions that will impact you as you age. Here are some further resources that might be interesting: Books to support your learning of your parasympathetic nervous system and build stress management techniques to avoid burnout.

Note: these links are connect to my Amazon affiliate account. By purchasing from this link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Stress Management Techniques

To mitigate stress and maintain well-being, consider the following strategies:

Avoid Burnout:

To avoid burnout, prioritize your own self-care first. You know your own needs and wants better than anyone else. Or at least you’re in the best position to figure that out. So if you’re not sure what you need or what you want, start there. Take the time to learn them. Practice. It’s okay to get it wrong especially if you’re just starting to learn this. Set boundaries at work and at home. As you start tuning into your needs and wants, it will be easier to set boundaries. Boundaries might look like leaving your phone in your office at night so you can be more present with your family or to sleep better without accidentally checking your email first thing in the morning. Boundaries might also look like not responding to emails right away or saying no more. By saying no, you’re actually saying yes to yourself.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval (and this is coming from someone who spent years trying to please everyone!). Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say “Enough!” – Brené Brown

Take breaks and recharge. If you’re in back to back meetings all day long, try to schedule breaks into your calendar to get up and refill your water, or go for a walk or stretch a little bit. You might even consider taking a few minutes to meditate or take deep breaths to reset your mind.

Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System:

It’s important to break the stress cycle by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, the system in charge of “being”. It helps our body and our mind feel “safe” and allowing it to go into rest and digest so it will actually repair and rebuild your system. It plays an important role especially as we age and fight illness. Take time every day to “train” this system by:

  • engaging in deep breathing exercises
  • practices like meditation, restorative yoga, yoga nidra or yin yoga
  • go out for walk in nature
  • journal and reflection

Make it a priority to do something for at least 15 minutes everyday. It takes the body 15 minutes to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Head over to my digital library of on-demand yoga classes and meditations to get access to over 200+ classes.

Understand Your Stressors:

Take some time to identify and understand your stressors. This is a lifelong journey to be prepared to get it wrong and to continue to find and explore new one’s. By having this knowledge, you can now take the steps to support yourself. You might not be able to completely eliminate triggers but having this awareness will empower you to take charge in your own journey. It will also help you set stronger boundaries to support your own well-being and allow you to show up as the person you want to be. Here are some examples of triggers: Avoid burnout and stress by learning your triggers when you're in the sympathetic nervous system to support your parasympathetic nervous system.

  • family members
  • being late or feeling time pressure
  • making mistakes (perfectionism)
  • fear of failure
  • money, debt and finances
  • not living or working in alignment with your values

Don’t be afraid to ask for help in the process. There are many people that are trained to help you in your journey. Check out my article on support systems to see what might be most helpful for you right now.

Physical Activity and Nutrition:

Regular physical activity and eating healthy helps support your body and sends signals to continue to repair and grow (versus decay and hold onto fat storage).

Connect and Communicate:

Build a strong support network with people you trust. This can be with friends and family and be supplemented with paid support systems too who are educated and trained in various fields. Find additional stress management techniques in this article.  Your ambitions don’t have to come at the cost of your well-being. Join “Balance Over Burnout,” a free 2-week program to help you overcome stress and realign your life. Over two weeks, you’ll receive emails with resources and coaching exercises focusing on well-being, chakras, energy, reflective questions, and practices such as yoga nidra and meditation. Sign up here. Remember, stress management is a lifelong journey. You can navigate life’s challenges with resilience and grace by nurturing your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Sources:

  1. Harvard Health
  2. WebMD
  3. Cleveland Clinic
  4. NHS Every Mind Matters
  5. HSS – Parasympathetic Nervous System
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