Do you ever feel like you’re not sure if you’re ACTUALLY managing stress? You’re following common advice for it, but yet you continue to experience symptoms that indicate you’re stressed out? If you often find yourself wondering, am I stressed out?!?, it may be time to expand what you think you know about stress.
Here are 7 things you may not know about stress.
1. Your stress response is as unique as you are as a person.
Take two people and have them define what stress means to them – you’ll get two different responses. The language we use to describe it will differ.
Your relationship to stress & how it affects you may differ. The physical sensations and where in your body you experience stress might differ too.
And that’s because your experience of stress is as unique to you as YOU are as a person.
Understanding the specifics of how, when, and why YOU get stressed out will take you much farther than half heartedly applying general stress management techniques.
2. Being “stressed out” is more than just what you’re conscious of
It’s not just about whether you can consciously answer the question – am I stressed out? Sometimes you *think* the answer is no, when it’s really yes.
Did you know that your subconscious mind controls ~95%+ of your life?
Think about it. You don’t have to command your body to breathe or your heart to beat.
You don’t need to know the ins and outs of how your body keeps you alive every single day. It just does.
It’s all subconscious. Yet every single second you are alive, your body is using the energy you provide it to do all of this.
And it’s more than just that. Many of your default emotional reactions, behaviors, feelings, and thoughts were formed during the first 7 years of your life, and still subconsciously control your life – you just may not have the self awareness to understand how much and in what ways!
Over the years, you have learned ways to minimize energy expenditure by operating in ways that are familiar and predictable, And that’s because familiar and predictable ensure that you know have a higher likelihood of an outcome you’ve seen before, and therefore of survival.
With all this in mind, it very common to be operating in a stressed out state.
3. Your nervous system does not know how to distinguish between a physical threat or an emotional one.
Survival is the name of the game to your nervous system.
At one point in history, survival meant how to respond to the threat of a lion in the wild. But in the modern world there are a number of different “threats” your nervous system responds to. And they have a tendency to be way more abstract.
Whether you’re physically faced with a threat (the lion) or an emotional one (feeling vulnerable and unloved), it’s the same to your body’s stress response.
Your body starts mobilizing resources to respond to the threat all the same, just as it’s been trained to do every time in the past where it perceived a threat. This means you could be using up precious resources when you don’t need to be.
4. Stress is about PERCEPTION
Part of the reason your stress response is as unique as you are as a person is because it in large part has to do with your PERCEPTION of what is happening.
Your past experiences and how they’ve formed your beliefs about yourself and your life will inform how you perceive events. And how you perceive events dictate your reality, as well as how resilient you are to stress.
Unpacking your thoughts, actions, and where you feel stuck/blocked in life can be a huge window into understanding your unique stress response and building resilience.
5. When your body is under stress, you burn through vital nutrients at a very high rate
Think of a time where you’ve undergone a stressful situation, or a time where a lot was going on. Your body surely had high demands placed on it. You probably felt exhausted, right? Like you require more sleep, more food, more water, overall more. More than you usually sleep, more than you usually eat, and like despite drinking tons of water, you’re still dehydrated!
When you are stressed out, you use a lot of energy. You rapidly burn through a lot of essential nutrients (such as magnesium, sodium, potassium, vitamin c, and more). Stress can also prevent the body from absorbing essential nutrients.
Sure, a big part of stress management is psychological, but it’s important to not neglect the inputs your body needs as well.
6. Women and men have a different relationship to stress
Men and women are biologically different. That should come as no surprise.
But did you know that this fact also informs the tolerance each has to stress?
Men’s hormones follows the circadian rhythm – or a 24 hour clock (you may have heard of this in relation to our sleep cycles). This will include their stress hormones as well as reproductive hormones. It ultimately means their energy balance resets daily, and they can generally handle stressors better/ more consistently because of this.
In contrast, women’s hormone levels follow their menstrual cycle (or infradian rhythm) of about 28 days (though there is variation).
What this means is that a woman’s energy needs change depending on where she is in her cycle, and if they are not met, she may be under-equipped to handle life’s stressors.
For example, cortisol (the primary stress hormone) levels are higher in one part of your cycle — now add high intensity exercise, under eating, work stress, emotional traumas etc., and you get a recipe for burn out.
This is not to say women are more delicate or weaker. The opposite. We are biologically designed to be such a powerful life force and because of this our well-being/how we think about stress management is more nuanced.
Everything from our nutrition, to the way we moves our bodies should take into consideration where we are in our cycles – something we don’t do enough because we don’t even properly empower women to learn their bodies and their cycles!
The women’s version of work smarter not harder should be work WITH your physiology, not AGAINST it. You can still accomplish ambitious goals.
7. Stress contributes to 90-95% of disease
Chronic stress is a major contributing factor to most major diseases. This is one of the reasons I feel so passionately about stress education. We need a better way to understand stress in order to truly manage it in an effective, yet sustainable way. It’s ultimately about prevention.
But if that’s not quite enough to motivate you, remember:
Your ability to manage stress will transform your daily energy levels.
It’ll help keep you looking youthful (because let’s face it, having aesthetic goals is a valid reason to want to manage stress).
It will equip you to bring a better version of yourself to your goals & to your relationships.
Stress management is at the core of every well being problem you may face.
If this resonates with you but you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, join my mailing list below. I send out emails about once a week. They include tips & educational content about all things stress related. And, you’ll be the first to know of the next available opportunity to work with me.
Disclaimer: the contents of this article are for educational purposes only. The goal is to get you thinking about stress holistically as well as how it relates to your overall well-being. Not medical advice – please consult your doctor & do your own research!