It’s pretty standard health advice to “manage your stress levels.” But what does this actually mean? If you’re a woman looking for tips on how to manage stress that ACTUALLY helps you feel better…
You’re in the right place.
So you’re looking to “manage” stress, huh?
Managing stress is not about “managing” anything. It’s more about building a holistic, root-cause understanding of stress.
It has to do with building awareness of your body, as well as what triggers your unique stress response, and how it gets triggered.
It’s about understanding what it means to “complete” your biological stress response cycle, and it’s about building the right tool kit so that when it does not complete (gets stuck), you know how to release the trapped energy before it builds and causes long term damage.
Managing stress requires a basic understanding of your physiology, so that you can replenish the nutrients that your body burns through when you’re stressed and exercise in a way that maximizes the positive benefits.
It’s about resilience, and evolving your capacity over time, rather than just going through the motions of habits that “manage” stress, which are actually just a Band-Aid or temporary solution to symptoms rather than a root cause approach.
Where standard advice falls short
Over my time as a holistic wellness educator, I’ve realized that so much of what we struggle with in life relates back to stress. From physical pain and symptoms, to mental and emotional struggles. And eventually to illness and disease that affects the quality of our life.
Yet common advice about stress management does not capture the extent to which our stress response impacts our lives. It actually has a lot of short comings in terms of tips that are actually useful. The following reasons are important gaps to think about.
1. Common advice on managing stress tends to be too generic & high level.
I’m sure you’ve already heard the following.
In order to manage stress, you need to:
- limit stressors
- sleep more
- eat well
- exercise regularly
- find time to relax
- set boundaries
- prioritize your needs
But what happens when you feel like you’re doing that but you still feel off?
Or when you feel like balancing the stress management checklist isn’t helping? It’s actually limiting your life and causing you even more overwhelm?!
It’s time for a more detailed, individual approach, tailored to giving your body what it NEEDS to do build resilience.
2. It only focuses on stressors you are conscious of.
If your awareness is lacking, you won’t get far.
If you are not aware that what you’re experiencing is stress, you will get frustrated and feel stuck.
After all, you can’t work on a problem that you’re unaware exists.
3. The modern world has way more stressors than our bodies were evolved to know how to deal with.
In addition to the lack of awareness of what stress is (deeper than what is conscious to you), we’re simply faced with more and more on a daily basis in the modern world. I would not be surprised if more and more people are operating from an overly stressed out body.
Sadly, it has become our norm as a society. Stress feels NORMAL.
If you are in an overly stressed body but don’t know how to listen to what it’s telling you (many of us don’t), you run the risk of becoming burnt our or chronically stressed.
4. Common stress management tips don’t address the role of your nervous system.
You may have heard that when you become stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode.
In other words, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones get your body ready to take emergency action to defend you against a threat. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become enhanced.
The danger passes, crisis averted. Your nervous system can return back to it’s relaxed state — right?
In this short example, we understand that the nervous system plays a huge role in our stress response.
But because of number 2 (we only focus on stressors we are conscious of) and number 3 (we’re faced with way more stressors in modern life — and abstract ones at that), it is quite easy to get stuck in a stress response and not realize it.
And so we get used to feeling this way and operating this way.
We accept that there are just certain health conditions that we have to live with — like day to day anxiety, physical pain, digestive discomfort, or premature hair loss– rather than recognize them for what they are: signs from our body that we may be stuck in an activated nervous system response.
If this is the case, hearing advice to “relax more” or “prioritize sleep” won’t help. You need to re-regulate your nervous system. And although this advice is growing in popularity, it is still not nearly as widespread as it needs to be.
5. They don’t take gender into consideration.
Let’s face it. Men and women are biologically different. From a reproductive standpoint, our bodies perform different functions and therefore have different needs.
Yet women receive the same advice as men. Common tips on how to manage stress entirely neglect women’s physiology. I’m not saying women can’t do what men do, or that we shouldn’t try. Just that this context needs to be taken into consideration when thinking about stress, and as a whole, we don’t see enough of this perspective.
6. Society glorifies some “healthy” traits & behaviors to unhealthy, stress-inducing extremes.
This contributes to the fact that we don’t even recognize how stressed out we are until the physical symptoms turn into disease.
It may be hard for some high achieving, ambitious women to hear, but if you take some healthy behaviors to the extreme, they too contribute to stress.
If you continue to turn to high intensity exercise to “relieve stress” when your body is sending you signs that it is struggling, exercise (a good habit) turns into something that adds to the stress your body is trying to recover from.
There’s also the fact that our culture still glorifies hustling, working long hours etc. as a badge of honor. We feel good about ourselves because we are “hard working,” “passionate,” “driven,” and “ambitious.”
All great characteristics! And ones I aspire to embody.
But it fuels a culture of “doing” rather than “being.” Whether you feel frustrated with this culture, or you prefer it, there’s nothing wrong with that, IF you are doing it from an educated place. Where you can recognize that it’s okay to do allll the things, if you’re properly replenishing and restoring balance.
If you’re in tune with your stress response, working to evolve and strengthen it to meet the demands you’re placing on your body.
So how do you do that?
Tips on how to manage stress (as a woman)
1.) Learn about the biological aspects of stress, in addition to the social, and psychological aspects.
2.) Identify your somatic (body) symptoms.
3.) Identify your emotional triggers.
4) Use all of this information to start to view stress as your unique INTERNAL response, rather than external situations to be managed or avoided (this is a piece of it, but far from the whole picture!)
5.) Treat your body as a SYSTEM rather than isolating/focusing on an area of your health you’re trying to “fix” (i.e. losing belly fat, strengthening your immune system, stopping hair loss etc.)
6.) Learn about your menstrual cycle or infradian rhythm, and how it impacts women’s relationship to stress. (They really should teach us more about this at a younger age — it impacts every area of your well-being! From your metabolism, immune system, microbiome, mental health, your stress response system, and of course your reproductive health.)
7.) Learn what it means to structure your workouts & nutrition habits to stop burnout, rebuild depleted resources, and build strength and resilience.
8.) Make it a habit to discharge stress, blocked emotions, and body tension, as well as relieve stagnated energy through mind-body tools.
If you’d like more tips on how to manage stress as a woman, OR guidance on how to get started working with me, join my mailing list below for updates!