Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reduce Stress #myheartdayresolution

In my weight loss journey I have made a number of unpleasant discoveries about my health. For example, my cholesterol is sky high. I also have depression and anxiety. Though it may not seem like it at first glance, these two things are related and they're both related to my obesity. The uniting factor in all of these is cortisol, the stress hormone.

I am no stranger to cortisol or the "fight or flight" adrenalin rush that it triggers. I am an animal handler by trade, after all, and animals attack. When a dog tries to attack me, I feel that rush like a laser through my chest. The world slows down and my thoughts start to come in a whir. "Okay, step to the side, grab the scruff, where's his teeth, where's my hand, have I got a good grip? he's heavy but I'm strong, where's the owner, let's get him out of here, okay good she's got the leash on him I can let go now...". And then out loud "Wow, did you see what happened there? Let's discuss that and use it as a learning opportunity."

But sometimes, much more often, the laser through my chest happens when there is no emergency. Then my brain is whirring and there's no direction for it to go in. All it can say is "what if he thinks, what if she thinks, what if this doesn't work out, what if something's going on you don't know about".  And there's no where for it to go, so it just keeps whirring and spinning, and the lazer keeps shooting me in the chest and my chest gets tighter, and my brain spins faster and then I have an anxiety attack, or I simply shut down and go to bed or, as my son refers to it I STOP and sink into a depression and lay in bed with my brain spinning lazily about saying "There's nothing you can do anyway, might as well just let it happen, ride it out, who cares anyway, we're all going to die, might as well let it come, you can't help, can't even keep the house clean, if they cared about you they would know, you wouldn't have to tell them, why bother, they're all using you, why write, why talk, I don't have anything worthwhile to say, nothing's original, nothing's interesting, might as well stay in bed." and then my body starts cooperating with my brain and becomes achy and miserable so I really am sick in bed.

Meanwhile all that cortisol floating around in my system without an actual emergency to respond to is getting bored and entertaining itself in all sorts of ways. Excess cortisol causes insulin resistance, also known as pre-diabetes, which can cause you to lay down abdominal fat, which is linked to production of excess cholesterol  and increased risk of stroke, heart attack and metabolic syndrom. It impairs thyroid function, which can cause you to hang on to weight. Cortisol depresses the immune system. It reduces bone and muscle formation, causing osteoporosis over a long period of time. It interferes with memory retrieval and increases blood pressure.

Okay, so I think I have made my case for the stress-cortosol-obesity link. The question is, what to do about it. I can't stop stress from happening and I really only have limited control when it comes to my body's natural response to it

Well, I did some research and formulated a plan. Here is the practical part of this post.

Dawn's Plan for Reducing Stress

There it is again, exercise. Exercise helps "burn off" cortisol and relieve stress. I try to do Yoga every morning. I found a Youtube page I like so I can practice with free videos. ( Do Yoga with Me) and I'm thinking of starting to do the Belly Dance workouts at (just trying to find time when nobody's around to mock me). My little Sunshine and I take walks every afternoon when we start to get on each others' nerves and then at night, after Sunshine is fed, bathed and in his jammies, my husband and I push him around the neighborhood in the stroller. This is a great wind down and gives my husband and I a chance to discuss the day.

Stress interferes with sleep and when you don't get enough sleep you have a harder time dealing with stress. It's a vicious cycle. I am an insomniac. When I get involved with writing something, I don't like to stop to sleep. And when I do go to sleep I end up waking up in the middle of the night with my mind racing. Most of my anxiety attacks happen at night. Enter, The Honest Guys, another Youtube channel I just love. Their guided sleep meditations really do the trick. (And their Middle Earth themed meditations are alot of fun too). They take the edge off an anxiety attack and help me drift off to sleep. I still must be super strict about making myself go to sleep at 10pm every night so that I can get a solid 8 hours before I wake up at 6:30am if I want to do Yoga, have a shower and start on my daily chores before Mr. Sunshine wakes up.

Make a List
I find making lists of everything I need to do and keeping track of everything on a family calendar to be very helpful in reducing my stress throughout the day. One tool I use for this can be found at I use this calendar, to-do list, grocery shopping list and menu planner tool to keep myself on track. I even record my dog training appointments on it as I can take it with me on my Kindle and update my calendar right from my clients' homes. My husband has access to the same calendar and carries his Kindle with him too so when he gets a gig, he just puts it on the calendar and the next time I look at it, there it is. No more double booking. And since I keep my Kindle in my purse, I never forget a shopping list anymore either.

Meditation is key to reducing stress, but it's not easy for everyone and it can be hard to find time for it. I used to take a nap when my Sunshine napped, now I do a one hour meditation and spend the other hour and a half checking things off my to do list. Since I am sleeping better, the nap isn't necessary and I feel like the meditation refreshes me better without leaving me groggy and fuzzy. If I have trouble meditating on my own, I do one of the great guided meditations from The Honest Guys or LilianEden.

Play is a great stress reliever and it releases good healthy hormones that make you stronger instead of those bad stress hormones that mess you all up. So I try to take some time to play every day. Several times a day I spend some time roughhousing with the baby, building with blocks or looking at a book together. This is my job at that time. Not cleaning or cooking or writing, playing with the baby. I also try to take some time to play with the older kids. Mabinogi is an online game we all enjoy together (look me up, I'm Mourningbird). Sometimes I have to play by myself and for that I have found What is it? It's a game, and a self-healing and productivity tool. It makes doing what you gotta do fun. It was created by a video game designer and... well, you have to check it out for yourself. And if you do, please be my ally! It's more fun to play with others.

Creating crafts also releases good hormones. I like knitting but I haven't the time lately. I am seriously going to get back into it. Soon. I also want to set up a sewing room and a craft workshop in my new house, whenever I get my new house. Crafting isn't something I've been doing enough to relieve my stress, but it does relieve stress when I do it.

I am interested to hear what other people do to relieve stress and if they have tips and viewpoints about using the methods I described here.