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Non-BS Ways to Manage Your Stress

Since understanding that chronic stress is one of the root causes of my digestive issues, I've heard numerous times that I need to work on “managing my stress”. But seriously, wtf does that even mean?! How does one even begin to manage their stress when it feels so vague? And why is the only solution to practice "self-care"?

So, we're breaking down how to identify if you're chronically stressed, why it's impacting your gut health journey, and non-BS ways to actually overcome it.

How to Tell if You’re Chronically Stressed

When I began exploring the potential triggers of my chronic stress, I found it very hard to figure out. I have always been a stressed girly. Since I can remember, I was running from one activity to the next; staying up late to study for exams, and eating on the go. It felt like my normal state of being. But turns out - it wasn't normal and was leading to digestive issues.

It’s important to take the time to identify how your body feels when it’s stressed and the factors that trigger it. By becoming in tune with your body, you’ll be more proactive in managing and preventing stress, instead of dealing with the aftermath.

After I started to become in tune with my body, I noticed these signs of chronic stress.

I started to notice that my shoulders were always raised and tense. Even if I wasn’t doing a stressful task, my muscles would tense, stomach would be clenched, and I couldn’t fully inhale/exhale. It almost felt suffocating to take a deep, belly breath (sign number one).

When I was chronically stressed, it felt like I was thriving off the adrenaline rush from being in a constant state of motion. Running from one thing to the next was invigorating, and honestly, it felt super addicting (sign number two).

But when I didn’t feel this way, I would become extremely lethargic and fatigued. I would often develop migraines and no matter how much I slept, was consistently tired (sign number three).

I also struggled with racing thoughts and anxiety. I felt like I couldn’t rest or sit still and had to be in a constant state of motion. There was a lingering feeling of being overwhelmed and it impacted my sleep (sign number four).

There was also a period where I kept getting sick with different colds, allergies, and infections. My immune system was compromised and only then would I receive adequate rest (sign number five).

Eventually, my body started to fight against me. I developed IBS-like symptoms, like bloating, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. My hunger cues were impacted and I either was hungry all the time or didn’t feel hungry at all. At one point, I gained 15 pounds in three months. I felt myself holding on to more water weight and had gained lower-belly fat (sign number six).

Determining the Root Cause of Chronic Stress

Stress can stem from a variety of reasons, so identifying the root cause of your stress is key to managing it effectively.

Stressors like relationship troubles, family problems, or financial distress can clearly trigger stress, but sometimes there’s no obvious reason, and you still can't relax.

After being in a chronic state of stress for so long, I couldn’t distinguish between feeling relaxed and being triggered. My body was conditioned to stay in fight-or-flight mode, making it nearly impossible for my nervous system to switch to a relaxed state.

So for me, I realized that I had become addicted to stress. I believed that I needed to be overwhelmed to be productive. My nervous system was dysregulated, keeping me in a constant state of fight or flight. I wasn’t addressing the natural stresses of work and life, choosing distractions over healing, and my environment wasn’t supportive of stress management.

Chronic stress can also be triggered by emotional stress from a toxic relationship or the relentless pressure to stay connected via social media. The inability to fully disconnect keeps our nervous system constantly on edge. Easy access to distractions like Instagram/TikTok provide cheap dopamine hits, leading us to ignore problems and allowing anxiety to build up, which results in even more stress.

How to ACTUALLY Manage your Stress (No-BS)

So, you figured out how to tell if you're chronically stressed and the root reasons behind it. What can you do about it now?

It’s going to start with becoming in tune with your body.

Chronically stressed girlies don’t even know when they’re stressed. Finding alone time to understand what triggers your stress can be a game changer. One of the best ways to overcome stress is by disconnecting and resetting your dopamine levels (yes, dopamine detoxes are essential!).

We are conditioned to always be connected and crave instant gratification, which impacts our reward system (dopamine receptors). Overstimulation can make simple, everyday tasks lose their pleasure, making ordinary work feel daunting and stressful.

One effective way to reset your dopamine level is turning off all notifications - besides for calls and texts - on your phone.

Removing distractions also means practicing mindful eating. Slow down during meals, never eat on the go, practice gratitude, and eat without scrolling on your phone to reduce stress levels.

Take steps to regulate your nervous system. The vagus nerve, a major component of the central nervous system, links our brain and digestive system. In times of stress, the vagus nerve can trigger our fight or flight response, affecting digestive health.

To destress, you need to activate the vagus nerve, shifting your body to a rest and digest, or parasympathetic state. You can activate your vagus nerve through meditation, belly breathing, humming, pulling on your ear lobes, or even putting your feet up on a wall. You can also incorporate acupuncture, which I found really beneficial in managing chronic stress.

Schedule “brain breaks” throughout the day (that isn’t scrolling on your phone). Sitting and working or studying without taking breaks can cause physical and mental strain. Sedentary behavior leads to stress and mental fatigue. Every 90 minutes or so, make sure to get up, and move your body. Set that timer to remind you to do some light stretching, belly breathing, or simply standing and looking out the window to ease tension.

Exercise, but avoid HITT classes like the plague. Exercise releases serotonin and dopamine, aiding stress relief and gut health. However, that high-intensity workout class you signed up for is probably contributing to elevated cortisol levels (stress hormones). So if you struggle with stress, the last thing you need is strenuous workout. Instead, opt for a walk, enjoy nature, or practice gentle yoga instead.

Change your environment. One of the best ways I’ve reduced stress is by changing my surroundings. I didn’t realize how much my environment was contributing to my elevated stress levels until I moved from New York City to the countryside of Brazil. While such a dramatic change isn’t necessary for everyone, removing yourself from stressful environments can help you adopt healthier habits.

Slow your morning routine down. The power of your morning routine will set the tone for the day. If you start your day by scrolling on your phone, skipping breakfast, doing a strenuous workout, and just having coffee on an empty stomach, it’s no wonder you’re chronically stressed. Instead, create a morning routine that supports your cortisol levels.

I now take my mornings slower. I wake up early to avoid rushing, spend some time in the sun, and feel the grass under my feet. I prepare a high-protein breakfast, wait an hour before having caffeine, and spend time journaling or reading before starting my workday. This slower routine has made me more resilient to other stressors throughout the day.

Reduce caffeine consumption. While coffee can be beneficial, too much too early, especially with sugary additives, can disrupt stress hormones and gut health. Limit your caffeine intake to just one cup (and be honest, a venti quad-shot is not “one” cup) and avoid consuming it after 10AM due to caffeine’s half-life.

Prioritize your sleep. While sleep can often be disrupted if we’re too stressed out, the lack of sleep also reduces our resilience to stress. Prioritize a wind down routine to help you stay asleep and handle stress better.

Incorporate adaptogens as needed. Adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola, can help your body balance stress and regulate cortisol when you simply cannot. Other adaptogens I like are ashwagandha, maca, and lion’s mane.

Quit striving for perfection. Trying to completely eliminate stress to achieve a perfectly healthy lifestyle can itself be stressful. Plus, that is simply unattainable: Stress will always come up. Remember that you don’t need to be in perfect health 24/7, and stress is a fundamental part of life that helps us grow and adapt. Embrace it when it arises, but also remember that balance is key - too much stress can harm your gut health journey.


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Welcome! If you made it here, you are probably looking for answers on where to begin your wellness journey. I'm Jessica, and I started my gut health journey over 3 years ago. As an avid foodie and wellness enthusiast, I hope to inspire you on your realistic wellness journey.

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