Let’s talk about stress, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let’s talk abooooout stress.
Did I remember the lyrics correctly or am I misquoting Salt-N-Pepa?
The real S-word they were singing about is a much simpler topic.
Have a lot of it. The end.
Stress is a bit more complex
It’s this seemingly inescapable thing that just follows us around all the time and prevents us from getting what we want or even just making sound decisions.
Stress is also necessary for change.
It’s a sign of growth.
Even a lobster feels intense pressure and discomfort before hiding under a rock to cast off its shell and produce a new, better one.
We get better in any area of life by adapting to an imposed stressor.
Building muscle = stress of lifting weights + breaking down muscle tissue + rebuilding new tissue.
Learning = stress of studying + absorbing information + recalling and remembering.
Playing an instrument = stress of not knowing what to do + study + practice.
We actually evolved to adapt to stress.
A biological advantage that was necessary for our species to survive.
For any species, really.
Imagine if a gazelle didn’t learn to hear the rustling of a lion and just stayed put when the alarm signal in their brains went off …
Imagine if we didn’t learn to adapt to cold, darkness, or periods of food scarcity.
Our body’s stress response is designed for survival
Or better stated … keep me the fuck alive at all costs!
This explains why we see increased heart rate, blood flow, focus, mobilized energy, and shutting down systems that don’t immediately help survival in that moment (like digestion, immune function, female cycle, etc).
It’s an “all hands on deck” moment.
Designed to handle the immediate threat so you can survive.
There’s one problem …
Our ancestors forgot to account for how our society would evolve over thousands of years so we’re still running the same stress operating system with a bunch of new stressors.
Introducing … chronic stress
The only real chronic stress that our hunter gatherer friends had to deal with was famine.
Which is why chronic stress often comes with energy preservation, metabolic down regulation, compromised immune and digestive cycles, loss of period, and lower sex hormones.
Remember the objective: keep you the fuck alive!
Once the acute stress becomes chronic stress … your body wants to preserve as much energy as possible because …
According to your body, chronic stress = famine.
Here’s where things really get fascinating …
It’s possible (and even common) to be eating plenty of food but to still trigger your body’s chronic stress system which treats the threat like it would a famine.
So, let’s say your name is Corey Couch Potato and you love to watch Netflix, eat family sized bags of chips, and wash them down with your favorite flavor big gulp.
However, you hate your job.
Your boss is a dick and you barely make enough money to pay your bills.
The stress of affording your mortgage payment and showing up to work to deal with your boss, Tommy Tough Nuts, is too much to bear.
So, you continue to drown your sorrows in Netflix, Doritos, and slurpees.
Our buddy Corey Couch Potato is eating 5,000 calories per day but the chronic stress in his life has triggered a starvation response.
His metabolism is slow, he gets sick all the time, and he can’t get a boner because his testosterone is in the toilet.
Don’t play that Salt-N-Pepa jam around him!
Chronic stress can affect people in different ways
The crazy thing is that Corey’s wife, Sally Starves-A-Lot, has many of the same symptoms as Corey.
But, they live two very different lifestyles.
Sally is very active. She runs 8 miles per day and feels lost without exercise.
She never takes a day off.
She’s also always on a diet. She hasn’t quite found the right diet but every magazine she reads tells her to eat 1200 calories per day, so that’s what she’s been doing for the last 10 years.
Sally also has a slow metabolism, feels like anytime she eats like a human instead of a like a bird her body just soaks it right up and stores it as fat. She hasn’t gotten her period in ages, and she also can’t get a boner (female boner, of course).
How can Corey and Sally be so different and yet have the same symptoms?
That’s because the chronic stress response in the body doesn’t discriminate.
Bringing this back to real life …
One of the things we do with our 1:1 coaching clients is monitor the stress inputs and outputs in their lives.
It’s often through adjusting or installing ways to DE-stress that we find success.
It’s incredibly common for our clients to say things like …
“I can’t believe I’m losing fat and feeling better! Literally NOTHING has worked before!”
That’s because managing stress can’t be solved with a calculator.
It requires human connection.
We have to learn and monitor where the stressors are coming from and then pick and choose our battles about which ones we have the most control over.
Unfortunately, your average diet like Noom, WW, or whatever other over-marketed, ineffective programs are out there won’t teach you this stuff.
I’ll give it to you for nothing more than a very long and hilarious read.