Well, I moved! You may have heard (or not), but I recently picked up my whole life, packed it into a 40’ storage bin, and followed my partner across the Atlantic to Denmark… of all places.
So this week, in my now to be biweekly article “News from the North Sea”, I want to talk to you about stress. It won’t likely come as a surprise to you that in the weeks leading up to my big move I became a wee bit stressed.
I kept hearing myself use the word overwhelmed in every conversation. I took long, deep sighs when any new thing was added to my plate or didn’t go as planned. The “usual suspects” as High Point’s Dr. Welsh calls the tension in my upper back and neck caused frequent pain and required weekly adjustments. I became either weepy or filled with rage at the drop of a hat. And my self-care routines went right out the window, along with my sleep.
So yep, I’m human.
These physical and emotional manifestations of stress are common and normal. I hope to make this distinction a recurring theme here in NFTNS, exploring the symptoms we experience in our lives as either common (happens to a lot of us), normal (standard physiological response), or both – as is the case here. While the physical reactions to external stressors are part of a biochemical and hormonal cascade of responses, and therefore normal, the extent to which they are happening and the amount of time our lives are spent living and struggling with these symptoms shouldn’t be.
You may not get weepy or angry, and you may not get neck or back pain (although you’re reading this at a chiropractic clinic so… odds are you do) but you definitely have your very own unique array of physical and emotional signs of stress. Think about it. How does your body react to extended periods of stress? By being more body-aware and more mindful you’re giving yourself more information that you can use. The next time that you start experiencing symptoms a, b, and c, use this as a sign that you’ve reached your stress limit. When this happens – do something about it! Prescribe yourself some self-care or make a change. Maybe it’s something small, like a longer than usual shower or bath in the evening, the delegation of some tasks around the house or at work, or actually using the weekend for a little R&R.
When I catch myself in the aforementioned cycle of stress, I put in place this action plan to help support myself and get back into a better place emotionally, mentally, and physically:
- Communicate – Tell your support network how you are feeling. This may be a spouse, a parent, a close friend, your boss, or your healthcare providers. You may be surprised at how quickly the people in your life will offer to help. Additionally, we often get a lot of release and feelings of calm just from sharing and feeling heard.
- Positive/Reassuring self talk – How our brain responds to stress is the ultimate deciding point in turning on the fight-or-flight response, or not. Rather than ruminating on what is going wrong, your to-do list, or your perceived negative shortcomings in dealing with the situation, say a positive or reassuring phrase to yourself instead. My current go-to is “It’s OK, I can do this.”
- Get moving – I’m sure you guessed this was coming at some point. Physical activity, in any form, can provide an outlet for stress, increase endorphins (those feel-good brain neurotransmitters), improve mood and sleep, and even increase relaxation. Don’t feel the pressure to squeeze the gym into your routine though, find an activity you enjoy and pencil it in. My move abroad without a car has provided lots of opportunities for long walks around my new city while getting settled in.
Feel free to come up with your own positive action plan to follow when you catch yourself at your stress limit. Use things you know you enjoy, that relax you, or that fill you up with the warm fuzzies.
Managing stress is a big one, so I’ll revisit this topic again in the future. Do you have any requests of health topics you’d like me to cover here? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
Until next time, hav det godt, (take care)
Naturopathic Doctor Kristen Harpell is currently splitting time between Mississauga and Aarhus, Denmark and is accepting patients at High Point Wellness Centre. Call the clinic at 905-624-0233 for her next availability. The information in this article is intended for educational purposes and does not replace medical advice. Please consult your health care provider to determine if these suggestions are right for you.