Stress management for women who cannot stop

In this post, I’d like to give some ideas to women who cannot sit still, has tons of energy, always multitask, want to get million things done, but might burn out from time to time. See the left side of the chart.

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I belong to the Go-go-go type. I cannot sit on my bum, I always do several things simultaneously, I need to exercise to burn my energy and I get anxious if I cannot take action on something right now.

Slide-show version of this article: Stress management for high cortisol women

Detailed description of the high-energy types

  • Early riser
  • Weight-gain around abdomen
  • Likes to exercise
  • Tension in neck and shoulders, headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Fast speaker
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Emotional
  • Acne-prone skin
  • Nervous stomach

But being high-energy is good, right? I mean I get a lot of work done, I’m fit, and this society promotes images of people who are always on the go-go-go.

What is wrong with being hyper?

The problem is, if we are constantly in this revved up, flight-or-fight state, our body cannot relax and rebuild itself.

Our immune system, our digestive system cannot work properly, as they are shot off by the stress-response: the high level of cortisol and the over-driven sympathetic nervous system.

This is not supposed to be a permanent lifestyle.

If we are not doing anything to balance things out and relax, we can have serious health issues:

  • Frequent infections, colds, UTI, etc.
  • Panic and anxiety disorders
  • Chronic sleep problems
  • Alcohol and other addiction problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis

The good news is, there’s a lot we can do to prevent these problems. Unlike the low-cortisol types, whose conditions are partially result of stressful events in the past, and some of the damage seem to be irreversible, we actually have a chance to deal with the stress real time. Right now.

The goal is to help our body to recover, rebuild and heal by:

  • getting out of the fight-or-flight mode,
  • chilling the sympathetic nervous system,
  • letting parasympathetic nervous system work,
  • lowering the cortisol levels to a healthy range.

And this is all done by managing our stress.

Tips to deal with your stress

Relaxation

I start with this one because it seems to be the hardest for this type. The very reason why we are prone to these health issues and burning out is that we have trouble relaxing. We have that urge to finish our to-do list, to keep working, to keep thinking, solve that problem…

And relaxing or meditation looks so boring!

But we need it anyway.

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There are some immediate benefits of relaxation:

  • improved sleep,
  • lowered blood pressure,
  • reduced anxiety, etc.

Plus, you can prevent developing high blood pressure and cardiac issues down the road.

So as you are reading this, do a favor to yourself fifteen years from now, and take my relaxation tips seriously. 🙂

Tip 1: Meditation for hypers

Are you ready to sit in lotus position for an hour every day?

No? Well, me neither, but luckily, we don’t have to. There are easier ways to get started.

Three deep breath mediation is something I use when I notice that my thoughts are running like crazy or when I feel stressed out or overwhelmed.

How to do it: Stop. Tell yourself: I need a break. Then take one deep belly breath with your full attention on your breathing. Then one more deep breath. Then one more.

It is amazing how well this works. Trust me.

Walking meditation is great because we don’t have to sit still. I recommend to do it first when you have 15-20 minutes but with practice it can be done while you are walking to the office from the car.

How to do it: Walk slowly. Align your steps with the rhythm of your breathing. Breath in, one step. Breath out, one step. Pay attention to your walking, breathing, and the environment as if you have never seen it before. If you start thinking about work or problems, just say ‘thinking’ and bring your attention back to your steps.

Again, very effective way to relax.

Guided meditation videos are also great if you are not sure where to start but you would like to sleep better for example.

Tip 2: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is very helpful if you are like me, always busy worrying, thinking, stressing myself out with my own thoughts.

The actual life in this very second usually way more relaxing than thoughts about problems in the past or in the future. That’s the point of mindfulness.

How to do it: Focus on what you are doing. Washing dishes, eating, drinking. Focus on your surroundings. When thoughts pop up, let them go and bring your attention back to your activity.

Since I’m doing this, my anxiety level is manageable, I’m more comfortable and I don’t get that rushed feeling so often.

Tip 3: Journaling

Tip 4: Use ABCDE method to keep not helpful thoughts and feelings under control

I don’t know about you, but for me, sometimes my interpretation about events, my angry or frustrated thoughts give me more trouble than life itself. One well-known way to deal with this is the ABCDE method from behavioral therapy. The link goes to a short video to explain you how to use this quick and effective way and stop yourself from making mountains out of molehills.

Sleep

For this type, sleep can be a problem because the high level of cortisol prevents peaceful sleep. But we need sleep to relax our stress systems and lower our cortisol level. Do whatever you need to do to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. If you have trouble sleeping 3-4 times a week for a month, you should get help. (I resisted getting help for a while, because I thought my doctor will give me sleeping pills. But no. He recommended tryptophan, an amino-acid, safe and non-addictive, and my sleep improved significantly. I’m not saying that this amino-acid will help you, I’m just saying that don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor.)

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night
  • Avoid work, screens and stressful discussions within an hour of bedtime
  • Schedule intense exercise early in the day
  • If you have problems sleeping, get help from your doctor

Exercise

Exercise is very important for this type. It supports your health in many ways:

  • Keeps belly fat under control
  • Helps to prevent diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity
  • Produces serotinin, dopamin, endorphins, etc.
  • Burns all the excess ‘charge’ that comes from the fight-or-flight response
  • Helps to sleep better
  • Reduces anxiety

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The recommendation is to try to do some exercise almost every day, even if it is just a walk on some busy day. And try to get a good sweat, moderate-intense cardio, few times a week. Include strength training once a week. For health reasons and because your body will look good. 🙂

If you just had a crash and burnout…

then take some rest. Don’t exercise for a few days, other than a walk in the evening or some relaxing stretches. Once you have recovered, you can work out as described above.

Nutrition for hypers

Avoid caffeine

We are hyper by default. No need to exaggerate it even more. Drink green or white tea instead. Avoid any stimulants after lunch if you have sleep issues.

Eat low-glycemic foods

The goal is to minimize our elevated risk for abdominal fat, diabetes and heart disease. Eat foods with low glycemic index. Don’t eat stuff like cereal, white bread, white rice, potato, pastry, sugar in your drinks; eat more vegetables than sugary fruits.

Buy some important supplements

Boost your immune system with vitamin C, D and zinc. Get tryptophan and tyrosine amino-acids from your doctor or from high-protein foods. They keep our nervous systems from overworking and burning out.

Limit alcohol

It is fattening, addictive and disturbs your sleep. Try to have less than five drinks a week.

Have a good breakfast

Eat a good, nutritious breakfast with protein and whole grains and veggies, and smaller meals later on the day.

This is the second part of my series about stress management for women. In the first one, I focused on tips for women with low cortisol levels, who struggle with fatigue, lack of energy and low motivation.

Takeaway for women who have chronic high cortisol levels

In order to:

  • Get out of fight-or-flight mode,
  • Lower your cortisol level,
  • Calm your sympathetic nervous system,

you need to:

  • Exercise regularly,
  • Use relaxation techniques daily,
  • Eat well,
  • Get 7-8 hours sleep per night.

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Stress management for women with chronic fatigue

Stress management tips usually apply to anyone. But our body and its response to stress is not the same as the next person’s. In this post I’d like to give some tips to people who live with chronic fatigue and low energy most of the time.

Find out your stress management type

First, what is your body’s stress type? Our hormonal system and our nervous system behaves differently, mostly as a result of our personal history. I made this little chart to help you find out what is your type. The chart is based on a great book, So stressed – The Ultimate Stress-Relief Plan for Women, by Stephanie McClellan, M.D. and Beth Hamilton, M.D.

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Today’s post is aimed to women who are on the right side of this diagram, the low-energy types. Their common characteristic is that they have low level of cortisol which leaves them feeling sluggish and tired a lot.

Detailed symptoms of low cortisol stress types

Again, this list is coming from the So stressed book mentioned before:

  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sensitivity to stress
  • Increased susceptibility to inflammation
  • Late to bed and often feel tired when waking up
  • Weight gain around hips and thighs
  • Digestive issues
  • Blood pressure fluctuations (Always tired type)
  • Slow heart rate, faints easily (No motivation type)
  • Boredom, withdrawal from people (No motivation type)
  • Aches and pains (Always tired type)
  • Severe PMS (Always tired type)

Tips to manage your body’s reaction to stress

Nutrition

Part of our stress-management toolbox is what we eat.

Vitamins for low-cortisol body types

  • B complex
  • A D and E if you have inflammatory bowel problems as this condition makes it difficult to absorb fat-soluble vitamins
  • Zink to support immune function

Meals

Low-cortisol types need food to stimulate the production of cortisol throughout their day. It will help to balance the nervous system and lessen pains and fatigue. Eat high protein meals three times a day, consistently about the same time every day.

If prone to PMS pay attention to eat foods high in fiber and low in salt. Within months this simple change helped me to significantly lower my PMS symptoms like water retention or irritability and mood swings.

Avoid beverages that contain sugar and drink plenty of water.

Snacks

For healthy comfort foods, dark chocolate and high fiber snacks are recommended. Read the ‘Superfood Snacks’ book on healthy and very yummy snack recipes. Most of them require no fuss, we just put everything in the food processor. 🙂

Anti-inflammatory diet

As this type has increased vulnerability to inflammation, they can benefit from anti-inflammatory diet. This diet recommends eating avoiding high glycemic index foods, fructose and trans fat and damaged fats from margarine, refined oils, and grilled and fried foods. They recommend eating inflammation-fighting foods like turmeric, ginger,  leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and berries.

Inflammation-Fighting-Foods-Infographic
Source: http://www.fitneass.com

Relaxation

Relaxation techniques help you to calm down your strong stress-reaction. Also helps you to deal with the pains and discomforts that often accompany the ‘Always tired’ type by their forties.

Basic relaxation

The goal of basic relaxation to calm the mind and the body, and dissolve anxiety and revved-up state of mind. It is extremely important to the Always tired type, as they are very sensitive to stressful events.

Incorporate any of these methods into your daily routine, much like brushing your teeth. Think about it as mental hygiene. 🙂 Try:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Autogenic training

For how-to and detailed description on these, please turn to YouTube.

Gratefulness and other positive emotions

Research shows that positive emotions like gratitude, curiosity, love, hope or inspiration are closely related to happiness. One way to add it to your everyday life is to consciously spend a few minutes each day on listing 5 things you are grateful for, and appreciating the love and beauty around you.

Gratitude-Graphic
Source: JairekRobbins.com

I can personally attest that it is an amazing habit that can turn dark mood and low motivation around, even during not so happy times in our lives. I use the 6 phase meditation every morning that includes gratitude and it helps to start my day well.

Sleep

Low-energy types are usually night owls. If you are like them, you easily stay up after midnight and have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. But most of us need about 7-8 hours of sleep every night to stay healthy. What can be done to re-set your circadian rhythm to a more reasonable bedtime?

  • Avoid caffeine after 3 pm
  • Dim the light in the evening in the house
  • Expose yourself to bright morning light for an hour (I know, it is impossible during winter. Try artificial sunlight lamps.)
  • Go to bed 15 minutes earlier in every 2-3 days until you readjust your bedtime
  • Get regular exercise but not within a few hours of bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before bedtime

Exercise

Women who belong to these low-energy types often suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia or arthritis by the time they reach their middle-age.

Despite the aches, pains and exhaustion, low-energy types can greatly benefit from exercise. Exercise produces endorphins, natural pain-killers; it will also increase your energy, and help you lose weight if you need to. You just have to do it wisely. Don’t look at what other people do for exercise, as it might be too much for you.

  • Start with very low intensity and short intervals. Few minutes of walk every day might be a good start. If you feel exhausted afterwards, decrease the time or the intensity. If you were fine, gradually increase them.
  • Try water-based exercises, if available, since they are gentle and great for anybody with pain.
  • Get approval and advice from your health-care provider.

Dealing with the past

This type has low levels of cortisol as the result of chronic stress earlier in their life, typically in-utero and childhood. I personally know four women among friends and family members who suffered from childhood abuse. They all belong to this stress-type, and developed chronic health issues by their forties and it is quite typical according to the researchers.

Research also shows that women who suffered childhood abuse have similar physical symptoms and psychological problems than women currently experiencing abuse in their lives. Which says to me that past trauma is still hurting you unless you do something about it.

Trauma therapy

One scientific and effective way to recover from traumatic experiences is EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy. It works faster than traditional talk therapy and also covered by insurance.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  […] EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. Source: EMDR Institute, Inc.

Forgiveness therapy

Research shows that forgiveness therapy is effective in improving physical and mental health of women who suffered abuse, including childhood abuse.

Forgiveness therapy doesn’t mean that these women are asked to agree with what happened, or stop being angry, or to reconcile with abuser, or anything like that. Forgiveness therapy helps us to be free of the emotional burden eventually and heal.

Forgiveness often is confused with reconciling, forgetting, pardoning, and/or accepting even though it is different from all of those terms. Some people criticize forgiveness because they think that advocating forgiveness leads to further abuse or hurt. Safety is the first and most important consideration. Thus, a survivor of any type of abuse would not be encouraged to forgive her abuser until she was safe and removed from the abusive environment. When one forgives, she does not give up her right to a just solution; forgiveness and justice occurs together. Source: Journal of Women’s Health Care

If you feel you might be affected by trauma I’d like to encourage you to seek help. None of us deserves to suffer. Healing is possible.

These were my tips for you if you struggle with low energy levels regularly due to lack of enough cortisol.

I hope you have found some helpful ideas. Pick one or two and try it for a few weeks and see if it is working for you.

I will post stress-management tips for women who are on the left side of the diagram soon.

What are your favorite ways to deal with your stress? Let me know in the comments below.

Take care,

Livia,

Life coach focusing on health and wellness in Calgary

Resources:

So stressed – The Ultimate Stress-Relief Plan for Women by Stephanie McClellan, M.D. and Beth Hamilton, M.D.

 

Do you suffer from chronic stress symptoms?

Lots of us do, without even realizing it. Stress symptoms can be

  • physical like neck pain, headaches and digestive issues,
  • psychological like insomnia, memory and concentration problems or mild depression,
  • or social signs like lack of interest in socializing, decreased libido or more impatience and arguments with others.

Do these things affect your life often? Even daily? Then maybe it is time to pay attention to your stress level and coping strategies.
Because there are healthy coping strategies that can help you feel better. Here and now.

Can we decrease our stress level?

Yes, we can. Without waiting to win the lottery and moving to a tropical island by yourself. 🙂

stress-equation_change

Our perceived stress level is a result of outside events and our reactions to those events. We cannot do much about the blue areas but sure we can change the orange parts: out attitude and coping strategies, for example.

Real life example: I worked with a client who came to me because she had been sick all the time last winter and was very stressed. Gradually, she started to use new stress management techniques and feels significantly better since then.

She didn’t win the lottery. Her life circumstances are the same. But she is doing something about them.

And you can do that, too, in a few minutes a day. For example, here are some active rest ideas you can use to:

  • increase your productivity,
  • relax your mind,
  • refresh your body and
  • restore your spirits.

Active rest tips video

In my next post, I will give you guys some more tips on effective daily habits that will help you to lower your stress level, and feel better immediately.

Take care,

Livia,

Health and wellness coach in Calgary, who will go dancing Friday night because it helps her with the stress a lot! 🙂