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  • Writer's pictureAmy Slater

Boost your stress FITNESS and an update!

I find it remarkably ironic that I talked about stress resilience this past week on Instagram when I had some significant, unanticipated stress literally the day after posting! SO, let's dig right into THAT because science content is always so much better with a real-life, motherhood story to go along with it!


Here is a picture of me in Costco after I had just taken my third nursing exam. This test, unlike the others came on the heels of a week of low sleep ~6hours each night and non-stop days with multiple children plus a husband with the flu. I was EXHAUSTED! The test is on the computer and as soon as I sat down to take the test, I could not get my heart rate down, it was 105 just sitting at the table. I felt nauseated and like I was going to cry. It was not fear of content as I knew it. I was experiencing a major sympathetic response that I just could not control with a mindset shift. Needless to say, I read multiple questions wrong and ended up with a 77. That is an F by 0.5 points. I knew it right away when I saw all of the red. HOW in the world! Yup, I was now in a tailspin of, "oh my gosh, that's it, now I will have to repeat a fundamental nursing course" thoughts! I could not even talk to anyone to work through my emotions...I was just crushed. So, I carried on and snapped this photo while trying to normalize a day that felt very out of control and abnormal in Costco. I embedded myself in the plants and found a couple ladies to talk to about the ferns. I immediately felt some relief, so I just tried to keep that going as my grocery duties continued. Each person I spoke helped to pull me off the ledge. Let's circle back to this whole situation in a minute!


BOOSTING STRESS FITNESS




Stress fitness is something that we can grow through mindset shifts, changing environment exposure, nutrition, supplementation, exercise, sleep and light among other more specialized interventions. Today, I am speaking to the basics!




Think back to a time when you felt an intense stress, whether that be from a chronic stressor or an acute stressor that you knew would show up again. It could be the whole experience of motherhood and knowing that for an extended period of time, you would be navigating tantrums or difficult bedtime routines, cooking meals if that is something you don't like. Did it shift you into THREAT or CHALLENGE? According to the study published in, European Psychiatry and others cited, caregivers who viewed their stressors as a challenge actually created a shift in the cascade of events that occurred in the stress response. The challenge response still resulted in high blood pressure but the blood pressure rose as a result of more cardiac output and more oxygenation to the brain. The threat response also resulted in high blood pressure but this time it was accompanied by high cortisol and vasoconstriction. Why did some caregivers become more resilient while others developed stress-related depression? The lay person's summary of these findings was Nietzsche's quote, "What does not kill me, makes me stronger". They go on to say, " ...overcoming adversity may be more psychobiologically beneficial than not having been exposed to any adversity".


Flashing back to my test, as the hours passed from this stress reaction, I slowly formulated a plan of action, assessed what I could have done differently then and will do different in the future. Although still frustrated with the grade and fearful of the loss of points, I actually started to see the benefit in the whole situation! The biggest benefit is now I had a whole different perspective on study technique, test prep in less than ideal scenarios and an even greater mindset of...CHALLENGE ME!



It also helped that I have four kids with all eyes on me and I better figure this finish line out! When I had a flash of frustration with my failing test score, Annabelle told me..."Mommy, why don't we bake a cake and have a party for how hard you have worked so far!" Well, that is exactly what we did. Check below for the recipe!















Here are some of the strategies that could help you improve your stress fitness and move from a THREAT to a CHALLENGE!


Think about these habits as tools that you can integrate into a world filled with both predictable and unpredictable stressors. They serve as intercepts for your nervous system and can build a greater fitness to stress.



In 2020, Menigoz, et al shared research about integrative and lifestyle medicine using the power of earthing to reduce inflammation, pain and stress. It also improves blood flow, energy and sleep and generates a greater "well-being". Earthing is as simple as walking barefoot outdoors or using grounding systems indoors while sleeping or sitting that are said to restore a lost and needed electric connection with the earth. This link is only to the abstract but the whole paper goes on to describe the impact of nature on our nervous system. SO think about other strategies like:

  • Bring in essential oils or plants into the home

  • Could you create an oasis for yourself where your stressors occur more...in the kitchen, home office, playroom or children's bedroom?

  • Add a diffuser, hanging basket or a window box full of flowers that you can see.

  • Could you get a bird feeder or bird bath and place it within eyeshot of your window?

  • Change out harsh bright light with a dimmer switch or to a warm bulb.

Think about simple, low cost interventions that can shift the environment.




This is a no-brainer right! The more meaning and connection we find with our work or role in life, the less overall stress we experience. As moms there is a built-in "purpose" but that can get lost in the day in-day out stressors that come with the role! Reconnecting to purpose makes a HUGE difference in how we view the effort, labor or time that we continue to invest in what we are doing each and every day.


Reconnecting to my PURPOSE of going through nursing school is SUPER important as it would be very easy for me to say, man...I really do not NEED to go through this toil right now in life. The greatest purpose for me is NEVER quitting on anything, especially when my kids are watching and opening more doors for the future! Purpose makes stress look TOTALLY different!




Well, this one should be another...DUH! right! An article in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology shared that caregivers who participated in 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 days per week had significant reductions in perceived stress and increases in VO2 max! We know that stressful situations, especially chronic ones can massively be impacted by how much or how little we exercise. The cool thing is, we can do A LOT with intermittent bouts of exercise, check out this post. So, make sure you are not only MOVING a lot during the day but also following a structured exercise program that includes both strength training and cardio!


You better believe that my recovery strategy after that week of stress was not a week of sedentary lifestyle. This is the time when tuning into what your body needs and really taking care of yourself through consistent exercise and movement can help mop up excess stress hormones, reduce inflammation and improve stress resilience! So much more to say on this topic!!



Reframing a situation...well, this one is a tricky one! And, I will say that my technique is not based in expertise AT ALL. This is where leaning into experts who study the mind or taking advantage of trained counselors can make a huge difference in our reframing capabilities! I absolutely talk to friends, family and a therapist to help me reframe situations I just can't shake. Here I sourced a study with from the Sports Medicine in 2021 on VILPA. Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity is a tool that helps me prepare my brain for reframing. After a stressor hits, I feel the need to move my body. Try it! The next time you feel swallowed up in stress, choose 5 exercises, do each one 30 seconds to 1 minute and measure how you feel afterwards. VILPA has benefits for those who cannot participate in full exercise programs or who have a low exercise tolerance. Use VILPA to build up and reframe your situation...switch it from THREAT to CHALLEGE!




WHAT! Add stress...no thank you! Well, it turns out that ADDING in stress like high intensity interval training can help to tune our nervous system. Although Hill, et al found in 2020 that high intensity training increase circulating cortisol versus low intensity exercise which reduced it, we can argue that the increase is transient and will cause an adaptation over time. The goal is to build up a tolerance or a way to adapt to the stressor so when your body experience a life stressor, you will not react as negatively to it! Palolucci, et al found in 2018 that HIIT decreased depressive symptoms and we can use exercise as a form of medicine for mental health.





Stress fitness is 100% something I have my sights set on as a mom to two sets of twins, running a business AND in nursing school. I hope this post gave you some tools or some more motivation behind what you already know to put these habits into place!! Feel free to share this post or comment below and let me know what you think!





ONTO THE GLUTEN FREE COCONUT CHOCOLATE CAKE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/4 cup +2 Tbsp olive oil

  • 3/4 cup maple syrup

  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk, canned

  • 2 Tbsp water

  • 2 tsp vanilla

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour

  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt


PUTTING IT TOGETHER:

  • Comine all and bake in an 8 inch cake pan lined with parchment paper on 350F for 25 minutes.

  • Let cool completely and top with your favorite chocolate ganache or frosting recipe!





Thank you for reading! Stay tuned as I take my new stress fitness and keep building this nursing school journey!


SOURCES:


Bersani FS, Wolkowitz O, Epel E. A Phenotype Of Resiliency? Cross-Sectional Psychobiological Differences Between Caregivers Who Are Vulnerable vs. Resilient To Depression, And Controls. European Psychiatry. 2016;33(S1):S524-S524. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2016.01.1940


Epel, E. S., Blackburn, E. H., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Adler, N. E., Morrow, J. D., & Cawthon, R. M. (2004). Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(49), 17312–17315. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0407162101


Hill, E. E., Zack, E., Battaglini, C., Viru, M., Viru, A., & Hackney, A. C. (2008). Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. Journal of endocrinological investigation, 31(7), 587–591. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03345606

Menigoz, W., Latz, T. T., Ely, R. A., Kamei, C., Melvin, G., & Sinatra, D. (2020). Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include Earthing (grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical observations. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 16(3), 152–160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2019.10.005


Paolucci, E. M., Loukov, D., Bowdish, D. M. E., & Heisz, J. J. (2018). Exercise reduces depression and inflammation but intensity matters. Biological psychology, 133, 79–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.01.015


Puterman, E., Weiss, J., Lin, J., Schilf, S., Slusher, A. L., Johansen, K. L., & Epel, E. S. (2018). Aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres and reduces stress in family caregivers: A randomized controlled trial - Curt Richter Award Paper 2018. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98, 245–252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.08.002


Stamatakis, E., Huang, B. H., Maher, C., Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., Stathi, A., Dempsey, P. C., Johnson, N., Holtermann, A., Chau, J. Y., Sherrington, C., Daley, A. J., Hamer, M., Murphy, M. H., Tudor-Locke, C., & Gibala, M. J. (2021). Untapping the Health Enhancing Potential of Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity (VILPA): Rationale, Scoping Review, and a 4-Pillar Research Framework. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 51(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01368-8

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