The good news is that there are a variety of different ways to handle your stress, so with some practice, we can figure out a strategy that works for you to regulate your body’s ability to handle stress and ultimately support your journey towards better blood sugar numbers.
What types of stress reduction tips have you heard in the past? Have you ever tried any of these out yourself?
Training Our Stress Response System
While things like meditation and journaling are common techniques used for decreasing stress (more on that below), we can also focus on “training our stress response system.” This can be an excellent tool to help your body deal with stress in the heat of the moment when you may not have any other options.
The first key to this is starting to understand your triggers so you can identify when you are beginning to feel stress in your body. When that happens, some simple exercises can help to reduce that tension and teach our body to respond to that stress in a better way.
To do this, focus on where you’re holding your stress - commonly in the stomach, chest, or face (forehead or tongue). Start by:
Relaxing your belly and taking belly breaths that work the diaphragm
Relaxing your chest, allowing your diaphragm to do the breath work
Relaxing your face, releasing the tension in around your eyes and forehead, unclenching your jaw, and relaxing your tongue
The more you practice these exercises, the easier it will become!
In addition to addressing our body’s response in the moment of stress, there are a number of other practices that can be beneficial to help you relax, recenter, and regulate rising cortisol levels.
Breathing techniques can stimulate the nervous system to relax and are a useful skill to practice a few times a day, if you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious, or if you’re having a hard time falling asleep.
In addition to that, there’s some research to suggest that breathing exercises and other mindfulness practices are associated with better blood sugar regulation!
Ready to give it a try? The 4-7-8 method is a great place to start. Here’s how it works:
Start by closing your mouth and taking a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four.
For a count of seven, gently hold your breath.
Completely exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
Repeat for a total of four ‘breathes’.
Here’s a short video that walks you through this exercise if you want to follow along.
Did you know that in addition to being ‘relaxing,’ meditation actually involves a number of different biological systems and can impact our metabolic, autonomic, endocrine, and cardiovascular responses (among others)?
However, one thing to keep in mind is that meditation is a lot like exercise - it’s something we need to practice in order to build up that skill and make it into a habit. Scheduling short periods of time to focus on meditation can be a great place to get started, and using apps, such as Simple Habit, Calm, or Headspace can also be helpful as you work on your meditation ‘muscle.’
A very basic yet still effective way to get started practicing meditation is to:
Choose a comfortable spot to sit or recline.
Focus on your breathing. You don’t need to make any changes to your breathing - instead, simply focus on being aware of your breaths and the sensations in your nose.
It’s normal for your mind to wander, and when this happens, gently bring yourself back to your breathing.
Choose an amount of time to get started that works for you - even 5 to 10 minutes is great! You can increase your meditation sessions as it feels comfortable to you.
Choose a specific time of day and/or day of the week that works best for you to work on your meditation practice and stick with it! You can use the Habits feature in the NutriSense app to track your progress.
Daily Outdoor Exposure
Even just 20 minutes of outdoor exposure per day can make a difference in decreasing cortisol levels! Try going for a walk, gardening, reading outside, or even just enjoying your morning cup of coffee on your patio.
Find Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is such a buzzword these days, especially with the rise of work-from-home culture, but how do we actually achieve this?
Finding ways to keep work separate from our home life is essential not only for minimizing the effects of stress and cortisol on our bodies but also for improving job satisfaction, being able to be more focused and efficient, being present with our family and friends, and supporting overall better health.
Here are some tips for achieving this in your own life:
Have clear working hours and don’t be afraid to stick to those
When you’re home, avoid checking your work phone/email and set your notifications on ‘silent’ during those times to avoid the desire to constantly check in with work
If you work from home, create a designated ‘work’ area and avoid working outside of that space
Use your vacation days! There are no awards for not using your paid time off, so put in those vacation days - even if it’s just for a ‘staycation’
Become an efficiency expert. Identify areas of waste or unnecessary effort to help you get more done in less time!
Set boundaries and know when to say ‘no’
Take breaks throughout your day. Even a quick walk around the office can help to clear your head (and as we mentioned in Chapter 4, this is great for glucose control in and of itself!)
Be Careful with Screentime
We often hear that we should watch screen time with children, but we don’t pay as much attention to how much time we as adults are spending in front of phones, computers, TVs, and tablets. As much as possible, aim to limit screen time exposure in the evenings. As discussed in Chapter 5, exposure to blue light from screens in the evenings can alter our diurnal cortisol cycle, affect our sleep, and leave us feeling more fatigued the next day.
If screens in the evenings aren’t avoidable for you, consider getting yourself a good pair of blue light-blocking glasses!
Do What Makes You Happy
Finding joyful moments in our everyday life and doing the things that make us happy cannot be emphasized more when it comes to stress reduction. It’s so important to include regular social interactions with loved ones and find time to do hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Life is about so much more than just work!
Seek Professional Help When Needed
If you feel like you’re having difficulty navigating stress, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional! Consider reaching out to the National Hotline if you need help finding resources, or if you prefer an online resource, try BetterHelp. If your workplace has an Employee Assistance Program, you can also reach out to them for referrals.
Next: Goal Setting