Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
For as long as I can remember, I believed that it was my calling to make a difference. This translated into a disconcerting habit of having an ambitious "to do" list and never feeling fully satisfied or impressed with myself. Surely, I could do more, be more, make a bigger difference. When I fell short of the list I would reassure myself with what I deemed was a supportive mantra "Believe; you can do it!"
It wasn't until I got married and became a mother, that I discovered the impact of my gruelling schedule. I found myself exhausted, overflowing with worry and disconnected with myself. The thing is, with these magnificent changes that occurred in my life -- my list grew -- with even less time to dedicate to it. I was staunch in my belief that the cadence could not be impacted. Soon enough, there was spillage (a lot of it!).
I found myself struggling, and could not get off the hamster wheel.
This is familiar territory for anyone grappling with stress. And am not talking about the good stress -- a type of mild stress that can inspire you to achieve a given task or goal. Am referring to its evil twin; the one that drags you down.
Chronic stress, with an overexposure to stress hormones, can cause havoc to bodily processes, increasing the risk of numerous health problems: high blood pressure and heart disease, colds, asthma, digestive disorders and cancer, to name but a few. Emerging research also lends support to the idea, that high levels of stress may accelerate the aging process.
For me, stress manifests itself fiercely. It's not a pretty sight. It's all-consuming -- physically, mentally and spiritually. I battle with sleep deprivation, suffer from aches and pains, feel anxious, exhausted and struggle to focus. For my husband, it reveals itself as irritability and sadness.
I must confess, I was intrigued to learn that women and men react to stress differently, and its impact on their bodies varies markedly. Prolonged exposure to stress, for women, may have greater impact on their physical and mental health. As we (women) "grow" through life, hormonal changes associated with premenstrual, post-partum and menopausal changes can make us more vulnerable to stress.
It would be foolish to think that stress only impacted me. I could see it in the eyes of my daughter or in the way it played out in my son's behavior. They were mirroring me. And when I saw my reflection in them, I didn't like what I saw. It was a harsh awakening. I realized, I had to work on myself, and find ways to better manage the list.
My husband shares with me the analogy of fixed capacity: When packing your suitcase, you cannot take everything, and need to be selective -- only take essential items. And if there's still some room, then you can fit more. By squeezing in too much, you run the risk of either breaking the suitcase and/or damaging the items inside. I think what's he's trying to convey is: Know your limits and focus on the things that really matter. We argue on this point, because I turn around and say, "Everything is important." He then goes into explaining "cost of delay," but I'm done listening and give up.
I know, his wisdom carries weight.
5 nuggets to help you beat stress
- Recognize the red flags. For me, the tendency to assign blame is a warning sign. So is feeling low in energy. Stress is your body's way to alert you, like a survival mechanism. Notice the signs and re-calibrate.
- Know your limits. Knowing when to stop and appreciating when something is good enough, is vital to prevent burnout. Learn to say no to yourself and others and strive for better balance.
- Anchor yourself to your higher purpose. I often ask myself, "what's the point?" This helps to justify my decisions and priorities to ensure my choices are aligned with my higher purpose.
- Surrender. It's not about giving up. Quite the contrary. Surrendering is accepting you cannot always win. The only thing you can control is the effort you're putting in, not the outcome. And that is enough.
- Don't take yourself for granted. How easy is it to neglect ourselves? Taking the time to rest, heal and rejuvenate must be a priority, without guilt. I schedule time in my diary daily for self-care. It includes prayer, family-time, yoga, reading, and healthy eating.
Stress Busting Foods (with Recipes)
You may be a surprised to hear that the foods you eat can play a significant role in how effectively your nervous system operates to handle stress. Discover the foods that have shown to relief stress.
1. Dark Chickpea salad, by Desi~licious RD, Shahzadi Devje
2. Chickpea Kale Curry With Spaghetti Squash, by Delicious RD, Shahzadi Devje
3. Berry and Cinnamon Oatmeal, by Desi~licious RD, Shahzadi Devje
4. Blender Bliss Oatmeal Cookies, by Desi~licious RD, Shahzadi Devje
5. Orange Maple Salmon, by Jessica Fishman Levinson MS, RDN, CDN of Nutritioulicious
6. Honey Grilled Salmon, by Charlene Pors, RD. Owner of Euphoria Nutrition
7. Blueberry-licious Smoothie Bowl, by Lauren O'Connor, RD. Owner of Nutri Savvy Health
8. Wild Blueberry and Lavender Smoothie, by Emily Kyle, MS, RDN. Owner of Emily Kyle Nutrition
9. Roasted Turkey Breast, by Jennifer Lynn-Pullmann, RD. Owner of Nourished Simply
10. Chocolate Mint Berry Quinoa Bowl, by Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN of Bucket List Tummy
11. Instant Iced Latte, by Dixya Bhattarai, RD. Owner of Food, Pleasure & Health
12. Wilted Spinach Salad With Goat Cheese, by Meri Asterino Raffetto, RD, Real Living Nutrition Services
13. Breakfast Salad, by Danielle Cushing, RD, LDN, CNSC. Writer at The Every Kitchen
14. Chewy No Bake Granola Bars, by Maria Westberg Adams RD. Owner of Halsa Nutrition
Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.