Okay, okay, I totally believe the whole let-food-be-your-medicine thing.
(Tthanks, Hippocrates…does anyone else picture hippos in crates when you see his name?)
But here’s a little secret: All the green smoothies and chia seeds and quinoa, all the HIIT workouts, strength training, and foam rolling in the world won’t do you a damn bit of good if you don’t get that stress under control.
You see, if you can’t shut stress down, your body might just shut down digestion, which could cause a whole host of problems, like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, heartburn, inflammation, indigestion, nausea, weight gain……shall I go on?
Plus, that stress isn’t doing you any favors if you’re already dealing with stomach ulcers, celiac disease, or IBS. And it can make you more susceptible to infection.
Want even more reason to calm the eff down?
If you’re stressed, your body might move that food through your system a little too quickly (ahem, liquid poo). Not only is that a pain in the ass (literally and figuratively, as it turns out), but it’s also preventing your body from getting any nutrition from what you’ve eaten. If the food isn’t staying in your digestive system long enough, your body can’t absorb the goodness.
So you can see how that ultra-healthy, extra-green, super-superfood smoothie isn’t doing you any good if you’re stressed.
To put it pretty simply: Your body can only digest one thing at a time, stress or food.
Blame it on the whole fight or flight thing.
So if you’re up here (cue that annoying gesture when someone is trying to make you simmer down), I’m gonna need you to be down here so you can actually feel good after eating your good food.
And, yes, you’ve probably heard the advice I’m about to tell you thousands of times. But read those last few paragraph again. This is important stuff.
I recently found myself in some less-than-desirable situations.
You know, the kind where your face starts turning red, your heartbeat starts racing, your pits start outputting some serious sweat, your digestion system bids you adieu.
No? Just me? Okay...
What’s your usual reaction to these situations? Say a douche-y driver cuts you off in rush-hour traffic. Or maybe a colleague makes a cutting comment that you didn’t see coming. And you certainly weren’t prepared for.
Do you go into full on road rage, flashing some fingers, spouting some pretty colorful language, punching that poor steering wheel?
Do you immediately go into a negativity spiral or spout off some more colorful language, perhaps fire off a snide comment of your own?
If you’re thinking that’s a normal reaction, you’re in luck.
Not because it is a normal reaction. But because I’ve got a few strategies for you that might just come in handy.
Take a deep breath.
Sure, your mom and every self-help, woo-woo (no offense, I sometimes identify with the woo-woo crowd) guru out there tells you to breathe. But do you actually do it?
Try it. Eyes closed not required but a nice touch. Just take a nice deep breath in through your nose. Pause at the top and let that breath out nice and slowly. Keep taking deep breaths until you no longer feel the need to decapitate the douce-y driver.
Have a code word.
Not like a red room code word. More like a ridiculous, silly word that you can’t think or say with a straight face. Think sacroiliac or woosah. Or remember that Seinfeld episode with serenity now?
Next time your cutthroat coworker takes aim at you with a crossbow, take a deep breath, and, when you exhale, think about your code word. Concentrating on that one word can take your mind off that uncalled for barb and distract you.
Bonus points if you say your word out loud. You might look a little crazy, but maybe next time they’ll think twice about messing with you. Just a thought.
Try a different perspective.
Let’s revisit that douche-y driver. If he hasn’t careered off the road, that is.
I know it can be really, really, really hard to just let it go, especially when someone else is putting your life at risk. But what if that driver just got a call that his wife has gone into labor or his father had a heart attack? What if he’s rushing to the hospital to be with his loved ones?
Maybe he just bought a fresh pint of ice cream (let’s be real, Mr. Dodge Charger probably isn’t buying nice cream), and he wants to get it home before it melts all over. And maybe that’s enough of an emergency for him to drive like a maniac.
The point is, you don’t know nor can you ever know what’s really going on with the other person. So what if you choose to believe that the douche-y driver is in a for-real emergency situation and you send him a little bit of love? Just a bit?
What’s the worst that could happen? He really is rushing home to eat his ice cream and you feel a little less stressed because you didn’t let his problems affect you (and by you, to stick with the overall point here, I mean your digestion)?
Here’s one final thought for you: A former boss of mine liked to say, “Did anyone die?” when what seemed like a catastrophe was happening in the it’s-never-really-life-or-death office. No one ever did die, so all was well. (I would have hated to see what happened if someone actually did die though, what an HR nightmare…)
It might have seemed cold-hearted when we were in the weeds, but, in hindsight, she was really trying to help our team keep things in perspective and keep calm. Having to work till 5:15 isn’t the end of the world and sitting on a conference call probably won’t kill you.
Reframe, people, reframe, and get on with it. Your digestive system will forever be grateful.
P.S. If you’re curious, I did take my own advice, and my tumultuous tummy was extremely appreciative. Mr. D.J., play me some Chariots of Fire.
P.P.S. Oh, by the way, you've read my article about foods to fight stress, right?