The allostatic load is defined as the cost of chronic exposure to elevated or fluctuating endocrine or neural responses resulting from chronic or repeated challenges that the individual experiences as stressful. There is a difference between being stressed and being stressed out. Stress is a necessary function of survival while repeated negative stress increases the allostatic load to the breaking point. This negative over-loading is a major contributor to fat deposition, changes in brain structure, atherosclerotic plaques, left ventricular hypertrophy of the heart, glycosated hemoglobin, sustained hyperglycemia, high cholesterol with low high-density lipoprotein, increased oxidative stress, elevated proinflammatory markers and chronic pain and fatigue. (1) We need to learn how to adapt to the demands of everyday life in a way that will reduce this killer.
Eat a Healthy Diet
We always tell you to avoid added sugars and other refined carbs. They cause inflammation in your body and insulin fluctuations that increase cortisol production. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone that is so good at turning on your stress levels that it sometimes enables people to perform super-human feats. The little ole’ lady that lifts the car off of the accident victim is pumped full of cortisol. Avoid foods that tend to increase this powerful glucocorticoid. Choose a variety of whole foods that include complex carbohydrates and lean protein. The healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados nuts, seeds and fatty fish will satisfy your hunger and decrease inflammation which is a huge physical stress and the beginning of almost all disease.
Get Some Exercise
The benefits of a good workout, with your doctor’s permission, are almost too many to list. Good aerobic activity can improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, help increase the good cholesterol in your body, lower your total cholesterol, help you manage your weight and improve your blood pressure. Only you and your doctor can find the type of exercise that is best for you. While we are heavy strength trainers, we are well aware that this type of exercise is not for everyone. Sometimes gentler exercise is better to reduce cortisol levels. You might like yoga, tai chi or qigong that directly improve stress levels through breathing techniques. Walking, low-intensity cycling and swimming are good mid-level aerobic activities that many people can enjoy.
Coming from the Deep South, highly religious, super critical background that I do, optimism was actually discouraged in the culture where I lived. There was pressure to “measure up” for appearances. Everything about me was critiqued to a near psychotic level. Almost everyone in that culture is constantly struggling with a negative outlook on life. I never accepted this. I really just want to have fun and enjoy life so I never fit into that culture. The old question about whether the glass is half full or half empty is the eternal test of optimism and the answer is David’s answer, “It doesn’t matter, refill the glass.” which leads right into another method for reducing your allostatic load.
Control Your Life
Feeling in control of your life is one of the greatest stress reduction tools that there is. Even though the glass isn’t full, knowing that you have the ability to refill it is satisfying and soothing. When I set out to remodel my life at 62, people thought that I was crazy. I was living in a situation that would make a saint cuss and probably stroke out. When I tell you to “Create Your Life.” I am not telling you to do anything that I have not done. The stress that I was living in when my home was destroyed by tornadoes was deadly and that night I changed everything. When life hands you lemons, make sugar-free lemonade. When you are in control, you are not at the mercy of every whim of society or an individual. Believing that you can affect the course of your destiny is empowering and calming. Helplessness is a health disaster. While working to effect change in your life can be hard, it’s necessary to reduce your stress. People who live large and in charge are free from the oppression that individuals and societies attempt to hurl at us. At the very least, you can ALWAYS control your reaction to insult, stress and trauma.