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How Stress Affects Energy Levels and Motivation

- Eric First, M.D., FAIS and Matthew Roberts, PhD.

Ever felt zapped? By zapped I mean that feeling where you're always fatigued, foggy, and have zero energy to do anything, even the things you enjoy?

Sure, we've all been there. Not pointing any fingers (okay, I am pointing a very big finger), but it's usually stress that causes this zapped, run-down, overworked feeling we get. Why? How does stress affect us physically and mentally, specifically, how does it affect our energy levels and motivation to do things? Let's explore stress's impact on these two critical parts of a happy life and how to say sayonara to bad stress through easy-to-practice healthy habits as well as good nutrition and daily movement.


Stress in the Body

So let's talk science! When stress hits the body, several things happen, the first being the activation of the ancient, ancestral "fight-or-flight" response. Just like our Neanderthal relatives who accidentally bumped into a saber tooth tiger, our mind and body have a quick pow-wow on whether it's going to run for the hills or stay and fight it out. Now let's get to what happens in the body.
Your hypothalamus, a small part of your brain that does many things including moderating your endocrine system, basically raises the alarm in your body that there is a perceived threat. This sets off a cascade of nerve and hormonal signals in the body which prompts the adrenal glands to release hormones, two of which are adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is what gives you that rush of excitement and sometimes anxiety that elevates your blood pressure, increases your heart rate, and boosts your energy. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of that glucose, and makes way for additional reserves to repair tissues.

Now here’s the part to really pay attention to. Cortisol also does a tricky little thing that can cause a big impact – it halts any bodily function it deems nonessential or detrimental to a stressful event.

It suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and any growth processes. It also alters your immune system. Then comes the insidious, cortisol starts talking to your brain, specifically in the regions which control mood, motivation, and fear.
Now if one stays in that state for an extended period of time, the body will never receives the signal to return to normal functioning. It affects every part of your health, both physical and mental. It drains our energy levels dramatically.

Stress-Related Fatigue

So as our bodies remain in this prolonged, stressful state, its energy levels are drained. Without energy, our physical and mental abilities start to fade or fatigue. We become sore, tired, weary, or just sort of blah. This then negatively impacts our mood. People often experience a feeling of helplessness, anxiety, a lack of motivation, depression, and become highly irritable.
Physical fatigue can make doing basic things difficult and finding the motivation to do them even harder. Need to hit the gym? Walking to the fridge is a Herculean feat. Your partner is in the mood for amore, but you say maybe after you take a nap because you can’t summon the energy. Mental fatigue can make you repeatedly hit snooze in the morning and resist starting the day. It can cause both insomnia and sleepiness (go figure) and can cause difficulty concentrating making tasks harder and longer to complete.

5 Ways to Fight Stress

So, now that we've looked at what stress does to us and how chronic stress robs us of many things, including our energy and motivation, let’s talk about how to reduce and reset stress and our response to it. Here are five time-tested ways to reduce negative stress in your life so you can feel energized all day and achieve your goals.

  1. Identify what’s causing your stress. It may be one event or it may be 14 little things that all add up, but block some time on your calendar to take stock and track down the culprits. You can’t fix it if you can’t find it!
  2. Create a Support Circle and Utilize It. A support circle is a group of people you can turn to in times of crisis. These are trusted friends, family, work colleagues, and health professionals who can give you an unbiased ear and help you work through the stress. While “venting” is cathartic, try to remain focused on finding a solution.
  3. Get Moving. I know, I know, every doctor out there is always telling you to get more exercise, but that’s because it’s so good for you! Notice I used the word moving though instead of exercise, workout, or a phrase like “hit the gym!” Movement can be anything that’s, well, moving. Commit to walking Fido more often and taking a longer route. Throw on some music and just dance like no one is watching for 30 minutes. Get a boxing bag for the garage, put on “Eye of the Tiger,” and unleash your inner Rocky. Get creative! Just get moving every day! You’ll feel a surge in energy and it will uplift your mood.
  4. La Dolce Vita Daily. There’s this phrase in Italian, la dolce vita, which translates to “the sweet life” and has become a philosophy of living life to the fullest every day. Some people might call this self-care, but I find self-care is overused and sometimes misused. Getting a little la dolce vita each day brings joy into your life. It doesn’t have to be dancing in a fountain in a piazza, it can be as simple as enjoying a quiet cup of tea, reading a book, taking a nature walk, getting a massage, or meeting up with a loved one.
  5. Get Good, Quality Sleep. Sleep is unbelievably important to your health. It’s the time the body gets to rest, restore, and repair. This time can take you out of the stress cycle you’re stuck in. However, many people have trouble getting sleep which shorts the body of critical time needed to do its job.

Make sure to have good sleep hygiene and if you need some help getting in the zone, try a botanical supplement from the Stress Experts like R3SET Unwind. It’s a healthy, non-addictive way to support your unwinding process and ease into a natural sleep cycle. For the daytime, try R3SET Calm to keep you cool and focused.


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