Are you stressed? You’re not alone. Here are some resources to help you

On food

Stress – the physical or mental response to something our brain perceives as a challenge or threat – isn’t always a bad thing. We experience “good stress” when we’re excited or taking on a difficult but interesting project, and your body’s short-term (acute) stress response could be lifesaving if it helps you walk away from a driver driving red. light.

What is not good is chronic, relentless stress that develops in response to one long-term stressor or a succession of acute stressors without adequate recovery time in between. If you feel helpless in the face of these stressors, you may even experience trauma. Certainly more people have experienced chronic stress since the start of 2020. Frontline healthcare workers. Stewardess. Parents juggling work and homeschooling. Anyone who has felt particularly isolated due to the pandemic – or who hasn’t been able to look away from TV news.

Chronic stress can contribute to a variety of physical and mental health issues, including high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. As a registered dietitian, I have witnessed the stress of the pandemic manifested in an increase in food and body problems – including a higher rate of eating disorders, which can be fatal – in people of all ages and all genders.

There are no easy solutions to chronic stress relief. When you feel like you’re drowning in stress — or getting a little crunchy around the edges — a bubble bath or a glass of wine isn’t going to cut it (and relying on the latter could become a problem in and of itself). That’s why I want to share a few books that have helped me and many of my clients.

The first is “Burnout: the secret to unlocking the cycle of stressby sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski. This engaging book explains the difference between stressors – both isolated and systemic – and stress itself, and what happens when you deal with the stressors but not the stress. There are practical tips for completing the stress cycle – in other words, getting your body out of a state where its stress responses are stuck in “turn on” mode. This is the book I recommend to my clients who are trying to do everything or who have very stressful jobs. If you like podcasts, I recommend the author interviews on “Ten Percent Happier” (January 5, 2020) and Brené Brown’s “Unlocking Us” (October 14, 2020).

Comes next “Grounded: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory” by Deb Dana. This is Dana’s first book not written for therapists and other clinicians. The book begins by explaining our autonomic nervous system and how regulating our vagus nerve, the body’s main “information highway,” can help us regain a sense of security after experiencing stressors. The book is rich in techniques you can use to understand your nervous system and shape its responses. His recent interview on the “Insights at The Edge” podcast is a good listen (November 9, 2021).

Finally, “Widen the window: train your brain and body to thrive during stress and recover from traumaby Elizabeth A. Stanley takes its name from the concept of expanding your “tolerance window” for stress. If every little thing seems to send you into fight, flight, or freeze mode, then your window of tolerance is probably very narrow. This book takes you on an exploration of the many faces of extreme stress and trauma – including how trauma is often dismissed or denied – then offers strategies for healing and expanding your own window. For podcasts, I suggest “Ten Percent Happier” (December 4, 2019) and “Insights at the Edge” (October 13, 2020).