How I Reduced My Stress Levels

by | Aug 9, 2023 | Health & Wellness, Mental Health

I recently released my story of how I fixed my gut health, where I focused heavily on reducing stress as a very important factor. After receiving responses asking how I did this, I’ve decided to follow up here with my journey to reducing my stress. As I went through my experiences, it became apparent that there were two different types of stress: one of them physiological and having to do with your body and actual symptoms, the other being mental and dealing with thoughts and how we perceive our environment. I’ve struggled with both, and I’ll explain what I did to address each one and how it affected me in a positive way. 

How I Started

First speaking about physiological stress, my symptoms were low mood, anxiety with heart palpitations, and an overall feeling that something was off in my body. I’m an intuitive person, so I immediately thought something was wrong. In retrospect, it’s very clear to see I was experiencing stress and burn out, but at the time I didn’t put it together. Instead, I went to the doctor’s to get blood work done, which revealed my iron was really low. Specifically, my ferritin level which makes up iron stores. Having low ferritin can impact your body negatively by reducing its ability to carry oxygen into your blood and muscles effectively. It can also cause physical symptoms of anxiety because your heart is working that much harder to get oxygen into your tissues. That revelation made sense to me because I was feeling that anxiety, as well as being super tired and having low libido. So I started taking iron supplements, and even though it helped a little bit, I still felt bad and that something was off. 

During this same period of time, which was during the pandemic, I gained fifteen to twenty pounds. This was despite the fact that I was still working out five days a week and eating clean. Even though I was doing everything right outwardly, I still felt sick and like something was wrong. My next thought was maybe it was a hormonal imbalance and I went to a naturopath and had a dutch test done. This test is a pee test you do multiple times throughout the day and it gives them an idea of your baseline levels and how those hormones are breaking down in your body. There was nothing very conclusive in my results except for my estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels being low. As I later found out, this can happen when you’re overly stressed. I was given a couple of natural supplements that aligned with the route I was interested in, but they honestly did not make a difference for me. I couldn’t help but feel I’d wasted a lot of money, but at least I knew there was no serious hormonal imbalance to worry about.

Next, I did some research into blood sugar. I had noticed that I often felt anxious a few hours after a meal. Through my research, I found out that eating sugar or carb-heavy meals causes your body to raise its blood sugar levels, and then it has to create insulin to bring those levels back down. So after having a large blood sugar spike, you can experience a crash afterward if you’re not having balanced meals. This is exacerbated if you have any imbalances or insulin resistance. This led me to think maybe I’m having blood sugar regulation problems and started being very cautious; eating my protein and fiber first within a meal, and moving on to carbs after.

I also started having bigger meals and spacing them further apart, which meant eating every 4-6 hours rather than every 3-4. This change severely curbed my food cravings and made me reflect on my relationship with food prior. I had still been eating clean but after my first meal my mind would immediately turn back towards food and I’d wonder when my next meal would be. This persisted throughout the day, after lunch, I’d think: when can I have my snack, after my snack I’d think: when’s dinner?

I was constantly thinking about food, which is a telltale sign of food addiction. That was a big revelation for me, that you can be addicted to food even if you’re eating healthy and not binge eating, that addiction has a lot more to do with mindset. After I prioritized protein and bigger meals, these cravings went away, and so did a lot of my anxiety since my blood sugar was no longer crashing after every meal (low blood sugar can induce anxiety symptoms). 

Another change I implemented was quitting coffee. I thought maybe my anxiety was from having too much caffeine, even though I was only having one or two cups a day. I was curious if it would make a difference though, so I completely quit for about 8 months. I noticed a marked improvement in my anxiety levels when I did. I believe it was something my body needed to detox from at the time and I’m happy I did it. I drink coffee again now, and it doesn’t give me anxiety, but if you’re struggling it might be worth cutting it out short-term to see if there are any improvements for you. 

The last thing I did for regulating physiological stress was microdosing psilocybin mushrooms. My mindset at the time was quite horrible, I would be driving down the road and think: I could just drive off and no one would miss me. That sort of extremely pessimistic and negative mindset.

I thought it could be due to a hormonal imbalance but I didn’t want to take antidepressants or anxiety medications because I had done research and realized the negative side effects weren’t worth it for me. I wanted to approach my healing as naturally as possible, so when I stumbled upon microdosing mushrooms, I immediately saw a lot of people who had really positive experiences with no downsides and decided to try it myself.

I ordered an edible chocolate bar where one square was about .25 grams, so a very minor dose. I would only take one square every second day, and I noticed an improvement in my mindset, specifically no longer being stuck in such a pessimistic view of the world. Instead of thinking about how my life sucks, how I’m a victim and a horrible person, the mushrooms helped to rewire those neural pathways and open new thinking patterns to me. I only did this for a couple of months and as soon as I felt more stable mentally, I stopped taking any. Mushrooms aren’t addicting and there’s no need to continue forever, but I found it was super helpful to get past that mental plateau. 

All the things I’d done so far had been to regulate the physiological component of stress, but I knew I had to address the mental component as well. The first thing I did differently was I started going to counseling. For a long time, I thought I was above therapy. I always thought that I could fix everything on my own since I’ve always been independent and fall more into the “boss bitch” archetype.

But I knew then that I wasn’t ok, that that mindset wasn’t serving me anymore and that I clearly needed help. It was a really big step for me to admit that. I attended a few sessions and I saw huge improvement. If you are someone who is on the fence about counseling I 1000% recommend it. It can be expensive, but your mental well-being is worth it.

Because I don’t have any benefits and didn’t want to go at the time, I was very apprehensive about spending $200 a session, but there are some options for those who are in the same boat. You can find practicing psych students, find pay-what-you-can programs near you, or find online services that can be a little cheaper. The bottom line is if you’re truly invested in improving yourself and helping yourself, you will make that commitment because the return on investment is so high. Even trying it for one session can be hugely beneficial. 

Another big change I made was setting boundaries. If any of you are into astrology, I’m a Pisces which are notorious for being very giving. In general, most women love to give, and we bend over backward for people who wouldn’t do the same for us. I’m a people pleaser through and through, I’ll do anything to make sure that others are happy, and although it’s a good quality, it can quickly become toxic.

Basically, you can’t keep pouring from an empty cup. At the time, I was working too much and it was really wearing me down. New clients would sign up and I just couldn’t say no, I’d say: I can take you, I’ll make anything work, I’ll work outside my hours, I’ll do anything because I want you to succeed. Which was great ideally, but it wasn’t sustainable. I could do that for six months, working ten hours a day, but I ended up burning out and feeling horrible.

When this burnout happened, I decided to make a drastic change and I took a month off to travel to Costa Rica. This trip feels like it was ages ago because of how much I’ve grown and changed since then, but it was only last July, not even a year ago. I felt bad knowing that I had clients relying on me, but I knew I needed this change, so I took the vacation.

It gave me a lot of time to reflect and assess how I wanted my year to go. I reached a lot of productive insight and this kickstarted my weight loss journey where I lost 25 pounds. That travel was a necessary part of my healing, allowing me to step back and analyze my life. We should always be doing these self-assessments as we go, but it’s difficult when you’re stressed and in the middle of a busy life. That’s why travel can be such a vital part of improving yourself because it gives you enough distance to evaluate things from a more objective standpoint. Even if it’s short-term and short-distance, it can be extremely valuable. 

Coming home from my trip, I knew I had to do a lot of work on boundaries. I changed my schedule and decided on hard limits: I would only work four days a week, developed fixed hours, and carved out a time every day for my own workouts. I knew that working out was vital to my mental health, it’s one of my passions and brings me so much joy.

When I had been overworking, the frequency and quality of my workouts dropped, and that was just one more support structure that was gone for me. So I started scheduling my own workouts just how I scheduled my clients and made it non-negotiable.  Other boundaries were more interpersonal; things like how I wanted other people to treat me, how I presented to others, and where I put my energy. I started being more selective with my time and the things I said yes to, which was incredibly hard for me. If you’re also a people pleaser, know that it will definitely take time to get comfortable with that, but the more you prioritize yourself and say no, the more everyone benefits. If you’re filling your own cup, you’ll have even more to pour out!

In the vein of prioritizing yourself, I found focusing on meditation extremely helpful. I’ve meditated since I was 17, but I’d not been giving it the proper care and attention it deserved. When I got to my worst point, I would meditate in the bath. I’d pull up a meditation video, draw the bath, turn off all the lights, and make a sort of DIY sensory deprivation tank. Doing that every day helped a lot, the relaxation and the warmth of the water were very cathartic for me. Making time for yourself through meditation, prayer, or anything that brings you into the present moment is excellent for stress reduction, and can help center you and calm your nervous system. 

Along with these changes I had a big shift in my expectations of myself. I came to realize that there was no reason for me to be hustling this hard, I was overworked, burnt out, and stressed, all in order to earn money, but for what? I finally felt that there was no point in making a lot of money if I wanted to kill myself at the end of the day. So I scaled back in a lot of different aspects of my life. If you’re facing similar problems there are many ways to scale back, even if it means reducing your expenses, selling your car, changing your lifestyle. You are not stuck in your 9 to 5, you are not bound to anything, and if you feel stuck, know that a big part of that is our own mental image of our situation. There are always options and you can improve your life, and you should never be afraid to ask for support in order to achieve that. 

In following those principles, I scaled back my hours at work and really began to prioritize myself. Part of that was embracing my divine femininity, those traits that are undervalued and pushed down in our hustle culture. For me, that included putting a little more effort into my physical appearance. When I was at my worst, I only showered around once every four days and developed bad acne as a consequence of that and my work environment. I’m disgusted with that now, but anyone who’s been depressed will know how much more insurmountable even small everyday tasks become. At the time, I didn’t have any motivation so if I had to choose between showering and work, I would choose work to make that extra money. Relearning to take care and pamper myself by showering every day, wearing mascara, getting my nails done has helped me to feel better about myself and rebuild that confidence. Even if it’s something as simple as brushing your hair everyday, or changing your clothes regularly, anything that helps you feel good in your body will also uplift your mental health. 

The last thing I changed was learning to trust my gut. A lot of us know instinctively what makes us happy, what makes us anxious, what we want to avoid, but we’ve learned to ignore those signals in pursuit of something we’ve been told we should want. For me, I think I knew for a long time that I was unhappy, that I wasn’t living in alignment with my highest self, even if on a conscious level I thought I was doing well because I was successful. There was a gut feeling that persisted telling me: you’re making a mistake. I wasn’t willing to accept that I was making the wrong choices at the time, until I sat down and really took the time to reflect. I found journaling helped me most in this aspect, things come out when you allow yourself to freely write, and that inner self is almost always right. Giving yourself enough quiet space and time to have things come forward from that inner self is hugely beneficial. So trust what your gut is telling you!

Hopefully, out of all these different strategies you find one, or multiple that resonate with you. Any one of them can be super helpful in reducing stress, whether that be through physiological or mental work. Maybe you have some inner imbalances that are contributing to your anxiety, maybe there’s some unaddressed trauma from the past that’s undermining your wellbeing. Whatever the cause, it’s vital to find what the root is and address the issue from there.

Alleviating symptoms is great, but finding where your stress comes from so you can take steps to keep it from happening in the first place is even better. And remember that it is a process, I went through a lot of methods, and it took me over a year to put it all together into something that worked for me. If you’re willing to put that work in and care for yourself, you can be stress-free going forward. I sincerely hope this helped you, and as always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.