Stress and Unhealthy Habits Hold You Back From Happiness and Success


You can make all the right moves in your career, meet all the right people, and say all the right things, but if you're not making your own physical and mental health a priority then you risk holding yourself back from your full potential. Not just in your personal and social life, but in your career, as well.

To help explain the ways in which unhealthy habits and stress affect your wellbeing and hold you back in various aspects of your life, we consulted Dr. Jennifer Stagg, a biochemist turned naturopathic physician who specializes in genomic testing. Through these genetic tests and one-on-one health counseling, she helps people clean up their lives from the inside out so they can better navigate the path to happiness and success.

The Unhealthy Habits Affecting Your World

“Some of the worst habits I see in working women are not getting enough sleep, too much stress that is not managed well, and not enough exercise," Dr. Stagg told SWAAY. “Women also fall into the trap of making poor food choices either because they are stressed or because of the sense of too little time to plan meals. It's a widespread issue among women. We are spread way too thin and have trouble finding our way back to balance until something serious starts happening with our health that often sends us to the doctor's office."

Another unhealthy “habit," which should come as no surprise, is stress. This monster looms in far more places than under the bed, and it can wreak havoc on your personal, social, and work life.

“I often call stress the elephant in the room," said Dr. Stagg. “I see so many women who are exercising – sometimes to the point of excess – and are eating very clean diets who can't understand why they are having health problems. I always ask how they are managing the stressors in their life, and often find significant concerns that need to be addressed."

For many, stress becomes so “normal" that we may not notice it anymore. Some “hidden" signs that you're over your limit include persistent moodiness, exhaustion despite adequate sleep, and an uptick in everyday tasks falling through the cracks. Stress can also manifest physically by causing headaches, an aching jaw (from clenching your teeth), painful period cramps (from imbalanced hormones), and worsened allergies (also from hormone imbalance).

Whether a “silent" symptom or an obvious one, though, these poor habits can ultimately impact your ability to perform daily tasks, and can inhibit your desire and physical ability to push yourself ahead of the work pack, complete tasks to your full potential, and even network. Who wants to go to a mixer when you're 12-hours deep into a migraine and all you want to do is sleep? And who wants to network with someone who's clearly depleted of energy and a little moody, to boot?

Believe it or not, stress can affect you at a DNA-level, too. “Chronic stress left unchecked impacts how your genes get expressed," said Dr. Stagg. “Quite simply, stressful and negative thought patterns can impact your body at the level of your DNA and affect your health."

It's a somewhat complicated process to explain, and it's still being heavily studied, but scientists believe that persistent stress triggers cortisol, which inhibits the production of an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme is important because it works to replenish telomeres, “a protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA," writes Stacy Lu for the American Physiological Association (APA).

Telomeres are lost every time a cell divides, and without it being replenished by the enzyme, your supply decreases. When this supply decreases enough, “the cell often dies or becomes pro-inflammatory," which triggers aging (now the whole aging president thing makes more sense, yeah?) and other potential health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Making Positive Changes

Fixing the problem is easier said than done, and it requires a deliberate deviation from our current norm. You can start by writing down your priorities and sidelining less important tasks while letting important, previously neglected tasks, rise to the top.

“Controlling stress in your life can be as simple as figuring out what really makes you happy and putting more of that into your daily life," noted Dr. Stagg.

Fueling your body and mind with the proper nutrients is another important step to take, as are regular workouts. Dr. Stagg recommended getting genomic testing to discover what type of diet and exercise are ideal for you. She said that just because something worked for a friend or a celebrity, that doesn't mean it's the answer to your issues.

Finally, get enough sleep – at least seven and a half hours – and don't underestimate the power of meditation. Even a five to 10-minute session can help you ground yourself. At the end of the day, one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself is to take full control over your health and, consequently, your success.

5 min read

3 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress Each Evening (Instead of Reaching for Another Cocktail)

When we envision a person who is suffering from substance use disorder (SUD)—defined by having a history of past misuse, experiencing increasing mental health symptoms, or having a family history of addiction—we often picture someone waking up and instantly grabbing their first drink. However, in my experience working with those battling SUD for nearly a decade, I've learned that everyone's relationship with alcohol looks different and having a few too many drinks at night can be just as dangerous.

The time of day, amount, or type of alcohol one drinks doesn't define if they suffer from SUD or not—it's the compulsion to drink. By focusing on healthy stress relievers and implementing them into your daily routine, you aren't just avoiding another glass at night, you are curbing any inclination for SUD that you may have.

While you may feel the desire to reach for another drink after dinner and putting the kids to bed to relieve some of the stress you incurred that day, there are other things that you can do that are much more beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Risks of Reaching for Another Drink

Reaching for another cocktail or glass of wine can feel like a great way to relieve the stress of the day at the time, but over time it can actually lead to the opposite. Excessive drinking is known to lead to increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders such as increased risk of family problems, altered judgment, and worsened sleep quality. These can all lead to increased stress and create a continuous cycle I have seen in many of my patients, which often prove difficult to break.

Increased alcohol consumption can directly impact an individual's mood and temperament, too. In my patients, I've seen a connection between increased alcohol consumption and irritability, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that previously brought that person joy—activities that people should always put time into, especially right now during the pandemic.

While drinking in moderation doesn't have serious implications for some, others are already at increased risk for SUD. One drink per day is considered moderate for women, while eight drinks or more in a single week is categorized as heavy drinking. It's important to monitor your intake—whether you are at increased risk for SUD or not. It is all too easy for one glass to become another, and then another. And if you keep reaching for just one more drink, you can start to build a tolerance, as it requires more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. This can result in dangerous, addictive habits that will alter your life, and the lives of those who care for you.

Three Healthy Ways to Relieve Evening Stress

Stress relief from alcohol is short-lived, but choosing healthier, alternative stress relievers can provide long-lasting benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing. At Wellbridge, our team not only focuses on treating addiction but also on teaching healthy habits to support ongoing sobriety. And many of these learnings can be implemented to avoid addiction by handling stress better as well!

Below are three healthy stress relief ideas you can implement into your routine:

  1. Mindfulness exercises can be a powerful and mentally stimulating stress reliever. Throughout our therapeutic program at Wellbridge, we provide different opportunities to cultivate mindfulness. For example, breathing exercises, such as box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, mindful walking, and progressive muscle relaxation. If you're looking for entry, guided meditation, check out this YouTube channel where experts post mindfulness exercises each week.
  2. Human connection is invaluable. Whether it is your spouse, your children, a friend, or even a therapist, connecting with someone else can be a great way to relieve stress. The additional perspective that another person provides can also help us feel that the anxieties and stressors we are experiencing are more manageable. If you are feeling increased stress from loneliness or isolation, reach out and schedule a Zoom coffee hour with a friend, or call a loved one to check-in and chat.
  3. Physical activity is an excellent stress reliever as well, for so many reasons. Not only can it help us get our mind off of stress, it enables our bodies to release endorphins and provides long-lasting physical health benefits. Physical activity doesn't need to be a full-blown workout if you don't feel up to it, or simply don't have extended periods of time to dedicate to a longer exercise regimen. Even a short walk or some stretching can go a long way towards improving your mood. I enjoy following guided, online yoga practices for both mindfulness practice and physical activity.

Despite my years working in this space, I am no stranger to giving in to stress. However, I've learned that by allotting myself a little time each morning and evening for activities that set a positive tone in my life—like meditation, journaling, and exercise—I've been able to better manage my stress and feel more prepared for heightened periods of stress. Do I manage to set aside personal time every morning and evening? Definitely not—life happens! But by doing our best to take regular time out for ourselves, we're all certain to be in a better place emotionally and mentally.

Putting Your Mental Health & Wellbeing First

It's important to also recognize that it isn't just stress that causes us to reach for another drink at night. With the added pressures and responsibilities of women in today's world, having another glass of our favorite drink at the end of the day can often seem like a quicker and easier option than other healthier ways to relieve stress.

However, it's essential to put your mental health and wellbeing front and center in your priority list—something that many women struggle with. But just like the oxygen masks on an airplane, you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first. By focusing on implementing small, healthy habits and making them a seamless part of your daily routine, you ensure that you can show up in all aspects of your life and for all the people in your life.

If you are struggling with increased stress, be specific and honest with your support system about your need to preserve your mental wellbeing. Prioritizing your needs will help you be there for other people you care about in your life.

I always refer back to a quote from a Dar Williams song—a song about therapy no less! "Oh, how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself." Talk about your needs with others and find time to develop healthy coping habits. And if you feel as though you've already created an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, discuss that relationship with a medical advisor to learn if advanced treatment is the right option for you.