Measuring your stress level isn’t always easy. Yet, being able to assess your stress can help you make the best decisions about your health and well-being. Because, let’s face it. Stress impacts everything from your mindset to your waistline. It affects how you interact with those you love, how you talk to yourself, and it influences what you put into your mouth. There are actually many different ways that you can measure stress.
Big Ticket Methods
One easy way to measure stress is to measure your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that’s released during fight or flight situations. However, our day to day lives can be so stressful that we are in a constant state of fight or flight. The result is a high cortisol level. In women, progesterone levels can also be something to measure because cortisol impacts progesterone levels, which is why some women struggle with difficult to predict periods and infertility issues. Cortisol levels and hormone levels can be tested at your local doctor’s office. You can also order online tests like EverlyWell. The Sleep and Stress Test may be the one to start with.
Another way to measure stress is to look at a health tracking device like the Whoop. I feel like Whoop is the best at helping people become more aware of their physical and mental/emotional stress.
Personal Assessment Methods
Beyond taking a hormone test or investing in a device (I really do recommend the Whoop. I have many friends who have learned tons about their body’s tendencies and are making adjustments to their lifestyle to optimize their health and fitness), you can assess yourself and your stress levels in a few different ways.
How are you breathing? If you find that you’re breathing often, say more than 16-18 breaths per minute, that is a sign that you’re under a bit of physical stress. There are apps that can measure your breaths per minute or you can count them yourself. Count the number of breaths in 20 seconds and multiply by three. Shallow breaths can also be a sign that your’e stressed.
How are you sleeping? If you find that you wake often or you wake up feeling exhausted, you’re probably dealing with added stress. Stress can cause bad dreams, recurring dreams, frequent waking, and restless sleep. (ahem, it can also cause you to have a glass of wine or two before bed, which harms sleep quality and recovery.)
How are you thinking? If you find that you’re more negative in your own personal thoughts, your reactions with others, or your outlook on life, take a look at your current stress level.
How are you eating? Some people stress eat. Others get cravings when they’re stressed. You may not be aware that you’re doing either. They are, however, a natural physiological response to stress. Unfortunately, that means chronic stress can lead to chronic weight gain. If you find that you’re craving foods or eating more than normal, take a look at your stress level.
How are you feeling? Feeling constantly drain or getting sick often as well as a struggle to recover from your workouts is a sign that you’re stressed. When we moved from Colorado to Arizona, I remember complaining to a new friend that I just didn’t feel like I was recovering from my workouts like I used to. I thought, at the time, that it was the increase in elevation. We live at 7000 feet now. But in retrospect it was more likely the tremendous amount of stress from moving, starting a new job, trying to find a house and all that change. I also gained about 4 pounds (another sign of high cortisol levels).
Should You Measure Your Stress Levels?
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But in the case of stress, I do feel like it’s a really good idea to know what’s going on in your body so you can make lifestyle choices to support better health.
Chronic stress is incredibly harmful to your body and contributes to to chronic disease. So, yes, you should do something to gain an understanding about your stress levels on a regular basis. Learn to assess your own stress levels, to anticipate them, to adapt on the fly and reduce stress. A tool like Whoop or the Bellabeat Leaf can be an invaluable way to make the lifestyle changes you need to live your best life.