Stress and Unhealthy Habits Hold You Back From Happiness and Success How 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. Wendy Rose Gould Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.