Aug. 11. 2016
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Today I’m talkin’ stress. Last week, I started the Nutrition Stripped Lifestyle series in hopes that it would help you simplify nutrition and wellness and is a tool for finding balance and health. I started with the first pillar of the NS lifestyle – squad. If you missed that post, catch up on why building and maintaining your support system is the crucial first step to a healthy lifestyle here! Keep reading for more on the second aspect of the NS lifestyle, STRESS.

Just to catch you up to speed if you’re new here, the NS lifestyle is based on 10 areas of wellness that I think are vital to a balanced wellbeing:

♦ 01. SQUAD ♦ 02. STRESS ♦ 03. BODY ♦ 04. NOURISHMENT ♦ 05. LOVE ♦ 06. SLEEP ♦ 07. EXPLORE ♦ 08. CENTER ♦ 09. MANIFEST ♦ 10. NATURE

Stress is one thing that we ALL deal with from time to time. Some of us may feel stress more than others, which can be from outside factors or maybe it’s just your personality, but it’s inevitable that stress will creep up on us all at some point. I know that the busier I get with Nutrition Stripped and the more projects I take on, the more I start to feel the stress of it all. First, let’s break down what stress is in a health sense. By definition, stress is your brain’s response to any demand from a change in your lifestyle. This could be a physical stressor like a wound, exercising too much, or healing from a surgery. It could also be an emotional demand from changes in your lifestyle, relationships, finances, etc. Anything that demands your physical, mental, or emotional energy can cause stress.

Stress is not a bad nor good thing, it just IS. The way we react, handle, manifest, and manage stress is where the typical trouble associated with stress will occur. Stress impacts our health and bodies in a multitude of ways including:

  • hormonal changes
  • nervous system reactions
  • changes in weight and sleep,
  • poor digestion
  • cardiovascular disease
  • lowered immunity
  • reproductive system challenges
  • insomnia
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • thyroid disorders
  • depression

Clearly, stress can wreak serious havoc on our bodies, but we actually need stress to a certain extent. For example, if we were running from a bear, we would need our stress response to kick in full force. We would start breathing faster, sending more oxygen to muscles to fuel movement, then our bodies would release stress hormones from our adrenal glands (cortisol) to heighten our focus by tapping into energy reserves for fuel so we could flee the danger. Cortisol isn’t always the bad guy, but when this response is high and chronic it tells your body to eat more than it “needs” because it’s thinking much more about survival, not stress over a work deadline or relationship woe. Cortisol is needed, but high levels of cortisol over time will contribute to those mentioned health impacts, especially abdominal weight gain! The problem is when we’re actually not in danger and our bodies are living in this state chronically. THIS is the magic piece of the puzzle – learning how we can turn off that heightened stress response when it’s not needed.

So how do you manage stress in order to live your healthiest lifestyle? Below are the things I’ve learned to do in order to manage stress.


Meditate. Meditation is a sure fire way to help de-stress and manage well. With everything going on with NS, as exciting as it is, it can be downright overwhelming! Meditation helps me snap out of egoic thoughts, to-do lists, pressures, anxieties, etc. It’s the one thing I can do to completely center myself and get back to my true self in order to feel happy, alert, energized, and carry on doing what I do best. Most days, I’ll meditate before starting my work day on a pillow at a special spot and space in my house. Meditation doesn’t have to be as ritualistic for you, instead, it can just be walking meditation around a garden or outside, or maybe even focused thinking in your car while driving. You can meditate anywhere that you can find the space and time to breathe deeply and allow your thoughts to dissolve, observing your state as it is. The goal is not about “not thinking” because thoughts will come. Instead, the challenge is allowing those thoughts to float by like a little bubble and not giving them the power to take you away from the present moment. If the thought of meditating is completely new to you and you aren’t quite sure about it, try out the Headspace or Calm app to support your meditation. Guided meditation is a great way to get started, and you’ll start to see benefits as soon as you start practicing.


Practice gratitude. Check in with yourself daily about things you’re grateful for. It can be as simple as focusing on that rather than a sense of lack or what you wish you “had”, wish where you “were”, etc. If you have a journaling practice, try incorporating gratitude into your journaling time. Don’t have a journal or practice journaling? No worries! It can be as simple as writing a list of 5 things you’re grateful for in the morning. Try it out and see if you notice a mental shift away from stress and towards positivity and gratitude.


Breathe. Next time you’re feeling the stress, take a minute to notice your breath in a stressful situation. It will most likely be very shallow and fast paced. In fact, check your breathing right now! Is you breath quick or shallow? If it is, try to switch over to deep breathing by taking what I call a “belly breath”. Breathe deep and slow and inflate your belly like a balloon. Then let our your breath in a slow, controlled state. Try counting to five when you release your breath in order to slow down your breathing and center yourself. Taking just five slow, deep, controlled breaths will help your body get the oxygen and blood flow that it needs to be able to step out of that “flight or fight” mode that stress causes. Try slowing down to monitor your breathing the next time you’re feeling stress (or right now!) and see if you notice a change in your body and mental state.


Seek joy. Engage in activities that make your mind, body, and spirit completely joyful. Often times we get so busy with all of the projects, relationships, and tasks in our lives that we forget to just have fun! This could just be taking the time to take a walk, play with your pup, talk with a friend, be out in nature, read a good book, etc. Whatever you enjoy doing, remember to make time for those things in order to allow yourself some fun and joy.

Stress less.

Do you currently practice any of these methods for managing stress? Do you have a different method for handling life’s stressors? Let me know in the comments!  Try adding these into your morning routine, or follow my guide for starting a morning routine to begin your day on a positive note and be prepared to manage stress. I hope that this post has given you some ways to manage the stress in your life, or at least reminded you of ways to re-center yourself when things get overwhelming.

Live well,

xx McKel

p.s. The Nutrition Stripped Cookbook is being released in a little over two weeks! If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, pre-order here and it will arrive on your doorstep August 23rd.