What’s Your Allostatic Load?

Posted on February 4th, 2014 by in Healthy Living

loadWhat is allostatic load? The phrase is relatively unfamiliar to most of us, but it’s well worth learning what yours is, pondering how to reduce it, and then taking action.

According to Mark Pettus, MD, Chief of Medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany and a Kripalu invited presenter, allostatic load is the cumulative wear and tear on your body that results from stress, especially chronic stress. Of course, a host of triggers can cause unremitting stress: a high-pressure job, relationship troubles, daily traffic jams, family discord, financial difficulties, inadequate sleep, insufficient exercise, environmental toxins, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and too much animal protein.

Even constant worry and anxiety or negative and self-defeating thoughts can increase our allostatic load. It’s not what we do, think, or experience occasionally that’s dangerous, so much as what we do, think, or experience most days of the week. Likewise, the steps we take to reduce our stressors are most helpful when they’re practiced regularly, not just once in a while when we happen to remember.

A few months ago, I decided I needed to get healthier, to make more of an effort to put the advice I spread through my work into practice myself. I began a fitness boot camp and started working out five to six days a week. I cleaned up my diet, cutting out dairy, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, and began cooking more at home. I committed to taking my supplements not just when it occurs to me but every morning. I’ve stopped drinking water out of plastic bottles and begun using chemical-free cosmetics. I’ve been following my natural tendency to go to sleep early and wake up early. I’ve made an effort to stop worrying so much about the future and how I’m going to manage it, and I’ve also tried to let up on myself, to reduce my self-criticism—to remember that I’m doing the best I can.

I didn’t know that by taking these steps I’d be reducing my allostatic load and perhaps lowering my risk for chronic disease. I just wanted to take better care of myself right now, to direct some of the energy I’ve historically put into the external world back toward myself.

Two and a half months since my self-care regimen began, I feel better, physically and psychologically. I feel somewhat calmer, somewhat more accepting of where I’m at in my life even though it may not be exactly where I’d like to be. There’s something about self-care that takes the edge off that frenetic “go, go, go” mentality. You stop what you’re doing and make time to nourish yourself with healthy food or invigorating movement or restorative sleep.  Just the act of stopping to care for yourself lowers stress, I think, and thus reduces allostatic load. I can’t be sure, but I bet I’ve added a few years onto my life by making these lifestyle changes. It just feels good and I’m worth it.

About Portland Helmich

Portland is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She's also is the creator, host, and executive producer of What’s the Alternative?, a series of 52 half-hour talk shows about natural and alternative forms of healing the body-mind on Veria Living TV, a natural health channel on DISH, FiOS, and Frontier. For 15 years, Portland’s been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer. She's been an alternative medicine correspondent for Oxygen, a health reporter for The American Consumer on PBS, and was the creator, host, and executive producer of Journeys Into Healing on Wisdom Television. She produced for HealthWeek and Healing Quest on PBS and was a medical producer for WCVB-TV (Boston’s ABC News affiliate). She’s also covered the subject as a freelance writer for Body + Soul, Alternative Medicine, and Spa magazines. Portland currently lives in Boston and produces other natural health programming for Veria Living TV.
  • http://yogaformen.com/ Jonathan Creamer

    It’s nice to be reminded of how important it is to put yourself first. It’s not a selfish act to care for yourself so that you are better and healthier person for your loved ones. It becomes reciprocal and it’s most beneficial to lead by example.

    • KripaluEditor

      Hi Jonathan!
      Thanks for reading and commenting! Sometimes self-care can seem difficult when we are caught up in the day-to-day, but it is vital, isn’t it?
      Best to you!

  • Wendi Robbins

    Dear Portland : wonderful article that can’t not but hit home with us all in this crazed life we are all living: I am Blessed to have had a MEGA wake up call 5 years ago being thrown into the turmoil of mega long term debilitating chronic illness : but today I consider that one of the greatest Blessings in my life.. Why? Well like you it was that wake up call … I now love your mantra!! Healthy healthy health .. I value each day being able to function optimally and at 54 being in the best shape of my life : physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It is all about loving yourself .. So that you can then be there fully for others! And Yoga … My life line and I thank Kripalu for my daily boost of energy, inspiration and motivation,.. To be so full of joy in your heart each day and live each day with passion.. Yehhh!!!

    • Portland

      Thank you so much for your sharing your inspiring story, Wendi. How amazing that you’re in the best shape of your life on all levels at 54. Sounds like that chronic illness was a wake-up call indeed. It doesn’t matter what gets you on the path, just that you’re on it. Best to you!

      • Wendi Robbins

        Gracias.. Always so great to connect with other joyous spirits