It’s been a long few years
Our stress management capacity is seriously being challenged for many of us.
Many of us who would have originally considered ourselves pretty great at “managing stress” are starting to tap out. Constantly being bombarded with news, shifting normals, wanting to prioritize exercise, trying to make healthy food decisions, and for many of us, managing a family on top of all of it is a LOT to ask.
With stress levels rising, it’s a good idea for us to pause and discuss what stress is, how there is good and bad stress, and how we manage our stress levels in the long term. With such a complex topic, it is really easy to get lost in the weeds, but I will do my best to simplify, so you can create a plan to start feeling like your most relaxed self again.
You might be thinking: “How could stress possibly be good?” Well, there are a lot of instances where stress is a good thing; one example is exercise and planned physical activity.
During exercise, we undergo planned stress. It helps us move/use cortisol; it releases endorphins and, for the most part, helps to regulate the nervous system and leaves us feeling a little lighter and clearer-minded.
For the most part, any form of physical activity (cleaning, walking, playing with the kids, hiking, gym classes, running, lifting weights, swimming, yoga, the list can literally go on forever) will provide your body and mind with an outlet to feel better, process some uncomfortable emotions, and at the end of the day will help you sleep so much better!
WHEN GOOD STRESS GOES BAD:
With exercise being such a fantastic source of good stress, let’s call it stress relief; how could it possibly go bad?
Well, it’s still a stress!
When it comes to stress, good or bad, your body puts it all in the same place and, at some level, processes it ALL in the same way. I like to think of bears. Your body believes all stress to be BEARS!
An angry client = BEARS
A rage-filled toddler = BEARS
Someone cutting you off on the highway = BEARS
An annoying co-worker = BEARS
Exercising with no downtime or recovery = BEARS
Over time no matter how much of this good stress you are getting, if you have not built in an outlet to reduce your overall stress levels in your life, it becomes incredibly challenging to manage.
You install one with the best of intentions, recycling water and watering your lawn and garden with it. For a while, you stay on top of it. Then you get big rainstorm after big rainstorm, the grass and garden look great, so you forget that you need to empty the rain barrel. Eventually, the water starts spilling over because there is nowhere left for the water to go.
It’s easy to imagine how stressful life events could have our barrel overflowing but it can be a challenge to imagine it happening with a good stress like exercise. When it comes to exercise having continuous, intense and strenuous activity planned day after day with no planned recovery our barrel starts to overflow. Like with anything, balance, rest and recovery is needed to empty the water out of our barrel.
WHAT DO I DO???
Sometimes scheduling rest or downtime feels impossible or like, “seriously, you want me to do ONE MORE THING?” But like most things in the health and wellness arena, self-care or rest and recovery has been over complicated and turned into something that seems unattainable (both financially and time-wise).
Well, it doesn’t need to be, and keeping it small and manageable will also help it fit into your everyday life. Here are some key points to make sure you’re using exercise as one piece of your stress management tool kit:
Hopefully, seeing this habit/activity as number one on the list doesn’t come as a shock. Sleep is the one time in your entire day when your body has the opportunity to recover, repair and prepare for your next 24 hours. Skimping on sleep to watch just one more show, or clean up just one more area of the house, is robbing you of a more restful future 24 hours. So, put yourself on a schedule and stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time, give or take 1-2hours.
Don’t cut out your food groups.
There are many reasons to avoid a type of food; you’re allergic to it, it makes you feel unwell, and it’s expensive or challenging to cook. But under times of stress, creating extra barriers, especially around your food, is just going to leave you more stressed. Your body needs energy from grains and fruit to help you process and manage stress. Instead of cutting, focus on adding in an extra serving of fruit or sourcing some whole grain to keep you feeling great.
Eat your fat.
Healthy fats such as avocado, salmon, nuts and seeds, cold water fish and dairy actually help in the hormonal production process. Not only do fats taste delicious and provide your body with the building blocks it needs for hormonal balance, but they also help to reduce overall inflammation, meaning less stress at a cellular level.
Often when we feel overwhelmed we feel the need to sacrifice our workout/movement, however exercise and movement are great ways to minimize stress and empty that barrel; just be sure to pay attention to your body.
Exercise is there to energize you and help you feel good, so if at the end of your workout sessions or daily activities, you feel completely gutted, I suggest finding ways to dial back. Get the support of a knowledgeable coach who can guide you through recovery and ensure you’re not over doing it. Maybe we do slow and controlled weight sessions instead of high-intensity workout sessions; try out mobility or stretching; maybe we try jogging or walking instead of running; maybe we let the house be dirty for an extra day. Think to yourself, “how can I make this easier/gentler?” then do that until you feel your energy climbing back up.
Exercise will relieve stress and get you out of your head and into your body.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake.
Listen, I get it. Coffee is freaking AMAZING! I love a good cup of coffee each morning, but there are times when that caffeine intake is doing you a disservice. If you are using coffee from being exhausted all the time but still pushing it super hard in the gym, or cutting back on your meals, grains and fruits, maybe before pouring another cup, check out 1-4 and see if making adjustments, there might leave you feeling less stress and more energized. My recommendation is to avoid drinking anything caffeinated until after you’ve had a bite of actual food (it can literally be one strawberry!) and attempt to halt your caffeine consumption by noon; this way, it is less likely to interfere with your sleep later in the day.
Although we can’t avoid stress and stressors for our entire lives, we can definitely do some things to make the stress we experience more manageable.
In the spirit of helping you find less stress in your life, let me make one more suggestion, don’t do all five of these suggestions at once. Choose one that you feel will help you feel your best and practice that habit for 1-2 weeks before deciding whether or not to add in another habit.
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