Sweat & Smiles: Breaking Down the Issue of Stress
Do you feel stressed?
Let me guess, you feel stressed but instead of honoring that you tell yourself that you have no reason to be stressed because you have a good life (which you do) and that you shouldn't be stressed (except you are). Stress isn't always bad, bones and muscles need a certain amount of stress to stay healthy but like all things there is a good and a bad. Knowing when to take a step back and even out is going to be the key to a better, happier, and healthier life.
Comparing your life to others whether it's feeling inferior or convincing yourself that you shouldn't feel bad because others have it worse is unproductive in actually changing your thoughts or your life. Even if the stress you experience seems to be a creation of your own, it's still very real. When I'm working with someone and they say something like 'I know it's all in my head' I always think of a line from Harry Potter (yes, I'm a big Potter fan). In the final movie Harry asks his mentor, 'is this real or is this just happening in my head' to which he is answered, 'of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'.
The fact of the matter is this, everything that you think and feel is very real. Most importantly, everything that happens within your body: both in your head and physical produces the same response from your body.
The autonomic nervous system controls the actions in the body that you don't normally regulate through conscious thought, such as digestion and eliminating food, releasing hormones, sweating, and regulating blood flow. The autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is where energy goes out and fibers get broken down, sometimes we do this purposefully through exercise. The sympathetic nervous system is also our fight-or-flight response if we are in danger (both in real danger like being chased by a bear and the danger we may perceive in our heads). The parasympathetic nervous system facilitates digestion, repair processes, immune function, it is the yin to the sympathetic yang.
When you are repeatedly stressed, you're continually exhausting the sympathetic nervous system and suppressing the parasympathetic. This imbalance as you can see can cause chronic fatigue, chronic disease processes, autoimmune diseases, not to mention emotional imbalances and distress. Long term stress causes the constant rise of cortisol which can also create excess fat in that beautiful area near your belly button.
Another major problem lies if you top all this off with more sympathetic nervous system in the form of high intensity and long duration exercise. In fact, there are have been clients I've worked with that are working out more than ever and not seeing the results they're working so hard for so we rework their program with less exercise and shorter durations of movement designed to increase energy instead of exhausting it. Like all things, there is a balance to be found and moderation to practice.
For me personally, I do three high intensity workouts a week that last between 30-40 minutes. Everyday I practice some form of gentle movement designed to promote more energy and take care of any places in my body that need extra attention or repair. Once a week I like to get out for a longer period of time: a long walk, a hike, a bike ride. That's it. No seven days a week, two or three hours a day for me. And you don't have to either.
What you eat and drink plays a role in your nervous system, your stress, and your overall ability to connect the mind and body. If you're nervous system is imbalanced that means you're struggling with energy so you may be reaching for more caffeine, sugary drinks, or anything you fill will give you a boost... and also put more stress on that sympathetic nervous system. I love coffee, but I do my best to not exceed one cup a day, on the occasion I go for another cup it better be before 2pm or that coffee will not be loving me back. It doesn't cause chaos in the moment, I don't even have trouble falling asleep, but the next morning I wake up feeling unrested and crappy and I bet you experience something similar even if you don't know why.
If any of this sounds like you, it's time to honor the stress and move forward in balancing it. You may have heard 'the first step is admitting you have a problem', in this case, 'the first step is identifying the primary stressors'. Alleviating the chief stressor in your life creates the most beautiful domino effect you'll ever experience. Make a realistic plan to address your primary stressor and set small progress goals so you can move in the right direction and celebrate each step forward. Surround yourself with positivity and positive people.
Eat and drink to support a healthy system and healthy balance. Instead of worrying about what you should not be eating starting focusing on foods you can eat to support you. Make it a goal to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water (example: 150lbs = 75 ounces of water). Move and exercise balancing both high intensity and recovery, energy balancing movement.
Practice mental exercise. You may be familiar with things like the secret, the power of positive thinking, or meditation. There is a reason these things have been practiced for thousands of years. I read a book a couple weeks ago with interviews from over 130 of the world's top performers, there was a reason that nearly 90% of them mentioned meditation. Be mindful of the words you use, the thoughts you follow, and the people you surround yourself with.
The truth is, you really do have a good life and you deserve to feel good in it. Honor that.
Sweat & Smiles,