Modern life is stressful. No secret here. Demands abound and being ‘stressed out’ is a daily state for many of us. The negative effects of stress on our wellbeing are astonishing!
"It is important to understand the distinction between periodic times of overstress, and unrelenting stress."
Stress & Self Care
It is estimated that 90% of all illness is stress related… Crazy, right?!
Compound the demands of modern life with a pandemic (and we’re nearly 2 years into it!), and the consequences to our physical and mental health can be simply devastating. The constant stress of the “corona coaster” and its ceaseless demands have affected us all. Now, more than ever, the need for self-care and stress management is essential to our wellbeing.
Periodic or Unrelenting
It is important to understand the distinction between periodic times of overstress, and unrelenting stress. Intermittent high stress (like preparing for a presentation, studying for finals, planning a wedding…) is common- place, and does not necessarily have a negative impact on our wellbeing. In fact, short bursts of added stress can boost our physiology and help us perform optimally to achieve our goal!
It is when stress is unrelenting that disease and burnout occur. In other words, too much for too long.
When the dose of stress is too high, and its duration too long, it causes and/or contributes to conditions such as: heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep, digestive issues, reproductive difficulties, immune suppression and what almost all of us are experiencing, a feeling of burnout.
Also worth mentioning is that when we feel overstressed and live beyond our threshold of tolerance, we are highly likely to turn to maladaptive self-soothing techniques like overeating, over drinking, procrastination, avoidance. All of which have their own negative consequences which compound stress!
Let’s Understand Together
Now, to understand why chronic stress leads to burnout and poor health, we need to examine the nature of stress. The stress response is a state of general physiological arousal designed to help us deal with a crisis. When we are faced with a dangerous situation, it helps us resolve it. For example, imagine you are hiking, and you are startled by a bear. This threat activates the stress response. This physiological arousal, appropriately named fight-or-flight, improves your chances of surviving! The physical resolution of the crisis, be it a fight or flight, allows your body to restore its physiological balance. In this way, our stress system is designed to help us survive (or endure) an occasional crisis, then resume balance and a relaxed state. When constant “crisis mode” occurs, it overloads our system, causing physiological and psychological burnout.
There are three important points here:
- Stress (fight-or-flight) is designed to help us survive an occasional crisis.
- Occasional stress is not bad.
- Constant stress is what results in breakdown
So, when too much for too long exceeds our ability to cope and adapt, our stress system is overloaded and breaks down. This leaves us feeling burned out, devitalized, or, worse yet, sick.
So how do we go from burning out to shining bright? Self-care.
To be clear, I don’t mean when you have time, or when you finish all your work, or even as a New Year’s Resolution. What I mean is prioritizing stress management as a radical act of self-care! Whether you call it self-care, stress management, or me time, make it a top priority.
"Our stress system is designed to help us survive (or endure) an occasional crisis, then resume balance and a relaxed state."
Remember the emergency flight instructions that direct you to put on your oxygen mask before you help others?? Similarly, I like to say, “You can’t pour from an empty cup!”.
So, if you habitually put self-care last on your long to-do list -- STOP. You will not only feel better but will also be better at doing whatever it is you do! Not to mention, you’ll be a more energetically positive influence on everyone around you.
Stress Busting Methods
Movement is key. It helps us restore a state of relaxation. If you feel over- stressed, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just a simple short walk can help! Whether it’s exercise, dancing, hiking, walking, or yoga, it doesn’t matter. Just overcome the inertia of inactivity by doing what you enjoy. Nothing amplifies the ill effects of stress more than inactivity!
Make Sure You Sleep
I used to think of sleep as one of the pillars of health. I now refer to it as the foundation upon which all of the other pillars (i.e., nutrition and exercise) are rooted! Enough quality sleep is fundamental.
"Enough quality sleep is fundamental."
If you like data, or enjoy the technology of wearables, I recommend the Oura ring. I wear (and love!) the Oura ring! It will give you data on your sleep as well as state of readiness.
Ever wonder how it is we are all so connected and yet so disconnected from each other IRL? As human beings, we are wired for connection. Whether it’s spending time with family, going to church, playing sports, participating in a class, or my favorite, simply talking to a friend, do not underestimate the therapeutic effects of human connection.
Go into Nature
This doesn’t have to mean taking the weekend off to take a majestic hike (although that’s amazing if you can!). This just means spending time outdoors. Appreciating nature is a powerful stress buster.
Find something that works for you regularly. So, whether it’s gardening or walking on the beach, be sure it’s something you can do on a regular basis. My favorite? Walking my dog!
Talk about multitasking…I get exercise, sunlight, nature, and joy!!! Every dog lover reading this knows a wagging tail is sure to put a smile in your heart.
We can learn to induce a more relaxed, calm, physical state just by being aware of our own breath. The simplest and fastest way to power-down our physiology is to simply breathe. You are just a couple of deep breaths away from a more relaxed state. While there are many breathing techniques you can use, just taking a couple of deep breaths works!
Here’s a big one! Learning to calm and focus the mind. The most important thing to know is that meditation is not just for those who are looking for a deep spiritual practice. A meditation practice can be just that… practical!
My favorite app is Ten Percent Happier. Just a few minutes a day (about ten of them) can be all the time it takes.
There are several good apps like Calm and Headspace. It’s important to find something that suits your unique style. I have a Type A personality. I’m always on the move and always busy. Ten Percent Happier is perfect for me! The key point is that you don’t need to dive deep into yoga practice to incorporate meditation in your life. There are simple ways to practice meditation that can suit any busy lifestyle.
"There are simple ways to practice meditation that can suit a busy lifestyle."
Eat healthy, be healthy! Eating a healthy well-balanced diet best prepares your body nutritionally to withstand the negative effects of stress. Concentrate on lower carbs and natural foods with an emphasis on plenty of colorful vegetables and fruit! Equally as important is staying away from sugar. It decreases immune system activity and it’s addictive! "Regular exercise not only helps to manage stress but also addresses many of the health- related concerns which add to the stress pile in the first place!"
The fountain of youth, health, AND well-being! Regular exercise not only helps to manage stress levels (just ask someone who exercises regularly what they think), but also addresses many of the health-related concerns (including weight management), which add to the stress pile in the first place! Exercise is not one-size-fits-all. If you don’t know how to start and/ or need motivation, seek the guidance of a qualified and experienced personal trainer.
Change How You Think
Yes, that simple! They say, “save the best for last”, right? So, I did!
Psychologist Albert Ellis coined the term stinking thinking. It describes the human tendency to persistently engage with thoughts that do not serve us. Like breaking any other bad habit, it requires discipline and persistence. Reframing a negative thought to a more positive or empowering one is not only an effective stress buster, but it also helps prevent the downward spiral of one negative thought leading to the next! Monitor your self-talk and be aware that negative self-talk increases your stress level!
Also important to highlight, perfectionism is a stress amplifier! As you monitor self-talk, keep an eye out for perfectionistic tendencies. Keeping proper perspective is essential to man- aging stress.
Let the little things go and adopt a more flexible “go with the flow’ philosophy. Attitude makes all the difference!
If two years of enduring a pandemic has taught us anything, it has certainly taught us that we can’t always control the amount of stress in our lives. What we know is that self-care and stress management strategies can help us cope and stay well during difficult times. Prioritize self-care and your wellbeing. This way, you will not only live your best life, but also be your best self to all of those around you! Self-care will help keep your batteries charged and your light shining bright!
"As human beings, we are wired for connection."
By Sylvia Galell