11. Take control of your stress

Uncategorized Mar 20, 2020

Take control of your stress

It’s important you know how to manage your stress. Practicing stress management daily will help keep you healthy. 

The skill of de stressing


One of my favorite quotes is:

“Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax.” Matt Haig


Most of us in North America have a mistaken view of relaxing. We think our 1 to 2 annual vacations are enough time to rest up from our work and family lives. Unfortunately these vacations are too few and far between. Plus, a lot of us fill our vacations with just as much stuff to do as when we’re at home. The question can be asked: is there any stress reduction happening at all? 


The ideal way to de-stress is to do it daily. Athletes are really good at it but when they transition away from sport into general life full of work and family obligations their practice usually stops. It’s worth paying attention to the athlete's schedule for rest and exercise as they plan for down times month before they happen along with progressing their exercise over cycles throughout their year. We should borrow and use as much of that as we can in our non athletic lives. 

We want to build in daily stress reduction to combat the build up of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Our nervous system can place us in one of two states: sympathetic or parasympathetic. Sympathetic, which is often called “fight or flight” mode is when we speed up, tense up, and become more alert. This is usually in response to something we perceive as a threat. Our muscles contract, pupils dilate, and heart rate goes up. This was useful for survival in times of constant threat but now in a world devoid of predators and full of food and shelter it translates to social and work life making us operate as if the boardroom talk were as important as escaping a hungry Tiger. Parasympathetic or “rest and digest” activity is our counterbalance; it restores our body to a state of calm. Heart rate decreases, muscles relax, pupils constrict and adrenaline release is halted. 


Most of us spend too much time in fight or flight mode. This is likely a combination of work, home life, bills, relationships, traffic, and weather. Regardless of what causes our stress, having chronically high levels hurts our health in many ways. All of which lead to gaining fat, losing muscle and destabilizing your hormones. 


So it’s easy to see we need to prevent stress from becoming a chronic issue. Furthermore it’s key to understand we will never reduce all of our stress. Some of it is good for us and our ability to respond is fundamental to what makes us human. It will never be eliminated, just reduced. The job then is to foster more “rest and digest” activity.


What can we do to achieve said state? There are dozens of options. 


Meditation and breathing work are massively helpful. 


Yoga and Pilates are popular choices.

Saunas and jacuzzi tubs enable stress reduction. 


Spa treatments and massage promote deep restful states. 


Sometimes we think we need to become monk-like, spend thousands of dollars or have to go somewhere other than home to relax. That’s just not the case. There are several ways to relax without leaving your place. 


Reading is one of the best options. Make sure it’s quiet. Reading out of a physical book  before bed is much better than looking at a screen. 


Just be. Instead of living up to the human doing creed try to just be a human being. Be in the moment. Notice a sunset, nature, or the wonder that is the physical world around you. Even the humdrum home you are no doubt adapted to has thousands of ways you can zone out. 


Listen to music. If you feel inclined go ahead and dance. 


Light some candles. Their scent and warmth have been used to calm and give light for milenia. 


Take a warm bath. Heat provides a calming effect up to a point. Taking a bath before bed helps to wind you down for a good night’s sleep. 


Drink wine or smoke weed. The former is legal everywhere whereas the latter is still making its way through legalisation. Once fully legal it will be hard to make a case for alcohol being a better calming and recovery agent than marjiuana. Many professional athletes use it to recover and calm themselves as it provides a similar edging effect to the mind that alcohol does without adding useless calories and toxic substances. Edible options provide the same benefit without the harshness and detriment of smoking but be warned they act on your mind in different ways because of the absorption method. Add that to a delayed onset of effects and edibles can quickly zoom past relaxing to terrifying. 


As you can see there are tons of ways to achieve a parasympathetic rest and digest state. Keep in mind the activity you choose doesn’t matter. The state you reach while doing it does. You might calm best with a warm bubble bath surrounded by candles whereas I prefer listening to classical music and breath work.  This is where your preference comes into play. Try out all the mentioned activities above a few times and note what did and didn’t work. This requires a bit more time and effort on your part but leads to a sustainable practice you enjoy versus an obligation you check off your daily list as another part of your crammed schedule. 


Once you’ve found your mode the absolute best way to get control of your stress is to practice daily for 30 minutes. That number can be increased to a maximum of 120 minutes daily. That seems like a lot but trust me when I say you will want to do more when you get in the routine of it. 


When you have exhausted the strategies above you can consider adding stress reducing supplements to your mix. Know that no matter the claim supplements simply augment what you are already doing. With that in mind COQ 10, Phosphatidylserine, and Theanine are all effective options. 


Remember this, rest and recovery are as important as what you do in the gym, what you do in the kitchen, and what you take for supplements. You need to make sure to get some rest and digest activity every day - 30 to 120 minutes. 


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