When it comes to health & fitness then stress is often high up on people’s lists of things that knocks them off track. When it comes to happiness stress is clearly the number 1 reason we do not feel happy. Stress comes in many forms from worrying about things you have to get done today to ongoing negative thoughts or worries in your mind. The logical question is what can you do to cope with stress? There are various methods you can use, some well known, others a little more out there. However, the fundamentals of handling stress comes back to the “big 3” stress coping mechanisms.
Movement / Exercise – Stress and emotions are stored throughout the body. This could be tension in the shoulders, a tightness of nerves in your stomach and much more. The easiest way to influence the areas of your body feeling the stress is therefore to move your body.
The key thing here is to differentiate between exercising for fitness / fat loss and exercising to de-stress. These are totally different, for stress management it is simply about doing something ASAP. It does not matter so much what form and definitely does not matter how hard or how long you do it for.
Simple forms for this could be walking, any form of aerobic exercise. Often more effective methods include total body and multi dimensional movement forms such dance (e.g. 5 Rhythms Dance Therapy) or yoga etc.
Sleep – In the great book ‘Why We Sleep‘ by Mathew Walker which I discussed a few months ago it delved into some of the functions of sleep. The last four hours of your sleep cycle (of the 8 hours recommended) you enter REM sleep. The goal of REM sleep is to address and process the emotions you are experiencing and recent events that happened. This means that a good night’s sleep will literally result in you feeling differently about your current situation.
Getting a good night sleep is of course not so easy in this modern day 24 hour electronic lifestyle. Ways to enhance sleep is to turn off all electronic devices a little while before bed time and ensure your room is dark and at a appropriate temperature. Ideally you would be in bed ready to sleep by 10pm and get the full 8 hours.
Healthy Eating – While stress and bad eating or drinking behaviours are fairly related it can be missed in the conversation that healthy eating actually helps the body fight against stress. The better you eat the more positively you will be interpret events and the more resistant you will be against stresses.
Healthy eating refers to both giving yourself the foods and nutrients the body needs, and avoiding certain foods that deflate your mood / interpretation of life. Alcohol is a prime example where even consuming a little during a stressful period can result in you experiencing much more negative emotion. Junk food will also create a similar result.
It is of course no easy task to resist such foods during stressful times as we naturally crave junk foods etc when feeling down or worried. In this sense it is just about managing the situation in the best way that you can. One element to consider is not trying to diet during a particularly tough time. Under eating (weight loss / ‘dieting’) increases food cravings just like stress does. In combination this can be too much for many to resist the cravings
How This Looks In Reality –
What this looks like in the real world depends, it start with an acknowledgement by you that the big three actually allow you to handle stress better. That means if you are eating, sleeping and exercising daily then whatever is going on in your life you will be different around it. You will handle the noise of your kids better, you will be more effective in work, you will be more positive during a relationship break up or you will have more emotional stability during the turbulent times of bereavements.
Therefore, when you recognise you are in a tough stressful period you immediately find ways to put the key behaviours in place. Instead of zoning out, eating food in front the TV you would say to yourself, ” I shall do an easy exercise session at 8 PM in the garden then phone off and bed by 10pm”.
In difficult times you may start walking to work which takes an extra 30 minutes over taking the bus. To stop mid morning / afternoon snacks perhaps you decide to add in a couple of green smoothies even though the ones in the shop by you are a little overpriced.
It is a a key objective and focus when working with any client of mine to try and instil this into them. It is always a battle though and you usually expect many more “failure” over “successes” initially. In stressful times you just want to sit there and do nothing while watching something on Netflix or similar. It is the default position so there will always be ups and downs when trying to change behaviours under these circumstances.
I found daily exercise invaluable during the period of my mum passing away. I went to the gym 2 hours after she died. Most of those gym sessions were hardly anything to write home about and wouldn’t even come close to resembling what I would do usually but they helped. I wasn’t doing them to make fitness gains nor to enjoy them but specifically because I knew it would make me feel better during the process. Dance classes were even more powerful for changing how I was feeling.
Reducing The Cause Of Stress – While the big three no doubt are central to handling stress there are also other methods you can use, e.g. meditations, hobbies etc. You can and should also be using some methods that directly address the cause of your stress and emotions.
This could be a something like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or perhaps setting out a plan for improving certain elements of your life. While stress will always be present the more causes of stress you can remove the easier life will be and the happier you will feel. These reduction techniques we will save for another email.
For more on the big three and other methods I highly recommend the book “The Body Keeps The Score”.
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