What Happens When You Don't Manage Stress Part II

Last week might've sounded all doom and gloom but there's a reason for that; it's extremely important to understand how impactful improperly managed stress is on your system.  Now, we're talking specifically about mismanaged stress, not simply eliminating it.  This is because stress in and of itself is useful and necessary.

There's a physiological response called Hormesis.  Essentially it means when you experience moderate and intermittent stress you see an adaptive response. These include psychological, physical, nutritional and biological. Things like exercise, heat and cold, meditation, intense brain activity.  Think of the ways in which you experience something stressful but get better or more used to it over time like a hard workout or taking an ice bath.

We're inundated with stress all the time, it is essential for us to adapt, grow, get better and become more finely tuned to our environment and the imposed tasks we must do to survive.  I imagine a life without much stress is sitting on the couch eating the most palatable and calorie dense food possible, watching tv with the lights off. That environment would reduce so much outside stress that you would lose a ton of positive phsyical characteristics.  Of course, becoming obese would impose it's own internal stress but with no positive adaptation.

So, if our goal isn't to eliminate stress but to manage it better, how should we approach things?

Carving out alone time

I discussed my own mismanaged stress last week and how much it has negatively impacted by training and nutrition as of late.  It's hard to run a business when people need or want access to you all the time - being able to turn your brain off and detach your thoughts from worry and situation management is essential.  If you have kids I can imagine leaving them with a trusted baby sitter while you go out to eat is a form of this  You need time away, you need time to disengage from so much input.

Phones make this really, really hard.  I know for myself if I bring my cell phone into the gym, I will check it for work-related issues between sets.  I simply have to leave it in the car.  I have also stopped doing any work from home (besides blog writing) because it really turn what should be a relaxing place into just another work environment.  Not great for my mental health.

We need time away from getting sucked into so many things - it's why some people don't watch the news or stop using Facebook. The information and surplus of negativity makes it harder to enjoy life.

I think for most people, they need at least an hour per day of totally unplugged time.  It doesn't mean you cannot have your phone on you for music or podcasts but that you do not engage in social media, don't watch the news, don't engage in heated debates or discussions and don't get involved in work.  Now, not everyone views all activities the same so what might seem sort of like work for one person can actually be stress relieving for another. 

For example, I find cleaning the house to be very therapeutic, I put on a podcast to block out everything else and spend about 45 minutes just cleaning and organizing.  I always feel great after I also go on a walk just about every day and have recently started driving around with NO music or podcasts playing in the car to give me some quiet time to reflect.

When you can unplug and detach a little, you'd be amazed at how much better you are at addressing a lingering issue, dealing with a stressful person or tackling a large task.  I listen to music or a podcast at night before bed and I do a lot of natural problem solving in that quiet time simply because the quiet sound helps distract me from outside noise and I can full relax and let my mind go.  Without even trying I tend to find solutions to problems in my life in that time. I don't turn it into an active work period but the stress reduction really improves my problem solving.

Try to let sh** go

Boy oh boy, this is a tough one.  I have been working on this for about....my whole life. I am getting a lot better recently and I have found that the more I tend to "chew" on an issue or person that really irritates me, the more I find it eats away right back at me. My employees can tell you that wheen things go wrong, I am more concerned with doing something to address the issue rather than harp on why things should have gone right.  If you work in food service like us, there are a million things to go wrong and since you can't control all life events I think it's better if you work on your problem solving.

I know for myself, if there's a problem, I don't stop working on it until I find a solution.  I simply don't accept that things are just "fine" because I believe that leads to laziness and poor responsiveness.  But that is work and to bring that same attack-dog mentality to other thins in life is where I tend to impose more undue stress on myself.  I guarantee others do as well.

The biggest stressor for many of us is simply other people.  We have to deal with swaths of people in our lives that we do not know and do not have relationships with, yet still interact with in at least a cursory way.  Despite having a very surface interaction with these people, it's easy to let those interactions turn into much bigger issues.  People at the grocery store, people driving too fast or slow (or not using turn signals!), people we see at the gym or even on tv and social media.  

When we cannot manage our own feelings about those around us, it pulls us into an enetgy-suck that usually only hurts us.  Have you ever gotten so worked up about another person or issue (even when it really doesn't impact you) and created a ton of bad feelings?  That's poorly managed stress, possibly projecting something internal onto someone else.

I have had to come to terms with the fact that you cannot control other people and sometimes you simply have to let shit go. If it isn't directly impacting you or someone you love in a meaningful way, if it's just you projecting your own feelings onto a person or situation, you have total control over letting that go.  And doing so reduces a ton of stress and allows you to in fact live a healthier life.  Remember that all stress is pretty much responded to the same way in our physiology.  Whether it's physical or psychological, we have a phsyiological stress response.  Your perception absolutely determines your stress reponse.

Find a regular meal schedule

Sure, intermittent fasting is a thing.  And it works for some people, but not everyone.  Yes, metabolic flexibility is useful and you should be able to eat a wide variety of foods and macronutrient compositions and stay healthy.  Low carb, low fat, moderate protein, high protein, they can all work.  Except, don't do the Snake DIet.

What most people miss when they are constructing a nutrition plan or tinkering with their diet is how important it is to simply be consistent.  An inconsistent meal structure means you probably have very little control over your calories, fiber, protein and food quality.  There's no way someone with a modicum of a plan and structure can't eat a pretty regular schedule of meals and snacks.  If every meal starts with this thought: "hmm, now WHAT food is nearby that I can eat?" then you do not have a plan. This is why people with the best of intentions fail to eat healthy because there is no structure.

Here's some crucial reasons regular meals and snacks are important

  • Consistently timed meals have shown to have a more positive affect on blood sugar
  • Structured meals can guarantee you eat optimal protein
  • Regularly eaten meals require some planning which gives you much greater control over your calories
  • Taking the time to plan meals makes you a more organized person - this alone helps reduce stress
  • Creating routine gets you better at time management - again, reducing stress
  • Eating regular meals also ensures you have time throughout the day to unplug from work, experience some rest/digest parasympathetic state
  • In the clients I have worked with, under-eating throughout the day usually leads to over-eating at night

Simply having better managed blood sugar will help with energy, cravings and hunger.  This will reduce the internal stress on the system and make you much sharper and more resilient to external stress. Some people thrive on going long periods without eating and/or skipping breajfast.  If you are lean and muscular doing that, it's probably working for you.  If you aren't then it's probably not.

Don't talk to me about your nutrition and stress if you have zero plan for your meals.  Hint: it's why The Strong Kitchen exists, because some people do not have the time or interest but using a meal service is their plan - which works really well.

Have fun

Another one thing I am bad at but getting a lot better recently.  For a lot of adults, fun means unwinding with some drinks, going to a bar or going out to eat and having....drinks. Alcohol is almost always out of the question for me, it is a major depressant and I used it to battle my insomnia in high school (yep, that early) and throughout my early twenties and it's pretty much a no go for me now.  Which makes it difficult in an adult world that relies pretty heavily on alcohol as the fun vehicle for getting where you want to go.  I was trying to come up with a good analogy there...alcohol as the vehicle to Fun Town?  Does that work?

Anyway, that can be a slippery slope for a lot of us, especially if the alcohol calories add up and we make worse food choices when we have a few drinks in us.  But for those who struggle to find something other than alcohol as their means of having fun, it is crucial to find one or two things that actually make you feel good.

A few of mine are watchin horror movies, listening to podcasts or music, playing guitar, going for long drives with my wife (especially during the Fall foliage), heading out on day trips to explore new areas and of course, going to get coffee.

Being able to enjoy some simple things actually becomes harded the more complicated your life gets because those things are easy to dismiss or put off. But I believe this directly correlates to your level of enjoyment of those things once you can tune yourself back to doing them.  I've been able to come back around to sitting quietly with a coffee and enjoying it in silence or simply listening to some music in the house.  I find these sort of low-activity times crucial for tapping into my ability to appreciate things in life.  It gets my mind wondering about new topics and appreciating what I have.

In an era where people simply will not sit alone for any period of time without using their phone or comparing their social media influence as a personal marker of worth tends to feed into our ego and drives our need for feeling reward all the time.  I believe technology absolutely makes us more creative and can help us as a society but we should also be able to look at the world around us, not just at the world as it's displayed through a screen.

Surfing Instagram might light up some dopamine receptors but it's not really "fun".  Find some things that make you feel real joy and contentment and appreciate the time you have experiencing them. I think poorly managed stress can lead to a constant drive for seeking dopamine response and validation from others rather than from within ourselves.

Workin on you

I am not asking anyone to take some pills or a new supplement.  I am simply challenging you (and myself) to manage ourselves, to perhaps work on our perception of things and learn that you are the only person who can solve most of your stress issues.  Yes, finding someone to help is a plus but you still need to be able to ask for the help.  For a lot of us, simply having some time alone, eating regular meals, being able to let things go and have some fun can absolutely change your entire stress experience.

I'm still a major work in progress but if you're like me and need to work on managing stress, this is a great place to start.