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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, by 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,
I watched a Netflix documentary that I highly recommend called The Minimalist and while I got a lot of profound wisdom from it there was one distinction they made that really stuck out to me. The minimalist guys (which they call themselves) spoke on the difference between constructive worry and useless worry... and how many of us don't seem to recognize the difference.
Constructive worry is the kind of worry that can aid you in what you are doing. For example, checking the time and staying on task so that you don't miss a flight is important. However, if you are twenty weeks away from the flight and it is the 200th time you've worried about missing the flight it becomes useless... and it drains your energy.
Our society is known for worrying that we've not had enough sleep, that we don't have enough time, that we never have enough money. The belief is that we just need more of everything, but the truth is we have too much.
We have too much worry.
A staggering amount of people come to me for advice on how to increase their energy. I see millions of people spending hundreds of dollars a month on supplements to increase their energy. Lines wrapping the building at Starbucks because we believe the caffeine will give us the boost we need (don't get me wrong - I love Starbucks - but I also know it's not going to be the source of my energy). Coffee, energy drinks, supplements, patches, vitamins, more, more, more praying that by taking more - doing more - we'll have more. Even food has become a staple in the search for more energy, just look at the marketing in "superfoods" (which is a marketing term, NOT a scientific one). While food is quite literally the fuel we need for life, I still question why it is that we need so much more energy? Where is your natural energy going?
Our bodies are hardwired to go. Our bodies create energy and crave to expend it. So if our bodies our hardwired to have energy, yet we don't have any, the question shouldn't be how to get more but to ask where is it all going?
I got curious about where my energy was going. The first thing that pops up is: I'm a mom, but the simple fact is: being a mom doesn't require all that much of my energy. The useless worry, the mom guilt, trying to "keep up", the unrealistic expectations of motherhood... now that can zap the energy. What about work? My energy probably goes to my work. Does it? What part of my work actually sucks the energy out? Is it the actual tasks at hand? Nope. It's the useless worry over the things I can't control anyway; it's the negative attachments I've made with the word 'work'; it's the simple fact that we may be doing work that isn't all that fulfilling.
Okay, if it's not your kids.. and it's not your work... what is it that is draining all of your energy?
It's your useless worry.
Envision your brain is a computer and that all of your useless worry is an open tab running in the background. If you open 200 tabs on your computer, it is guaranteed to slow down. If you open 300 tabs on your computer, it may just shut down. The running tabs that you have constantly open and running in the back of your mind is slowing down your mind and body. We are overusing our minds without being mindful at all.
This doesn't mean that your lack of energy is not real, or that it's all in your head, it is very, very real and your useless worry is truly burning up all of your energy. This kind of stress has the ability to turn into physical fatigue, physical symptoms, and even disease. Thyroid problems, chronic fatigue, adrenal problems, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, blood pressure problems, and many, many more are directly related to stress and worry.
The problem persists when we seek treatment for the symptoms. When faced with an illness we look towards what we can take to fix it. What if we started treating the root of the problem - if we look to treat the cause instead of the symptoms? Then the questions turn from what can I take to what can I let go of? Instead of focusing on how to get more energy, we would focus on letting go of the things that steal it.
We all know stress is bad and we've all been told not to sweat the small stuff. But how do we actually stop... well, we don't think about stopping. Telling someone to calm down when they are working up has approximately a 0% success rate - so telling yourself not to worry about something you're worried up will probably follow that trend. Here are 5 things to do instead:
1. Ask questions
Walk yourself through it in baby steps. ie: will this matter in 5 days/5 months/5 years? What's the worst case scenario? What if this did happen? What can I do if the worst case scenario really does happen?
2. Close the running tabs.
If your to-do list is in your head, you're using entirely too much energy to try to keep track of it. In fact, I don't like written to-do lists either. If something needs done, schedule it. Find a spot in your calendar for it and you'll get it done because you've literally found the time. If it is just a thought or idea, you could use a journal, the notes section of your cell phone, or something like Trello (it's an app and a website) - whatever feels good to you; then set a time weekly or monthly in your schedule to go over your notes and ideas.
3. Try a new mindset.
I wrote recently about changing my mindset while vacuuming and I'm still shocked at the difference. How much of the things we think are hard are only hard because we've said or heard how hard it was? School started again and I heard so many people say how hard it is. Is it actually hard? I wonder if we started saying how fun it was if there would be a difference? I think there would be! With Cannon (or any child) you can see how susceptible kids are to our attitudes. Imagine if I talked about broccoli with the same excitement and energy as ice cream.. he'd start believing they were all "treats".
4. Practice mindfulness.
Be where you are. Enjoy who you're with. And for heaven's sake, sit that phone down every once in awhile. When I say be mindful, I mean be all there, wherever you are. When you notice your attention floating away - call it back to what you're doing or who you're with. Give the people you're with your full attention, be curious, ask questions, listen, and learn.
What I mean is practice. Everything else above is going to take practice and with meditation you get to practice whether you are or aren't feeling the stress. If you are stressed, it will help alleviate it. If you aren't stressed, it will leave you better equipped for next time. Practicing while you are in the middle of useless worry is like on the job training; meditation is practicing and preparation for the game. You never know, the quiet may just provide you with some answers.
Sweat & Smiles,