When was the last time you were physically unable to sit still, wind down and relax after work? Most stress relief activities are focused on slowing down, meditating or doing yoga. Are you someone who gets stressed out even thinking about the slow pan pipe music they put on? Have you been thinking about looking into stress management, then read on.
The thing about stress is it keeps us going, it helps us achieve our goals and meet our deadlines, biologically it even gets us out of bed in the morning. A coffee to start the day is fine but after lunch it'll keep you up at night.
It’s all about inertia. It takes a lot of effort to get something moving, and overcome the inertia of standing still. 1st gear in your car has a lot of power to get it moving. If you try to start in 5th gear the car will stall, but once it's moving, it feels easier to keep moving, 5th gear is great for cruising along. BUT if you hit the brakes suddenly, your body keeps moving forward and only the seat belt would stop you from going through the windscreen. Inertia keeps you moving in the direction you were going.
After a stressful activity we can’t just stop. Ironically, when we most need to stop we are unable to. Research has shown that people with high stress levels who are getting close to BURNOUT are the least likely to take breaks, to give themselves time to relax and to eat healthily. Instead they work longer hours, spend their downtime scrolling on their phones and find it impossible to stop their minds from racing along. When we are worn out we can't think straight, let alone look after ourselves.
Life is stressful, if you don't manage your stress it'll manage you. So let's take a look at our relationship with stress, what can we do to hack the nervous systems response to stress?
It may seem counterintuitive but science have proven that the most effective ways of relaxing take a lot of effort, keep you focused and "in the zone". For me it’s chess, at the end of the day, when all is done, I sit back and log into chess.com, sure it stresses me out, but it also focuses my mind on something other than my daily problems and activities, even the emotional rush of winning or losing somehow gives me closure on the day, I feel what I feel and the day is done.
What does it for you? For some it’s squash or paddle, running around, hitting the ball, win or lose, it’s the same. Sure, even a workout at the gym does a good job at burning off the stress hormones left in your system after a busy day. For others a walk in nature is also very effective. Even driving home from work, or pushing past others on the metro can also give the system the rush and flush that is needed to recover from stress.
But what if you work from home and log out of your computer, have dinner, a beer and watch tv. We’ve all done it, I do wonder though what it does to our bodies in the long run. Most content on tv activates our nervous system, and hey I love a good action, adventure, spy or sci fi movie, but I also feel that it keeps my nervous system stressed out, and makes for low quality sleep afterwards.
I write this for you as much as for me, as I recognise the need for decompression and recovery from everyday stress.
I remember my grandmother telling me how she had learnt a relaxation technique when she was in her 60s. To start tensing her muscles, for example by making a fist, tensing her arms, contracting the muscles in her stomach or her legs one by one, and then releasing. Again it's counter intuitive, the best way to relax a muscle is NOT BY STRETCHING. If the muscle is already tight it will not release by stretching, it will only get tighter. If you make it more tense then you can slowly release and get back to neutral. If this sounds interesting then google - pandiculation exercises.
Another thing that really helps me is taking little breaks. Maybe you’ve heard of the Dutch wellness concept that is taking the world by storm - NIKSEN - doing nothing. Just five minutes of doing nothing can help your body to reset the base level of stress. Interspersed thought the day that means that the overall stress level doesn’t cross over the limit of tolerable, healthy stress. It’s not stress that’s the killer, it’s constant, relentless, chronic stress that wears you down over time.
Many common medical problems are stress related. Take skin allergies, rashes, inflammation, asthma, arthritis for example. Isn’t it curious that the “go to” medications doctors prescribe when you have these complaints are cortisone based. Cortisol is the stress hormone released along with adrenaline when your body needs a rush of energy to confront a dangerous or difficult situation. It gets you ready.
The problem is that in today's modern lifestyle our stress system is ALWAYS ready to fend off one thing after another.
We get so used to living in a constant state of stress that our bodies start to suffer as a result. When it starts to show medical complaints I just mentioned, which are not really diseases, but symptoms of a stressful life, then cortisone drugs work in a similar way to stress recovery exercises. Cortisone raises the level of stress (cortisol level) in the affected area to a level above normal, i.e. it stresses us out so our bodies can start to wind down again.
Stress is unavoidable, it's part of life, so either we learn to manage our relationship with stress and start to adjust our daily life to factor in recovery time and exercises or sooner or later pay the bill when our health begins to deteriorate.
May today be the day to make a change, may today count.
May you be well, may you be free from suffering.