'I'm stressed' has become a fairly common answer to the question 'How are you?' for many of us. It's like being stressed has almost become a bit of a badge of honour, like if you aren't stressed, what are you even doing?!
But what does this word that we throw around so much actually mean?
Most of us can easily relate stress to work or busy family lives, but stress can come in many different forms and affect us both physically and mentally.
Our bodies are designed to handle stress - you've probably heard of the 'fight or flight' response? This is an automatic survival reaction to something our body perceives as dangerous or frightening - think about our ancestors needing to run from dangerous animals. Multiple chemical reactions automatically happen within our bodies to enable us to make decisions and move quickly, our bodies are amazing huh?!
The problem here, is that our bodies are designed to deal with stress in short bursts, not the long term or 'chronic' stress most of us are under day to day - many of us not even realising. Stress is more than the tight work deadline or heavy workload, in our modern world we are exposed to stressors constantly throughout the day. We also invite a lot of them into our lives, often in the name of health!
Think about your day from the beginning....
A blaring alarm goes off, maybe a scroll of the phone, coffee on an empty stomach, race around getting the kids ready or maybe race out the door to get your workout in. Running late, drop the kids off and/or get to work. Spend your day chasing deadlines, constantly contactable via phone or email. Lunch while working, possibly consisting of something from a packet and more coffee. Then maybe a workout after work and/or home to sort the family dinner, lunches for tomorrow, deal with general household, maybe a glass of wine/beer, watch some TV, go to bed later than you'd like, then do it all again tomorrow!
This may be a slightly exaggerated 'day in the life', but I'm sure you can relate to parts of this within your own days.
Living our lives constantly rushing, putting our bodies in perceived stressed states can cause long term health implications, many of which we have the power to do something about.
Of course, some stressors aren't so easily gotten rid of (kids or work for example!), what we can alter is our reaction to these situations - as well as taking control over that which is controllable!
Let's take parts of the above situation as an example, I'll highlight some of the less obvious points and give some tips to help mitigate them!
Starting right from the beginning of the day with the blaring alarm, instantly your body is shocked awake. Could you try a less abrasive way to wake up? Maybe set your alarm clock so the radio switches on at a certain time? Or if you use your phone, there is an App called 'Sleep Cycle' I use that is fantastic.
Scrolling the phone first thing, throwing your body and mind into overdrive from the get go. Try setting a rule of no phone checks until after breakfast, or at least when you're out of bed! Why not let your body gently wake up with a bit of stretching or some breathing?
Coffee on an empty stomach...I know I've most certainly been guilty of this one! Start your day with a large glass of water and try to save the caffeine for breakfast time or after.
Now the getting to school/work thing. Routine and ample time are key here! If you are ALWAYS running late, it's time to reassess your get up time and morning routine. Do you need to start getting yourself and the family up earlier? Could you alter your morning slightly? Maybe you make lunches in the morning, is this something that could be done the night before? Getting a little structure into your mornings can save a LOT of frustration, stress and angst for all involved!
We are what we eat, quite literally! If we want our bodies to function optimally, we need to be fuelling them well. This most certainly does NOT mean getting rid of all the fun stuff - just making fresh, whole foods the majority of your diet. Alcohol, packaged and man-made foods cause our bodies to work overtime to detoxify and digest. Being mindful of what we are eating and drinking is one bodily stressor we have control of.
Evening routines and sleep. Our bodies need rest, so setting our evenings up well is important! We should all be aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night. Just because you can function on much less, doesn't mean it's right or healthy. A tired body is a stressed body. Try to switch off the telly and phone at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime, work out what time you need to be up and set your bedtime from there. If you're tired, go to bed earlier!
Last but not least, workouts. When we workout, we are putting our body under stress intentionally - pushing it to it's limits so it can come back fitter, faster, stronger! If you are well rested, fuelled, hydrated and in good health, go for gold! On the flip side however, if you are tired, injured, under fuelled or have other major external stressors going on in your life, a workout may not be the healthiest option for you. Rather than the intense workout you had planned, why not take it down a notch? A walk outside instead of a run? Some pilates or yoga instead of that strength session? Only you will know what is the best option for you at any given time, but just know that no workout is more important than adequate sleep, or cause you more stress to complete.
I hope this has opened your eyes to the amount of pressure our minds and bodies are under on a daily basis. Setting aside some time in your day/week for some quiet, mindful activity is a great way of lowering your overall stress levels and reminding your body that it is safe. Reading, baths, walks in nature, meditation, play, a snuggle with your pet.....Whatever works for you and puts you right in the present moment.
I invite you to take a look at your own life and identify some of the areas you could make changes to and minimise your stress. Remember, lot's of small changes can make a big impact!