In this blog we'll summarize the principles of dealing with stress and how to recover more effectively.
But first off - why would you want to control your stress levels at all? Let’s first make a clear distinction here between stress and distress.
Stress is a normal physiological response to changed conditions (either inside or outside) and prepares your body to better deal with those changed conditions. It is a necessary function. Without it, we wouldn’t survive or evolve.
Distress, on the other hand, is a state where stress has gotten out of hand. Either it is produced as a wrong kind of action to wrong stimuli or it is prolonged. Prolonged and out of hand stress wreaks havoc in the body and brain.
As for metabolism - distress is one of the most harmful problems. You can correct nutrition and physical activity in one day - it is a matter of state and knowledge. But you can’t just switch off distress. Distress untreated causes the same kind of hormonal problems that sleep disorders do. It is one of the reasons why people lose their sleep and the cycle feeds itself. Distress causes increased hunger or emotional eating, decreased motivation, inflammation and insulin, and willpower, resistance, fat-storing as visceral fat, slowed cognitive function, decreased memory and learning, mood disorders, and all kinds of unwanted things that so often lead to downward spiral. Basically it affects a) physiological circumstances (like hormones) and b) behavior (like eating habits). That is why the distress needs to be controlled and stress resistance trained.
What are the practical ways to deal with distress?
1. Analyze the situation. Stop and write down everything that affects your everyday life, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Don’t leave anything out. If it suits you better - write a diary for some time. What causes what? Is the bad sleep the problem of your stress or is it the other way around?
2. Deal with the cause of stress first, not the symptoms. We so often overemphasize the importance of recovery, but it is not always the solution. Sometimes there is a problem that can and needs to be dealt with, but for some reason, we avoid it or move it to an unclear future. It might be difficult to face some things or think that someday we will be better prepared. Nope, this never works. Not for bad relationships, smoking, work, or money problems. They grow like cancer untamed. The earlier you face it, the sooner you’ll start the recovery. Start with the first step, and you’ll be fine.
3. Ditch the things that drain your energy like smoking, alcohol, toxic people, and staying up late. You’d be amazed at how much better your energy levels will be.
“There’s no such thing as too much stress, there is only too little recovery” says Dr. Nick Hall.
This is quite true. There is no amount of stress you couldn’t handle if you had enough time and methods to recover. The stress and recovery must be in balance; you don’t want either one too much. Too little stress and too much recovery means you aren’t evolving as a person and using your potential. Let’s go over how you can do that.
a). Leave everything secondary. Focus your energy and time. Prioritize. This is one of the essential skills to learn for anybody, but a difficult one. What are the vital things in your life right now? Focus on those. Everything else must take the back seat. And recovery time is one of the priorities, at least from now on.
b. Time - learn to manage it wisely. We are such poor time managers in this society. We are torn to hundred different places and actions at once. You’re probably going through your Facebook feed or email box right now. Don’t let all your everyday mundane things manage you. You have to plan your time. One way is to block your time - take 30 minute blocks for everything you do and plan. The other suitable method is pacing. If you have bigger things to take care of, don’t try to do them at once or wait for a good opportunity. Do them in small chunks - for example, 15 minutes or 1 hour every day for a longer period. One other method is to never overlap things, but only do them in succession. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everything. Basically it is anti-multitasking. Only start the next thing when you have finished the previous one. One thing that unites them all - learn to be proactive, not reactive. It is a skill like every other and needs time to master.
c. Find your zen channel. Find the thing that restores your energy. We’re not talking about relaxing, watching television, or drinking a couple of beers with your buddies at a local pub. Those things are fine, but they won’t necessarily restore your energy. This might be: reading, spending quality time with a loved one, a hobby like gardening or volunteering, listening to music or an audiobook, walking in nature, etc.
d. Learn relaxing techniques. The first and maybe the best is breathing exercise. Just relax, concentrate on your breathing, and slow it down. Every breath from beginning to end should take 10-12 seconds. Do this every day for a couple of minutes and then add onto it. It has been proven to have remarkable effects on one’s nervous system and stress levels. Other useful techniques are meditation, mindfulness, yoga etc.
e. Deal with scars from your past. We all have them. Others are more debilitating than others. If your childhood traumas, past relationships, or other hardships are still haunting you, you may want to do something about those. Our mind tries to protect us and develops different kinds of mechanisms to cope. The problem is when those mechanisms grow too strong or last far beyond the time they were needed. There are several ways to deal with those: read and learn about psychology, go to the psychologist or therapist, go to group therapy, enroll in internet therapy, enter a support group, get a coach or a mentor, ect. Of course, those aren’t the only ways to deal with scars. For some people, it might not be dealing with their past but helping others. If you don’t know what to do, start with something. As long as you do something, do not just ignore the issue.
f. Take care of your body. It is an old cliche that a healthy mind needs a healthy body. But it is true, nonetheless. Nutrition, hydration, sleep, rest, chronic diseases, physical activity - those all need to be addressed.
Okay, we can talk about stress and recovery for hours. It is an important and extensive topic. But the point here isn’t to teach the subject, but to give an overview and main principles. To summarize the most important points:
Stress is necessary; distress needs to be dealt with.
If distress has an exact cause, deal with this first.
Stress needs an equal amount of recovery. You don’t want to get rid of stress, because it is the power that keeps you evolving and moving forward. If you haven’t already, start planning and mastering recovery and stress relief principles.