Day 18 - Stress Management
My original plan was to title this section “stress reduction,” but I realized that wasn’t actually right.
Some stress is extremely beneficial.
What we need to do is to figure out how to effectively manage stress.
Sprints and strength training are both a way of stressing our bodies while providing health benefits— if done properly.
This is because together they can elicit a beneficial adaptive response. They can help increase strength, speed, and resiliency.
If done incorrectly, or without the necessary recovery regimen, they can weaken the body and lead to chronic stress, chronic inflammation, and degeneration.
Here’s the problem with chronic inflammation, it’s tied to all of the stuff that we want to avoid like heart disease, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune deasease, and neurological disorders.
And we certainly can’t forget about the good old “fight or flight” response.
This hormonal fire alarm evolved to help us avoid becoming another predator’s snack or to improve our chances when fighting was a better option than running.
But it’s also part of our mismatch dilemma.
Something that evolved to save us during acute stress (i.e. a predator attack), can work against us in a chronic stress situation— like chronic cardio, overactive monkey brain, or sleep deprivation.
Chronic cardio is an exercise that is strenuous enough that it raises your heart rate above 180 minus your age. But it’s not so intense (like sprints) that you can only sustain it for a few seconds without a brief recovery period.
Chronic cardio can increase your stress hormones, program your body to burn sugar instead of fat and in the process up your inflammation levels.
Almost any exercise can be turned in to chronic cardio.
Cross-fit, Orange Theory, Spin Class, any exercise where you sustain an elevated heart rate for 45 minutes to an hour can fit the bill.
The real problem is when you do don’t give yourself adequate time to recover between your sessions.
And we can’t talk about stress without talking about the monkey brain.
That feeling where your mind grabs ahold of a nagging problem and turns it into a pulse-quickening disaster thanks to an overactive imagination.
I love Mark Twain’s sentiment on this: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Here’s the danger of monkey brain—your body isn’t great at nuance.
When you convince yourself that something is a threat—maybe it’s not a physical threat, maybe it’s a concern about a work deadline, financial well-being, or a health concern — your hunter-gatherer wiring leaps into action and sounds a version of the fight or flight hormonal fire alarm.
Same thing with sleep deprivation.
When we get inadequate sleep or even just poor quality sleep, that elevates our stress hormones and to add insult to injury we’re also deprived of the restorative function of sleep.
The danger of all of these types of stress is that they can be chronic instead of acute. It’s like we’re getting chased by an endless army of bears.
So how do we manage stress?
Here are some things that can help.
Don’t fall into the chronic cardio trap.
Buy a heart monitor and keep your heart rate at 180 minus your age.
Make sure that you’re giving yourself adequate time to recover from your hard work out or sprint days.
Make sleep a priority and make sure that you’re getting yours.
Give your monkey brain charm lessons.
A mindfulness practice is a great place to start.
There are countless books, apps, and podcast available about developing a mindfulness practice. Radical Acceptance by Tara Brauch has been an especially helpful resource for me.
The 5 Minute Journal is a great approach for starting your day with gratefulness and ending your day by reflecting on amazing things that happened during the day.
Here’s something I’ve noticed about myself since engaging in this process—I’m more on the lookout for amazing.
I also got turned on to The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle.
Tolle’s message is that we spend way too much time worrying about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future, but the only thing that makes any real difference is what is going on right this second.
Some of Tolle’s stuff is pretty woo-woo but he’s been a huge help for me.
I’m a recent convert to meditation. It is a useful tool to help tame my monkey brain. I’ve found the Headspace App as a great, easy-to-use resource for daily meditation.
And here’s another shameless plug for walking.
It’s a great way to manage stress.
Even if it’s just for 15 or 20 minutes, it’s critical that you get out and move. See if you can work in a couple of walks a day.
My wife and I use our evening walks to catch up on what happened during the day and if I get a chance for a walk in the morning it’s also a great time to catch up on podcasts.
And here are my last two stress management recommendations:
Here’s what I mean.
Do something that you enjoy doing without being attached to an outcome.
Go to the park and swing on the swings or hang from the monkey bars. Go to the driving range and just hit a bucket of balls and don’t bitch because they’re not going where you want them to. Just go hit and observe what happens. Go play catch with your kid.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
Maybe it’s photography, or painting or learning a new language, but go put your brain to work on something enjoyable.
These are just a few suggestions. But don’t just read these and wait for the next email. Pick a couple of them and get started.
Let us know what your first step is.
Today’s assignment is about refilling your tank. If you have not been sprinting before, you may be a little sore. If you have a foam roller I’d suggest spending some time with it. Just hang out on the sore spots for about 30-45 seconds.
If you have leftovers, that will be a great meal option, make something easy or defrosting something that you’ve made extra portions of. Because today we’re going to make time to play.
Not sure what the status of COVID is right now. When I originally wrote this, COVID wasn’t even a thing, but COVID taught us the importance of community and finding ways to unwind.
Here are just a few play ideas – go play catch with your kid, your spouse, a friend. Go to the driving range and hit some golf balls. Go to the park and swing on a swing. Go for a hike.
If the weather is lousy or it’s dark by the time you’re off work, do the hike or golf piece this weekend but at least bundle up and grab a flashlight and go for a walk.
The goal for today is to find something that makes you smile and recharges you.