Is it just me, or is this just an unhappy world? Seriously, life is too short for that. And while there is no doubt there is a lot of things that can cause our perspective to be soured, it’s really important for our health that we proactively encourage some happy in our lives.
Here are two things that affect our “happy-healthy” state of mind, and that we do exercise control over.
When you hear the word “stress”, what comes to mind? I’ll admit when I think of stress, the first thing that pops into my mind is “bad – go away”.
In reality, stress is a normal physiological response to events that we feel threatened by or knock us off balance in some way. You have heard the term “fight or flight”. When something threatens us physically, mentally or emotionally we go on high alert.
That is the stress response; it is natural and is designed to protect us. Not all stress is bad, in fact stress does some very good things. It can keep us alert in dangerous situations, increase concentration when we need it most, and keep us sharp during high pressure situations.
It is also true that beyond a certain point stress no longer is your friend, and becomes an enemy to your health, mood, productivity and relationships. When we are on stress overload, it just plain “saps our happy”.
And “overload” is exactly the right word. Allostatic Load is the cumulative wear and tear on your body – physical, mental, and emotional – that results from stress, especially chronic stress. We really can only take so much, like the proverbially “straw that broke the camel’s back”. That’s why when we are reaching our threshold little things can set us off. It wasn’t the fact that your 15-year old told you last minute (again) that he needed his permission slip signed as you were trying to get out the door, it was all the other stuff that has been piling up that caused you to blow your top. (That might have been a true autobiographical story).
Fun Fact: Allostatic Load can be measured via your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This is a simple 2- or 3-minute process using a heart rate monitor and your smartphone. I have monitored my HRV every morning for about six years now, and some of our clients do as well. The point? If my HRV indicates I am reaching threshold, I know I have to focus on my recovery efforts.
Good and Bad Stress
Good stress is also called eustress. This stress moves us move out of our comfort zone, learn, grow and get stronger.
Coach Nancy loves rollercoasters. To her they are fun, exciting, and exhilarating. It’s short term and leaves her energized and wanting more. That’s an example of good stress.
Exercise is another good example. Appropriate exercise is hard work, but also leaves you feeling good, even energized like the rollercoaster (after your heart rate comes down and you can breathe again, of course).
Conversely, I am not a fan of rollercoasters. Going up to the edge of a cliff, hanging there, and then plunging into the unknown in a seemingly uncontrolled fashion does not make me feel energized, not one bit.
This is bad stress, what we call distress.
So how do you tell the difference between good stress and bad stress?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” when dealing with stress. We all react to different stressors, well, differently. What distinguishes good stress from bad stress is in your life is not actually the specific stressor itself, but your personal ability to recover from it.
Here are some factors that contribute to our stress response and recovery ability:
- Our attitude and outlook on life. Optimists generally live longer than pessimists.
- Our personal life experiences. How stress was modeled to us can be a huge factor how we respond.
- Our perception of how much we control the situation. Feeling trapped can paralyze us and leave us hopeless.
- Our friends and family. Knowing we are loved and cared for is a difference maker. Hanging out with people we like to be around just makes sense.
- Our physical environment. Wide open spaces, nature, and places we like to be automatically reduces our tension level. I don’t like crowds; some people thrive in them. Again, it’s highly personal.
- Our allostatic load. The more we are dealing with at once, the harder it is to keep our head cool and our body healthy. Cumulative stress is highly damaging to even the most positive and cheery of us.
I know I keep emphasizing allostatic load, and it’s for a couple reasons. The first thing to remember is that everything contributes to it: physical, mental and emotional. Your crazy high electric bill, your crazy boss, your fuel light flickering on empty, and yes, even that great workout you just had goes on the pile. The other reason it keeps coming up is because you can measure it, scientifically, so you are reminded to actually do something about it.
So what do we do about it?
Understanding how to manage stress is key to living in the sweet spot, where stress is inspiring and energizing rather than demoralizing and demotivating.
The opposite of “fight or flight” is “rest and digest”. Your central nervous system needs some love to, and recovery activities help build that resilience that is so important to develop.
Here are some proven ways to help you find that sweet spot, reduce your allostatic load, and be your most productive and happiest self:
- Get some sunshine (especially here in the north. Get your Vitamin D level checked too
- Go outside and do activity you enjoy; walk, bike, hike
- Listen to relaxing music
- Get a massage
- Sauna or hot tub
- Practice breathing exercises (deep breathing)
- Laugh more
- Deep breathing
- Practice mindfulness
- Physical play
A word on electronics; while movies and television can be entertaining, they are also stimulating to the central nervous system, and adding to your allostatic load. As challenging as it may be, true stress reduction and recovery means ditching the screens. Leave the phone in the car. The world won’t explode.
You don’t have to shoot for “stress-free”
It’s not possible, and as we learned, we need some stress to be at our most inspired, productive and happy. But stress won’t manage itself, and you won’t be great at it right away if you are just adopting these strategies. Don’t stress about it (ha) – just adopt some simple strategies you can do right now to reduce your stress load.
“Stress ages you faster” is not just a pithy saying. It’s reality. Stress management is a must for successful aging and staying at your best, longer.
You are hitting the gym regularly, and you’re eating habits are trending in the right direction (see above). Yet someone you still don’t feel great, and you just don’t look or feel like you want to. It’s time to ask yourself if you are a “stinky sleeper”.
Good sleep doesn’t happen by accident. Just like anything worth doing, it’s going to require effort and practice.
Here are some tips for shaking that stinky sleep habit and setting yourself up for success:
Get Up Right Away
Hitting the "snooze" bar just once never seems to happen. The longer you stay in the bed, the harder to get up. Sit Up. Feet On The Floor. Stand Up. Better sleep at night starts first thing in the morning.
Find The Sun
Immediate natural light exposure regulates your melatonin. This helps us be awake fully in the day, ready to sleep at night.
Regulate your inner clock, reduce your stress, optimize your hormones. Plus, you look and feel better!
Eat A Moderate Dinner
Too much food makes it harder to sleep. Enough said.
Download Your Day
Clear your mind; writing things down gets them out of your head. Planning the next day at night helps you not think about them when you’re trying to get some shut eye.
Creating and practicing a nightly routine is key. Here are some actions steps:
Turn off the electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. TV, Computer, Cell Phone, all of it. Artificial light interferes with melatonin production, which is required for deep and maximum restorative sleep.
Take a warm bath or shower. Magnesium based bath salts are known to help with sleep.
Your bedroom should be reserved for two things only; sleep and sex. A television in the bedroom is a sleep strangler. Keep your bedroom as your Fortress of Solitude; quiet, relaxed and peaceful (at least until Lex Luthor crashes the party).
Experiment with room temperature. For most people 67 degrees or so seems to work best. Start there and adjust what works for you.
The room should be dark, as in pitch black. Any and all light interferes with the sleep cycle. If you don’t want to trip on the way to the bathroom, use a motion-detecting night light.
A little tough love here.
Your health is worth missing an episode of your favorite TV show. I love watching football as much as anyone, but I discovered that teams don’t need me to watch to win. (I know, I was bummed when I found out). Of course, there are exceptions; I am going to watch the Super Bowl, and if the Red Sox are in the World Series, I am there. But my habit is to go to bed an get at least seven hours of sleep a night. I get up at 4:00am on training morning, so you do the math. Jimmy Fallon and I never cross paths.
While it’s true that our sleep requirements go down as we age (From 9-11 hours when we are school age to 7-8 hours at 65+) we still need enough sleep. While there are outliers that our fine with less than that, the overwhelming odds are you are not one of those special flowers. Seven hours a night will keep you functioning at peak performance, regardless of the date on your birth certificate.
Dylan Thomas wrote; "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
I am not on some Quixotic quest for immortality. But I am not averse to a little "raging" either.
You don’t have to settle. I loved my grandfather very much. And I distinctly remember that when he was 70 he almost never got out of his chair, because he couldn’t. I remember as a kid thinking how old 70 must be. That is not a criticism of my granddad. He was a hard-working man who was a product of his generation, a proud generation. We know more about the aging process now than he did then. We know smoking and excess alcohol ravages the mind and body and ages you faster. We have better medicine and more opportunity. But knowing and doing are two very different things.
It’s up to us to take advantage of the boundless resources we have in front of us and make the best choices we can to live an active and healthy life.
Let’s Do This!
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About Cr8 Fitness
Cr8 Fitness mission is to help turn our clients “Happy and Healthy” on by Coaching them to Eat Well, Exercise Smart, and Enjoy Their Best Life.
We are a small facility tucked into the heart of the Suncook Valley, family-owned and operated for over 10 years. Each of our clients is family to us, and we are their fitness home.
Our heart is to create a safe, fun, and happy environment where you get the personal attention to reach your health and fitness goals.
Getting started is simple. Just click here to register for your complimentary fitness screen and 2-Week Free Tryout.
We look forward to seeing you!