Identifying and Beating Stress
Beating stress is possible, despite stress being an omnipresent feature of modern life.
Almost everyone you meet is stressed in some way and with one in four of us now being on, or having taken anti-depressants, maybe we should look at our sources of stress and techniques we use for beating stress.
With longer working hours, shorter holidays, financial pressures and greater demands on our time, stress levels seem to be on an upward trajectory. Identifying and beating stress is becoming an industry on it’s own. Products are even marketed as stress busters!
Having identified a problem, people look for solutions. The advice for beating stress usually come in the form of breaks, massages, alcohol or a whole host of other remedies, but they don’t really seem to work – not in the long term anyway.
The stressor (source of stress) is rarely removed with these options, meaning you don’t fix the problem, you just patch it up.
Example: You’re overworked and you hate your boss. You go on holiday, enjoy a few beers and a few days off. You arrive back home and back to work and within a few hours, the stress returns.
Beating stress requires identification and removal of stressors, whatever form they may take.
So what is stress?
Until a recent CHEK institute seminar, I thought of stress as a mental state that manifested itself with physical symptoms. I knew about a number of stressors such as emotional issues, financial issues, work issues etc and saw exercise as a way of relieving stress.
It turns out this was an overly-simplistic view of stress and the real picture is far more detailed….
Paul Chek outlines a more thorough definition of stress…
Reactions of the body to forces of a deleterious nature, infections and various abnormal states that tend to disturb its normal physiologic equilibrium (homeostasis).
When we use this definition as our framework for stress, it opens us up to areas of our lives that we wouldn’t usually associate with causing us stress, such as the food we eat or when we eat it.
Nutrition as a way of beating stress? Makes sense with this framework.
Here is a slide from the Paul Chek seminar outlining the stressors we encounter on a daily basis…
How can we tell if we are stressed?
This slide highlighted a few of the obvious symptoms of stress, down to an imbalance of the central nervous system – take a look and see if you suffer from any of these…
Looking through the list I identified that when I am stressed my sleep quality and my susceptibility to illness are all affected significantly. I also suffer from night sweats during stressful periods.
When my Dad was battling cancer my sleep was awful – intermittent throughout the night. When Dad passed away, I picked up a cold that lasted for 3 weeks and wiped me out. Previously this was unheard of for me, but it was a sign of the immense stress I was under.
So if you are stressed, what can you do?
Improve your diet
First of all, I believe all good health is built on a solid foundation of sound nutrition, so getting your food right is the first stop on the road. Beating stress starts with good nutrition. Cut down on your intake of…
- Processed Sugars
- Foods high in additives
- Processed meats
When these foods are removed, take a look at how you feel and how your body reacts. Are you less tired, has your sleep improved, do you have more energy and less bloating? Chances are you food was causing a stress response in your system.
Paul Chek also suggests eating larger emals earlier in the day and reducing your food intake as you go given the stress digestion places on the system. Personally I haven’t found eating later an issue, but if it affects you it may be wise to reduce late food intake.
Get yourself to bed early. Our circadium cycles stimulate hormone release at particular times during the day and night, so most of our cellular repair and regeneration happens between 10.30pm and 2.30am, as shown by the slide below.
Good quality, undisturbed sleep during these hours will go a long way to improving your health and beating stress.
Another tip from the seminar was to start dimming your lights from around 6pm to gradually stimulate the release of sleep hormones such as melatonin.
Exercise is both a stressor and a stress reliever. Here’s why…
The physical act of exercise is catabolic – it requires the break down of muscle tissue and places a lot of stress on the central nervous system and internal organs. To some degree, it causes pain and can restrict movement – temporarily.
Longer term, exercise releases feel good chemicals. It improves joint health, metabolism and mental health. Exercises improves movement over the long term and has a significant effect on body composition.
The best form of exercise is resistance-based rather than traditional cardio as this has been shown to increase injury risk, stimulate the release of large levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and reduce muscle mass. Collectively these contribute to a larger stress load.
Appropriate exercise is a great way of beating stress.
Psychic (mental) stress
Psychic stress has nothing to do with those charlatans who claim to speak to the spirit world – it is the term used to describe mental stress – what we would typically refer to as stress.
There are many aspects of life that can alter our thinking and cause us psychic stress, such as relationships, finances, work and losing a loved one. These things are nigh on impossible to avoid, so my best advice is to try to rationalise things as much as possible.
Logical thinking has helped me with beating stress and stressful situations in the past. When I have thought a problem through rather than react emotionally, I have found dealing with things to be far less stressful.
Trying to balance a very busy personal training business with family life exposes me to lots of potential stress, but my stoic leanings with logical thinking keeps my stress levels in check (most of the time!)
Other solutions to psychic stress are meditation, deep breathing patterns and yoga.
This is an umbrella term I have used for the other stresses we find ourselves under, such as thermal (being too hot or cold), chemical (wearing too many cosmetic products, smoking, living in polluted areas) and electromagnetic (living by mobile phone masts, spending too much time on a computer or in front of a TV).
As for thermal stress, my suggestion is you manage this as best as you can. Be sensible with clothing choices and exposure to heat during showers. Don’t go out in the freezing cold unless it’s necessary and be careful in extreme heat if you are lucky enough to live in a hot country!
Chemical stresses are easily avoided, you can follow my tips on detoxing in this article which will help you reduce the amount of chemicals you apply to your skin. Also, pay attention to the products you use – if you have a rash or acne after using a particular product, chances are you are allergic to an ingredient in the product and take steps to avoid it.
If you want to be really careful, check the ingredients list for likely suspects and avoid other products containing them.
Stress is a permanent fixture in modern life. Avoiding stress is nigh on impossible, but you can go some way to avoiding the negative effects by teaching yourself coping mechanisms. This is where beating stress starts.
Taking the steps to remove the stresses that are caused by lifestyle issues is the first step. If you are serious about beating stress, think about your behaviours and your sources of stress and act accordingly.
The psychic stress is the one that is most out of your control, so adjust your thinking to be more logical and less reactive. Additionally introduce more sensible, structured exercise, energising ‘working in’ and lots of prehabilitation and stretching. Some people I know swear by meditation to help them centre themselves.
No matter how you choose to avoid or manage your stress, make sure the behaviours are manageable and lasting. Take stress control seriously and you will be much healthier and happier.