Yeah yeah yeah, stress is bad.
I guess if I write another “stress is bad and exercise will help,” I’ll probably win the award for Most “Already Been Done” article.
But, if we all know this, why is getting stressed out and overwhelmed still one of the top reasons people can’t stick to a diet or exercise regimen and struggle to get results?
We all KNOW that stress is bad for us. It causes us to gain fat, lowers energy… the list of ill-effects is long and, well, stressful.
To the point that people are now getting stressed about getting stressed.
Which kinda isn’t helping anyone.
And you end up quitting because you feel like this isn’t working, you’re still stressed out, and you reach to your comfort food or a glass of wine to give you a break. And you say “Screw it, I can’t do this, I have too much on the go. I guess I’m just too weak and don’t have the willpower.”
Survival of the Stressed
So here is something that occurred to me a few months ago.
If you think about it from an evolutionary context, all the people who were able to manage stress are probably dead.
Stay with me here, and remember that for like 99% of our evolution we weren’t living in the modern world. Someone who is able to go all day and only check their email at scheduled times was probably the same guy that was like, “Meh screw it, those berries look yummy” or, “Oh neat, a tiger! I bet he’s soft.”
My point is that the people that could turn their brains off and relax likely got pretty messed up in the wild, and the tendency to worry, and be vigilant and check things a lot, and well, not pet tigers, were things that made us successful in the wild. So we had progeny and they didn’t.
Those Habits of Highly Successful People
So that’s a reason why it’s so hard for you to follow those annoying 15 habits of chilled out people that keeps showing up on your Facebook page.
It’s not because there is something wrong with you. It’s that you are human, and your mind is a very busy place.
So what do we do about it?
Think About It
Well for one, and this is most important, you stop beating yourself up about it.
I use a great mediation app, Calm, and one of the coolest things that it does is gently remind you that there is no right way to meditate. It’s ok if your thoughts drift, but when they do, simply gently guide them back to your focus.
It’s actually pretty fun.
Apply the Minimum Effective Dose of Exercise
And then yes, there is exercise. Hey, we all want to burn off that stress right ?
Well… personally, I find my clients get better when we focus on reconnecting with our bodies and we do about half of what they are able to do. I want the positives of exercise, and that comes from increasing the connection between muscles, movement and mind, feeling your muscles work, and releasing a bit of sweat.
Exercise is like a drug: there is a Minimum Effective Dose, and you don’t want to exceed that, because then you are just adding another stressor to the body.
Of course, once we get them feeling healthier, we increase the workload, but my point is you don’t need something to be hard for it to be effective.
Case in point, being kicked in the nads is a pretty hard thing to deal with, but it does nothing to help you lose weight, or deal with stress. (Unless you’re into that …)
So many people start an exercise program, only to find it’s just making them feel worse. Heed my advice about Minimum Effective Dosage and start something you can sustain.
It’s not about being a superhero on day one, it’s about getting better than you were yesterday.
And doing the same thing tomorrow :)
Imagine if on day one you can only do a dumbbell row with a 5 pound weight, and you add one pound a day. In one year what will that mean?
It’ll probably be pretty superheroiffic!
Life is stressful enough, exercise should be fun and motivating. So set reasonable goals and make progress. That will help a great amount in dealing with stress.
Next up? Nutrition.
Whoa boy people have so many ideas about nutrition. I mean, everyone knows how to lose weight right? It’s simple.
Here’s the bottom line on nutrition. To see sustainable improvements, we can’t just start eating less, because in a lot of ways we already aren’t eating enough.
You eat too many calories for the body you currently have, and you don’t eat enough nutrients to build the body you need.
We need to improve your health by eating healthier foods. And this all starts in the gut.
We need to heal the gut, and change the biome (the kind of bacteria in your gut). Your gut can play a huge role in digestion, and dealing with stress. It will also, if restored to a healthy state, change the types of foods you crave.
Your gut has a massive influence on how well you deal with stress, what foods you crave, and at least a dozen other things that can make it easier or harder to make progress.
People never believe me when I say this, but try adding more vegetables and tubers and some sauerkraut and kefir into your diet and cutting down on processed foods and watch a miracle happen.
Your gut influences your taste buds because it is connected to them through the Vagus nerve. Your gut literally tells your mouth what you want to eat.
There is a reason why it’s called a Gut Feeling, because the Gut acts as a second brain, particularly in stressful times, and either helps or hinders dependant on the quality of your Gut bacteria.
If it is populated with unhealthy bacteria, then it craves unhealthy food. Once you put healthy bacteria in there (by eating probiotic foods like kraut and kefir) and fuel those bacteria with Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates (aka vegetables and tubers) it starts telling you that you want some salmon and broccoli. It also tells you that, yes, your boss is an ass-clown but no, you don’t need a Snickers bar.
The whole point of this nutritional approach is to make it easier for you to keep going, by changing how you digest foods first.
Then the rest, eating enough lean protein, healthy fats and lots of different vegetables becomes a lot easier.
The trick isn’t knowing what foods you are supposed to eat. It’s rewiring the working of your second brain (the gut) to actually make you want to do that.
People always think of their taste buds as something that is unchangeable. That’s false. The taste buds are heavily affected and influenced by the gut. That is were a great deal of your cravings are coming from. If we fix this then you can save up your willpower for dealing with other things, instead of fighting off an urge for a bag of chips you can use your willpower to motivate you to go to the gym.
A big underlying theme in this article is the idea that willpower is a finite resource, the less of it we use the more you will have in reserve to keep you on track.
Finally? Take a hike.
And finally the fourth thing you can do (I guess we should have called this article 4 things you can do to stay on track with your training and nutrition when you get stressed, but it’s too late now), is go for a walk.
Or just get outside. Ride a bike, walk at lunch hour, leave your phone in the office, disconnect from the matrix and go breath some fresh air. I ask my clients to walk 3-4 times a week.
Nature is now our friend, moment of silence for all those tigerphiles that fell before us, but nowadays nature is a place we seek out to recharge and relax. All of our stress comes from our devices, the things we own that tend now to own us (blatant Fight Club rip off… but I don’t think Chuck will mind). Give yourself a bit of freedom from the ennui, get out, look up at the sun, watch birds flying by, pet a dog, feed a duck. Watch kids play, watch the waves crash into the coast, relax and lose fat.
Doesn’t that sound easier?
I hope this article has helped you to see how you can succeed and that the challenges you face are not because of something specific to you, or any failing. Defeating stress is really not that hard. You just need to reframe your thoughts on how to do it, and what to expect. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please reach out to me if you have questions or want help. My inbox is always open: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image courtesy of Oliveira Comp on Flickr.