That’s because stress is the #1 leverage point for my health.
I know that if my stress is in line, I’m exercising appropriately. Eating well. Sleeping enough. Connecting with my kids and Matthew. Getting enough time to myself. Keeping up with my day job (but not letting it rule my life). Moving forward with my core personal projects.
If any one of these elements of my life is being neglected, my stress spikes.
Indicators of Stress
In my last post, I shared 3 indicators that I monitor each day to track my stress.
I also explained how focusing on stress management finally enabled me to maintain a healthy weight after decades of struggling with obesity.
Stress has a detrimental effect on my energy, body weight, sleep, mental health, parenting, ability to work and a host of other critical internal process, like how my genes express themselves.
It kind of goes like this:
Let’s agree that stress management is important.
But why is it so hard?
Why Managing Stress is Hard
In Your Personal Paleo Code, Chris Kresser suggests that stress management is challenging because it “bumps you up against core patterns of belief and behaviours that are difficult to change”.
Society rewards and encourages us when our lifestyle contains unsustainable levels of stress, and according to Chris, prioritizing stress reduction in a society that doesn’t value it is profoundly counter-cultural.
So in addition to taking on the difficult task of managing stress, you are also swimming against a powerful cultural current, and are unlikely to receive much encouragement from most people in your life as you do it.
But you will from me!
How to Manage Stress
Most people who champion Healing Protocols emphasize the importance of stress management:
- Mark Sisson offers 15 Ways to Fight Stress and 10 Forgotten Stress Relief Tips.
- Dave Asprey shares Six Ways to Hack Your Nervous System and Stress Relief: How to Give Your Brain a Vacation.
- Chris Kresser points out that when you are feeling pleasure, you can’t experience stress. I was skeptical of this at first, but I’ve been paying attention, and I think he’s right. Chris elaborates in Practice Pleasure and 7 ways to Practice Pleasure this Week.
Additional Stress Management Tips
Here’s three I’d like to add to the mix:
The paleo movement has gone past thinking exclusively in terms of ancestral foods, and has embraced modern interpretations of ancestral lifestyle practices, too.
I’m surprised that handwork hasn’t been rolled in.
Our ancestors would have spent a good portion of each day just working on stuff with their hands.
Sharpening spears. Scraping hides. Making clothing. Preparing food. Fashioning arrows. Repairing tools.
These activities would have been repetitive. And once a person was skilled, they would have been meditative. Social. Pleasurable.
I think there is something inherently soothing to the nervous system about handwork, especially once one has a sufficient level of skill.
I’ve been practicing with knitting. Socks.
Not sure why Chris didn’t include sex on his ‘7 pleasurable things to do this week’ list. I’ve got a post in the queue called Being Sex Positive that will explore sex as part of a healing protocol. Up soon!
3. Hacking Cortisol
Now that my laboratory is clean (I am the laboratory!) I can usually discern when cortisol is elevated in my body.
This enables me to change what I’m doing.
Remember, cortisol is a hormone that fluctuates naturally through out the day. When required, a burst of additional cortisol enables us to access glycogen stores for a boost of energy to deal with crisis situations.
But using coritsol to fuel workouts (and life generally) has become a pretty common practice in our culture. It used to be my strategy, too.
Before I became able to discern elevated cortisol in my body, the only information I had was whether I was physically capable of continuing to exercise. And ‘physically capable’ is highly subjective, especially for type A’s like me.
A (weird, true, extreme, embarrassing) Story
Some years ago, before I understood that stress was implicated in all my health problems, I’d be at the gym and I’d ask myself would you stop exercising if that meant your kids were going die?
The answer was always no, so I’d keep running, or whatever I was doing. Flooding my body with cortisol and unknowingly counteracting everything I was trying to achieve by exercising.
I once went to a chiropractor who asked if I’d been in a serious car accident, because my skull plates were crazy misaligned. I didn’t tell her the truth, that the trauma to my skull was the result of staying in headstand at yoga far beyond my physical strength, using my keep-my kids-from dying mind trick.
No wonder I was chronically depressed, anxious and overweight despite all my exercise.
Exercise is important for managing stress, of course. Just not to the point where cortisol gets involved.
We need to save that for the times when we are actually running for our lives.
Stress is unavoidable. But we can do what we can to consciously organize the pattern of our lives to minimize its harm.