I used to enjoy cooking.
Before I became a parent, the journey of cooking a meal included any or all of the following:
- a nice beverage
- experimentation with flavours
- frolicking in the herb garden
- good company
- my choice of music
After I became a parent, the process of making a meal now includes:
- a selection of steamed vegetables
- some form of boiled or grilled meat
- a tired, hungry little person who communicates her lack of appreciation for my cooking by decorating the walls and floors with it
- Justine Clarke’s album ‘I Like To Sing’, generally for the fifth time on any given day
The end goal is the same – to ensure that everyone is fed – but the path to getting there is very different! Suffice to say that my levels of ‘motivation’ for the latter are somewhat lower than they were for the former.
How does this relate to exercise?
It’s fair to say the word ‘stress’ has a pretty negative connotation in our society. Many people, including a previous incarnation of myself tend to associate the word stress with things like anxiety, frustration and anger. If we are stressed it is an admission that we are not coping, that we are teetering on the edge of a Michael Douglas from ‘Falling Down’ type break down.
Rightfully, few people want to admit to feeling that way. And the reality is many people do experience stress that is actually nothing like what I have just explained. I am such as person. Rebranding stress was crucial in my overcoming of it. Let me explain.
A big part of my rebranding of stress lied in recognising what stress actually is from a physiological perspective. I will try to expain this succinctly: Stress is the perception of a stimulus that results in the hypothalamus communicating neurologically and hormonally to the pituitary, which then communicates via hormones with the adrenal system to release epinephrine (acutely) and cortisol. This response basically gets us amped up for action. It is a good thing, if we didn’t have a HPA stress response we would resemble sloths. I deliberately used the word ‘stimulus’ instead of the more commonly used ‘threat’ as I feel ‘stimulus’ is more relevant to the stress I experienced.
The stress that I dealt with was related to a major flaw in human design. My brain was not fitted with an ‘off’ switch!
An analogy that I like that describes the landscape inside my brain was that it was like one of those stock market electronic ticker tapes, the ones with the 5 or 6 layers of messages over-lapping one-another. One layer would be what I was currently doing, the next on what I was going to cook for dinner, the next on some research and development I needed to do, the next on remembering to call my Mum, and so-on. I wasn’t thinking negatively about any of those things, often the feeling was benign or actually an excited anticipation.
But as a result of being constantly on alert about something that may potentially happen in the future, or analysing details of events past, I was constantly wired for action. This resulted in a number of unfortunate consequences, such as; compromised cognitive abilities relating to memory, problem solving and creativity because of my lack of present time awareness; increased production of ‘stress’ hormones from the HPA axis resulting in disruption to sleep and eventually adrenal fatigue; increased muscle tension resulting in back and neck pain and headaches. Not fun.
I’ll remind you at this point that I experienced all of these consequences without ever really feeling anxious, depressed, frustrated or any other strong emotions typically associated with stress.
So what did I do to overcome stress?
- Firstly I recognised that the way I was functioning was not working for me- I accepted that I was chronically stressed.
- Next I removed basically everything from my diet that puts undue strain upon the adrenal system- namely caffeine containing foods and beverages and alcohol. I also added in some widely available nutritional supplements that are known to assist energy production at a cellular level.
- I reduced my exercise volume in the short term, then gradually built it back up again.
- I started writing myself to-do lists, and then actually did the things on my list!
- I rediscovered meditation and practiced for 20 mins daily. Meditation serves a number of different purposes- for me it was an exercise in bringing peace and quiet to my otherwise manic mind. It was the off-switch my brain needed.
Stress is not a bad thing if we can use it to our advantage and also disengage and enjoy silence in those moments between. Meaningful relaxation is a pillar of health that almost everyone in our busy society neglects. Find some quiet and you’ll be amazed at the what happens.
If you were thumbing through the Sunday paper over the weekend, you may have come across two separate full-page articles eight pages apart from each other.
The first carried the big bold headline ‘Exercise Won’t Make You Thin‘. The second had the headline ‘How I Went From Virtually Zero to $3.5 MILLION of Real Estate Wealth in Just 18 MONTHS!‘
OK seriously…how much more of this do we have to put up with?
Let me reiterate – full page articles – albeit prefaced with the tiny caption ‘Advertisement’, constructed to appear as normal news articles to lure the sleepy Sunday reader into a barrage of support for the sensational headline!
For all I would like to say about the lack of integrity in commercial advertising and journalism – I’ll keep it to this:
Clearly, for the right price, you can say whatever you want to whoever you want, shirking responsibility for the resultant trail of carnage from a skewed truth presented to make yourself a buck. (more…)