At Clash we like to talk to our patients about lifestyle and stress management because we take a holistic, whole body approach to addressing pain and dysfunction. Americans are currently rated as one of the most stressed out nations in the world. The current uncertainty and fear surrounding society today has only worsened this unfortunate situation. The American Academy of Psychology conducts a survey every year to gauge the amount of stress felt by the population. The most recently published study from 2020 reveals the 2 out of 3 adults report increased stress due to the pandemic. This is particularly important because stress manifests itself physically as well.
Stress is basically being in a state of “fight or flight”, which was useful during evolution to allow us to respond quickly to impending threats. However, we are not meant to live in this state for prolonged periods of time. Symptoms of poorly managed stress include: fatigue, headaches, GI issues, muscle tension, pain, as well as depression and anxiety. Chronic stress can also have effects on biological processes related to hypertension and atherosclerosis leading to heart disease, reduced immune function, and endocrine changes affecting your hormones. Stress can also increase other behaviors that have detrimental effects on our health such as compulsive eating, smoking, and alcohol consumption. I mean who can’t relate to having an extra serving of ice cream or glass of wine after a particularly stressful day? However, these “quick fix” coping mechanisms compound over time leading to disease and poor quality of life.
We aren’t trying to give you more to worry about, simply emphasizing the importance of being aware of and managing your stress. There are many ways this can be done, most of which will improve your health in a number of different ways. We’ve already discussed the importance of getting good quality sleep, eating whole foods, and making time for meditation (see those blogs for more information). However, you can start small and build on tiny wins.
Here are some ideas we think are practical to implement:
- Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Just taking 20 mins to change the scenery and take a mental break will go a long way.
- Start or end your day with 5 mins of silence. If that seems like too much, start with 1 minute. Taking just a little time to bring yourself into the moment will help.
- Limit your screen time. Research shows that screen time stimulates your central nervous system which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation. This will affect your health negatively in many ways. You can limit screen time by going to your phone’s settings and setting time limits, which will trigger you to be alerted when you are nearing the end of the time you set for yourself. This can help increase awareness of the amount of time you are actually spending on your phone throughout the day as well. Each of those 10-20 minute scrolling sessions will add up!
- Find a non-physical hobby that brings you joy and schedule it into your week. This could be putting puzzles together, drawing, sudoku, writing, coloring books. Don’t put any pressure on it, it’s whatever you like.
- If you are having a particularly rough day or feeling especially overwhelmed take a few minutes to do some kind of physical activity. Taking a walk around the building you work in or moving through some stretches that feel the best for you will help to redirect that energy.
- Prioritize quality time with people who make you feel good. Set boundaries and don’t overextend yourself to people who don’t.
- Try to find a regular form of physical activity you enjoy that will get you to move 3 days a week for at least 30 mins. Don’t overcomplicate it, find something you LIKE. If you are choosing activities like running on a treadmill or going to a bootcamp because you think that’s what you are supposed to do, but you dread every session this will just bring more stress into your life. There’s so many different ways to move-muay thai, yoga, rock climbing, hiking, adult rec sports teams. Find the one that you have FUN doing.
- Consider trying talk therapy with a counselor or psychiatrist. There are many ways to access this type of therapy now with many companies moving to online platforms making it more convenient and affordable. These clinicians are trained to help you find the tools and techniques that fit your needs when managing stress.
Chronic stress is something that is so common we have started to just accept it as part of life. We think, well everyone is dealing with it, so we must be fated to carry this burden through life. This could not be further from the truth. If you can bring yourself to be proactive and prioritize yourself things can feel a lot lighter. Your health, longevity, and quality of life will be greatly improved by this. We are willing to bet you will notice these benefits spilling over into other areas of your life as well, such as your relationships with family and friends. If you aren’t sure where to start we are happy to help. You have more support than you know, if you just take the first step and ask.