You have earned your right to cope with stress. Millions of years ago you had to adapt to the dangers of life and that meant developing a system that would help you to survive. This is known as the Fight/Flight system. And over millions of years, your body fine tuned this physiological mechanism allowing for acute stressors like being chased by a saber tooth tiger or avoiding a snake. The problem today is that this adaptation didn’t account for the chronic or long term stress that we now experience. In fact, the only long term stress that our bodies were ever exposed to thousands of years ago was famine.
Today we can break stress down into 3 types: Acute, Chronic and Eustress.
Acute stress: This is the fight/flight process where you either protect yourself or run. The body prepares to defend itself and it takes about 90 minutes for the metabolism to return to normal when the response is over.
Chronic Stress: The cost of daily living, paying bills, raising kids, job performance, traffic and Donald Trump… This is the stress we tend to ignore or push down. Left uncontrolled this stress affects your health- your body and your immune system.
Eustress: This is stress that can be perceived as either positive or negative depending on circumstances. It includes stress of a happy marriage, promotions, a new baby, financial responsibilities and graduations. But there is also stress with negative connotations such as divorce, punishment, injuries, financial problems and work difficulties.
The point here is that not all stress is bad. In fact, a lot of it depends on how you perceive it and this is why “coping mechanisms” can help!
Chronic Stress is Wrecking Your Body and Could be Causing Disease
Today, our seemingly never-ending stress is resulting in non-stop stress hormone production that obliterates our health and suppresses immunity.
These hormones have the power to change our global physiology, they suppress digestion, muscle formation, fat burning, and immune cells. This process eventually leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, elevated blood fats and a whole host of other bodily complications.
When someone asks me how they can get rid of their belly fat, they usually want me to point them to some amazing diet or power pills that will incinerate the tire around their mid section. Truth is, if you have a “stress gut”, there’s no diet or fat burner that will save you! The body’s creation of belly fat was originally intended for sustenance during the long, cold winter months when game was harder to come by. Today, we face a triple-whammy of poor diet (drive-thru lifestyle), a horrifically and growing sedentary lifestyle, and an abundance of emotional or mental stress.
This is why I always try to teach health principles that include:
- Eating Well: Eat Better – lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and quality protein; no sugar, no grains, no processed vegetable oils
- Moving Well: Move Better – daily exercise to the point of exertion not only virtually erases the effects of stress, but will enable you to handle more stress before your body suffers from stress-induced breakdown.
- Thinking Well: Go deep and Get connected – get a handle on your sleep/rest schedule, your level of gratitude or thankfulness in your life, and feeding your mental/emotional self with ‘quiet time’, spiritual reading, and e-fasting (that’s deliberate periods no TV, computer, phone or internet)
The modern “unnatural environment” we live in is resulting in an epidemic of stress-derived chronic disease. This includes: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, depression/anxiety and musculoskeletal problems such as back and neck pain.
The fat that accumulates around your midsection, which we now know is due to chronic cortisol is also considered a risk factor for developing the above conditions. This fat actually increases our blood pressure by pressing up against our kidneys – influencing the hormones that regulate blood pressure. Ironically, this same brilliant hormonal mechanism that helped man adapt and overcome the chronic stressors of yesterday is at the center of the number one killer of man today.
So what’s a modern hunter gatherer to do?
Work Inward and develop coping mechanisms. It has long been recognized that journaling your life’s experiences is one of the most effective strategies to manage stress. I know it may sound cliché or cheesy, but I guarantee that if you start journaling your thoughts, feelings and reflecting on your day or even projecting into your future, it will change your life.
Begin each day by opening your journal and completing the morning portion. Then complete the habit conditioning exercise for that day. Do this before anything else in the morning. Yes… get up 10-15 minutes earlier to get this done. Make a change in your life for something better!
5 steps to Controlling Stress
Here’s an example of a Daily Conditioning Exercise to Improve Coping Mechanisms. I personally have a small journal to do this exercise. I have created an example for you to download called: DOWNLOAD BY CLICKING HERE > The 5 Minute Journal Simply print out 30 for the month and start!
Look, I get it…
You are going to fight me on how little time you have, lack of patience, you’re too busy with work or kids, or some other lame excuse as to why you cannot do this activity daily. Well that’s your choice. And health or life is just that, a choice; it’s on you! At the crux of almost everyone’s mental stress are the demands placed on our limited resources; namely our time, energy, focus and money. The world seems to have an insatiable appetite for these things; everyday it seems that there are more demands and fewer resources. In the economy of our lives, we must recognize the need for strategies that protect our limited resources.
Your health is a limited resource and yet it is your greatest asset. So putting anything else in front of it is not a “healthy” strategy. If we are to be truly happy – and find peace of mind – we must strive to master managing this asset. Health should take priority over everything. People don’t necessarily experience any less stress; they simply develop better strategies and coping mechanisms for dealing with it.
Life is full of surprises – get ready for them my friends!