Too many times when I speak to people about stress, most think of a person that is a worrywart, depressed, and/or overwhelmed. We all know people who fit this description and we hate to see our loved ones suffer like this. This is not what I am talking about today. Chronic stress affects all of us and many of us do not even know how it is affecting our health. There are steps you can take to improve your chronic stress level. They may sound easy to do, but in our lives, reducing chronic stress can be very difficult.
What is Chronic Stress?
If you are a successful businessperson, elite athlete, or just working hard to live your best life, there is a ninety percent chance you are suffering from chronic stress. What makes you successful, gives you the drive to push through tough times, and desire to be the best you can be? It is the never-ending desire to keep moving forward to accomplish your goals. You don’t accomplish your goals by just wishing they will happen. You must DO something. While that will get you to your goals, it can also place an enormous amount of stress on your brain and body. This is called chronic stress. “But wait”, you say. “I thought improving my body was good, making more money was good, and improving the world was a good thing, how can that be stressful?”
Again, if you think of stress as a person that is worried, depressed, and overwhelmed, then it makes no sense to me either. However, the fact that we are working hard to improve can, and will, stress us out. It is about the power of the brain. As I have said many times, our muscles are more emotional than they are physical. Therefore, the more we focus on what we are doing, then the more we go into the “fight or flight response.” This is chronic stress.
I have seen many clients who are working extremely hard to lose weight, get in shape or compete in an athletic event. One woman claimed to not be stressed, however, her schedule was filled with appointments like getting to the gym, yoga class, massage, and don’t forget lunch. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these, but scheduling them back-to-back, fighting traffic to get there, and then performing the task at hand can leave you feeling a little frazzled.
Another client, a man, was highly successful but was flying out of town to places all over the world for business. While he had a massive amount of business, he was exhausted. He enjoyed his business and loved meeting people, but making his meeting deadlines was taking a huge toll on him, mentally and physically.
Chronic stress will increase your heart rate and blood pressure, cause your digestive system to slow down and not digest your food correctly, and affect your relationships because you’re tired and on edge. We all want to increase our heart rate for short periods of time as we are working out. That is good for our cardiovascular system. Unfortunately, when our heart rate is up for long periods of time, this can damage our heart. We all know that high blood pressure is bad. The longer we maintain a higher blood pressure, the more damage it can do to the inner lining of the blood vessels and arteries.
The way we eat and what we eat will make a difference. Most people working hard to get things done usually eat food on the run. This means consuming convenience food like fast foods, eating faster than they should and having slower digestion. This is a recipe for disaster. Convenience foods do not have the nutrients we need to fire on all cylinders, which can lead to gaining weight. The increase in weight will lead to higher inflammation which can affect the heart, joints and brain. As Dr. Robert Lustig, who wrote, “Metabolical,” said, “You cannot outrun a bad diet.”
Relationships tend to suffer as well, because you may be there physically, but mentally you may be thousands of miles away. We make the mistake of thinking that since we are physically present, my mate or child, should be happy. But if I am on my phone, thinking about my speech tomorrow, or what I will do if something happens at work, it means I am not listening to my loved ones. It is important to separate what we do from who we are. I find my time with family and friends as a time I can stop thinking about what I do and just enjoy the people who have made me who I am as a person.
How Can We Improve Our Chronic Stress?
It sounds much easier than it is, but it can be done. In our goal setting, we prioritize what we need to do to be successful, right? Centering ourselves is the same. The problem here is, you may place as much stress on centering as you do in the rest of your life. The key here is to understand the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what.’ Once you understand why you do anything, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ will just come to you.
Obviously, having a healthy heart and lower blood pressure is everything because if you do not, everything else will not happen. Having a healthy heart and blood pressure allows you to be more focused, less irritable, and keeps you cognitively able to make great decisions. The best benefit is you may get to live longer, share your life with your loved ones, and accomplish even more due to the longer years of life.
Food is the fuel that makes you go. Eating a highly inflammatory diet decreases the flexibility and pliability of your muscles and joints. This makes it difficult just to move physically and can lead to fatigue. The same inflammation affects your heart. Like I said in the last paragraph when the heart is not working correctly, you cannot work correctly. This same inflammation can also affect the brain making it difficult to think clearly.
Eating less refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, pastries, sandwiches, or high-fat coffees can improve your ability to think more clearly and, as a bonus, you will lose weight. Focus your meals on more plant-based foods like salads with oil and vinegar instead of fattening salad dressings, vegetable soups made with real vegetables and lower salt content, real foods like vegetables that are not breaded, and lower your meat consumption to about twenty percent of your total food intake. I know this makes it difficult to eat out at restaurants, but if you look closely, most sit-down restaurants offer soups and salads. Fast food restaurants are a huge no-no though.
Focus on your relationships with loved ones. Those special times give you the opportunity to relax your mind, appreciate who is in your life, and take the time to recharge, mentally and physically. My wife laughs at how I can get on the floor and play with my young grandkids. I love spending time with them and talking with them about what is important to them. Using my imagination as I discuss imaginary people in their lives, allows me to be more creative. Too many times, we can get caught up in what we are doing and can’t see the forest for the trees. My grandkids give me the chance to clear my head.
Spending time with my wife and mom gives me the opportunity to listen to the people who have made me who I am. My parents gave me the tools I needed to be the person that I am today. They taught me how to feel, think, and listen so I could learn to accomplish everything that I want. My wife gives me the support to take risks and is there when the risks go well and not so well. As a team, it is important to take the time to re-evaluate what we are doing and where we want to go.
I find stretching with my Stretch n’ Release Technique gives me an awesome opportunity to reset my body and my mind anytime I want. Focusing on just releasing my muscles and not just pulling my muscles affects me mentally and physically. By breathing out as I stretch my muscles, my brain and body relax allowing the tension in the muscle to let go. Stretching each muscle individually allows me to free my joints and spine. Stretching every day, whether I have pain or not is another key. Too many people wait until they feel pain before thinking about stretching.
Stretching daily is really a pre-hab to prevent injuries, not fix them. Keeping my body free to move and relaxing my brain to think more freely allow me to be more creative and enjoy my life. I stretch for about fifteen minutes every morning and evening at the least. Many days I also stretch mid-day to better prepare my brain and body for each of you who comes in after lunch.
Tips to Improve your Stretching
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch every day and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.