Dealing with Chronic Stress

It’s been pretty well documented that prolonged stress can make us sick. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that prolonged, sustained stress places a drain on us, affecting our mood, relationships, performance and outlook on life.

We know that stress affects the physical body and our emotions. Stress is a catalyst for disease, illness and many medical conditions. Stress can be acute or chronic. However, it’s the prolonged, chronic, low grade stress that is most destructive to our health. It could be that chronic low grade stress is becoming the disease of the 21st century.

Studies show us that there are three factors that universally lead to stress;

Uncertainty – like what the hell to expect next, can I rely on the future?

Lack of information – despite being overwhelmed with misinformation

Loss of control – we submitted control of our lives to others.

In Melbourne, we’ve spent many months under lockdowns where all three of these factors are playing out, so it's no wonder our bodies might be objecting.

COVID has made us more isolated

The COVID pandemic has created heavy psychological and emotional burdens for people due to uncertainty, altered routines and financial pressures.

In Australia, the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide have soared since the start of the pandemic. One in five Australians have reported high levels of psychological distress.

The pandemic has also made us more isolated, and our relationships more remote, having a profound impact on social connections and belonging.

Studies have highlighted how family and community support, and a sense of belonging, influence our genes and act as a protective factor against the effects of stress.

In such unprecedented and stressful times, it’s vital we build and maintain strong social structures that contribute to good physical and mental well-being.

As our members know, exercise is part of their overall strategy for ongoing health, happiness and prosperity. It gives us both physical and emotional benefits and a sense of control over our lives. Hopefully a sense that we can at least influence and to an extent control our health outcomes…and we know that increasing our sense of control of our lives can offset some of the chronic stress factors mentioned above.

Sense of Community

We really hope its obvious, but we work hard to deliver excellent training outcomes and a welcoming environment. We intentionally focus on creating an inclusive community where all are welcomed and feel part of something bigger. We don’t have thousands of members because we prefer to provide more meaningful relationships and support for our members and practice the important stuff like truly inderstanding our members training needs, strengths and weaknesses and adapting our approach to accommodate these variables individually.

4 ways of dealing with chronic stress

1. Schedule down time

Often, when we’re up to our eyeballs in stress, it’s becomes difficult to work out which way is up. When things get really tough, we can become disconnected from our own sense of tiredness, frustration and stress. We become wired to operate in that constant state and become less aware of how wound up we have become, we lose sight of the wood from the trees! Signs of chronic stress may include poor sleep, irritability, slowed decision making, reduced sense of proportionality (stuff just seems worse than it actually is!).

Scheduling a circuit breaker may be what’s required to stop the train of thought and re-set. Downtime could be as easy as taking an afternoon off, reading a book, going for a long walk with a friend/partner or on your own, a weekend away. The objective is to break the cycle and get some perspective back and breath again!

2. Eat well

Maybe obvious, but you’ll be surprise how ongoing, relentless stress can affect our food choices. When we’re struggling to get through the day, going shopping to buy fresh ingredients and prepare a clean, healthy meal might feel like a bridge too far! The result is often subconsciously choosing fast, calorie laden pre-package meals, take away or possibly worse, missing meals all together.

While I’m not a huge advocate for pre-prepared meals, there are times where having meals delivered is justified, just choose wisely! My preference long term is to learn some easy, go to, fresh meals that are quick and healthy and allow you greater control and responsibility for what you are putting into your body. In my humble opinion, the process of preparing your own meals increases your connection with the food you are consuming, leading to better choices. If it is easy and stress free, it can also give you back a sense of control…but I get it, you need the headspace for this and that’s not always possible.

3. Sleep

Here’s the crazy paradox for many of us: the more stressed and tired we are, the more difficult it can be to get quality sleep. Sleeping poorly often leads to greater fatigue, which can make it harder to relax and fall asleep or stay asleep.

If you’re not a good sleeper, the following will not be new, but here’s a reminder!

  1. Get into a sleep routine i.e. go to bed at the same time and get out of bed at the same time, your body will start to fall into a pattern and routine.
  2. Reduce caffeine and other stimulants such as alcohol
  3. Make sure your bedroom is both dark and cool
  4. No blue light prior to bed (TV’s, ipads, iphones…or anything else starting with an ‘I’!)
  5. Try reading, but this doesn’t work for everyone

4. Exercise

Perhaps the most obvious of all solutions and hopefully doesn't need too much explanation, however, exercise:

  1. Gets you out of your head
  2. Makes you physically tired, leading to better sleep
  3. Helps you become stronger and fitter and feel more in control of your wellbeing
  4. Releases all sorts of feel good hormones, think endorphines!
  5. Reduces stress hormones, think cortisol and adrenaline
  6. Improves resilence and stamina

The bottom line: it’s pretty normal to be feeling out of sorts right now. Most of us are pretty stressed and fatigued, so stop stressing about being stressed and fatigued and work your game plan!

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