Updated: Mar 15, 2020
If my blog were a fairytale, it would seem that I've told you all about the Goldilocks, Seven Dwarfs, and the Little Red Riding Hoods of health. But today I'd like to talk to you about the Wolf of Wolves. The nemesis that lives inside our minds, our bodies, and circles above and around us like an invisible vulture - more dangerous than most of us understand...
It's called stress.
I've said many times before, my goal is to give you the building blocks to a healthy, balanced
life, using what is already available to you right now. Stress seems to be the antithesis to all of it because it has weaved its way into our daily lives and made us believe we depend on it to
survive. It has taken such a prevalence in our lives that it seems too obvious to even write
about. But sometimes it is the things that are right in front of us that need the most attention.
There can be no cure without addressing the cause. We need to take responsibility for what we are we doing, how we contribute to our problems in the first place. The most common culprits of the Devil's cycle of stress are very simple: an incorrect attitude supported by too much caffeine to rev us up and too much alcohol to bring us down, which leads to poor quality sleep, and a lethargic sedentary lifestyle. Next to all of the above: the constant presence of the smartphone never allows the mind to wander aimlessly, but is instead ever force-fed more and more information and stimulus. Over-extension into just one of these habits would be enough to create a disfunction in body and mind, causing disharmony, an aberration of our natural human state. Usually, we all deal with a multitude of unhealthy daily rituals and such a combination represents the direct path into the belly of the Wolf. So, how can we prevent all of the above from eventually causing us to burn out?
Below are 5 simple ways to de-stress that I have found to be very effective:
1. Meditate Every Day - even if it's only for 10 minutes
One of Bill Murray's best quotes goes something like this. “The more relaxed you are, the
better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with
your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.” The primary secret to a healthy state of being is a healthy state of mind. No amount of medicine, or diet (though it can help) will achieve an inner balance without a daily practice of meditation.
Whatever your style might be - walking, painting, or staring at a dot on the wall. The idea is to create a space between yourself and your mental machine - which is constantly streaming thought-tethered survival suggestions. However, in a modern world, most of these are theoretical, so the ability to discern between real danger and theoretical threat is key to a stress-free life.
A healthy, well functioning body and mind is our most natural human state, but we live in an artificial world, and thus often rely on artificial means to achieve so-called relief from the mental maelstrom. Yet artificial remedies such as drugs and alcohol are only bandaids and often weaken an already suppressed immune system. It is like feeding birds in the wild that become more and more dependent on the easy route, and forget how to forage the natural way.
Stress seems to have overwhelmed not only adults, but also our children. Meta-analytic studies involving thousands of children and college students show that anxiety has been increasing over the last forty years. One can only imagine how our fast lifestyle with social media, smart phones, and the ever increasing social technologies contribute to the problems we face today.
Nietzsche once said, “All Truly Great Thoughts are conceived while walking - without an iPhone”. OK, he didn't say the last part, but he might as well have - because the part about walking means that we're not only winding down our bodies, but we're also winding down our minds, refreshing our thoughts and getting inspired. Walking is one of the oldest forms of meditation; the benefits of which are greatly reduced with further input from our phones. Imagine your mind to be your child that needs space and time to wander aimlessly.
2. Reduce Caffeine Consumption
The solution to this could be one of two things. Cold Turkey for a week to a month. You
may be tired and a bit depressed for the first three days, but on the fourth day you would
realize that you are actually very well equipped to brighten up your body and mind on its
own. It just needs a little time. Especially if you kick start your nervous system with a
short cold shower after waking, you will not only find yourself wide awake, but studies
have shown that it actually helps fortify you against over-reactivity to stressors for the rest
of the day. Check out my blog on the health benefits of cold plunges and cold showers for a more in-depth explanation. If after a week you decide you still miss your coffee, try going for an herbal alternative first.
Yerba Mate is one of the most wonderful teas for focus and creativity I've ever tried. Its effect is a more sustained, high quality wakefulness that is smoother in its rise, and gentler in its descent. I can always sleep at night after a cup or even two or three, and it elevates my mood in a way that coffee never did. Plus, it is rich in antioxidants and nutrients.
3. Sleep for at Least 8 Hours and Improve the Quality of Sleep
The solution to poor quality sleep ties directly into the last paragraph. The more coffee we drink, the worse we sleep, and the worse we sleep, the more coffee we need. The less we sleep, the more we force our body to excrete high levels of cortisol to handle the stress of running the human system on a low battery. The human body is incredibly capable of adapting to unexpected situations, but prolonged exposure to these kind of environments is highly damaging, and the depletion of our bodies’ emergency resources is extremely dangerous. Much like insulin performs the function of helping level the amount of sugar in our body, Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body regulate stress levels. But though we hear a lot about what happens when we run out of Insulin. “Ahhh! DIABETES!” We don't hear much about what happens when we run out of cortisol. But many studies have linked it to a compromised immune system, obesity, some forms of cancer, and even sudden death. So – take some magnesium, or some melatonin to help your body get those eight hours in, even if that means skipping that Netflix binge from time to time. For a comprehensive list of ways to improve the quality of sleep, read my recent blog post "5 Ways to Improve Sleep".
4. Exercise More, Sit Less
When we think of ways to alleviate stress, what comes to mind? Vegging on the couch?
Having a drink at the end of the day? Treating yourself to a pint of ice cream? Though these
might seem like a good idea at first glance, they actually often make it worse. Our bodies
are designed to move, so that is what it loves the most. It doesn't mean running a
triathlon every day. It simply means leaving your phone at home, and taking a 20-30
minute walk. Maybe try to include exercise into your daily routine by walking or biking to work, or regularly meeting up with a friend after work for a walk, yoga class or gym class.
5. Spend Less Time on Your Phone
This may be the newest stressor of them all, and it was born out of the availability of our
smartphones. Never before in the history of humanity have we been able to teleport our
psyche to a thousand places within the span of a minute. I don't know what the physical
effect is, nor do I think anyone really knows – but we do know the level of stress has
gone up with the advent of the smartphone. Whether it's the fear of missing out as you
scroll through instagram as we compare our lives to others, or whether it's our boss
calling and texting us after hours about a pending deadline. The work space doesn't end
at the office. It follows us home, on the bus, the Uber, to the bathroom, and even into our
bedrooms. With the ability to be productive or entertained at all times, we have lost the
luxury of boredom. Boredom is vital for mental health as it enables our mind to circle
back in on itself, to reflect on our day, our life, and process some of what we've learned.
Without the proper psychic space to digest the plethora of daily inputs, we're bound to be
psychologically and emotionally constipated.
What do an incorrect attitude, too much caffeine, poor quality sleep, sedentary lifestyle and spending too much time on our phones have in common? Too much of the bad stuff, too little of the good stuff. Stress is simply an indicator of the balance of life, our state of harmony, being out of whack. We live in a modern world, with modern jobs and modern devices that can't be avoided. Our Ancestors were in fight or flight situations and in between they were able to relax. It seems like nowadays, we do not get enough breaks and are continuously on alert and on a roll - so we need to work harder to fortify ourselves against the Wolf of Wolves. We can't abandon our body and soul and expect them to work for us automatically and under any circumstance. Overextending ourselves, using too much energy while inviting negative influences - is like borrowing money from a friend. Your best friend, the body. Some day, it will need it back and it may not be able to ask so nicely. Treat it well while it's still doing your bidding. Our bodies are amazing instruments - much to be grateful for.
Until next time!