Of the people you are closest to, how many of them seldom seem stressed out? 

Now, think for a moment about those lucky persons’ state of physical and emotional health? What do they look like? Are they fit, energetic, and vigorous? Do they seem active and happy?

OK, of all the others, what do they look like? How do they seem to you when you consider their physical and emotional health?

So many people I am close to are chronically stressed. And it doesn’t seem to be isolated to any one generation. Gen Z’ers are stressing about college, careers, and climate change. Millennials are drowning in school debt and struggling to find traction in their careers. Gen X’ers are driving their kids all over creation to endless activities while caring for aging parents who are starting to show signs of dementia. Boomers are working in their “retirement” because a fixed income and Social Security just ain’t enough, and then stepping up to care for their grandkids because the Gen X parents are both working and can’t seem to get ahead with the high cost of childcare, never mind put away money for the wildly exorbitant college educations they hope to provide for those children. Phew!

Some world we live in…

Some days it’s enough to make me want to head off into the mountains to live in a cabin, grow an Old Testament beard, and spend my days splitting wood and hunting for my food.

The impact of Chronic Stress…

Does it come as any surprise that so much chronic stress is “wicked bad” for our health, both physical and psychological??

The chronic level of stress that has become our new normal has a frightening impact on our health. Chronic stress not only contributes to worrisome maladies like heart disease and diabetes, but it can literally tear down the architecture of the brain.

I’d like to unpack this topic in a little more depth, so I’ll be posting a handful of essays on stress, its effect on our physical and emotional health, and some thoughts on actions we can take to mitigate its effects.

As you can probably anticipate, I’ll do my best to persuade you that daily exercise is a potent antidote to chronic stress.

What do we mean by “stress”?

But, for now, let’s establish what stress actually is.

The term can be a bit malleable. Stress is both a cause and an effect. It can be a state and a trait.

There is the external stress that life imposes on us, as in, “There’s a lot going on at work right now and I’m totally stressed out.” And there is the internal stress that we feel when, “it is all just too much, I am absolutely overwhelmed and cannot even think straight!”

But what is it exactly? Stress is a biological reaction to a perceived threat to the body’s equilibrium. It is an imperative to react, a response to some stimulus that requires us to adapt to survive.

It is an elegantly designed evolutionary gift without which our Stone Age ancestors would have perished a couple million years ago.

The degrees of stress…

The degree of our response to the external stressor can range from mild to severe.

On the mild side, stress can be very beneficial. In fact, it’s through our response to lower levels of controllable stress that we grow and adapt. The change in our nerves, bones, and muscles that occurs from exercise is just such an adaptation.

Severe reactions trigger our emergency response system, also called the fight-or-flight response.

In my next post, I’ll go into more depth about how this response process works. As you might imagine, it’s a fairly complex cascade of dominoes that involves the brain, a bunch of glands and hormones, and some cellular biology. But, I’ll do my best to break it down into something we can all get our heads around.

Some ideas below…

For now, I’d like to offer a couple ideas we can implement right away to mitigate the unrelenting stress that our modern way of life imposes on our day-to-day.

For many of us, this will seem intuitive and make perfect sense. But getting started can be challenging. We might need some help with accountability or a little encouragement and support. Sometimes we just don’t know how to start or where to turn for expert guidance. That’s exactly why we’ve created MidStrong. Please lean on us. Whether you’re in the local area or farther afield, we can and want to support you. And I want to emphasize that we want to be a resource to you regardless of whether you ever become a client of ours. Our purpose is to serve. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!

 

Two things you can do today to take some of the edge off…

  1. Move. Every. Day. I know… you knew I was going to say that. Yep, because it is TRUE! Get moving. Today. And keep moving – every day for a minimum of 20 minutes. The more vigorous the activity the better. The intensity of the exercise is important and, up to a certain point, more is better.
    Sure, we’ve probably got a long list of reasons that simply won’t allow for this, right???  – “I’m too old. I’m too busy. My knee hurts. My back hurts. I have to take care of my Mom, or my grandkids. I’m tired. I feel depressed.” Any of those sound familiar?? Well, forgive my directness… Those are all excuses. Excuses are like (bleep)… everybody’s got one and nobody wants to hear it. Unless we’re flat on your back sick with the flu or, God forbid, something much worse, like cancer, our excuses are worthless tales we tell ourselves to take the edge off the disappointment we intrinsically feel at letting ourselves down. Quit making excuses. Quit lollygagging. Get moving.
  2. Recover. We can all use a breather. Whether it’s from intense physical training, the pressures of work, or just the persistent sense of overwhelm that can bear down on us. Heck, even God, took the 7th day off! Who are we to think we can just keep plodding on and on?
    In fact, we can significantly improve our productivity and effectiveness with regular daily, weekly, and annual recovery intervals. It might mean truly taking a “sabbath” day in which we refuse to allow work responsibilities to intrude for that one day of the week. Or it might be a few moments throughout each day that we shut things down for a brief interlude, let’s say 10-15 minutes, and just sit quietly and try to be mindful and grateful. These respites are quite effective at neutralizing much of the toxic effect of chronic stress.

 

One thing you can do to better understand and manage long-term chronic stress:

Read this book:

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

A groundbreaking and fascinating investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from the bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey, MD.

Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: Exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.

*Full disclosure, we receive a small commission from Amazon if you purchase this book using the link above.

Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.