Category Archives: Psychology

Stressed??

stressedMost of us feel stressed out some of the time. Some of us feel stressed out most of the time. Over the years this constant stress can have negative consequences for our health.

To gain fitness we must manage and manipulate stress.

When training for an athletic event we manipulate stress to make us fast and fitter. The idea behind pushing different paces or distances is to stress our muscles and cardiovascular system just enough so that when we rest, our body repairs to make us fitter. This process is called hormetic stress. This would be how “training” is different than just going out and moving—you are managing how and when to stress you system in order to get fitter/faster/stronger. I am sure you know of people who exercise regularly but don’t really change their fitness levels. Their body has become adapted to their routine and they maintain a certain level of ability but don’t stress their system in order to get fitter. So adding the appropriate stressors of exercise at the right times and doses is good stress.

But there are other stressors that aren’t healthy.

The stressors we are all aware of because we feel them often—work, relationships, finance are among the many things that cause us stress everyday and we need to manage this stress just as an athlete would manage training stress.  For many people, indulging in high sugar foods, alcohol, shopping or even watching TV are common ways to cope with stress. There are some people that over exercise to cope with stress. The problem is that these methods—as good as they might feel in the moment—don’t work long term and can cause more harm than good.

So what are good ways to manage stress?

This question alone could fill many pages and, as always, different things work for different people. But here are a few places to start.

Breathing

If you were suddenly startled by someone think of your reaction. More specifically, how you react with your breathing. You take in a sudden, short, shallow breath of air into your chest. This short sudden breath helps put your body into high alert. It helps to get your cortisol pumping and fight or flee if needed. I’d bet that if you feel how you breathe most of your day, you are taking shallow short breaths and not breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Deep breathing uses muscles that get “turned off” if we don’t practice using them. Breathing deeply helps relax us and counter balance the shallow breathing associated with a “high alert” state.

Try “box breathing”—the idea is simple. Breathe in deeply through your nose into your stomach feeling your chest and belly expand for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 2 and slowly exhale for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 2 and then inhale deeply for a count of 4.  Try doing this for a minute or two each day—once in the morning, once in the afternoon and again in the evening OR anytime you feel stressed. Personally, I try to do it once an hour when I am aware of my breathing becoming shallow. It is amazing how well it works to settle your system. There is an app to help you with this, too. Check outboxbreathing.org

Practice Gratitude

This had been in the news a lot lately. There is research showing that creating a gratitude practice helps with stress and happiness. It helps to refocus our attention on things that matter most that are positive forces rather than negative ones. Though there are a myriad of ways to do this, simply try thinking of 5 things (big or small) that your are grateful for. Do this first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Here are links to more in depth ways to practice gratitude – Huffington Post or Happify

Meditation

We’ve all heard of this method for relieving stress. And personally I find some of the methods intimidating or hard. But the truth is that meditation works. There are many ways to do it and the benefits of it can be gleaned from only 5 minutes a day. You don’t have to meditate like a monk for years and years to reap the rewards. Personally I haven’t sustained a meditation practice but I know many, many people who have and swear by it to cope with anxiety and stress. Since I am by no means an expert in this area, here is a link to a site that gives an overview on different types of meditation – meditation

Pick one of the de-stress methods I have listed above and try it for 5 days. What do you have to lose?

Motivation

running
What motivates you?

Motivation can be a tricky thing. 

Especially in health and fitness.
What keeps us going and working hard?

For some it’s competition that gets them going. So a race would be a perfect carrot to put out in front of them to keep them working. They thrive by looking to improve their previous time or win their age group. For others, it’s quite the opposite—competition is a turn off. If that’s the case—don’t sign up for a race but focus on how exercise makes you feel or how it often becomes a meditative escape. I would argue, however, whether you enjoy the competitive aspect or not, the community built around sport can be a huge motivator.

Groups
I belong to a few different sport groups and have found that the community of people I have connected with is much more valuable than the benefits of just having a group that runs through the training with me. Many people feel that can’t join an athletic group/club because they are not good enough in terms of fitness level and talent. This couldn’t be further from the truth—though it took two years of convincing my husband of this before he showed up to a masters swim workout. Of course there are some groups that are for elite athletes but these are usually invite only groups or it is made clear that if you join them you must be able to meet certain standards, but these groups are the exception not the rule. Most groups are open to all levels. They are full of people of all fitness levels and goals. The people you find are friendly, love supporting one another and create great camaraderie. In short, they welcome anyone willing to join them. They aren’t just groups of people looking for newcomers to crush.

The Masters
I swim with a masters swim club. Of course, there are great swimmers in the group but it is a wonderful group of people who enjoy swimming no matter what their ability. One woman I swim with is in her 80’s. She can’t do all of the time standards of the workouts, but she is there like clockwork doing what she can. At swim meets she enters in to all the races allowed (they set a max. amount per swimmer) and she will take 5 min. or more to finish than the next slowest swimmer. There will be hundreds of people waiting and watching for her to finish before the meet can move on. Being the slowest doesn’t stop her! And we are happy to wait for her to finish—she sets the standard we all aspire to—don’t let age and ability stop you, just keep doing what you can. She is an inspiration to us all. Certainly I am motivated to be like her when I’m in my 80’s!

That voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough? Fast enough? Fit enough?
Bull! You are right where you need to be! Showing up is half the battle.

If you can’t find a community to join, make one. It might not feel as “official” but the support and accountability can be wonderful. Even one friend to join you can make a difference. Try Googling running clubs in your area and see what comes up.

madonabuder

Iron Nun
I have linked to a video that shows the woman known as the “Iron Nun.” She is truly amazing. Her great story reminds us that we put our own limits on what we think possible.

Sister Madonna Buder AKA the Iron Nun
Video Here

 

Dream Big. Do Small.

Someone jumping and dreaming big.

We all have dreams and aspirations in many areas of life from the practical to the sublime – keep the house tidy, wake up earlier, start a business, travel the world, make more money, lose weight, exercise more, be a better parent/partner. Though those aspirations are easily listed, they’re not always easily achieved. Days turn to weeks, weeks to years and rarely have we made the big shifts in the directions and thinking necessary to make those dreams and aspirations a reality. Why?

Because the path seems too long, too difficult, too overwhelming. 

A sports psychologist made a distinction for me that made a lot of sense. He simply said, “Know the difference between aspirations and goals. Aspirations are things we must have in our sights but they are not within our control. One can aspire to compete in the Olympics or attend a particular university, but ultimately the outcome isn’t something you control. Goals, on the other hand, are under your control, and you set the goals that will help you achieve your aspirations.”

Dream big but do small. The thing about goals is that they can be broken down into a multitude of smaller and smaller tasks, and once you set your sights on an aspiration, you can work on the smaller goals. You count your small wins and understand they have huge significance and power to impact the end result. Goals are signposts on the path that make the path much easier to follow. Each small goal you meet brings the ultimate aspiration closer. As the aspiration gets closer, confidence increases and the end feels more and more attainable.

Dreams and aspirations in everyday life can be difficult to set in motion.

Our dream might be to make more money, to start a business, to become more confident or to lose weight but the path can be very difficult to find. We may become stuck trying to decide where to start, how to start, what guidelines to follow and what the finish line looks like. We may have the big dream but can’t take the first small step. This is why I love sports, specifically triathlon. Triathlon provides a medium to learn how to make aspirations reality. It forces you to dream big, do small. The pathway is clear – there is a race date, a distance and a finish line that are fixed. One simply has to make sure they can swim, bike and run the allotted distance in the given time and the aspiration of crossing the finish line is attained.

Doing small.

Let’s think about someone who hasn’t run for years even though they enjoyed it, and in order to get motivated and to get up off the couch they have signed up for a marathon. The excitement of the race entry fades after the first few hours and at 6am the next morning motivation is gone. 26.2 miles seems much too much. In an extreme case of not knowing how to start, dream big (the race) and do small (the goals) the first goal might simply be to wake up for the first few mornings with enough time to go for a 10-minute walk. That’s not exactly marathon training but for many that would be a big win and for many, by the time they get out the door for a 10-minute walk, they’ll figure they might as well jog a few steps.

Simply stated, dream/aspire big – but don’t think about the entirety of it. Do small – think about the simplest goal you can make each day that will accumulate over time to help you reach your dream/aspiration.

As the old adage states…

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.