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April 6, 2013

Why Stress is Sabotaging Your Efforts & 6 Simple Ways to Decrease It

Last week Jade, Gary and myself took the Metabolic Effect train to the UK, Paris and Spain for a number of Metabolic Effect trainings for fitness professionals. I recounted in a previous post my observations overseas, and how different Europeans both eat and live compared to Americans. I have to say, it’s actually striking–and a ton confusing–that in general they are both leaner and seem to be waaaaaaay less obsessed with food than we are. Though they eat carbs, drinking wine daily and smoke cigarettes.

It was a huge WTF moment for me.

Jade and I were intrigued considering their nutrition and exercise habits seemingly flew in the face of much of what we think we know. Take Spain for example: Eat bread at every meal. Drink wine nightly. Dinner late, like 10pm. Three huge square meals each day. No visible restraint to how much they eat. They just eat.

And yet, many of the things we talk about in the states, like “continuous meal” and 6-7 small meals a day or no eating after 6pm were all lost on them.

So again, WTF?

The only thing I could gleam from the experience (and as I was only there a handful of days, I am sure this is a short-sighted assessment), is that the pace of life is slower, stress seems to be less and they aren’t nearly as obsessed with eating as we are. For us, many times the focus is the food. We sit down and scarf a meal in 10 minutes in front of the television and then snack for the next 3 hours until bed. For the Spanish we met, they convene every night over a huge, late dinner with family and friends and the focus is on conversation and quality time, rather than inhaling a meal as fast as possible so they can get to snacking.

The irony is that the way they ate stressed the hell out of me! Lol. As in, no snacks?? Six to eight HOURS between meals?? Eating late at night (hello, I go to bed at 9pm!)?? No huge venti americanos?? Nevermind a 3-hour dinner–I was stressed because during those 3 hours no work was being done! Ha! :) So maybe though they don’t seem to stress, it was a BIG change for me. And an eye opener.

Can less stress and less obsession with food actually impact results that much? To quote Jade in Paris, “Everywhere you look there’s another supermodel walking down the street.” I agree. The people in Paris and Madrid were thin (and gorgeous). It was frankly a little disconcerting. But instructive too.

I’ll admit that for me, stress is one of those things that I know in theory affects fat loss results. But I think I’ve secretly always been like, “Well, yeah, but with enough dieting and training, stress can’t impact me that much.” But I am coming to the realization that chronic stress and its effects (chronically high cortisol and catecholamines) can really, actually, absolutely curtail results. Ugh. One more thing to stress about! Now I have to worry that I’m too stressed! Lol :)

But seriously, here are some of my favorite SIMPLE ways to decrease stress without causing you any more undo, well … stress.

1) Take one day each week to do nothing.

Allow yourself a Saturday or Sunday without the usual guilt trip of having to work or do chores or run all over town doing errands. Those things will be there for you tomorrow. Give yourself today.

2) Prioritize hot baths & showers.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to take a bath? For me, it was last week in France because the shower situation is too weird for words (I did this like half bath/half shower thing with a removable shower head kneeling in a tub with no curtain?). But seriously. I know, I know, “But Jill I have NO TIME!” I get that. But it’s still a matter of priorities. If de-stressing is a priority, then you’ll carve out the 30 minutes you need to take a bath once a week and ENJOY yourself.

3) Be alone.

As an introvert, being alone is my favorite :) But many of us are surrounded by people constantly. Family, spouses, partners, people at parties/events. Social time is indeed important but many times we focus too much on the need to be social and don’t prioritize being antisocial. Down-time alone is restorative. If you don’t believe me, then you’ve never done it. Practice turning down a party every once in a while. Or say no to going somewhere with a group. Take a Saturday to yourself, or even take a mental health day to stay home alone every once in a while. It’s delicious and completely rejuvenating.

4) Take a break from the gym and go outside.

I wrote about quitting my gym membership last year and I can’t tell you how much being outside did for my wellbeing. The weather, the sunshine (and vitamin D), the fresh air and the exhilarated feeling of freedom it elicits is effing awesome. Do track sprints, hill sprints, a trail run or even a leisure walk. The latter is preferable since it helps to decrease cortisol further. But just being outside makes a big difference. Try it once a week.

5) Read and write.

You guys know I am a huge reader and I probably ready 3-4 hours A DAY. Yes, I know that’s a lot, but I am also obsessed with learning and also my couch calls to me. But many of us don’t have that kind of time, and that’s fine. But could you skip a single one of your nighttime TV shows and instead get into bed an hour earlier to read? This helps you wind down, de-stress and fall into restful sleep, as opposed to watching a TV show (that has been shown to actually rile you up more). Also write. It is cathartic and you don’t have to be a professional writer to pull out a journal and scribble. Write stream-of-consciousness for 10 minutes at breakfast. Your thoughts and intentions for the day. What you want to accomplish. Who you want to be in the world. What actions you will take to make that a reality. This stuff sounds like fluff, but over time it can make a big difference in manifesting the lifestyle you want.

6) Realize you don’t need to be productive 24/7.

I am just as ambitious as the next person when it comes to getting sh*t done (or #GSD’ing it, as my coaching gals calls it). But as a society, I think we can become a little too obsessed with productivity. I feel like everywhere I turn I see a new article citing a list of productivity “hacks.” Fine. Good. But sometimes I think we need to throw ourselves a bone and realize that whatever we do it just fine. We can do our best on any given day (and know that “our best” will change from day to day), and whatever we don’t accomplish, let’s not beat ourselves up over it. The work will be there tomorrow. No need to stress and “should” our way to misery.

There’s an argument to be made that spending time with family and friends conversing over a long meal is productive, yes? Just in a different way than we are used to. But still just as valuable in the grand scheme. In fact, it’s often a regret of older adults–they wish they spent more like with family and friends and didn’t work so hard. So allow those moments to count towards your productivity too!

I know for me, I poo-poo’ed stress for a long time. Like, the effects of stress could be overcome with just more dieting and exercise. Not even close. And actually there’s a good chance that more dieting and exercise will be adding to the stress load. So, a reminder to keep tabs on your lifestyle, not just what goes in your mouth and how many minutes you clock on the treadmill. Stress, sleep and lifestyle factors matter quite a bit too!
Good luck! Ox, Jill

Related: 6 Simple Ways to Create TIME to Get Lean

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