We know that stress is neither good nor bad. We need to have some stress in our lives in order to be healthy and reach whatever health and wellness goals we have. It’s the amount and type of stress we are experiencing that dictates if we drift past the sweet spot for stress into something that starts to have a detrimental effect on our health and disrupts our foundation enough to cause everything else we are working on to come crumbling down.
Before we talk about how to mitigate stress and improve your stress resiliency, I think it is important to first get a handle on your stress with a two part exercise.
The first part is what I like to call a stress audit.
During this part of the exercise we spend a good chunk of time figuring out what is causing your stress. Once we have a good idea of all the stressors the next step is to see what we can do about them.
This is the pruning phase of the exercise.
In this part of the exercise you identify the stressors within your control and see if you can either eliminate them completely or modify them in a way that they cause you less stress.
It is important to realize this is not a “one and done” exercise, meaning this is going to be something you are going to have to perform throughout your life. What is causing you stress today, will be different from what is causing you stress a month from now. There will be some stressors that remain constant for a long period of time, there will be others that might only last for a day. Regardless when you feel like you are starting to reach a tipping point with your overall stress load and you sense things are coming undone for you, it’s time to perform the audit and prune exercise.
Why write a blog post about eliminating stress that will take so long to perform before a blog post about how to mitigate stress in the moment?
Both mitigation and elimination are important but by far the best thing you can do to lower your stress load is eliminate the stress (if possible)! Even if you have the best stress management practices, they won’t do nearly as much as getting your stressors to the bare minimum.
This will also be a tough exercise to do. There may be things you need to change about your lifestyle and goals that you don’t really want to. You may need to put that fat loss goal, or marathon goal, or side hustle on pause for a while till things calm down, and you probably are not going to want to do that. It is important to go into this exercise with an open, objective mind, you might even want to recruit the help of someone else who can give you some advice.
For these reasons I think it’s important to start with the audit and prune technique right away!
Ready to get started?
Let’s do this!
Unfortunately the root cause of some of our stressors may not be very clear, and you might not even be aware that something is causing you stress at all.
Here is one example that causes a ton of stress on the body, but many people might be completely unaware that they are suffering from it…sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition where you essentially stop breathing throughout the night. Many people can suffer from this and have no idea.
You might be thinking, what’s the big deal?
Think of it this way…
How long can you go without oxygen?
Not very long.
Now imagine doing this to your body repeatedly throughout the night, how much stress do you think that causes?
But because people are sleeping, they may be completely unaware that it is even happening!
Another example that people don’t realize is a stress on them is their diet. Eating too much, or too little, or eating foods that you don’t tolerate well puts a huge stress on you. I see a lot of people these days who have been trying to lose weight for years, and just constantly are trying to push their body to do so by exercising, fasting, and eating way too little food. Same can be said for people who are trying to gain muscle, constantly overfeeding themselves, lifting heavy weight every day of the week, obsessing about every pound they don’t gain.
We don’t think of our diet as a stressor, but for many of us it is one of the biggest we have.
In order to get a better handle of everything causing us stress we need to be aware of them. This is where a stress audit comes in. Now some stressors may not be easy to detect…for example if you are struggling from sleep apnea it might be hard to know that without working with a professional. The goal of the audit is not to uncover every single stressor but instead to just become aware of as many of them as possible. The best way to become aware of them is simply by writing them down.
It sounds too simple but oftentimes just seeing something on a piece of paper can really put it in perspective for you.
This won’t be a 5 minute exercise either. This is something that might take a few weeks.
I suggest spending two weeks gathering a list of stressors you have in your life. Just keep the list on a piece of paper or in a notes app in your phone, wherever is convenient for you. As you come across a stressor write it down.
It will also be useful to spend some dedicated time assessing your stressors. Like I said when you are “in the moment” it might not be obvious things are stressing you out. However at the end of the day we all know that feeling of being overly stressed. When you have that feeling, that is the time to stop and take 5-10 minutes and review your day to see what exactly put you in that state.
The goal of this exercise is not to be perfect, don’t let it stress you out…I’m speaking to you all you “type A” people out there!
Once you have spent two weeks or so identifying all your stressors, it is time to see if it’s possible to prune some of them down.
Ask yourself this…
What on my list do I control?
I love this diagram from Precision Nutrition on this topic
Inevitably there will be things on your list that you can’t do anything about.
The illness of a family member is a good example. If someone in your family is sick, you can’t do much about that…but yet for some people this can be a significant source of stress.
One of the best places to start to look for things you can prune from your stress list are your behaviors.
Do you have certain behaviors or habits that are adding to your stress load that you can modify or eliminate?
Your dietary habits are a good example of this. If your diet is causing you significant stress, is now the time to be focusing on it? Now this doesn’t mean that if you are under a ton of stress you should give up and go off the rails and eat whatever you want. You can back off from your fasting, keto, carnivore, low calorie diet and instead just eat 3 solid meals of whole foods a day while you navigate the rest of the stressors in your life.
Exercise is also under your control.
Do you need to be training for the ultra marathon right now? Can you do the race next year?
Media consumption…do you need to be watching the news multiple times a day? Could you instead of a push model…letting media feed you information….could you take more of a pull model where you decide when and what you consume from the media?
Like I said above, this is going to be hard exercise to perform. The decisions you will have to make will probably be hard to do. Being as objective as possible is important. It is also important to keep in mind that other goals you have at the moment might have to be put on hold.
Is it worth pushing forward with everything if it means that everything will come crashing down as a result and you will have to start back at square one or is it better to put things on hold for a while, wait for stress to lower, and then resume those goals when you are in a better position?
Option two sounds much better in the long run.
After performing this exercise to auditing and pruning your stress, now we can talk about techniques to mitigate stress and how to better handle the stress you can’t eliminate. To be the first to be notified of the next blog post of techniques, sign up for my email list using the form below and I will email you as soon as it is available!