The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘exercise’

Celebrating Stress

Celebrations and stress are not usually words we see together. However today they are. Because today, we made it!

It is officially November 30, 2014. Which means that this is the final day of the NaBloPoMo challenge, and our series on stress.

And the National Blog Posting Month has definitely been a challenge! Probably not in the way most people would think, though. I had no trouble at all coming up with the post ideas and writing the material. Stress is such a huge topic that we could easily go for another month without too much trouble!

Instead, the challenge for me was finding the time to get it all done with the other responsibilities in my life. But I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do it. The experience has stretched me to think about some things (including my own stress) in a different way.

It has drawn lots of new readers to our small corner of the internet and as they share their stories I find my passion for The Mindset Effect renewed. It’s people like you guys who keep me doing what I do. I love sharing my knowledge with the aim of supporting all of you to make positive, healthy changes in your life. At the end of this post, as a special something for all of you who have stuck with me throughout the month, I have a very special treat. I won’t tell you what it is right now (and no cheating by scrolling!); it will be waiting for you when you get to the end. 🙂

After such an intense month and 29 different articles on stress, I’d like to revisit some of the main concepts and bring it all together for you. I know that sometimes receiving so much information can be a little overwhelming and difficult to understand. So let’s see what we can do …

managing stress

We began the month with a few simple definitions of the different types of stress before we discussed the pretty grim impacts it has on our mind, body and emotions. With any type of force, strain or pressure, and the possibility of conditions such as weight gain, heart issues, diabetes and blood pressure, it becomes really important to be aware of your stress and to learn to manage it effectively.

I believe it’s equally important to understand how stress works. If you understand it, you’ll be armed with heaps of knowledge that supports you to implement the simple management strategies that we know really work. You’ll have the science behind why you do things like reach for the chocolate bar, cry for seemingly no reason or snap at your partner. And you’ll also have the reasons behind why you feel some pretty mean neck and shoulder tension or why you crash at the end of the day or week and can’t bring yourself to even get out of the chair.

The neurobiology behind stress is extremely complex. I won’t go into that here but you can go back and read any of those earlier posts on the Triune brain, trauma, hormones and the amygdala. Between them, they explain the workings of our inbuilt survival mechanism and why many of our reactions occur.

The stress response, or our fight/flight mechanism, is activated easily and frequently by all manner of life events, from watching someone you love draw their last breath, to dealing with screaming kids or seeing the bills pile up when you have a limited income. And with the buildup of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, managing the fallout from these events becomes even more important.

Children are also impacted by stress in the same way we are, but their experience is different due to the development of their brains being incomplete. They need guidance in some of the same simple techniques we use.

Probably the most important and effective management strategy is the use of breathing. My friend and colleague, Linda, did a great job of explaining how to utilise belly breathing to down-regulate the stress response.

We’ve also explored sleep, movement, food and laughter and how these are all related to or impact our stress. And we learned how simple routines and small changes can make a big difference in the way we experience it.

With such a complex system and so many things feeding into the impacts we feel, it’s important that we are able to break it all down into bite size pieces and make the way we manage stress work for us in our day to day life. Learning to listen to our mind and body and understanding the meaning of the signals they give out, means we can become more aware of how we respond to stress and this assists us to figure out how to manage it.

As a special treat to you all for your support this past month I would like to provide you with a bonus. I know from first-hand experience that listening to those stress signals is not always easy. In fact, it can be a downright nightmare! Especially given how chaotic our minds can be when we are in the midst of it all. So I would like to provide for you an audio file with 2 of the simple techniques we have discussed previously. This is called guided imagery. I’ll first take you through a simple breathing strategy similar to the belly breathing Linda talked about. I’ll then extend on this and guide you through a body scan, which will help you listen to, connect with and become more aware of the signals your body gives you.

To prepare to listen, find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable, preferably lying flat on your back with your hands loosely by your sides.

calm scenery picnic point

I’d love to hear how you go with it when you try it! Please feel free to let me know below.

Before I close up this series, I’d like to thank a few people. Firstly to my friend and colleague Linda, for sharing her passion and skill in the articles she provided on sleep and the role of breathing. I’d like to thank my friend Libby, for helping me brainstorm for the post on listening to our bodies. I’d also like to thank Julia and Carlie who provided articles on their personal experiences with stress. Hearing personal stories can help us understand that other people feel the way we do. We aren’t alone in feeling stressed. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of you who read my words and stick around to read more! Without you, there would be no point me writing and sharing all the stuff in my brain.

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Manage stress simply

manage stress simply

We’re almost at the end of the month so today I wanted to discuss how you manage your stress. If there is one thing I have learned as I make mistake after mistake in managing my own stress, it’s that simple is always better. Follow the KISS principle (keep it super simple), and you won’t ever go too far wrong.

So let’s do this.

  1. In previous posts we have discussed how effective breathing is to down-regulate the stress response. You might remember Linda’s post on the role of breathing. There are many different breathing techniques available if you wanted to google it, or even search for suitable apps (I’ll leave you to find these on your own). But with all of them the basic principle is to use your diaphragm and get some good quality oxygen into your lungs and brain, so you can calm the stress response and re-engage your thinking brain (neocortex).
  2. Take time out to do things you love. If you remember my post on the alpha and beta brainwaves, you’ll know that engaging the alpha state will help to down-regulate the stress response. And while breathing is still the most effective way to do this, engaging in activities that ignite your passion will help you focus and put your brain into the alpha state. As an added bonus, things will feel like they are flowing easily and without much effort.
  3. Prioritise the things in your life that are important to you and leave the rest. When you’re in the middle of doing something stressful, stop and ask yourself whether it’s absolutely essential. Try doing an audit on your daily or weekly activities and consider letting some of them go. When you do this, keep your values firmly in your mind – those ideals and concepts that mean a lot to you. For example, if family relationships are big for you, try allowing yourself to take time to play with the kids or spend time with your partner, and allowing the carpet to remain unvacuumed for an extra day.
  4. Do activities that make you feel relaxed and free. For example, listening to music that you love, dancing around the lounge and so on.
  5. Incorporate some gentle movement. Get out into the fresh air and go for a short walk. Play with the dog (or other pet) and allow yourself to be a kid for a while. Check out our post on stress and movement for a reminder on what intense exercise can do to your stress levels. Sometimes it’s better to ditch the run and wander aimlessly around the local markets instead.
  6. Spend some time in nature. Visit a lookout and watch the view. Sit under a tree and lean back against it. Walk around on the grass with bare feet. Ground yourself.
  7. Laugh! Our post on stress and laughter will tell you how this helps lower stress. So try watching a funny movie or being silly with the kids.
  8. Start small. If you’re used to running around from one thing to the next to the next all day, if you attempt to sit still for 2 hours your brain will strongly object! It will likely stress you more to sit still than it already does just going through your day! Instead, just take 30 seconds to stop, sit, and do some of that belly breathing we all know and love. If you persist in doing those little things regularly, pretty soon you’ll be able to stop for longer periods.
  9. Create a routine that works for you and your lifestyle. Don’t allow anyone else (including me) to tell you what you need to do. Trust your own gut and go with what will work for you. My suggestion to begin managing your stress is to simply incorporate the belly breathing (even 30 seconds each time) morning and night. Try doing it before you get out of bed in the morning, and right before you go to sleep at night. The theory is that doing it first thing will set you up for the day and at night it will get your brain ready for sleep. As I said though, these are suggestions. Always trust your own instincts and incorporate the techniques in a way that will work for your unique body, brain and lifestyle. You are the best expert in your own life.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. If you have any techniques that you have found work for you, we’d love to hear about them below! Someone else may be inspired to try something a little left of centre!

Simple is always best

Stress and Movement

Movement.

Moving your body.

Do you do it? How often and what kind do you do? What kinds of movement are there?

In no particular order, let’s list just a few things as they come into my head …

Walking, running, sex, yoga, tai chi, weight lifting, boxing, self-defense, dancing, gardening, swimming, ball games, playing chasey, creating a snow angel.

Do you do any of these activities? Any different ones? Do you have a favourite?

Let’s talk about hormones again for a moment. You might remember some information about cortisol, one of the major hormones the body creates in response to stress. It’s the job of cortisol to calm the inflammation caused by stress. So in effect, to calm the stress response and help bring us out of it.

Many people find it helpful to go for a run when they feel antsy. Physical exercise helps burn off the energy caused by adrenalin. It reduces the urge to run away or fight, and helps us to relax. It can also help us to feel centred and to improve our mental wellbeing. It can lift our mood and reduce depression and anxiety.

However, we need to be careful. Exercise causes inflammation. The main job of cortisol is to reduce inflammation. So as you do more exercise, you produce more cortisol, which ultimately impacts your body’s ability to heal and reduce stress.

This cortisol production also leads to weight gain, particularly around the belly, face and neck. Now most of us, when we gain weight, tend to lean toward more exercise to reduce it, right? Can you see a pattern?

When you are already highly stressed, this will lead to a vicious cycle:

Intense exercise = cortisol production = weight gain = more exercise.

See the cycle?

For those of you who already struggle with your weight and believe the best thing you can do to drop it is to push your body to its limits, check out this video blog from a very well respected personal trainer who has experience with neuroscience and several other areas. Let me introduce you to Emma. I’ve been working with her for a couple of years and I trust her implicitly. She gets it. She knows what she is talking about.

So, when you are super stressed the best thing you can do is to go easy on the exercise. At least the exercise that is intense and of long duration. Let me be clear here. I’m not suggesting that you ditch your training. Nor am I suggesting that you become a couch potato. As someone who has been there, I can attest to the fact that the couch potato status can be just as stressful as the intense training.

There are types of movement that will support your body reaching the state of balance/homeostasis that Emma refers to.

Gentle movements such as tai chi, yoga or simple stretching will help. As will combining your movement with play. Have fun running around the yard with the kids. Throw a Frisbee together. Play hide and seek. Laugh together.

Relax.

I’ve already talked about engaging the relaxation response to reduce stress. When Emma talks about taking her clients through a meditation activity at the end of her training sessions, she elicits this response, while at the same time, helping the brain to lock in new neural networks that reinforce the learning you’ve just done in training.

Ok. So now we’ve covered all that, let’s talk about how you can tell which type of movement you need to be doing.

Your body will tell you. So listen to the signals it gives you. Do you know what it’s saying?

Go with the urges that you get. If you have a feeling of deep down fatigue and the thought of getting out to exercise hard fills you with dread, it’s likely that your body is telling you it needs something different. If you feel the urge to get up and go hard, then by all means listen to that and take action to give your body what it needs. If you feel like dancing around your lounge with music at full volume, go for it!

Bottom line is this. Nobody can make up the rules for you. In any given moment your body will need different things to create and maintain that balance. Sometimes that means going full out and other times it means pulling back and resting. If you can learn the signals your body gives out, you will know what to do. How do you learn those signs? By listening to and connecting with your body.

Keep an eye out for a post on this soon.

As always, I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts or questions below!

Boosting self-esteem through physical activity

As the next in our series of guest posts on self-esteem I’d like to introduce you to Glenda. As a clinical nutritionist, neuroscientist, Personal Trainer and Positive Wellbeing Coach, she knows a little something about healthy living. She has joined us today to talk about how you can boost your self-esteem by moving your body. And I think most of you will be pleased to know that you don’t have to smash yourself at the gym to get the benefits! Most of the time it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences. So check out what Glenda has to say and visit her site. 

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Self-esteem is quite an interesting concept that many people misunderstand. You see, most people think of self-esteem as an all or none thing, where you either have it or you don’t. But really, it works on a sliding scale that can be nudged one way or the other depending firstly on what life throws at you, but also on how you perceive and react to those events.

 Sometimes it’s something massive that either boosts or decimates your self-esteem, for instance receiving an award or commendation for doing an excellent job, or on the negative side it could be caused by a failure or loss. Yet your self-esteem can also be affected by many little things over and over that push you a bit one way and then another, so that it’s the overall balance of these little pushes that decides where it finally settles.

 Another thing that’s often misunderstood about self-esteem is that it’s possible to have a lot in some parts of your life while having very little in other areas. As an example, you could be very confident in what you do for a living and have no issues in your professional life, yet you may have low self-esteem on a personal level because you haven’t yet had a ‘successful’ relationship and are being constantly hounded by your family on when you’re going to settle down.

 Regardless of how much self-esteem you have, or in which parts of your life that it exists, there are ways to boost it. But before we talk about how you can do this, let’s make sure we’re on the same page as to what self-esteem is. There are a number of definitions, but here we’ll consider self-esteem in terms of the Oxford Dictionary definition: “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities”.

 If you’re able to directly pinpoint where your issues exist, it may be possible to work on boosting your self-esteem directly by improving your abilities, or your confidence in those abilities, that relate to that particular issue. For instance, if you had low self-esteem about your cooking abilities and your confidence to cook meals that your family would enjoy, you could directly work on this by taking cooking classes, reading cookbooks, and practicing tried and true recipes until you could cook a number of meals with confidence. In this example, boosting self-esteem for a particular activity is relatively easy because you can readily define the activity that’s of concern.

 But what if your self-esteem issue is a bit harder to pin down? What can you do then to improve it?

 It may seem a little bit counterintuitive at first, but you can boost your self-esteem by practicing and mastering activities that create an overall sense of confidence, strength and powerfulness within you. While there are many types of activities that can do this, I’ve personally found that exercise, fitness and other physical activities are excellent ways to create these feelings within you and to boost your self-esteem.

physical activity boosts self-esteem glenda bishop

 Alright, so how does physical activity help self-esteem?

 Firstly it teaches you to listen to your body, creating a mind-body connection that keeps you centred during the activity. This helps to strengthen your understanding of what you’re achieving at that time, bolstering your knowledge of your abilities and thus your confidence in performing them. It also helps to stop your mind from wandering away and getting stuck in any negative thoughts that might otherwise have you questioning your abilities – and when you don’t question your capabilities, you more naturally learn to respect and acknowledge them for what they really are.

 The next really important part about physical activity and exercise is that it strengthens your body. This physical strength creates a feeling of power and capability that lets you move through the world with more ease and grace. Knowing that you can trust your body to do what’s needed is incredibly powerful. It helps you to stand tall and move with purpose. There’s also something special that comes with the confidence of physical capability that can’t be taken away from you. It helps to create an “I don’t care” attitude within you – not so much in the sense that nothing is important to you, but more in the sense that the little things just don’t bother you as much as they used to.

 A huge bonus that comes from physical activity is that it decreases the amount of stress hormones in your body, i.e. adrenaline and cortisol. When you exercise and get your body moving, your stress hormones get chewed up during the activity, so that when you’ve finished moving, your overall stress levels are considerably less than when you started. If you do physical activity on a regular basis (daily or every second day), this can go a long way to modulating stress. This is also one of the reasons why regular physical activity also helps to manage depression and anxiety. When you’re less stressed, you’re more resilient to the unexpected things that life throws at you. Not getting stressed out every time something little goes wrong means that there’s less of that constant battering to your self-esteem.

 If the physical activity that you choose to do is something new, then this allows you to learn new skills. Even if the skills seem unrelated to anything else you do in your life, there’s an incredible amount of confidence boosting that comes from simply being able to say “I did that!”. It could be finally being able to run 5km, hiking up to the top of a mountain, being able to shoot a basketball from the 3-point line, being able to hit a baseball for a home run, learning how to punch or kick correctly in a martial art, learning how to stand up on a surf board, or even learning a new dance routine. It really doesn’t matter what it is (or whether it matters to anyone else), it’s knowing that you did it and that you were able to master a new skill that counts. Reminding yourself that you can learn new things can give you the confidence you need to try out something else in another part of your life.

 There’s an important caveat though about learning new skills to boost self-esteem. It’s really critical that when you set out on a new activity that you keep your goals very manageable and that you restrain them to a beginner level for that activity. So this means that it’s best not to attach time limits or standards to the goal. For instance, if your goal was to run 5km, then make that the goal – simply to be able to run a distance of 5km. Don’t put any additional criteria as to how fast you have to be able to run that distance. Only after you’ve achieved the distance should you consider trying to improve your time – but even then, you should only do that if you want to. It’s perfectly okay to be able to say “I did that” and then switch onto another activity to gain a new skill. Maybe running is something that you will choose to enjoy occasionally but never want to run a race, and that is perfectly fine!

 So as you can see, there are many reasons why physical activity is so valuable for boosting self-esteem. It’s also one of the reasons why I recommend that everyone tries out a new type of physical activity that pushes their body just a bit further than they normally would push it. It strengthens the body, but also strengthens the mind at the same time, creating a mental resilience and confidence that boosts self-esteem which can transfer across other areas of your life. The trick is to find an activity that you will enjoy and then to set yourself a small and achievable goal. Not only will you boost your self-esteem, you’ll boost your physical and mental health too.

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Glenda Bishop healthy stories 2Author Bio:

Glenda Bishop is a neuroscientist, Registered Nutritionist, personal trainer and positive wellbeing coach. She helps women to reconnect their mind and body by creating a strong foundation of physical health that supports and strengthens their mental health. Glenda’s Mind & Body Reconnect Program creates a gentle strength and confidence from the inside out, leading to positive mental wellbeing that promotes joy and happiness. Click here to find out her 7 Little Secrets for a Healthy Mind and Body.

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