Updated: Mar 22, 2020
So there is no question things have been beyond stressful lately, during these uncertain and challenging times. That being said I've always been know to remain calm and composed under enormous pressure (on the outside). I point out this clarification because I feel the need to be transparent, in hopes that others can relate and not feel so alone and isolated. This body and mind of mine has been through a lot very early on and with that I learned that the best way to find solutions and muster through hard things was to keep my cool, a level head, and to let go of anything else that wasn't serving me including getting flooded with emotion. Although this served me well for years, I realized that my calm composure was only on the outside (as I call it), where as inside everything was out of balance. My ability to seemingly cope well with stress (on the outside), allowed me to ignore the detrimental effects copious amounts of stress was having on my body. My instinct was always to turn inward in times of stress and to focus all my energy on finding the solution to the issue. However, this was always at the expense of body and the lack of self care. When stressed I know my fight or flight responses kick in, my cortisol level increases, I gain weight, I don't eat right, I don't sleep right, I don't bathe enough, and the list goes on. I trained myself to believe if I just pushed through this, everything would get better... well guess what? After over a decade of pushing through, I had gotten nowhere, other than older and more unhealthy. So don't fall victim to just going numb, ignoring your personal needs, and just pushing through. I'm here to tell you it doesn't work!!!
Sometimes I wouldn't eat at all, then I would mindlessly binge eat, neither of which made me feel very good nor helped me find the solution any faster. So these are a few things I learned: Food can distract you from your issues. But food cannot take away your issues. In fact overeating the wrong foods can create more issues for you. So in fact during challenging times, when you are stressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated, that is actually when you NEED to take the BEST care of yourself. Putting yourself last, letting yourself get run down, and not taking care of your basic needs, is NOT going to help you stay safe and find the solution to the challenge any faster. In fact it's going to slow you down. If you want change, you have to bring your A game... you have to eat to fuel your body, you have to rest to allow your body to recharge, and you have good hygiene to keep your immune system up.
So it wasn't until the last few years that I actually learned how to properly manage stress and practice self care. But even that only happened after years of self neglect that didn't gain me anything but health issues, obesity, lack of motivation, and the list goes on. And even after all that and all I have learned, in times of hardship our body naturally reverts to the comfort of old habits... So I have to be so mindful of that tendency and really think about my choices and how I react to things. That mindfulness takes energy and when you are already overwhelmed and stressed it's easy to think that is wasted energy and that energy could be better spent trying to resolve the issue. Sometimes stress and overload lead to the belief that you can’t “afford” to stop and that you just need to keep working harder and harder. But that is a mental trap, if you can relate to anything I have shared here I urge you: don't allow yourself to go down that rabbit hole. The feeling you have are natural, those you can't change. But we can control your thoughts and actions. There are always going to be things that happen that are beyond your control, there is always going to be emotions and uncertainty, but take control over what you can - how you think and behave is a CHOICE... Choose wisely!
So here are my tips to break the cycle and take control:
Drink lots of water: 64 oz at a minimum* Proper hydration, make you feel better, help you focus, and help curb boredom (boredom- is when mindless eating happens).
Get proper rest: 6-8 hours a night! Stress is exhausting and sleep will work more wonders than working late into the night (That behavior is not sustainable - believe me I've tried it). Getting proper sleep will also decrease your appetite and your cravings and increase your willpower to resist temptations (as you will have more energy and less decision fatigue). You’ll be more productive and better able to focus.
Get proper nutrition (including fresh veggies when possible) this helps provide the fuel your body needs to run optimally and up your immune system. Which overall give you more energy to do what is needed and have the brain power to make it happen.
Breathe - Take 3 deep breaths every 3 hours. This reconnects your body and your mind it lowers your heart rate and decreases those cortisol levels. You can’t physically grow more stressed and more relaxed at the same time. When you start relaxing—even if it’s just a tad—you reverse the cycle of growing more and more stressed or anxious. Set a timer on your computer or phone. When your timer goes off, stop what you are doing for 60 seconds and just breathe. Focus on your breath for just sixty seconds or put your hand over your heart and breath and focus on your heartbeat. Super-short centering breaks like this can help you break vicious cycles and be more mindful and relaxed.
Proper Hygiene - Wash your hands & take a shower regularly. This is a cleansing, calming and rejuvenating activity, not to mentions help keep your immune system strong. Don't touch your eyes, mouth, or nose - that way you are less likely to get sick.
Get into motion - Blow off steam. If stress is pressure, you don’t want to be the pressure cooker (with mounting tension building up inside). Acknowledge your stress and find a way to let some of it out. Yell or play loud music in your car; run, walk or dance; knead some dough or shred some papers. Stretch, Squeeze a stress ball, rub a pebble, phone a friend and vent while pacing. (Kids are often great helps with this - distraction and laughter are great methods). Stress builds up in our body and then creates more stress and discomfort. Stretch out your neck or your back, try to create comfort in your body in ways that don’t involve eating.
Change your scenery. Remove yourself from the situation—even if only temporarily. Leave the room or the office. Sit in a different chair. Get a new mental and physical perspective. If you have stress eating rituals (like visiting the vending machine at a certain time on certain days), shake things up a bit—take a different route and avoid the familiar (and habit-filled) routine if you can. Give yourself permission to take a break—even if it’s just a minute or two. If you can’t go for a walk, go to the bathroom. Google images of tropical beaches and put one up where you can see it, take a minute to get a glass of water or brew yourself a cup of tea.
Focus on Facts not Fear - Ask yourself is this fact or an interpretation? Don't let those emotions control the way you think and act... That will just add to more stress and discomfort. So be open-minded, see the possibilities, think outside the box, be flexible and resourceful.
Rant. Go to a place where you can express yourself privately (vehicles or showers are good for this) and let loose. Get mad, be frustrated, stop being reasonable. Have a tantrum if you want or a good cleansing cry. Put words to your feelings instead of trying to bury them with food or drinks.
Journal. This is an excellent way to untangle your feelings, check in with yourself, and decompress. Try writing for ten minutes before you sit down to eat. You are less likely to overeat when you have taken the time to understand what’s driving your hunger and to think about what you might do instead. Keeping a journal is also great for collecting and organizing your thoughts and finding solutions to the challenges or roots to the issue. I also start and end my day listing some things I'm grateful for which puts me in a positive mindset, which allows me to stay more focused on finding a solution rather than getting sucked into the negativity of the drama triangle.
* check with your dr for personal recommendations
So hopeful this helped those that could relate to what I shared. Hopefully this transparency was helpful. Let's make positivity more infectious than this virus. Let's show future generations the right way to handle stress and just how resilient we can be. Don't let the uncontrollable hold you back... never give up... what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger (or at least that's what my Marine father always said)! Remember to give yourself grace, none of us are perfect and we improve with practice . So be patient with yourself and your surroundings, we are all going though a lot right now. Remember: how you think and behave is a CHOICE... Choose wisely!