“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Winnie-the-Pooh
Modern life is busy. Chasing the clock, “I must”, “I should”, “I have to” and most of all, “I don’t have time for….”. We have greater access than ever before to technology and knowledge so that we can make every element of our lives supposedly easier, be it shopping, communicating, working or playing including acquiring the means with which to do so and yet, in the flurry of chaos we call life we hide behind these tools, shout at the black mirror when it doesn’t tell us what we want to hear and ignore our own truths. Meanwhile, our health, relationships and simple joie de vie are hampered by our inability to stop cramming our lives with more and our ignorance of the need to do less.
Imagine listening to a recording of all the thoughts that ping pong around in your head for a day? Funny and appalling and gobsmackingly eye-opening no doubt. Think about the bonkers conversations you have with yourself as you negotiate your daily life. “Does my bum look big in this?…….where’s that other sock?….I wonder if Serena Williams ever feels intimidated…I must remember to ring Fred about that missing report….is Nelly awake yet?….beef or chicken tonight?…..fish…..”. If that is the cacophony going on inside, imagine if there was no filter and all thoughts automatically became words – a world of Tourette’s. It’d be hilarious, infuriating and unbelievably noisy. Some might say we are all too busy trying to be heard to remember to listen, be it to ourselves or others.
Here are a few of the things it does:
Raises our heart rate
Increases our blood glucose levels
Lowers our immune function
Lowers our bone density
Negatively affects our sleep
Acts as an anti-inflammatory
Influences memory formation
Helps control salt & water balance
Cortisol is highest in the morning. It is our get-out-of-bed hormone to help us kick the day off. Then as the day progresses it decreases and is logically lowest in the evening when we are winding down.
Just as Mr Blonde wasn’t all bad (he could hold a tune), so cortisol cannot be pigeon-holed as the enemy. Hans Selye, a pre-eminent twentieth century Canadian chemist who dedicated his life’s work to endocrinology and in particular to the body’s response to stress, coined the term, “eustress” (from the Greek “eu” meaning good, ie literally “good stress”) to describe a positive response such as the motivation to keep going be it psychological or physical, e.g. from exercise, or biochemical or radiological, think “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”1. The opposite, “distress” from the Latin “to stretch apart” is the more familiar term, significantly so.
The body, in all its mighty intelligence, can cope with both. It will then do its utmost to return to homeostasis, its preferred modus operandi. However, if cortisol levels remain chronically elevated its ability to return to calmer waters becomes more and more difficult resulting in serious mental and physical health implications. It is akin to an engine constantly revving too high; at some point it will overheat.
So how to achieve that balance between eustress and distress? Most of us could be awarded a PhD in accelerated cortisol tolerance but, if you are an endormorph, ie your engine idles low, you could introduce some resistance and HIIT training into your week to create energy. If idling simply does not merit a mention in your day to day life, here are some strategies to decelerate:
Factor in specific downtime into your day and week just as you would exercise or a trip to the dentist, ie make it a non-negotiable. It could be a simple 10 minute meditation or an hour long walk.
. GENTLE EXERCISE
If you think “mind body” classes such as yoga or Pilates aren’t your thing, you may be right or they may well be the very thing you need (think brussel sprouts). Try them with an open mind. At the very least you will benefit from the strength, balance and flexibility they can bring. At best you also learn to observe a feeling or potential stressor rather than reacting to it, allowing it to happen and pass on.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be sitting still in the Lotus position deep breathing, although it may be. It can be anything that will help clear your head be it doing a mundane task, doing something creative, going for a walk, listening to music, listening to the silence. Take some deliberate time to stop & LISTEN.
In general, we use only about a third of the capacity of our lungs and, when stressed, even less. Spend a few minutes focusing on breathing as slowly and deeply as you can, filling your belly then releasing it all out and then enjoy the feeling of calm that comes with this.
Break things down. Feeling overwhelmed can mean achieving diddly squat so jot down what you have to do and then break these things down into bite sized chunks until you can actually chew on something. Top tip – add a couple things you’ve already completed to the list that you can tick off straight away to give yourself a wonderful sense of well-being!
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
6. ASK FOR HELP
Delegate, beg a favour, whatever it takes, don’t be afraid to ask in your hour of need. Share the load and appreciate just how good it makes people feel to help others.
7. TAKE YOUR TIME
Rich or poor we all have the same amount of time in a day. It is how we choose to spend that time that affects us. If you really want or need to get something done you will find the time to do it. To paraphrase some wise words from a friend of mine, “it goes real quick”. Make some smart choices about what is, and isn’t, worth getting stressed about.