How you cope with stress can affect your fitness and nutrition goals.
When we are stressed, we want to be comforted. So we look for external things to take away the “pain” of stress… food, alcohol, smoking, etc.
These things cause a release of neurotransmitters in the brain that make you feel good (at least in the moment) and encourage you to repeat the behavior over and over again… looking for the same result. This is like addiction. The pattern becomes wired in the brain, and eventually, the brain learns to depend on that substance to cope with stress. And it wants more and more of it.
While de-stressing is generally beneficial to your physical and mental health, relying too much on anything external to cope is ultimately not beneficial.
Here are some healthy ways to de-stress...
Take note of your breath and purposely track the feeling of inhaling and exhaling. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen with each breath.
After a few breaths, take a slightly deeper breath. Try to really focus on your breathing and if you get distracted, just redirect your attention back to your breath.
Do this exercise for just five minutes. You can gradually increase the time each time you practice.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Starting with your feet, tense each muscle group, one at a time. Hold the tension until it is almost uncomfortable, and then release.
Then move up to your legs and tense each muscle group. Continue moving up your body to the top of your head.
Notice how your body feels as you release the tension contained in each muscle group. Take your time doing this.
Yoga Nidra Meditation
This is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage, typically induced by a guided meditation. There is evidence that yoga nidra helps relieve stress. I have found this technique incredibly effective, especially when practiced before bedtime and sometimes right when I wake in the morning.
Check out a Yoga Nidra YouTube video with Molly Birkholm here.
Self-care vs. Self-comfort
Self-care is a strategy to help you deal with stress proactively.
Self-care is caring for your whole self (physical, mental, and emotional) and ultimately moves you closer to your goals.
Self-comfort is more about easing discomfort than about moving towards your goals - and will likely keep you right where you are.
If you keep doing what you have been doing, you will keep getting the same results.
Self-indulgent choices, when done often enough, will move you backwards.
Unfortunately, this life is not meant to be easy. There will always be discomfort. Embrace it.
The more you choose the comfortable choices, the less likely you will be to make progress toward your goals.
When you get out of your comfort zone and accept the challenges, is when progress and change happen.
While everyone chooses self-comfort once in awhile, it’s important to know that if you choose self-comfort often enough, it will keep you right where you are.
For example, if your self-care choice is going to bed at 9:30 pm because you are tired and need the rest, your self-comfort choice might be to stay up and watch tv until 11 pm because you “want to.”
Examples of self-care:
Choosing nutritious food more often than not.
Drinking enough water.
Turning down a social invitation because you need alone time.
Going for a walk.
Opting for an early bedtime in lieu of another night out.
Pursuing personal development.
Going for annual doctor exams.
Seeking help from a mental health professional.