Don’t just manage your stress: master it.

“One day, when I am not so stressed, I will start cooking healthier meals.” “One day, when I am not so busy, I will find time to go to the gym.”

Sound familiar? You are not alone. At Mbody, we’ve worked with several clients, helping them develop the athletic health & fitness they need to do the things they love. In our experience, one of the most, if not the most common concern with an individual’s health & wellness is that of stress and busyness.

You see, healthy habits and behaviors, such as exercising consistently and eating our fruits and vegetables, happen in context. If we are over-stressed and/or over-busy, we revert to quick, simple, easy, and satisfying actions and behaviors that are familiar to us. Had a stressful and busy day at work, got off late, and feel too tired and/or don’t have time to cook a healthy meal? There are several fast-food restaurants on the way home… And how could you possibly get to bed on time while you have to take care of your kids, clean the house, do the dishes, figure out your bills and taxes, etc., let alone find time to exercise?

We like to use the analogy of growing a garden.

The journey to optimal health & wellness is much like taking care of a garden: it follows a specific process that, when performed consistently over time, will reap massive results.

Here is the process:

  • Till and prepare the soil
  • Plant the seed
  • Cultivate
  • Harvest

This process requires time and patience. So to does cultivating your health & wellbeing.

Tilling and preparing the soil refer to “the things that need to happen before the actual thing.” For example, being able to manage your time so that you can cook so that you can eat healthy. It often involves optimizing areas such as spirituality, stress, and time management.

Healthy habits and behaviors happen in context.

Planting the seed refers to starting to change and implement behaviors that are more in line with your health and wellness goals, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, implementing daily movement, and creating a consistent sleep schedule. It is these actions and behaviors, performed consistently and cultivated over time, that will compound into the results you want, allowing you to harvest what your work has grown.

If we want to harvest results, then we must spend time actually planting and cultivating the seed. Whereas it is extremely important to till and prepare the soil, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on tilling and preparing the soil. This is the “one day” syndrome, where we are caught in the spiral of excuses and procrastination of why today is not the day.

So how can we cope with our stress right now, so that we can get started on improving our personal health and wellbeing without adding to the stress & busyness?

That’s it. We don’t need to cope with it. We can learn to master it, giving us the resiliency to continue to make progress, even in the midst of stress and busyness. No more being a slave to stress.

The Stress Response

Before we master stress, we need to understand it.

First, let’s start with some definitions. In Robert Weinberg and Daniel Gould’s book Foundations of Sport & Exercise Psychology, they distinguish between stress, anxiety, and arousal:

  • Stress – a person’s physical and psychological response to a perception of the situation
  • Anxiety – an emotional state characterized by nervousness, worry, and apprehension and associated with activation or arousal of the body
  • Arousal – a blend of physiological and psychological activity in a person

Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, to whom we will refer to often in this article, defines stress as “what arises when something you care about is at stake.

Think about it. Do we get stressed about stuff we don’t care about?

When we get stressed, we have a physical and psychological response that is supposed to help provide us the resources to meet the perceived demands of the given situation.

  • Stress – a person’s physical and psychological response to a perception of the situation
  • The effects of the stress response in a given situation will depend on two things:

    1. The direction of the stress (our interpretation of the stress as either bad or good)
    2. The magnitude of the stress (how intense the stress response is)

    Stress is not necessarily in the situation itself. Rather, stress is caused by our own perception of the situation.

    “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor Frankl

    How to master your stress

    To help us be able to press forward in the face of stress and busyness, we’ve drawn out some of the research that we at Mbody think are the most helpful for helping you not just cope with or manage stress, but master it.

    What’s the difference?

    To cope or manage stress means to implement techniques that mask the symptoms of stress for a short time, allowing you to perform other actions and tasks that are important to you. It is like taking a cough drop when you have a cough: the cough doesn’t go away, the symptoms are just masked for a short period of time, making you feel better momentarily.

    Mastering stress is about targeting it at it’s source. Stress in life is inevitable. Are we going to let it determine our mood, our energy levels, and what we do in life every time it comes up? Stress mastery is more about building a resilience to stress, and even learning how to use it to our advantage. That way, it doesn’t strike a debilitating blow ever time we encounter it.

    Here are some things you can do to master your stress:

    Master each of these areas and you will no longer be a slave to your stress, creating the freedom you need to live the life you want and make progress toward your goals!

    Leave a Reply