Busy, tired, overwhelmed and stressed - the most common responses I tend to hear today to the simple question, "how are you?"
Stress is something that affects us all to some degree or another, but chronic and unrelenting stress is one of the hallmarks of what I lovingly call Rushing Woman's Syndrome. When you live your life in a rush, with the perception that there is not enough time, your body is churning out stress hormones that communicate to every cell in your body that your life is in danger. This is because for the entirety of human history - about 150,000 years or more - the human body produced stress hormones first and foremost to survive a physical threat or a famine. And although our conscious mind knows we are stressed because we have a mile long to-do list that is never fully checked off, our biochemistry does not. Really think about this. If your body is constantly getting the message that it is under threat, you are living in survival mode - and this is not a place from which you can thrive.
Let's explore how to keep stress in check, to help you retire from being a rushing woman.
Whilst not exactly a revolutionary concept, thinking about your daily choices holds so much gold for your health and wellbeing. When you really think about it you essentially are the decisions you make on a daily basis. If you continue to drink coffee after coffee, despite knowing that it only makes you feel more stressed and anxious, you need to do some serious thinking about what else you do in your life you know doesn't serve you. Do you continue to eat sugary snacks because you "need" the energy at 3pm, or restrict your calorie intake in the afternoon only to demolish the pantry when you return from work? Do you say yes to every additional task at work because you have a fear of saying no, despite the fact you can barely keep your head above water as it is? Think about what you do on a daily basis and consider if this is pulling you on to the stress express, or helping you off it. You are the only person who can prioritise your own health and wellbeing yet often we consider ourselves last and this must change.
Stress and Nourishment
When you live consistently in the 'fight or flight' zone - known as sympathetic nervous system (SNS) dominance - your energy tends to be inconsistent. You fire up and then you crash, and the choices you make when you crash (which quite often are nutritionally of a poor quality) can set you up to fire up again. These choices will typically involve caffeine, refined sugars or starches, or all three. SNS dominance can be a reason why, even though you have good nutrition knowledge, you make choices that don't align with your health in mind. Let's face it, you don't polish off a block of chocolate thinking you are going to feel amazing afterwards. You don't do it because you don't know the impact it's going to have, you do it for biochemical or emotional reasons, or both. And one of the biochemical reasons can be living in an SNS-dominant state.
Consuming too much caffeine is a sure fire way to feel stressed/rushed as it results in the release of adrenalin, one of our body's stress hormones. Reduce your consumption of caffeine - swap coffee for green tea and notice if you feel calmer and more energised an hour later after a week of doing this. It is important to realise that the way we eat, drink, move, think, breathe, believe and perceive impacts our need to rush and therefore our ability to feel stressed. Bring awareness to all of these factors in your life and consider where you need to make changes.
Calm creating activities
When you feel like you have a one-way ticket on the stress express, it's not uncommon to be drawn to high intensity exercise in an effort to "sweat it out." While that most definitely feels good for some people, it might not work for you. When you have been in a constant state of stress you tend to neglect or even avoid calming activities. Consider enrolling in a meditation course and committing to do so with a friend, or go to a restorative yoga class. Incorporate a breath-focused practice in your life, whether that is meditation, yoga, tai chi, pilates or even just 10-15 minutes everyday where you focus on long, slow breathing that moves your belly in and out. This is one of the best ways to switch off your stress response. This isn't being indulgent; it is incredibly necessary for your health. If you feel like canceling on plans, snuggling up on the couch and reading a book, do it! Far too often we ignore our own intuition about what we need in each moment. Make a conscious effort to tune into this and then act on it.
Change your thoughts and change your world
Change your perspective. What makes you feel overwhelmed? I suggest people capture their tasks and then instead of approaching it by repeating to yourself over and over again "oh my goodness, I have so much to do" ask yourself "what outcome do I want to achieve today?" and focus on that. You will feel far less pressure and far more rewarded with this simple shift in your thinking. Take time to be grateful for what you do have. In the rush of life many people lose the ability to see how privileged they are. A simple shift in focus to thinking about things you are grateful for makes an incredible difference to your ability to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Remember what you focus on is what you feel.