Stress is helpful if you understand it.
"To be without stress is to be without life."
The idea of being stress free at all the time at work, at home, and during recreational activities may sound great…but life happens and we wouldn't want to get too bored.
People commonly think of stress as only bad, never good. Good news, good stress exists and is called 'eustress'.
Eustress occurs naturally over the course of our lives, even back to first learning how to walk. We can experience eutsress when we mentally or physically challenge ourselves in a way that makes us stronger, not exhausted or depleted. Eustress leaves us with a surplus of resources to continue and repeat this process in the future without burning out.
It is only when we stress our minds and bodies beyond it's ability to recover, that we can label stress as bad, or 'distress'. When we are distressed, we are actually depleting our resources and leaving ourselves us stripped down and vulnerable...not a fun place to be and our bodies can only take a so much until we become tired all the time, start getting sick more often, and start having more body aches and pains. Once we are there, we become very sensitive and every little thing has the potential to bother/annoy us and we start compensating with indulgent behavior (guilty pleasures) to combat our stress.
Each person seems to have their own limits and their own expression of this state of being, but it can always be tied back to stress, be it physical, nutritional, mental, or emotional.
Now, everything is a spectrum and there are no absolutes. I've already mentioned eustress at one end and distress at the other. Stress can be good and it is truly necessary to stress our system in order to make gains, but where is the threshold? How often do we push our bodies beyond the point where we are no longer pushing ourselves, but instead literally trying to survive our workouts, our schedules, and our lives? Let me create a mental picture for you to help make a point.
Imagine there are two people running down the road, one is slower and is breathing through their nose with a relaxed face while the faster one is breathing loudly through their mouth. In this moment, where do these people fall on this spectrum and where would you rather be the majority of the time?
I know that there are those among us that use exercise to relieve stress. Awesome! Keep it up! But also ask yourself what type of stress you are adding to your life? How often do you do something restorative to balance things out and press a reset button? Do you ever go to a place of eustress during the day, or even at night? How restful is your sleep?
All of my writing about stress was really to bring me to this point…your mood and stress level affects behavior...movement is a behavior...and breathing is movement. If we are stressed physically, mentally, or emotionally, it will change how we breathe. It is not uncommon that people go from a stressed breathing during the day, right into an intense workout where they hyperventilate the whole time. This cycle can be all to real and may very well even manifest itself at night affecting your sleep.
Breathing is the only function of our autonomic nervous system over which we can control, and thus can be a useful indicator of where we are on our spectrum of stress, as well as a tool to make improvements. Take a minute and check in with yourself…
-Can you breath in and out silently through your nose? Are you still silent if you plug your ears?
-Can you breath like this for one minute with a 3 second inhale and a 6 second exhale? Can you do it without pausing or breath holding?
If you cannot breath in silently through your nose at a controlled rate, I can guarantee your life, your exercise, and your sleep are not as efficient and restorative as they could be. More good news...there are things you can do to make improvements! You can start by taking time to practice silent breathing one minute at a time throughout the day with your lips together, teeth apart, and tongue on the roof of your mouth. So here's to a good life. Get out and 'eu-' something!