Our health is more important than ever – right now, stretching, basic daily movement, proper breathing and mindfulness might be the most important health promoting activities we should all be doing.
Our lives, as we knew them, are transformed and we don’t know how long for. Is anyone untouched by this? I think not.
As the initial fear and panic pass, you may start to feel yourself settling into what is a new normal – for the moment at least. Some of you may also start to find positives in this forced adaptation (less travel, more time with the family, less time spent getting ready for work, less fast food lunches gobbled down at your desks!)
You may be lucky and have the pros outweigh the cons or you may well be able to focus more on the positives and try to ignore the negatives better than the rest of us.
Whatever our unique situation, I doubt anyone is truly feeling better off than they were a few weeks ago. For some too, the perception of stress may increase as they have great concern over an unknown future.
For most of us though we can empathise with each other that we are all suffering some level of loss and with that comes grief, mourning, frustration, anger and stress. In the worst of cases, loss of friends and family. More typically, in Australia at the moment, we are experiencing loss of futures we thought were secure. Daily routines we were comfortable with, loss of holiday plans, loss of financial certainty, loss of social interaction with friends and family, and loss of predictability as to what we can expect in the coming days, weeks, and months.
Are we feeling stressed? Do we know that these external pressures are having a significant and measurable* effect on all of our healths?
One thing I used to hear often from clients, family, friends alike is:
“I don’t feel stressed.”
If the coaches at Ninth Wave had a dollar for every time we had heard this statement, we probably wouldn’t be stressed about the future, because we would already be financially secure!
If you have ever been in an incident – such as a minor to moderate car crash – you may have experienced a time where you were acutely aware of surroundings, where you actually managed to ‘perform’ well under pressure, where you were able to step outide yourself and react potentially better than you thought you might have done. This reaction to an event is the stress response and is immediately positive – it may protect you from the shock, the physical damage, and the panic – it may help you survive. The stress response is beneficial, initially, but it doesn’t last and it doesn’t change the fact that you are physically and emotionally impacted. –matt
You may not feel stressed – in fact, you may be running on adrenaline right now and thinking and feeling that you are ‘cooking on gas’ because you are handling everything and performing well.
As we already live in a complex world with multiple conflicting, competing demands on us, we have adapted to feeling that stress is just normal. We see it as a necessary evil in the push for growth and achievement.
For some, I would suggest, there is also a sense of achievement that comes with being ‘more stressed’. A hero mentality exists where the stress load you ‘handle’ is a badge of honour to be worn with pride. We don’t see and so don’t feel concerned with the negative outcomes that result from chronic stress or we dismiss them as being ‘normal’ for people wanting to succeed.
As examples, here are behaviours or responses to stress that our clients seem to just accept:
Lack of sleep;
Poor physical health (loss of movement and mobility);
Poor Mental Health (anxious, moody, closed down, irritable);
Escapism (binging on foods, alcohol, drugs, social media or shows to numb our feelings).
People seem to feel these effects are an example of how much they are willing to sacrifice to be high performers.
We always try to help people understand these effects come with long term consequences and will always result in reduced performance and impaired health!
Now, however, we are all exposed to a significant increase in external stressors and many of us will begin to exhibit these behaviours or feel these effects and we have very little control over those external stressors.
It is now more important than ever to understand that stress affects everyone’s bodies in the same way, regardless of whether you ‘feel it’ or not. Your age, race, occupation, or mental toughness doesn’t give you a ‘get out of stress free card’. Just because you push through and soldier on after days of minimal sleep, does not mean the biological effects are not occurring and just because you seem less affected than a colleague, does not mean you are getting away with it.
Our bodies and minds have an extraordinary ability to adapt and survive – but it doesn’t mean that we are thriving. Your body will get used to anything – in fact, getting to a point where you no longer ‘feel the effects’ of stress is more problematic because we become even less likely to take action to mitigate the stress response.
Perceived stress is just as dangerous as real stress. For example, being worried about whether you will have a job in a month’s time, the uncertainty of the future, worrying about a vulnerable member of your family getting sick can have the same biological fallout as actually being sick or losing your job.
So what can we do, especially at this time when we are less able to engage in some of the activities we used to control stress (like being with friends or exercising hard).
Well firstly, for most of us, the excuse of “I have no time” probably isn’t true any more. People aren’t travelling to work or socially – already we have clawed back and hour or two in most peoples days!
More than ever, I would invite you to stop and notice that you do now have ‘some time’, to take care of yourselves.
How to spend some of this time, given gyms, studios, and most outdoor activities are unavailable?
How about taking 20-30 mins every day, away from the news, away from the noise, and learn to stretch, breathe, and increase mindfulness (that has been the aim of all our streamed content and YouTube posts)
In the psychology and health literature, the one thing that is increasingly being recognised to improve resilience and reduce stress is MINDFULNESS.
There are three main ways we can do this:
⁃ Stretching, improving mobility, movement and breathing reduces stress by calming the nervous system down and increasing our active range of movement.
⁃ Meditation, to increase the ability to accept the thoughts that come and go, notice when your mind has wandered, and be ok with gently easing it back to the present moment (we like the Headspace app)
⁃ Hobbies that keep you focused on exactly what you are doing in that current moment.
I have been running 3 weeks of stretching via zoom for our clients now (contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to subscribe.) So far, the feedback has been extremely positive and people have been enjoying these. The key goal is to increas mindfulness and mobility. There is a focus on the breath, as when you stretch into too much pain, you can forget to breathe.
Breathing gives us oxygen and energy while clearing out toxic Co2 – and yet when we are chronically stressed our breathing automatically becomes shallow and less effective at doing that most basic and most necessary of tasks.
Same as when people are chronically stressed – remember that breathing is what we have to do to survive. Mindfulness (such as ‘where am I tight’ or ‘is one side worse than the other’) and being present and focused on a physical task, decreases rumination, worry and stress. Focusing only on exactly what is in front of you, and how your body is feeling is truly effective.
Stretching into positions that may be uncomfortable, or inversely, feel great for you, keeps you in the present moment. Since a direct effect of stress can be to tighten muscles and decreases mobility, in the long run, stretching provides an effective foil to the ravages of stress.
I also aim to remove judgment from stretching – there is no competition – there is no concern for what others can do. Some stretches may not be achievable for them, currently and so we adjust as necessary. What we know for sure is that after a focused stretch session you will absolutely be better than you were before! If you chose to do nothing, you will probably be getting worse and giving in to the ravages of stress.
In a curious twist of fate – while the awesome facilities we used to have available to us are taken away – we find ourselves having more time and even more need of exercise. We also hear from clients that want to take time to exercise – because what else is there to do !! Every single person reading this can take the time to stretch and mobilise and de-stress and with our streamed classes showing you exactly what to do, now is the ideal time to take back control of your health and wellness and create some positive responses for yourself.
You can see daily exercise posts on instagram (9waveFitness) and YouTube channel NWFNinthWaveFitness.
You can contact us (email@example.com) if you would like subscribe to our streamed stretching and workout series.
You can even contact us if you want to do outdoor training (1:1), learn KB skills while having a killer workout, or would like to arrange home visits for PT sessions (we bring the equipment).
We can’t control the external stressors – but we can control how they affect us and we are here to help, if you need us.
Erica and the NWF Team.
*You can measure stress with a daily Heart Rate Variability test, for which you need a bluetooth HR monitor and and app such as Elite HRV. We can see that, truly, some people do react less to stress than others, but everyone is impacted by stress. Contact us if you would like to know more about HRV monitoring.