Life can get busy. Obligations can pile up. Sometimes it can seem like we're caught in an endless race to get everything done by the end of the day. There are chores to get done, meetings to go to, deadlines to meet, soccer games and piano recitals, and volunteer work to attend to!
During crunch time, something has to go to make room for all of the obligations. And that something is usually self-care. We skip the gym, because the meeting ran late. We eat fast food, because there is no time to cook. We skimp on sleep, so we have time to get that last thing done.
The problem is that skimping on self-care only makes the pace seem faster and more overwhelming. During times of emotional stress, our brains produce stress hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response. This response can cause us to narrow our focus, as the mind is preparing the body to fight for survival. When we are in a state of fight-or-flight, time moves faster, and we have the feeling of not being able to get everything done.
When we are in a state of fight-or-flight, what we really need is to get out of it. If we can calm the response, we can better break down the tasks we need to do, as well as eliminate those that are really not all that important. Calming the stress response is key to navigating the waters during crunch time.
But here's the catch. The brain also triggers the fight-or-flight response when it detects an actual threat to survival. And that actual threat could be lack of sleep, hunger, lack of nutrition or water, or a lack of exercise. So by cutting out self-care, we are actually making it worse for ourselves. We are making time move faster, making life more hectic. We are not saving time in the way that we would like to.
The solution is to make self-care non-negotiable. During stressful times, it is especially important to have some basic “rules” to follow, to ultimately minimize the fight-or-flight response.
Here are some self-care “rules” that need to be non-negotiable:
1. Drink water.
Make staying hydrated a priority. Carry a water bottle, invest in a pitcher with a filter, or do whatever it takes to make sure that you are drinking water, rather than coffee or soda. Caffeine and alcohol trigger the fight-or-flight response, and sugar, high-fructrose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners can increase it. The simple act of drinking water can be very helpful in stressful situations.
2. Eat a high-protein diet.
Protein increases serotonin production and keeps blood sugar levels stable. When you eat a high-protein diet with minimal refined carbohydrates, you avoid the swings related to blood sugar increasing and dropping, and you will find that your energy level and moods will stabilize.
3. Get 8 hours of sleep.
Skimping on sleep with drastically increase the fight-or-flight response. Study after study shows that a lack of sleep can be as harmful to your performance as drinking alcohol. Your tired mind becomes muddy, and you are not able to problem-solve as quickly. Make sleep a priority, even if it means that you will not have as much time to work on your to-do list.
4. Keep going to the gym.
Exercise is excellent stress relief, and moderate exercise can help decrease stress hormones. Make sure to stick with your work-out routine during times of stress, and you will find that you have more energy and mental clarity as your navigate your way through the seemingly endless tasks that lie before you.
5. Make relaxation a part of your routine.
Find relaxation activities that work for you. Take some time during your day to practice breathing exercises, prayer, meditation, or any other calming activity. This will minimize the physiological response and help you to feel much less overwhelmed.
I know it seems counter-intuitive to add to your routine, when you are already feeling overwhelmed by stress. But by making yourself a priority and focusing on meeting your basic needs, you will find that the stress decreases and you feel much more on top of the situation. The journey through stress, just like every other journey, begins by looking within.
For help with managing stress, consider an individual e-mail, chat, or Skype session.
Remember, there is still time to sign up for my Simple Living Basics E-Course, beginning July 1!