Why Mind Over Matter Doesn't Work With Chronic Stress
You’ve heard it before. Just think positive. Get your head in the game. Mind over matter.
Often it's good advice. When you’re prepared and you're just facing momentary stress, mind over matter is helpful to focus on what you want to happen. That’s because the body handles momentary stress quite well. Stress signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, the fight or flight hormone, which produces an immediate boost of energy and focus that is great for getting stuff done. Cortisol also suppresses non-essential functions, including the immune and reproductive systems and impacts mood, motivation and fear.
Evolutionarily this stress was short lived so the energy lasted for a short period of time and then the body returned to normal.
But today many people live with constant overload at work, sleep derivation and family responsibilities, which the body interprets as stress. Add illness or another stressful situation and the stress becomes chronic.
With chronic stress, the body is constantly flooded with cortisol, which can lead to anxiety, depression, sleep problems, cognitive impairment and weight gain. That’s why when you are completely fried you are have difficulty concentrating and are jumpy. Long term stress can also impact the immune system and cause stomach problems. Not fun.
During these periods, you can’t think yourself out of it because the brain is literally not working properly. Stress impairs brain functioning. It’s not your fault, it’s biology.
Ignore anyone who just tells you to think positive. The best thing you can do is to take care of your body so that the stress response calms, your mind clears and you improve the body’s resilience. Go back to basics.
1. Eat well.
Focus on replacing sugar and caffeine (which stimulate the adrenals), with vegetables, sweet potatoes, and omega 3 proteins.
This is the most important thing you can do. Make sure you take at least 1 day off a week, ideally 2 days. Aim to go to sleep before 10pm as often as possible.
3. Do exercise that relaxes you.
I recommend exercises such as yoga or running. Or meditation.
4. Get connected and hug people.
Spend time with friends and loved ones. Touch releases oxytocin, the connection hormone, which is protective against stress.
5. Find your joy.
Do one thing a day that makes you smile. Do this consistently and you'll reduce your body's reaction to stress and feel calmer.