By: Scott Pollock – Chronic pain therapist and owner of Greater Than Performance and Rehab
How many people do you know (including yourself) who are dealing with some type of pain, or tightness, or stomach issue, or sickness or anxiety??? The truth is we have all been going through a very stressful season of our lives with the Covid pandemic, world war, and governmental divide to name a few…and our bodies have taken a beating. The first step in healing this Rubik’s cube we call our health and wellness starts with identifying and gaining awareness of what the problem is.
We are made up of our Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual compartments of our lives. We can develop stress or voids in all of these areas. This is where our Stress Onion is formed…. it’s never just one of these areas that raises our stress threshold, it’s usually several or all of them! Worse still, is that we tend to stuff stress down and create layers of this tension instead of dealing with the stressors or releasing the built-up energy the stress caused.
Our Stress Threshold
The stress threshold mentioned above is similar to that of a river levee (wall that blocks water from flooding). We can have a small stream with a lot of extra room for more water (stress) or we can be at a flood stage where one last drop could spell disaster and begin causing issues. The good news is that our levee’s (ability to manage and deal with stress) can be built upon and improved. The types of stress (water) in the different components of our lives can be any of the following:
Physical Stress – Ex. – Physical injury (car accident, sprained ankle), poor diet, dehydration, drug use, lack of sleep, lack of sunlight, too much sitting / not enough exercise, too much exercise, jaw clenching, poor posture, holding your body in tension, ect…
Emotional Stress – Ex. – Toxic relationships, unresolved past emotional trauma, abuse, poor relationship with self / low self-esteem or confidence, insecurity, living in a fearful mind state, ect…
Mental Stress – Ex. – Financial instability, dislike of job, anxiety, depression, poor decision making, lack of contribution or acknowledgement, ect…
Spiritual Stress – Ex. – Lack of Purpose, undefined values/virtues, uncertainty, fear of death, voids in life, prioritizing short term satisfactory activities, addiction, ect…
Consequences of Too Much Stress
We all have different threshold (levee) levels which can actually be built upon to deal with or allow more stress in without dealing with CONSEQUENCES. When we allow these stressors to build up in our bodies and create too many layers, we are dealt negative symptoms (levee breaks and floods!) as a WARNING sign that our bodies can no longer handle the stress we have placed upon ourselves. Minor signs your levee is breaking or overflowing can be – any chronic pain in the body, consistent gastrointestinal distress, skin issues/acne, brain fog, and hormonal imbalances to name a few. Major signs your levee is overburdened can be chronic autoimmune disease or a chronic state of bodily inflammation.
What We Can Do!
No one is going to save you. It is up to YOU to start making decisions in your life to take control of your stress and become the strongest and most durable version of yourself possible! It takes work in each area of your life. Below are some examples in each category of things to prioritize to bring down stress levels to a manageable level and let your amazing body heal. It’s very difficult for your body to heal and regroup when your stress level has passed your stress threshold. That’s why we try to keep the level of stress as low as possible most of the time.
Exercise! Getting adequate exercise daily can help with multiple categories of stress in your life. 30-60min walks outside are a great way to relieve stress and get your body going in the right direction. (don’t overdo it! Chronic soreness can be an indicator you’re not giving your body enough time to heal)
Injury PREhab and Rehab – The best rehab is always PREhab! Get with a professional to give you a stretching and mobilizing routine or individualized exercise routine in general so that injury prevention is prioritized. If you’ve had an injury or are dealing with one, it’s best to address it (preferably with a professional) because the compensations produced by the injury can linger for many years thereafter.
Diet! – You are what you eat! Don’t put garbage in your body unless you want to feel like garbage! Stay away from excess alcohol, sugar, processed foods, fried foods and soft drinks, instead prioritize organic fruits, vegetables and wild or grass fed meats and fish. (TIP: Get a food sensitivities test to make sure you’re not eating anything that’s causing inflammation in your body).
Stay hydrated! Between 12-16 cups of water a day or an ounce per pound of bodyweight.
Prioritize adequate sleep! Sleep is when our body/mind heals and regenerates. Make sure to try to get 6-9 hours of sleep each night. (TIP: Use an Oura ring or Whoop to track)
Counseling – We all have past trauma in our lives to some extent. Seeking counseling and someone to listen and provide guidance if necessary is something I believe everyone can benefit from.
Build and create healthy relationships – You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Make sure these people are positive influences on you and if they aren’t, try to improve the relationship and if that doesn’t work, look to find new relationships.
Develop CONFIDENCE – Commit to honoring your word and doing what you say you’re going to do. People with low self esteem typically don’t keep promises to themselves and that reflects in them not keeping promises to others.
Overcome fear by doing hard things – Fear is based on a lack of understanding or experience of something. Learn about things you’re uncertain about and gain experience in doing them and in turn, they will lose their control over you.
Meditation / Breathwork – One of the oldest and best ways to manage stress that cannot be dealt with immediately is to incorporate daily meditation of breathwork which we will cover in later blog posts. Empty your mind….
Relax subconscious tension – Mental (and other forms) stress manifests as physical tension through subconscious tightening of the body. Several times a day take a few seconds to take a deep breath and actively relax your body. Done repetitively, this can help alleviate chronic tension and symptoms from that tension.
Confront stressors head on – This is the most important bullet point on this page. Cut off the head of the snake (stressor) and the body withers. If you take massive action to deal with the causes of your stress instead of battling the symptoms, it will have a life changing effect on your body.
Accomplish tasks/goals – Procrastination and putting things off is a common form of mental stress. When something needs to be done in your life and you put a to-do next to it, make sure to eliminate it as soon as possible.
Define your VALUES and a foundation on how to live your life – One of the benefits to religion is that it helps to define a specific way to live your life based on firm virtues and values. I recommend doing a deep dive on learning and reading on some of the great religions and philosophies to find one that truly resonates with you. As a Christian, I can’t think of a better path to follow than the one carved out through my faith.
Help other people – We are so interconnected to each other and this is seen in the fulfillment we have in helping each other out. Donate your time to serving other people and being grateful for the things you have.
Pray – Reaching out to a higher power regardless of if you think that’s God or mother nature or the universe…. your thoughts become your realities and opening up a connection with the energy around you can have a profound effect on you and your environment. Take time to quiet your mind and make your requests as well as listen for answers.
Find your JOY – Commit to doing something in your life that brings you joy. Whether it’s dedicating yourself to a job that gives you Purpose, starting a family, or spending time with people you love, spend more time creating Joy in your life.
DEAL WITH THE CAUSE OF THE STRESS or develop better habits to deal with it and manage it. The truth of the matter is, we will never eliminate stress… and that’s ok! Stress is the stimulation to create change and growth in an individual. Without some form of stress, we would have no growth. Let stress mold and create a better you. Don’t let it overwhelm and harm/hinder you. You have the choice to step up and take the actions to deal with your stress and put in place habits to mitigate its negative effects. This can be a lot to deal with which is why we at Greater Than Performance and Rehab are here to help! Call or message us today to begin your journey to shed those layers of the Stress Onion!
Disclosure: I am not a medical provider and this is not medical advice. I am a chronic pain therapist and trainer with over 15 years of experience and owner of an integrated Wellness Center.