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How to survive when life is trying to take you down

How to survive when life is trying to take you down

I’ve got stress on the mind, and not just because of my upcoming talk at HEALTH Unplugged in London. The truth is the past three weeks have been very stressful and the coming two months it’s not going to let up.

The types of stress I am dealing with are very different: there is intense personal stress derived from the relationships I have with certain people in my life, there is professional stress, both the good (growth induced) and the bad kind, there is the the kind that comes from realizing that the 10th anniversary of my father’s death is soon upon us,  as well as stress due to a minor back injury that has prevented me from working out for two months now, and then there is the everyday stress that comes with being the mother of a 3 and a 5 year old.

As an expert in the matter people often assume I can handle stress without ever really feeling its effects. It’s the same kind of assumption that makes people gasp when they realize this Paleo advocate does in fact allow herself to eat non-paleo when the occasion calls for it. Yup, this woman is not perfect, nor infallible.

I experience stress like any other person; at times I struggle to sleep, I lose my appetite and will not eat, I worry a lot, I catastrophize, my stomach alternates between feeling crampy and then electrified, I get headaches, muscle tension and run around tired and short tempered (just ask the boys). I struggle to catch my breath and feel both restless and despondent at the same time. I crave easy soothing solutions like foods or withdrawing and cocooning, I even considered having a cigarette the other day (I have not been a smoker in 13 years – so that one was not too hard to eschew). I switch between periods of feeling passive and withdrawn and other moments of extreme activity. In short, stress is an equal opportunity offender and it beats me down the same way it doesn’t anyone else.

[bctt tweet=”When life is beating you down the best thing to do is go back to basics.” username=”LifeinFocusSD”]

I do consider myself lucky, however, because my understanding of the brain, human psychology and stress does help me handle these issues before they cripple me. I can look at the brief impulse to smoke and immediately link it back to neurochemistry and a desire to feel good. I can then reason with myself that said cigarette isn’t going to do anything, but that my other arsenal of tools certainly holds a better short term and likely long term answer to my need to feel better. I know enough about the psychology of food to not use that drug to medicate unhappiness, and years of relaxation training have armed me with one of the best mood boosters available out there – deep breathing 101.

I do not write this to make anyone feel sorry for the stress I am going through, or to gloat about my “superior” stress management skills, rather something hit me the other day. I was thinking about John Durant’s account in The Paleo Manifesto of how he came to Paleo. At the time John was a college student going through a pretty miserable break-up and he noticed that getting enough sleep made the whole difference between thinking clearly and feeling well versus feeling depressed and hopeless. What is so important in John’s account is this simple fact – when life is beating you down the best thing to do is go back to basics, then and only then should you consider more sophisticated problem solving.

What are the basics:

  1. Sleep – Prioritize this over any other treatment. Try getting a minimum of 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep. Forego time with friends, work, the latest episode of your favorite series in favor of some shuteye. Without sleep your brain cannot think properly, therefore you cannot reason objectively or effectively about what is going on.
  2. Eat (eventually) – I’ll be honest when the first wave of serious stress hit me I did not eat for 60 hours. I understood that I was depriving my body of energy, but I also wanted to respect the cues my body was giving me, and it was clear that my digestive system was not interested in doing it’s job. Eventually, I made myself eat really nutritious foods starting with fat and protein and then vegetables and fruits. After two and a half days I felt I needed to actively counter the lack of hunger, because there is no way a brain can think, or a body can heal without nutrition.
  3. Don’t eat crap – I realize it is tempting to stuff your face with carbs – sweet, salty, crunchy or doughy depending on your own vice – but this is no different than reaching for a drug to soothe the pain. Not only does it not solve anything, it actively makes you feel worse.
  4. Breathe – There are plenty of ways of doing this. fcade2_4c82aff939c84cedaada1bddb3dddc8b.jpg_srb_p_489_326_75_22_0.50_1.20_0 If you come to PrimalCon Oxnard I’ll be teaching deep breathing and relaxation in the mornings, or you can just click on this linkfor a video tutorial. If you don’t feel like learning a new skill while you are feeling like crap, no worries; SING OUT LOUD. I don’t care if the song is happy, or speaks ot your misery. Singing engages the same breathing patterns as deep breathing and it helps.
  5. Take time to sit with your stress – Once you have slept, and fed yourself don’t run away from distress. Ponder the issues that are plaguing you.Think about why whatever is going on it getting to you. What do you need? Can you get it or do you just have to wait it out? Hiding from your worries only makes them grow.
  6. Move – Often when we are unhappy we shift into a passive, sedentary mode. It might feel right to sit on the couch or in bed all day long, but really all that does is keep you locked up in your head, with no perspective, and no connection to the world. So get out, go to the gym, take a walk, swim, dance, run, lift; do something.

I would love to hear how you manage stress. Your story could help someone else.

If stress is part of your everyday, and you feel like your life is not what it is meant to be consider touching base – I am sure I can help you live life as you mean to.

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



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