‘Reducing stress’ is your goal… why does this statement annoy me so much?!!!

It seems that every fitness, health and wellbeing article I read, cites reducing stress as their #1 recommendation in achieving our goals. I’d just like to add  –  NO SHIT SHERLOCK!!!

I think we are all aware that stress leads to a huge number of health issues and chronic diseases – including life threatening ones. I know this first hand.

My life has not exactly been a bed of roses and as a result, I am absolutely certain that some of my ‘lived experience’ contributed to my brain tumour growing and needing treatment. Divorce, being a single parent, a stressful career, financial worries, having a sick parent – these will all have contributed to my stress levels and a bunch of rogue cells in my brain growing. But could I have changed these things happening?  No, I couldn’t. They were beyond my control.

How can someone ‘chose’ to not have stress in their life? So many of the stresses we encounter are beyond our control and telling us to ‘have less of them’ , just makes it more stressful!!! Constantly reading articles which tell you to ‘reduce stress in your life’, only makes people who are going through a very stressful time, feel more vulnerable and even more isolated. Ironically, it reduces the ability to cope when stress presents itself.

In my opinion, the recommendation is finding coping mechanisms to ‘deal with stress’ and mitigate it’s risks… something health, fitness and wellbeing can certainly help with. The advice would be better phrased – ‘focus on your mental health as much as your physical health’, as both are necessary to be in good health and ‘hold our own’.

Accepting some things are beyond our control is such an important part of dealing with life, building resilience and learning to cope. It keeps us humble and grounded. It keeps us real. It gives us empathy. And it’s reality.

When I was told I had a brain tumour  – my over riding feeling was loss of control. What had I done wrong? How had I lost so much control over my life and my future? In fact, a week before my surgery I was so overcome with guilt, I went to see a therapist to try and  control my emotions. I paid her £100 for a one hour session. I think I cried for the whole hour and managed to squeeze out about 5 words! For anyone that knows me well, being at a loss for words is about as normal for me as being abducted by aliens! But I did feel better.

What my earlier life had taught me, is that there was no shame in going to see a therapist to talk. I needed to find coping mechanisms and in this instance – this was one of them. Other coping mechanisms for me were eating an extremely nutritious diet and being as fit as I could be. All of these things helped give me some control over my  journey and make me feel stronger and more empowered. I couldn’t control the fact that I had a tumour – I couldn’t reduce that stress. I couldn’t control the fact I was about to have many hours of extremely dangerous surgery – I couldn’t reduce that stress. However, I could try and manage the enormous stress I was feeling, to the best of my ability. Sometimes, feeling stressed is OK too though. This is important to accept.

I took up yoga to learn to breathe properly and to learn how to be calm when I was ‘still’. And by ‘still’, I don’t mean in the purely physical sense of not moving. I needed to learn to be calm when I wasn’t running at a million miles a minute to keep busy and block life out. Yoga might not be for everyone – it might be meditation,  peaceful walks, listening to music or even something like baking. It’s different for everyone.

And what if the ‘stress’ is a result of something someone close to you is going through. A sick parent, partner, child or loved one. How are you supposed to reduce this? This kind of advice can actually be really damaging, as it could make someone very self-centred. You cannot remove yourself from these situations in order to cope – this is not a remotely acceptable response in my opinion. We need to develop strength and courage to help others – this is what love, kindness and empathy are. What we do need to do, in order to manage the stress this causes us personally, is to find coping mechanisms so we can provide that strength and courage without damaging our own health and wellbeing. We don’t live in a bubble and trying to create one to ‘reduce stress’ will make us very dysfunctional humans, devoid of compassion.

If your health goals are to lose weight and get into better physical shape (both of which will give you the strength and energy you need to cope with stress better) and you constantly read articles which tell you that if you don’t reduce the stress in your life,  you won’t achieve your goals – then stressful situations you cannot control are going to make you feel hopeless .

Yes, it is certainly true that increased cortisol levels from elevated stress levels affect your bodies ability to function, but it’s not always possible to control the reason for that stress. For example, if your worklife is stressful – maybe redundancies at work, an oppressive work environment, losing clients from your own business or having to let people go because of poor trading conditions – these things can’t be reduced or taken away instantly. Rather than telling you to ‘reduce the stress’, it would make more sense for you to look at ways in your day, to mitigate this stress. Make them small things you can achieve  – a 15 minute walk in the air, a workout, listening to music, breathing exercises , do something silly that breaks your own ice (!!) or grab a hug (we need more of these in life!!) – whatever works for you. A window in your day to settle your soul and feed it.

Being overly focused on health goals – e.g: weight loss, muscle gain, eating more nutritious food – will actually cause you stress. And these ARE things you can control. This is most certainly stress you can reduce. This is not an excuse to stop doing these things if you are someone who struggles with motivation. But if you are someone who has become ‘obsessed’, then be careful how you approach your health and wellbeing journey – don’t be your own worst enemy.

So, my humble advice, next time you feel stressed reading an article that tells you to reduce stress is: 1) throw the article away cos’ the author is living in a bubble of BS!!! 2) try and spend 15 minutes that day doing something that calms your soul and 3) don’t ever give up… you opened the article so you must be on the right path to achieving your goals!!





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