Some of you may remember the tv show Frasier from the ’90’s with Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney and Jane Leeves. One episode that stayed with me involved Daphne’s quandary over where to go on her vacation: home to family in England or fun in the sun in Acapulco. Considering her dilemma, Frasier flashes back to when he moved home to Seattle and his becoming reacquainted with his dad Martin and brother Niles. Obviously the segment is fraught with complications and frustrations, and in the end, Frasier decides to give Daphne two vacations, telling her that family is important and worth the frustration but spending time with family usually means you need another vacation.
Too often we think that “rest and relaxation” is the same thing as “not being at work.” Ask any stay-at-home parent about that and you will get an earful, I’m sure! There is a very real difference between doing something restful or relaxing and being busy, whether it’s at home, at work or with your family. I know I have spent more than a few weekends running errands for the pets, the car, the house and even for myself. Just because it’s a “weekend” and it’s not “work related errands” doesn’t mean I don’t feel tired, frazzled and stressed when I get home! My boss has three young boys with busy sports schedules: some of his weekends are driving here and there, coaching this team and the other team. Come Monday morning, he’s probably more exhausted than when he left on Friday!
We tend to forget that rest and relaxation means we are conserving our energy or doing something that makes us feel rested or at least relieves stress. Taking the car to be serviced doesn’t count as being “restful” unless, like me, I put my phone on Silent and spend the time listening to music, an audio book or a podcast. I made the car’s appointments a “stress reliever” by purposely being out of touch while I am there. While I am waiting around for the car, I am not scrolling through emails, making lists of things to get done or anything else that can be considered stressful. I know that while I am there, it’s my time for myself.
When we feel stressed, our bodies recognize it. Whether it’s emotional or physical, our bodies react the same way, releasing hormones to deal with whatever danger or trouble we are experiencing. Those hormones, primarily cortisol, cause the body to release glucose into the blood stream, which jacks your energy level way up. This can cause you to feel anxious, nervous or jittery, but it’s always followed by an energy crash, which leaves you tired, irritable and hungry. Chronic stress can impact your metabolism, leading the body to store calories because of whatever ‘danger’ you are facing. Besides making it harder to lose weight, the anxiety, depression and fatigue can lead to emotional eating and cravings. When our blood sugar is low, that’s when we feel the urge to grab crackers, a donut or a soft drink to boost the low glucose in the blood, which starts the roller coaster again: high blood sugar followed by the crash and the cravings. This vicious cycle is one of the chief contributors to stress-induced weight gain!
When most people think of stress, they think of work and all the other problems and tasks in their lives that eat up their time, but we can feel stressed simply by not getting enough sleep. Feeling tired all the time is a stressor since your body is not getting enough recuperative time.
Taking time for yourself to do things that you enjoy is hard for a lot of us. It feels like we are wasting time or not being productive or just plain goofing off. What we don’t realize is that when we are chronically stressed and/ or constantly rushing and not getting enough rest, we are setting ourselves up not only for weight gain but for illness as well. We see it happen in offices everywhere: people are rushed, always busy, always tired and then –bam!– they get sick! Even worse, they come to the office to work despite being ill and give it to everyone else! (FYI: when you don’t take the time to rest when you are ill, it takes you longer to get over it on top of giving it to everyone around you!)
One of the easiest ways to combat stress is to give yourself a certain amount of time on a regular basis to do something you enjoy without interruption. This can be dinner time or evenings with your family. It can be walking your dog, or it can simply be taking lunch with your phone on Silent. You can also designate one day or part of a day each week as “your day” when you do only the things you enjoy. For me, I usually take Saturday night as my night and during the week, I use my long commute to listen to music, books, etc. or chat with friends. It may be a long drive but I make it as stress-free as I can.
Another easy way to relieve stress is simply going to bed at a reasonable time each night. There are a lot of experts who tell you to optimize your sleep experience by sleeping in a completely dark cool room without distractions (people & pets) and to avoid electronic devices at least thirty minutes or more before going to bed. Those are great ideas if they work for you, but if they don’t, don’t stress about it! For some of us, sleeping alone isn’t an option, so don’t feel you have to kick your partner out of the bed! (Talk about a stressful situation!) The same is true if cool rooms, or no lights or no devices also doesn’t work for you. It may be that none of those factors is what’s causing your restless sleep: it could be you have too much on your mind! Try making positive changes to your nightly routine, such as doing something relaxing before bedtime and then setting up an environment that works for you. If you feel more or less rested the next morning, make a note and then make the appropriate changes.
The same goes for your Me Time: if one option doesn’t work, try making some adjustments. If meditating or listening to calming music doesn’t work for you after you’ve given it a real chance, don’t push it! That causes more stress! There is no one way to reduce stress for everyone. We are all individuals and with a little thought, we can find methods that work for us. I remember as a new college student, I was told to study in a quiet area, preferably a library, and I tried it but it was simply too distracting for me: every sound caught my attention and pulled me away from my reading! My solution: I studied in the student union with all the shouting, music and video games where I could block out all the noise and really concentrate. (Some of my friends had to pound on the table to get my attention!)
When it comes to stress and getting enough rest and relaxation, we need to find a method that works for us, whether that’s hanging out at the gym, relaxing with a book, walking the dog or just putting in earbuds with the music loud. The most important thing to remember is making time for yourself to relax, even if it is in the middle of traffic!