Grab yourself a cup of tea (or bulletproof coffee), make yourself comfortable and have a read through my in-depth post on stress below.
A topic that I’ve written about extensively over at Primal Eye magazine is one that is very close to me, one that I’ve been experiencing all too well lately: stress. I’ve mentioned this several times in previous posts, but it’s worth stressing again: 2015 was a huge year for me, for us, and it was so busy. We bought our first home, and the week before we were due to move, I went home to Winnipeg unexpectedly to say goodbye to my Grandpa one last time before he passed away. We had many big races, I got a writing gig with Primal Eye (which takes up precious time on the weekend), and I experienced too much emotional stress from my teaching job culminating in me changing jobs at the end of October. We also travelled much over 2015, which is great and so rewarding, but can also be stressful. To sum it up, 2015 took its toll on me with many emotional ups and downs and self-imposed pressure. And to help me work on it, work through it, and deal with it, I did what I do best: I wrote about it.
My first look at stress was the post ‘The Stress Elimination Diet,’ which discusses steps you can take to begin to deal with and eliminate your stress(es):
“We associate a well-formulated Paleo diet with the expression ‘elimination diet,’ however, while the food you eat is still very important there are other areas of your life that can drastically affect your overall health and well-being. While I identified many negative emotions I experienced at my last job, all can be lumped into ‘emotional stress.’ By allowing stress, which results in lack of sleep, to flourish, and thus overwhelm your body and mind, diet alone will never be enough. You must employ this same elimination strategy to the aspects in your life that are getting you down and wearing you out.”
I didn’t just stop at emotional stress. While it rings true with me, there’s another area of stress that I’m all too familiar with: stress from exercise. A topic that truly fascinates me is Overtraining Syndrome (OTS), coupled with Adrenal Fatigue. While OTS is typically associated with high-performing, elite athletes – especially ultrarunners – it can affect anyone that presents the right markers: little to no recovery time after races, too much racing, too much anaerobic, training to constant peaks rather than peaks and valleys. Pair this with the busyness of a typical 21st century life that results in go-go go, and you’ve got the perfect storm for OTS. In my running world, I see many people I know dealing with chronic injury, frequent illness and excess weight, all of which are signs of adrenal fatigue, and, I can’t help wondering: OTS?
But the irony of exercise is that too many turn to it as an output, a stress reliever; this is something I can attest to. The best cure for a shitty day at work is to head out for a run to clear my head. There’s something so cathartic about it all. I know I feel better for it afterwards, as though life becomes a bit easier…. Until the next stressor! In response to all of this, I wrote ‘The Irony of Exercise: Stressor? Or Stress Reliever?’
“Exercise is good for us. We know that it improves skeletal muscles and cardiovascular health, and it decreases our chances of the onset of lifestyle-related illness and disease. Exercise is also good for the mind, both as a way to get over a bad day at work, but also for mental health. Exercise is also incredibly ironic: it has the power to either contribute to improved overall health and well-being, or be a major contributing factor to one’s inflammatory response, injury, and illness. Even though you’ll never regret a run or that tough WOD, you will regret the injury and illness caused by how often and how hard you train.”
My last stress article was a look at this 21st century busyness, how everyone is busy all the time and how people just don’t make have time for anything. Combine this with the newfound vitality and energy we all experience in our first year of paleo or primal – when you feel like you can do it all, all the time and you’re invincible! – and you have the perfect recipe for again, adrenal fatigue. Oh, and emotional stress. I wrote ‘Paleo: Are you Thriving or Overdoing It?’ to examine how paleo converts abuse this vitality and push life too hard, and then we suffer the consequences for it. Like I did late 2015 – early 2016, with eczema flare-ups and too many illnesses to count after an extended period of clear skin and being illness-free.
“Paleo allows us to thrive, but too many of us (myself included) actively abuse this thriving to the point of over-reaching and overdoing it. This produces many negative effects: stress leading to sleep deprivation, vulnerability to illness and health flares, and even adrenal fatigue. Stress also makes us prone to falling off the bandwagon, causing the reward-seeking mechanism in our brains to seek refined carbs. An increase in SAD food choices can also affect health. At a time when you need a solid diet the most, stress will rear its ugly head in an effort to destroy all the Paleo progress you’ve made.”
I think my emotional stress lead to that reward-seeking mechanism in my brain (mentioned in the article) saying “Give me all the baking!” which lead to me becoming more 80/20 paleo and eating too many readily-available baked treats in school’s staff room, too frequently. I also thought I was invincible because I had never experienced a flare-up from eating non-paleo baking, but I also rarely at it. I now realise I’m not invincible, and that this too-lenient diet, combined with much emotional stress, resulted in compromised gut health manifesting itself in my skin and affecting my immunity. I’m currently working on restoring my gut health through diet and supplements (post to come on that!), and the eczema flare-up I had last week has disappeared as a result.
Finally, my source of comfort during all this stress was Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website. His posts were especially helpful because they hit home for me: they explained why, during extremely stressful times, all I wanted to do was eat cake. They explained steps you could take to deal with your stress, and they identified and explained several symptoms of adrenal fatigue, something that caught my attention as a result of certain symptoms I was experiencing: frequent illness, dizziness upon standing, some nervousness, tiredness and a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder in reverse. While many people yearn for the daylight and sunlight during the winter, I was desperate for snow and this was my first winter Scotland where this really had an impact on me. Crazy, huh?
Below are some Maffetone articles on stress which I found most insightful and helpful:
For me, dealing with stress meant learning more about it and how it impacted my brain and physiology. I learned more about myself in the process, and I now feel better equipped to handle stress in a more positive way. It also helps that I have some good stress relievers, of which I’ll write about in a later post.
How do you handle stress?