6 Wild Ways to Beat Stress

Hello, League of Wildness,

How many of you are feeling stressed out right now? 🤚🤪😩

Many of us are dealing with stress on a daily basis. We stress about our jobs, paying bills, raising kids, managing relationships, and taking care of our health. In March 2022, the American Psychological Association did a large poll about the impacts of the stress we incurred over the last couple of years due to the pandemic and the fallout from it along with war and frequent natural disasters. It seems like no matter how we feel about it all, the majority of us suffer increased stress levels as a result. The poll focused on Americans but the results are likely similar for other countries. The conclusion was that we are likely experiencing more stress than ever before due to continued pandemic impacts, inflation, supply chain problems with necessities, and global uncertainty. 87% of respondents felt like there had been a constant stream of stressful crises over the last two years. 

When our body perceives a threat, it shifts to our sympathetic nervous system, AKA the “fight-or-flight” system  In the distant past, this system served us well to decide whether to battle or run from predators. However, it is not ideal for working with threats that are invisible, or ones we cannot directly interact with. We cannot physically fight a high grocery bill. When our bodies spend too much time every day with an activated sympathetic nervous system, it leads to chronic stress, which researchers believe contributes to significant health concerns. For example, stress often raises our respiratory rate which can contribute to more difficult disease management in those with asthma or COPD. Stress also causes our blood vessels to dilate. In normal body function, this allows us to react faster to a threat, such as being able to run away. But when this happens too frequently, it increases our blood pressure to the point we can be at risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Our digestive system can also be impacted by stress, as the increased hormones appear to impact the gut bacteria. This can lead to a cascade of problems such as mood swings, a decline in mental health, and the communication between the immune system and the rest of the body.

We can’t control inflation, war, or a global pandemic, but we can control how we respond to the world around us and how much we invest in things we cannot control. 

The goal is to learn to guide your thoughts. Become the master of your internal dialogue. Control what you can and chances are your stress levels will improve.

Some Wild Gym-certified ways to beat stress:

Exercise increases endorphins which leads to us feeling happier. Exercise also lowers our blood pressure and helps us to sleep better at night. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise is unique because it introduces the body to healthy stress, allowing the dissipation of the effects of daily stress along with better communication between the body’s systems so that we can more appropriately react to stress when it occurs. Repetitive actions also have a meditative effect, allowing us to get a break from our thoughts. Games like tennis and racquetball are excellent options. Make a plan to move your body every day. If you need motivation, consider joining one of our League of Wildness challenges! We will have a special winter solstice challenge starting December 1 running through December 21. 

🥑Eat healthy foods
We tend to crave highly processed foods when we are stressed out, along with alcohol, energy drinks, and other things that – ironically –  further stress our bodies. These cravings are due to our bodies attempting to raise our dopamine levels by pleasure-seeking. Ultra-processed foods actually work against us, even though we crave them. They make the stress situation in our bodies worse. Focus on water, tea, and whole foods, and limit highly processed foods. Take a look at what you are eating after dinner and see if you can eliminate, limit, or substitute! Swap chips for a baked sweet potato, or enjoy an apple with some cinnamon and nutmeg for a delicious evening snack.

🛏Get enough quality sleep
Develop a solid bedtime routine that ensures you get your zzzs. Set a bedtime for yourself that you can stick to, limit screen time in the hour before, and set your bedroom temperature a bit lower. We sleep with our windows open even when the temperature is in the 30s (-1 C) which keeps our room cool and the air fresh. It’ll also wake you up quickly when you climb out of your cozy blankets

📱Limit consumption of media 
I think we often forget that the things we put into our minds matter as much as the food we put into our bodies. Immersing ourselves in the news, talk shows, and articles about all the things in the world we can’t control triggers our body's fight-or-flight response. We can’t do anything about a war that is happening, but we experience stress just from thinking about itt. Take an honest look at how much time you spend consuming media every day and make a goal to decrease it. There are apps such as Freedom that allow you to customize how you track your time spent online. You can also set a simple timer for yourself to limit how much time you spend reading the news. I have found I can get all the updates on the happenings in the world by just checking briefly in the morning or evening. Five minutes is my limit. My other rule for media consumption is to never read the comment section.

🌿Spend time in nature
Spending time in green spaces increases dopamine and endorphins and reduces cortisol, a major stress hormone. As we’ve said before at Wild Gym, you get an extra bonus from doing your workouts outdoors. While you will still benefit from relaxing in a park, you’ll see even more of an advantage by walking, running, doing yoga, or using your pocket monkii outdoors. Fall tends to be a rainy season in a lot of areas, so do yourself a favor and pick up a rain jacket (I use a cheap Frogg Toggs one) and get out for a walk or a hike. Everything looks, sounds, and smells different in the rain and you can get some pretty awesome places to yourself by being one of the few brave ones willing to go out in less-than-perfect weather. Make it a habit to get outside for a period of time every day, no matter the weather. Even if it’s ten minutes, it will still have a positive impact.
🚧Set and enforce boundaries

If you already have too much on your plate, say no and stand by your decision. Never feel guilty for knowing what you need and ensuring you get it. If we don’t take care of ourselves first, then everything else suffers. There’s a reason the airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask on yourself first. Taking care of ourselves can take a lot of time, but the return on investment is priceless. 

If you have been reading our Friday emails for a while, you might notice an obvious trend – the recommendations for optimizing our health are often the same whether we are talking about stress, immune function, or improving fitness results. That’s not a coincidence! It’s pretty amazing because if you make some small changes in these areas it can impact your health in many different ways. Often we are overwhelmed with all of the advice coming at us about what we should or shouldn’t eat, or how we should or shouldn’t exercise. But the foundation of good health is pretty simple and if you can make some small changes, you can see drastic results. 

A few resources:
How stress impacts various body systems
Mayo Clinic suggestions to relieve stress
Mayo Clinic benefits of exercise for stress

Stay wild and stress-free out there!


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