Rest Day Rantings

Posted: July 28, 2012 by Admin in Random Thoughts

Let’s face it people – the mind and the body are linked. Things that impact one, usually impact the other.

Today let’s talk about one example – stress and everyone’s favorite body chemical, cortisol.

First, let’s talk cortisol and neuroanatomy and physiology for dummies.

Cortisol is an  essential neurochemical for life. Cortisol  is a steroid hormone, often secreted in response to stress. It is classified as a corticosteroid, due to its biosyntheses in the adrenal cortex. It is also classified as a glucocorticoid, due to early observations of its functions in glucose regulation and metabolism. Cortisol is produced in vivo from cholesterol and is secreted principally from the adrenal cortex. Endogenous cortisol has many known physiological effects including anti-inflammatory, energy regulatory, glucose regulatory, and immunosuppressive effects.

What you talkin’ about Willis?

Basically cortisol is essential to life by helping convert proteins into energy (important), releasing glycogen (important), and reducing inflammation (important).

Cortisol helps us most during a “flight or fight situation.” But here’s the problem – when’s the last time you’ve been chased by a hungry mountain lion or a cougar (and I’m not talking about a 54 year old college freshman trying to “find herself”)?

The truth is, we put ourselves under daily stressors our Paleolithic brethren never had to encounter: traffic (i.e., road rage), teenage daughters, work deadlines, relationship trouble (apparently hitting your mate over the head with a club isn’t kosher anymore), etc., etc.

For a short time, having cortisol elevated is healthy, but over time high levels of cortisol in your system can gradually tear down muscle tissue and bone, impair the immune system, contribute to digestive and metabolism issues, lead to weight gain around the belly, and decreases mental clarity.

Whoa!!!! That ain’t good, right?

“So all this stress in my life can wreck havoc on my health and fitness?”

Yep, and you really need to take notice.

High levels of psychological  stress can also screw around with your sleep. Sleep plus elevated cortisol can make your fitness plan function like a soup sandwich.  Does this sound like you? Are you under a mountain of stress and, simultaneously killing yourself in CrossFit and so religious to Paleo that Robb Wolf himself would ordain you as a cleric, and yet seeing no results? Well, my friend, perhaps you are a big, shining, humming, tense ball of psychological bile manifested in elevated cortisol and sleep deprivation.

“Help me CrossFit trainer!!!”

Luckily your fearless leader was once a practitioner of the psychological arts. Let’s cut the psycho-babble, however, and talk in practical language.

Step 1 – Check Yo’ Sleep Homie.

“Jim, I sleep 6 solid hours a night.”

FAIL.

We need more along the lines of 8-9 hours. Trust me on this one, watching another George Lopez re-run on Nick is killing your well-being. Turn off the TV. In fact, if you watch TV in bed, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, STOP!!!!

Perhaps you have trouble getting to sleep. I’ve found two bedtime supplements very helpful – Magnesium Citrate and GABA.   Google these two to learn more. As with everything, do your own research. Never just take my word on anything. Maybe I’m wrong!!!

Try to limit social activity in the bedroom. Now, go ahead and get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about THAT. I’m talking about reading in bed, snacking in bed, texting in bed, chatting in bed. The bed is primarily for sleep. When we make our bedroom our de facto living room, we diminish our bed’s ability to help us rest and restore. Side note, don’t make a decorative statement with your bedroom wall paint and decor. The more your bedroom can feel like a dark cave, the better you’ll sleep.

Step 2 – distinguish what you need versus what you want

I debated how high this point should be placed on the list. After careful consideration, I found, for me, it’s pretty freaking important. Years ago I read something that changed my life. It basically asserted that to find true happiness, I must learn to distinguish my wants from my needs. If I’m honest, my wants can never be satisfied. The more “things” I acquire, the more I desire. My needs, however – those essential things to live – are ALWAYS provided for. Never have I been left without power (except during Katrina: try being 500+ pounds in that heat). Never have I been forced to sleep under a bridge or forage through the trash for my food.

But how many of us induce and inject stress into our lives simply from the relentless pursuit of our wants and desires? On this point, please be brutally honest with yourself. How big do our houses really need to be? Do our granite counter tops really need to be forged in the pits of Mount Vesuvius? How much money do we really need to spend on clothes? How many cars do we really need in the garage?

When I was a boy, we had practically nothing and yet, we were happy. Our house was constantly filled with laughter and friends. Free from the materialistic impediments to happiness, we lived relatively stress-free lives. When I grew up, however, and decided to try and keep up with the Joneses, misery crept silently into my life and grew into a joy-sucking black hole.

A friend of mine recently told me that, after having performed missionary work in Honduras for over two decades, a now grown Honduran said he wished missionaries had never visited his country. Baffled, my friend said the explanation went like this, “we didn’t know we were poor until you told us. And now that we know, we cease to be happy.” Wow.

So ask yourself, do you drive yourself so hard for needs or wants? An honest answer to this question may change your life.

Step 3 – HAVE FUN ALREADY

Americans lead the civilized world in the fewest vacation days utilized annually. We also have this bad habit of bringing our work (and stress) home with us.

Listen, I’m not saying to become a slacker at work. When you work, work hard. But when it’s play time, play hard. When’s the last time you went on a date with your honey? When did you last channel your inner Henry Fonda-On Golden Pond and “suck face?” When did you last do something wild and crazy that you love? Give yourself a break for crying out loud!!! Plan right now the next fun thing you will do and then DO IT.

Step 4 – live for NOW

Do you realize that right now, this very moment is all you truly have? But most of us live in bondage – regret of the past and fear of the future. This bondage results in not only increased stress (and cortisol), but it robs us of the incredible joy and power found in RIGHT NOW.

Josie (my 3 year old) has become my Sensei in The Now. She could care less about how she messed up yesterday and cares even less about what’s coming tomorrow. Instead she enjoys clouds that look like dinosaurs, the tapestry of artistic design on a single leaf, yelling “hi Mista Pat” and the top of her lungs at Anatomies, and the utter joy of playing with rolly pollies. She has the best belly laugh in the whole house because she is constantly aware of The Now. Her world is always new and fresh because she is not chained to worry and anxiety. The truth is, we only have power in The Now, and yet our energy is spent fretting over the past and worrying over the future. Get over it!

Do you regret something you’ve done? Have you broken a relationship? Whatever it is, ask yourself can you set things right? If you can, clean that cortisol-inducing crap out of your spirit and make it right. Don’t delay…feel the cortisol rising with every second you wait!

In this realm, I find comfort in the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” While most of us think of peaceful meadows or a beach with rolling waves as serenity, this is backward thinking. We long for external peace to produce an internal stillness. But such scenarios are few and fleeting in this world. The true serenity that will change your life (and reduce your cortisol) is inner peace in the midst of external chaos. I’ll jot some notes down if I ever fully figure this one out.

I could go on and on about meditating, yoga, getting a massage, cannonballing into the deep end of the pool, cow tipping, journaling, and on and on and on, but hopefully you have enough here to chew on and start finding your joy and serenity now.

Peace out and get read for the pain coming your way this Monday.

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