It’s been a pretty busy couple of months at Fitter Food headquarters (aka Matt’s teenage bedroom since we moved back in with his Mum). We’ve been running on adrenalin, coffee and Quest bars for a few weeks to make sure our book is ready for Christmas and we also ran our final Fitter Food Academy this weekend. We are fully aware of the damaging effects chronic stress has on our body, so now our biggest projects are done and dusted it’s time for both of us to thank our bodies for powering us through and invest back a little TLC.
We talked extensively about stress at the Fitter Food Academy this weekend and changing how you perceive and cope with stressful events. It’s something Matt and I have really addressed in the last few years but running a business we often can’t escape work pressures and deadlines. We’re much better at looking after ourselves throughout these situations as I discussed in a previous blog. Similar to people who participate in intense training schedules, sports, races and competitions, it’s hugely important to balance these stressful periods and excessive amounts of time in fight or flight mode with some solid rest and recovery. I thought I would share exactly how I plan to do this over the next few weeks.
1. Plan Meals & Enjoy Every Mouthful
With our busy workload my nutrition has been a little grab and go lately. I’ve still made good choices but it’s consisted of eating sardines out of a tin, nut butter straight from the jar and chasing it down with a quick kale smoothie. There’s been little enjoyment or sitting down to relax and savour the experience of eating. I love nothing better than tucking into a meal and chatting away to Matt and I’ve really missed this daily treat. When I’m in stress mode mealtimes become an inconvenience to me as I’m so focused on nailing my ‘to do’ list. I eat too fast, too little and don’t allow time for it to digest properly. My priority over the next few weeks is to put together a fabulous weekly meal plan with some of our favourite Fitter Food meals and make sure the table is set so we can sit down together, have a good natter and enjoy every mouthful.
At the Fitter Food Academy I also mentioned the importance of doing a weekly shop and planning in advance to simply reduce the amount thinking and decision making you do across your day, plus you’re held accountable to your healthy ingredients as they sit looking at you every time you open the fridge. My brain has been pretty fried with decisions lately and I need an easy life for a couple of weeks. Prepping meals in advance will save me time and headspace each day. I’m going to cook up some liver pate, Hulk soup and pimp some awesome salads to top up my B vitamins and vitamin C which are depleted by chronic stress.
2. Super Charge Sleep Health
This is a tough one for most of us. In fight or flight mode our stress hormones are elevated or perhaps out of sync (often too high in the evenings and low in the mornings). This impacts our production of sleep hormones and blood sugar regulation and often means we struggle to fall asleep, wake up repeatedly through the night and wake up too early feeling wired yet not feeling rested. In simple terms stress affects the duration and quality of your sleep, so even if you do manage 8 hours the chances are it’s restless, filled with dreams about deadlines and tasks or even worse nightmares. Fear and anxiety are ruling the roost as these are the emotions we need to respond to a stressor.
One of the most effective things most of us can do is change the light feedback to our brain in the evening. Our eyes use light signals to inform the brain that’s it’s daytime and we need high levels of our ‘get up and go’ hormone; cortisol, or that it’s night time in which case we need more of our sleep hormone; melatonin. If you have all your ‘big’ lights on in the evening the blue light in particular will keep your stress hormones elevated and sleep hormones suppressed. TVs, laptops, tablets and phones also expose you to blue lights. You can either grab yourself some blue blocking light glasses or an easier option is to turn off the lights, use salt lamps, candles or orange lights and MOST IMPORTANTLY switch off electrical gadgets (or at least download f.lux). Personally I know I need to be offline and reading a book in the evening to support optimal sleep. Even if I’m online booking a holiday or doing something leisurely online I often get tempted to check emails or quickly just finish something off….1 hour later it’s past my bedtime and I’m still online!
I also plan to put my pj’s on early and have a magnesium salts footbath. Our brain is always looking for cue’s when it comes to hormonal output and if you establish a ritual that begins to suggest it’s bedtime your sleep hormones will kick in. Putting your jimjams on informs your body you’re not going outdoors again and it time to chillax, Matt is a big fan of this; I often come home at 5pm and he’s bopping around in his pajamas. Emma Mihill also discussed the efficacy of magnesium as a calming mineral at our Academy and the easiest most effective means of getting a dose is a foot bath (quicker than a bath so more likely to happen!). Even though I recommend this to clients I needed someone else to tell me again! I’ll also try and persuade Matt to give me a foot massage with some magnesium spray oil a couple of times a week 🙂
3. Implement Training Structure & Start With The Basics
When we’re busy my training suffers a little. I don’t commit myself to a programme because I know I probably won’t stick to it as my workload becomes sporadic and unpredictable. To avoid adding guilt to my collection of stressful emotions I find it easier to keep things simple and read my body and schedule each day. Most days I find walking is enough, yoga is my next priority. I go to a vinyasa class where the teacher is very focused on slow postures performed with good form, it actually feels like strength training in this sense and I experience muscle soreness, slow down some plank transitions and push up and you’ll see what I mean. On top of this if I have the time, energy or motivation I’ve joined Matt in the gym and just done a little of what I fancy workout which tends to be half an hour cycling or stepping away to an awesome soundtrack. Now we have more time on our hands I’m going to resume some strength training and focus back on improving my bodyweight exercises to build a good foundation before I add significant resistance. I have grand plans to be able to perform walking handstands, 20 pistol squats on each leg and a human flag at some stage but a simple squat, lunge, push up and bodyweight row session will suffice for the next few weeks and I’ll start with 1-2 sessions a week initially.
4. Chillout With Family And Friends
I am beyond excited about spending some quality time with friends and family. We still make time for this when we’re busy but I often feel like I have one foot in the experience and one foot in the Fitter Food door. I’m not fully in the moment and appreciating the laughter and good times. I’m usually still reciting my task list in my head, checking my phone and find that my mind wanders during conversations. I’m not fully engaging with the people I care about and love spending time with, it’s something I’m conscious of and know I’m missing out on life itself. The issue for me is that when I’m working on one of our projects I’m riding on dopamine, a chemical that connects with the reward centres in the brain. Dopamine surges when we’re chasing pleasure and it’s highly addictive, when we have too much of it we struggle to enjoy or appreciate the simple things in life. You can address this imbalance by removing some of the things that contribute to a dopamine high like social media, work projects, hyper-palitible food, caffeine and go cold turkey for a while so that once again a simple sunset view or a meal with friends and family will supply adequate amounts of feel good brain chemicals.
I’m going to do lots of long walks with Hamish, a few more yin yoga sessions, get more sleep, do some mindful colouring, snuggle with Hamish and have some digital time out each night to help reset my balance of brain chemicals, these activities will ensure more calming and relaxing neurotransmitters are present to allow me to relax, switch off and be in the moment.