Stress On Stress
When is the last time you were truly calm and stress free? Not only on the surface, but internally. Truth be told, most of us experience too much stress, too often, without significant rest periods in between. Let’s take a look at a typical day in the fire service: wake up, check emails and social media on your phone, shave, kiss the family goodbye, and then drive in heavy traffic with your highly caffeinated coffee or Rockstar. You get to work, you hear about the dramas of the previous shifts, and then roll call. What’s on the agenda today? Check your trucks and equipment, get the house chores done, more coffee, then off to training if runs allow. 10, 20, or 30 “emergency” runs later you get off early the next morning and head home in traffic with some coffee and a sleep-deprived brain.
We all deal with stress differently. Some recognize it as the body's way of preparing you to take action, while others succumb to the stressor and let it manifest as a big ball of fear and anxiety in their chest. Some stressors are health promoting. For example, high intensity interval training is an acute stressor with positive benefits as long as you allow plenty of time for recovery in between. However, performed everyday, this same HIIT would become a chronic stressor on the body leading to muscle wasting and a suppressed immune system.
We evolved to deal with occasional terrors and brief stressors, such as predator danger, with long periods of calm following. Our ancestors’ days were filled with lots of low-level movement and play. Burnout for them could have been life-threatening. We have gone from running only when we had to, to being constantly overrun. If you wear busyness as a badge of honor, it may be time for some self-examination.
So how do we deal with today’s modern environment filled with constant input, distractions, and stressors? By introducing hormetic stressors like those listed below. These make you adaptable and more capable of dealing with the daily stress of modern life:
Intermittent fasting (IF) / Calorie restriction - IF is a hormetic stressor that has positive benefits such as promoting autophagy (cellular cleanup), and leanness. Start by keeping your eating window under 12 hours, i.e., eat between 8 am-8 pm.
Intense exercise - High intensity interval training and strength training flood the bloodstream with beneficial stress hormones, such as HGH and testosterone. The key is allowing for plenty of rest and recovery in between sessions to keep this from becoming a chronic stressor. In essence, you’re signaling the body to grow stronger to better handle this stress in the future.
Cold plunging - Cold plunges are not for the weak. Cold exposure is strength training for the mind. Next time you shower, get clean with the hot water, then turn the nozzle as cold as it goes and breathe deeply for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Once cold showers become easy to bear, move up to cold plunging in a chest freezer with a friend nearby to keep an eye on you. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with harsh winters, step outside underdressed and enjoy a cold stroll. If you can deal with the cold, you can deal with whatever else the day throws at you.
Stress is a killer. Embrace it. Breathe intentionally. Six deep breaths when you feel stressed is a good place to start. Start a stress management practice that works for you, something sustainable. Eventually you will be undisturbed by turbulence. The calm amidst the shit-storm. Start now. Your health, your hands.