When one thinks of reducing stress, it’s a no-brainer that the go-to biggest stress reliever that crosses people’s minds is likely some form of physical fitness. After all, it seems every day we are advised to move more and be more active. And rightfully so; we should be doing what our bodies are designed to do and that is … move!
Physical exertion has undeniably been proven to reduce cortisol levels as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine, those ‘flight or fight’ catecholamines that contribute to heart disease, atherosclerosis, and hypertension – Canada’s leading causes of disease and illness.
But are there other ways we can combat stress, reduce negative feelings, and foster psychological hardiness? How can one become more stress resilient without spending hours on the treadmill, lifting weights, and sweating it out – as wonderful and awesome as all that is!
First, let's break things down. When I think of the word stress I think of my body tensing up, and my heart rate and breathing rate increasing. My ability to process information effectively declines and my memory is not as sharp as it usually is – despite my peri-menopausal brain! I also think of feeling scattered, irritable, angry, overwhelmed, and unhappy.
However, when I think of the word resiliency, I somehow feel empowered. I stand taller, feel stronger, and have a positive frame of mind and an overall sense of calmness.
When you pair these words together it’s a bit of a paradox. At one end of the pendulum you have an entity breaking you down while at the other end another entity representing a pillar of strength! Interesting.
There’s no denying that life presents daily events that trigger us in a multitude of challenging ways, causing our blood pressure to skyrocket and our mood to shift. From those little transgressions during rush hour traffic, to the frustration one feels over not being able to find a favourite pair of comfortable shoes for a night on the town.
And maybe we are battling even more challenging, difficult, or catastrophic life events. It’s those experiences that remind us to be a bit more present, that life is precious and we only have so much time here in this body, with this mind.
Which brings me to this question: what if we could decrease stress and increase resiliency by doing virtually nothing? I mean, like doing absolutely not-a-thing. Now, I can hear you say, ‘What? Excuse me? How would doing nothing build stress resiliency, reduce negative feelings, and foster psychological hardiness?’ Interesting.
This is what I call quasi-meditation, a termed I coined when you’re somewhere between being in that restorative non-REM power-nap position and having a full-on meditative, present-moment experience. You don’t need to feel guilty for nodding off during the day for those 20 minutes, nor do you need to feel shame for not being ‘successful’ and silencing your mind during a meditation ritual.
Imagine allowing your body to be still and allowing your mind to wander wherever it may choose to go. Simply allowing yourself the space to not do anything. Here there is no right or wrong. It just is and you just are.
Let’s be clear! I’m not talking about nodding off at the wheel whenever you felt like it. Nor am I talking about taking naps, as lovely and beneficial as they can be. I’m also not referring to meditating or getting in touch with your chakras, or performing breathing practices, body scans, or implementing any other relaxation techniques, again as wonderful as all of those approaches are.
Counterintuitively, by allowing yourself to stop doing, to stop engaging, to stop performing, to stop worrying about what you’re worrying about, and yes, to stop moving, you can just allow yourself to be. As much as the term stress resiliency is itself a paradox, so, in fact, is the way to foster it. And the best part, is there is nothing to feel guilty about.
CARITA (CARI) M. PLOTNIKOFF, B.A., BCRPA TFL – Inner-Strength, Health and Fitness Consulting. I am BCRPA TFL having over two decades of experience within the fitness industry teaching invarious roles and for a diversity of populations: group fitness, TRX, ICE, mature adult and cardiac rehabilitation. I have a SportsScience Diploma from Douglas College, a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Psychology and minoring in Kinesiology from Simon Fraser University, and an Addictions Counseling Certificate from Vancouver Community College. In addition, I have worked for the Steve Nash Fitness World organization for 24 years, the City of Surrey for 14 years, and currently teach health and fitness courses at Douglas College in the Continuing Education Department.