Category: Stress Management
Stressed, anxious, overcommitted—the unholy trinity the undermines mental health and wellbeing for so many people today. I’d argue that chronic stress is the number one threat to health and happiness. Yes, even more detrimental than modern diets, being too sedentary, overexercising when we do exercise, and all the other ways we mismanage our genes nowadays.
By and large, we accept chronic stress as a standard, even inescapable, part of life. To some degree, that’s true. It’s hard to detach from workplace demands, financial pressure, social media and other time sucks, and the generally frantic pace of modern life. That said, most of us have more control over our daily schedules, environments, and habits than we choose to exercise. We don’t set the boundaries we need, nor take even relatively small steps to mitigate life stressors. Why is this so challenging?
Paradoxically, simplifying life and making it easier almost always involves some investment of time and/or money up front. Don’t let this deter you. This is a short-term investment for long-term payoff, which you deserve.
Wondering why your feed is filled with tips on how to declutter your space? Clean mildew out of the showers. Swap your regular detergent for a better-for-the-environment one? It’s National Cleaning Week, or, as one of my clients put it, national “feeling bad because my house is a mess and I have zero interest in doing anything about it” week.
Even though having a clean, organized space can increase your focus, reduce stress, and sometimes even improve your relationships, most people are far too busy to embrace the decluttering-is-awesome mindset, but is it really a lack of time that prevents you from doing it or is something else at work?
I’m willing to bet there are lots of things in your home you’re not using (hello, burnt up plastic food storage lids), but for some reason, you just can’t bring yourself to throw anything away or even donate it.
Why Can’t You Get Rid of Stuff?
Jean Piaget, one of the founding fathers of child psychology, says the reason we’re so attached to our belongings is due to a psychological phenomenon called the Endowment Effect. Basically, we put more value on items we own versus items we don’t own.
There have been tons of studies on this phenomenon too. Like this one where participants were divided into three groups, then asked to assist with research and given a reward for helping out. The first group was offered two choices for their reward: a coffee mug or a bar of chocolate. Half chose the mug, and the other half chose the chocolate, which suggests that they valued each reward equally. In the second group, participants were given the mug first, then offered a chance to swap it for the chocolate bar, but only 11% took the researchers up on the offer. A third group started out with the chocolate bar, and most preferred to keep it instead of swapping it for the mug, which was offered after the fact.
The participants always put greater value on whichever reward they started off with.
Decluttering Has an Emotional Component
Another reason it’s so hard to part with your stuff? According to this study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, it all comes down to self-worth. Rather than looking at the things you own as “mine” you think of them as part of who you are.
If you value relationships, you might have trouble parting with gifts. Kind of like you’re being disloyal to the person who gave it to you. If you value success, it could be challenging to part with items that serve as a reminder of your accomplishments, like an award at work or a decades-old trophy from your high school soccer days.
Some possessions also make you feel closer to people. Take family heirlooms for example. Maybe you’re having a hard time getting rid of a piece of artwork or jewelry that was passed down from your great grandma, because those items make you feel connected to her.
Where are my high achievers at? These are the folks that constantly knock their goals out of the park and make it look easy, whether they’re training for a marathon, dialing in their diet, or Marie Kondo-ing their house. They’re the ones who get the promotions, the bigger bank accounts, the smaller pant sizes… We live in a culture that celebrates busy-ness. I’ve seen it manifest in my clients (they typically come to me in the post-crush-my-goals stage, once their nervous system is toast) but also in my personal life. As a curriculum director, health coach, fitness instructor, and small business owner, I’m indeed a high achiever, to the point of it being a real problem. I am physically uncomfortable in the presence of low productivity or what I often perceive in myself as “laziness”. I don’t settle for mediocre outcomes either. I will torment myself to produce nothing short of perfection, to the detriment of my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Are You Born a High Achiever? I wasn’t always this way. And there’s a good chance you weren’t either. Being a high achiever often goes hand-in-hand with people pleasing and perfectionism – all things you likely picked up as a kid. You might have been rewarded for straight A’s or gotten kudos after a game-winning goal. Maybe you had a parent or caregiver that was never satisfied or emotionally distant (which you mistook as unsatisfied). Or perhaps you learned that by achieving more, you managed to secure the love, safety, and acceptance of your family or caregivers. In these situations, your self-worth becomes tied to your performance, meaning you’re only “good enough” if and when you’ve accomplished something exceptional. And even then, your inner critic probably doubts that it’s enough. The Need to Always Do Better What we’re really talking about here is fear. Fear that you need to continue excelling, producing, winning, and succeeding in order to not be rejected or lose the approval of others. It’s sort of a security blanket to make sure you’re safe and accepted, even if it’s only a temporary feeling. That’s just one of the reasons it’s so exhausting to be a high-achiever. You’re always striving to do better for fear of decreasing your self-worth, constantly operating at 110 percent. The problem is, this amount of chronic stress takes a huge toll on the body and eventually leads to some sort of physical, emotional, or mental breakdown. Keep in mind this isn’t true for everyone. But for a lot of us, especially those of us with perfectionist tendencies, it’s quite accurate. Pros of being a high achiever: You always bring your A-game You’re driven to get results You’re highly motivated You’re passionate about what you do You’re competitive You thrive on positive feedback Cons of being a high achiever: You hold yourself to perfectionist standards You’re afraid of failing You believe you’re only as good as your last accomplishment You tend to overcomplicate things You don’t take time to … Continue reading “The Curse of Being a High Achiever”
Let’s not beat around the holly bush: the holiday season just isn’t the same this year. You could get down in the dumps about it OR you could get creative about finding ways to celebrate with friends and family. Honestly, it’s ok to do both. Grieve the ambiguous losses we’re all experiencing this season while also looking for ways to make the best of what we have. We might be apart from loved ones, but we can still be together in spirit. One thing I’ve realized this year is how often physical closeness is used as a proxy for bonding. That is to say, people get together in the same physical space and call that “bonding,” when all they’re really doing is being near one another. Being in the same room is great—oh, how I miss it—but by itself, it doesn’t generate emotional closeness or deep connection. Nobody is making lasting memories simply by virtue of watching a football game and eating turkey together. This year, we have an opportunity to get out of old holiday ruts and try something different, maybe even start new traditions. Somebody needs to put the ho-ho-ho back in the holidays, and I nominate you. Here are some ideas you can put into action: Things You and Your Loved Ones Can Create Together Family members or friends all contribute, and the final project is something special to keep for years to come. You’ll learn more about your family members and end up with a record of special memories or family favorites. As a bonus, these ideas are all free! Shared photo album Set up a shared album in any of the many online photo album tools. Invite family members to submit their favorite family photos from years past, or ask for old holiday photos specifically. Level up: Optionally, arrange the photos chronologically. Do a family Zoom session and view the slideshow together, pausing to reminisce and tell stories about the scenes from the images. Family cookbook Everyone submits their favorite recipes. A shared Google doc will do the trick, but it’s even better if someone collects the recipes and arranges them in a pdf. Free tools like Canva make it simple to lay out a basic cookbook, which everyone then gets as a holiday gift. You could even have them spiral bound and sent to folks who prefer hard copies. Level up: Host a Zoom party where everyone cooks a special family recipe together or a virtual dinner party where everyone prepares recipes from the cookbook at home. Memory book Same idea as the cookbook, but everyone submits their favorite memories of holidays past or recounts the wildest family legends. Level up: Have one person collect the memories and put the stories in a slideshow to be shared during a virtual get-together. Music playlist Nominate an “emcee” to collect everyone’s favorite songs (holiday or otherwise) and create a family playlist in Spotify, for example. Level up: Everyone agrees to play the playlist at the same … Continue reading “How to Really Bond with Your Family This Holiday Season”
Stress is physical. It’s caused by physical phenomena in the material world. It manifests as a physiological response using physical hormones and neurotransmitters and other chemical messengers in the body. It changes biomarkers, neurochemistry, behavior, appetites, and our perception of the world around us. Stress can make us fly off the handle at something that we wouldn’t even notice in a normal state of mind. Stress can make us eat food we’d never normally consider eating.
And, like other physical phenomena our bodies interact with, stress can affect our gut health.
The first hint of this relationship lies in that split second sensation most people feel in high-intensity situations. You feel it right there in your gut. It’s a cue from the environment that things are going to get hairy for a little while, and you should prepare yourself. The gut is so central to everything, it’s our first real interface with the outside world. The gut is where food goes. It’s where outside nutrients or pathogens or interlopers try to gain entry to our inner world. The “gut feeling” is a Primal one that we cannot ignore.
When you were a kid, adults probably drilled into you that you should “be nice,” share your toys, and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Those are necessary lessons, of course. Humans are prosocial creatures. Our ancestors needed the protection of the clan, so they had to get along and be team players. Individuals who caused strife within the group risked being kicked out, which could be a death sentence.
It pays to be considerate of others, but that message often gets twisted into “don’t rock the boat” and even “other people’s needs are more important than your own.” When getting along is your top priority, you become loathe to assert your own needs. However, in the long term, being too self-sacrificing is detrimental to your relationships and your own mental wellbeing. It’s a slippery slope into allowing other people to make unreasonable demands on your time or say or do things that hurt you (often unintentionally).
Moreover, not being honest about your needs is unfair. Other people never get the chance to reciprocate the consideration you’re offering, and all the while you are stewing in hurt or resentment because you aren’t getting what you want.