My approach is centered primarily on chronic stress, for it is chronic stress that can weaken our minds and bodies. This stress can come from a nutrient deficient diet, a job, too much or too little movement, personal relationships, pollution/environmental hazards, and for most of us, a combination of all of the above.
In today’s world, we have moved, and are moving further still, away from what is most natural to our species—natural foods, integrated movement, physical proximity of family and friends, and even natural terrain. The more unnatural we become, the greater the stress. The fact that we’re getting less and less healthy (and I would argue, less happy) is a sign that we’re not enduring this stress successfully.
An analogy I use to illustrate the effect of chronic stress is that of a military. Everyday the women and men of that military go to work and train such that in the event of an attack or war, they’ll know exactly what to do and how to do it. In the event of an attack, ideally nobody is standing around wondering what to do or where to go—their response is swift and automatic. Once the attack or war is over, however, it is crucial that the military has the chance to restock, refuel, rebuild, and ready itself before the next attack or war occurs. The question I ask when I speak to groups is this: What happens to that military if the attacks become chronic or the war continues without a break? The answer: even the most powerful military in the world will weaken under incessant attack. To succeed it MUST have periodic breaks to recover.
Our bodies and minds work the same way as this military—we are built with a brilliant stress response that kicks in automatically, and we too need time to recover, refuel, etc. when the period of stress is over. In the absence of adequate recovery time (ie. under chronic stress), the body/mind, like the military, weakens. In today’s world we are essentially chronically at battle. We are facing daily stress, with minimal time to recover. And, in the very few recovery moments we actually do have, we tend to seek immediate and swift relief. In most cases, the more intense the stress, the more intense the remedy – cigarettes, alcohol, light box foods, drugs. These all do give us a break from stress for sure, but do nothing to strengthen our minds and bodies. What we need instead are acts of rest and recuperation that actually better prepare us for the next assault.
The fact is, “attacks” will come, but it is of supreme importance that we pay better attention to the quality of our in-between battle recovery time. What I learned during my ultra marathon training is that the one commonality amongst all ultra runners (and most athletes in general), is a focus on recovery as much as on training. Taking deep breaths, including as much heavy box foods as possible, moving our bodies, spending quality time with friends, and putting our bare feet on the ground all allow us to be better prepared for the next time we’re under stress, and to decrease the chances that we will break down.
I argue in my particular small steps approach that even the smallest moments of relief in fact do provide a substantial and profound balance to the substantial amount of stress we’re up against each day. The fifteen-second deep breath, the 5 minute phone call to a friend telling them you’re thinking about them, the handful of leafy greens with dinner, the walk around the block, and the two minutes barefoot on the dirt outside all provide benefit long after the time it takes to do each because they make us less vulnerable to becoming stressed in the first place—think how much less irritable and ‘grounded’ you are after a good night’s sleep….
Your body and mind are brilliant—the better you prepare them for battle, the better your chances of success.