Cumulative Stress: How to stop it from spilling over

Blog Cover Photo (2)Stress is cumulative.

Wouldn’t it be great if stress operated like those sand clocks? A stressful thing happens, the timer starts and then as soon as those last few grains of sand fall – the stress is removed? You just gotta wait it out…

Sounds nice.

But unfortunately, stress works the opposite. It isn’t time sensitive. It’s cumulative. It operates more like a bucket than a sand timer.

Every time something stressful happens, a few more drops of water are added to the bucket.

You oversleep and don’t have time to shower. Crap.
Traffic blows and you hit every red light. Road rage.
You miss a meeting, get reprimanded by your boss and forget to return some important phone calls. Ughhh.
Kids are sick and have to be picked up from daycare. You don’t have time to make it to the gym. Oh and yes – you’ve got over due bills, house repair that’s ridiculously overpriced and your in-laws are coming to visit… tomorrow.

The more stressful events that happen to you – the more your stress bucket fills.

And eventually – that bucket is going to overflow. And that means mental breakdowns, mid life crises and yes – major health problems. But sometimes, that overflowing bucket doesn’t just trickle over.  It’s come crashing down, like the kinds at water parks.


What Happens When the Bucket Overflows? 

Most of us first experience cumulative stress in our emotions and our mindset. We feel weak, frustrated, defeated. We turn to food or alcohol to help us cope.  This is like the first water that dribbles over the edge. 

But when it starts to spill a bit more – it starts showing up in our bodies. Increased blood pressure. Weight gain. Exhaustion.

And then those physical ailments turn more serious and come crashing down. 

Chronic illnesses.
Debilitating migraines.
Constant pain and injury.

The build of stress takes a toll on our bodies and leaves most of us hurt, broken and dependent on medication.

It’s cumulative. The more we get – the more we suffer.

Until we decide to alleviate the stress. To drain some of those stress buckets to a more manageable and comfortable level.

Here’s what I mean –

There are things in our life that keep our stress buckets full: Pulling all nighters. Eating junk food and drinking too much alcohol. Stress, frustration, anxiety, depression.

But then there are things that drain those buckets to prevent the tipping point from happening: Eating healthy food, spending time with family, sleep, laughter. They all rejuvenate you and bring in positive energy and emotions.

But what’s surprising is that some seemingly healthy habits contribute to the stress bucket rather than alleviate it.

Like exercise.

Exercise and Stress

We all know that exercise is good for us. That we should be working out regularly, lifting weights, pushing ourselves hard in the gym. But exercise is stress on the body. And although there are positive benefits from exercise, the actual in-the-moment output of training is stress.

It’s demand on your muscles, your lungs, your nerves, and even your hormones. 

The benefit of exercise comes after the moment. It comes during your rest and recovery. When your muscles grow, your fat cells burn and your body takes time to heal.

So in times of stress, should you workout?

The answer depends completely on your body.   If you’re stress bucket is nearly tipping over, then exercise may not a healthy choice for you in the moment.

When you’re stressed – your body responds physically in preparation for your fight or flight. Your nerve signals can slow, your joints tighten up and your breathing becomes shallow -all of which can make you more at risk for injury.

But for some folks – exercise can be a stress reducer.  A way to empty the bucket.

My recommendation: in times of stress, if you want to workout to alleviate stress, allow your body to have a light workout but spend extra time warming up and working mobility before you jump into the training.  If your body is already at it’s breaking point, skip the workout and focus on recovery and self care instead. 

But because exercise isn’t the only way to alleviate stress – there are a few other techniques that can help keep your stress buckets in check. 

We’ve got 2 ways to keep the stress bucket from tipping over.

1. We can stop the water from pouring in.
2. Or we can drain the water from the bottom.

But the best course of action is a combination of both.

Here’s How to Stop the Bucket from Filling:

1. Learn to listen to your body: If you’re hurting, rest. If you’re tired, sleep. Sometimes – pushing past the pain is doing more damage than good. And if your stress bucket is already brimming, then exercise might not be what you need first.  It might be your tipping point – drain some stress and then get back into the gym. Learn to recognize when you need to slow down or rest.

2. Practice stress management: Easier said than done, but there are dozens of stress management techniques out there that can help teach us to better handle the stress we can’t escape.

3. Learn to say No: We aren’t super human. We can’t do this, that, and the other and expect to be successful always. Sometimes we have to say no just to stop another stressful situation from being added into the bucket.

Here’s How to Drain the Water from the Bottom:

1. Rest and Recover: Make sure you have recovery days from the gym. Time when you take mental breaks from work. Moments where you allow your body to rejuvenate.

2. Make healthy and nourishing food choices: Food can be the greatest medicine or the biggest toxin. Don’t add to your bucket with crap choices. Alleviate stress by choosing foods that nourish you.

3. Surround yourself with positive vibes: It’s not just a saying – laughter really is the best medicine. A daily dose of laughter releases so many chemicals into your brain that it acts as a natural stress reducer, a hormone balancer and an energy spike. The people on your inner circle become a reflection of you – surround yourself with positivity.

What other ways do you keep your stress bucket from spilling over? Share them in the comments below.

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