November 21, 2021

After the Stress is Gone

Note: the stress piece is important for us to integrate

At critical points in my life, times when I’m going through a crisis or serious stressful events, I have noticed two things: 1) I can tap into inner reserves to help me deal with the crisis, and 2) After the stress is gone my body often breaks down. The result of all that stress tapping my reserves leaves my body weakened.

After the stress is gone is a time we need to pay better attention to. We finally let our guard down and then life wallops us.

There is a scientific reason for this. The longer we live in these heightened states of stress, the longer it taxes our adrenals, which release a load of adrenaline into our bodies. As a result our immune system drops, and then all the low-grade viruses already in our system explode, which makes us far more susceptible to new ones.

Do any new viruses come to mind? Yes, obvious, but still critical to connect: The more we are stressed, the weaker we are and the more susceptible to COVID-19 we become. It’s that important.

I recall a time during medical school. Dead of winter, I knew I was getting sick, but a critical exam lurked up ahead. I wondered how I’d ever study, much less excel at this exam in my weakened state.

But somehow I found the reserves within me to focus, learn, exist on little sleep and tremendous stress and not only take the exam but do well.

That night, after the exam I returned to my bed and crashed. Every system in my body was tapped. I was sick for several days, but the exam was finished.

Coping in crisis and after the stress is gone

Human beings are very resilient, especially in times of crisis. And we are sure in one now, are we not?

But here’s the thing: We never really had a chance to let our guard down, feel the stress of a pandemic, massive upheaval, economic stress, and emotional isolation. Right as we started to return to what I called the Next Normal, here it comes again.

Covid is spreading, we’re looking at more lockdowns, more economic hardships and more illness. And we didn’t even have time to fully care for ourselves after the stress was gone. It never really left, did it?

So this is a bit of a crisis time for all of us. Our reserves are weakened but the threat remains. So we can’t run on our reserves. We can’t wait for the stress to pass. We must give ourselves what we need to heal even as we guard ourselves for more crisis.

As when I was under intense stress in medical school, our bodies know when they’ve tapped their reserves. We break down. We get sick. We’re vulnerable. So as part of our regular routine, we need to build our reserves back up.

3 keys to protecting ourselves in crisis

  1. Eat to thrive: By seeing food as medicine, we deliciously build our body’s reserves every time we eat. By removing foods that comprise our immune system we have strong immunity against disease.
  2. Exercise that works for you: Some people need rigorous exercise to help release tension and ward off the effects of stress. Others find more calming exercises like yoga and meditation releases the stress. Maybe for you its a mix of both, but putting your body to healthy action builds immunity and helps protect it from the negative effects of stress
  3. Tune in: The biggest reason we break down after the stress is gone is we are tuned out to the normal feelings and warning signs that our bodies may be giving us. But by taking the time–making time–right in the middle of the crisis, you tune into warning signs and make needed adjustments early on.

We’ve heard it said often in the news recently that a long, dark winter of this pandemic and the related economic crisis awaits. We are stressed out even as we are on the early side of this next wave.

But we can change the narrative. We can build our immunity and create good practices of health that will limit the impact of the stress and help us stay well despite the problems around us.

These are crisis times, but we can overcome.

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