Best Your Stress Month: 3 Tips for Working with Stress | Chris Kresser

Best Your Stress Month: 3 Tips for Working with Stress


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Just a quick note to check in and see how you’ve all done with the first two weeks of the Best Your Stress challenge. Have you been able to stick with the commitments you’ve made? What have you noticed so far?

Most people have more trouble sticking with stress management programs than they do making dietary changes or following a supplement regime.  Adopting a new diet or taking some pills does involve changes in behavior, but it doesn’t challenge our concept of who we are in the world in the same way that committing to a stress management program can.

For example, if you have a belief that your self-worth is directly tied to the amount you get accomplished during a day, you will probably find it very difficult to set time aside for rest and relaxation.  Starting a Paleo diet and taking some supplements won’t interfere with this belief – but making time to meditate (which is essentially doing “nothing”) or lie down and do a deep relaxation technique certainly could.

If you’re having trouble sticking with your commitment for the month (or even getting started), here are 3 tips that can help:

  • Something is better than nothing. For example, if your goal is to meditate for 30 minutes every morning but you overslept and don’t have time to do the full session, even 5 minutes is better than not doing it at all.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. I’m sure you can appreciate the irony of getting really stressed out about stress reduction. It’s counterproductive.
  • Begin again. If you didn’t get off to a great start, don’t worry. Just begin again. We have the opportunity to start fresh in each moment.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences so far.  What successes have you had? What challenges or obstacles are you facing? And how are you working with them?

Please let us know in the comments section below.

  1. *I wish I could edit “you’re sweet spot” to “your sweet spot” – where’s my copyeditor at? 😉

  2. Ugh! I HAD been doing kinda ok, doing NLP everyday, esp. on my way to exercise… (tried getting back into meditation, but for some reason I’ve been resisting it.) My anxiety seemed to keep spiraling, tho’, and thru research I’ve pretty much decided that I’m one of those folks who experiences anxiety when eating VLC! (which I never see mentioned in articles about Paleo, tho’ I’ve seen *lots* of posts from people experiencing this phenomenon.) To combat this issue, I’ve started incorporating more carbs, and today started eating small amounts of starchy carb (1/4 cup sweet potato) after workout. Last nite I started taking magnesium; we’ll see if that has any effect.

    Also, I have quit listening to daily news, realized that it makes my stomach churn! (I’m a former journalist, so that’s a big step for me.)

    Am recovering from food poisoning, so have missed yoga & some workouts. Looking forward to getting back to that routine, and will check out BuddhaNet to refocus on meditation. Thx, Chris, for the follow-up reminder!

    • Hey Vicki!

      I’m a journalist too and went through what you’re talking about. At first I lost weight and felt great with VLC and I’m sure improved some insulin sensitivity. BUT I also then started experiencing hair loss and insomnia of the likes which I had never seen. At first I stupidly took that as a cue to be even more rigid with my diet, but then I got really sick and weak. I finally ate some starchy stuff and my body was sooo thankful. Almost as soon as I started eating potatoes, carrots and some fruit again (should probably still not overdo fruit) I slept better and worked out better. The whole idea that carbs in themselves make you fat is bull. Too much or too little of any macronutrient is bad, but it is a little tricky learning what you’re sweet spot is.

      Chances are deadlines and quite possibly overnighters have burned out your adrenals system and they need to be healed through stress management. I didn’t take all this stuff seriously until my anxiety started rising to unreasonable levels last year. It really felt like the increase in anxiety wasn’t coming from my head but from some kind of biological inability to handle it at the levels I had before. If I could recommend one book to get you thinking more balanced about health it would be the Schwarzbein Principle II: The Transition. Other than stupidly recommending soy products for people with messed up metabolisms, its seems like she’s more on point than, for instance Mark Sisson. I started with his website when trying to improve my health but I think he’s overly naive about his fasting recommendations and promoting a bs theory about fat loss and gain with his carbohydrate curve.

      • Thx for sharing your experience, Lex, as well as the book recommendation… I will look into it!

        P.S. Would you believe that editing is my forte? 🙂

  3. I have found daily meditation practice to be extremely beneficial. I get it in when ever I can. During breaks at work I’ll even go for a quick 5-10 minute session. Unbelievable what it can do for your awareness.

  4. I started focusing more of my attention on stress a couple of months ago. I am a nutritionist, but realized I was doing more stress counseling with people then nutritional counseling. The nutrition stuff people got. The stress stuff is a real challenge. I give people a list of acceptable foods and they follow it. Stress management takes self-reflexion and some trial and error. Seeing this in my clients made me buckle down individually. I use different techniques. I utilize 5 minutes of deep breathing every couple hours or when I encounter stress, I will take a 30 minute walk listening to calming music, and I will meditate. I have noticed I recover from workouts more easily, my sleep quality has improved, and my feeling of general well-being has also improved. My clients have noticed weight loss when they were stuck, improved sleep, decrease in allergies, better mood, and more energy as well. Stress management is a major piece of preventative medicine that we miss big time in this country and it is great to see so many people putting aside general beliefs and giving it a go!

  5. Hi Chris, last week I went to bed an hour earlier each night, making it a total of 9 hours sleep.
    I felt fantastic. In the coming 2 weeks this may not be possible because of some social and
    study commitments. I am one of those people who finds it hard to sit still and do absolutely
    nothing so the Best Your Stress Month is a real challenge – thanks for putting it out there.
    Also I loved your recent podcast are you going to do more on the HPA axis? I think this is the
    missing link for people who are looking for the optimally healthy life. Thank you for helping me to cure my GERD, eliminating fodmaps played an important part in this and lastly thank you for your Buckwheat Pancakes, they are divine!! Many thanks Jodie

    • Glad to hear you’ve reaped some benefits from this month. Yes, I’ll probably write a series (or at least an article) on the HPA axis and some of the interesting new research like I recently discussed on my radio show.

  6. I committed to more outdoor Movnat-style exercise, particularly when it’s sunny, and a daily 5+ minutes meditative period, which I find I enjoy more if I listen to meditative-friendly music/singing/chanting that I like or take a warm bath. I find myself getting more of a spark and joy from the outdoor activity, probably because it’s been getting sunnier.

  7. I’m still working through my issues (and will probably be calling you one day, Chris, for that full blood workup thing mentioned on your site!), but I’ve had huge improvements in mood and sleep (I’m one of those high cortisol at night people) since I switched from simply being gluten/dairy free to more of a true paleo model with a much higher fat and lower carb diet than I had before. I haven’t managed to cut caffeine and sugar completely yet, but I’m consuming less than I used to.

    I actually never thought there was anything wrong with my “mood,” but it’s been interesting to see how much more laid back I’ve become and I rarely feel stressed about things that once would have irritated me. Just from my experience, I’d say the diet has been 90% of it and maybe meal timing too. After reading Dr Kruse’s leptin rx, I switched from grazing throughout the day to eating three meals and making sure not to eat within a few hours of bed. That’s helped a ton with the sleep (I can really, tell, too if I have a mess up and have a snack before bed because it’ll keep me up, especially if it’s something carby).

    As for the meditation/stress-reduction activities, I’m one of those people who is always thinking (I have a hard time quieting the mind) and I tend to go for higher activity hobbies rather than peaceful/calming ones, but I am doing yoga 2-3 times a week and am trying to work on actually keeping my mind from wandering during the little meditation at the end. I have found that you have to experiment with the different yoga classes to find one that’s right, though, as the vinyasa and 90-minute hot yoga classes, for example, can be a pretty intense workout and might leave you feeling energized instead of relaxed. I’d recommend people pick “gentle yoga” or “restorative yoga” or classes with names like that if they want to do it for the breathing/stress management/flexibility aspect. Studios will often do those with low-lighting/candlelight and a slow pace, and it’s quite peaceful.

  8. You know what’s really weird about all this yoga, meditation, and deep breathing stuff? As much evidence as there is pointing me to do it, I still have this voice in my head that’s like, “This is sissy stuff! This isn’t gonna work!” It goes off every time I try to enter one of those activities. And then, like David on Goliath, the voice gets majorly shown up. Like, last night, I laid down to sleep at 1 am and still felt my mind racing. I wanted to get up and watch a TV show or something because I just knew I was gonna lay there for too long without going to sleep and then it would get harder to go to sleep. But then, I was like, just do some deep breathing. Do the visualization thing. I started with three deep breaths and the voice was going off, “This isn’t going to work. This is stupid!” That’s when the visualization thing comes in handy – concentrating on that blocks off the voice for some reason. I visualized a comforting blue color coming into my head first with an inhale and out of me with an exhale. I relaxed my face muscles … and then I don’t even remember going below my neck for visualization. Then I woke up a little after 9 this morning refreshed! This is after a few nights of only getting 5-6 hours in (probably because of too much candy in the beginning of the week).

    • Thanks for such an authentic report. Your story is a great example of how our conditioned beliefs govern our behavior and can get in the way of self-care. And, more importantly, how awareness can help us overcome these beliefs and accomplish our goals. Bravo!

  9. This challenge couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I’m in the middle of trying to move cities (with a child), which means that I’m also away from husband during the week. And we do not yet have a move date or place to live. And said child has been waking up in the middle of the night, making me exhausted!

    I’ve been trying to think of things that I am grateful for in my life for 5 minutes every night before I go to bed. I’ve really enjoyed doing this. On the top of my list has got to be how grateful I am for my family. (And then when I get woken up at 4am, I’m really not as angry/stressed out about it!) Of course, there are many other things to be appreciative of, and when I think of those things, I find that some of my stress turns into excitement over what’s to come in my new adventure. I’ve been forgetting to do this exercise for the past couple nights (causing my stress levels to rise), so thanks for the gentle reminder.

    Also, I have a friend who is supposed to teach me the Sedona Method this month. He swears by it, so we shall see!

  10. Hi Chris,

    I always knew that managing my stress would be a good idea but it was always something I’d do “someday” and that someday just never seemed to come around. For this month’s Best Your Stress I decided to do at least 15 minutes of meditation a day. So far it has been wonderful! I don’t quite understand how sitting for 15 minutes of “not doing” can be so refreshing, calming and grounding. My biggest challenge is of course doing it. As a grad student I have so much I have to get done, there is always some looming project deadline, papers to grade, etc, etc and I never feel I’ve completed anything because all my “to do’s” are these abstract things. I also feel very guilty if I rest or relax or do something fun because I’m not being “productive.” This is also something I’m trying to change this month. I’ve made it a rule that when I start dinner it is me and hubby time: time to talk, connect, go for a walk or play a game or something.

    I think what I’ve learned so far is how little I relax and let myself have pleasure in my life. I thought I was relaxing and doing fun things but once I really focused on it I realized that I really had none, I wasn’t making the space for these very important things in my life. This has been a pretty eye opening experience and has really helped motivate me to stick with my meditation and bringing better awareness to my everyday life experiences. In addition, it has helped me see just how much my stress influences my IBD flares. I’ve been managing my IBD well with diet but I still once in a while have some bad days as I’m still healing and what I’ve discovered is it is often when I’m not taking the time to relax, rest and do something fun that I start to get sick!

    My take home lesson from this experience? 15 minutes might not seem like much but that 15 minutes sets the stage for the rest of my day. It seems to “reset” my mind so I can see more clearly and breath a little easier.

    • Yes! Even 5 minutes a day can make a huge difference. I’ve found that many people set goals that are too ambitious with stress management (i.e. “I’m going to meditate for an hour twice a day), and when they aren’t able to keep up, they quit completely. It’s far better to do it for even 10 minutes a day than not at all. Especially because the calming and grounding effects of these 10 minute periods is likely to make it easier for you to commit to longer periods later.

  11. Chris,

    I followed your link to BuddhaNet audio and downloaded a few breathing exercises and body scans for my mp3 player. Although I have been saying I would meditate for a long time, with these downloads I have actually done it! I am working towards daily but I am happy with 5 times a week. I am easily stressed and can be a worrier. I am aware of these traits and really want to change. Thank you very much for your initial post and please keep following up on us.

  12. You know, I am feeling more relaxed. I’ve found that quiet reflection in the early morning–outside if weather permits–is having a lasting effect. Also, I’ve cut way back on my reading/participating on paleo sites and I’m getting a sense of freedom from that. Obviously, I haven’t stopped completely–here I am reading/typing–but I’m keeping my mental self detached from anger/angst and I’m doing better for it. I watch Twitter and only “bite” on topics of immediate interest.

  13. i have had reaped some great benefits from the changes i made. (i never did post my changes, so here they are)

    -sleep schedule/duration—i’ve been getting to bed between 9:30 and 10:30 each night no matter what i feel like i still need to accomplish during the day
    -my boyfriend and i work through a list of 10 things we are grateful for each day as we lie in bed as well as one way somebody helped us and one way we helped somebody else during the day
    -mindful eating—stopping what i am doing to fully experience my meal (being in grad school, this means accepting that i can’t read or work or study while i’m eating and that i must put the papers away)
    -decaf coffee only (this was a very deliberate, gradual change made over the course of about three weeks)

    i feel goooooooooood. i find that my energy levels are much more even throughout the day. i can stay awake in class! i can make it through my workout and enjoy it. i wake up without an alarm! i’m also much more evenly tempered and more agreeable to live and work with. i’m more patient with myself and others. i have had fewer arguments and misunderstandings.

    the main challenge in all the above changes is, as one of the points you made above, recognizing that my value is not determined by how much i accomplished in the day. the program i am in puts a high premium on productivity and quality of work. it’s hard to stay mindful while i eat lunch at school because i have so so so much to do. accepting that i will get a little less done because i took a break is difficult, but it makes my digestion so much better. it’s hard to go to bed sometimes knowing that i didn’t finish my homework, research, projects, studying, etc. it’s tough to lie in bed and think about the things i need to finish. big challenge. but the thankfulness list helps shift my mind away from those thoughts.

  14. I have found the ‘Sedona Method’ to be the easiest and most effective way to handle day to day stress.