Slowing down. This is something most are trying to do the opposite of; trying to get into an exercise routine, trying to move more; do more; become more; get better; get healthier. Constantly seeking that better version of themself. I am probably one of the biggest advocates for self-growth, I do believe people can change, and I do believe that life - a well-lived life - is full of many versions of yourself, all advancing to a higher state of being. What I’ve learned is that reaching a healthy balanced life doesn’t always mean doing it all, and the path to these better versions of you isn't always linear. In fact, it rarely ever will be a straight and narrow path, and more often than not, if you are doing it right, you will have many ups and downs and setbacks; turns in all sorts of different directions to get there.
So, what is the perfect formula for health? Well, what I have discovered over the years, is there are two extremes, and to live in either one isn’t the way to a healthy well rounded you. There is such a thing as too much. Too much exercise. Too much work. Too many studies. Too many goals. Too much. Here is the thing: our bodies, physiologically, cannot decipher between physical stress, mental stress, emotional stress, stress from lack of proper nutrition or sleep. It all equates to stress and that stress wreaks havoc on your health. How do I know this for sure, because I have experienced it first-hand?
What exactly does too much stress do to you?
“The stress response begins in the brain. When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee” (Harvard Publishing, 2020).
The changes that occur in the body from distress happen so quickly and repeatedly under constant stress you aren’t even aware of them happening. The wiring is so efficient that the cascade of events, such as the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) being pumped into the bloodstream, circulates through the body, bringing on a number of physiological changes. Many symptoms that arise from long term stress are high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, skin problems, menstrual problems, forgetfulness, frequent aches and pains, headaches, lack of energy or focus, tiredness, trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much, weight loss or gain, depression, and the list goes on. I found myself go from healthy to feeling sick all of the time and not knowing why.
I was living years and years of being under too much stress from training for big endurance races, all while working, school, a dying dog, and then COVID-19 on top of it all. I was creating the perfect storm of stress overload from every possible stress source a human can experience. I never allowed myself to see what I was doing until it was too late. Last summer during probably the worst of it, I was hiking one day, unable to focus, I slipped, tumbled down the mountain about ten feet, and cut my hand wide open resulting in seven stitches. And that is how it happened for me, the universe forced me to go from 100 to zero in a matter of seconds. I was forced to do nothing but heal for a week. During this time, it was the first time in a very long time I was doing this very foreign thing, relaxing. Over the duration of that week, I began to feel this type of energy I hadn’t felt in a really long time and it was all from relaxing. I began to feel this type of healthy I hadn’t felt in a very long time, even though physically I was in the best shape of my life. As time went on, life’s stressors, unfortunately, didn’t get better, they only got worse, and I still wasn’t listening to what I needed, even though it was right in front of me, screaming at me to slow down. Soon the stress built up so much that I hit the wall, and not in the analogy endurance athletes use when racing and they ‘bonk’ or ‘hit the wall’ because they have depleted every last glycogen energy store in their body. No, I depleted everything that was in me and had nothing left, I was overly emotional, tired, overall body aches, headaches, hard time talking, sleeping, anxiety, you name it. I was experiencing it. I suddenly felt so far from myself, I didn’t even recognize myself because I felt nothing like my normal healthy self. This was a big wake-up call for me, I went from one extreme to the complete opposite extreme of needing to rest fully and eliminate being active nearly altogether in order to allow for my body to recover from being in overdrive for too long. I have learned the hard way that there is such a thing as too much.