With the ever-increasing pace of modern life, many of us are stuck in health-sapping cycles of stress, anxiety, depression, and fast-paced lives that sacrifice health for other, more material goals.
Yet without good health, we die early, and are unable to enjoy our lives in-between. Here’s some top tips to help you escape the rat race cycle, and bring the quality of life back to your day.
The Stress Trap
Stress in itself is not an unhealthy thing. Designed to suit a more prehistoric landscape and its pitfalls, it’s the part of how our bodies work to boost us through unprecedented circumstances. The real issue is that modern stress has moved from a ‘sprint’, a sudden burst of adrenaline to get us away from danger, into a marathon, where the stress cycle becomes dysfunctional and long-term.
As we overload our bodies with increasing amounts of adrenaline to fight stresses that never let up, we begin to see dysfunction in how cortisol responds in the body. This has knock-on effects on things as wide-ranging as our immune system, blood vessels and heart, and our ability to cope mentally. Couple that with less exercise, worsening diets, and a tendency to skip on sleep, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Breaking the Cycle
The first step, then, lies in fostering mental and physical well being within the body. When we support our system with healthy, nutrient-packed food, plenty of water, healthful exercise, and rest, we make ourselves more resilient and able to cope.
Yet those ‘self-care’ practices are among the first that we drop when demanding bosses, stressful parenting, and hectic schedules come knocking.
One of the first, best things you can do to bust the dysfunctional stress cycle is identifying what’s leeching your reserves in the first place. It’s not always as simple as external demands like work or school, either. For many of us, we’ve also stopped the activities and practices that help us create meaning in our lives- always running towards distant goals, but never stopping to ask ourselves if those goals really matter to us. ‘Hustle Culture’ has also encouraged us to view many of the pastimes, activities, and hobbies that refresh the soul and add meaning to life as ‘worthless’ or ‘wastes of time’ unless we’re monetizing and pushing them. Just like ‘unstructured play’ can be valuable to children, encourage their imagination, and let them be free of rigid goals, adults need the same consideration. Sometimes, we need space to just be.
By eliminating the ‘noise’ and refocusing on what actually matters to us, as well as building time for fun activities without manic goals attached to them, we can reposition ourselves to really enjoy life, instead of just pushing through it like it has no worth.
Supporting the Body through Stress
A lifestyle restructure can go a long way to help- but what of obligations we can’t skip? Here, it pays to learn to manage stress better. While it won’t make those deadlines disappear, it can help create a stronger, more resilient you to meet them.
Mindfulness has gotten a lot of press lately as a tool to help improve mental health and reduce the effects of stress on the body. This doesn’t have to become another chore, either. Building habits into your day that refocus your mind on the present, instead of racing in past pains and future fears, is invaluable. The health drink, Moment, as an example, suggests cracking a can and spending that time to recenter yourself, breathe, and relax. You could turn stirring your morning tea, or walking the dog, into a similar practice in being present now, instead of lost in your own head.
If you feel like you’re sleepwalking through life, caught up in the bustle of things that bring no joy and only make life worse for you, it’s time for a reality check. The rat race isn’t worth your health or wellbeing, so it’s time to break free from its clutches and rediscover a reinvigorated you.