I used to think my life was one big marathon. I think people say that “life is a marathon not a sprint” to stop us from sweating the small stuff or some other cliché like that. This belief became deeply ingrained within me. I was unaware of it’s powerful influences on my life. It was a very influential invisible script that I had.
I’ve always wanted a successful career and a happy family life. Ever since I can remember, I wanted both, and I thought I would have to fight like hell to do it. My invisible script that my life is one long marathon got me to push myself at all times. It was really motivating. I also noticed I was feeling worn down. I was starting to get sick more often. I was eating unhealthy foods while running around during the day. I was short with people. The quality of my work was suffering. I began to notice that my constant pushing of myself to win this so called marathon of life was really backfiring.
It was getting bad enough where I knew something would have to change or I would be forced to quit this so called marathon. I started to look into what I was going through and realized I was simply stressed out. My marathon life metaphor was constantly stressing me out and wouldn’t allow my mind or body to take a break.
I began to research stress management skills, and I tried a number of them. Nothing seemed to work. Yeah I felt okay for a couple of minutes, but I never felt truly relaxed or re-energized.
After many frustrating attempts to reduce the stress in my life, I came across a startling discovery: it wasn’t really what I was doing that was stressing me out, but it was my marathon philosophy behind everything I was doing that was leading to my stress. In one instant, I could see that how I thought I “had” to live my life was a broken philosophy. Because I thought life was a marathon, I never gave my mind or body a break or recovery period. I never let myself relax. I kept pushing myself to succeed even while feeling like crap. I could now see that this obviously made things worse.
Stress Management Skills: Why Some Stress is Good
Stress is really your body’s natural response to external threats. Stress is actually a normal and common response from our bodies to all of life’s pressures and demands. Stress is like wine and chocolate. Good for you in small doses, but terrible for you in larger quantities.
Your body’s stress response is like a car alarm. Your sympathetic nervous system lets you know when danger is near. It alerts you that something isn’t right and you should look into it or run like Forrest Gump. If you didn’t have this internal car alarm you would probably be dead.
Your body’s stress response keeps you alive when real danger is near by, letting you know that something is potentially dangerous.
Problems occur when your inner car alarm is constantly going off. After awhile you get used to it, ignore it and stress piles up. This happens to a lot of us today. We face so many work and family pressures that we push ourselves even though our inner car alarm is going off like crazy.
Stress Management Skills: Life is a Series of Sprints
So you’re stressed out and your inner car alarm is going off like crazy. What do you do?
What your mind and body needs is to be turned off for a short recovery period!
Your mind and body are screaming at you that they need to renew their energy. I believe it’s crucial as a busy professional today to live life as a series of sprints and not a marathon.
Your mind and body’s natural rhythm is to work hard for awhile (sprint) and then shut down and recover for a short period (time in between sprints). If you’ve every lifted weights and felt a natural relaxation afterward, that’s what you’re after.
Adopting the philosophy that life is series of sprints could make it easier for you to use any stress management skills and feel better.
You have two systems that work naturally when not overcome by treating life as a marathon. You feel stress which sets off your sympathetic nervous system, but eventually your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and helps you to relax, rest and digest.
If you treat life like a marathon your sympathetic nervous system is overworking and your parasympathetic nervous system is never working.
If you treat life like a series of sprints, where you expend a lot of energy and rest and recover before the next sprint, both systems are working naturally and you’re no longer fighting your body’s natural rhythm.
Stress Management Skills: Applications to Real Life
So how you do you incorporate recovery periods into your already busy day?
Actually it’s easier than you might think. I’m not talking about an hour of meditation or traveling across the world to become a monk. I’m talking about twice a day taking 5-10 minutes to give your mind and body a recovery period. You can do it at your desk, at home or even in a bathroom.
I know you’re worried that you’ll lose precious time during your day that could be spent working on something “important” or spending time with your family. Here’s the thing. If you’re stressed out you can’t spend quality time doing anything. So taking 10 minutes a day to reduce stress, quiet your inner car alarm and replenish your energy actually helps you be more productive and spend more quality time with your family.
5 Minute Recovery Period
1. Imagine feeling calm, confident and breathing as if the calm and confident you would breathe.
2. Exhale all of your air through your mouth
3. Once all of your air is released- hold it for 1-2 seconds
4. Inhale through your nose while counting to five on one hand
5. Hold your air in 1-2 seconds
6. Exhale all of your air through your mouth making a slight sigh sound and then start over at #3
7. As you breathe, focus your attention on different parts of your body. Scan your body and be aware of any tension you have.
8. Say to yourself in the sleepiest, most drowsy calm internal voice (that’s right talk to yourself in your mind)
I’m relaxing my forehead now, (while breathing)
I’m relaxing my eyelids now
I’m relaxing my stomach now.
I’m relaxing my shoulders now
And go to many different body parts while continuing to breathe.
9. Go from head to toe relaxing any body parts that you would like. Simply changing your focus from the outside world to an internal focus will help you relax and recover. Just try it for 5 minutes a couple times a day.
If you start to live your life as a series of sprints, and want to take the concept a step further, I would suggest blocking off 45-90 minute periods of intense focused work or family time followed by at least 5 minutes of recovery throughout your day.
During these intense periods (your sprinting) you are working toward a specific outcome and keep focus on it. Your outcome could be some kind of productivity at work, a physical goal, financial goal, or even some kind of outcome with your family (wanting your spouse or kids to have your undivided attention).
You’d be surprised at what you can do with using intense focus for 45-90 minutes followed by a recovery period. Whether it’s your job, your spouse or kids, paying focused attention on someone or something is usually very effective. Scheduling your day like this really taps into your body’s natural rhythm.
Say Yes to Love,
Dr. Michael Arn