Life is a marathon (not a sprint)!
As our toolkit for dealing with stress nears its full capacity, we look at good old fashioned exercise and the benefits of switching off from the world.
We are coming to the end of this particular series of columns and, if you haven’t taken the free, confidential online stress survey yet, please do so at www.vitalstest.com (enter sheq759 as the “employer code”). We will be closing that survey soon, aggregating the results and providing feedback in the next column. For now, one last visit to the toolkit.
We know that exercise mops up many of the “stress” hormones and releases others that lift our mood. There are myriad health benefits we all know about and it’s also a socially acceptable manner for releasing frustrations physically. (And no, the “Jo’burg traffic finger” is not a legitimate sport!)
Legendary American columnist Erma Bombeck said: “The only reason I would take up jogging is so I could hear heavy breathing again.” Indeed, the grimacing and pained expressions that adorn many a jogger’s face are possibly not the best advert for this method of keeping fit. Exercise should be taken in forms and quantities that are agreeable rather than abhorrent.
Each of us inhabit a shape that is better suited to certain kinds of activity – watching the Olympics last year brought that home to me so clearly; some people are just “designed” to run like the wind. The key is to do things you enjoy – exercise must not be a chore. I was clearly designed for reading. I have, however, grown to enjoy dog walking and mountain biking with my children, gardening and other prosaic low-impact activities. A couple of ideas that may help you:
• consider a training buddy – the additional motivation that comes with not wanting to let someone else down can help keep you going on those days when you are feeling a bit “flat”;
• do little, often – it’s like the old joke: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Don’t over force yourself – trying to go from couch potato to celebrated athlete in a few short months is unrealistic and frankly dangerous.
In summary, we are just not designed for the sedentary lifestyle that cars, computers and urban commerce force us into. We should be running across the veld with pointy sticks chasing our dinner, not sitting in a box, staring at a box and eating from a box. Take every opportunity to walk up the stairs, park far away from the shop entrance, walk to pick up milk and bread and wash your car yourself.
Increasingly our “to do” lists merely acts as reminders of what we didn’t achieve in a day. There are more and more demands on our time and energy – emails, smartphones, advertising billboards, radio, TV, people – and far too often taking care of ourselves has been bumped off the list altogether. Diet, sleep and exercise all need to be on that list, but so too does “logging off”. Finding some quiet time every day to just be still and calm the riot of emotions and thoughts is hugely beneficial. Ever get into bed at the end of the day and your mind is racing? Chances are that that is the first time you have stopped all day and your brain is now trying to catch up and process everything. Logging off promotes:
• health – learning to be still calms your heart rate, slows your breathing and invokes the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “resting and digesting” functions in our bodies).
• true creativity – which comes unbidden when you can still all your thoughts. Thinking about stuff is not being creative – it is merely juggling with the known.
• listening – calming the clamour of external and internal noise allows us to hear things that are beyond the normal range of our attention.
Some call this meditation, others call it prayer. I don’t know about that – I just call it sitting quietly and being in the moment, not asking for or expecting any particular outcome. I do it selfishly and often, as I have felt the physical benefits and experienced the cognitive and emotional boost too often for it to be a fluke.
Remember: small changes can add up to make significant positive impacts. At the risk of overworking the exercise metaphors: life is a marathon, not a sprint – slow and steady wins the race.
The final column in this series will present an aggregated view of the Vitals stress self-awareness survey. Please be assured, individual confidentiality will not be compromised.
Richard Hawkey, author of Life Less Lived and founder of equilibriumsolutions, spent many years pounding the corporate treadmill until literally falling off; diagnosed with burnout and clinical depression. Now, Hawkey has combined his general management and leadership experience with lessons learnt from mismanaging stress, to become a self-styled anti-stress evangelist. He specialises in identifying stress in oneself and others; the personal and professional impacts; and how one can break out of the negative spiral and emerge vigorous and vital to realise quantifiable benefits.