Many times, with stress, you don’t know you're over capacity. You're a strong, competent, capable person who has coped with many demands and endured difficult situations over the course of your life.
Then suddenly, you find yourself overwhelmed by the smallest thing. You say to yourself, “What the heck is the matter with me?” and blame yourself for breaking down.
The truth is: there’s nothing wrong with you.
"How can that be?" you wonder.
When it comes to stress, humans are like elevators. An elevator is designed to carry a certain maximum weight. At any one time, it may be able to carry more than it’s designed to, but if it carries that excessive amount consistently, it begins to break down. The engine starts to smoke. The cable starts to fray. But all this is taking place outside of your awareness. It’s outside the elevator car. You might notice a funny smell. Maybe the doors stick sometimes. Occasionally the ride might be less smooth than usual. But you don’t really think much of it. Then suddenly, you find yourself plummeting down the elevator shaft, wondering what’s happening.
Stress works the same way.
Stress activates what is known as the fight-freeze-flight response. Without cultivating an even flow between fight-freeze-flight and its opposite (known as rest-digest-tend-befriend) the effects of stress accumulate. Eventually you burn out. You feel like you’re in a kind of free-fall, with emotional, physical and cognitive symptoms out of control.
Humans are not designed to withstand ongoing stress without recovery time. At a certain point, you feel the effects.
This is completely normal.
It’s also good news.
Stress symptoms are like the check engine light on your car dashboard. They’re telling you it’s time to take a look at what’s happening, and address it, before you break down. If you’re experiencing stress symptoms, you might consider having a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend, your doctor, your clergy person or a mental health therapist.
With support, you can look under the hood, see what’s working, and do more of that. You can also see what isn’t working and decide what you want to do about it, so you can feel good and respond effectively when the crap hits the fan.
Three easy keys to reduce your stress
Under stress, your brain literally thinks like a rabbit facing a bear, and the fight-freeze-flight response is activated. But you’re not a rabbit and there’s no bear from which you can run. So what to do? You can think of stress reduction in terms of these three key principles: discharge, soothe and nourish.
Discharge: like the bunny, your body-mind has been mobilized to run, and this “running” energy needs to be discharged. Stressful emotions also build up from being in the alarm state, and they need to be discharged.
Soothe: Stress-inducing phenomena are everywhere (including in your thoughts), so your body-mind is constantly barraged by alarm messages. To de-activate the alarm state, the body-mind needs to be soothed.
Nourish: The body-mind’s constantly-on stress reaction has depleted it. It has used all its resources to keep sounding the alarm and mobilizing itself to respond, so the nervous system, and your mind, need to be nourished.
Movement can help
Did you know that sitting still for long periods of time exacerbates the freeze response? This is like when a rabbit sees the bear and freezes. It’s immobile because it’s afraid, and its body-mind is flooded with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
When humans stay immobile (like sitting at a desk all day), the brain thinks like the rabbit in freeze response, and the body gets stuck in a stress loop. This is where Amanda’s work comes in. Small “movement snacks” (as opposed to intense workouts) remind the body-mind that it isn’t stuck, and interrupts the stress cycle, allowing the body-mind to relax and recover.
For more information and tips for transforming stress and trauma, sign up for Shulamit’s newsletter here: https://www.shula.ca/newsletter/
Some Signs of Stress
Emotional: short fuse; anxious feelings; a sense of being alone; feeling bad about yourself
Physical: low energy; headaches; muscle tension and aches; digestive problems; difficulty sleeping; loss of sexual desire/ability; frequent colds or infections
Cognitive: worrying; racing thoughts; problems with concentration or focus; negative thinking; forgetfulness; disorganization
About the Author:
Shulamit Ber Levtov, MA, RSW, RYT is a social worker and Yoga teacher who works with business women and busy women to transform the effects of stress and trauma so they can feel good about themselves *and* respond effectively when the crap hits the fan. She is also the founder and director of Kemptville's holistic stress and trauma clinic, Compassionate Support for Stressful Times. In her 18+ years as a mental health and personal growth professional, Shulamit has logged thousands of hours helping hundreds of women and men recover from the effects of stress and trauma in a variety of agency, corporate and government settings. She also speaks and teaches locally, internationally and online.
Exercise, physical activity, movement: whatever you call it, your body needs it - every single day of your life. Exercise makes you feel better, both physically and mentally. It can prevent injury, disease and premature death. Sometimes, though, exercise isn’t enough. Like if you break a toe. In cases where help is needed, I’ve got a few recommendations for you in the Glebe, Old Ottawa East, Old Ottawa South area.
Earlier this month, I sat and stared at my laptop for the better part of a Sunday. You see, I needed to write my latest blog post, and I couldn’t. I was drawing a blank.
This was more than writer’s block. I typically have at least 5 ideas percolating in the back of my brain, ready to take centre stage for a monthly blog post. And when I sit down to write, the words and ideas flow.
But not this time. This time, I felt like my fountain of creativity had run dry. I felt “beyond burnt out”. And that made the situation worse. What if I had tapped all that was available? Was that the end of my business?
Honestly, I felt heartsick. And deflated. Finally, I put my computer aside and tried to distract my overactive brain.
A few days later, and still no change in my demeanour. I made a radical decision to take a break from social media for a brief spell - both professionally and personally.
I told people I was logging off for a break, and gave them my website and email info, in case they needed to contact me.
And then I turned off all notifications for Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and Twitter. I thought I’d experience a moment of withdrawal; but it never came. I actually felt liberated.
A few wonderful souls emailed me to say they hoped everything was okay. [No need to name them, they know who they are. And their support is forever appreciated.]
For 4 days, I detoxed from the online world. I tried to forget about my failed blog post. But I stewed. Was this the end of my business? Could I continue if I felt this way? You see, my heart felt simultaneously heavy and hollow. "Beyond burnt out" is the only way I can describe it.
Then one morning, an idea popped into my head: write a book. Write a book?! I can’t write a book. The notion germinated all day long, and by the end of the day it became: I CAN write a book!
But I kept it to myself. Until the next day, when I told my husband. His response, “That’s a good idea.” Then I told my teenage kids. Their response, “Cool.” And then I told a few close friends. Everyone was excited for me. No one said I couldn’t do it. So I’m going for it. And a few days later, my daughter started talking about my book launch party. I suggested we put a pin in that until I had a draft completed.
Although the process of writing a book can seem daunting, it’s also thrilling. I’ve been researching how to self-publish; I’ve been working on my outline; I’ve been reaching out to people to be interviewed for the book. And I feel reenergized.
The heavy/hollow feeling has disappeared. My creative juices are once again flowing. And I’m excited.
You’re probably wondering, “What’s the book about?” Great question! The working title is “Get off your butt! Your life depends on it”. I’ll be taking much of the content I created for The Move More Institute™ and turning it into book form.
And now, I need to get back to writing…
Balance. What does it mean to you? There are many definitions for this seemingly simple word. Let’s address a few of them here. And I'll share with you how I interpret balance in my life.
How do you define balance in your life? Do you have other ways of balancing?
Move more, feel better. That’s the slogan I chose for The Move More Institute™.
Just get up and move - that’s all I’m asking. As soon as you do, your body and brain will feel better.
And they’ll start to crave the movement. Trust me, I know.
Let me explain…
It’s been about 8 years since I switched gears professionally and jumped into the world of fitness. I’ve always been in the business of helping people:
You get the idea. I deal with humans - helping them improve their lives.
Well, about 4 years ago, I decided I needed to teach more Essentrics® classes in Ottawa. You know, get the word out, help people feel better in their bodies.
Ottawans are fortunate in that there are MANY fitness options in the city. And many fitness centres. So much so, that most people want fitness-on-demand: the class they want, at a time that suits them, near their home or office.
You get the idea.
I rose to the challenge and tried to start up as many Essentrics classes in as many locations that would have me. Starting up a class takes time. And a lot of computer time as well:
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I got to the point where I was teaching 15 weekly classes in 8 locations. And spending A LOT of time on my computer in the interim. I hurt my shoulder and entire right side of my torso from too much “point and click”.
It made me realize how damaging it can be to sit at your computer too much. I was incredibly fit - 15 classes a week! - and yet I still go injured. At my computer.
I started to look into the research on physical inactivity and office workers. And I was astounded at what I discovered.*
More than bootcamps and gym memberships, people needed real help to relearn how to use their bodies in normal, everyday ways.
So, I went back to my earlier roots in health promotion research and psychology to work on a solution. Out of that work, The Move More Institute was born.
On the continuum of physical activity, I’m targeting the basics.
Your life is busy; you’ve got lots of people counting on you every single day. The thought of having to add one more location change - i.e., one hour at the gym, 3 times a week on your own, or once a week with a personal trainer - is making your head spin.
That’s why The Move More Institute™ comes to you: short segments delivered online to your home or office, when it works for you. And you don’t need to commit to a long-term training schedule. My goal is short-term coaching for long-term results.
Think about it: A 1-hour weekly personal training session accounts for less than 1% of your waking hours. I want you to get active and stay active every day of your life. If we only rely on that “less than 1%” block of time to change your behaviour, how successful do you think you’ll be? (Psst: rhetorical question alert)
The Move More Institute™ can’t make your life less busy, but it can make your life better by teaching you how to add natural movement to your busy life. What does “natural movement” mean, exactly? It’s a very literal term - it’s not deadlifts or pistol squats, glute bridges or planks. It’s about non-exercise activity to fuel your body and make you feel better.
And I’m living proof that it works. I teach group fitness classes and deliver personal training sessions in my professional life. In my personal life, I apply behaviour change models - the habit loop and nudge theory - to be more active during the day:
I could go on, but it’s time for me to take a break from my computer. It’s time for me to move more.
*You can refer to earlier blog posts for more information.
People with chronic low back pain are often looking high and low for “cures” or remedies in order to rid themselves of symptoms. Finding short term relief often comes in many different forms, but long term success can be a mystery.
Unfortunately, practitioners who treat low back pain are often excellent at the treatment portion, but they are less effective at helping clients create strategies to avoid painful movements and positions or find positions of relief. Without these strategies, low back patients are often reaggravating the injury and delaying the healing process between treatments.
The secret to long term success when managing low back pain lies in the ability to move in ways that do not “pick the scab”. We must think of a healing low back as we would a scab: if we constantly pick a scab it will not heal. The same can be said for a low back: if we constantly move in ways that cause pain, our back is telling us that it is not able to heal. What really matters to the patient is, how do you know if you are picking your low back scab? Luckily, your body has been telling you the answers!
The biggest clue involves what you are doing when your low back hurts. Think back or observe over a few days when you feel pain or increased pain. Was it after a long day of bending forwards, or does pain increase when rolling over in bed or transitioning from sit to stand? After collecting some information, look at the positions that are on list. Is there a pattern? Does your back not like bending forwards, or reaching backwards? Does it not tolerate carrying heavy loads?
If you notice a pattern, you now know what you need to avoid in order to properly let your back heal. This may require rethinking how you move during your day-to-day activities. You might have to learn to use your core as a brace in order to properly stabilize the low back when transitioning positions. Or you might have to learn to use the hip joint to bend forward and keep the spine in a neutral position when picking things up off the floor. You might also have to learn to keep the head from bending forwards, especially for extended periods, as this causes increased activity and tension in the low back musculature.
While this article should not be interpreted to belittle the role of the practitioner, it should highlight the fact that you can help yourself. How you move is an integral part of low back symptom management. Learn to move well, then move often!
About the author: With a Doctorate in Chiropractic, Luc founded The Movement Co. with the aim of providing individuals a one-stop-shop for all of their training and rehabilitation needs. Eager to treat all ranges of individuals, from the office worker, to the elite athlete, Luc uses a vast range of treatments customized to his patient's and athlete's needs.
I have spent many, many years - decades, really - focused on dieting and never being truly happy with my appearance. It started in my teens. At the time, my mother bought me a pin that said, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” I loved the pin and wore it proudly. I believed it - that you can’t be ‘too thin’, and I was always pursuing this ever-elusive ideal.
At the age of 48, I’ve finally realized that people accept me for who I am, not what I look like. And if they don’t, I invite them to take a long walk off a short pier. It’s taken me 35 years to accept myself the way I accept others. It has never once occurred to me to judge a person based on their appearance. Instead, I look at their character - how they treat me and others. Are they reliable? Do they keep their word? Are they kind to those less fortunate?
Yet, when it came to me, I assumed no one would accept me unless I was svelte and skinny. Especially as I transitioned into my new career in the fitness industry. What if clients wouldn’t accept me as a fitness expert because of my appearance?
Ironically, that very thing happened. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard, “You don’t look like a fitness instructor.” What, exactly, is a fitness instructor meant to look like? People come in all shapes in sizes; shouldn’t that ring true for individuals, no matter their profession? Rhetorical question.
I’ve also heard, “I like taking classes with you because you look like a normal person.” I used to think, “Thank you?” Now I say, “Thank you!” What’s the source of the statement? An unrealistic expectation/representation of everyone in the fitness industry as rake-thin.
Skinny does not equal fit. There, I’ve said it. You can be skinny and unfit just as easily as someone who is not as skinny. But I digress. My point is, I may not be as skinny as I used to be, but I’ve got WAY more confidence now! Because I’ve accepted myself as being more than my body.
I’m valuing myself the same way I value others. For who they are, not how they look. Not only has this mind shift boosted my confidence, I’m also a lot happier than I used to be.
If you’re still reading, thank you for listening to my story.
Ask yourself this: what makes any fitness plan truly successful? Two words: realistic goals. Without them, you find yourself trying to attain the unattainable. One of the tools available in today’s modern world that can help you monitor and record your progress is social media.
Fitness Magazine explains that through online channels you can make yourself a part of a dynamic community that offers many benefits. In the hunt for trustworthy food sources? Quickly go online and ask your friends on Facebook for recommendations. Crushed a workout you didn’t think you could handle? Mark this milestone and tweet about it.
Social media is perfect for meeting people with similar fitness goals who you can inspire. However, you should also post social media content with caution and responsibility. Real Simple points out there is such a thing as social media etiquette, so be self-aware, don’t over share, and refrain from flooding your friends’ feeds.
When it comes to social media, you mustn’t be swayed too easily with what you see and read. As far as your self-confidence goes, keep your idea of body image in check. Along with social media, traditional media platforms such as television and movies can persuade you to think twice. Just take a look at the current fitness obsession in Hollywood. More than just beauty, brawn has become both a sought-after quality and a bankable asset that stars are expected to have. Examine the modern day leading man. Men’s Journal points out that a chiselled chest, coupled with shredded abs and super-sized arms are the standard requirement. With films like Pain and Gain and Baywatch, buff and big seems to be the norm for what looks good on movie screens.
Unsurprisingly, this ripped-and-ready trend has found its way to many entertainment media, including non-traditional visual platforms such as online gaming. Entertainment outlet Slingo features thematic games that focus on mythical gods with solid, muscular physiques. Two of their slot games, Kronos and Thunderstruck, used mythical gods that have become famous in the media in recent years through the video game series God of War and Marvel’s version of Thor. The two are testaments to the fact that popping pecs are now more prevalent in popular culture than ever before. Even in aspects of life that have nothing to do with exercise, the public is bombarded with a body shape they should be aspiring to achieve.
But, does this mean we should surrender to this current global fitness obsession? The answer is no. It is best to be inspired by fitness sites and social media channels that don’t push unrealistic goals. There are many sites that promote more accessible methods of training. Very Well advises that using S.M.A.R.T. - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely - as a guiding acronym will help you stay on top of things and allow you to monitor how much you’ve achieved. After all, Improving your health and fitness is a process that takes a lot of time and effort. Your takeaway: use your social media channels wisely to keep on pursuing your personal health and fitness goals and maybe even inspire others with your own journey.
About the author: Jannette is a 22-year old barista who has recently jumped into the world of freelance writing. She enjoys a good warm cup of latte, maintains a regular week workout schedule to keep fit, and loves playing video games from time to time.
Let's face it - everyone is too sedentary these days. It's as if we've reversed the evolution of man, we’re getting slower and more hunched over than our early-20th-century counterparts. You know you need to move more, but how? That’s where movement coaching comes in.
Do you spend more than half of your waking hours sitting without much movement? Want to learn how to add more movement and physical activity to your daily life? Not sure how to eliminate the “convenience setup” at your desk? I created The Move More Institute™ to address these issues. Please read on to learn more!
Movement Coaching At Home: How do I change my behaviour?
You're retired and you've being told that you need to sit less and move more. [Note: seniors are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook.] But how to change a behaviour? I can help! The first step is to assess your current movement factor and home setup, as well as your current behaviour patterns. To change a behaviour, we work together to identify new cues and rewards. One-on-one assistance in your environment will help you turn your newfound knowledge into daily habits.
Movement Coaching At Work: How do I change my workspace?
Perhaps you've attended my workshop, “I’m Not Sitting Anymore, What Now?!”, and you’re looking for help with next steps. You know you need to move more during the workday, but where to begin? How do you change your space to enhance movement? How do you remember to get up and move around throughout your day? Personalized movement coaching in your environment will help you turn your newfound knowledge into daily habits.
If one of these descriptions speaks to you, you need to speak to me!
How Can I Help?
I have a truly unique skill set that allows me to offer movement coaching: I have two psychology degrees, so I understand behaviour and motivation. I have a background in health promotion research, so I know what the research says about the problems with our sedentary lifestyle as well as recommended solutions. Finally, I’m a fitness professional who focuses on body awareness, bodyweight training, and postural awareness.
I’ve written before about how to make fitness a daily habit (click here to read that post). With movement coaching, we’re going ‘back to basics’: working on non-exercise activity that is sprinkled throughout your day. Every day.
My goal is to work myself out of a job; i.e., get you to a point where you’ve added the necessary movement that improves your health and well-being. My slogan is move more, feel better. If you’re ready to start, I’m ready to help you!
The Good Old Days?
Remember the carefree summer days of your childhood? You’d jump out of bed with enthusiasm, ready for whatever adventure presented itself. The world was full of possibility and so were you. You didn’t think twice about hopping on your bike to race to your best friend’s house. When you arrived, you’d kick off your shoes and run through the sprinkler until you were too hungry to continue. After a quick lunch, it was time to head to the park, usually until you were called home for dinner.
You didn’t have to think about your posture, proper knee alignment when bending your legs, shoes to support your weak arches, or range of motion in your joints. You just did what came naturally to you - you moved. A lot.
What About Now?
How’s your body feeling these days? Do you still jump out of bed and run around in your bare feet? Likely not - as most adults report some form of muscular and/or joint pain. When you stand up, how long does it take you to go from sitting to standing? Do you feel stiffness in certain joints as you get up? Your joints are seizing up from lack of lubrication - aka lack of movement. When you’re stiff, you move more slowly. And when you don’t have a spring in your step, you look and act ‘old’.
You don’t have to be old to move in a slower, stiff way. You just have to be inactive - i.e., mostly sedentary. Lack of physical movement is prematurely aging our society.
Mostly Sedentary or Mostly Fidgeter?
Are YOU a Sedentary Sam or a Fidget Finn? The technical terms are “prolonger” and “breaker”. 
prolonger: Someone who accumulates sedentary time in extended continuous bouts,
breaker: Someone who accumulates sedentary time with frequent interruptions and in short bouts.
Those terms come to us from the Sedentary Behaviour Research Network. Think about that for a moment: our society has become so sedentary that researchers have had time to convene a worldwide research network to study us. I used to work in research and let me tell you, nothing happens fast. This problem has been years in the making. We’ve become a society of leisure-based, labour-saving technological slugs, and it’s killing us. Metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity are all on the rise. A recent documentary entitled “Cholesterol: The Great Bluff” tackled the topic: in it, cardiologist Dr. Mikael Rabaeus proclaims, “Yet again, it’s a sedentary lifestyle that’s the killer.”
How did this lifestyle change - this life of leisure - entrap us in bodies that are now failing us? It was a gradual process over the twentieth century and into our current times. The industrial revolution, followed by the current technological revolution, have given us many labour-saving devices. From dishwashers and garage door openers smartphones and online shopping, researchers have tracked an increase in obesity that correlates directly with an increase in the acquisition of labour-saving devices. 
NEAT is different that your workout at the gym: “NEAT corresponds to all the energy expended with occupation, leisure time activity, sitting, standing, ambulation, toe-tapping, shovelling snow, playing the guitar, dancing, singing, washing, etc.”  Even if you do a daily one-hour workout, you still need to keep your body moving in other ways throughout the day. If not, you’re what’s referred to as an “active couch potato”. 
The Move More Institute™ nudges people to be more active throughout the day. Natural, non-exercise activity spread across your day. Every day. I'm a fitness professional with a radical idea - don't exercise! Just move more!
What can you do to keep yourself independent and living your life actively and without pain? Move your body. Add snacks of movement to your day:
1. Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN) – Terminology Consensus Project process and outcome, Mark S. Tremblay, Salomé Aubert, Joel D. Barnes, Travis J. Saunders, Valerie Carson, Amy E. Latimer-Cheung, Sebastien F.M. Chastin, Teatske M. Altenburg, Mai J.M. Chinapaw and on behalf of SBRN Terminology Consensus Project Participants, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2017,14:75; https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0525-8
2. Too Much Sitting and Metabolic Risk—Has Modern Technology Caught Up with Us?
David W Dunstan, Genevieve N Healy, Takemi Sugiyama, Neville Owen
European Endocrinology, 2010; 6:19-23; DOI: http://doi.org/10.17925/EE.2010.06.00.19
3. Cholesterol: The Great Bluff, 2017; http://tvo.org/video/documentaries/cholesterol-the-great-bluff
4. Levine, J.A. Nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): environment and biology, American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology & Metabolism. 10. 1152/ ajpendo. 00562. 2003 AJP - Endo May 1, 2004 vol. 286 no. 5 E675-E685
5. The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity, Christian von Loeffelholz, 2004, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279077/
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.