The following is an excerpt from my book, Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day.* As a Canadian, I researched and wrote about Canadians’ physical activity levels, or lack thereof. But the shockingly high levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour are seen across the globe. Indeed, the newest physical activity guidelines for Americans emphasize that every minute of movement counts, and they should sit less and move more.(1)
How Much Do Canadians Move Every Day?
Our bodies were designed to move, but how much do most Canadians actually move every day? Not enough, according to healthcare experts. And it’s costing us as a nation to the tune of 3.7 per cent of overall health-care spending.(2)
The World Health Organization defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.”(3) I don’t see anything in that definition that mentions sweating, special clothing, “feeling the burn,” or expensive gym memberships. What it does tell us is that movement—any movement—is physical activity. You need to move your muscles, or you will lose them. It’s not rocket science, people!
Increasing the physical activity of Canadians would save lives—in excess of 6,600 premature deaths, or 2.4 per cent of the national population over a 25-year period. What’s more, as a country that provides universal health care to its citizens, national healthcare costs and chronic conditions would decline with a modest increase in daily physical activity. We’re talking thousands of fewer cases of cancer (31,000), type 2 diabetes (120,000), heart disease (170,000), and hypertension (222,000).(4)
Regular movement—loading your muscles and bones by working against gravity and then walking away from your desk—is what your body needs. Statistics Canada crunched the numbers and reported that you’ll have a lower risk of premature death if you stand or walk around regularly, as opposed to staying seated for most of the day.(5)
So, how much should we move as Canadians? I’m glad you asked. Let’s have a look.
How Much Should Canadians Move Every Day?
According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, adults need 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per week to maintain optimal health.(6) In the “moderate” category, examples include brisk walking and bike riding, whilst in the “vigorous” category, jogging and cross-country skiing are listed.
So, why exercise? It improves your fitness, strength, and mental health (morale and self-esteem), and it reduces your risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity.(7)
These are the minimum guidelines for physical activity. However, Statistics Canada data indicates that only 15 per cent of adult Canadians meet these minimum requirements.(8) Broken down to a daily level, the minimum exercise requirements—which were measured with accelerometers—equate to 21.42 minutes of daily exercise.
What are Canadian adults doing with their time when they are not exercising? They’re being mostly sedentary, that’s what—over 9.5 hours per day, which accounts for 69 per cent of their waking hours.(9) And, as we saw earlier, too much sedentary behaviour is creating a global health-care crisis.
Even if you meet the recommended physical activity guidelines, sedentary behaviour in the remaining hours of your day is still detrimental to your health.(10) Those remaining hours are the focus of this book. I will help you add non-exercise activity in common sense ways. Consistent with my original goal when I first created The Move More Institute™, I will share easy to implement and low-cost or free options. Let’s go.
How Do You Accumulate Physical Activity?
Ready for some good news? The activity our bodies crave and need can happen in minuscule increments. Indeed, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that physical activity that was accumulated in sporadic bouts throughout the day still reduced the risk of early death.(11) The total amount of daily physical activity is more important than how you accumulate that activity.
What are your health or fitness goals? Disease prevention or injury prevention? Enjoyment of life? If you fall into one of these categories, there really is no need to go all out at the gym. For many people, their unspoken goals of fitness are basic to existence—prevent premature death and live life fully and pain-free. If you fall into this group, don’t despair about people who may have more specific or rigorous fitness goals. You can focus instead on accumulating small, sporadic bouts of movement throughout your day. Every little bit counts toward your total physical activity: walking to the store, taking the stairs, or getting up from your desk and pacing during a conference call. As I mentioned before when describing my mission with The Move More Institute™, I call them “snacks of exercise.” And these snacks don’t require fancy workout clothes or special equipment, or the need to shower before continuing your day. Every little bit of movement matters. Just ask actress Eva Marie Saint.
“Did you know I’m older than the Oscars? Just keep moving.”(12) Just. Keep. Moving. Those were the words Saint uttered at the 2017 Oscars. She was pondering the fact that the awards show was celebrating 90 years, and she was older at 93. And she looked fantastic, standing proudly, displaying every inch of her 5’4” frame—not stooped over and shuffling like many others later in their lives.
And she’s right, you know. There is no secret elixir for aging well. You just have to keep moving. No fancy equipment or expensive gym membership required!
You know the drill: Time for a break! You’ve been sitting long enough; time to get up and move. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here, waiting for you. Now go move your beautiful body!
If you enjoyed this excerpt, please consider buying the book. It’s available globally on Amazon and locally in Ottawa (contact me for more details).
*Copyright 2018 Amanda Sterczyk, all rights reserved
1. Katriana L. Piercy & Richard P. Troaino. "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans From the US Department of Health and Human Services." Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 11 (2018): 1-3. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.118.005263
2. Ian Janssen. “Health Care Costs of Physical Inactivity in Canadian Adults.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 37, no. 4 (2012): 803–806.
3. World Health Organization, Fact Sheet on Physical Activity, http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/. Reprinted with permission.
4. Hayley Wickenheiser, “We must move more to improve Canadians’ health,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 2017, http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/wickenheiser-we-must-move-more-to-improve-canadians-health.
5. Fares Bounajm, Thy Dinh, and Louis Thériault, Moving Ahead: The Economic Impact of Reducing Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2014): 15, http://sportmatters.ca/sites/default/files/content/moving_ahead_economic_impact_en.pdf.
6. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults—18–64 years, (first viewed October 10, 2017), http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf.
7. CSEP, Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.
8. Rachel C. Colley et al., “Physical activity of Canadian adults: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey,” Health Reports 22, no. 1 (January 2011): 4, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2011001/article/11396-eng.pdf.
9. Colley, “Physical activity of Canadian adults”, 4.
10. Carol Ewing Garber et al., “Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43, no. 7 (July 2011): 1334–1359, https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx.
11. Pedro F. Saint-Maurice et al., “Moderate‐to‐Vigorous Physical Activity and All‐Cause Mortality: Do Bouts Matter?” Journal of the American Heart Association (March 22, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.117.007678.
12. “‘I’m older than the Academy’: Eva Marie Saint hands out Oscar at age 93,” CTV News, March 4, 2018, https://www.ctvnews.ca/i-m-older-than-the-academy-eva-marie-saint-hands-out-oscar-at-age-93-1.3828591.
Everyone Loves a Good Origin Story! aka the Evolution of Amanda Sterczyk Fitness and The Move More Institute™
I wasn’t always in the fitness industry; I studied psychology at school. During my university days in the late 1980s/early 1990s, a professor announced that our generation would not have jobs for life. Instead, we would become the “continuous learning generation” and cycle through three to five career changes.
To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure of two points:
1. that I could make a career with a Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, and
2. that I wanted a career in psychology.
The first realization drove me to extend my post-secondary study — first, to complete an honours thesis, and then to complete a Master of Arts, Psychology. And so I began my career in health promotion research. Not psychology — health promotion research — which I suppose qualifies as my first career change. And I loved it. I even toyed with completing a PhD in the field. But then research funding started to dry up, and the opportunities became scarcer.
That’s when I conjured my next career transition, which landed me in human resources. In high tech during the 90s tech boom. Talk about a trial by fire. Given my penchant for research, I found a home on the compensation side of HR. Numbers didn’t scare me, but having employees crying in my office did.
The HR career sandwiched two maternity leaves, and I realized that I loved being a stay-at-home mom. More on this later; be patient, grasshopper.
During a return to the workforce, a foot injury sidelined my hobby as an occasional runner, I was devastated to hear that I needed orthotics and “indoor shoes.” Indoor shoes?! I’m a barefoot babe, and in my world, shoes are for outside only. Sometimes.
During my first maternity leave, I had discovered the TV version of Essentrics® - Classical Stretch™ with Miranda Esmonde-White. I stumbled upon Classical Stretch again shortly after the shock of indoor shoes was thrust upon me. I’m not kidding when I say I was an “occasional runner.” I’ve never been a huge fan of structured exercise, which is partly why I stopped following Classical Stretch a few years earlier.
But when my foot problems began to recede, I decided I needed to become more diligent about working out. Let’s be clear, I’ve always led an active lifestyle — walking and biking almost everywhere, taking the stairs instead of the elevator — but at the same time, I eschewed structured workouts.
One day, as I was searching for a Classical Stretch DVD online, I discovered that I could train to become a “Classical Stretch instructor” from home. You mean, I could get paid to exercise? Having the accountability of teaching others whilst working out appealed to me, because it forced me to be more consistent with my workouts. And actually get out of my pjs to exercise.
Over four years — 2010 to 2013 — I studied and passed the four levels of certification to become a fully certified Essentrics instructor.* And I taught A LOT of classes. In 2014, I was teaching 15 classes a week, in eight different locations across the city. In addition to teaching a lot, I was also travelling a lot between these classes. And spending a significant amount of time in front of my computer to market and promote the classes.
All of a sudden, my enjoyment of teaching a workout I loved was taking its toll on my body:
- I developed a serious shoulder injury from too much computer use;
- I fell down the stairs when I was rushing and carrying too much (you can’t really see the stairs when your arms are overflowing with stuff);
- I was involved in a car accident when I was hurrying to complete an errand before class; and
- I generally felt burnt out all the time.
Too much rushing. Too much on my plate. Something had to give. And it did.
Around the same time, I was reading and writing about the risks of too much sedentary time. Headlines like “Sitting is the new smoking” preceded articles that were imploring people to sit less, move more. It was from this zeitgeist that The Move More Institute™ began to take shape. Even if people were going to the gym or a fitness class on a regular basis, they still needed to get off their butts in more frequent intervals. Every. Single. Day.
I wrote multiple blog posts and social media posts on the topic. And I also created workshops entitled, “I’m not sitting anymore. What now?!” The workshops were well-received. In addition to my Essentrics certification, I began taking other fitness courses and certifications, including my personal trainer certification. I was spending a great deal of time teaching my clients about body awareness. How? By teaching them how to use their muscles for their intended purposes. Even though I worked part-time at several gyms in this period, I much preferred to meet people on their home turf. In so doing, I could show them that they could be physically active without spending tons of money. Do we really need fancy clothes, complicated equipment or expensive memberships to use our bodies? Of course not! If you choose to hire a trainer, join a gym or exercise class to workout, that’s fantastic. But it’s not the only way to move your body. You also don’t need to get sweaty to get your body working. The World Health Organization defines physical activity as "any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.”* Bottom line, all exercise is movement, but not all movement is exercise.
As I looked back over the past 10 years, I realized that I was at my healthiest when my kids were young and movement was the name of the game. We were active all day long, whether I was playing with my kids or just taking care of them and running our household. Injuries began when I was sitting too much in an office job and then running myself ragged with my fitness business.
The Move More Institute™ began to take shape. My slogan became “Move More, Feel Better.” Not exercise more. Not head to the gym and lift more weights. Just move more. My goal with movement coaching is short-term coaching, long-term results. And this goal is woven throughout my book Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day. As I say in the book’s dedication, I wrote it for people who think physical fitness is beyond their reach.
So there you have it. That’s my origin story, so to speak. After my book was published, someone asked if I had always wanted to write a book. Initially, I said no. But then I remembered a project from school; I believe I was in grade five. Our task was to create a family crest. One of the quadrants had to be how you saw yourself in the future, as an adult. I had drawn a book cover, complete with title and author - me. So I suppose I have always wanted to write a book.
World Health Organization, Fact Sheet on Physical Activity, http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/. reprinted with permission
*Classical Stretch is the name of the TV workout, while Essentrics is the live version — aka, classes and privates with instructors.
"I’m already exercising, why is my physiotherapist giving me more exercises to do?" Guest Post by Brad Lafortune, PT
Even though you may have heard the term “physio-terrorist” used before, I promise you, we physiotherapists do not derive any joy from giving you work. We do, however, prescribe just what we believe it’ll take to get you feeling better and moving more, free from pain and hesitation.
But why do we have to prescribe specific exercises if you’re already moving and keeping active? In a nutshell, we’re trying to get to the source of the issue to avoid the formation of compensations.
A physiotherapist is trained to find and treat problems in muscles, joints, and the nervous system throughout the body. During an assessment, your therapist is looking for areas of weakness, points of tension, joints with decreased range of motion, and asymmetries in the way your body moves. The results from these evaluations guide your therapist as they prescribe the right treatment for you. This treatment plan should almost always include personalized exercises, tailored to your condition and your goals.
With these exercises, you and your therapist are working to resolve elements that were found to be lacking during the assessment. These exercises are specifically chosen in order to target the proper element in question, whether it’s strength, flexibility, range of motion, or balance. What’s more, specific parameters will be specified for your exercises, including intensity, frequency, and number of repetitions. These parameters play a vital role in getting the desired results from the exercises your given.
The law of parsimony states that things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most efficient way. This law applies to our bodies and to the way we move. Muscles work in groups and chains, each with their own role, movements, and proper time to work. With that and the law of parsimony in mind, a weak or damaged muscle in a chain or group will continue to be weak, while the stronger muscles will be recruited to perform the majority of the work. This leads to muscles imbalances as well as strains of overstressed muscles if not addressed.
By creating and following a tailored exercise plan with specifically chosen exercises, these compensations can be fixed or avoided entirely.
I assure you, your “physio-terrorist” is not trying to overwhelm you with exercises. Rather, your therapist is trying to help your muscles work in harmony, sharing the workload correctly to avoid compensations and further harm.
If ever it’s too much to do or too hard to perform, just let your physiotherapist know! Your home exercise plan is meant for YOU! It can be adjusted, modified, or tweaked to suit not only your problem, but also your way of life and abilities.
Right exercises = right healing so you can move more and do more.
About the author: Brad Lafortune is a registered physiotherapist with the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario and the founder of Function Physiotherapy. Brad is committed to providing quality care through an active, hands-on approach to better health.
What, exactly, is balance? It’s “the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall”.(1) Think about it like this: it’s your centre of gravity over your base of support. That’s why four-legged creatures have an easier time maintaining balance on slippery surfaces: they have a lower centre of gravity and a wider base of support.
We all need good balance to safely move around our world on a daily basis, but have you ever thought about it? If you’ve ever lost your balance, fallen and sustained an injury, you get it. Balance is a critical component of walking - because walking is essentially a weight transfer and balance exercise. One foot, then the other. Repeat. If you’re having trouble with balance, how will you be with walking? Well, walking will also be difficult, and that’s when you’re most likely to risk a fall.
If balance is a challenge for you, you’re likely more aware of its importance. The ability to maintain an upright position without falling over — it’s cute when a toddler is learning to walk unaided. A young child falls regularly, but over time, their balance improves and they fall less. As adults, poor balance can be life-threatening and, frankly, quite frightening.
As we age, our balance is impacted negatively by our aging bodies:
- cells die in our vestibular system, which is connected to the centre in our brain that controls balance,
- our vision declines and with it, our depth perception,
- changes to our blood pressure may cause dizziness, lightheadness or blurriness,
- we lose muscle mass, strength, and power — this can slow our reaction time if we trip,
- our reflexes and coordination also decline, and
- a variety of health problems may also impact our balance, including arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.(2)
So, how is your balance? Did you know it’s actually one of your senses?(3) The myth that we have only 5 senses - sight, taste, touch, feeling, & hearing - can be traced back to Aristotle. But scientists know that we have many more than five. These include the sense of movement, temperature, hunger, thirst, pain, balance, and proprioception. Fitness professionals in the functional fitness realm regularly refer to proprioception - your ability to sense where the parts of your body are without seeing them. You know, how you can get up in the dark and walk to your bathroom without falling over. And think about a law-enforcement official asking you to close your eyes and touch your nose as a sobriety test. That’s proprioception!
Regular physical activity is key to maintaining good balance. An exercise program that focuses on specific balance exercises as well as core strengthening and movement patterns will improve balance and stability, not to mention daily function.
- Test yourself: set a timer and stand on one leg; repeat on the other side (this is your baseline)
- Check your feet/remove your shoes to engage proprioception
- Bend your standing leg to lower your centre of gravity
- Focus on a static point (e.g., during class, not me, but a point above my head)
- Think about your joints, making them as light as possible
- Slight pelvic tilt, engage the abs
- If in doubt, reset by lowering your leg to the ground
- Airplane arms out to the side to increase your base of support
- Stand near a wall/chair or gently touch a wall/chair with your hand
- Need more help? Sign up for one of my online courses, “3 Days to Better Balance” or “Balance 2.0”
What’s on your bucket list? Are you missing out on life? Has a fear of falling or a past fall impacted how and when you go out? As we get older, the risk of falls that can injure us increases. As a result, individuals like you curb their activity levels. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you take ownership of your body, you can be as active as you like. Working on improving your balance and strengthening your muscles will increase your confidence and reduce the risk of a fall. So you can get back to enjoying your life, and continue to tackle that bucket list.
Your body was designed to last a lifetime; but you need to use it daily for lasting effects. I have created online courses that can help: “3 Days to Better Balance” and “Balance 2.0: Progressions in Motion”. Both include daily videos with exercises and instructions on how to use more muscles in daily life. You’ll also receive daily check-ins with me via email or text message - this will help keep you on track with your goals.
Here’s some feedback from participants completed my online balance courses:
“I found as I stood at the sink doing my teeth, and at the bus stop, being very aware of my standing base.”
“Wow so great for my unconscious winter hunched shoulders’ posture!”
“I really needed the 3 Day Balance work. It was great.”
A. How often do you walk sideways? It’s a great way to strengthen your inner and outer thighs - aka, your adductor and abductor muscles. Sideways walking can help improve your balance, by strengthening these smaller stabilizing muscles. And it’s great brain training too - since we don’t typically walk sideways, your body and brain have to exert more effort to move.
B. Backwards walking to improve your balance? You betcha! It’s important to rely on more than just your eyes when you’re moving around in life. Walking backwards helps you improve your proprioception, by relying on the input from your feet.
It’s also strengthening your brain-body connection by creating new pathways in your brain. AND improving coordination in the lower half of your body.
I am so proud of my book and want to share it with everyone. The book’s message is a simple one: Exercise, physical activity, practical fitness, movement. Call it what you will, just make sure you do it every day. Physical activity doesn’t need to be costly, complicated, or time-consuming. But it does need to happen every single day. No special clothing, fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships are required. Just a commitment to get off your butt and move more.
To that end, I’m thrilled with the early response I’ve received. There have been fantastic reviews for the book, both online and in person. It’s nice to run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and be told your book is fantastic and helping them so much. That happened to me one Saturday afternoon, as I walked to the library. And here are some written reviews I’ve received:
Angela: "I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I'm buying 7 more copies for presents for some of my friends. The red, white and black cover is very eye catching and dynamic and invites you to pick the book up. The style is fresh and positive. I love the frequent invitations to move my beautiful body. This book is a gentle reminder to keep moving and stay as healthy as possible. It suggests small changes that have a huge impact on our health: Age without Pain!"
Amazon Customer: "Great book on how to get more movement in your day, whether you are actively working out every day and if you are sedentary, or think you move a lot. You will be surprised. It's an easy read and informative, backed by credible references and written by a very knowledgeable author. This book needs to be read by everyone! I workout 5 days a week for an hour; I was amazed at how much I sit or stand. If you are someone e that needs inspiration to get more movement in your day, Amanda can certainly help you and you are going to feel better. Promise!"
Lydia: "This book is amazing! Amanda makes it so easy to add more movement to your day. I love the concept on nudges and creating new habits to make it more sustainable and long-lasting."
Kindle Edition Reader: "A great little gem! Filled with practical ideas of how you can add more movement to your day. I especially like the suggestion of a health SMOK break at work: Sedentary & Movement Optional Kills Early. The author point out how it's socially acceptable for smokers to take a break, yet it's not as socially acceptable to take a movement break at work. As a personal trainer, I'm always trying to encourage my clients to move more outside of their traditional exercise time. I'd totally recommend this book if you're need more ideas on how to do this, whether for yourself or your clients.”
I’ve published a few videos of the book’s content, including the introduction and the table of contents.
And I’ve had some wonderful individuals reach out to share details of my book with their audiences. This exposure has included podcasts, radio interviews, blog posts, and newsletter features. You can visit my media pages check back often to see the others!
Next on my list are workshops, presentations, and book signings. I have a few of those scheduled later this month. Please visit my events page to see the ones that are open to the public. And do let me know if you’d like a live event scheduled at your location.
Well, in addition to promoting my book, I’m still running my fitness business. So that means it’s time to get back to work on personal training and group and private Essentrics classes.
I hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as I am! And remember, keep moving.
Move more, feel better. That’s the slogan I adopted when I created The Move More Institute™ in 2016. Physical inactivity is causing a global health crisis, as we download more apps and purchase more labour-saving devices to make our lives “easier.” But is easier necessarily better? I don’t think so, and neither do most health and fitness professionals. For several years now, we have been sounding the alarm. Have you been listening?
Perhaps you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” Unfortunately, our busy lives have precluded many people from making the necessary changes to their daily lives. I'm just about to publish my first book, called Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day. With this book, I teach people how to add non-exercise activity to their busy days. Physical activity doesn't have to be complicated or cost a ton of money, but it does have to be part of your daily life if you want to prevent premature death.
How will this book help you? I’m glad you asked. With the guidance provided in this book, you can:
- Learn how to nudge yourself to be more active throughout the day, every day
- Improve your health by incorporating non-exercise activity into your busy workday, and
- Identify and overcome barriers to being more physically active.
The book is divided into three easy to follow sections: The Problem, The Solution, and The Action Plan. If you’re stuck and not sure what to do, this book will help you change your behaviour from "mostly sedentary" to "active mover.”
To reach more people, I chose to self-publish with Amazon. The paperback and e-book versions will be available for sale later this month. If you can buy books from Amazon in your country, you’ll be able to buy this book.
For those of you who live in the Ottawa area, I will be hosting a book launch in mid-September. Stay tuned for more details.
And remember: if you move more, you will feel better.
Visit Amazon to purchase your copy today.
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?
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.