I’m currently listening to the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”, by Emily Nagoski. The book’s aim is to help people end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I have a serious interest in the relationship between stress and health. As a home organizer, I am constantly helping people that feel overwhelmed by their stuff. This sense of overwhelm often causes a physiological response in the body. Not only do environmental toxins such as dust, mold, and chemical fumes effect your health, but the stress of being cramped by so many items in your home can really have an impact on your physical well-being.
One, there’s the space issue- walking around bumping into things, tripping hazards, and not having room to stretch or move. Two, there’s the burden of your physical “to-do” list staring you down every day. This to-do list could be in the form of unfinished projects, physical reminders of errands that you need to do (returns, dry-cleaning, plants that need to be repotted… that sort of thing). Three, there is the emotional stress that is generated from piles of bills, artifacts from your ex, and mementos that bring back bittersweet memories. These are all “stressors”. They are what cause the “stress” in your body. But it can also be looked at as a chicken and the egg scenario. Did the stressors in your environment cause the stress in your body? Or did the stress in your body allow the stressors in your environment to take root? The answer to that really doesn’t matter, because if you don’t deal with the stress in your body, you may not have enough energy, mental clarity, and inner confidence to be able to manage the disorganization in your home.
“There are external stressors: work, money, family, time, cultural norms and expectations, experiences of discrimination, and so on. And there are less tangible, internal stressors: self-criticism, body image, identity, memories, and The Future… Stress is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter on of these threats.” (E.N.). Nagoski does a wonderful job explaining how the stress response acts in your body. But “just because you’ve dealt with the stressor doesn’t mean you’ve dealt with the stress itself.” (E.N.). For example, if a lion is chasing you, but then your friends come help you and take out the lion, even though the lion is eliminated, the stress cycle is not complete. Just telling yourself that you’re safe and it’s ok to calm down is not enough. “You have to do something that signals to your body that you are safe, or else you’ll stay in that state, with neurochemicals and hormones degrading but never shifting into relaxation. Your digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, and reproductive system never get the signal that they’re safe… Physical activity is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle.” (E.N.).
Stress gets generated in your body every day. If you don’t release it, it will fester in your body, get compounded, and could potentially cause chronic inflammation and illness. Some people are more susceptible to stress than others. If you have ADHD, an autoimmune disorder, or a generally sensitive constitution, it will be harder for you to just shake off the stress than it is for others. Since I have all three (ADHD, Hashimoto’s, and am very sensitive), I have to work hard to manage the stress. Many foods can greatly exacerbate my stress, and so that’s why I choose to be so particular about what I eat. I also make a point to move my body daily. As Emily Nagoski so eloquently explains in her book, the very best thing to allow your stress cycle to complete is through exercise.
Does the idea of exercise make you cringe? American culture, pumped up with the “Big Bikini Industry”, the words “exercise” and “diet” have become unfortunately associated with hating your body, never feeling thin enough, and constant comparison to others. The self-care industry has tried to reclaim diet and exercise as a way of loving yourself, taking care of the body you were given, and showing respect to yourself and others. However, the self-care movement has also become a big business that can generate stressful competition between people who engage in activities such as yoga, meditation, and even adult coloring. (Shameless plug… if you don’t have a copy of Color to Declutter, order yours here!). “The problem is the world has turned “wellness” into yet another goal everyone “should” strive for, but only people with time and money and nannies and yachts and Oprah’s phone number can actually achieve.” (E.N.) I know I can personally get my “Miracle Morning” checklist to be so long that instead of being something that is supposed to relieve stress and set my day up for success, if not kept in check, the amount of “self-care to-do’s” can cause more stress than if I hadn’t done any of them.
“Dealing with your stress is a separate process from dealing with the things that cause your stress. To deal with your stress, you have to complete the cycle.” (E.N.) Whether you’re new to exercise or simply want to shake up your routine, here are some ideas to get started:
- Get out into nature and go for a hike. I personally love Discovery Park, Whidbey Island, and getting out to the Olympic Peninsula. The hikes out 90 such as Rattlesnake and Mt. Si are also great, although they can get very crowded on the weekends. Or just do some urban hiking in Seattle.
- Power-walk, skip or jog. You can do this practically anywhere!
- Roll your wheels. Ride a bike, skateboard or rollerblade. The Burke-Gilman, Myrtle Edwards and Alki are all great for this! There’s also an excellent trail on the Olympic Peninsula called the Olympic Discovery Trail. Eventually it will go all the way from Port Townsend to Forks! I walked on it for a few miles in Sequim last weekend, and it was beautiful!
- Play ball sport such as basketball, tennis, soccer, or even a game of four-square. Even a game of catch or frisbee will get your body moving and your coordination muscles activated.
- If you can’t hit the gym, do a workout home video. I have been doing Beachbody videos at home for years, but also like to switch it up from time to time.
- Stretch it out, and strengthen at the same time, with YogaGlo, RevInMo, or a Pilates class.
- Go horseback riding! Not only will it be great exercise, you’ll also get to bond with a furry four-legged animal.
- Hit the slopes! Go skiing, snowboarding, or snow shoeing.
- Get out into the open water with a canoe, kayak, surf-board or stand-up paddleboard. If you have access to a pool, or the weather is warm enough for the lake or Puget Sound, you could go swimming too!
- Dance! Check out a local outdoor or online Zumba class, or crank up your stereo and use your shampoo bottle as a microphone.
- Try a martial art such as Karate, Capoeira, or Taekwondo. I’m sure you can find online versions of all of these.
- Jump up and down on a trampoline, moon-bounce, or rebounder.
Exercise is really the #1 way to allow stress to move through your body. However, if you’re firmly against it, or absolutely cannot do it due to mobility or health issues, consider making art, playing the drums (I finally started taking Djembe and Kete classes!), singing, or screaming into thin air! In addition to these are deep breathing, positive social interaction, laughter, and affection. These are all healthy ways of allowing your stress to get processed rather than repressed and internalized. Whatever you do, make sure to have fun while you’re doing it! Not only will you have more strength and endurance to be able to organize your home, you may find that by releasing your stress, it won’t manifest as clutter in your home at the same level it used to!
What kind of exercise helps you process stress the best? Send me a message, I’d love to hear about it!
By Jean Prominski, Certified Professional Organizer
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Image Credit: Danielle Cerullo