The Stress Coil


As a health advisor, I notice common patterns and beliefs that can often keep people stuck and prevent them from moving forward on their goals, especially when it comes to getting regular exercise. Feeling stuck is stressful and can compound the stress we feel day to day. In this article, I’d like to discuss a fresh viewpoint on stress and exercise—how both impact the body and what can be done right now to feel a difference.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had one of those days at the office where things just don’t go your way. You wake up feeling tired and stiff, barking at your spouse on the way out the door as you shuffle off to work. Sitting at your desk, you respond to the endless list of emails and attempt to fill your coffee cup as many times as is humanly possible. You feel yourself growing increasingly stressed and impatient as the to-do list gets longer. And then, finally, it happens. A colleague (or even your boss) knocks on your door to give you yet another task and you snap! You lash out in a harsher tone than you are proud of and immediately regret your reaction. Over the course of the next hour, you stew over it and feel resigned from the entire day. Saying to yourself, “just put your head down and push through.”

You’re not alone.

Many feel the compounding effects of stress in the day-to-day flow of life, and it’s hard to know how to make things better. In fact, most know that exercise could help reduce the extra stress in addition to improving health. Nevertheless, it can be hard to muster up the motivation to pause the stress and simply get started. This is where the power of the mind can step in. 

To better understand how to manage stress, it’s important that we start by understanding our central nervous system (CNS). The CNS acts as a control center for the body. It sends chemical signals which continuously tell the body what to do or what state to be in—fight, flight, or freeze. What’s more, the CNS is active all the time due to different stimuli in our environment. Maybe it’s getting a text that your child is sick and has to be picked up from daycare or the “ding” of your email inbox that causes your CNS to go in hyperdrive. All of these triggers affect your ability to respond to incoming requests or needs in your environment, which in turn affects your stress response. LEARN MORE.

Here’s is another way to look at it:

Picture a big coil that sits right inside of your chest and runs the length of your belly to your clavicle bone. This coil is an indicator of the central nervous system and the body working in harmony. Every time you get stressed or triggered by a life event, and you don’t do anything to ease that stress, the coil gets progressively tighter and tighter. 
As the coil becomes tighter, you are more prone to react quickly and thoughtlessly to presenting situations, which makes you more stressed, and makes you react again—a self-feeding loop. The ideal scenario would be that you are able to respond to incoming requests and needs from a grounded state, in line with your values and affirming your relationships—the coil being relaxed and flexible.

So, what can you do to keep the coil relaxed and flexible? 

You guessed it! EXERCISE.

Exercise has tremendous benefits when it comes to reducing stress and calming the CNS. It can act as a catalyst to minimize the need for the CNS to activate in the moment, so that you can get back to a responsive, grounded state. Research shows “almost any form of exercise or movement can increase your fitness level while decreasing your stress.” Since the sky is really the limit here, I always recommend that my clients choose something they have fun doing and can sustain long term. This can include weightlifting, tennis, yoga, martial arts, dancing, hiking, running, and so much more. 

Now that you know what you know, let's go back to the scenario highlighted in the beginning of this article and try a new approach to your day with the coil in mind:

You wake up feeling tired and stiff. You pause, notice this, and recognize that the coil is already starting out tight. You make a decision to turn on a five-minute yoga video to ease the tension in your body and help you wake up. With the coil relaxed, you kiss your spouse goodbye and leave for work.  As you arrive at your desk, you start the routine of checking your emails, and your to-do list grows. You feel the tension in your chest (or whatever your unique stress response might be), and you remember the coil saying “I’ve got to do something to get relaxed and flexible.” You decide to take a 10-minute walk around the building with some focused breathing. As you sit back down at your desk, your colleague comes in with a request, and you respond calmly and with a clear mind about what is needed. You continue this pattern throughout the day.

This is just an example of one possible response that can help you manage your stress throughout the day by changing your mindset and taking new actions related to exercise.

So here’s a challenge you to give a try  in the coming week:

  • Notice the next time you are triggered
  • Take 5 mins to get some form of exercise
  • Journal about how you feel
  • Repeat this practice at least once per day

Making regular exercise a part of your weekly routine is a great way to prevent the coil from getting tight in the first place. If you would like help in forming some exercise goals and some extra accountability along the way, check out the services available to your HERE.

– Andrew Jacobs, CHC, CPT

Health Advisor and Personal Trainer | Email Andrew

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