The good stress

When I think of “stress,” my brain starts whirring, my heart starts pounding, I start to sweat, and I’m not happy. Most people, I think, react the same way to most stress. In fact, the World Health Organization defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain.” And when this type of stress continues, it can become “distress” which leads to anxiety and overwhelm. But there is a “good” stress – called “eustress.” 

Stress can be beneficial

Eustress can be a beneficial emotion, leading to “positive emotional arousal, leading to activation and engagement” with the world around us, according to a paper in the National Library of Medicine. 

Exercise is stressful, but "good" stress.
Exercise is “good” stress

So, eustress is “manageable, acute, and short-term.” Think of exercise as an example. We’re placing stress on our bodies when we exercise. But exercise by definition is short-term, and the stress we put our bodies in is acute – we voluntarily raise our heart rates or work our muscles in a way that’s different from their normal state. And the reason that we exercise is to become more fit, release endorphins and improve our mental well-being.

Nurtures our well-being

“Eustress is the physical, mental, and/or emotional tension that is placed on the mind and body when we engage in activities that actually nurture our well-being and foster growth,” says Andra Brown, a NY-based licensed mental health counselor who specializes in anxiety, racial identity, and stress. Brown says that eustress can make us excited and motivated. When we feel eustress, we feel compelled to act in a positive manner. Our mindset improves when we’re under eustress. And when we act positively, our resilience grows.

If I get an idea for an article, and I know it’s a good one, I’m fired up. I open a new Google Document and write rapid-fire until that idea is down in black and white. 

Stress and exercise

I’m not excited to exercise, as you know. But, once I push “Play,” the music comes on and the instructor gives the first direction, I start moving and can forget about everything else. Good stress indeed!

Public speaking can even be eustressful

Brown emphasizes that eustress triggers can increase productivity. Think about the last time you spoke in front of a small group of friends about a subject you’re passionate about. Even though public speaking may usually terrify you, when it’s about a topic that’s near and dear to your heart, you probably spoke eloquently and far more succinctly than you believed you could.

As you’ve seen in previous articles, exercise generates energy. Even if I’m tired before a workout, I feel energized afterward! Exercise, therefore, is positive stress. It feeds our body and mind.

I try to combine distress and eustress

Listening to the news, on the other hand, is “distress.” It brings on feelings of anxiety and is practically debilitating. I do like to know what’s going on in the world, though, so I pair watching the national news every day with a calming Sudoku puzzle. On one hand, I’m anxious, but on the other, I’m solving a puzzle. I’m hoping that the eustress outweighs the distress. Indeed, Brown says that during moments of eustress, we are able to perceive certain challenges as less threatening.

So, there’s no need to fear stress – just do everything you can to make it good stress.

True happiness may not be what you think

When you think of being “happy,” what comes to mind? Is it smiling ear-to-ear? Or a big belly laugh? That expression of happiness, though, is not really sustainable. It’s impossible to have mind-blowing joy every minute. We need to sleep sometimes, right? And at this stage of life, happiness should be sustainable and not exhausting. To me, happiness is contentment raised up a notch or two.

true happiness

True happiness is the feeling you get when all is right in your world. When you see beauty and can actually pause and reflect on it for a moment. Knowing that you can share that moment with family and friends and they’ll understand your happiness in the beauty you see. My vision of happiness also revolves around the idea of positivity going forward. Thinking of being happy not just now but in the future. Our resilience grows from that idea of true happiness.

Lots of moments of joy

These days, moments of joy occur when my dogs “get it!” When the dogs seem to have light bulbs above their heads. If Simon sits and actually stays until I tell him it’s okay to move. That’s a huge moment of joy for me. I know that my training is paying off and if I enter a competition, then we’ll have a prayer of succeeding. Lesser moments of joy occur in just sitting with my dogs, though. I don’t need outside validation to be happy with them. But it’s not just my dogs that make me deep-down happy – seeing the deep purple crocus poke their heads out of the soil fills my soul. I choose happiness every day.

Happiness may have a goal orientation

I’m looking to the future in happiness. I’m preparing to be happy then, too. My goals are part of the foundation for future happiness. As writer Christopher Boyce puts it, “have goals but be prepared to let them go.” Think about your future self – how you want to live, what you want to do. Make goals to achieve that life. And, of course, set your intermediate goals to get you there. But if you’re not happy when you’re working toward those goals, set new ones. Life is a journey. If we’re not happy at any point for sustained periods, we need to change course. 

True Happiness May Take a While

Years ago, my sister and I owned an RV, stored in Marathon, Florida. We would take separate vacations there, driving down from our home near Chicago with our dogs. It’s a 24-hour drive, so we each took 3 days to get there – essential with dogs. No, the drive was not fun. It was sometimes nerve-wracking, but the end result was worth it. So, sometimes thinking ahead a little bit makes the unhappy part insignificant. We overcome obstacles to get to that happy future. And part of that future is being as fit and healthy as possible to enjoy it.

Tears Along the Way

Happiness is multi-faceted. There’s bad mixed in with mostly good. There may be tears along the way, but an overall happy life can sustain setbacks, grief and sadness. When you’re content at the end of most days – isn’t that happiness?

Invisible benefits of exercise

I agree with Khloe Kardashian

I’m not a Kardashian fan. I don’t follow any of them. But I read an article about how Khloe Kardashian loves the invisible benefits of exercise, and I have to agree with her. Kardashian turns to exercise for the “mental release” it gives her. Exercise gives her power over her life – it’s one thing she can actually control. And it’s true – you decide what kind of exercise you want to do. You decide when to do it. How hard to exercise, and how long your session should be. I choose to exercise at an intense level. I get the most out of the 30 minutes I’m willing to spend on exercise.

It’s not about the scale

It’s not about losing weight – Kardashian says she hasn’t stepped on a scale in ages. Because a scale is just numbers. If you’re happy with how you feel, how your clothes fit, and you’re healthy, then your weight shouldn’t matter so much. 

Exercise for confidence

An intense workout makes me happier.
An intense workout leaves me happier in a short amount of time

Kardashian also extols the confidence that exercise gives her. We’re powerful when we improve our heart, our muscles and our bones. Exercise not only improves our physical health, but our mental health too. The mental release is one of the invisible benefits Khloe Kardashian finds in exercise. I’ve often written that when I’m in a bad mood, my sister won’t talk to me until after my workout. I’m in a much better mood then. The endorphins released during an intense workout make me happier and makes everyone less depressed. After a good workout, we’re much more able to face any difficulties with the confidence boost we get.

Improve your mindset with exercise

Exercise is good for your mindset too. That’s another invisible benefit of exercise. Kardashian admits to previously having unrealistic goals, like cutting out all sugar or working out five days a week. But now, with her consistent fitness practice, Kardashian is all about seeing exercise as a tool for wellness. And that’s a very healthy outlook. I don’t exercise because I want to fit into Size 2 jeans. That’s never going to happen. I exercise because I want to remain strong and independent, and do the things I want to do. Exercise is part of my healthy aging routine.

Your body is not ready for the time change

No one is ready for the time change, but you can mitigate its effect on your body.
No one is ready for the time change, but you can mitigate its effect.

Get ready! Daylight Saving Time starts this weekend. So, not only do we start off sleep-deprived, but we actually lose another hour of sleep. Your body is not ready for the time change. The Centers for Disease Control has a guideline for the number of hours of sleep we all need each night, but I don’t personally know anyone who is successful in getting that amount of sleep. And yet sleep is essential for our physical and mental health. Lack of quality sleep has been linked to obesity and depression. It’s also easier to bounce back from all the little things that go wrong every day when we start the day refreshed.

Is your room dark enough?

Like most Americans, I start each day feeling groggy and wooly-brained. My brain churned for a while before I fell asleep, and, while I don’t have a sleep tracker, I know that my sleep was not as beneficial as it could be. A darkened room and turning screens off early are effective, but just to a certain extent. 

Get ready for jet lag without going anywhere

Changing our clocks for Daylight Saving Time is like traveling to a different time zone. So we’re going to feel the effects of jet lag to some degree. We’re all going east one time zone this weekend. So, according to Dr. Innessa Donskoy, sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, we can prepare our bodies for that time change as if we were traveling. (It may be a little late now, but remember this for the fall.)

Dr. Donskoy says that to mitigate the physical effects of the time change, we should expose ourselves to light a few minutes earlier each day. Starting tomorrow, wake up fifteen minutes earlier and turn your light on. Actually open your eyes to the blinding glare and just start moving on with your day. This will allow your body to get ready for the time change.

And plan now to do something useful with those extra few minutes you’ll get the next few days. Get in a few more minutes of exercise. If the weather allows, take your dog for an extra-long walk. Write a chapter in that book you’re working on. Or read a chapter! You can log an  entry in your journal. Whatever you choose to do, do it! Get your body ready for the time change. Even if you can’t build up to the time change, get up earlier tomorrow. Or, if it’s too late to get ready for this spring, be kind to yourself. Take your dog for a walk anyway.

3 tips to make working out easier

Make working out easier on yourself. This is not to say that you should make your workouts easy. Rather, make it easy to exercise and get the full benefit of that exercise, especially for our healthy aging.

Get the maximum benefits

You know that there are many benefits to exercise. I wrote about this ‘way back in 2015! From the physical benefits to your bones, muscles, heart, lungs – to mental benefits, like improved memory and cognition and improved sleep. So, we still have to get our workouts in. So, to make sure that we get the most out of our workouts, here are 3 tips to make working out easy:

Tip #1 – Know yourself

My workouts are more intense with an instructor calling the moves.
My workouts are more intense with an instructor calling the moves.

If you’re the kind of person who’s a go-getter and won’t slow down or take out lighter weights, good for you. But I know that I won’t work at maximum intensity if I did a workout on my own. My powered treadmill ensures I don’t slow down. I need an instructor to make sure I get in all my reps. So, I shove in an exercise DVD and follow the instructor. I know that I’m working and not easing off.

Tip #2 – You’ll do it if you like it

Do a workout you like – or at least, don’t mind doing. If I look at my calendar and see that a workout I don’t care for is on today’s schedule, I might just find something else that needs to get done. Like cleaning out my sock drawer. Even though running is not my favorite exercise, I like the audiobook I’m listening to. And my time on the treadmill is the only time I listen. So I run. 

Tip #3 – Clear motivation

Know why you’re exercising. And it’s probably not for the physical and mental benefits. It’s to make sure that you can keep up with the grandkids. You exercise because you want to travel and walk around the cities you visit. Or you just want to take long walks with your significant other. For me – I want to run my dog in Agility. And I want to eat chocolate.

When you know what it takes to get the maximum benefit from your workout, when you know the kind of workout you like doing, and when you know why you’re exercising, you’re making your workouts easier on yourself. You know that you’ll get the maximum impact from the minimum time you spend on exercising.