BECOMING IMMUNE TO STRESS
This is the third and final article about stress resilience in the Ride the Redline series. It also showcases the thing I’m most excited about in helping you to develop a proactive immunity to stress.
Here’s a link to the two other parts for reference:
The Quick and Dirty
1. You can develop a stronger immunity to stress through redline activities.
2. A redline activity is one that is physically, mentally and emotionally challenging.
3. It should be safe but feel a little unsafe, frustrating or stressful. It is a form of intentional, controlled stress.
4. The benefits include increased stress resilience, improved confidence, improved mood, reduced anxiety and ensures physical, mental and emotional adaptability which are very important for aging.
5. Guidelines: 1) challenging but safe, 2) highlights one of your weaknesses, 3) short in duration (10-30 min), 4) frequent and consistent, 5) elicit feelings of frustration and stress, 6) they need to be adaptable.
The Nitty Gritty
So far we have discussed what stress is and that despite what is commonly thought, stress is not all that bad as long as we have a good stress resilience or stress immunity. We can think of this like exercise. Walking up 3 steep flights of stairs is horrible for people who have low exercises tolerance. For those who are conditioned, they barely notice the exertion and recover in just a few seconds upon reaching the top of the stairs.
Stress is the same way. Many people become overwhelmed by life and all the myriad responsibilities. Fear of the unknown and a perceived reduction in functioning, especially in the aged, cause people to create a gilded cage, a bubble of perceived safety and limitation around themselves that results in a gradual, progressive reduction in personal freedom and capabilities. The psychological literature is very clear on this. The best way to maintain personal freedom is to face our fears head on, strategically and with support. Taking this one step further we can safeguard our personal freedom and mental / emotional adaptability by developing a higher degree of stress resilience, what I call Riding the Redline
Creating Your Redline
In this section we will begin to outline a framework for you to create your own “redline” activity. Remember, its not the specific activity that matters, but the ability to apply the main principles to the creation of your own redline activity.
The Goal: Choose an activity you can do safely and consistently that is challenging, that causes some degree of physical stress (muscle fatigue, elevated heart rate, increased respiration), emotional stress (frustration, elevated heart rate, mild anxiousness), or mental stress (problem solving, novelty, repeatedly failing). Quick side note, if you are considering an increase or change to your exercise regimen and you are struggling with your health or with an injury, please consult your physician prior to beginning training. You may also want to hire a personal trainer to help get you started.
Here are the guidelines for redline activities:
1. They need to be challenging but essentially safe. This is completely subjective as what is safe for a professional athlete is not safe for a novice.
2. Ideally they highlight one of your weaknesses. This is one good way to leverage a weakness in order to become stronger overall. For example, if you have no rhythm, then start taking a partner dance class or learn to play a drum. They goal isn’t to become a good dancer or a prodigy on the bongos, it’s to become more immune to stress, embarrassment and frustration.
3. They need to be short in duration. You need to spend between 10-30 minutes near your edge or redline. This seems to be the sweet spot for most activities except for extreme cold and heat exposure practices which have their own set of guidelines. I’ll write an article about the use of heat and cold exposure for improved wellness soon.
4. They need to be frequent and consistent, think daily or at least 5 times per week.
5. They need to elicit feelings of frustration, mental and emotional stress for at least part of the time you are doing them. The feeling of frustration is actually the feeling of your brain changing through neuroplasticity. I’ll publish an article specifically about this soon. It’s important you spend at least half the time near the edge of or just a little beyond your comfort zone. I call this “leaning against the edge.”
6. They need to be adaptive. Once you feel comfortable with that experience, you need to safely increase the challenge or even switch to a completely different experience. For example, taking 2-3 minutes of cold showers in the morning used to help me feel more resilient. After about 3-4 months I became used to the cold and it was no longer a challenge, and taking longer showers or baths just increased the boredom factor without increasing the excitement factor. While I still enjoy cold exposure for other health benefits, I don’t use it as my redline anymore.
Some examples of redline activities:
1. Exercise and Movement – If you’re not regularly exercising, start with something easy and gradually increase your tolerance over time. If you’re an athlete or enthusiast then choose something out of your comfort zone. Think of football players doing ballet, or professional runners ice skating. The idea here is to find an edge and lean against it regularly. Many people try things like partner dancing, martial arts or dance-inspired exercise classes like Zumba to find their edge. For skilled athletes, doing movements that challenge balance are good ways to find your redline. Activities like skateboarding with the non-dominant foot forward, or slacklining are good examples. I’ll emphasize this again. In order to increase stress adaptation you need to spend between 10-30 minutes leaning against your edge. It should be challenging and a bit frustrating.
2. Games of Strategy – Playing chess, go, and other games of strategy can have profound effects on mental and emotional stress resilience. These days computers are able to adapt their playing style and difficulty level to consistently push the human player. I think tools like this are amazing ways to engage in intentional stress. During your redline zone, you should be losing 80% of the time or by an 80% margin. You want to become frustrated!
3. Meditation – But wait! I thought meditation was supposed to be relaxing! Certain practices of meditation can be used to relax the mind and body, but practices like mindfulness and insight meditation are actually designed to be mildly stressful, mildly agitating and frustrating, but have profound effects on the brain for enhanced stress resilience, attention, focus, concentration and creativity. Here is a link to a free meditation program designed to do exactly this.
Integrating Your Experience for Maximum Impact
Ok, let’s assume you have chosen your safe but challenging activity that highlights one of your weakness and elicits some feelings of frustration. Once you have been on that redline for 10 – 20 minutes, then it is important to take a break. There is a process called non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) that will help you to integrate your experience and reinforce the learning. Check the links below for more details.
Alright! Thanks for taking this journey with me. I hope the information here is helpful to you and feel free to comment in this article on my website or reach out to me through our private facebook group.
Links and Resources: