There are times when it is ideal to take a step back to reflect and recover on your wellbeing. Are you burning the candle at both ends? Is your training regime leading to over-training? Do you need to re-discover some balance in your life? We discussed several of these themes with Sweatband coach, Ruth Stone.
How do you counteract stress?
Ruth Stone: Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress can focus the mind and enable us to complete tasks that might otherwise be ignored. Stress typically results from having too much to do and too little time to do it in. If stress is impacting on you negatively there are some simple steps you can take to combat it. Writing a to do list is a great start, followed by prioritising tasks in terms or urgency and importance. Ticking off each thing as you do them will gradually ease your stress and give you a sense of satisfaction.
Exercise can be a great antidote to stress – whether it’s high intensity or low – because it gives you the time away from stressful situations and can be the break from the workplace or the house that you need to put whatever is stressing you into its proper perspective. This is compounded when we exercise with a group and are able to enjoy the camaraderie of a teams sports or a group exercise class which we will be able to do very soon. Exercising and playing sports with others is great for the emotional bonds that relieve stress. Added to which the feelgood chemicals the body releases when it exercises combats the less desirable effect of stress hormones like adrenaline.
What is your approach to dealing with anxiety?
R.S.: Anxiety differs from stress in that it is concerned more with what might happen than what we actually have to make happen (stress). As such it should be easier to combat as it’s something we can control – even though when we suffer from it we feel we can’t. As humans we are pre-programmed to think negatively, this dates back to prehistoric times when people were prey and those ‘fight or flight’ reflexes first established themselves. And as the brain has plasticity the more we worry the more likely it is we will continue to worry. The first step to tackling anxiety is to recognise it is all in the mind, the next (and more challenging step) is to re-programme the mind.
One of the best ways you can do this is through formal meditation which is the practise of being made aware of your thoughts and then allowing the meditation to move your awareness and reframe your consciousness. It may sound a little ‘out there’ for many people but if you have any symptoms of anxiety it’s well worth practising. And just like worries that built in your head beforehand the more you meditate the more your mindset will shift from an anxious mind to a calm one.
How important is work/life balance?
R. S.: This year more than any other has forced people to examine their work life balance. And my hope is that once we do go back to ‘normal’ a greater number of people will have a better work-life balance than before the pandemic. More employers will offer home working in place of or in tandem with workplace employment, more people will be monetising their side hustle, more people will continue to walk and exercise outdoors and we all will appreciate spending time with friends and loved ones again.
A perfect work-life balance is hard to define as the variables of profession, lifestyle, age, family, hobbies all make for a different combination for everyone. And work is important too – not only as a source of income but also of identity, mental stimulus, life purpose and social connections. The key question is whether your work force sacrifices in your personal life that are too great. And if the answer is yes then the hope is you can make the changes necessary so the answer to that question is a firm no.
As far as exercise is concerned this should be part of a balanced life. The key is finding exercise you enjoy and can access so it’s a healthy and integral part of a well-balanced life.
Meditation has been around for centuries. How can I integrate this into my daily routine?
R. S.: Formal, guided meditation is a great way to turn your mental focus inward and allow your awareness to travel as it is guided along. Additionally there are a number of easy meditative practises you can blend into your everyday life.
Watching the hands is a meditative practise and in recent times much has been made of washing them. But we rarely watch our hands when we wash our hands. Simply doing this and to combine the intention of washing with the attention on washing can really shift the mind to a place of peace.
Focusing on the faraway is also an effective tool. We tend to look at what is near us – the TV screen, the phone, the book. But taking the gaze to the horizon and looking beyond the immediate we can shift our visual and mental focus. The first few times you do this you’ll probably notice your eyes revert to the closer things, but with practise they’ll hold that gaze – and you’ll enjoy that mental state – for longer.
What are your top sleep schedule tips?
R.S.: A good night’s sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and every adult should aim to get 7 hours at least per night. If you’re eating well, working, exercising and resting sufficiently then you should need that sleep and also be able to sleep.
To ensure a good night’s sleep don’t eat or drink at least 2 hours before bed, turn off all screens at least an hour before bed, take a soak in the bath if you can before going to sleep and wear comfortable PJs to bed.
But if you’re persistently unable to sleep it’s best to consult a doctor to see if there’s a different underlying cause.
Why should I integrate yoga into my training regime?
R. S.: Yoga is a fantastic discipline because it combines physical exercise with breath control and mental awareness. Whatever your fitness level there is a style of Yoga for you – from the very slow and sustained Yin yoga to the faster paced and powerful Ashtanga classes. When we think of Yoga we tend to think of the Asanas (postures) and breath (Pranayama) but these are just 2 of the practises 8 limbs which combine philosophy and meditation with physical practise too.
Alongside the physical benefits of increased strength and improved flexibility practitioners of Yoga report better balance, greater mental focus, the ability to moderate their moods and cope better with stress and anxiety.
Many consider Yoga to be an ‘easy’ practise but I still find challenges in every posture and refinements in my body when I try them and I’ve been an advocate of Yoga for nearly 30 years! It’s a great complement to any fitness programme.
I’d recommend a daily practise of the Vinyasa Sun Salutation if you’re new and fit. It’s a great way to start the day and need only take 5-10 minutes of your time.
For the less fit and mobile cat/cow stretch is a great way to get the breath and body going. Follow this by lying on your back, arms wide to the side, with the knees bent and turn your legs one way and your head the other. Allow gravity to grow you and then repeat on the other side. Finish with cat cow and observe how much more supple the spine now feels!
And where does pilates fit in?
R. S.: Pilates is – relative to Yoga – a new discipline and very popular as it’s focus on core conditioning can help people who suffer with postural problems. If you’re new to it and want to give it a go I really would suggest attending a class first.
How important is recovery to a balanced training regime?
R. S.: Whatever training you do, recovery should be a formal part of it. Rest days are every bit as important as training days because the muscles repair, the body recovers and the mind resets and reviews before you train again. When you train with regular rests your progress is faster and safer than training continually. Overtraining causes injuries and enforces greater rest periods that mean a return to training happens when you’ve regressed rather than progressed.
Longer rest and recovery periods should also be indulged every now and then – when you get a weekend away, a family holiday, a party or celebration. If you’ve always incorporated recovery in your plan then you know you can get back to your routine when you’re ready and that you fitness will continue to improve. In my experience those who don’t build recovery in from the outset either overdo it when they get back to fitness or never get back to it at all – both of which are not the outcomes we’d like.