If you’re anything like me, you’re addicted to adrenalin. The pursuit of harder, faster, further – pushing the envelope for the sake of progress & passion. Whether it’s skiing, hiking, triathlons, trail running or extreme ironing, adventure athletes squeeze the most out of life.
I’ve spent 20 years working & playing in the field with people like you. And I’m consistently inspired.
But there’s a dark side; a hidden cost of full-throttle living.
What I’m starting to see is a lot of young(ish) people in chronic pain. “I’m too young to feel this old” is what I keep hearing. Even though you’ve been active (excessively so!) and led a healthy lifestyle, how is it that you’ve ended up in pain?
As I learn more and more about the nervous system, the answers become clear.
It’s all about your body’s stress response.
You’re constantly bombarded with information, stimulation, expectation and pressure in the modern environment, putting you in a perpetual state of fight or flight. You might not even be aware that it’s happening as it’s has become the norm!
The constant firing of your sympathetic nervous system serves you brilliantly when you’re flying down a mountain full speed on a bike or paddling into a 8 foot wave, but when it doesn’t turn off the problems start to occur.
The sympathetic (stress) response needs to be balanced with the parasympathetic (relaxation) response.
The parasympathetic system is in charge of digestion, elimination, breathing, feeling emotion, and other automatic things. If you never let yourself hangout, rest and recover , none of these functions happen as well as they should.
So what can you do about it? How can you turn off the stress switch & ease your pain?
Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with the GO! mode of action and performance as long as you embrace the STOP! mode too, allowing yourself time to relax and recover.
The ability to go from fast to slow and slow to fast, (which is controlled by the vagus nerve – more about that another time) is what actually determines an athlete’s performance. How quickly you can recover, how deeply you can relax, how well your digestion and elimination work, how efficiently you absorb nutrients, are the things that will supercharge your performance.
What does all this have to do with pain again?
When you go hard, become fatigued, get injured, keep pushing and block out pain, you develop compensatory movement patterns to keep going. All of us have them, and they will continue to serve us. Until they don’t.
Compensations mean you’re not moving in the most efficient, optimal way. The longer you move in a compensatory pattern the more imbalances you’ll develop. This results in deeper and more tense patterns, eventually leading to pain, injury and a longer road to recovery.
But as you start to slow down, peel back the layers of tension and start improving the relationship between the parts of your body, your movement improves. This doesn’t mean you can’t charge when it’s charge time! You can and will! You’ll just do it more sustainably.
Your support muscles start doing their job – supporting, so your power muscles can be generating the power (rather than trying to do everything).
The magic combination is: power, strength, agility, endurance… then rest.
How the heck do I rest? It doesn’t feel natural?
Let yourself completely unwind. Breath easy. See if you can feel some of these automatic processes like your digestion after you eat, the sensations of the breath entering and leaving your lungs. Your emotions as they arise, feed you then pass.
Before you know it, the pain will stop getting stuck; it will move through you instead.The compensation patterns start to diminish and as you move better, you’ll feel better.
You still get to be that crazy athlete pushing the boundaries, climbing to new heights, progressing year after year. I’d never tell you to stop living large! (Cos I know what adrenalin addiction is like!) But instead of thinking you’re too young to be feeling this old, you’ll just feel young
My top, simple tips for learning to de-stress, switch off the stress response & ease pain:
- Start with a little bit at a time. Make it really easy, really achievable, something you can do every day. Set yourself up to win, not fail.Your nature is probably to try to do everything at once, but you’ve gotta trust me on this one!
- Try taking three aware, conscious breaths before you start a meal, feeling the sensations in your body.
- Commit to 15 mins guided relaxation before bed, allowing yourself to unwind and settle.
- No electronics after a certain time so you brain isn’t constantly fed false stimulation.
Remember to start small, and begin with what works for you
I’ve also included a short guided meditation podcast to help you on your way. Easy does it!
Here’s to passion, adventure, supercharged performance, zero pain and optimizing this life.