We all encounter stress; it is just a fact of life. But sometimes finding ways to manage our stress can add more pressure and anxiety! To help us navigate stress management strategies, we spoke with expert Vicki Mayo. Vicki is a partner in our new initiative Echelon 360, where we work with subject-matter experts to provide meaningful content that will enrich the well-being of members and foster a community of health and education.
Here is how Vicki explains stress and her top tips to reduce it:
In order to reduce stress, we must first understand what stress is and its cause. It all starts in our brain which has two primary parts. The first part is our sympathetic or stress system also known as our fight or flight system. And then you have your other part of your brain, which is your parasympathetic, which is your logical, rational brain. So we all experience triggers — whether it’s a loud noise or having a serious conversation with your boss — your brain will first kick on the fight or flight mechanism. Once your brain determines it’s not a stressful thing, you can move into your logical-rational brain. Some people are able to go very quickly through fight or flight into the logical-rational and other people have a tougher time with it.
So this is why everyone talks about being mindful; they are exercising their brain to shorten the time to get through fight or flight into the logical-rational brain. Unfortunately, your fight or flight system comes on hundreds of times a day without us necessarily even realizing it. This is what causes us stress.
The Problem with Stress
Now, the scary part about this issue is that if you don’t learn to build up your logical-rational part of your brain so that your fight or flight is not so hyperactive, your body actually has a physical response every time you’re stressed out. If you think of something stressful right now, you are going to feel it in your body. Whether it’s in your chest or your shoulders or somewhere, your body internalizes the stress, and if you don’t do something to reduce your stress levels and learn to manage the stress, you will see what we now have, I believe, is the silent struggle killing our country. Some of the signs of stress are:
- Physical Pain
- Sleep Disturbances & Insomnia
- Lack of Focus
- Irritability & Anger
- Triggered Substance Abuse
- Impulse Eating
What to do About Stress
That leads me to, “what should you do?” I like to think of what you should do in terms of the six dimensions of health: nutrition, exercise, sleep, healthy eating, healthy relationships, and mindfulness.
First Dimension of Health: Nutrition
The first dimension is healthy eating. I like to think of food as medicine. What am I putting in my body? I’m not asking to go on any kind of a crazy diet here, I’m just saying think about it. If you’re eating potato chips and ramen all day, your body’s probably not going to run as well as it should. In other words, if you think of your body as a luxury sports car, you would not want to put in crummy gasoline. You have to use high-octane premium fuel or you are not going to run well. The same thing here: eat as many whole foods as possible, minimize processed foods, watch your salt intake, and make conscious choices.
Second Dimension of Health: Exercise
Exercise is good for you for a variety of reasons. I think first and foremost because it helps your body to create more serotonin and dopamine. Both are really essential chemicals that your body needs in order for you to feel happy and when you feel happy that helps you to get through the rest of your life. It is important that you are getting a good amount of exercise. You could go for a brisk walk, you could go for a quick run, or you could take a quick ten-minute class on the Echelon Fit® app. The important thing is to find something that gets you moving, even if it is just for ten minutes a day.
Start with ten minutes a day for two weeks and then bump yourself up to 20; before you know it, you’re getting in what is recommended by the American Heart Association which is 30-minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, totaling 150 minutes of physical activity each week. With Echelon Premier Membership, it is easy to add variety to keep yourself motivated! I just discovered the off-equipment FitPass classes which are great for cross-training with my regular schedule on my Connect Bike.
Third Dimension of Health: Sleep
Sleep is really, really important because many things happen during your sleep, but I’ll tell you two of the most critical. One, sleep is a chance for your body to actually rest and reset. The second thing involves the difference between light and deep sleep. During deep sleep, your brain files away all the things that happen during the day. To explain what I mean, let me break down some quick brain anatomy.
Think about your brain as a filing cabinet and everything that happens to you all day is written on a piece of paper. When you go to sleep, your brain takes all those papers and puts them away in that filing cabinet. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, those papers get thrown everywhere leading to many issues such as lack of focus.
At the worst, if something traumatic happens during the day — such as a car accident — and you don’t get into deep sleep in the next day or two, the images of that car accident turn into a poster and get plastered on the walls of your brain. So anytime you get in the car, your brain is going to now pull from that poster and say, “oh my God, every time I get in the car I’m gonna get into a car accident.” Or every time you hear a noise on the road or a car backfires you are going to think, “someone got into a car accident.” It is absolutely critical that you don’t allow these types of “posters” to get on the walls of your brain and you make sure they get filed away as quickly as possible back into the brain. And the easiest way to do that to get enough REM sleep.
Here are a couple of tips you can incorporate before you go to bed:
- Turn off the lights and get yourself into a place with there’s no blue light two hours before you get ready to go to bed. Use blue-blocking glasses if you’re unable to do so.
- Take a melatonin gummy if you need a bit of extra help.
- Use a product like TouchPoints for Sleep which uses gentle haptic micro-vibrations to put you to sleep within 30 minutes.
Fourth Dimension of Health: Healthy Thinking
The dimension of “healthy thinking” is a little bit of that conversation of a glass half full versus glass half empty. Taking the time to choose positivity and focus on the good things in your life. Figuring out what that healthy thinking is for you is really critical.
But I’ll tell you a little secret: a lot of times I wake up and I’m having a really rough day and I don’t want to be excited about my day. Thankfully, I have developed a few little tricks I use to make myself happy because if you tell yourself and you say out loud “today is gonna be a great day” you will inevitably will that to be the case.
- When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself you’re going to have a good day — even if you know it is going to be a challenging day.
- Wear bright colors! It’s an instant pick-me-up. When I’m really sad, or I’m having a really down day, you will see me wearing the brightest pink and the brightest yellow I have in my closet.
- Write sticky notes and put them on your bathroom mirror or in your kitchen. I spend 15-20 minutes at my mirror in the morning brushing my teeth, putting my makeup on, and I look up at my mirror and I have lots of sticky notes telling me lots of lovely things about myself.
- You can give yourself a leg up in the day by making sure that you are setting yourself up for success with healthy thinking. Make that glass be half full, not half empty.
I will also say, on those days when you are feeling down, there is no shame in popping on to the Echelon Official Riders Community and saying, “hey I’m having a down day.” There are people there who want to help and to make you smile. So when you need that little extra push, reach out to the Echelon community!
Fifth Dimension of Health: Healthy Relationships
You know they say that old adage, birds of a feather flock together? Think about who you’re surrounding yourself with. If you’re surrounding yourself with all sorts of healthy, happy people, you will inevitably take on those same types of characteristics. The same can happen with negativity; so make a conscious choice to surround yourself with people that bring out your best.
If you’re hanging out with people and they make you feel better about yourself: Check! Keep them. If they’re not, it may be time to let that relationship go.
I think the Echelon community is a great place for you to turn to if you’re evaluating, and you say “you know what? It’s time for me to get a whole new set of friends”. The Echelon Official Riders Community is an active group where you will find other people that share the same passions and interests in the same trajectory that you have for your life.
Sixth Dimension of Health: Mindfulness
Mindfulness has become sort of a buzzword in society today, but what does it really mean? Mindfulness is really just the practice of being very present wherever you are, and you can do that in a variety of ways.
Let’s say you are a coffee drinker: in the morning drink your coffee, and don’t just drink it because you are desperate for the caffeine and that quick pick-me-up that it gives you, but notice it. Hold your cup, notice the warmth on your hands, savor the taste of the coffee as it hits the front of your tongue and makes its way through and goes down your throat. Notice how it warms up your belly. Truly take a minute to enjoy that, and it doesn’t have to be coffee. People may laugh about it, but I really enjoy putting my makeup on slowly in the morning. It’s cathartic and it really allows me to be fully present in that moment.
You can also engage in the formalized practice of medication. You can find meditation classes on the Echelon Fit® app and on The TouchPoint Solution’s YouTube channel. Meditation builds up that muscle going from fight or flight into the logical-rational brain; just like making your bicep bigger!
It requires a little bit of work but doing something like practicing being in the moment, doing a meditation, even doing yoga where you’re so acutely aware of your breath and your body placement. All of these types of exercises are what help you to build that mindfulness muscle and allow you to get out of stressful situations quickly and get into a place of being logical and rational.
Stress Relief Recap
So, just to recap: I recommend that if you are really dealing with stress, do a quick inventory and run through the checklist of the Six Dimensions of Health:
- Am I eating well?
- Am I sleeping well?
- Am I exercising or getting enough exercise?
- Am I having a healthy thinking outlook every day?
- Are my relationships healthy?
- Am I engaging in a practice of mindfulness?
With these tips, you are sure to reduce your stress!
Vicki Mayo: Echelon Mental Health Expert
Vicki Mayo is a self-made serial entrepreneur and the business powerhouse behind The TouchPoint Solution, for which she invented a patented technology that alleviates stress in 30 seconds. Vicki’s journey to becoming a mental health advocate began when she adopted two children at age 20 and began to understand how childhood trauma — and specifically adverse childhood experiences — impact mental health. Over the next 15 years, Vicki worked with child welfare systems developing programs focused on addressing mental health issues.
These experiences led her on a personal journey to educate people about mental health. In 2016, Vicki partnered with neuropsychologists to explore ways to make mental healthcare more accessible and affordable to those who need it. By leveraging over a decade of research, she developed TouchPoints, which are wearable devices that improve quality of life by reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and increasing focus.