For the past week Neil and I have been on vacation in California.  The days leading up to the vacation were jam-packed and exceptionally busy — I’m talking 16 hour day busy.  I left Regina feeling bloated, swollen, fatigued, ‘snacky’ and experienced severe joint pain – 24 hours later when I woke up in our hotel room in California I felt lean, radiant, satiated and mobile.  I know what you are thinking WTF…  What happened in travels that eliminated my painful ailments?

Disneyland, that’s what happened.

I ate a lot.  I slept a lot.  I drank less coffee and more water.  I did not stress out about my seemingly overwhelming level of responsibility, food levels or body weight. I went to Disneyland and for the first time in years felt so alive and in the moment I cried… THREE times.

Can less stress and less obsession with food actually impact results that much? As the days elapsed Neil and I both kept losing weight, without really trying. It was frankly a little disconcerting. But instructive too.

I’ll admit that for me, stress is one of those things that I know in theory affects fat loss results. But I think I’ve secretly always been like, “Well, yeah, but with enough dieting and training, stress can’t impact me that much.” But I am coming to the realization that chronic stress and its effects (chronically high cortisol and catecholamines) can really, actually, absolutely curtail results. Ugh. One more thing to stress about! Now I have to worry that I’m too stressed!

But seriously, here are some of my favorite SIMPLE ways to decrease stress at home without causing you any more undo, well … stress.

1) Take one day each week to do nothing.

Allow yourself a Saturday or Sunday without the usual guilt trip of having to work or do chores or run all over town doing errands. Those things will be there for you tomorrow. Give yourself today.

2) Prioritize hot baths & showers.

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to take a bath? For me, it was the last time I prepped so I could slough off the dry skin and have a perfect spray tan. But seriously. I know, I know, “But Erika I have NO TIME!” I get that. But it’s still a matter of priorities. If de-stressing is a priority, then you’ll carve out the 30 minutes you need to take a bath once a week and ENJOY yourself.

3) Be alone.

As an introvert, being alone is my favorite. But many of us are surrounded by people constantly. Family, spouses, partners, people at parties/events. Social time is indeed important but many times we focus too much on the need to be social and don’t prioritize being antisocial. Down-time alone is restorative. If you don’t believe me, then you’ve never done it. Practice turning down a party every once in a while. Or say no to going somewhere with a group. Take a Saturday to yourself, or even take a mental health day to stay home alone every once in a while. It’s delicious and completely rejuvenating.

4) Take a break from the gym and go outside.

Currently I am training more outdoors than in the gym. I lift weights 3x per week and run outdoors 4x per week. The weather, the sunshine (and vitamin D), the fresh air and the exhilarated feeling of freedom it elicits is effing awesome. Do track sprints, hill sprints, a trail run or even a leisure walk. The latter is preferable since it helps to decrease cortisol further. But just being outside makes a big difference. Try it once a week.

5) Read and write.

You guys know I am a huge reader and I probably ready 1-2 hours A DAY. Yes, I know that’s a lot, but I am also obsessed with learning and also my couch calls to me. But many of us don’t have that kind of time, and that’s fine. But could you skip a single one of your nighttime TV shows and instead get into bed an hour earlier to read? This helps you wind down, de-stress and fall into restful sleep, as opposed to watching a TV show (that has been shown to actually rile you up more). Also write. It is cathartic and you don’t have to be a professional writer to pull out a journal and scribble. Write stream-of-consciousness for 10 minutes at breakfast. Your thoughts and intentions for the day. What you want to accomplish. Who you want to be in the world. What actions you will take to make that a reality. This stuff sounds like fluff, but over time it can make a big difference in manifesting the lifestyle you want.

6) Realize you don’t need to be productive 24/7.

I am just as ambitious as the next person when it comes to getting sh*t done. But as a society, I think we can become a little too obsessed with productivity. I feel like everywhere I turn I see a new article citing a list of productivity “hacks.” Fine. Good. But sometimes I think we need to throw ourselves a bone and realize that whatever we do it just fine. We can do our best on any given day (and know that “our best” will change from day to day), and whatever we don’t accomplish, let’s not beat ourselves up over it. The work will be there tomorrow. No need to stress and “should” our way to misery.

There’s an argument to be made that spending time with family and friends conversing over a long meal is productive, yes? Just in a different way than we are used to. But still just as valuable in the grand scheme. In fact, it’s often a regret of older adults–they wish they spent more like with family and friends and didn’t work so hard. So allow those moments to count towards your productivity too!

I know for me, I poo-poo’ed stress for a long time. Like, the effects of stress could be overcome with just more dieting and exercise. Not even close. And actually there’s a good chance that more dieting and exercise will be adding to the stress load. So, a reminder to keep tabs on your lifestyle, not just what goes in your mouth and how many minutes you clock on the treadmill. Stress, sleep and lifestyle factors matter quite a bit too!

In the big picture the trick is to live in the moment. While at Disneyland I did not think about my love handles, programs, employees, Cinnabon, family etc. the only thing crossing my mind was “Holy shit I get to meet Anna and Elsa!!!!!”

With Love From the Trench Kitchen,