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Following My Own Roadmap, Pt 4

Sheridan Taylor

In which our hero explains how he took his own advice after ignoring himself for many months and fixed his shit.

I kept making appointments with my psychologist, my GP, a sports physiotherapy doctor, and a psychiatrist to keep getting tested to try to find out what was physically and psychologically wrong. I had over a dozen blood tests, 3 ultrasounds, 2 x-rays, and an MRI. I kept pursuing the problems until I had answers and could address the underlying physical ailments to get rid of the psychological problems. I refused to accept “probably.” I kept after the doctors until we had “definitely.” Once we had firm diagnoses, I followed the doctor’s advice. I took the meds they prescribed, whether to address the physical injury and illness or to treat the psychological symptoms caused by the physical ones.

I changed my exercise regimen to meet the new medical requirements and the advice I got from doctors and physiotherapists. I work out daily to keep the endorphins flowing, but I don’t try to force my middle-aged, injured body to do anything it can’t. I don’t tell myself it means I’m weak. I argue with that intrusive thought by reminding me we’ve survived decades of careers and hobbies that kill men young. We’ve earned our injuries and scars.

I don’t notice the effects of stress immediately, sometimes at all, until it’s messing me up. Aching muscles, joint pain, headaches. Being easily irritated. Dehydration. Poor nutrition. Then lack of sleep, then overwhelmed, then out of control. I don’t gain weight from stress. I drop it like dirty underwear. I stop eating because stress makes me neglect myself. I have to force myself to eat at all when the stress gets too high. So I did.

Most folks gain weight, usually around the midsection. Most don’t make the connection between cortisol and fat gain. They just attribute it to bad food choices. Tip: they’re connected. We eat crappy food and too much food because of cortisol. Every extra pound is extra wear and tear on our systems and increases our stress levels, gripping this shit is a priority to lower stress.

The body responds to stress by jacking up cortisol. Our bodies can’t distinguish between a physical threat and mental threats like job or relationship stress. Cortisol increases in response to a threat. When you no longer perceive a threat, cortisol levels return to normal. But if stress is always present, like trauma or anxiety, we experience constant cortisol, which is a problem because cortisol stimulates appetite. Anxiety or depression can result when you unintentionally gain weight, increasing cortisol.

Studies show one of the most efficient methods of keeping to a healthy weight is walking. Studies also show that simple walking is one of the most effective forms of exercise to moderate stress. (Hint: there’s a connection.) I walk daily for at least 22 minutes. I do it by walking the dog. It’s a two-fer. I get outdoors and spend time with the dog because, well, because Gracie is awesome. But in terms of health, studies have shown that proximity to a pet lowers our heart rate and drops stress levels, even if we don’t know the pet is in the room.

More to follow, over.