Vigor Improvement Practices—Stress Management and Sleep

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

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Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Vigor Improvement Practices—Stress Management and Sleep
Research studies are quite clear on the fact that reducing stress also reduces overall cortisol exposure and that reducing cortisol exposure is a “good thing” for your long-term health and vigor. That’s all well and good—but I also understand that telling you to manage stress is a lot easier than actually controlling it in your frantic life. It might help to understand that you’re not alone in this regard (as discussed in Chapter 6).

Do you think it is a coincidence that so many Americans rate “stress” as the number-one reason for a trip to the doctor, while medical surveys clearly indicate that men show up most often at the doc with lower back pain or fatigue, while women tend to report fibromyalgia or depression?

That’s not a coincidence—that’s direct evidence that stressed-out lives are causing people to hurt and feel terrible! The stress exposure that you’re awash in each and every day eventually shows itself as problems with biochemical balance, possibly manifesting as burnout and ultimately as outright tissue damage. You need to do something about it. This chapter focuses on two critical Vigor Improvement Practices (VIP): stress management and sleep.

Whenever I give a public seminar on stress and biochemical balance, I like to start off by holding up a glass of water and asking the audience to guess how much it weighs. People will generally call out guesses that range from six to twenty ounces. But the point I like to make is that the actual weight of the water glass doesn’t matter. As a “stress” to my arm, the weight of the water glass is less important than the duration of time that I need to hold it up. If I hold the glass for a minute or two, then it is not much of a stress at all, but if you were to ask me to hold it for an hour or a day or a week, then I’d be in trouble.

It works the same way with your exposure to other stressors—such as traffic, bills, family commitments, and the millions of other little stresses that you encounter day in and day out. Eventually, you will reach a breaking point unless you actively manage those stresses. Everybody—no matter how “tough” you think you are, no matter how “resistant” to stress you think you are, no matter how much you think that you “thrive” on stress—has a personal “breaking point” when it comes to stress exposure.

By managing stress and getting adequate sleep—as well as incorporating the other VIPs, including nutrition, exercise, and dietary supplementation to restore balance in each of the Four Pillars of Health—you can continually modulate your own individual stress load and hopefully keep that “breaking point” at bay.

Okay, back to my glass of water. Let’s say that I’m asked to hold the water glass for a week. Impossible, you might say. Not so—because if I’m smart about managing this stress, I might be able to handle it. Maybe I can take short breaks, where I put the glass down for a few minutes each hour. Perhaps I can lessen my personal burden by asking a colleague or a friend or family member to hold the glass for a little while. Maybe I can leave the glass at work and not worry about dragging this “burden” home with me. Any and all of these (and dozens of other) strategies are ways in which I can “manage” my stress response—even if just for a few minutes. Think about some of your own sources of stress as well as some ways that you can remove yourself from exposure to those stressors.

Consider a study by the Families and Work Institute showing that one in three American workers felt chronically overworked because of “technology” (mostly cell phones and e-mail that enable people to be working anywhere and everywhere, all the time). It is really too bad that “being busy” has become such a status symbol, because it is clear from the scientific research that being too busy and always being “on” is detrimental to long-term physical and mental health. Don’t get me wrong—hard work is important and valuable, but working too hard for too long leads to burnout, reduced creativity, and inefficiency. It is not much of an overstatement to say that you can literally work yourself to death.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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