One of the big things I noticed since coming back from teaching in Chicago after spending over 2 weeks in the jungle in Costa Rica was my rising stress levels. I noticed that I felt more stressed than before I left.
Here is what is interesting; there is not any apparent reason for it. But I think I figured out what is going on…
Your body and nervous system run primarily off comparisons. This is actually a good thing and super-efficient, but there is a bit of a downside too.
Example – If you were to visit me here in Minn-a-snow-ta in January (er, when I am home) and walked into our townhouse, it would feel very warm. Compared to the typical below zero tundra temperatures outside, it is super warm. Like 60 + degrees warmer.
However, if you were from a warm climate and hanging out inside for a longer period of time, 63 F does not feel so warm. Why the difference? At one point it was amazing, and then later it is not so amazing.
When you walk inside from below zero, you are going from very cold to warm in seconds. That is a massive shift that your body can feel right away. Instant feedback.
The other analogy is the story of how to boil a frog. Hold there, vegan sun warrior, this is just a story, and no real frogs were hurt. The key is, as the story goes, to slowly heat the frog up in the water. The change in temperature is gradual. If you had dumped same live frog directly into boiling water, he would do everything in his power to hop out. I can’t find a PubMed reference on that, but the story illustrates gradual as opposed to a drastic comparison.
Being in Costa Rica for 2 weeks was very different from my normal life here. And it was freaking amazing! I tracked my resting HR on my Garmin watch, and it dropped lower and lower and lower each day that I was there.
Fast forward to this past week where I felt more stressed, even though not much was different. Deadlines had been consistent the whole time. What was massively different was the comparison of my nervous system experience from going from the jungle for 2 weeks to home. The stress was the same, but I could feel the difference when I changed environments. My guess is that it was there the whole time, but until I was plucked out, dropped off in a different environment, allowed to get used to that environment, and then via the miraculous flying germ tube, I was back home. Massive difference in a short period of time.
This is why retreat type experiences have the ability to change people much faster than slow changes made within their current environment.
Here are three rising stress level solutions I learned in the jungle that I’m implementing back home. . .
1) More time outside
At the Flo Retreat Center, it is pretty much all open air other than the sleeping quarters. When you look out, you see miles and miles of jungle and even the ocean at times. At home, I can only see a few hundred yards at best. And the patterns are different.
There is some research that spending time in nature helps calm your nervous system (1-7).
Much of it is done in Japan under the term “forest bathing” – which I first thought was some tree bark munching hippies roaming the woods hitting themselves with pine tree branches instead of showering. Turns out it is a legit form of research.
I am working to spend more time outside.
Since Uvita Costa Rica is so close to the equator, the sunrise and sunset times do not change more than a few minutes over the course of the entire year. It gets sunny fast, and by 6 AM it is like high noon outside. The flipside is true – when the sun goes down, it gets dark fast.
At home, we did a great job of making our room super dark – but it stays dark for some time even in the AM when getting up. I noticed that in Costa Rica, I slept much less but still felt fine. Maybe waking up to the sun is a good idea? What if I have to get up earlier than when the sun comes up here?
My solution for home in MN was to pick up an alarm clock with a built in light that goes on in the AM. Simulated sun. I also picked up the one with forest / jungle noise too. I wonder if they can put in a howler monkey alarm?
3) More carbs at each meal
In Costa Rica, Chef Jed did a great job with all the food. Each meal had some type of carb, lots of veggies, maybe some fruit at times, and a protein source.
Simple. Easy. Tasty. Effective.
When I got home, I realized that when I get more stressed, I tend to skip carbs or meals. In Costa Rica, I never missed a single meal. And I did not get super fat from all the “evil carbs.” My weight stayed the same.
Now, I modified my nutrition with a similar template – a few carbs at each meal, especially on training days, more veggies and protein.
This is a slight tweak to what I had been doing, and so far, it seems to be helping. Remember that insulin is the opposite to cortisol (stress / muscle munching hormone) and having a few carbs at each meal should help that process.
The opposite I’ve seen is true. If you are super stressed and want to do a ketogenic diet, I would not recommend that at all. I don’t think keto diets are evil – just depends on what you are doing.
There you have 3 tips that you can test out and modify to bring a bit of the peaceful jungle to your life for better results!
As always, hit me and let me know what you think.
Good, bad, horrible, life changing – all is valid.
If you can do an experience like the Costa Rica retreat do! 2019 is filling up fast and you can sign up below. I will be there again for sure. Check out all the info below.
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