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Where Stress Management Goes Wrong

low back pain

If you have been following our series discussing the new science of low back pain, you have probably noticed the idea of stress comes up A LOT! That is because chronic stress can have a huge impact upon our nervous system and NOT in a good way! This long term chronic stress can cause us to have a host of health issues like those below…

stress management

Now, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that chronic stress doesn’t make you feel good or healthy. Probably you have heard you should really focus on some stress management, even in the fitness industry. Of course, that isn’t bad advice on its face, but what the recommendations are can be problematic.

First, what do most people tell you to do in order to work on your stress management…

stress management

None of the above concepts are necessarily bad to do, but there are a few issues. For one, some of these are overly vague and don’t give us really a helpful prescription. For example, “fix your sleep”, “don’t be easily offended”, and “learn how to deal with emotions” are great, but within each can be a long and extensive process.

In giving advice like that above, not only is it rather vague, but it is also VERY overwhelming. So much so, that the list of items to help your stress management can actually cause you to feel MORE stressed! So what are more practical and helpful ways of working on stress management that allow you to set a foundation that will allow you to keep building?

5-10 Minutes Of Myofascial Integrated Movement (MIM) Practice A Day

Okay, I get it, this might sound completely self-serving, but stay with me for a moment. When we look at practical and evidence actions that help with stress management, there are three things that consistently get mentioned. Breath work, movement, and mindfulness are usually at the top of the list. For a lot of people going to the gym 2-3 times a week is a challenge, but it is when they get most of their movement in and that’s a good thing that they do it. However, having that be the time when we really only move it just isn’t enough.

Instead of telling you that you need to get another 2-3 days of working out in and btw, go get 10,000 steps, how about 5-10 minutes every day you work on some of our MIM training? You don’t have to go outside, you don’t need equipment, you don’t need very much space, and 5-10 minutes seems like a minimal amount of time no? If we can develop a routine of doing so every single day, or at least most day (don’t stress if you don’t do it for a day or 2, it takes time) we can start to build up our movement time.

A lot of times people don’t believe that short “movement snacks” are impactful, but research has shown otherwise. “Exercise snacks have also been found to be effective in healthy adults as well as in patients with obesity and diabetes, helping decrease blood sugar and promoting cardiorespiratory fitness.” (1)

So while they won’t get you to maybe a lot of high level fitness goals, don’t underestimate the positive impact short, but very intentional movement snacks can offer in both health and stress management.

Select 1-2 Action Steps To Help Your Sleep

It is pretty well established that having good sleep helps pretty much every aspect of both your physical and mental health. Life though makes this challenging with its unpredictability whether it is possibly a sick kid in the house (we’ve gone through this with out dogs), an email that is just eating away at you, an overwhelming “to do” list, and so forth can all make getting a good night’s sleep more challenging.

Instead of telling you that you will have to create a 30 step checklist in order to get a good night’s sleep (only to have it ruined by having someone scream your name in the middle of the night for one reason or another) and making you feel pressured to do all these steps and scared that if you don’t you won’t sleep well, let’s identify 1-2 action steps you can do to just work on getting a better night’s sleep. Doing so will definitely help with your ability to accomplish your stress management goals.

They can be any 1-2 of these items…

-Start being consistent with a bed time for yourself.

-Begin to shut down about 15-20 minutes before you go to bed, that means turning off the tv and maybe reading a book instead, getting ready so that you can spend that time talking with your significant other (keeping healthy relationships is part of our stress management), or making this your time to do some easy meditation.

-Do a very light movement snack (like I show below) for just a 5-10 minutes.


-Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature.

-Minimize your alcohol intake.

-Journal your day to gain perspective on thoughts and feelings while creating a little distance from overly internalizing both.

Remember, I said ONE or TWO of these NOT all of them!

You might be wondering where nutrition fits into all this as well. I would say if you want to tackle nutrition I would use a very similar model that I used for sleep. Selecting 1-2 strategies that you can use to build more consistent habits is really key. I know that isn’t “sexy” and polarizing but it IS effective. The truth is that really the effectiveness of any diet is the ability of one to be consistent.

That is why people end up yo-yoing is that they pick such restrictive nutritional programs (because we think nutrition, like exercise, has to be painful and extreme to work) and people can not stay on them long term. A great study on habits showed that people can range from 18-254 days to build consistency with a new habit (2).

This implies we are all very different, take various lengths to create that habit, and should be more forgiving to ourselves when we aren’t as “perfect” as we like. It also speaks to making sure we aren’t making our habits too difficult to build into our lives and gain that consistency we are striving for.

The challenge in writing posts like this is that I could cite a MILLION studies to support all of it. However, the tough part is that our attitudes to becoming healthier and more fit are usually REALLY unhealthy and largely a byproduct of clever marketing that we don’t realize is just that, marketing. That doesn’t make these ideas any less effective as I can tell you from working with countless people over the past almost 30 years, that A LOT of people struggle to even do the above.

This isn’t to say we stop our efforts to work on better stress management skills, our fitness goals, and more by building off of these ideas. Rather, let’s make sure we nail THESE ideas first before we build up to more and more strategies. Often times people are very surprised how doing the above is, not only for their stress management, but their health and fitness goals as well!

We will cover THESE ideas and MUCH more in our upcoming 6-week online Chronic Low Back Pain & Pelvic Control Masterclass HERE. You can save a special 15% off with code “lowback” for a VERY limited time. 



  1. Huang CH, Yen M. [Applying an Exercise Snack-Based Health Promotion Strategy]. Hu Li Za Zhi. 2023 Apr;70(2):78-83. Chinese. doi: 10.6224/JN.202304_70(2).10. PMID: 36942545.
  2. Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world†. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998-1009. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.674