3 Ways to Put on the Brakes Before You Break Yourself

yoga meditation military
A1C Jayme Ratcliff, 324th Intelligence Squadron fusion analyst, practices yoga on Hickam Beach on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Jan. 31, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin Baxter)

Your long-term health depends on how well you recover from the daily stresses of life. Longevity, as well as optimal physical and mental performance, requires the mastery of recovery. How well you sleep, eat, hydrate, exercise, de-stress, breathe and avoid worry all affect your physical, mental and emotional well-being.

For most of us, our stress originates from too much or not enough physical activity, mental and emotional reactions to our work and everyday life, and technology. Finding ways to give yourself a break is the key to your overall health and ability to function at your best.

Put on the Brakes Physically

Sleep is our No. 1 recovery tool. Without it, we are certain to become overstressed, overtrained and ill. Here is the goal: Find an extra hour of rest a day. It could be going to bed a half-hour earlier and taking a 30-minute power nap at some point in the day.

If you are constantly sleeping less than five hours a night, you need to perhaps build up to six, seven or eight hours a night of sleep, if possible.

Give Yourself a Day Off from Hard Workouts

Sometimes, you must pull the plug and turn what was planned to be a difficult training session into an easier training session. A day or two off every week from hard training is going to be beneficial. Quite often, "less is more," and more is not better. Adding recovery time to your training schedule will pay dividends, not only in your performance but also your overall energy levels for life activities other than working out.

If a day off is out of the question, try to downshift and do something like the Mobility 30 workout. This is a great way to do something, feel good afterward and turn a hard day into an easy day that will serve as a recovery day for the higher-level exercisers.

Clean Up Your Nutrition

Cut down on alcohol. You can try Sober October in any month. Eliminate sugary snacks and processed foods, especially if these are daily habits. Eliminating these types of foods and exchanging them for more water, fruits, vegetables, and real meats or protein sources is second to only sleep in supporting your ability to recover fully each day.

The snowball of stress that accumulates with our lives each day gets bigger and bigger without the combination of sleep with smart nutrition. If either or both tools for recovery are not properly addressed, we will lose the ability to de-stress completely.

Put on the Brakes and Breathe

Relax Mentally and Emotionally. Worry Later.

If we don't recover from stress, it starts to interfere with our ability to think as stress causes us to become more emotionally driven over time. Whether it is worrying about the future (anxiety) and regretting the past (depression), there are tools to help us find the present and live in the here and now.


The basic tools of walking and breathing are incredibly useful in times of high stress and worry. Take 10 minutes and walk. While you are walking, try to regulate your breathing with a steady rhythm of inhales and exhales.

I prefer box breathing -- inhaling 3-4 seconds through the nose, holding for 3-4 seconds, exhaling for 3-4 seconds through the mouth and pausing 3-4 seconds before I inhale again. Do this while walking, and you have a 1-2 punch for metabolizing some of the stress hormones that are confusing your day by focusing you on things you cannot control.

Focus on the things you can control and then move on to a focused productivity time. If you have time, try meditation (or prayer, if you prefer) and relax your breathing to find comfort.

Attitude of Gratitude

We all have worries, but we also have things to be thankful for. Count your blessings, remember the things you enjoy and celebrate your successes. If you can learn from mistakes, they are no longer failures and become "learning experiences".

Find Time to Do Nothing

Even if for five minutes, find some alone time with no distractions and relax. Sit in the sun or a quiet room, or stand under running water in the shower. Just do nothing.

Put on the Brakes with Technology

It Is Killing Us and Our Posture

We need a technology detox. Many people in the health and wellness industry have a wide variety of detoxification remedies. How about a technology detox period every day at the beginning, in the middle and especially at the end of the day before going to sleep?

First, get away from phones and computer screens and work on your posture. Sit up straight, look up (not down) and pull your shoulders back. Now get up and walk away from all things technological with perfect posture.

Stop the Screen Time

Too many of us wake up and check our small screen phones for emails or social media first thing in the morning, then spend the rest of the day looking at a medium-sized computer screen. After work or school, we spend more of our off time looking at a giant screen watching the latest show to binge.

Get away from the phone and have it charge in another room. Social media direct messages (DMs) can wait for tomorrow. We all have to find time to get away at some point.

After you read this article, put down your phone and step away from the computer, even for only 10-15 minutes. You need it.

As with any habit you're trying to break and any new habit you are trying to create, make sure you progress gently as you increase time away from technology. Each day for a week, purposely get away from all technology in the middle of the day for 10-15 minutes. Increase that by five minutes each week until you have successfully built up to more than an hour a day.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, Military.com has you covered. Subscribe to Military.com to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues
Military Fitness Fitness