Now more than ever, you may be feeling the impact of stress in your life. From an unforeseen pandemic to political turmoil and trying personal issues that you could be juggling, there is a lot you might be dealing with.
Some people like to wear their stress as a badge of honor. But, none of us are immune to the consequences it can have on our health and fitness.
Although we can’t prove it, stress may be at the root of major chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
And living with chronic stress won’t do you any favors in the gym either.
That’s why it is so important that you recognize how it affects your body and do your best to mitigate the negative consequences.
Stress Isn’t Always Bad
Before we demonize it entirely, it is important to say that stress can actually be a positive thing for us. The general adaptation syndrome (GAS) model tells us that stress normally pushes us to grow stronger.
Stressful events cause an alarm reaction in the brain which leads to the release of certain hormones which act to make us compensate and resist the negative effects (1).
Then, when the stressor is gone, we become more resilient so that we are better prepared to deal with that stress in the future. This last bit is called the resistance or recovery period and it is arguably the most important part (2).
The problem is that you may not be experiencing all the benefits of the recovery period because you are constantly bombarded by stressors. This leaves you no chance to catch your breath and fully recover.
As a result, you enter a 4th stage in the GAS known as the Exhaustion or Decompensation period.
How Stress Impacts Your Health
Rather than helping you become stronger, chronic stress can actually decrease your resiliency (3).
Higher than normal stress hormones in circulation can increase inflammation and disrupt your normal physiology leading to serious health issues over time (4).
As a result, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and cognitive issues can begin to develop. Eventually, these issues can lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Sadly, the impact that chronic stress can have on your health is hard to recognize because it can take years for issues to arise. But that isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to your fitness.
How Stress Impacts Your Fitness
You are likely to notice your fitness suffering from chronic stress much more quickly than you would your health. Since you are already pushing yourself hard in the gym, you are more attuned to your body’s warning signs.
Simply put, you notice when things feel off in the gym.
Research has shown that people who are under high amounts of stress are not able to recover as quickly from a workout compared to those who have a low amount of stress (5).
Additionally, one study that followed subjects over a 12-week training program found that those who reported low stress in their life gained significantly more strength by the end of the study than those who reported high stress in their life (6).
So, you can see how important it is to keep your stress at bay. That way you can continue training hard and reap all the rewards that exercise has to offer.
Again, stressing your muscles and body is something you want to do. This is ultimately the stimulus that leads to the gains you want to see in the gym. However, it is important that the stress comes from your training and not from other areas of your life. Otherwise, your nervous system will step in to protect you and actually decrease your work capacity.
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Mitigating the Effect of Stress on Your Fitness
Of course, there is no way to shelter yourself completely from life’s stressors. So, the trick is learning how to prevent and mitigate the effects they can have on you.
First and foremost, you want to make sure you are getting enough quality sleep each night. You’re probably familiar with how cranky you can feel after just one night of bad sleep. And doing this repeatedly definitely decreases your ability to deal with stress, let alone recover from your training sessions.
Managing Training Stress
Next, you will need to stay vigilant and recognize the warning signs of being overstressed and overtrained. Some of these would be
- Getting sick more often
- Feeling lethargic or depressed
- Having a big change in your appetite
- And experiencing more aches and pains than normal
When you do feel those symptoms, it may be time to take a break from training and implement a deload. You can see my video on training deloads or read my training deload blog post for info about how to properly implement them in your training program.
Yoga & Meditation
Another great way to keep stress at bay is to implement a form of mindfulness practice. You could start doing yoga which has been shown to have positive effects on mood and your coping skills (7).
Or, you can try meditation which has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression while providing a boost to your ability to deal with stress in your life (8).
Social Support & Hobbies
You also can’t discount the benefit of spending quality time with friends and family. Having a social support system is one of our basic needs as human beings and it is extremely helpful in dealing with stress.
And of course, engaging in hobbies/activities that make us happy is a great way to relieve stress as well. Going to the gym is a perfect example. But, you should also have other activities that you can do when working out isn’t an option!
So, as you can see, stress is something you need to manage in order to prevent any negative consequences from happening to your body.
As much as we like to think of them as separate systems, the mind and body are deeply connected. Psychological and physical stress layer on top of each other and impact us in similar ways.
Although you can’t prevent stress entirely, there are ways to mitigate its negative effects.
From making sure you sleep well to spending quality time with people you love and even practicing some form of meditation, there are many things you can do to help your brain and body recover from stress.
Taking care of both the mind and body is crucial for us to feel great, workout hard, and live a long healthy life!