How do you deal with stress? Does it affect your workouts and health?
It goes without saying that these are stressful times. Maybe not running out of toilet paper stressful (remember those days?), but nonetheless, stress is all around us.
We are always being tested in life. Locking your keys in the car. Forgetting that meeting with your boss. The grocery lady giving you a judgmental look for buying five bottles of wine and a box of chocolate ice cream sandwiches on a Tuesday afternoon… Hey, I get it. Life is stressful. But what if I told you that stress isn't all so bad?
Some basic science behind what we know as stress
We respond to stress differently. Some of us start sweating, get cold, get hot, and start crying, but our heart rate goes up in a typical stress response, and our blood vessels constrict. This is one of the reasons that chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease, and it's not really healthy to be in this state all the time. But in some studies, when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed. Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier response, and it looked a lot like what happens when we experience joy and courage. So while we don't want to be in a constant state of stress, new science on stress shows that how we think about stress is a game-changer.
Cool! So how do I view stress as less stressful?
Our bodies experience stress in the gym, and that adaptation and recovery of that physical stress makes us better. So we should be able to adapt to stress we experience in other aspects of our lives the same way, no problem. Right? Ha! Yeah, I wish. While some of us are better at adapting to stress than others, it doesn't mean we all can't work at being Zen masters and gain skills to manage our stress better.
Here are some stress management tips:
Breathing is essential to life. So when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take in deep breaths. It is the simplest technique for stress management yet possibly the most effective. Breathing is what will help us control our stress in real-time. By focusing on exhaling slower and longer, we can shift our nervous system towards a more restful state.
2. Meditation (or practicing mindfulness)
You don't have to be "perfect" at this. But by simply practicing meditation and mindfulness, you'll be better off than you started. Meditation isn't just sitting in one spot and clearing your mind. Meditation can look like going for a walk in nature or listening to and focusing on a calming song. The point of mediation is to focus our mind and to quiet our mental chatter that can get so overwhelming. When we can focus on our breathing, a mantra, or a song even, we can regulate our body and bring ourselves back to earth when we are under stress.
Gentle movement that increases blood flow and produces stress-busting endorphins! Walking is a great way to reduce stress because it is a low-impact movement that gives us all the benefits without putting additional stress on our bodies. Whether it's first thing in the morning, during a work break (or even in a meeting! Hello walking meetings!), or at the end of your day, committing to walking at least 10 minutes a day will go a long way and help reduce your stress levels.
4. Call a friend, hug someone or cuddle a pet
This hormone called oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone, is released when we hug someone. But this is a very small part of what oxytocin is involved in. Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone; it fine-tunes your brain's social instincts. Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family, and it even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about. But here's the kicker, oxytocin is actually… a stress hormone! Our pituitary gland ( located in our brain) produces oxytocin as a stress response. When oxytocin is released in the stress response, it motivates us to seek support, so our biological stress response is nudging us to tell someone how we feel instead of bottling it up. Often, when we are stressed, we tend to hide away, but we are biologically wired to seek help and support one another. When you reach out to someone when you are under stress, you release more of this hormone, and your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress!
This should really be number one. When you are well-rested, you are more alert, focused, in a better mood, and are able to crush your workouts ( and the rest of life)! Getting enough sleep will increase recovery in your muscles, so you can wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready for your next workout. And not only does sleep increase recovery, but it also gives your body time to recover and repair your muscles. Sleep also keeps your metabolism elevated so your body can stay regulated. And enough sleep will give you more energy and the ability to make better decisions throughout your day. Along with affecting your mood, sleep lowers the stress hormone Cortisol, which can help with other problems that occur due to stress. So don't underestimate the power of a good night's sleep or a midday nap!
Tips for better sleep:
- No screen time or anything that stimulates your brain before going to bed (Ideally 1-2 hours before hitting the hay)
- Limit caffeine. That nitro cold brew at 3pm…? Yeah, it might get you through the afternoon sleepies or even if you workout at night, but just know that this may carry over and affect your sleep. If you absolutely need an energy boost, try tea. Or move your nitro to earlier in the day.
- Keep it cool. Try to keep the temperature in your sleeping quarters not too hot and not too cold.
- Your room is for sleeping! Try not to work from your bedroom so that you can train yourself that when you are in your room, it is a place of calm, peaceful serenity. Try to do all your work or school work in a designated area.
- Get a Performa Sleep bed! I’ve been sleeping on mine for 7 years now and I promise you it’s worth it! Check it out HERE.
So while stress does not need to be a bad thing… there are certainly ways to help manage stress when life gets out of control. Besides trying some of these stress-reducing tips, the biggest takeaway is that when you feel stressed, try not to freak out about being stressed (easier said than done, I know! I know!). Instead of thinking, "I am feeling stressed! I'm stressed!" think, "My body is experiencing stress, what can I do to help lower that stress, or how can I use the stress to help me get my tasks done.
I'll leave you with this. I heard somewhere that trees need wind to blow against them because it causes their root system to grow deeper, supporting the tree as it grows taller. We can't always stop the wind from blowing against us, and perhaps we actually need that wind. Maybe with the right amount of support, the changing winds in life can help us grow taller and stronger. It just depends on how we look at it. Deep? I know ;)
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If you have any questions or concerns you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact Grown Strong at email@example.com