We've all experienced some degree of mental stress in our lives at one point or another. It could stem from your job, relationship, financial standing, or just about any other number of factors. Everyone deals with stress in their own unique way, but one thing remains consistent ... stress sucks!
I'm not talking about the good kind of stress, like the kind experienced during a friendly game of sports or the kind that helps you get motivated to write a blog piece (wink*). As humans, we're meant to run on a certain amount of stress. We've evolved to handle moderate amounts of stress here and there as well as some bouts of high levels of stress.
For example, imagine you're living in the wild. You're hungry, that's a low level stress that motivates you to go get food. It's raining, that's a medium level of stress that makes you search for shelter. You're being chased by a bear, that's a really high level of stress that makes you run for your life!
The problem lies in constant, mid level to high level stress in your life. I'm talking about the kind of stress that weighs on your shoulders, disrupts your sleep, and can make every day life a struggle. Our bodies don't respond any differently to stress than they did thousands of years ago. The only difference is there's no bear but a lot more to worry about. We have mortgage payments, taxes, family obligations, bills, and more can take their toll. There might not be a bear, but your body reacts in a similar way when you need to take the kids to soccer and your boss is shitting on you about the file he needs by tomorrow morning! Being in a constant state of mental stress is taxing on the adrenal glands and can lead to an endless amount of disrupting physical side effects.
Your workout/training, like it or not, is actually a physical stress on your body. We expose our bodies to new stresses that are just within the limit of it's capabilities in order to force it to adapt, grow, and change. There's a reason gaining strength and improving your conditioning feels uncomfortable, it's a stress! When you're at a relatively low level, or manageable level of stress, high intensity training can be great for your over all fitness and wellness. However, when you're experiencing a higher level of mental stress, high intensity training can actually be detrimental to your well being.
Burning The Candle At Both Ends
Training at a high intensity while living with a high level of mental stress is just like burning the candle at both ends! Adding stress upon stress is only going to lead to you burning out. For some trainees, this can be a really difficult concept to handle. The feeling of setting a new record time for a workout, lifting a heavier weight, and finishing covered in sweat can be a little intoxicating. Many people use their high intensity training as a way of letting off steam, thinking this will actually help their stress. While it can feel good at the time, and some times it's what you need, it more often than not just leads to more problems. Rapid heart rate, over training, adrenal fatigue, injuries, inflammation, and disrupted sleep are just some of the side effects of combined physical and mental stress. If you're feeling stressed out you can still train, you just have to train smarter and not harder. You also need to work on managing your stress and dealing with it in a calming manner.
Tips For Dealing With Stress
- Meditation is great for dealing with stress. There are many forms of meditation available at your finger tips or in your city. Take a class or looking up a YouTube video that details a method that works for you
- See things for how they are, not worse than they are. When you're stressed it's easy to think about all the "what if's". Take a moment and think about your situation for what it truly is and not what it could become.
- Get a massage or spend time doing self massage/foam rolling. Massage or self massage can be quite relaxing, it's also a great way to work the physical manifestations of stress out of your tight muscles!
- Clean your space! If things in your life feel disordered, it's only going to be worse coming home to a messy house. Cleaning up the physical clutter and mess in your life can help ease some of your mental stress. It's one last thing to worry about!
- Make a "To Do" list. Writing down what you need to accomplish in order of importance. This will help make each task feel real, rather than just a worry floating around in your head. Making a list helps you clarify what needs to be done, most of the time it's less than you would imagine. Work through the list and physically cross each off as you accomplish them.
- Eat clean foods. Lots of people seek comfort foods and eat like shit when they're stressed. Poor food choices lead to health problems, weight gain, inflammation and will actually make you feel even worse than you currently do. Poor food choices are an added stress on your body. By feeding your body clean foods, you'll be reducing stress, maintaining lean muscle, and making your life a whole lot easier.
- Dab on some lavender oil before bed. Lavender oil has a soothing and calming effect that can help you get to sleep faster and in a more relaxed state. Just use a few drops and rub the lavender oil on the temples, just under the nose, sides of your neck, and top of your chest.
Training Smarter Not Harder
- Avoid very heavy or explosive training. Don't push your for maximum lifts or new records.
- Keep the HIIT training on the back burner for the moment.
- Train around 3 times per week with rest days in between.
- Yoga is always a great idea for stressed out individuals. Yoga not only trains the body, but also the mind. Think of it as moving meditation. There are many forms of yoga, some more athletic and demanding than others. My suggestion is a Yin or basic Hatha class. You'll get a nice training session without pushing yourself too hard, at the same time you'll relax and reduce mental stress.
- Joint mobility routines are another fantastic option for everyone, all the time, not only if you're stressed. Take your time going through the routine, focus on the breathing, use high reps and relax as your go through each movement.
- Stretching can be quite relaxing. Putting together a total body stretching routine can really help you work on tense areas of your body, and it's a good idea in general. Hold each stretch for anywhere between 30sec - 1min. Relax and breath into each stretch.
You Can Still Have Some Intensity
Training with a moderate level of intensity is still ok, what I'm saying is just don't go full out. When I'm stressed, I enjoy linking 3-5 basic body weight exercise together in a circuit. I use a manageable amount of reps for each exercise, not pushing my max, and work through them back to back. I rest 1 min between circuits, then repeat for a total of 2-3 circuits. The workout begins with a nice, relaxing warm up and joint mobility routine. The workout finishes with some foam rolling and stretching. Simple, easy, and enjoyable! Here's what it might look like ...
Exercises will be done back to back without rest. Perform all the reps for each exercise before moving onto the next one. Once they're all done, rest for 1 min and repeat again for a total of 3 rounds.
- Chin Ups 8 reps
- Hindu Push Ups 8 reps
- Airborne Lunge 8 reps per side
- Locust Lifts 8 reps
- Bicycle Twists 8 reps
There are more important things than pushing yourself to the limit all the time. Listen to your body, it's ok for you to ease off the peddle if you're feeling over worked and stressed out. Your training should be making you better, not making you worse. Take the steps to try and deal with your stress, don't put too much pressure on yourself, and train in a manner that suits your current life style.
I know not everyone can afford personal training. But if you enjoyed the blog, leaving a small tip goes a long way!