When it comes to stress and fitness you’ll often hear them tied together in one way or another. Some will say stress helps them to lose weight. Some will say stress makes them gain weight. Some people will say exercise alleviates stress and some will say it further exhausts their stressed bodies. The problem isn’t who is right or wrong, the problem is that we aren’t paying attention to our own bodies signals. Identifying what type of stress you are under, making adjustments to your routine and adding in more stress managements measures will be the key to reducing stress and choosing the right activities for you.
There are three different types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Acute stress is the most common and is usually short-term and specific. Acute stress is what happens when a big test is coming up, you’ve been given a huge project with a short deadline, or are experiencing an imminent physical or emotional threat. Episodic acute stress is what happens when acute stress becomes a regularity. Chronic stress is what happens when stress is no longer fleeting but is persistent over a long period of time.
People often struggle with identifying their type of stress because they are using measurements of comparison. For example, telling yourself that you shouldn’t be stressed about your home life because at least you have a home is not actually changing the fact that you are stressed. Being realistic of your level of stress without comparison is going to be beneficial in addressing your particular stress management measures.
Exercise has consistently (and correctly) been deemed as a stress reliever. Changing how we view exercise will also be something that changes the way you are able to utilize it as a tool to alleviate stress. The idea of exercise usually sends people's minds straight to long runs, jumping, and anything that causes significant panting and sweating. Exercise, in all its forms, produces endorphins - hormones that fight stress; but pounding the pavement and sweating it out may not be the best way to alleviate stress.
Physical and mental fatigue affect the same region of your brain - the anterior cingulate cortex - so if you are mentally fatigued, you’ll likely be physically fatigued. Stress can interfere with your workouts including impaired coordination, slower recovery, and higher risk of injury. This means that when your mind and body are fatigued and you decide to go for a run or do a high intensity workout you may be setting yourself up for exhaustion, injury, and even more stress. The secret isn’t to skipping your workouts but making adjustments to your routine, changing the way you see exercise, and adding in more stress management measures.
Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, hiking, leisurely walking, leisurely swimming can all produce the same endorphins without further fatigue and actually help to prevent injuries. These forms of exercise will also help produce the same results like weight loss and building strength. You don’t always have to be panting and sweating to call it a workout or see results.
Living a better, happier, and healthier life involves a giant learning curve. Taking the time to adjust your routine and try new things will teach you everything you need to know about what works best for your specific body. Listening to the signals your body is sending you to let you know it is too tired or too sore to carry out a workout will not only help you in the long run it will save you from impaired recovery and potential injury. The next time you are feeling stressed, or if you have been chronically stressed, it’s time to let go of comparisons, adjust your routine, and tune in to the signals your body is sending you.
Sweat & Smiles (and less stress),