Have you hit a plateau with your training or your body composition?
Are you not improving each week with your lifts?
Have your energy levels dropped?
Are you moody or getting frustrated easily?
Feeling a bit down lately or have low self-esteem?
These are all signs leading towards that you are stressed, stop thinking that ‘stress’ is to do with work, or will you have enough money to pay your mortgage this week, or even writing a blog about stress.
Stress is much bigger than that, it is the main reason why people struggle with daily life with their food, water intake, their training & relationships. Most people know of the ‘physical’ signs of stress but knowing how your body deals with stress is a great way to get yourself on track and get in control.
There are different levels of stress & these are known as GAS (general adaptation syndrome), Hans Selye; a medical doctor & researcher came up with the theory. The three stages are:
- This is the initial symptoms that we experience, also known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response which is our physiological response to a situation. This is a natural response were your heart rate will increase, there is an increase in cortisol (stress hormone), a boost of adrenaline which will increase your energy. These responses are simply getting you ready to either flee or protect yourself in a threatening situation.
- If you are warming up for the gym about to do a weight session, or warming up for a footy or netball match, your body thinks that you are in the jungle getting chased by a bear or in a fight at a pub. Your body will react the same way for both situations, let’s just hope your adrenaline kicks in quick enough to not become the bear’s dinner.
2. Resistance Stage
- After your body has had the initial shock of an event and your fight-or-flight response has kicked in, the body will now try & calm itself down. Your heart rate & blood pressure will lower, the release of cortisol will slow down, this may take some time as your body is still on high alert. This stage can last long periods of time, if you don’t calm down your body will adapt to being in this higher than usual stress level. If this does happen & we start feeling; irritable, frustrated or have poor concentration this means we are heading into the exhaustion stage.
3. Exhaustion Stage
- This stage is caused by continued high stress levels, this phase can effect you physically, emotionally & mentally causing you to feel; fatigued, burnout, depressed and have anxiety. In this stage it can also weaken your immune system over time to put you at higher risk of illnesses.
Since it’s not going to be possible to remove stressful situations out of your life, but finding ways to deal with stress is so important. Knowing the signs and the three different stages of stress can help you in the long run to be able to manage situations better.
It is vital for your body to recover during the second stage (resistance stage), otherwise there is risk of exhaustion rising.
Regular exercise, meditation, stretching and a few other tricks can help you deal with stress levels which I will go over in this blog.
“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” Hans Selye
The next question I will ask you, is stress ALWAYS a bad thing??? You may think the answer is yes, but guess what…..YOU’RE WRONG, here is why.
Stress is different from person to person, something that is a stressful situation for you, may be a walk in the park for others, stress is subjective to everyone. Some stress can encourage us to change habits, or to create new goals and things we want to achieve in life. If these stresses did not happen, why would we want to keep changing who we are to be better?
Now I will be talking about two different types of stress that we all experience in daily life.
EUSTRESS vs. DISTRESS
Eustress (positive stress):
- Something we can handle (it’s within our coping mechanisms)
- Mostly positive
- Feels exciting
- Generally short-term
- Can sometimes improve performance
Distress (negative stress):
- Something we cannot handle (outside of our coping mechanisms)
- Generally feels unpleasant
- Can either be short-term or long-term
- Depletes energy & decreases overall performance
- Can lead to physical illness, mental fatigue or emotional depletion
“It is how people respond to stress that determines whether they will profit from misfortune or be miserable.”
Dr. Lazarus who kept building on the work of Dr. Selye, mentioned that you cannot categorise stressors into lists. However, by simplifying a list of stressors we can put them into examples of negative personal stressors and positive personal stressors.
Some negative stressors would be a death in the family, divorce, loss of a job, money issues which are mostly all factors that are out of your hands. However, some positive stressors would be buying a home, having a child, getting a new job, retiring.
These different stressors all come down to how you personally deal with a situation and how you respond to these different events in your life.
Laura Chang , M.A., LPC who is a Licensed Professional Counsellor at the University of Northern Colorado asks the question:
“Change is constant and each stressful event if your daily life, from the little things to the big things, is an opportunity to practice new ways of responding. How can you begin to change the way that you think about stress in your life? If stress is natural and inevitable, why not choose to harness its motivating power to create positive change, rather than allow it create pain and drain your emotional resources?”
What happens to our body when we are in this situation and why does our body act the way is does in a stressful event?
The science behind it comes down to our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which has a direct role in physical response to stress and is divided into the Sympathetic Nervous System’s (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). When the body is stressed like the caveman above the SNS produces the ‘fight or flight’ response and decides to run, run very fast.
As we spoke about before this is happening in the ‘Alarm Stage’ where our physical symptoms help us to either fight or flight, by increasing our heart rate and our cortisol levels.
How do we balance out these systems and what are some ways we can control these better?
Here are some methods of reducing our SNS and increasing our PNS:
Studies have shown that the main reason by people use sauna’s is for stress reduction, it encourages our body to go into our parasympathetic state. The heat from the sauna relaxes the body’s muscles, improves circulation and stimulated the release of endorphins J
It is a physical & mental combination which help to achieve peacefulness of the body and mind. This can lead to managing stress and anxiety better by helping you to relax. The core components of yoga include; poses, breathing & meditation.
Research has shown that they can lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, relax your muscles and increase the production of endorphins J. Serotonin and dopamine are also released through massage resulting in a feeling of calm which can overcome short-term stress.
Cold Showers/ Ice Baths
Regular exposure to the cold whether it be cold showers or ice baths, which are a physical stressor, resets your stress response and ensures that stress wont feel as overwhelming as it has in the past.
Meditation can fight the effects of stress and help you feel more relaxed by calming your mind and body. Your heart rate will slow down, sweat less and your breathing becomes deeper and more efficient which in turn is the complete opposite when you are stressed. Dr. Herbert Benson from Harvard University has written a book ‘Relaxation Response’ which looks into many popular meditation techniques and he has found that meditation helps greatly with reducing and dealing with stress-related disorders.
Lastly I will talk about an amazing man who has taken all these strategies on board and created his own method, a method that has helped him complete a half marathon in the Artic in bare feet, broken 26 Guinness World Records and is helping thousands of people around the world to de-stress their body and mind; he goes by the nick name of ‘The Iceman’.
Wim Hof has developed a method with a unique combination of exercises which include exposure to cold, focus/meditation & breathing. People across the world are experiencing benefits such as; stress relief, sleeping better, recovering quicker from training/exercise, symptoms from autoimmune diseases are reduced from being part of his method.
“The Wim Hof Method can be characterized by it’s simplicity, applicability and a strong scientific underpinning. It is a practical way to become happier, healthier and more powerful.”
The Wim Hof Method is based on three powerful pillars; Cold Therapy, Breathing & Commitment.
Exposing your body to the cold can start a flow on effect of these amazing health benefits:
- Fat loss,
- Reduced inflammation,
- Balanced hormone levels,
- Improved sleep quality,
- Production of endorphins J
By a specialised breathing technique, we heighten our oxygen levels which can result in:
- More energy,
- Reduced stress levels,
- An increased immune response to quickly deal with pathogens (the bad stuff).
Mindset/or focus is the foundation of the other two pillars, it’s all well and good if you do cold showers and use the breathing techniques. But if you are focused and dedicated to the method you will succeed in mastering the ‘Wim Hof Method’ and becoming your own iceman/icewoman
I highly recommend checking out the Iceman’s website page to read further into how to successfully complete this method, there is a free online course & see you can start seeing results straight away!!
So you are probably thinking – how the hell do I do all this? Or when do I fit all this in?
You have to think about why this is all so important, adding these simple life changing things into your daily life will give you results pretty much straight away!!
Trust me I can guarantee your partner will thank you when you start a fight over the bed not being made up properly, or not being able to find a carpark in your usual spot. Your work mates will be so greatly when you don’t bite their head off after asking if you have done that presentation yet or someone moved your lunch in the fridge!!!
Here is a nice quick and easy weekly checklist you can make up yourself of some things you can easily add into your week or every two weeks:
Couldn’t be bothered reading the whole blog? Well you lazy bugger, you missed out.
But here are some take home notes:
- Stress is going to happen – it’s part of life but it’s how you react to it and deal with it that will determine how it affects you.
- There is good & bad stressors in your life, again focusing on the positives & understanding your body and how you personally deal with it.
- Stop complaining about how stressful you are, because no doubt you are pissing off everyone else & start focusing on things that you can control
- Start including some of the strategies that I spoke about and make your own little weekly checklist.
- If your life stress levels increase you probably need to reduce your accumulated stress from training if its high. Eg you can’t train the same as you did as a care free uni student compared to when you run a demanding business, or when you have kids, or can’t get enough sleep.
- How you think about, perceive and react to stress is just as important as the stressor itself
- Managing stress and incorporating recovery into your routine is something you need to be doing if you want to get best results from your training and nutrition, and just to help you feel better in general.
Have fun letting go of that unwanted stress, just like I have after finishing this blog 🙂