Stress is a powerful stimulant. It is the reason that our bodies adapt. When we train we are putting stress on our body so that it will adapt and come back stronger. Stress is also one of the biggest problems in modern society as people are putting far too much stress on their bodies. Your body can only handle so much stress before it starts coping in unhealthy ways. Chronic stress can lead to slowed metabolism, hormone dysfunction, decreased physical performance, injury, trouble sleeping, irritability, and many other issues. Today I want to talk about stress and how we got to this point in society, what the bad effects of stress are, and give you some ideas to help you de-stress your life.
Modern society is fast paced and performance based. No one would argue that. From a very young age we are taught that performance is most important. We are told to work hard and we can achieve whatever we want. People who work two or three jobs are glorified, as well as people who work 80 hour weeks. Perform at all costs is what is taught in schools, at homes, on television, and on the internet. This performance focuses society is one of the reasons that our country has been so successful, but it has also created a society of overstressed people. Energy drinks, coffee companies, and supplement companies all thrive as people need to take in artificial stimulants to give them energy to get through the day. Instead of focusing on reducing stress in their lives, people focus on ways to get more and more energy. This is a dangerous road to go down and you end up with someone who drinks coffee all day every day, doesn't sleep well, is highly irritable, and performs worse than in the past. With so many places, experiences, educational avenues, entertainment options, etc. so easily accessible, people are used to running from one thing to the next without ever stopping to take a break. This leads to disaster.
So what are some of the symptoms of being over stressed? Let's start with hormone issues. Cortisol levels get out of whack because your body starts relying on hormones for energy. It is hard to wake up in the morning (when cortisol is supposed to be highest) and hard to fall asleep at night (when cortisol is supposed to be lowest). This flip flop of cortisol levels lead to sleep issues which leave you digging yourself deeper and deeper. People end up relying on adrenaline to get them through the day, leaving their hormones messed up. This can lead to adrenal fatigue (which is a hot topic and much debated issue but whatever you want to call it is real), sex hormone issues, slowed metabolism, weight gain, reduced cognitive ability (brain fog), reduced athletic performance, and many other issues. The body quits working as it is supposed to because it is constantly overworked. The body is very resilient and can adapt to anything after a while but eventually it starts to break down. If you continue down this path of over stressing then you are setting yourself up for disaster.
We have established that most people are over stressed. So what do we do about it? One of the biggest places that I see this is in people who want to compete at a high level in CrossFit. They train two or three times a day doing multiple CrossFit workouts a day. The body can not recover from all of this stress. My recommendation for these type of people would be to cut back on the high intensity work. Start spending more time on low intensity work such as aerobic work, mobility work, technique work, etc. For people who are just training normally then start looking at things outside of the gym as stressors. The body perceives all stress as the same (whether it is physical, mental, or emotional) so start being aware of what areas of life are causing you the most stress. The first step is becoming aware of what is causing stress and trying to adjust as needed. If you can not eliminate or reduce the causes of stress then you need to start adding in more recovery practices. Focused deep breathing, meditation, salt baths, massage, easy card ( at a conversational pace), stretching, healthier eating, and better planning (go to the grocery store once a week instead of every day) are all ways to help reduce stress. Another good thing to do is take some extended time off a couple of times a year. Take a whole week and get off the grid. Take extended breaks from technology such as social media, Neflix, and the Internet. We tend to overvalue ourselves and our importance-I promise that if you take some time off the world will continue to go on. You might have a little extra work when you get back but you will return with a renewed sense of vigor that you did not have before. Adding any of these things will help to de-stress your life and a continued commitment to them will cause you to reap some tremendous benefits.
Let me close by saying that your body can only handle so much stress. Once you get past the tipping point, major issues start to occur. If you are already past this point then you most likely need an extended period to de-stress your life. If you are not then start focusing on adding in some of these recovery practices in your life. Start looking at everything as either stressful or restorative. These two need to be in balance or you will not perform at your peak. Taking deliberate time off every week, as well as extended periods off throughout the year, will not only help you recover but they will make you MUCH more effective when you are working. I will leave you with this true story. Two groups set out for Oregon on the Oregon trail in the 19th century at the same time from the same place. One of the groups took one day off a week to rest and the other group did not have any scheduled rest. Who made it to Oregon first? The group who took a day off a week. They also arrived in better physical and emotional shape. Taking time off can feel like you are falling behind but in reality it is setting you up to be even more effective. This is a hard lesson to learn but one that will change your life for the better.