Stress Management: Overlooked and (Often) Under Appreciated

At Unity, we always work toward our goals in a multi-faceted approach. Getting into the gym and training, making sure our nutrition is in check, and sleeping and taking rest days from the gym are all easily noticeable to others around us as we make changes to our lifestyle. However, arguably the most important change comes from within. In general terms, it is our mindset. Mindset, as it relates to fitness goals, includes a multitude of areas. EXOS defines mindset as “approaching a situation or working toward a goal with a full understanding of what it requires to accomplish.” When we our mindset is dialed in, with our first priority goal at the top of mind, we truly enhance our experience on path toward our goals.

Kids, finances, body image, family, friends, moving, chronic illness, public speaking, working long hours, working at a job you don’t enjoy, taking care of an elderly family member, traumatic events… this list goes on and on. Have you discovered what these all have in common yet? These are included in the top causes of stress.

In the body, stress is represented by the hormone cortisol. Whether we’re encountering a perceived threat or training hard in the gym, the body interprets stress very similarly. That is to say, cortisol isn’t the enemy. However, chronically high levels of cortisol can be. When we have constant stressors, the body doesn’t leave its “fight-or-flight” response. It disrupts many processes in relation to fitness goals and may result in: digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.

At the end of the day, thankfully, no one is immune to stress.

“Back up, did she just say thankfully?” Yes, yes, I did. There is a moderate level of stress that is good in our lives. This may take the form of training sessions, deadlines, and even taking care of kids. Some positive responses to stress include being inspired, energized, motivated, focused, and alert. Following the stress of a workout, we recover, and stress signals our body to adapt and get stronger. However, too much stress can leave us feeling weak, worried, distracted, scattered, and disrupt hormones related to blood sugar regulation, immunity, metabolism, and sleep. At the same time, too little stress can leave us bored, unfocused, directionless, and lethargic. Each person will encounter stress, but we will all handle it in different ways. We need to find our personal sweet spot.

One of the first priorities is creating a positive mindset, especially when we encounter stress. This allows us to maximize these positive responses and decrease the negative responses. Stress is inevitable, but how we react to it can either make or break. To begin to change our reaction, we can use three easy steps: Identify. Pause. Reframe.

Identify the stressor. During this step, we acknowledge the cause of a particular stressor. These can take the form of either physiological or psychological. Physiological responses can include changes in breathing, racing heat, and physical pain or discomfort. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about losing our stripes, but these physical reactions can still be quite a burden! Psychological responses include thoughts or emotions that arise (anxiety, negativity, frustration, and anger).

Pause. Once we recognize that we’re stressed, take time to interpret the situation. Slow down before you react. Return to that “why” that caused you to begin to make the change in the first place. For example, a family party is scheduled last minute Sunday afternoon, right in the middle of your planned meal prep time. Knowing your “why”, and bringing it back to top of mind, will help with the next step.

Reframe and make a choice. Look at this stressor as something you can control. Locate the strategy and decide on the plan of action. Face the challenge directly and mindfully. Back to our family party. We can’t decide when the party is, but our meal prep has to happen. Perhaps finding another time that weekend and letting the party take the place of our Saturday night off. That way we’re able to fully enjoy time with family while still staying true to our goals. Shifting some tasks around may stray from a typical routine, but it allows us to keep practicing our core habits. This consistency over the long term is where we will find success in our fitness goals!

This three-step process is just one way to approach a particular stressor. We can also work to reduce overall stress in a variety of ways. One of my favorites is practicing daily gratitude. This started as a Christmas gift from my mom. We each got a journal to write three things we’re grateful for daily. From there, I kept going. I moved it to a word document. And it grew even further. On days when I have more time, I’ll go beyond simply listing what I’m grateful for and consider why. I’ll list as many reasons why I’m grateful for that listed item as I can come up with. Then, when I’m faced with that inevitable stress, I can think about those things for which I’m grateful for and decrease some of that initial stress response.

Other stress management techniques include: time away from technology, coloring, meditation, spending time outdoors, reading, the list goes on and on! Mindset, beginning with stress management, should be just as important as meal prepping, scheduling training sessions, and sleeping. As I said earlier in the article, everyone has stressors in their lives, but everyone also manages it differently. Those who take time to reflect and create a positive mindset, despite their stress, are those who will crush their fitness goals. I challenge you to stop overlooking it and appreciate the small amount of stress this coming week. Take the time to identify, pause, and reframe or try any of the other stress management techniques listed.

Written By: Emily O’Connor, NSCA-CPT, SFG1, Pn1

Posted in Uncategorized.

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